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Written by Niiko on 02 Feb, 2010
If you're not Polish, there's probably no reason for you to have heard of Bydgoszcz ('bid-gosh-ch). It's not especially famous, nor does it attract many tourists, and it's not in an area of any great natural beauty. More likely, if you've seen the name, it's…Read More
If you're not Polish, there's probably no reason for you to have heard of Bydgoszcz ('bid-gosh-ch). It's not especially famous, nor does it attract many tourists, and it's not in an area of any great natural beauty. More likely, if you've seen the name, it's as one of those mysterious places Ryanair flies to, up there with Rzeszow, Zadar and Smaland. However, that's not to say it's without its charm. Located close to the Vistula/Wilsa River in northern Poland, Bydgoszcz is a city of around 400,000 people, the eighth largest in the country. Warsaw is four hours to the east, the German border about the same distance in the other direction, with Gdansk two or three hours heading north. Despite its relatively large size, Bydgoszcz doesn't always have the feel of a big city about it; the vast majority of its attractions and amenities are concentrated within a square mile or two radiating out from the Old Square (Stary Rynek) in the centre of town. One can comfortably get around the city on foot, and can walk from its heart to its northern limits and Myslecinek, an enormous park spanning a great wealth of forest and open countryside. ~ So I have a weekend in Bydgoszcz. What's there to see and do? ~ A weekend's probably a good amount of time; although you could happily fill longer, and would need to if you were planning on visiting any of the towns and cities nearby. There's not a great deal by way of "attractions" in the city - rather, it's more enjoyable to spend some time exploring Bydgoszcz on foot, especially the areas lining the river Brda and the network of canals coming off it that earn that part of town the only slightly tongue-in-cheek moniker "the Venice of the North". Footpaths run alongside and across all these waterways, and a number of bars, cafes and restaurants make the most of the occasion. Though Bydgoszcz can be a somewhat dour place in winter, as soon as Spring begins in earnest, the place transforms. Over the space of a weekend in April or May, every café, drinking-hole and bar-on-wheels throws a sea of tables and chairs over the pavement and the previously empty Square becomes a vibrant, busy arrangement of people strolling around or sucking up the sun and excellent beer, watching the rest of the city go by. There are so many restaurants and bars around the centre and beyond, it's hard to recommend a handful - there's plenty of enjoyment to be had in exploring for oneself and going wherever takes the fancy. The best places to for nourishment are the streets surrounding the Square, but not so much on it, the main shopping-street of Gdanska, a short walk across the river and anywhere in between. Wherever you eat, Zurek (a sour soup) and Pierogi (stuffed Dumplings) are good bets for solid, tasty Polish food. A recently-opened Shopping Centre, Focus Park (opposite the Bus Station) offers less traditional options, in terms of both eating and shopping, and also has a large cinema. ~ Help! Where am I?! ~ Bydgoszcz is served by good air, rail and bus links, and all of these terminals are relatively close to the centre. Arriving by air, you'll land at the compact but modern airport which is a short trip south of the city. Buses run every half-hour or so from the stop right in front of the gate - get off at the Rondo Jagiellonska stop ten or fifteen minutes down the road, five or ten minutes east of the square; follow the river. Taxis are easier if you're arriving for the first time - expect to pay between 20-30 zloty, depending on exactly where you're going in the centre. If you're getting the bus back to the airport, you'll want the number 80 - all the buses and many of the stops have good maps showing where you can pick them up from. The train station is west of the centre, in a slightly less pleasant part of town. To get to the centre, follow Dworcowa all the way along, or take a taxi. Once in the centre, it's extremely easy to find you way around the city. There's not much south of the Square beyond the Old Town - relatively small by Polish standards, but pleasant enough. Head north from the square to get to Mostowa street; from here, Gdanska, a shop-lined street with one or two nice restaurants heads north, leading to Myslecinek Park (en route, towards the northern end, have a look at the collection of tanks and missiles arranged on a lawn by the side of the road!). Going east and west runs Jagiellonska - go west and across the bridge for a large cinema and supermarket, east for the shopping centre and Bus Station. A nice orientation walk can take you east from Stary Rynek along the river as far as Luczniczka Stadium, then across the bridge and back, crossing the river again at the recently built Opera house west of the square, and back to the start via Little Venice. ~ Had enough. How do I leave? ~Bydgoszcz is extremely well connected for train travel to the rest of Poland - regular trains head for Torun, an attractive, historic city (1 hour), Gdansk (2 ½ hours) and the capital Warsaw (4 hours). Overnight trains link the city with Krakow and the south of the country. The station is easy to use, and travel is comfortable and affordable. The Bus Station is fifteen minutes' walk east of the Square, and offers regular services heading for the aforementioned cities as well as smaller towns nearby. Amongst these, Chelmno and Biskupin (via Znin) make excellent day trips. ~ In conclusion; why go to Bydgoszcz? ~ The south of Poland deservedly gets all the plaudits - Krakow and the mountains are fantastic places to visit - but there is more to the country. Bydgoszcz isn't a stunning attraction in itself, but it makes a good base from which to visit the cities of the North, and may be more pleasant than you'd think. If you're a fan of slightly off-the-beaten-track destinations, it's good value as well; Ryanair are often offering low-cost flights (and the destination is frequently part of their promotions), and though Poland isn't as cheap as it was several years ago, it still makes for good value compared to Euroland. If for no other reason - go and pay a visit to the bizarre spectacle that plays out twice a day on the Old Square. A mannequin of Pan Twardowski, a kind of Polish Faust, appears from a high wind to cheerful music, waves and bows a bit before disappearing in a fit of maniacal laughter. It's hard to say what it's all about, but it's something to see, and may be just another facet of an unexpectedly enjoyable visit. Close