It’s an inevitable occurrence which sees me going back to Poland year after year. Even when it seems like I won’t be making my annual visit, something always manages to draw me back to my second hometown of Sopot.
Although I love Sopot, and the adjoining cities of Gdansk and Gdynia that complete this particular tricity, it’s always a highlight when I get to see a part of Poland that I haven’t yet experienced. Recently, my mum and I jumped on a train to somewhere new – this time, it was to the city of Torun.
It’s a city known for many things – medieval architecture, pierniki, Nicolaus Copernicus – and, in this post, I’ll be convincing you of the fact that you need to make a day trip here when travelling in Poland.
From the best way to get there to the best sights and food, this is my guide to making the most of your day trip to Torun.
So you’re keen to get to Torun, but what’s the best way to get there?
You can catch a flight to the city of Bydgoszcz, but this is still 50km away from Torun, so you’d need to catch a train or bus from there.
If you’re wanting to drive, it’ll be easy to do so from either Gdansk or Bydgoszcz, but remember that you’ll need to drive on the right-hand side when in Poland.
The stress-free options, though, have to be train or bus. We went to Torun by train from Gdansk; yes, this was a three-hour journey – one way! – but the train cabins won’t be overly busy so a snooze is guaranteed.
Wander around a World Heritage Site
Poland is filled with many beautiful cities, yet Torun is undoubtedly special. Unlike many of its counterparts, Torun – and its many architectural treasures – escaped destruction during the World Wars. Nothing had to be rebuilt here in the aftermath of these terrible events, so, as you’ll be strolling around Torun, you’ll be seeing some of the country’s best medieval buildings.
I’m not the only one who thinks so, clearly, as Torun’s Old Town is officially recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even on rainy days, the streets of the Old Town are perfect for strolling, and it’ll feel like there’s a stunning building every time you look in a new direction.
Tall brick churches that defy gravity, gingerbread-like townhouses displaying every colour, sprawling ruins and the proud Town Hall positioned at the centre of it all – there’ll be endless opportunities to keep that camera of yours busy.
The masses of tourists that can be found in Krakow, Zakopane and Gdansk seldom reach Torun, so, while we wandered through the cobblestone streets, blending in with locals going about their daily lives, it almost felt like we had the Old Town sights all to ourselves.
Climb the Clock Tower
And what could be better than starting with Torun’s centrepiece?
Officially known as the Old City Town Hall, this squat brown building lies at the centre of the market square. But while the structure itself is appealing to look at, it’s what sits on top of it that (rightly) draws the most attention.
I’ve said it elsewhere, but my number-one priority when visiting new places is to venture to their highest vantage point. And Torun was no exception; we were about to climb the Town Hall’s Clock Tower. For a small fee (10 zloty) that equated to a few Pounds and the other small matter of getting ourselves up the narrow staircases, we were about to be treated to views that stretched over central parts of Torun’s Old Town and beyond.
If you’re doing the climb in winter, remember to wrap up warmly – it can be chilly up here!
The Clock Tower provides gorgeous views over the rooftops and the nearby Vistula River, with glimpses of the heavily forested land surrounding the city. It may require a bit of calf muscle strain, but I couldn’t recommend climbing the Clock Tower enough – just in case these photos haven’t convinced you enough already!
Become acquainted with Nicolaus Copernicus
As you would have already picked up, you can find references to Torun’s most renowned resident, Nicolaus Copernicus, scattered throughout the Old Town. There’s the statue of the man in front of the Town Hall, most of the university buildings bear his name and, importantly, you can pay a visit to the house where he actually lived.
Known as Mikolaj Kopernik in Polish, Copernicus was born in Torun all the way back in 1473. Although he made many contributions to the fields of science and astronomy, his biggest discovery was a new model of the universe – where the sun was the centre of it all and not the earth, which was what was believed at that time.
He went on to travel in other parts of Europe and eventually died in the Polish town of Frombork in 1543, but the folks in Torun are proud of their associations with Copernicus. For those interested in history and science, a visit to the Nicolaus Copernicus Museum – housed in Copernicus’ former residence – is a must.
Making your way up creaky staircases and marvelling at rooms that seem to feature ancient wooden beams, the 10-zloty entry fee seems tiny when considering you’re getting to become acquainted with one of the greatest minds of the 15th Century.
I especially loved seeing the copies of the old constellation maps, where stars and galaxies are depicted in skillful sketches of beasts, humans and mythical creatures.
The only drawback to visiting this museum is the lack of English captions for displays, but it’s still worth a look just for those rooms and drawings!
Take a pierniki pit stop
Pierniki? Did I just make that word up?
Thankfully not – these little guys have been around long before I was even born. Pierniki are, quite simply, gingerbread cookies, and I remember having these as a sweet treat every time Christmas rolled around. For something so simple, though, they have caused a furious debate about where they were first made – and Torun is one of the contenders. The result is that, for every Copernicus reference you’ll see, there’ll be just as many nods to pierniki in Torun!
There seemed to be a pierniki shop on every corner and, even if you’re not a fan of gingerbread, go into one of these stores. If you’re lucky, the in-store bakery may have just cooked up a batch of pierniki – and the smell will cause you to salivate immediately.
