Toruń is one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in Poland. Picturesquely located on both sides of the Vistula River at an intersection of ancient trade routes, it has been promoting its vibrant cultural heritage to the world for nearly 800 years. I love walking along the beautiful streets surrounded by majestic Gothic buildings at least once a year, or each time I go back to Poland, and the relaxed atmosphere never ceases to surprise me. Summer or Winter, Toruń truly is a magical town. Here are a few things that you may not have known about it.
The Gothic buildings in the medieval Old Town were added to the World Heritage List by UNESCO in 1997 and I am always very happy to be walking along the same streets that the merchants and bakers used to walk along in the medieval times. If you wish to experience time travel, just come here.
The city is the birthplace of the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus whose statue stands prominently in front of the Town Hall. Why was he important enough to receive a statue? Well if you know Latin, you can easily find out from the inscription: “Nicolaus Copernicus Thorunensis, terrae motor, solis caelique stator“. But if you are like me and can only speak two languages, neither of them being Latin, it simply means: “Nicolaus Copernicus of Thorun, mover of the earth, stopper of the sun and heavens”. Copernicus introduced the idea that it was the Earth that orbits the Sun and not the other way round as it had been thought of until then. He published his theory on his deathbed and supposedly passed away shortly after reading it for the first time in print. Now that’s both a happy and sad event. Happy that the author was able to see his book published and sad it was for the first and last time in his life.
Did you know that gingerbread comes from…Toruń? Or most likely from there since that’s what the city is famous for. The visit to the Gingerbread Museum is a must because that’s where you will be able to make your own gingerbread dough according to the medieval methods and then bake it in the traditional mold. Now, how cool is that?
You can also just buy tons (if you wish to 🙂 of different flavours of chocolate or glaze coated gingerbread in the official Kopernik shops in the Old Town. I always leave with a bag of my favourites; Katarzynki (the heart-shaped gingerbread) and the ones with strawberry and apricot fillings. They are soft and flavorsome, and the chocolate melts on my fingers before I eat them. Just one of the simple pleasure in life. Nothing better to improve the mood than some chocolate, right? The factory is proud of its 250-year-old traditional method to make them. Now that’s a heritage to be pleased about.
Once your bag is filled with gingerbread, you can have a photo taken with the statue of a gingerbread lady who also has a basket filled with these delicious treats, apparently to commemorate the biggest gingerbread factory opened in 1751. Another time travel experience. Two women with baskets filled with gingerbread, only a few centuries apart…
The donkey with a spikey metal on its back may look like a cute attraction but in fact, it was designed to look like a similar wooden donkey which was used as a torture device for soldiers. They were forced to sit on it (and obviously suffer in a certain area) as a punishment for disobeying or other smaller crimes. Not the most humanitarian way to treat ‘bad guys’ but hey, medieval times had its own rules…
I always look forward to one more experience whilst visiting Toruń. Dinner in the best pancake restaurant in the world, Manekin. The choice of pancakes filled with savour or sweet filling is simply mouthwatering and after having my favorite one with kebab and a tomato sauce, I always share a chocolate banana one with whipped cream with my mama.
Within a short walk from the city centre you find yourself on the river bank of Vistula River which at night reflects the beauty of the town buildings in its calm waters. It is very lively in the summer when the locals enjoy their evening strolls alongside it or have a drink in one of the bars located on board the static ships. It is also a great way to burn off some calories from the pancake feast!
The remains of the Teutonic Knights’ living quarters along the other side of the river are a beauty to look at and the legend has it that the flying dragon used to hide in these walls. Now that’s a mystery to be explored by the adventurers!
The Old Town at twilight turns into the spectacular show of lights. Now that’s the time to really admire the beautiful architecture of the Gothic buildings while sitting in an open-air cafe, sipping a cocktail or a traditional Polish beer.
This year I was lucky enough to experience the yearly event called the ‘Bella Skyway Festival’, or simply the festival of light. What better place to turn into the fairy tale magical display of lights than the streets of Toruń! The light installations turn buildings into stunning light shows and the real fire and water installations from international artists around the Teutonic castle grounds were breathtaking. I could feel the heat from the torches as I walked by and the white vests with inserted candles which were hanging on the trees seemed out of this world. I would have never expected that! So if you can plan your trip to Toruń around that time, the festival will make you gasp from amazement. Unlike anything, I have ever seen.
There can be many things said about Toruń but there is one thing I can say with confidence. It is a truly magical place, full of history and it’s worth visiting at least once. If you feel like going back in time when strolling through cobbled streets, there is no better place in this part of Poland. The closest airport is Bydgoszcz. So what are you waiting for? How about some gingerbread, Polish beer and a medieval vibe?