The Most Beautiful Old Towns in Silesia Province. 6 Must-See Cities For Summer

Silesia isn’t usually associated with picturesque medieval market squares or colourful historic buildings. Unrightfully so, as the cities in Silesia enrapture one with their history and architectural beauty. Learn more about the most magical old towns in our region! 

In search of touristic beauties we visited many cities in our province. We’ve popped into museums, discovered urban curiosities, wandered the parks, and hopped on a bike. This time, we’re taking you to the very hearts of these cities, inviting you on a summertime historical walk around the charming old towns. You won’t believe it’s all in Silesia!

Gliwice

We’ll start our trip in nearby Gliwice. We’ve already mentioned the city and its attractions, for example, in this article. The city, situated merely 30 km from Katowice, is more associated with modernity than a medieval old town. Wrong! The history of Gliwice and its market square reaches as far back as the 13th century. The town used to be a significant transportation hub, a crossing of trade routes from Wrocław to Kraków, and from Hungary and Moravia going north.

The market square was established in the late 13th century, is now the heart of the city, and has maintained its classic medieval shape – a 75×75 m square. Two small streets intersect at each corner, crossing at right angles and making up a characteristic chessboard. Over the centuries the market square has been the political, trade, and social center of the city. Its focal point is the City Hall and the 18th-century fountain with a Neptune sculpture, a founding memento of the Kłodnicki Canal joining Gliwice with the Baltic Sea.

The architecture is dominated by colorful apartment houses, most of them built in the 19th and 20th centuries. Their styles refer to Renaissance and Classicism, and their post-war reconstruction was supervised by the renowned architect, Franciszek Maurer, who managed to keep their character and provided the houses with lovely arcades. Many of them hide secrets and interesting stories – No. 25, for example, used to be home to the Gliwice Jewish family, the Troplowitzs. The family of Oscar Troplowitz, who invented Nivea cream and the toothpaste tube. It’s worth taking a walk along the old town narrow streets, whose names: Bednarska [Cooper’s], Tkacka [Weaver’s], Kupiecka [Merchant’s] reveal a lot about their artisanal traditions.

How to get there?

  • From Katowice by car it takes a little over 20 minutes;
  • You can take the convenient Koleje Śląskie [Silesian Railways] train: it takes under 30 minutes and the regular, non-discount ticket costs a mere 6PLN. It’s a 15-minute stroll from the train station to the market square.

What else is there to see?

While in Gliwice, it’s worth visiting several places around town, such as:

  • The former Main Post Office building;
  • The Peter and Paul Cathedral;
  • The Neo-Romanesque St. Barbara Church;
  • The All Saints Church – the oldest church in the city, built in the 15th century in Gothic style;
  • The Caro Villa – 19th-century example of Renaissance villa architecture;
  • The Piastowski Castle with partially preserved town defensive walls.

Tarnowskie Góry

Tarnowskie Góry’s history is connected with silver, lead, and zinc mining, while the settlement dates back to the 15th century. The city became known as a tourist destination in 2017, when its Lead, Silver, and Zinc Mines received UNESCO World Heritage designation. We’ve described some of the touristic attractions of Tarnowskie Góry in this article. But, it’s not only the adits and mines that are worth visiting, its ground level is equally interesting!

The 16th-century market square in Tarnowskie Góry is considered among the most beautiful in Upper Silesia. Its unconventional trapezoid shape results (of course!) from the mining tradition of the city and the fact that the miners’ houses were built around the pits rather than according to an architectural design. At the southern side of the market square sits an impressive Town Hall building, erected in the late 19th century in Neo-Renaissance style. Its facade is decorated with red clinker brick and granite, brought in from Lower Silesia to be used for emblems and coats of arms. The market square apartment houses, which used to be homes to the richest townspeople, have characteristic, pleasantly cool arcades. There’s also the 18th-century evangelical Saviour Church, rebuilt in Neo-Romanesque style in 1900.

How to get there?

  • From Katowice takes a little over 30 minutes by car;
  • A direct Koleje Śląskie train on the Katowice–Kluczbork route will get you there in 51–52 minutes, and the ticket costs only 5 PLN. It’s a 10-minute walk from the train station to the market square. 

What else is there to see?

While at the market square pay attention to:

  • The House of Sedlaczek, housing the Municipal Museum and a winery;
  • The House of Petrasch – founder of the first bookstore in Tarnowskie Góry;
  • A manual wooden winch – a remnant of the former town wall;
  • The historical building in Krakowska Street.

Rybnik

Rybnik is called the greenest city in Poland. Tourists – especially the active ones – mainly associate it with numerous bike trails and the Rybnickie Lake. Fans of more “traditional” tourism and sightseeing won’t be disappointed either. 

The establishment of the market square in the place of a former pond dates as far back as the 13th–14th centuries. At first, there were only wooden houses which were rebuilt in brick in the 18th century. Apartment houses were erected mainly in Neo-Classic style, and later in Neo-Renaissance and Eclecticism styles as well. The German occupation had left the city almost untouched, and in the 1990s the neglected buildings were renovated, leaving each of the four sides beautiful.

Walking around the market square, it’s worth noticing various corresponding styles – from the previously mentioned Neo-Classic and Neo-Renaissance to Modernism. Many of the apartment houses have maintained their original facades (at Rynek 4 or Rynek 7, for instance), sculptures, decorative friezes, and window frames. On the market square, there’s also a fountain topped with an 18th-century St. John of Nepomuk figure.

How to get there?

  • Rybnik is situated over 50 km from Katowice, but due to good roads you’ll get there fast and conveniently by car in about 40 minutes (take DW902 and A1);
  • A train ride takes a little longer, a bit over one hour and the ticket costs 12 PLN. 

What else is there to see?

