Lying in the western reaches of Poland, the city of Szczecin has yet to emerge on the radar of most visitors to this fantastic country. The idea that Poland is actually an awesome place to explore in Europe is slowly dawning on people, but places like Szczecin are too far down the list at this stage. More's the pity as this small city mixes history and culture in a pleasantly calm atmosphere.
You may be wondering, so what is there to see in this city that I can't pronounce? Well firstly, you may find it easier simply calling it by its German (and former) name, Stettin. Secondly, Szczecin is home to enough sights to keep you happily occupied for a day or two. Basically, you should find Szczecin a worthy inclusion on a big Poland trip, or as a smaller weekend city break.
Castle of the Pomeranian Dukes
The biggest attraction for visitors to Szczecin has to be the impressive Castle of the Pomeranian Dukes. Its delicate Renaissance architecture dates back to the 16th century, although the local rulers had previous residences here since the 13th century. After appreciating its wonderful exterior, you can make your way into its inner courtyard and admire its ornate astronomical clock.
Today the castle hosts a number of things including the Castle Museum and a restaurant. Unfortunately, renovations at the time of my visit meant that access to some parts of the castle complex was not possible. More so, roadworks and other renovations prevented me from exploring the immediate area surrounding the castle as well. While my timing may have been poor, I believe these works have since finished and that there are plenty of things to do in the castle's vicinity.
If you're after pure, vibrant beauty then look no further than the Szczecin Town Hall. Decorated in a truly unusual coat of green paint, this masterful building sits at the end of an avenue that blooms with flowers when in season. Not to be confused with the Old Town Hall, and while this building may only date from 1879, it's still quite the sight.
Behind the Town Hall, you'll find the sizeable Jasne Błonia park that actually links up with several even larger parks. While it may be a popular place for joggers and picnics, it's also the location of quite a memorable monument, the Monument to the Polish Endeavour. This statue of doves flying pays tribute to those that helped build the nation of Poland.
For those looking for city views, Cafe 22 is your best bet. Situated at the top of Szczecin's tallest tower, this classy cafe offers food with a view. While normally out of my price range, getting to look out over the city was worth an expensive lunch. The views will really help you appreciate the city's main landmarks, especially the jagged iceberg-like Philharmonic.
The city of Szczecin lies along the banks of the Oder River, which naturally has helped define the city for centuries. While part of the Kingdom of Prussia and German Empire, the city was a vital port and industrial centre. While much of the Oder riverbank is lined with untamed nature, there is one noteworthy spot by the river, the Chrobry Embankment. This large terrace and staircase overlooks the river and sits out the front of the dignified Maritime Academy and Maritime Museum. Overall, the embankment is a good spot to both appreciate the river and spy some more intriguing architecture.
Local Statues and Art
Throughout Szczecin you'll find a mix of curious statues, art installations, and street art about the place. These are a fantastic reason to simply wander about the city and see what you can find. There's the above awesome street art just by the train station; a playful windswept sailor statue on the large avenue leading to the Town Hall. You can find a bronze statue of Jan Czekanowski- an important local anthropologist- reclining on a trunk in Anders Park. There's even a bizarre art installation at one roundabout that reminds me of the delicious "chips on a stick" snack found at food festivals. I'm sure there are more that I failed to come across during my Szczecin visit.
St. James Cathedral
It wouldn't be Europe or Poland, for that matter, without a great big cathedral to visit. At the centre of Szczecin lies the truly immense St. James Cathedral. Dating from the 12th century, the cathedral actually lies along the Way of the St. James, the popular pilgrimage route that spans Europe. You may be more familiar with its popular Spanish stretch, the Camino de Santiago.
Anyway, the cathedral sustained serious interior damage during WWII and is still undergoing repairs to this day. The cathedral sits in the middle of the city's Old Town and is surrounded by plenty of beautiful historic buildings and several small museums.
The Crooked Forest
I wouldn't forgive myself I talked about Szczecin without bringing up the Crooked Forest. This modern mystery lies to the south of the city, by the German border. Simply put, it's a small copse of trees concealed within a forest that happen to all be warped and bent. For more information on visiting the Crooked Forest, look here.
These sights are just a taste of what there is to see in Szczecin, without going too in-depth. Hopefully this will have shown you why the city of Szczecin is worth considering if you're planning a visit to Poland.
David is an avid traveller from Australia who has spent the last three years exploring as much of the world as he can. He has a passion for trying to find the lesser-seen, quieter pockets of the world. This has fostered a growing love of Eastern Europe and the Balkans, drawing him back repeatedly to these parts especially. Most of all, he loves sharing his travels and encouraging people to venture further with theirs. You can follow him here and on Facebook.