Even if I’ve been visiting Olsztyn, the capital of the Warmian-Masurian region in Poland, since I was a kid, very rarely have I had a chance to see it properly, as a tourist. Only during one of my last trips there, did I set aside some time to discover Olsztyn and, just like with many Polish cities recently, I was really amazed at what a cool and beautiful place it has become.
If you are looking for an off-the-path yet interesting place in Poland – visit Olsztyn. You will surely be impressed with the beautiful architecture, interesting history and amazing nature around.
Below you will find some solid reasons why you should plan a trip to Olsztyn soon.
Table of contents
- 1 How to get to Olsztyn, Poland
- 2 Reasons to visit Olsztyn
- 3 Travel Resources
How to get to Olsztyn, Poland
Olsztyn, a city of around 170 thousand inhabitants, is located in northeast Poland, some 200 km north of Warsaw, the capital of Poland. Other bigger, fairly nearby cities are Gdansk (180 km), Bialystok (220 km), Torun (190 km), and Bydgoszcz (210 km).
Getting to Olsztyn is actually really easy as the city is well-connected by train with Warsaw and other places in Poland, with daily direct departures. You can check the schedules here. The direct Warsaw-Olsztyn train takes around 2h30 min to get between these two cities.
Reasons to visit Olsztyn
If you are wondering if Olsztyn is worth visiting I put together a list of a few good reasons that yes, indeed it is!
See the Olsztyn castle
Although it is much smaller than the Gothic masterpiece in Malbork, Olsztyn castle is really impressive too. Located in the heart of the city, the Castle of Warmian Cathedral Chapter in Olsztyn (as that’s the official name of this place) dates back to the mid-14th century (when Olsztyn got the location rights) and is a great example of the brick, Gothic architecture in the area.
For years, the castle was used mostly for defensive purposes and as the seat of the Warmian Cathedral Chapter until in 1772, after the First Partition of Poland, it was taken over by the Prussian state. When Olsztyn returned to Poland in 1945, the castle became home to the Museum of Warmia-Masuria and serves this function until today.
It is worth visiting the castle, not only to see the large collection of artifacts from the region (that show both, Polish and German heritage) but also to see the original interiors of the place, including the refectory with an impressive diamond vault built around 1520 (it always reminds me of the beautiful architecture in Iran).
Learn more about the life of Nicolaus Copernicus
For five years, between 1516 and 1521, Olsztyn castle was home to Nicolaus Copernicus, the world-known astronomer who worked here as the administrator caretaker of the place (normally he was the canon of Warmian Cathedral Chapter in nearby Frombork (Frauenburg)). When visiting the castle you can learn more about his life in Olsztyn as well as see a well-preserved astronomical table, made in 1517 by Copernicus himself.
Right before entering the castle premises, you can find the popular statue of Copernicus. It’s common to sit on his lap and grab his nose for luck.
Wander around the Old Town
The oldest part of Olsztyn, the Old Town, dates back to the 14th century and was built in the strategic location at the bend of the Łyna river, next to the Olsztyn castle. It was protected by the city walls with the dozen of bastions and three gates and until the 19th century, it actually was the whole town. Today’s Old Town has the same shape and area as the original one but the only remaining part of the fortification (besides the castle) is the High Gate, which still serves as the entry point to the Old Town.
The heart of the Old Town is the Main Square, with the Gothic Old Town Hall in the middle. The brick building originally dates back to the 14th century but was rebuilt after the fire in the early 17th century.
The Main Square as well as the surrounding streets are lined with interesting townhouses that were mostly rebuilt after World War 2 (however, you can still easily find original elements from medieval times). My favorite thing about them is the added art in the shape of mid-20th century bas-reliefs or sgraffito, they add a unique twist to the place.
See one of the prettiest town halls in Poland
Olsztyn in fact has two town halls – the old, Gothic one in the Old Town (that is used as the library today) and the new one, located just outside the Old Town. The majestic neo-renaissance building dates back to the early 20th century and is among the most beautiful town halls in Poland.
Already from the outside, you can admire the unique architecture of the building, including five statues – civic virtues: Justice, Wisdom, Beauty, Strength and Diligence. It is possible to visit the town hall inside too, during the opening hours of the municipal institutions that are based here.
See the galaxy
Olsztyn is home to the second-largest planetarium in Poland, a true testimony to Nicolaus Copernicus’s past in the city. It was opened in 1973, on the 500th birthday anniversary of the great astronomer and since then the place is an important attraction in the city.
If you would like to learn more about the stars and galaxies, this is your place to visit. There are different showings to choose from, some have live commentary from the in-house astronomers but no matter which one you choose, you are in for a treat. A little bonus of visiting the Olsztyn planetarium is a beautiful mosaic located inside the building.
Not far from the planetarium you will also find the observatory, located in the 19th-century water tower. During your visit here you can learn more about astronomy and admire the panorama of the city from the top floor. In the evening, when the sky is clear, you can see breathtaking views of the galaxy through the telescope.
Relax at the lake
One of the best things about visiting Olsztyn are lakes, located all over the city. Almost 10% of the city’s area is taken by the lakes.
There are 16 of them within Olsztyn’s borders and you can easily visit them during your trip to Olsztyn. Some of them have fine facilities, like the city beach or piers, while others are more wild so it’s up to you where you prefer to relax.
What’s interesting, in the past there were even more lakes in Olsztyn but in the second half of the 19th century, many of them were drained as it was more profitable to sell the land than to use it for fishing.
A getaway to the Warmia region
While Olsztyn is a great place to visit, the city can also be used as a great base to explore the surrounding area. Not only the Warmia region is really beautiful, with numerous lakes, forests, and rivers, but there are also some interesting landmarks to see.
You can find some great Gothic architecture not only in Olsztyn but also in Lidzbark Warminski, Reszel, or Frombork. There are also beautiful Baroque palaces around as well as interesting brick roadside chapels lined along the Warmia roads, typical for this region. Warmia is one of the most underrated regions in Poland but that’s why discovering all its gem is such a treat.
A bit further you can visit Elblag and take the boat along the unique Elblag Canal. And then hop to the seaside that is not far.
Or you can visit Masuria, popular for its grand lakes (I personally prefer those in Olsztyn and the surroundings). That’s also where you will find Wolf’s Lair – Hitler’s headquarters during World War 2, the first one on the Eastern Front, located only 100 km away from Olsztyn.
Final thoughts on visiting Olsztyn
The northeastern part of Poland is still fairly overlooked by international tourists but as you can see above, this area really offers some great attractions and landmarks. And there is no better place than Olsztyn to start your trip to the region!
This is also a great destination if you want to have both: a trip to an interesting city and a wonderful nature getaway.
But no matter what are your reasons to visit Olsztyn, I’m sure you will enjoy the place and its surroundings!
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