In a country full of hidden gems, the Polish city of Toruń, or Thorn as it was known in the middle ages, must be one of the best. This historical city on the Vistula River is only a three-hour drive from Warsaw, which makes it a great day out if staying in the capital. Alternatively, there is plenty to see and do in this beautiful and compact city, so a long weekend staying in Toruń could be easily justified.
Toruń is one of the oldest cities in Poland, with the first settlement dated back to the 8th century and later having been expanded in 1233 by the Teutonic Knights, and it went on to be a major part of the Hanseatic League. All of the city’s attractions can be found in around the centre, making it quite easy to explore the birthplace of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus on foot.
5 Unmissable Attractions:
Old Town Square – Old Town Square is in the heart of Toruń. Listed on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since 1997, the square is a great place to wonder about, taking in the Gothic architecture and quirky buildings. It is easy to see that Toruń has the largest number of preserved Gothic houses in Poland, having thankfully been virtually untouched by the ravages of World War II.
Address: Rynek Staromiejski, Toruń, Poland
Old Town Hall – Dominating the centre of the Old Town Square, the Old Town Hall dates back to 1274. The hall went on to be extended and rebuilt between 1391 and 1399, and again at the end of the 16th century, making it one of the most monumental town halls in Central Europe. The building was so impressive that the kings of Poland would stay in the building while visiting Toruń, while the Masters of the Teutonic Knights’ Order also made it their base in the city. We found that the Old Town Hall is a good place to start when exploring the city. There is a museum located within part of the building, which gave us a good introduction to the history of the city and there is also an art gallery on the upper floors. When leaving the museum / gallery, make sure that you walk round the outside of the building to its southern side and visit the halls tower. It is well worth climbing the stairs, as you will be rewarded with one of the best views of the square.
Address: Rynek Staromiejski 1, Toruń, Poland
The Toruń Castle – The Toruń Castle or Thorn Castle was one of the first castles built by the Teutonic Order, with the construction starting in mid-13th century, and continued for about a hundred years. It was around this castle that the new town of Toruń grew. Today, however, the castle is in a fairly ruined condition, following a town rebellion in 1454. But thanks to the interpretive displays, we got a really good idea of how the castle would have looked in its heyday.
Address: Przedzamcze 3, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
House of Nicolas Copernicus Museum – Toruń’s most famous son is the Renaissance-era polymath Nicolas Copernicus who popularised the theory that the Sun, not Earth, was at the centre of the universe. The House of Nicolas Copernicus Museum is located in two Gothic tenement houses which used to belong to Nicolas’ father, a merchant from Krakow, who moved to Toruń circa 1456. The houses are considered to be the birthplace of the astronomer. The museum has an interesting display of the life and work of Copernicus, display the interiors of burghers’ houses from the 14th to the 19th century.
Address: Mikołaja Kopernika 15/17, Toruń, Poland
The Leaning Tower in Toruń – Maybe not quite as dramatic as its contemporary in Pisa, the Leaning Tower still has a considerable tilt – a vertical deviation of about 1,5m. The story goes that this medieval defensive tower was purposely built on a tilt, by a Teutonic Knight serving penance for breaking his chastity vow. The knight had supposedly been ordered to build the tower as a symbol of his crooked ways! Today, it is said that those whose sins are graver that that of the Teutonic knight will never be able to keep their balance while clinging with their backs and legs to the wall of the tower. Those who are righteous, faithful and honest will not fall forward. Of course, we had to try out this test, and it did prove remarkably difficult to do, but we can happily say that we both kept our balance… just! The less romantic story is that the tower was built on unstable, sandy subsoil, but I know which story we believe.
Address: Pod Krzywą Wieżą 1, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
10 Hidden Gems:
Monument of Nicolaus Copernicus– Just outside the entrance to the Town Hall tower, the Monument of Nicolaus Copernicus is a popular photo opportunity for visitors to Toruń. The statue was erected in 1853 to celebrate the life of this Renaissance mathematician and astronomer (1473–1543) and presents Copernicus in academic dress. His left hand holds an astrolabe, and his right index finger points to the heavens. The pedestal bears a Latin inscription drawn up by Alexander von Humboldt: “Nicolaus Copernicus Thorunensis, terrae motor, solis caelique stator” (“Nicolaus Copernicus of Thorun, mover of the earth, stopper of the sun and heavens”).
Address: Rynek Staromiejski, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
Cosmopolis Fountain – The Cosmopolis Fountain can be found on the eastern fringes of the medieval city centre, near to St. Mary’s Church. Taking a lead from Copernicus, the fountain’s design is meant to represent the solar system. Not sure that we saw the similarity, but it was a nice area to sit and chill out in and, perhaps cruelly, laugh at the children trying to unsuccessfully dodge the jets of water.
Address: 87-100 Toruń, Poland
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist – The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist is one of the oldest churches of the former Teutonic state, with building work having commenced in the mid-13th century, and indeed is one of the biggest churches in Poland. We found that the interiors, although impressively large, were fairly austere, but you can access the tower and get a great view of the city, which makes the trip worthwhile.
Address: Żeglarska 16, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
St. Mary’s Church – A church with far more impressive interiors is St. Mary’s church. This former Franciscan aisled hall was built in the 14th century and has many beautiful and colourful stained glass windows and golden icons.
Address: Panny Marii 2, Toruń, Poland
Centre of Contemporary Art – The Centre of Comtemporary Art displays the main trends of the 20th and 21st century art, mainly made by local artists. The gallery is surprisingly large and is a modern facility that displays the artwork very well.
