Are you travelling across Poland and wondering if Katowice is worth visiting? Are there any interesting things to do in Katowice?
Underrated for decades, the city is not only becoming one of the coolest cities in Poland but also has a fascinating story to tell.
But Katowice? Many travellers would not consider putting it on their itinerary.
Yet in recent years the city has transformed from a grey, post-industrial miners town to a vibrant metropolis boasting cultural events, quirky museums and fun nightlife.
And I know it first-hand because this is the city I grew up in. In this post, I will tell you all about the best things to do in Katowice and hopefully, I will also encourage you to visit next time you are in Poland.
Interesting Facts About Katowice
Katowice, a mining city located in the south of Poland is the capital of Silesian voivodships. The region is known for its dense population and its industrial infrastructure. Yet not everyone is aware that the area offers beautiful countryside, close proximity to mountains and lakes as well as heaps of cultural events.
The city has also developed greatly over the last couple of decades.
A combination of the complex history of the region, combined with a mixture of Communist-era and 19th-century architecture reveals a picture of Poland and its culture which is really worth digging into.
A brief history of Katowice
The political history of Katowice and the Upper Silesia region is especially complicated and involves uprisings, a plebiscite, an autonomous state within Poland and many historical events.
In the past, these lands belonged to Poland, the Czech state, Austria, pre-WWI Prussia and finally during WWII’s occupation – Germany.
Although Upper Silesia was under German rule from the 16th to the 19th century, it had a strong Polish identity dating back to the 14th century. Despite German attempts at assimilation, Upper Silesia and Katowice always remained Polish at heart.
The strong Polish spirit of the region became evident during the three Silesian uprisings after the First World War, seeking to return Upper Silesia to Poland.
During the German occupation in World War II, efforts were made to destroy all traces of Polishness in the region. Polish street names were replaced, the modern Silesian Museum was demolished and monuments were removed.
The use of the Polish language, even the local Silesian dialect, was banned. It was also forbidden to celebrate mass in Polish or to teach in Polish in schools. Many Polish residents were forcibly recruited into the German Wehrmacht singing patriotic songs before being sent to the Eastern Front.
Katowice was liberated by the Russian Red Army on 27 January 1945, but the word ‘liberation’ had a bittersweet meaning.
For Katowice, it was the time of looting, rape, deportation of people to work in the USSR and the robbery of machinery and industrial plants. In those days, the feeling of freedom was often connected with a feeling of despair.
The same boys who had been forcibly recruited into the German army were now thrown into prison and accused of treason.
Poland and Silesia entered a long period of Soviet occupation began for Poland and Silesia. The authorities tried to rename Katowice to Stalinogrod, but public resistance led to its abandonment after three years.
After the imposition of martial law on 13 December 1981, strikes occurred in Katowice, including the strike at the “Wujek” mine. Tragically, the use of force by the ZOMO militia at the “Wujek” mine resulted in the immediate death of seven miners and the hospitalisation of two others. This place later became a symbol of martyrdom
From the Soviet Era, this city inherited enormous pollution and a reputation as a sad and dull area. And now? For the last several years Katowice has been one of the leading cities of European integration.
In 2015 Katowice also joined the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and was named a UNESCO City of Music. In 2020, the city was classified as a Gamma-global city by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network and is now considered an emerging metropolis.
Come and visit my city and I will guide you through the best things to see and do in Katowice 🙂
Best Things To Do In Katowice
Hang out at Katowice Main Square
There is always something going on at Katowice Rynek (main square).
Now a completely pedestrian area, Katowice Rynek consists of four smaller squares, an artificial river promenade with loungers and Palms in the summer (which are kept at Palmiarnia during the winter), many places to eat and have a refreshing beverage and a central square where the seasonal market is located.
You will find a Christmas market here in the winter as well as an ice ring, an Easter market in the spring and many pop-up markets during summer.
