Shopping possibilities in Wroclaw have become so numerous and diverse that an attempt to choose the best way to spend your extra zlotys has turned into a feat of non-stop wandering around. Although no particular streets entirely dedicated to shopping exist in the city centre, it must be said that the area around the market square offers the best opportunities to find well-stocked shops of all sorts. The Rynek itself is a hive of shopping activity, particularly if one considers the scores of small specialized stores that fill in the three internal passageways running parallel to each other across the central conglomeration of buildings. Ul Olawska, Ul Wita Stwosza, Ul Odrzanska and the northern section of Ul Swidnicka are all busy streets in close proximity to the Rynek and likewise home to a bewildering array of upmarket boutiques, souvenir shops and food stores.
An eagerness for selling and trading complemented by a thirst for buying and consuming has in the last few years taken the city by storm. While strolling around the streets looking at the endless rows of overstocked shop fronts, one cannot help not asking: "how can such a great number of shops thrive and prosper when the total population of the city and its suburbs amounts to just somewhat more than half a million? Or is this perhaps a reaction to the former business scene in the city when retail opportunities were restricted to queuing behind the doorway of a shop just to buy a loaf of bread?"
Whatever the reason for such a thriving shopping scene, it must be said that since Wroclaw has been added to Ryanair’s list of low-fare destinations, the number of visitors in the city has exploded overnight. The result is visible for all to see. Not only are the existing shops flourishing beyond expectation but new businesses and familiar international brand names are establishing themselves on the most popular streets of the city. This innovation in the business scene is concerned more with the diversity and quality of whatever is for sale than with the opening of new shops and the renewal or refurbishment of old ones although the latter seems to be on the agenda of any Wroclawski businessman.
On the way from the airport to the city centre, one is surprised to encounter a considerable number of new department stores and glistening shopping malls, most of which sited within extensive grounds conveniently equipped with spacious parking spaces and in some cases landscaped areas for recreation and sports. Closer to the centre, the stage for retail business on a large scale is not much different although the open-air parking area is in most cases absent, being substituted by two or three floor levels of underground parking spaces. Obviously, shopping malls in the city centre do not have grounds large enough to host sports activities, although an attempt to include indoor entertainment facilities like cinemas, discos, children play areas and exhibition spaces has become the order of the day.
A short stroll west from the back exit of the train station is the answer to Berlin’s KaDeWe, a seven-floor upmarket department store notorious for quality, customer satisfaction and service and considered by many as Germany’s first. Wroclaw’s premium consumer sanctuary called the Arkady Wroclawskie may not be as popular or grand as Germany’s legendary retail institution but it is definitely more innovative in design, more lively and fresh-looking. Boasting five spacious floors teeming with hundred twenty stores crammed with top-quality pieces, it is a paradise of colours and style for fashion aficionados and a happy hunting ground for lovers of the latest in electronic gadgets and contraptions. Take the escalator or elevator to the second floor if your desire to break your shopping tour with a leisurely stop can’t be set aside for later. Here you will be entertained with the most recent films (in English, with Polish sub-titles) inside the Multikino cinema. This is not an ordinary film-showing hall but an eleven-screen complex of small cosy compartments where one gets enthralled with captivating appearances and imageries of exceptional quality. By now, one’s crave for a hot meal or a coffee may be too much to endure. In this case, one will absolutely not be let down because restaurants, fast food outlets, coffee shops and ice-cream parlours are as plentiful and various as the cutting-edge fashion brands that invade the retail spaces of this huge complex.
Before making your way out, have a look at two eye-catching attractions normally attributed to a viewing rather than to a shopping gallery. One is a large original manifestation of Salvador Dali’s over-fertile imagination, a 3D figurative showpiece that I dare not classify as a sculpture. The other is less conceptual, more natural and colourful. Suitable to occupy a grand place in a natural history museum, it is a two-storey water tank where all the rich colours of the deep are concentrated in twenty seven gallons of gyrating water. Scores of exotic fish, some as large as a human arm, others as small as a toe nail stare at you from numerous cavernous dens and hideouts formed by multi-coloured coral entanglements.
Close to Arkady Wroclawskie and visible from the southernmost edge of Ul Swidnicka is the newest and highest behemoth of commercial temples in Wroclaw. Appropriately named the Galeria Handlowa Sky Tower, it is a three-tiered skyscraper endowed with three full floors of superstores and retail outlets. Extensively spread out over a huge area, it houses in addition scores of residential apartments and offices, a complete fitness centre, a bowling alley and areas for indoor and outdoor recreation and sports. The huge adjacent open-air landscaped parking stands to witness that accessibility of land in out-centre Wroclaw is in no case a drawback. Also not a drawback seems to be the acquisition of monumental art pieces. The entranceway to the Sky Tower is as a matter of fact enriched with another Dali effigy, an out-of-the-world highly imaginative muddle that may appear meaningless to some and absurd to others but definitely peculiar and inquisitive to all.
Midway between Arkady Wroclawskie and the market square stands the oldest must-see shopping attraction in the city. A four-floor historic showpiece that predates World War II, Renoma is an extreme example of what renovation and modernisation really entails. Its recent restoration has given back the prestige and style the place rightly deserved, making it able to match and even outclass other competitors in the city. Covered with ceramic tiles and embellished with rows of gilded pyramidal studwork, the façade is an exceptional specimen of pre-war extravagance and showiness. Even if you are not in the mood for shopping, take the escalator to the upper level where an assortment of cafes and restaurants proliferate through a whole floor making selection of fare difficult and tiring. Don’t leave the place before you climb your way up to the roof from where customers and bystanders alike can experience captivating views over the historic centre and the river.
A mere five minutes east of the Rynek and so closer to the action than any other shopping mall in the city is Galeria Dominikanska, a three-floor shopping paradise stocked with hundred pleasant retail outlets crammed into a rather small space. Not as grand or attractive as Arkady Wroclawskie, it is nonetheless ideal to stock up on last-minute essentials, particularly where food commodities, mobile phone cards and Polish merchandise are concerned.
A short walk east of Most Grunwaldzki is Wroclaw’s largest retail complex, a modern spacious showpiece with more than two hundred stores spread over four floors. The usual cutting-edge fashion brand names are all well represented, in some cases (like C & A) operating from interlinked multi-floor stores conveniently laid out on top of each other. Worthy of mention is the electronic giant Saturn, a huge gadget-and-gizmo store that stocks the latest trailblazing automated devices in the country. Apart from a huge space reserved for parking, the upper floor contains a diversity of entertainment corners, ideal for revitalisation between long rounds of shopping. The Kinderplaneta is a cushy multi-coloured children’s playpen where kids get in enthusiastically but never want to leave. The nearby Multikino is strictly an adult bar area where a long row of large screens put on view the latest films in an atmosphere of drinking and carousing. To complement all this, several laidback restaurants (like Wook, Sphinx and La Grotta) are close by in case one needs an urgent fill-up when the film is over.
Visiting a shopping mall is perhaps too time-consuming for tourists whose time in the city is limited to a day or two. Such visitors should disregard impersonal large-scale shopping sanctuaries and head straight to speciality shops where buying turns into an intimate consumer-seller affair. Speciality shops obviously concentrate on one or two specific ranges of items and so choosing becomes an easy and effortless event. Most travel guides including the Rough Guide to Poland give a list of the worthiest branches to visit.