Address: Wały Generała Władysława Sikorskiego 13, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
Artus House – Today’s Artus House has a striking frontage which only dates from 1891, but it was modelled on the former Artus House of 1386. It was the seat of the St. George Brotherhood, active in Toruń between 1311 and 1842. Brotherhoods of this kind existed in all major cities of Hanseatic Europe and, in particular, in the Teutonic state. The cultural center that now resides in the building organises various activities and festivals. Tours of the building are held at irregular intervals and can be booked on their website.
Address: Rynek Staromiejski 6, Toruń, Poland
The Sailors Gate – Toruń has some impressive gates on the banks of the Vistula River, none more so than the Sailor’s Gate, which was built in the Middle Ages but reconstructed in the 19th-century. This was the most important entrance to the city and where the Polish kings were ceremoniously greeted. We visited the gate without fanfare and also noted that it is from this gate that you get the best view of the 15th-century clock mounted on the belfry of St. Johns’ cathedral.
Address: Żeglarska, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
Eat Gingerbread– The baking of gingerbread in Toruń goes back over a millennia, with the city being famous for its delicacy during the Middle Ages. Toruń was blessed fine wheat for flour due to its high-quality soil, while good quality honey was provided by nearby villages. The recipe was completed by the spices that were brought from the Far East, via the trade route coming through the Black Sea and Lwow to the Holy Roman Empire. Gingerbread has gone on to become an icon of Polish cuisine. Locally called Pierniki Toruńskie, there is even a museum of gingerbread in Toruń, as well as a few places where you can participate in baking demonstrations. There are, of course, a number of bakeries in the town centre where you can try the delicacy.
Convent Gate – The Convent Gate, also called the Holy Spirit Gate, was erected in the 14th century as one of four gates leading into Toruń from the Vistula River port. Despite slight modifications, the gate has been preserved in its original form of a gothic gate tower.
Address: Ducha Świętego, Toruń, Poland
Panorama Toruńia– The Panorama Toruńia is the site on the riverbank where the old wooden bridge used to stand, and now serves as a viewing point. The panorama of the Toruń Old Town that can be admired from there was voted in 2007 one of the seven wonders of Poland. This riverbank site is best reached by car, being only about 5 minutes away. Walking is an option too, taking around 30 minutes.
Address: Majdany, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
Where to Eat:
Coffee and Whisky House – A relaxed café and bar environment that also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Address: Ducha Świętego 3, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
4 Pory Roku – A chic restaurant specialising in local, seasonal dishes, handily located near the castle.
Address: Przedzamcze 6, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
Karczma Spichrz – Restaurant at the centrally located Hotel Spichrz that is well known for its Polish cuisine and hunting dishes.
Address: Mostowa 1, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
Where to Stay:
Hotel Ibis Budget Toruń – Budget Price – Handily located next to the medieval town. Also has a carpark available.
Address: Księdza Jerzego Popiełuszki 2A, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
Hotel Nicolaus – Moderate Price – Situated beside the Old Town Square, with a roof top terrace with a spectacular view of the city.
Address: Ducha Świętego 14-16, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
Copernicus Toruń Hotel – Luxury – Modern hotel minutes’ walk from the Old Town, with great amenities such as indoor/outdoor pools, a spa, tennis courts and even a bowling alley.
Address: Bulwar Filadelfijski 11, 87-100 Toruń, Poland
Hints, Tips and Useful Information:
Respect: Shaking hands is the normal form of greeting; an older man will often kiss a woman’s hand. Roman Catholicism plays an important role in daily life and criticism or jokes about religion are not appreciated, despite the general good humour of the people.
Electricity: Electricity is 230 volts AC, 50Hz and the power plugs and sockets are of type E.
Currency: Złoty (PLN; symbol zł) = 100 groszy. Notes are in denominations of zł200, 100, 50, 20 and 10. The coins are in denominations of zł5, 2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 groszy. Poland is required under the terms of its accession to the European Union in 2004 to adopt the Euro as its national currency sometime in the future.
Language: Polish is the official language. There are a few small German-speaking communities primarily in the southwest. English and, increasingly less so, Russian are also spoken. French is also popular.
Thank you – Dziękuję Ci
Please – Proszę
Good morning – Dzień dobry
Good evening – Dobry wieczór
Yes – Tak
No – Nie
Religion of the country: Around 87% of the Polish population are Catholic.
Telephone dialing code: +48
Emergency numbers: The 112 emergency number is an all-service number.
Payphones: You can buy telephone cards from post offices, newspaper kiosks and hotel receptions for both domestic and international calls.
Mobile Telephones: Roaming agreements for mobile phones exist with most international mobile phone companies.
Water: Mains water is normally chlorinated, and while relatively safe may cause mild abdominal upsets. Bottled water is available everywhere.
Shopping: What to buy in Poland:
- Amber jewelry
- Beer tankards
- Żubrówka– bison grass vodka
Cuisine: What to try in Poland:
- Borscht – beetroot soup
- Zurek – soup which includes sausage and egg
- Smalec– lard, served with bread
- Kielbasa – sausage
- Gołąbki– minced meat, onions and rice wrapped in a cabbage leaf
- Pierogis – sweet or savourydumplings
- Golonka Pieczona– roasted pork knuckle
- Bigos (Hunter’s Stew) – cabbage, sauerkraut, tomatoes, onions and meat
Smoking: Smoking is banned in public places, including railway stations, restaurants and bars.
Alcohol Consumption: Buyers or persons being served must be at least 18. Drinking in public places, with the exception of designated drinking zones, is illegal regardless of age.
Tipping: Tipping is expected for good service in restaurants. The norm is to tip around 10% of the bill. The tipping etiquette when taking a taxi is to tip 10%.