Explore The Katowice Culture Zone
Katowice’s Culture Zone (Strefa Kultury) is located right in the city centre and visiting it is definitely one of the best things to do in Katowice.
It consists of the city’s iconic Spodek arena, the pristine NOSPR, home to the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, one of the best concert halls in Europe in terms of acoustic quality, the International Congress Centre, as well as the fantastic, newly built Silesian Museum
This space is a true manifestation of Katowice’s journey from being a symbol of heavy industry to becoming the country’s cultural hub. Even more symbolic as it is settled on the territory of the former Katowice Coal Mine and visiting the complex is probably one of the best things to do and see in
Quite recently opened in June 2015, the Silesian Museum is a building complex seated on the former coal mine and represents a perfect blend of current and past culture and the region’s mining history.
It is partially being made of glass cubes but also uses the 19th-century brick buildings of the former mine. The 40-meter tall tower is accessible by the elevator and offers great views of the city.
Whilst being one of the most modern museum constructions in Europe the exhibitions held here are extremely interesting and often cutting edge. In this modern space, you can discover the turbulent and multicultural history of Silesia, Poland and Europe. The permanent exhibitions include the Gallery of Polish Art (1800 – 1945), Non-professional art, otherwise known as “outsider art,” and my favourite – ‘Upper Silesia Over the Course of History’, presented in Polish, English and German.
The entrance to the museum is free on Saturday. Otherwise, visit the Museum website for opening hours and ticket prices – https://muzeumslaskie.pl/en/
Katowice’s Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra
Katowice’s Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra is a cultural ambassador of Poland on the international scene. It was founded in 1935 and since then has cooperated with the best composers and conductors of 20th century Poland including Krzysztof Penderecki. The Orchestra has also produced national recordings and hosted many great foreign soloists.
A concert by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra just cannot be missed if you are a fan of classical music.
Spodek and neighbouring Silesian Insurgents’ Monument
Spodek (Flying Saucer) and neighbouring Silesian Insurgents’ Monument are cities true landmarks and symbols recognized across the country. Spodek has been the part of Katowice cityscape for over 45 years and is the symbol of the city and the region.
Shaped like a flying saucer, it has a capacity of 11,500 people and hosts everything from ice hockey fixtures to heavy metal gigs including artists like Metallica, who played a famous gig there in 1987. In fact, there’s a great possibility that something worth seeing will be on during your stay in
Standing right opposite the Spodek Arena, the Silesian Insurgents’ Monument is the largest monument in Poland, honouring three armed uprisings of Poles against the German authorities of Upper Silesia. This popular monument in the shape of 3 eagle’s wings, symbolizing the 3 Silesian Uprisings and is one of the main symbols of the city.
Visit the district of Nikiszowiec
This is one of the biggest post-industrial Attractions and an absolute must-see attraction in Katowice.
Located in the Janów-Nikiszowiec district and dating back to the beginning of the 20th century, Nikiszowiec was a purpose-built settlement designed to house the workers of the local ‘Giesche’ mine at the time. The mine has changed its name to ‘Wieczorek’ after the region was joined back to Poland.
The estate forms a very coherent complex and has interconnected blocks, each containing 12 apartments and often linked by arcades on the ground floor.
Unique bare brick walls and red window borders often decorated with flowers are the characteristics of this settlement. Very unique, and one of very few like this in the whole of Europe.
At the time it was designed as a self-sufficient housing estate offering workers all necessary facilities such as shops, schools, a church, laundries or bakeries.
Neglected for many years in the past as a symbol of poor workers’ estates, Nikiszowiec is now not only brought back to its glory but is also a very popular tourist destination.
These days you will also find here some great and quirky bars and restaurants, a Christmas market in the winter, fairs and very often a wedding photoshoot. Oh, and just a side note – this is where I am from exactly 🙂
Be sure to eat at the iconic Silesian Prohibition (Slaska Prohibicja) restaurant and stop for a coffee and cake at Cafe Byfyj.
