Both Madrid 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 Madrid 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?)
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.
Which city would I go to? Madrid
Which one would I recommend to my parents? Madrid
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin? Madrid
Which for my food obsessed friend? Madrid
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.
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.
For Madrid, the length of stay greatly depends on how much you want to devote to visit the three famed art galleries (Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía), or immerse into Spanish culture. The city can be seen in two days of sightseeing, and a third day is often given to the galleries.
There are many outstanding day trips from Madrid and a trip can be easily extended to 5 or 6 days. A selection of the best day trips includes the medieval town of Segovia, charming Toledo, and the magnificent El Escorial. Madrid makes for a good base from which to explore the region, and is served by inexpensive public transport
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.
The major consideration for Madrid, is to avoid August, when the entire city shuts down (most restaurants, cafes and independent shops) and everyone heads to the coastal towns. Late spring and early autumn (Jun/July and September) are the best seasons.
Madrid can be surprisingly chilly in the winter, but is comparatively dry to the rest of Europe. As Madrid is in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula it tends to get more extreme weather than the coastal cities.
Madrid is one of the finest cities in Europe. The city may not have the iconic monuments and attention-grabbing tourist attractions, but in reality, there is a lot to see during a city break.
Much of Madrid’s tourist literature focuses on the museums and galleries (which are world-class), but this should not deter you; this is a fun-loving city, which has the best nightlife in Europe. No matter your style of trip, there will be something to love about the Spanish capital.
Madrid excels as a long-stay destination, and if you are able to work here, the city offers perfect work/life balance.
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.
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 Madrid is not just the sights but also the atmosphere of the city. Below is an interactive tour map - day 1 is highlighted in green and day 2 in yellow, with optional sights marked grey.
Begin in the Puerta del Sol, then wander through charming streets of the El Madrid de los Austrias, which is the oldest section of the city. This leads to the Palacio Real, surrounded by its formal gardens and the Catedral de la Almudena to the south.
For the last part of the day explore the La Latina district and have a delicious tapas meal at one of the restaurants along the Cava Alta or Cava Baja. La Latina boasts numerous bars and is always a great place to start a night in Madrid.
The Gran Vía is the bustling main avenue of Madrid
The morning of the second focuses on the three art-museums, the Prado Museum, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofía. Close to the museums is the pretty the El Retiro Park.
For the afternoon head down the Gran Vía, the main shopping street of Madrid, and visit the Malasaña district, with its artisan vibe, independent shops and trendy nightlife. For sunset watch it at the Templo de Debod, and then head back to Malasaña for a memorable meal and evening.
For your first visit, you would want to be based in the Centro or Retiro districts, and this will limit accommodation options. If you do wish a more remote, budget option always ensure it is close to a metro station. While exploring Madrid, you will do a surprising amount of walking.
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.