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Wroclaw or Florence; a city comparison and tourism travel guide

Both Florence and Wroclaw are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?

We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This website will provide our unbiased opinions of Florence and Wroclaw, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit. The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)

Introduction to Wroclaw and Florence

Florence comes at you in a flurry of priceless art, pastel-painted jewellers, romantic piazzas, marble-gilded basilicas, saffron-scented risotto – the list goes on. Nestled into the lovely Arezzo hills in the northern part of Tuscany, the regional capital is famous around the globe.

Wroclaw (spelt Wrocław in Polish) is the historical capital of the Silesia region. It's been ruled and fought over and shaped by countless tribes and peoples, from the warring Slavs of the first millennium to the Habsburg emperors to the Prussian generals of the 1800s. That makes it a strangely diverse and varied place, with Germanic townhouses and Flemish-styled mansions next to Gothic cathedrals and USSR tenements.

But Wroclaw is a good-looking city, no questions. It's got a beautiful perch on the Oder River, spreading from island to island with arched bridges that recall Venice and wooded parks aplenty. The Old Town is the anchor of it all, and a great place to wander, people watch, and drink Polish beers. Beyond come the fairy-tale spires of Cathedral Island, the colossal concrete dome of Centennial Hall (a UNESCO site), and even Zen parks inspired by Japan.

High-level summary for Wroclaw and Florence

Summary
Which city would I go to?Florence
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Florence
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Florence
Which for my food obsessed friend? Florence
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)

The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city. We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip.

Destination details

How long to spend in the city?

Wroclaw isn't a big place. Yes, it's one of the largest cities in Poland, but its Old Town is still eminently walkable. There's also a nifty tram network that can whiz you around the main sights for just a few zloty here and there. All that means you should only need a day or two to explore the whole place. The presence of a dedicated airport also makes Wroclaw a prime candidate for a fly-in, fly-out weekend away.

Longer trips to Wroclaw should be supplemented with day outings – there's probably not enough in the town to sustain week-long visits. Get out and you have the wooded mountains of Karpacz (one of the larger Polish ski resorts), the Game of Thrones castles of the Eagles Nest Trail, and the holy Catholic pilgrimage site of Jasna Góra.

Florence demands at least two days. Lovers of this enchanting town will surely scoff at that. They wax lyrical about how Florence seduces folk who pass its way into staying weeks, months, years, and even whole lifetimes. Still, we think it's possible to check off the main sights, try the top dishes, and explore the historic center with around 48-72 hours total.

In the peak season there are extremely long queues for the galleries and Duomo cathedral; to avoid wasting precious time, it is advisable to pre-purchase tickets and start the day sightseeing very early (before 8am).

There are many good day trips from Florence, which are easily accessible by train, and include Siena, Lucca, and Arezzo. Florence may be a smaller city, but a fabulous one-week holiday could be had based here.

Unless you're a fan of air pollution and sub-zero temperatures, Wroclaw is not the place to be in the winter. The whole of south Poland gets cold between November and March – really cold. We're talking minus 10 degrees regularly, with sudden snowfalls and freeing rain. Of course, when there is a dusting of the white stuff, the Old Town of Wroclaw can look wonderful, but recent winters haven't been so promising.

For sightseeing and enjoying the student buzz of the town, it's probably better to hold off until May. That's when the weather really starts getting good. You might have chilly evenings, but you should be able to don the shorts and t-shirts for your wanders through the city. What's more, the local university is in session, so the bars will be lively and vibrant.

Summer sees the students go home and the tourists arrive. It's a reliable period for weather, even if you have to deal with the occasional thunderstorm around early afternoon. September is just as nice, if not even better. That's when the trees of the island parks in Wroclaw start to change to yellow and ochre, lending a romantic atmosphere to the Silesian capital.

You've got to remember that Florence is up there with the most famous in Italy, and the vast majority of the 15.4 million visitors that come annually turn up in the summer months! That sends hotel rates skywards between June and August and means you'll need to jostle for space in front of Giotto's Bell Tower and the Duomo.