Admire modern Art Naif in Galeria Szyb Wilson
This museum was a true surprise to me as it is right in my neighbourhood and I have only visited recently. Great yet not so well known and slightly off the beaten path museum is definitely worth visiting.
It is a modern art gallery and one of the primary highlights of a trip to Nikiszowiec and some of the best art spaces a city has on offer.
Placed in the building of the former bathhouse of the old Wilson shaft of the Wieczorek mine dating back to 1826, the gallery comprises 2,500 square metres divided into three halls.
The space is very impressive and the museum mainly holds an exhibition of Naif Art and contemporary art by both local and international artists. Sculptures, graphics, paintings and art installations are spread across this great gallery’s space, some hidden throughout many of the small niches and rooms as well as staircases. The art is fascinating, sometimes playful or provocative – really worth a visit!
Spend a day in one of Katowice's green spaces
You’d be surprised to learn that this post-industrial city actually boasts an extraordinary number of parks and recreational areas. Silesia has some of the largest urban parks not only in Poland but also in Europe.
Two of my favourites include Silesian Park and Valley of Three Ponds. You would never think that one of the best things to do in Katowice would be to spend a relaxed day in the park.
Silesian Park – Created in the 1950s, the Park spread over an area of 620 hectares is twice as large as Central Park in New York and four times larger than London Hyde Park.
During summer months Park offers various attractions. It is home to a Planetarium, amusement park, rope park, Silesian Ethnographic Park, and Rosarium as well as the famous cable railway – Elka. This attraction has been there for decades however being recently reconstructed – you can now choose between a roofed car or a 6-person sofa and enjoy the beautiful scenery on a ride 15 meters above the ground.
During the summer months, you will also find food tracks, restaurants and many outdoor activities there.
Something for everyone in this great city park.
Valley of Three Ponds – In the south of Katowice you will find a wooded park area covering 86 hectares, nine of which are occupied by water. It’s a perfect place to go for a walk, rent a city bike or read a book while relaxing on a blanket.
There are as many as 11 bodies of water, but the largest ponds are set aside for recreation, especially fishing, but there is also a pond with a marina for water sports enthusiasts and another with a small beach that is very popular in the summer.
There are many paths, a skatepark, and several restaurants and bars where you can chill out whilst enjoying the peace and quiet. In the summer, it is the venue of the most recognizable Katowice music event – OFF Festival.
Have Fun at Legendia Silesian Amusement Park
The Silesian Amusement Park has been there since I remember, and well before that. Recently refurbished and equipped with a few new rides it is now one of the best things to do in Katowice for thrill seekers.
It is a pretty big space great for those looking for some cool rides but also to spend an afternoon with friends or family.
For adult lovers of extreme experiences, there is the Lech Coaster rollercoaster, which reaches a speed of 95 km/h, the Phoenix twisted wheel and the Sky Flyer. There is also a Legendia Flower Ferris wheel – the largest in Poland!
Shop Till You Drop at Galeria Shopping Center (and other shopping malls)
Katowice is a place to be if you want to indulge in some shopping. There are tonnes of shopping possibilities in Katowice but my favourite is Galeria located inside the newly refurbished Train Station.
For an even bigger choice and mall, you could get lost in heading over to The Silesi Shiopping center.
Take part in Music festival in Katowice
Katowice is officially recognized as the UNESCO city of music. The city contributes 45 million euros each year in the form of grants to support the creative economy, predominately focusing on the restoration of cultural spaces largely dedicated to the music sector. Katowice, however, was home to great music event and festivals for years.
Did you know that Katowice is hosting over 30 different music festivals? The most famous ones include Rawa Blues Festival, Mayday Poland, OFF and Tauron. Katowice is also recognized across the country as a centre of comprehensive music education. It seats the Karol Szymanowski Music Academy, which founded the first Department of Jazz music in Poland. So if you are in the town – make sure you take a part in a music festival.
