Have you ever heard of Cieszyn? (except if you’ve been around for a while and remember my last year’s post about this place + if you follow me on Facebook and see how often I mention it). This small town divided by Polish-Czech border is my latest discovery, a place I keep returning to, the one that does mircales to my creativity and where I feel extremely good in. Cieszyn is also a perfect stop in your travels between Prague and Kraków or Vienna and Warsaw. You can relax after dealing with crowds in one of these popular destinations and regain energy before heading to another one. This is just one of the many reasons why you should include Cieszyn in your next trip! So what are the others?
When Polish people hear the name of this city they immediately think of the border between Poland and Czech Republic that runs through the town. And that’s not really surprising as Cieszyn used to be a city of smugglers, a getaway to Czech Republic. One of the biggest border crossing between these two countries used to be located right in the center of Cieszyn. I remember it very clearly as that’s where I visited Czech Republic for the very first time, back in 1998.
Most of the backpackers visiting Europe have more or less the same route and almost always both Kraków and Prague are on their list. Direct transport between these two cities is very limited and pricy. The best thing one can do is to take a public transport in Poland and Czech Republic and then walk through the border. Bus between Kraków and Cieszyn runs frequently, it takes 3 hours and the price should be around 20pln (~5€). Direct trains from Cesky Tesin to Prague run every 2 hours, take 4.5 hours (it’s 400kms) and cost a little bit over 12€. Overall the journey between Kraków and Prague would cost you around 17€, the price of the direct train is over 70€…
Cieszyn is one of the oldest towns in Poland, with long and rich history. It dates back to 10th century, from the end of 13th century till mid 17th century it used to be the capital of Duchy of Cieszyn. In 1920 the town was divided to what now is Cieszyn and Cesky Tesin. Most of the important, historical buildings stayed on the Polish side, including the 11th century rotunda that can be seen on 20 Polish złoty bill. But while Cieszyn is full of monuments and great examples of Austro-Hungarian architecture the Czech side isn’t boring either. When the city was divided Cesky Tesin was just a suburb and had to develop quickly – it resulted in the amazing 1920s modern architecture that can be found just across Olza river.
Location right at the border and on the trade routes made Cieszyn a multicultural hub of this part of Europe. Besides Poles and Czech the city used to have also German and Jewish inhabitants, for a short time a small Hungarian community was present here as well. This variety is still felt in the atmosphere of the city and that’s what makes this place so special. Some remnants of old inhabitants, such as beautifully located Jewish cemetries, can be found in the city. During the times of Austro-Hungarian Empire the Emperor Franz Josef visited Cieszyn couple of times – the city is still proud of these events and you might hear mentions of these here and there.
For a towns of this size (Cieszyn – 35.000 inhabitants, Cesky Tesin – 25.000 inhabitants) there’s an exceptional cafe culture! Each time I’m there I spend a big part of my time enjoying various cafes (like right now, I’m writing this post from Presso – a great design cafe located on Cieszyn castle). The choice is really big – from a fancy, Viennese style Cafe Muzeum, intellectual Kavarna Avion right across the Olza river on the Czech side, tea houses both in Poland and Czech Republic, quirky pubs like Bar Cieszyńska Wenecja or the mentioned Presso. And the best thing about cafes and pubs in Cieszyn? Very affordable prices, half of what you’d have to pay in Kraków or Warsaw for the same beer or coffee!
Cieszyn has become a design capital of Silesia region and an important design center in Poland. Cieszyn castle is where you can find all the cool things. Right now for example there’s a great exhibition of IKEA items – not only you can see quirky yet functional pieces but also read the story of the designers, what inspirred them to create etc. The good news is the design exhibitions are free of charge!
Another great advantage of Cieszyn and its location is the mix of Polish and Czech cuisine and beer. You want to eat pierogi or pork chop? There’re plenty of restaurants serving a typical, delicious Polish dishes! Or maybe you’re feeling like trying some amazing smazeny syr? In Cieszyn / Cesky Tesin you can have the best of these two countries! And on top of that there’s great and cheap Czech beer (available on both sides of the border) or a really good one from Cieszyn – Brackie. And again – prices are really affordable! For a two course meal in „Obiady jak u mamy” on the Polish side (highly recommended) you would have to pay 9.90zł (~2,50€ / 3,30$) while smazeny syr + fries + beer in „U Huberta” on the Czech side would cost you around 100czk (less than 4€ / 5$)
I can’t really describe that but each time I’m in Cieszyn I feel some magic in this place. Every sunny afternoon the city is covered in an intense yellow colour I haven’t seen anywhere else. The cobbled street, old houses remembering Austro-Hungary times, crossing the bridge to be in a completely different world, the feeling of the old times – these are just few things that make me fall in love with Cieszyn more and more every time I visit it. During each of my stays there I don’t feel like I’m in Poland, neither in Czech Republic – Cieszyn is just Cieszyn, a town that can’t be easily described, put into frames. The strong feeling of independence and pride is very clearly seen and felt there. It is a truly magical place!
I don’t really expect many great events in the city of this size but Cieszyn is a great exception. In the summer time there’s something going on literally every week! Cieszyn is well known for its numerous festivals: Tea Festival (with lots of workshops, concerts or meetings with travellers), Circles of Art (lots of movies, theatres, exhibitions or concerts) or Summer Frames (this year there were movies from countries like Iran, Serbia or Romania). But the most important event is Kino na Granicy / Kino na Hranici – a transborder movie festival that takes place each year at the end of April / beginning of May. It shows mostly movies from Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia but sometimes also works from surrounding countries can be seen. Lately the festival introduced a new way of connecting two countries – the screen is located on the Polish side of Olza river while people sit on the Czech side! I’ve been planning to go to this festival for years and hopefully next year I will finally be able to visit Cieszyn at that time!
One of the reasons why I visit Cieszyn that often is a great 3 Bros’ hostel. Visiting Cieszyn was on my mind for years but after receiving their invitation last summer I finally went and well, the rest is known, I’m crazy about this town right now. Somewhen along the way I became really good friends with owners of the hostel, three crazy guys Marjo, Korni and Adam. We always spent long hours talking about everything and nothing, always over a local beer. They know Cieszyn really well and it’s easy to say they are really passionate about the city and know all the best spots. If you visit Cieszyn staying at 3Bros’ is a must (and the price – 45zł (~11€ / 15$) for a bed + breakfast is unbeatable) – if you’re there say hello to guys from me!
If I didn’t convince you enough to visit Cieszyn watch this great video made by my friends at Visegrad Hostels! Also make sure to see their other videos showing the beauty of undiscovered Central Europe!
Do you like visiting small, charming towns? Would you like to go to Cieszyn/Cesky Tesin?
If you think of visiting Czech Republic or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
If you think of visiting Poland or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
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