Lower Silesia is a fertile Polish lowland formed by the basin of the Oder River, bordered by a range of the Central Sudeten mountains in the south. One of the most visited regions of Poland, it’s famous for historical architecture, more than 100 castles and palaces, world-famous wooden churches, and thermal spas. In addition, there are forests and rivers, all of which are comfortably explored on a three-day road trip, making use of two motorways .
The best times to visit are from May to October. Winters can be very cold with snow. In August you might experience temperatures in the 90s, but not too often.
We’ll show you the best places to stop, where to spend the night, and where to taste some of the best Polish specialties, beers, and wines while touring Lower Silesia.
We start our road trip in Wroclaw, capital of the Lower Silesia Province. Wroclaw has an international airport where you can rent a car for your road trip. The city looks back at over 1,000 years of history and at different times was part of the kingdoms of Bohemia, Prussia, Austria, Germany, and Poland. Small wonder, then, that Wroclaw is a treasure trove of historical buildings, museums, traditions, and festivals. Located on both banks of the Oder River, Wroclaw is also known as the city of 100 bridges, and a boat trip should definitely be on your agenda.
In 2016, Wroclaw was named the European Capital of Culture. As you explore the city, you’ll be surprised to note that it’s not only full of history but is also a hip modern place with funky nightclubs and, of course, traditional restaurants to sample the Polish cuisine with its ever-present dumplings, thick gravy with plums, and a great variety of pork dishes. Vegetarians won’t starve either: Sauerkraut and dishes of fresh vegetables are available, too.
As you make your way around Wroclaw, you’ll see the city’s symbol everywhere: cute dwarfs! What started out as a symbol for a political underground movement, the Orange Alternative, has now become one of the most fun attractions of Wroclaw: dwarf hunting. There are hundreds of them in almost every imaginable pose, and buying one means a great souvenir. You can even get a dwarf map at the downtown tourist information center.
Back to history: Visit Market Square, which dates back to the 13th century and is one of the largest and oldest squares in Europe. Fruit and vegetable are still sold in stalls on the weekend. Admire the medieval facades, which, after having been nearly totally destroyed in WWII, have been beautifully restored. Nearby you find not one but two town halls.
Wroclaw is a vibrant city, so for a different experience, cross one of the many bridges and visit the oldest quarter, Ostrow Tumski, surrounded by the Oder River. It’s modern, too, which is part of what makes Wroclaw so special. Look at Panorama Raclawicka, an enormous round painting of a real battle, housed in a circular building, or the monument of the anonymous passerby. At night, enjoy to water spectacle of the Multimedia Fountain, where 300 nozzles spew water that dances in brilliant colorful shows. Or enjoy a performance or concert at Centennial Hall.
It’s worth it to spend an entire day in Wroclaw, and that’s why you will stay over night. A good choice is Hotel Monopol in the heart of the city. It offers a lot of luxury at affordable prices.
We mentioned Wroclaw’s vibrant nightlife, and indeed the city is replete with bars, pubs, and discos with and without live music. Being a university city, this does not come as a surprise. You need to have a foundation for the many beers you may drink during a Wroclaw night out, so have a solid meal of Polish specialties in historic surroundings at Pod Fredra. Pierogis and juicy pork cutlets will tempt your taste buds.
2. Ksiaz Castle In Walbrzych
A 1.5-hour drive along the A4 takes you to Walbrzych and one of the most impressive and historically important castles in Lower Silesia. Dominating a hill and surrounded by beautiful gardens, the original castle dates from the 13th century. Many rich and noble families owned, reformed, and extended the castle. The last and wealthiest owners, who occupied and owned the castle until 1940, were the Counts von Hochberg. During WWII, the Germans occupied Ksiaz Castle and created an elaborate underground tunnel and escape system known as Project Riese. They also looted or destroyed many of the splendid rooms. After it became Polish again, massive restorations were undertaken to ensure that visitors can admire Ksiaz Castle’s salons and ballrooms in their original splendor.
Descending into the underground tunnel network, which is open to the public, to see documentation of how it was created by forced labor -- and to see the escape elevator shaft (only for the use of Hitler; his officers had to take the stairs), bare and damp rooms, and a basic communications center -- is a haunting experience.