When visiting the city pay attention to:

  • The Neo-Classic Town Hall with a clock tower from 1822;
  • The medieval Castle in Rybnik – currently the seat of the District Court; 
  • The Neo-Gothic Basilica Minor.

Pszczyna

This small, but very charming town, is known mainly for its Palace and the adjacent Palace Park. It attracts crowds on sunny weekends, so it’s worth visiting Pszczyna on a free weekday afternoon, finishing the walk on the market square with a peaceful sip of coffee.

The first records of the city come from 1303. The Old Town has maintained its medieval arrangement with small streets leading out of the market square. At the market square there are renovated colourful apartment houses from the 18th and 19th centuries. The most impressive building is the Neo-Renaissance Town Hall and the adjacent evangelical church. On the very square you can rest on a bench shaded by plants. One of them has a sculpture of the 19th-century Duchess von Pless, considered to be the symbol of the town and affectionately called princess Daisy.

Walking towards the Palace you’ll enter the 17th-century Gate of the Chosen which used to guard the entrance to the castle premises. It’s also worth strolling down Piastowska Street, commercial street, and wandering about the back of the old town, which feels almost like an Italian town, especially near the All Saints Church.

How to get there?

  • By car it takes about 40 minutes via DK1;
  • A direct Koleje Śląskie train takes about 30 minutes, and a ticket costs 11PLN;
  • By bike, take the bike route described here. The time depends on your fitness, but the views of the green Puszcza Pszczyńska Forest are really worth the effort.

What else is there to see?

The town is small and easily visited on one sunny afternoon. Make sure to see:

  • The Neo-Baroque Palace in Pszczyna, formerly the seat of the von Pless family. There’s also the Palace Museum;
  • The historic Palace Park (also described in this post);
  • The Chinese Gate, the most characteristic gate guarding the entrance to the Palace Park;
  • Frykówka – a historic corner apartment house from the early 18th century. It houses a restaurant worth trying for dinner.

Bielsko-Biała

It’s only a stone throw from Pszczyna to Bielsko, so you could even plan a visit on the same day. The Old Town situated on a hill with meandering narrow streets gives the impression of wandering somewhere in the South of Europe rather than Silesia. And this view over the mountains… Bielsko-Biała is an absolutely charming town!

The market square is in the centre of the Municipal Hill where the medieval town of Bielsko was built as early as the 12th century. It has a rectangular plan slightly tilted towards the East and at each corner two streets intersect. Its oldest Baroque–Neo-Classical buildings date back to the 17th and 18th centuries.

For centuries the market square was the trade and cultural center of the city, hosting farmers’ markets and fairs. In the 19th century, the Old Town decreased in significance in favor of the expanded area below the hill, where the Town Hall, district office, post office, and court were moved. In 2003 a revitalization of the Old Town started and due to the well-kept medieval arrangement it was listed as a monument as a whole. Gradually, the market square was restored to its former glory full of life and events, and festivals. Today it offers good restaurants, art galleries, antique shops, and cozy pubs.

How to get there?

  • Bycar it takes about one hour (70 km). We recommend parking your car at the bottom of the hill and taking a walk along the picturesque streets;
  • A direct train ride takes about 1h, the ticket costs 14 PLN. A walk from the train station to the market square will take 15 minutes. 

What else is there to see?

The entire historic Old Town is worth a wander, but pay close attention to:

  • The Sulkowski Dukes’ Castle – the oldest and most significant historical building of the city built in the 14th century;
  • The 15th-century St. Nicholas Cathedral;
  • Picturesque streets of the Old Town, especially the Podcienie and Schodowa Streets.

Cieszyn

We’re almost reaching the border with our neighbors, the Czechs, to visit one more picturesque and historically significant city in our region. Cieszyn is one of the oldest cities in Silesia. Its history dates as far back as the 9th century and it obtained municipal rights in the 13th century. In 1920 the city was divided along the Olza River into the Polish (historical) and Czech (industrial) parts. Although in the 20th century, Cieszyn was economically overtaken by other cities in Silesia, it remains an important cultural and educational center.

The Cieszyn market square was established in 1496, the same year the wooden Town Hall, situated at its southern side, was rebuilt in brick and has stood there ever since. Traditionally, the market was surrounded by Renaissance apartment houses with arcades, homes to the richest townspeople, built in the 16th century. Due to several fires that had consumed parts of the city in the 17th century, only the basements of those buildings remained. Their current form and the Baroque–Neo-Classical style comes from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s still possible, however, to admire their traditional barrel vaults, stone portals, and beamed ceilings.

One of the most interesting parts of the old town is the so-called Cieszyn Venice, a network of buildings at today’s Przykopa Street, with bridges leading across the Młynówka canal. The 18th and 19th-century houses belonged to the local craftsmen whose work required permanent access to water. The Cieszyn Venice’s name obviously refers to the canals of Italian Venice. Although unofficially, the name has been used since the mid-20th century and some of the Przykopa Street buildings have been listed as monuments.

How to get there?

  • Cieszyn is situated 75 km from Katowice. This distance is most conveniently and fastest covered by car (take DK1 to Bielsko, then S52, driving time is a little over 1h);
  • A train ride is a little under 2h, a one-way ticket costs 14 PLN (Sosnowiec–Cieszyn route).

What else is there to see?

Visiting Cieszyn tourists rarely stop with the Old Town. Here are the must-sees:

  • The Castle Hill – a gem of today’s city with an 11th-century rotunda. It has a view over the Polish as well as the Czech side of the city;
  • The Well of Three Brothers, Bolko, Leszko i Cieszko, thought to be the city founders;
  • The Jesus Church – the largest evangelical church in Poland;
  • The Czech Cieszyn – crossing the bridge on the Olza River, you can pay a visit to our Czech neighbors.

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