For years I haven’t considered Katowice as an interesting tourist destination and a perfect weekend getaway in Poland. During my university years it was often a must stop on the way to Czech Republic or a place to go for interesting events (concerts, volleyball games etc). I’ve spent hours at Katowice train station, waiting for my next connection yet never going much beyond it.
Together with most people in Poland I fell for the stereotypes of Katowice, I’ve thought it’s just a dull and grey city where the industry took over and where I could find absolutely nothing interesting for me. Passing through this city was always an obligation, never a pleasure.
Now when I think about my prejudice towards Katowice I feel simply silly and stupid.
Table of contents
- 1 Industriada – an unique event in Silesia
- 2 Katowice – best place to live in Poland?
- 3 Silesian Museum – one of the top Polish museums
- 4 Culture Zone – probably the best place in Katowice
- 5 Surprising, laid-back Katowice
- 6 Another interesting museum in Katowice
- 7 Modernism in Katowice
- 8 Nikiszowiec and Giszowiec – real gems of Katowice
- 9 Wilson Shaft Gallery – where industrial past meets cultural future
- 10 Katowice – the biggest surprise of my travels this year
Industriada – an unique event in Silesia
My first eye-opening contact with Katowice was last year during Industriada – an annual festival of technical landmarks in Silesia. It was mind blowing!
In one day the industrial spaces, usually close for public, welcomed visitors. I could go on top of the mineshaft, see the century old steam engine working, walk through the power plant or admire the art exhibition in former rolling mill. It was one of the best festivals I’ve ever attended, so interesting and so unusual.
This one day in Silesia made me itch to go back, visit Katowice and get to know this misunderstood region better. I’ve realized all my life I was so wrong about Katowice and it was about the time for me to change my perception of the city.
Katowice – best place to live in Poland?
I was somehow mesmerized by Katowice and Silesia. Some of my friends and family members live there and each of them says how good place to settle down it is, how they wouldn’t trade it for anywhere else. How come the place with such a bad reputation could be so good after all?
Well, it didn’t take me long to figure it out. I was lucky as when I finally decided to visit Katowice the weather was on my side, it was a hot and sunny day and the city presented itself at its best, making me fall for it a little bit too.
Silesian Museum – one of the top Polish museums
My first stop in Katowice was the Silesian Museum and I couldn’t have asked for the better start.
The museum was founded in 1929 but only last year it got its new location in the grounds of the former coal mine “Katowice”. For the person who doesn’t know much about the region it’s a perfect introduction to the history of the city and Silesia.
Katowice was first mentioned at the end of the 16th century but the real boom came in the 19th century when the railway line connecting Mysłowice with Wrocław was led through Katowice. This brought the industry to the city, especially steal and mining.
For years Katowice and the whole Silesia region was the driving force of the Polish economy, with all the ups and downs. I don’t want to get too much into the historical details here as it’s been all rather complicated, complex and well, confusing at times for someone not local. We didn’t learn all that much about Silesia region at history lessons which now I really regret.
But that’s when the Silesian Museum comes in very handy as you can get into the details at the exhibition showing the history of the city and region over years. Of all the museums I’ve visited in Poland this one is in the top, being interactive, interesting and educational. I don’t dare to say I know a lot about the history of Silesia, even now, but the visit in this particular museum helped me to understand what an unique and complex region it is.
To make things even better Silesian Museum can offer much more than just the amazing history lesson! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I admired the paintings by some of the best Polish artists, those I’ve learn about at school (Matejko, Wyspiański, Malczewski just to name few). And to my utter joy there was also a part dedicated to art naif which happens to be one of my favorite art styles ever, it’s way too cute to describe!
A grand final of the visit at the Silesian Museum is a viewing platform located on the top of the mineshaft, offering amazing views of the city. Already there you can notice that Katowice is so much more than the rumors say!
Culture Zone – probably the best place in Katowice
Silesian Museum is part of so called Culture Zone, spreading in the center of Katowice and being a perfect example of the revitalization of the urban grounds. I remember not so long time ago, after the Katowice mine shut down, this part of the city was just a waste, a blank space on the map.
Other cities in Poland and beyond should learn from Katowice, they certainly did this project right! Besides the Museum grounds the Culture Zone consists of headquarters of NOSPR (Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra), the International Conference Center and Spodek – the spaceship.
Only the last one, a fine example of my favorite brutalism architecture, has been the part of Katowice cityscape for years – 45 to be exact – being the symbol of the city and the region, known all over the country. Remaining buildings are new, designed in the modern way, referring to city’s best features such as Nikiszowiec (more about it later).
Altogether Culture Zone makes a perfect place to spend free time at and relax, either at one of numerous cultural events or just hanging out, sitting on the rooftop of ICC and enjoying the place.
-> During my visit in Katowice I stayed at Novotel Hotel, just across the street from the Culture Zone and it was the best location I could ask for! Click here for the current rates and availability! <-
Surprising, laid-back Katowice
If you think (like I used to) that cool places in Katowice are only in the Zone of Culture you are so wrong.