The ideal time to visit Florence is from April to June or September and October. They have good weather, fewer people, and cheaper prices, not to mention food festivals and wine harvest events. Winters are cooler and possibly wet but have the lowest number of tourists.

Culture and art are the pillars of Florence. Lovers of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance will feel right at home between the Accademia Gallery and the Uffizi. Within their halls are iconic sculptures like Michelangelo's David, The Birth of Venus by Botticelli, and Caravaggio's haunting Medusa. And that's only scratching the surface!

Adding to the mix are the intriguing collections of the Museo Galileo for science buffs, the Ponte Vecchio for architecture aficionados, and tasty Tuscan farm foods for gourmands. Downsides include high visitor numbers, so it's best to steer clear if you're not a fan of crowds, particularly in the summer.

Florence is not an overly expensive destination, is relatively safe and has a small city atmosphere.

If you're the sort of traveller that loves to find off-the-beaten-track cities that don't necessarily have big-name sights, then Wroclaw is sure to be right up your alley. It's not as well known as other towns in Poland but comes with local vibes and interesting neighborhoods. It's also a student city, which means the nightlife can get pumping during term times (September to December and January to June).

Wroclaw has something for those who like the great outdoors, too. Not only is it a green place with lots of parks and riverside areas to explore, but the mountains of the Karpacz and the Czech borderlands are only a short drive to the south. They've got hiking, skiing, spa towns and more.

48hours in Wroclaw
Two days is all that's needed to explore Wroclaw from top to bottom. Most of your time will be spent in the charming Old Town area, but a few jaunts to parklands and other districts can combine with lively nights on the beer to boot…
The interactive map below shows a suggested route for the 48 hours in Wroclaw, with day 1 highlighted in green and day two in yellow.

Day 1: Every history lover, people watcher, foodie and sightseer will want to see the Stare Miasto district. That's the Wroclaw Old Town; the piece de resistance of this southern city. It begins around the wide boulevard of Piłsudskiego, passing through a few blocks of Soviet-era tenements before hitting the historic area proper. That starts in earnest by the Fosa Miejska, a centuries-old moat that was part of the town's medieval fortifications until it was destroyed by Jérôme Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon.

On the left as you make for the heart of the quarter is the elegant Wrocław Opera House, while the leafy walks of Park Staromiejski are the perfect place to go for a picnic in the summer. Keep going north and you'll eventually arrive at the Rynek. This is the beating kernel of the Old Town, where you'll find the most amazing sights of all.

The Gothic-styled Old City Hall draws the eye first, followed by the German-built housing blocks of 1931 – considered by the locals to be among the ugliest in town! Be sure to check out the narrow alleys that weave through the middle of the square at the Sukiennice. Also keep the eyes peeled for the little dwarf statues that dot the plaza. They're a kitschy addition to the cityscape that you'll find on many random street corners.

As the afternoon turns into evening, consider settling in for a beer tasting at the hearty Spiż microbrewery. Or, head for Setka, where Communist paraphernalia adorns the walls and you can sample potent vodka with pickled herring.

Most Tumski Bridge Wroclaw

The Most Tumski Bridge, where romantics leave love locks attached to the rails and throw the key in to the Odra River. To the rear is the spire of the Bartholomew’s church and the twin spires of the cathedral

Day 2: With the Old Town done and dusted, Day 2 starts with explorations of the outlying islands on the Oder River. There are loads to get through, but the chart-topper that gets us rolling is the iconic Ostrów Tumski. Walk over the pretty bridges to that and you'll find yourself in the oldest part of Wroclaw. The twin spires of high Wrocław Cathedral dominate the skyline, heralding the grandest church in town. Delve in for a peek at the beautiful stained-glass windows and the high vaulted apses.

From there, hop over to Słodowa Island. This is especially fun during the summer months, thanks to the groups of local students and youngsters who sit with BBQ grills by the riverside. Wyspa Piasek is also worth a pitstop, thanks to its handsome chain bridges and cobbled roads.