Mystery still surrounds the adjacent hills as it has long been said that the Nazis concealed an entire train loaded with gold and artwork in a tunnel. Despite many attempts, the train has not yet been recovered.
Today Ksiaz Castle is also a popular hotel and conference center, and you might enjoy a coffee in the gardens. Plan for several hours here; the castle is huge.
3. Church Of Peace In Swidnica
Drive back a few miles the way you came to Swidnica to visit an architectonical masterpiece that will leave you speechless. The Church of Peace is a half-timbered structure created after the Peace of Westphalia (1648) was signed. In accordance with the law of the time, it had to be built within just one year. No bell tower was allowed. The white and brown structure is already beautiful from the outside, but wait until you see the interior! Every inch is covered with hand-carved wooden figures and religious motifs in the rich baroque style. Centerpieces are the gilded pulpit and the organ full of angels. You can buy a booklet that explains the history of the church.
Take time to stroll in the graveyard to look at the old headstones, and for a walk in the adjacent woods. You might even find mushrooms, depending on the season.
4. Red Baron Museum And Hotel, Also In Swidnica
Manfred von Richthofen, also known as the Red Baron, was a fighter pilot and hero of WWI. Red because he used to paint his fighter plane red. He was born in the house next door to the Red Baron Hotel, where you will spend the night.
A replica of his plane is parked in the garden, and the hotel is full of memorabilia, photographs, books, and documents. The rooms are fabulous, you can use the library, and you’ll enjoy a rich breakfast buffet. The receptionists speak fluent English and are happy to answer any additional questions you might have.
5. Old Town Jelenia Gora
You have a big agenda for the next day, so plan to off early in the morning for the one-hour drive along the A5 to Jelenia Gora.
Jelenia Gora is a city of about 100,000 inhabitants and is the gateway to the Riesengebirge. It was always a rich community, and this accounts for an abundance of palaces and town houses dating back to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and baroque periods. Make your way to the Market Square and look at the historic buildings surrounding it. Jelenia Gora is also well known for its many cute wrought iron statues, which sit all over town. Some even hang from the walls of some buildings. Symbols of the history of the town are everywhere. The streets of the Old Town are steep and cobble stoned, so wear comfy footwear. There is even a tram that has been transformed into a tourist information center.
6. Karkonoskie Museum And Glass Blowers
A few miles away, plan for a several-hour stop to visit one of the region’s most unique attractions. Glassblowing and cutting is a traditional art in Bohemia and Lower Silesia, and the Karkonoskie Museum is one of a kind, combing museum exhibits with the actual glassblowing factory.
One part of the museum consists of a separate building, created as a traditional farm house where you find scenes and exhibits representative of times gone by.
The next part is the glass museum, exhibiting works of art, some centuries old, some new. My favorite is a lace curtain made of finely spun glass. It seems to move with a breeze.
The next stop is the factory, where you can follow a demonstration of how glass is blown and see the artists cut vividly colored vases and goblets with rich gold decorations. Of course, there is also a shop where you can buy these wares. They will ship anywhere in the world, so you don’t need to worry about breakage on your journey home.
On the top floor is a cafeteria where you can have drinks and snacks whilst enjoying views of the Riesengebirge mountaintops.
7. The Thermal Baths Of Cieplice
Before embarking on your drive back to Wroclaw, relax in the beautiful thermal baths of Cieplice, which have a history dating back to 1281. This spa complex has indoor and outdoor pools, saunas and steam rooms, and the hottest thermal water in all of Poland. You will be provided with towels, flip flops, and even a sterilized swimsuit if you didn’t bring your own. On the mezzanine, you can have refreshments whilst overlooking the activities in the various pools.
Poland is not a member of the eurozone. Their currency is the zloty, and you are well-advised to carry plenty of cash, especially coins. You need those for public restrooms. The attendants are merciless even if you plead an emergency. Smaller purchases like souvenirs, snacks, and drinks as well as admission fees all require cash. Hotels and restaurants will, of course, take credit cards.
If you have never thought of Poland as your holiday destination, start with Lower Silesia, and you’ll want to come back to explore the rest of the country. Have more time? Consider these 10 World War II sites to visit in Poland and seven beautiful places in Krakow, Poland, plus how to spend a day in Warsaw.