Taking part in a music event or festival in a great thing to do in Katowice, especially if you are visiting in the summer.
Another interesting festival to take part in - Industraida
Industriada is the only event of this kind in Central and Eastern Europe. It is a festival promoting technical and industrial landmarks in Upper Silesia and it features over 40 unique facilities located in almost 30 towns across the Silesian region.
It allows visitors an unprecedented glimpse into the industrial history of the region. Sites normally not available for visitors – are open to the public.
In short, is it a route spreading across the region with marked sites available for a visit? You can choose whichever ticks your fancy like an old coal min, art gallery, traditional factory or mills or you can take a ride on a traditional train historical train.
Industriada is held in the summer months and definitely one of its one-of-a-kind events.
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Head to Mariacka street for beer and a herring (but not only)
Growing up and in my early 20’s I remember this street being shabby and actually not a destination I would head to late in the evening.
This has dramatically changed since. In 2008 Mariacka was completely transformed from a seedy side street into the pedestrianised high street it is today, with many cool bars and restaurants spread on both sides.
It is now a student (and not only) hub offering some quirky and fun places to eat and drink. Funky bars offering a twist on traditional beer and ‘zakaska’ (traditional small bite accompanying vodka shot in the old days) like herring, pickled cucumber or beef tartar. Lively music bars with great wine on offer as well as a variety of restaurants.
This is definitely a place to end up in after a long day of sightseeing and it’s one of the things to do in Katowice that cannot be missed.
Chill at newly refurbished Dworcowa Street
This is a brand new addition to Katowice’s ‘dine-and-wine’ scene.
Dworcowa Street, where the old Train Station is located has been neglected for many years. Now restored, historical buildings including the 19th-century railway station were brought back to life in a completely new form.
It is now some of the coolest streets in Katowice. Filled with many great restaurants offering outside seating, funky bars and cafes – Dworcowa is now a place to be in Katowice, In fact, I much prefer it now to Marjacka Street.
Indulge in growing Katowice Cafe Scene
Every time I visit home there seems to be another one, or two new great cafes popping up everywhere in Katowice.
And they are often pretty cool, funky cafes boating awesome atmospheres and excellent coffee! And cakes!
Among my favourites are Bez Cukro (No sugar!), Black Woolf Coffee & Books, Synergia, Kawiarnia Fotograficzna and City of Gardens which is located inside of the flower shop!
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Visit Palmiarnia in Gliwice
The most exotic atraction in Katowice and region of Silesia is definitely the City Palm House (Palmiarnia) in Gliwice. It is a beautiful place with pre-war specimens, and several pavilions, each with a different climate and vegetation and a hall with aquariums.
It is one of the most beautiful palm houses in Poland. The palm house itself is located in the nice and well-kept Chopin Park, where you can also spend a nice time, and afterwards, you can sit in the cafe on the first floor of the palm house, overlooking the park.
Enjoy local (and not so much) cuisine
And whilst we are on a topic of food – trying traditional Polish and Silesian cuisine is one of the main things to do in Katowice. There is a number of dishes and places which I would like to recommend.
- Fancy a good breakfast the day after visiting Mariacka street for drinks? Visit 3 Siostry Bajgiel i Kawa for bagels and great coffee.
- If you’d like to sample some traditional dishes but served with the modern and sophisticated twist I recommend Tatjana restaurant in the city centre as well as Slaska Prohibicja in Nikiszowiec. Two completely different restaurants but both present their own twist on traditional Polish cuisine and offer exceptional quality.
- For more down to earth Silesian food, without the twist but equally delicious I recommend Cafe Byfyj in Nikiszowiec. Also Restauracja Slaska in the city centre.
- Fancy a quick bite? Polish Zapiekanka is a piece of baguette topped with mushrooms and cheese and baked in the oven. It is very traditional and every person going to Poland just have to try one of those. There are two great Zapiekanka stores located on Mariacka street but really, you will be able to find them at every corner.