For the afternoon, catch tram 2, 4, or 10 from the Old Town to Centennial Hall. A whopping great big UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's considered to be a masterstroke of concrete architecture, touting a dome that mimics the Parthenon of Rome. Alongside that are lovely gardens that hit a zenith with the chilled Ogród Japoński – the perfect place to meditate and mull the historic wonders of Wroclaw.

48 hours in Florence
Early morningstarts are key in Florence, to hit the galleries and basilicas before the crowds. Don't worry, though, this two-day itinerary has time to rest with beautiful views in Renaissance gardens come the afternoon…

Day 1: Make for the Piazza del Duomo for the break of dawn – seriously, the earlier you can get there the better. That way, you can snap shots of the great cathedral and adjacent Giotto's Bell Tower without plumes of visitors getting in the way!
Look to the green-white marble inlays and the striking Gothic Revivalism of the whole building and think about hitting the 87-meter high lookouts of the belfry for some sweeping views across the city and the Apennines.

Traditional Tuscan design oozes from the lovely Palazzo Vecchio on Piazza della Signoria – this is the town hall, dating from way back in the 1400s. Grab an on-the-go pizza slice and make north to Galleria dell'Accademia after that.

Day 2: It's a museum morning in the famous Uffizi Gallery on day two. For art lovers, the journey here is a rite of passage. The collections span several wings of a great palace in the heart of central Florence and can take hours on end to appreciate fully.

Highlights that simply can't be missed include The Birth of Venus (Botticelli), Laocoön and his Sons (Bandinelli), Raphael's portrait of Pope Leo X, and Caravaggio's unforgettable Medusa. Back outside, the Ponte Vecchio bridge isn't far. It was once a butcher's market but is now famous for its jewellery boutiques.
On the hills beyond are the handsome Boboli Gardens, all brimming with babbling fountains and carved statues. Further up again is Forte di Belvedere, where even more breathtaking views of Florence are on offer come the evening.

Florence
The best place to touchdown on a flight is surely Amerigo Vespucci International Airport. A mere 15 minutes' drive (7km) in a taxi, or 30 minutes in a train, can link you from the downtown to the terminals there.
Unfortunately, the bulk of Europe's budget carriers will jet into Pisa. That's still close – around 1-1.5 hours (83km) in the bus to the west.
Avoid flying into Bologna, as this is even further away (115km), and bus transfer 1.5-2 hours.

In terms of neighborhoods, you'll want to focus on bedding down within the SS67 ring road. More specifically, the districts of San Giovanni (the historic core) and Santa Croce are perhaps the most central, even if the latter retains a lived-in Italian feel. San Marco is a whisker to the north, hosting the bulk of the low-cost hotels and guest houses. Oltrarno boasts buzzy nightlife venues and hip coffee shops.

You probably won't need any forms of transport in Florence other than your own two feet. The town is eminently walkable. Be sure to bring comfy shoes that are suited to long days, however, especially if you're keen to scale to the lookout points around Piazzale Michelangelo.
For exploring the surrounding region, a rental car is a must. These tend to be cheap in Italy and are best organised from the airport to avoid driving through the centre of town.

Aside from the infamous Stendhal syndrome – a condition supposedly caused by exposure to too much beautiful Florentine art – there are no standout risks to visiting this city. The centre is generally safe and well maintained, crime rates are relatively low, and the locals are often happy to help out.

The ever-expanding Wrocław–Copernicus Airport is now served by loads of routes coming from across Poland and Europe. It's even possible to arrive on long-haul connecting flights thanks to Poland's flag-carrying LOT airline. There's a bus that leaves the terminals for the centre of town every 20 minutes throughout the day. Tickets cost 3 PLN and the ride is around half an hour.

To get out to the Centennial Hall, Wroclaw Zoo, or other districts, you can make use of the efficient tram network. Buy tickets at the MPK Wroclaw machines at any bus or tram stop and then validate them as you board. Basic fares cost 3 PLN per ride, but you can also score passes for several days using the Urbancard website.

Hotels in Wroclaw are generally all located within the ring road of Piłsudskiego. Roughly speaking, the closer you get to the Rynek square the better the location, though staying right on the main plaza might be noisy at night. There are also some lovely boutique stays and B&Bs to find north of the Oder River.

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