Since we were due for a quick sitdown, we paused at the ridiculously cute Cafe Hanza. The basement cafe, which doubles up as a cosy coworking space, is decorated with quirky objects and colourful paintings. And, happily for us, Torun’s pierniki theme extended here; not only did we have pierniki-flavoured lattes, but we had an upgrade of the pierniki cookie form: pierniki cake! Made of dense gingerbread sponge, topped with a layer of fruit jam and covered in chocolate, this tasted like a plateful of Christmas.
Find quirky statues
If you share my love for all things quirky, then Torun is bound to be your happy place too.
Throughout our day in the city, we spotted a number of curious statues. After doing some research about them after the day trip, it feels like every single one of these statues has a backstory.
Two of the best statues can be found near Old Market Square. There’s a donkey, whose modern metallic form replaced the wooden one that stood here during the Middle Ages. The story goes that criminals would be punished publicly by being forced to sit on the wooden donkey and then getting whipped. A grim tale, yes, but nowadays the donkey statue is mostly used for photo opportunities.
Making new friends! Torun is home to a number of quirky statues (I’ll be posting some more of these soon) but this has to be one of the most photographed specimens. This donkey has been installed here, as a wooden version once stood in this spot during medieval times. The former model had a grisly association attached, where medieval criminals were publicly punished while astride the donkey, but nowadays this metallic modern statue is a favourite with visiting school groups and late-night photographing shenanigans!
Another statue in the square has a slightly more amusing story. On one side of the Town Hall, you’ll see a platform, where a violinist is surrounded by a group of golden frogs. The backstory for this one? Once upon a time, it’s said that Torun was overrun by frogs. One chap – the violinist depicted – took it upon himself to get rid of them. By playing his violin, this solved the frog problem. My theory? He was either the Pied Piper of amphibians – or his violin-playing skills were so terrible that the frogs had no choice but to flee!
Those aren’t the only statues, though; we spotted a fair maiden with a small dog clinging to her skirt, as well as an elderly lady taking a seat on a bench with a goose on one side and a basket of eggs, including a golden one, on the other. Also, in the windows of various buildings, we saw little wooden figurines. If you go to Torun and spot any more of these unique statues, let me know!
Explore gravity-defying churches
Trust me on the adjective there. I’m not prone to exaggerating, but Torun truly has some of the most awe-inspiring churches I’ve ever seen. And, given the fact that there seems to be so many of them within the Old Town, it’ll be a tough decision about which to visit first.
There’s Torun Cathedral, also known as the church of St John the Baptist, which towers above all. First built back in the 13th Century, this Gothic brick church has been added to over the years. Inside, you can find a 13th-Century baptismal front, with decorated white pillars and vaults far above.
My favourite find of the day had to be St Mary’s Church. While its 14th-Century brick exterior is impressive (and almost impossibly tall), the real appeal lies within. With a main altar that seems to capture every ounce of light no matter how dim the aisles may be, I just found this church to be flawless.
But whether you’re religious or not, into really old churches or newer models, you’ll need to witness Torun’s churches for yourself. With the medieval ones, I’m sure you’ll be thinking the same thing I did: how did they construct these massive brick forms all the way back in the 13th and 14th Centuries?!
Ramble over castle ruins
Torun is also home to a historic structure of a different kind: a castle. To be fair, the castle now lies in a state of ruin, but that shouldn’t stop you from stopping by. Once a grand castle belonging to the Teutonic order of knights, these ruins date back to the 13th and 14th Centuries. It fell into a state of disuse after a town rebellion, during which the knights lost possession of the castle. For 9 zloty, you can wander around the ruins and take in the castle’s horseshoe shape – a very unusual architectural setup for those times.
Misshapen stacks of collapsed brickwork are all that remains of the once-mighty Torun Castle. A Teutonic castle dating back to the 13th Century, the buildings fell into ruin after a town rebellion. You can still visit this unique castle, built in the shape of a horseshoe, which contributed to Torun being named a World Heritage Site! A photo posted by Kasha Dubaniewicz (@linesofescape) on
End off the day with a traditional Polish dinner
By this point of the day, you would have walked a great deal, climbed a tower, sourced the city’s quirkiest statues and bought some pierniki to take home, so it’ll definitely be time for a well-earned meal.
We’d passed by Stary Mlyn a number of times that day and, after perusing the menu placed outside, we knew that this would be a great dinner spot. This is due to the fact that Stary Mlyn (translation: Old Mill) is a pierogarnia – a restaurant that specialises in pierogi.
Pierogi are Polish dumplings, traditionally served with vegetable or meat fillings. Stary Mlyn offers pierogi in a variety of forms: baked, boiled, fried. What we were served that night ranked as some of the best pierogi either of us had eaten – and that’s saying something, as my mum grew up in Poland.
We chose a plate each of mixed pierogi, which featured fillings we’d never had before; from cheddar and salami to bacon and cooked cabbage, each dumpling was better than the last.
Even the bill arrived in what appeared to be a giant wooden pierog. We were after a traditional Polish dinner, and it couldn’t get more traditional than this!
Even though it sounds like we did an impossible amount of sightseeing in one day, I assure you that you can do the same on your day trip. All of these sights and activities are within short walking distance of each other – meaning you’ll get to see so much in the space of one day.
If you can do more than one day in Torun, though, I would highly recommend taking the opportunity to stay longer. As the tourist sign below shows, there was plenty that we didn’t get to see in Torun, but you’ll be able to do so if you stretch out your trip there by another day or two!
Did I miss out on any of your favourite Torun sights or activities? Let me know in the comments below!