- You have to try the Polish doughnuts. There are seriously no doughnuts like this anywhere in the world. The best place to try those is Paczkarnia Slowik (recommended by my sister!)
- My favourite spot for great vegan and vegetarian food is Zloty Osiol and I go there regularly every time I visit. The vibe is great and relaxed, food always fresh and service very friendly. You need to go to the counter to order but its a must really, as all the dishes are displayed for you to choose. With the chosen main dish you will also get a free salad. Fantastic variety of dishes every time I’m there.
- Pierogi? Those traditional polish dumplings are famous around the world. You can have them stuffed with anything you want these days and the best place to sample those is Pierogi Swiata.
- One of my favourite places to hang out both for an afternoon drink/lunch as well as evening chill is Aioli bar and restaurant and bar located at the main square. I love their menu (great vegetarian Haloumi Ceasar Salad) , selection of drinks and wine and always, with no exceptions, fantastic service.
Take a day trip from Katowice
Another great thing about Katowice is how easy it is to get out of town on a cool day trip.
Whether you fancy visiting a historical town like Pszczyna or Ogrodzieniec or spending time hiking or chilling by the lake, all of it is available within an hour or two train ride from Katowice.
Here are a few great day trips from Katowice you could take:
Pszczyna – The small historical town of Pszczyna is located approximately 50 kilometres from Katowice. Here you will be able to visit the famous palace and castle complex of Pszczyna also home to the Castle Museum. The centre of the town is very charming with a small market square, the park next to the palace, and the Museum of the Silesian Press.
Bielsko Biala – One of my favourite little towns in Poland! A day trip to Bielsko Biala is a great thing to do in Katowice if have a day to spare and want to enjoy both the great outdoors and the charming town with the most interesting architecture. If you want to know more head to my post about Bielsko Biala!
The Trail of the Eagles’ Nests – a beautiful and famous tourist route marking the castles of the medieval defence system in Southern Poland. You can either cover the entire trail (driving or multiday hiking) or just choose one of the locations. Ogrodzieniec is home to the most famous of all the medieval castles on this trail.
Wisla – If you are looking for a slightly different experience than visiting museums, it is worth going to the mountains in Silesia. These may not be mountains as high as the Tatra Mountains near Zakopane, but if you want to go snowboarding or skiing, there are some suitable places here. You can also visit the ski jump in Wisła. In the summer it is a wonderful hiking region in Poland only a couple of hours train ride from Katowice.
The Błędowska Desert is a unique natural attraction in the country and a great day trip from Katowice. This is the largest area of quicksand in Poland and the river Biała Przemsza flows through the desert from east to west. There are several viewpoints and a tourist trail in the desert.
Gródek Park in Jaworzno – This area Called the “Silesian Maldives” or “Little Croatia” occupies the area of a former quarry. It has been revitalized and adapted for recreation and now features Turquoise water and steep quarry walls, wooden bridges and kilometers of trails. Other attractions include stations with natural curiosities, as well as a charming pier on the water’s edge, a cliff and a diving station.
Where to stay in Katowice
Although Katowice isn’t famous for its hostels’ scene (slowly changing now) there are plenty of hotels catering for all tastes and budgets. The private rooms and hotels in Katowice are also very reasonably priced.
You can rent a fantastic apartment for 2 to 4 people, right in the centre of town for as little as €40. A perfect example would be KATO BEST POINT or a quirky, massive apartment near historical Nikiszowiec – ActivPark Apartament.
I could not be more proud of how my city has changed over the last 2 decades. I am also looking forward to seeing it becoming a true Polish metropolis. Katowice is still one of the most underrated cities in Poland but with its interesting history and culture and all the fantastic things to do in Katowice, I hope I encouraged you to visit. Please let me know if you do end up visiting and what you enjoy the most.
Want to hear how leaving my country changed my life? Read the story here
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