Shortly before my visit a new leisure spot was opened in the very center of the city, with palm trees (borrowed from the palm house in nearby Gliwice), sun beds and a small pond. It looked beautiful! On the hot day like the one I had it was very busy: youngsters were playing in the water, older people were sunbathing, reading, spending times with friends and just enjoying the beautiful weather.
It was then that I realized Katowice must be a great place to live, I finally understood all my friends and family recommending Silesia. No one was in hurry, everyone seemed to be in a good mood, local people hang out in the very center and relaxed. I could sense this good, laid-back and creative vibe in the air.
From now on I was surprised more and more with Katowice! A random neon sign, a pedestrian street with countless pubs and cafes, amazing street art here and there. I was exploring the center of Katowice with my jaw dropped, not recognizing the city I used to visit years ago.
Another interesting museum in Katowice
Even if I’ve visited Katowice couple of times before I never really ventured in the part of the center behind the railway line. I don’t have a good explanation for that but since Katowice has never been a tourist destination for me guess I’ve never really had any errands there.
Crossing this virtual border was like a stepping into the new world for me – while I knew the other side of the center of Katowice fairly well here I needed to look at the map and around every now and then.
I first stopped in the Historical Museum of Katowice – it was different than the Silesian Museum but also very interesting. Located in the beautiful town house it showed how the different social classes used to live and how developed everyday life already at the turnout of 19th and 20th century was.
Modernism in Katowice
This part of the city is also a pure heaven for every fan of modernism architecture. Since Katowice is a fairly young city, gaining the city rights in 1865, the fair share of its development happened at the beginning of 20th century when modernism was at its peak.
I know for many this style of architecture is nothing that special, it took me a while to understand and eventually fall in love with it. But if you share my affection let me tell you – you’re in for a treat in Katowice! After Gdynia this must be the best place in Poland to admire modernist architecture!
Fortunately the city realizes how much value this architecture has and published a really good guide book showing the best of Katowice modernism, it was irreplaceable when getting to know this part of the center! You can get it for free in the tourist information center at Rynek 13 as well as at the dedicated website.
Nikiszowiec and Giszowiec – real gems of Katowice
If you ask local people which place you cannot miss when you visit Katowice they will most likely point you to Nikiszowiec and Giszowiec, two workers’ quarters located at the eastern outskirts. They were both built at the beginning of the 20th century, for workers of the nearby mines and they couldn’t be any more different!
While Nikiszowiec is all made of the red brick and full of tenant houses Giszowiec was created as a garden city with small, different houses, each designed for two families. Both settlements are beautiful and charming but it was Nikiszowiec that stole my heart (or maybe I just have a soft spot for the red brick).
It felt like it’s a city on its own, like it has everything a resident might need: a church, a shop, numerous workshops, a tavern or a cafe. Even if all the houses look the same at first after a while you realize they are not. A tiny detail that differ houses from each other are front doors – they were designed like that on purpose so men, after a night at the tavern, would find their home easily. Clever, huh?
Wilson Shaft Gallery – where industrial past meets cultural future
Not far from Nikiszowiec was my last stop and a perfect end of my time in Katowice – the Wilson Shaft Gallery. I’ve already been there during Industriada but back then it was packed with people and I couldn’t properly see and enjoy it. This time however it was blissfully empty and again I was lucky to admire art naif paintings there.
It was actually at Wilson Shaft Gallery where I first saw this colorful movement and fell for it! This is actually the largest private gallery in Poland and its motto, “What industry took away, culture must regain”, is the best definition of whole Katowice for me.
It’s amazing how much this city has change in such a short time, how it could redefine itself and find its own path in the new reality. Weeks have passed since I had a chance to properly visit Katowice and now I’m certain this is the direction cities in Poland (and Central Europe) should aim for.
I wish every country had their own Katowice, where culture and creativity defines (hopefully) bright future!
Katowice – the biggest surprise of my travels this year
I had plans for the evening out in Katowice as well (checking out the nightlife on famous Mariacka street or go for one of the cultural events that were taking place) but the terrible storm forced me to change my plans. Which was good in a way as I could have a calm evening in the hotel, rethinking my whole day.
As for the city that was supposed to have not much to offer I had a really busy time exploring and discovering Katowice. And I know that one day was not enough to see and fully understand the place. Together with Lodz this really must be the most underrated and misunderstood city in Poland but I feel it’s about to change soon.
I can see more and more people tend to visit Katowice and rave about it awesomeness afterwards. I happily join this trend and I’m looking forward to the next chance to visit Katowice and get to know it even better! So far I can just say it was the most surprising place I’ve visited this year!
If you would like to learn more about Katowice and Silesia I recommend you visiting Silesia.travel website – a mine of information about the region!
If you think of visiting Poland or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it:
- Bytom, Poland – an unknown architecture gem
- Żyrardów – a perfect day trip from Warsaw
- Visit Cieszyn – reasons to fall in love with this beautiful city
- and many more!
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