Szczecin (Stettin) is located in Poland, only 14km from its western border with Germany. It is also only a seven-hour drive from Copenhagen and a short ferry ride from Sweden.
We usually pass by Szczecin when we drive to Poland to my home city (and thanks to Corona driving 15h seemed easier than flying for 1.5h xD ). So this time around, we decided to take a break and check out the city itself. And I must say it was worth it; the city is vibrant, exciting and full of history! And did I mention good food?
For centuries, Szczecin was a significant port city of both Germany, Scandinavia, and Poland, interchangeably. As it lies in a strategic location, it switched hands quite frequently throughout history because, of course, everyone wanted to have a port city with access to the Baltic Sea and all its riches to themselves.
The first mentions of the Szczecin date back to the 8th century when Lechtic Pomeranians settled in the area, afterward conquered and Christianised by polish King Mieszko I. In 1121 it became known as the ‘Duchy of Pomerania,’ and the ‘House Of Griffin’ dynasty was born that lasted almost 500 years.
In the 13th century, Denmark joined the fun and shortly controlled the area, calling Szczecin Burstaborg. Afterward, the city grew as a part of the federation of Wendish towns until the late 16th century, when Swedish Empire moved its eyes and hands towards Poland, in what polish people call the Swedish flood. They occupied the region until the 18th century when Prussia absorbed Western Pomerania into its territory.
The city was effectively Prussian-German until the end of WWI. It experienced a tremendous amount of development and economic prosperity during this period, becoming one of the German Empire’s major ports on the Baltic. During WWII, almost 65% of the city was destroyed, and when new borders were drawn, it became part of Poland again.
If you want to know more about the history full of conquests and wars, check out this article.
What to do
Szczecin is a fantastic place for a weekend getaway with tasty, good food and an excellent beer. I might be a bit biased, but Polish food is terrific, and my Viking boyfriend also enjoyed discovering different dishes of Polish cuisine. But Szczecin is not only food and cheap shopping (for those coming from abroad). It is also a city full of history and interesting buildings.
The easiest way to visit the main attractions is to follow The City Tourist Trail (red trail), which leads among Szczecin’s most exciting parts. It is 7 km long and starts and ends in front of the Szczecin Główny Railway Station. The route is marked by a red dotted line painted on the sidewalk, pretty easy to spot. In front of each of the 42 objects, a sequential number is drawn in a circle, and you can find more information on a board nearby.
And if you don’t feel like following the route, I wrote down the interesting sights we saw during our stay 🙂 So read on!
Pomeranian Dukes’ Castle (Zamek Ksiazat Pomorskich )
The castle belonged to the dukes of Pomerania from the Griffins house, who ruled the Duchy of Pomerania from 1121 to 1637. When you walk around, you can spot Griffins all over the castle grounds.
Interestingly, the castle was also the childhood home of Sophia Augusta, better known as Tsarina Catherine the Great of Russia (and if you still don’t know who she was, check out the Netflix show called ” The Great”).
As a result of bombardments during WWII significant part of the castle got totally destroyed. It was rebuilt between 1958 and 1980 with some modifications to its original 16th-century appearance according to 1653 engraving. Interestingly, in February 2021, archaeologists discovered a 270m of Nazi-era tunnel network below the castle, which they are securing right now.
Today, as not much of the interior managed to survive, the castle is used in many other ways; as a cultural center with a small cinema, opera, theater, a government institution, and a restaurant. Quite often, the city hosts concerts or exhibitions on the castle premises.
When you visit, make sure to check out the Bell Tower, from which you can see the view of the city and its most famous landmarks.
Cathedral Basilica of St James the Apostle in Szczecin (Bazylika archikatedralna sw. Jakuba w Szczecinie)
Cathedral Basilica is one of the oldest buildings in Szczecin. It’s the largest church in Pomerania and the tallest cathedral in Poland (the second tallest church). The first mention of the church comes from 1187, and since then, the church was rebuild and changed many times.
The temple is part of the European Route of Brick Gothic, connecting cities with Brick Gothic architecture in three countries along the Baltic Sea: Denmark, Germany, and Poland.
