*Modifying this information may result in a different fare.
Sitting in the far southwest of Poland, Katowice is the thriving capital of Upper Silesia, one of the most densely urbanised areas of the region. Once defined by its industrial past, the city has reinvented itself as a modern creative hub over the past decade. Be it music, exhibitions, architecture, design or street art you’re after, a visit to Katowice won’t disappoint. The vibrant underdog city also prides itself on its growing food scene, plenty of green spaces and the Silesian Museum, offering terrific exhibitions at a former coal-mining site. Not to mention that it makes an excellent base for exploring the region, including the Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz-Birkenau, or a memorable stopover before travelling further afield to Kraków, Wrocław or Czechia.
Katowice emerged as a force to reckon with during Poland’s Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. The coal and steel industry brought a real boom to what had previously been a provincial backwater. Today, heavy industry is largely gone in Silesia, but the city was quick to react to changing economic realities. These days, Katowice is one of the most attractive investment areas in Central and Eastern Europe. But it hasn’t stopped there. Pots of money have been poured into the rejuvenation of its urban and cultural spaces, and it certainly shows. Market Square (Rynek), the main square, has shed its dull, concrete-heavy image and has become a large public chill-out zone, featuring comfy benches and sunbeds, an artificial river and even palm trees. One of the most intriguing neighbourhoods is the red-brick suburb of Nikiszowiec, a former coal miners’ settlement, now complete with galleries, cafés, a history museum and shops selling coal jewellery.
In the centre, the scarred moonscape land left behind by a disused mine has been transformed into the city’s vibrant Culture Zone. A real crowd-pleaser, the area houses Spodek, a massive sports and music stadium known as the ‘Flying Saucer’, the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR), a world-class concert hall and the Silesian Museum. If you take one piece of advice from us, make it this: pay this interactive, partly underground museum a visit. It houses impressive collections of paintings, religious art and photos, and brings the region’s troubled history to life, from the first steam machine through the Silesian Uprisings against the Germans to forced deportations and life under Communism. Don’t miss the adjacent observation tower either. The city is also home to Poland’s largest cathedral, the sombre Cathedral of Christ the King, completed in 1955. In the summer, the annual Industriada Festival celebrates the region’s industrial past. Have you ever been on top of a mineshaft? Or walked through an old power plant? Here’s your chance to see and experience sites normally closed to the public – and to do it safely. Katowice also loves its street art: head to Mariacka Tylna (running parallel to Mariacka Street) and 1 Maja Street for some of the city’s most striking murals. If you’re more into music, check out Tauron New Music Festival, a multi-day affair in Katowice’s Culture Zone. Dedicated to electronic music, it has bagged the Best Small Festival in Europe award three times. Another growing favourite is OFF Festival, dishing out indie and alternative beats, exhibitions, workshops and movie screenings in the Valley of Three Ponds.
Katowice’s foodie side has grown from strength to strength, with quality restaurants scattered all around the city. Bursting with flavour, Polish cuisine is comforting and homely, relying heavily on local ingredients, including beetroots, mushrooms and potatoes, and meat in every form. Taste the country’s famous dumplings, pierogi, with every filling imaginable at Pierogi Świata or try the local meaty-potatoey version called kulebele at Żurownia, offering some of the best Silesian food in town. For a touch of class, head for Tatiana, serving national dishes with a contemporary edge or try the popular Śląska Prohibicja in the Nikiszowiec district, where the chef happens to be a former winner of Masterchef Poland. Need a snack on the go? Make your way to Todojutra on Mariacka Street and try Poland’s no. 1 street food, the cheesy open-faced sandwich known as zapiekanka. How about the country’s no. 1 drink? Poles love their vodka, and their firewater easily measures up to that of the Russians. Sample the clear variety, best served chilled, or try the flavoured types, including cherry, quince, hazelnut and lemon, or the legendary Żubrówka, infused with bison grass.
For evening drinks, look no further than pedestrianised Mariacka Street, the city’s main nightlife artery. It’s jam-packed with options for all tastes and budgets. Amnezja’s claim to fame is its 14-day Tyskie beer, straight from the factory, while Absurdalna brings modern art, street food and craft beer together. The Old Cuban Cocktail Bar does what it says on the tin (and does it well), while the shabby-chic Kato is one of the best alternative spots in the city. If you’re a beer lover, head to Biała Małpa, the largest and oldest Silesian multi-tap bar, offering 400-plus types of bottled beer and 20 brews on tap, or grab a jug of frothy Czech beer at Hospoda.
Go for a walk amid colourful flower beds in Kościuszko Park, the most centrally-located green oasis, or go hiking in Katowice’s Valley of Three Ponds on the south edge of the city, containing a sprawling network of wooded trails and as many as 11 ponds despite what its name suggests. Silesia Park in the city’s north-western end is brimful of things to do, including a planetarium, The Silesian Zoological Garden and a newly-built cable car. If this doesn’t quench your thirst for the great outdoors, grab your hiking boots and head for the majestic Beskid Mountains, or opt for the The Katowice−Częstochowa Upland, aka Jura Upland, a dramatic collage of caves and odd rock formations, castles and tiny villages. In the mood for a day trip? One of Poland’s headliner attractions, the Wieliczka Salt Mine, is only about an hour’s drive from the city. The 300-kilometre subterranean labyrinth of tunnels and chambers, spread across nine levels, houses larger-than-life statues, magnificent chandeliers and underground chapels with intricate altarpieces, all carved from the mine’s white salt. Auschwitz-Birkenau is also nearby, offering a sobering tour of the two concentration camps, a haunting testament to the horrors of the Holocaust. Tickets are limited, so be sure to book well ahead online.