Following 4 successful trips to Poland I have recently been struck by a Pavlovian feeling that no matter how many times I return I will be delivered another conveyor belt of beautiful town squares, beer halls and breweries, surprisingly flash public infrastructure and friendly locals. It was for this reason, and going off several recommendations that I travelled to Poznan in western Poland, one of the larger cities and due to its location on the main trainline east of Berlin, a potentially interesting crossroads from central into Eastern Europe.
The city itself had a lot to live up to after visiting Gdansk, Krakow, Lublin and Wroclaw in turn, the latter two being readable on this blog, with their being surprisingly rewarding places to visit. A cursory glance suggested the same format would be likely in Poznan – fine by me!
We arrived into the stare miasto after midnight by taxi, and discovered fairly quickly the nightlife Poznan has gained a reputation for. In Wroclaw a group of girls my age urged me to visit Poznan to experience it. It’s the first time I’ve been chauffeured behind two police vans to my hostel while all around drunken revellers were enjoying the evening to a bombastic degree. The atmosphere in such a late hour was dramatic, but in fairness familiar to myself, a British person, having been out in the likes of Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle plenty a time.
After depositing our bags we headed for some food and found ourselves at a late night pub Za Kulisami. I would recommend disregarding the out of date and rather stuffy reviews – this is definitely one of the best places to go for a post-uni crowd type drink. Very atmospheric, buzzing even, and the general hubbub you get in a good local. Just like many a good pub there were obvious bits of banter going on between the regulars and the bar staff, and a friendly welcoming feel overall. I got talking to one of the bar staff on our way out and again, you can never be too surprised in Poland by the fluent English and genuine treatment as equals rather than interlopers (with the obvious caveat of my being a white Northern European man). Heading to bed at 4am, it was clear already a lot of the holiday was going to be spent in the pub, but not with any sense of regret!
Fortunately we were able to get up and about the following day to take in the few hours of sunshine afforded to us, as autumn was well underway. Our hostel position was about 100m away from the main event in Poznan, Stary Rynek. This city square had been very carefully reconstructed for decades and it is sizeable and impressive enough to make a dent, even in the brain of someone who has experienced many central European town squares. There is a blotch in the centre where a cuboid modernist building sits adjacent to the usual gabled burgher houses and some particularly impressive painted portico burgher houses next to the town hall. Although this shitty building houses a regional museum, and is therefore useful, I would personally have preferred the extra space so as to greater emphasize the grand scale of the central square.
There are several other streets going off from it that are worth a wander down, although the centre is on a comparatively small scale akin to Bratislava or Brno. The Stary Rynek never managed to muster the busy vital atmosphere of Wroclaw or Krakow sadly, although still manages the girls sporting neon umbrellas on street corners trying to lure you into their various dens of ignominy. They really don’t take no for an answer, which is rather ironic given the likely flip-side of the coin most likely happening inside.
So why go then?
Well, although stare miasto never felt like quite as important as the above two, it did have its moments. The square is supremely atmospheric on a misty evening and taking a stroll around at night really provided a flavour of the exotic. Sometimes quieter moments and just taking a scene in for a moment can help emphasize that a bit more. Similarly, Poznan is not all that far removed from the other options at hand. It has a Cathedral Island just like Wroclaw, a brewery with a very good tour, the famous Lech Poznan football team (only £11 a ticket), and a steam train service from the central station (not currently working but back on in December). It also has goats as an emblem, as I discovered once evening double-taking the sight of a billy goat having a chill out by the steps of a townhouse! This will easily take up a long weekend, not accounting for the focus the city has on nightlife.
What about the nightlife?
As anyone living in a provincial city knows, sometimes its cultural sights can only sustain you for so long. Poznan is one of those cities which seems to rely on, even sustain itself via the evening’s entertainments. There are so many bars as to be many times surplus to your requirements, and over a dozen or so that seriously demand attention. Sadly we couldn’t visit that many, but I would strongly recommend Za Kulisami, (as reasoned above), the dark red communist themed Proletaryat where it struck me I have the prospect, being bald, of emulating the visage of a great thinker, and Piwna Stopa, the most homely and welcoming of craft ale bars possibly in Poland full stop. Given the enormous bloom of craft ale since 2014, there are great things coming along across Poland and this pub shows craft ale isn’t all about stark industrial decor and hard furniture, but good service, roaring fire, upholstered seating. On a Friday and Saturday especially, you will have no difficulty finding a tolerable place serving drinks right up until 8 in the morning, although quite WHY you would want that, is another matter.
As with recent posts, Polish craft ale is coming on leaps and bounds, and autumn was a good excuse to try the ever increasing number of dark ales, schwarzbiers, porters and stouts which were almost always good or excellent.
And the food?
There’s nothing of overwhelming excitement although all places we went to delivered hearty, tasty food. As is increasingly the case, Poland are undergoing the sort of food enlightenment Britain went through in the 1990s, therefore there is a glut of new vegetarian/sushi places and world cuisine, reflecting that, similar to the UK, their own cuisine veers towards stodgy wintery food and is lacking in spice. Anyway, for the time of year that can be great, and can certainly recommend the timber stylings and hearty fare of Wiejscie Jadlo, likewise Oberza Pod Dzwonkiem, both of which killed the already outdated, should-be-dead stereotype that Eastern European service isn’t up to scratch. In my opinion that has been long gone. This is a country where the English language is inculcated in any human able to stand up, and in a city like Poznan which doesn’t receive as many English tourists, there are many people very keen to try out their underused skills. English tourists are the undoubted primary benefits of this: you should not miss out.
It is worth pointing out visiting in October means we missed out on the probable café culture in the main square and the activities available near Lake Malta, an artificial lake famous for its international rowing regattas, a dry ski slope, steam train, thermal spa and generally enough going on around it to take up a couple of days all on its own. Poznan also signs up to the city bike scheme which is a great way to get around a flat and quite easy to navigate city. It’s a pity really the weather and season denied us nearly all of that!
Is this place a priority?
It depends how your wanderlust is coming along. Wizz Air still provide very cheap flights and there are twin private rooms in hostels going for £10.00 a night that are perfectly serviceable. This cuts through notions of priority and more or less demands your attention. The pound might be tanking but this is offset by Poznan being an especially cheap Polish city – there are still places serving good beers for 6zl (£1.25 at the time of writing). If you enjoy seeking out good bars and still enjoy the chilly thrill of a Polish rynek, Poznan is definitely in the top three or four places you should seek out, which means in fairness, it is really good.
By my reckoning though (and limited to cities I have actually visited):
This factors in that Poznan didn’t quite have the breadth of impressive architecture or the prettiness overall of the cities above it. Poznan might claw its way up to 3 or 4 in the summer with the various activities it had going for it which are notable and will most likely fill your time up well. Might be worth bearing in mind when you plan your inevitable visit!