In the beginning, I was surprised by how simple yet magnificent the church looked inside until I found out it used to be an Evangelical Church (and they are not so much into gold and sparkle as Catholic ones). It only became a Roman Catholic cathedral after World War II when Szczecin became polish. However, despite the simplicity, there are still many interesting chapels on both sides of the church, so make sure to check them out.
It is also possible to climb the tower (or use an elevator for those that don’t feel like going hundreds of stairs up), from where you can see the views of all of the city.
Chrobry Embankment (Wały Chrobrego)
It is an observation terrace along Oder river. Until 1945 they were called Hakenterrasse, but after Szczecin became Polish, they were renamed after one of the Polish Kings.
You can find many public buildings on the embankments: the Maritime University, the National Museum, the Contemporary Theater, and the Provincial Office. From the embankments, you can see the port canals and three islands: Grodzka, Bielawa, and Łasztownia, as well as the port.
Łasztownia is part of the port district in Szczecin, situated on the islands between the West Oder river and East Oder River. You can find there famous cranes called Dźwigozaury (Crane-o-saurs), which looks impressive during the day but even better at night! They are illuminated and change colors every once in a while!
And if you are a fan of different rides, like the 60-meter Ferris wheel called Wheel of Szczecin (the largest such facility in Poland), an 80-meter chain carousel, or a 55-meter Vmaxx propeller, then definitely check out Holiday Park Szczecin, open on Łasztownia throughout the whole summer! Grab a bite or hunt for a prize on one of many stands.
The best spots to see an illuminated panoramic view of Łasztownia, except, of course, from standing right next to it, are from Chrobry Embankment and top of the bride (Though it took me a while to figure how to get on top of it 😛 ).
And if you would like to chill on the sand and listen to some music, head to nearby Grodzka Island. Many exciting things are happening there during the summer months, like concerts by Szczecin artists, performances of local stand-upers, sports activities, theaters, movies, and circus performances.
Hey Market Square or the Old Market Square (Rynek Sienny)
In medieval times merchants sold hay and grain there, hence the name – sienny from siano, which means hay in Polish. Not many old buildings in Szczecin survived the bombings during the war, and this square is not an exception. However, during the 90s city made efforts to restore some of the buildings to how they used to look before the war, thus making it a part of the old city.
One of the renovated buildings – the Gothic building of the Old Town Hall, now servers as the Museum of the City of Szczecin. Other buildings in the area house different restaurants and cafes.
Szczecin’s Venice (Szczecińska Wenecja)
While visiting Pomeranian Dukes’ Castle and the gallery there, I saw a picture of abandoned buildings facing the waterfront. Somehow, I got captivated (my unrealized urban-explorer dream). So after a fast google search, I have discovered Szczecin’s Venice, one of seven wonders of Szczecin.
Historic buildings, such as old yeast factory or alcohol manufacture, standing at the waterfront were once the pride of industrial district, but now they have slowly fallen into ruin. But because of their derelict beauty, they have become a popular spot for lovers and urban explorers.
To get there, you need to access a small island in the middle of the river. The entrance is hidden behind a gate at Kolumba street, number 88/89. You can already see the buildings from the bridge, but if you want to get closer, go a little bit deeper into the island.
Beware, though, there is a lot of shattered glass around, and it looks like lovers aren’t the only visitors on the island 😛 Even though we haven’t met any homeless people while walking around, we saw some traces.
We run out of our time in Szczecin but not of the places to visit 🙂 We missed a couple of exciting events and places, so check them out:
- We will definitely be back to see ships taking part in The Tall Ships Race that draws maritime enthusiasts from all over Europe!
- Szczecin is also home to the biggest civic bunker in Poland, built just before WWII, that is located just below Szczecin’s central train station.
- Szczecin’s Kino Pionier 1907 was the Guinness World Record holder for the oldest continually-running cinema (at the time of the award, it was called Kino Pionier 1909, the name changed when it was discovered that there were movies shown there since 1907). However, the title was later taken away by Korsør Biograf Teater in Korsør, Denmark, which had been in operation since 1908. There is apparently one other cinema, opened in France that has operated since 1905. Nevertheless, it is still one of the oldest cinemas in the world!
- Lastly, Poland’s biggest cemetery, which is also the 3rd biggest in Europe, is located in Szczecin.
And above all, just go around and explore!