For the untrained tongue Bydgoszcz is very difficult to pronounce. My pronunciation Bid-gosh seemed to be recognised by nearly everyone but it sounded slightly different when a native of the city said it. The spellchecker on my computer also had trouble recognising it.
Bydgoszcz is the eighth largest city in Poland and has been ruled over the centuries by Sweden, Prussia, Germany and the communists. All have left their mark on the city which has, despite all this, retained much of its unique identity.
Being a small compact city it is easy to explore on foot. Alterntively you can explore it along the Brda River by kayak or by taking a boat tour. You can read about my trip down the Brda River to the centre of Bydgoszcz in a previous post.
Here then are my own top ten things to do in the Polish city of Bydgoszcz.
1. Spend time relaxing on Mill Island
Wyspa Młyńska, or Mill Island, is formed by the Brda River and the Bydgoszcz Canal and has become the recreational and cultural district of the city. There are several museums including the Museum of Modern Art housed in an old granary and the Museum of Money housed in what was once the Royal Mint.
With riverside and canal side paths, plenty of green space and old mills and granaries it is an ideal place to pause and recharge while indulging in a bit of people watching.
2. Visit St Martin and St Nicholas Cathedral
The oldest church in Bydgoszcz it has a remarkable exterior in what is known as Red Brick Gothic. Parts of the cathedral date back to the 15th century. It is however the interior that is truly stunning. The combination of bright colours added in the 1920s, the Gothic architecture and the flamboyant Baroque altar have to be seen to be believed.
3. Stroll along the bank of the River Brda
The River Brda runs through the centre of Bydgoszcz and past many of its historic buildings. Starting at the modern Opera House opposite Mill Island you walk past several of the distinctive red brick neo-gothic buildings including the Post Office and Lloyds Mansion. The Post Office was built during the time when Bydgoszcz was under Prussian rule and was the regional office of Eastern Germany. Across the river is Lloyd’s Mansion once the offices of Lloyds of London who felt it necessary to have a presence in the city because of the huge amount of river traffic between the Baltic and Berlin that they were underwriting.
Also along the river are the mills and granaries for which Bydgoszcz is famous. They are no longer used for the purposes they were intended but have been converted for other uses including restaurants and bars. However the exteriors are preserved they way they were. The three granaries together near the Mostova Bridge are the official symbol of the city.
Hanging above the river is the sculpture “Crossing the River” that commemorates Poland’s joining the EU. The statue is perfectly balanced on a high wire because the straight leg is filled with lead. It is best seen from the Mostova Bridge
4. Take a coffee in the Old Market Square
Stary Rynek or Old Market Square is the centre of social life in Bydgoszcz and is a great place to have a coffee in one of the pavement cafes and watch the world go by or admire the pastel colour buildings that surround the square. On the western side is a former Jesuit College which is now the Town Hall.
5. Visit the Museum of Modern Art
Undoubtedly the highlight of the cultural area developing around Mill Island this art gallery is home to work by all of Poland’s greatest contemporary artists. Love it or hate it the gallery is a real insight into the world of contemporary Polish art.
6. Take in an opera or an outdoor free recital at the Opera House
Bydgoszcz has a theatrical heritage that stretches back to the 16th century. Much of it continues to day so a visit to the Opera House, home of Opera Nova, to see world class performances should be on any culture vulture’s list. The modern Opera House sits on the bank of the River Brda just opposite Mill Island and has attracted some of the world’s great opera stars.
In a small amphitheatre below the Opera House there are frequent free recitals if you are travelling on a budget.
7. Visit a museum or two
Apart from the Museum of Modern Art mentioned above there are a eclectic collection of museums in Bydgoszcz. Those close to the city centre are the Archaelogical Museum; The Museum of Diplomacy and Polish Refugees; the privately run Pharmacy Museum; and the Money Museum.
Also among the museums in the city centre is The Granary. These buildings were initially constructed in the 19th century to store grain but now house exhibitions from the city’s Leon Wyczółkowski District Museum detailing the history of Bydgoszcz.
8. Visit the Deluge Monument
This huge sculpture depicts the Biblical Flood and is part sculpture part fountain. Whether you are familiar with the story of Noah and the Flood or not the subject matter is very evocative. Humanity and animals intertwine in a instinctive and selfish desire to escape the rising waters.
9. Head out of town to visit the Forest Park of Culture
This 800 hectare parkland of forest and meadow is very popular in the summer and is home to the Botanical Gardens, Bydgoszcz Zoo and a narrow gauge railway. There are hiking and cycling trails and lakes for kayaking on. Cafes are dotted around with the traditional Karczma Kujawska restaurant with its views across meadows and lakes being the most popular
10. Check out the street art
Wander round the city and discover the street art of Bydgoszcz. Not all of the art is painted murals there are some three dimensional works too. One of the best places to start is close to Mill Island as you cross the bridge to the south of the island.
The city of Bydgoszcz was once famous for its industries but now is more often associated with minority sports (speedway and volleyball are high on the list – it is one of the eight venues for the Volleyball World Cup in 2014), music, green spaces, red brick Gothic architecture and waterfront activities.
It will not be long before it is “discovered” by those wanting to move away from touristy Krakow, Warsaw or Katowice.
For more information on Bydgoszcz and what to do when visiting – www.visitbydgoszcz.pl.
Currently Ryanair are the only airline to fly direct to Bydgoszcz from the UK. Flights, both direct and via other Polish cities, can be booked at Skyscanner
Declaration: I travelled as a guest of the Polish National Tourist Office. I do however maintain full editorial control and give an unbiased opinion of my experiences.