Poland is an amazing travel destination. I have visited the country three times already and I still want to go back. Photogenic cities as Gdansk, Poznan, and Krakow are true eye candy for your camera, but the country offers more. Did you know that Poland is a free zone for street art? More and more Polish cities view street art as a way to boost and uplift public spaces. Former industrial cities are favorites among artists and for my third visit I decided to focus on these cities. I had the city of Katowice on my radar. Just like Lodz, Katowice is also struggling with a negative image. Coal and steel are what built this city and this gave the city a somewhat dull and grey reputation. Wrong perception or honest truth? We explored Katowice for a few days to draw our own conclusions. Why visit Katowice? Read this blog post to find out.
Revolution of Katowice
The city of Katowice, locals call it Kato, was never a tourist destination. It was an industrial city for coal and steel, but last century it had to close fourteen mines. Consequently, people lost their jobs and the city fell into despair. An image that stuck with many people. At the beginning of this century, the city decided it was time for a change, and, with the help of the EU subsidy, it focused on culture and business. Today, Katowice is a modern innovative business city.
Black beating heart
By the way, modern Kato did not fully say goodbye to the mining past. The city still has two active coal mines and Europe’s biggest coal producer is located near Katowice. On the one hand coal mines create jobs, on the other hand it causes earthquakes, sinkholes, and smog. In short: Katowice still has a beating black heart, but who knows for how long. Now back to the post on things to do in Katowice.
On the hunt for street art
We start this post with street art because I love street art and there are plenty of works to explore in Katowice. Since 2011, Katowice hosts an annual street art festival (AiR). Restaurant owners and other businesses don’t mind providing a wall to the artists, because a cool painting attracts people (and so customers). Even the city itself sponsors some of the works from time to time. Very cool to see that Poland doesn’t perceive street art as vandalism, but as enrichment for the urban landscape.
Focus on the clusters
Good to know: the works are kind of spread across the city. Fortunately, there are a few clusters. The first cluster is located around ul. Mariacka Tylna. Home to the birds of Belgian artist ROA, but also other smaller black and white art pieces. Don’t forget to check out the tunnel passage under the tracks. There you can find also some cool art. Just a little bit further at ul. 3 Maja, you will find a beautiful black and white painting at Teatr Bez Szeny. If you continue walking via the Warszawska and Teatralna to the ul. 1 Maja 7, you will come across a cool 3D mural of a heron. In case you have a bit more time on your hands, you can explore a second cluster around ul. Gliwicka.
Tip: use this Street art map
Make it easy on yourself and use the Katowice street art map of Street Art Cities. This map shows the addresses of the works, when it is made, and who the artist is. I am not sponsored to say this, I am just a fan.
Culture zone: UFO and mines
Katowice is not only moving forward, but it is also honoring its past. The city has turned one of its former coal mines into a museum: the Silesian Museum. Katowice is the capital of the Silesian region, hence the name of the museum. It consists of six buildings and has an observation tower that offers a view over the city. The actual exhibition, focusing on Polish Silesian art from 1800 up until the present, is located underground (entrance building G, level -2) where the former tunnels of the mine were located. Entrance fee for the museum is 24 zloty per person. Unfortunately, a visit to the museum didn’t fit into our tight travel budget. But good to know for next time: on Tuesday it is free to enter the museum.
The museum is also known under the name Muzeum Slaski. Address: Tadeusza Dobrowolskiego 1.
The Silesian Museum is part of the Culture Zone, a redeveloped area that connects the city center with the former mine zone. This zone is completely focused on entertainment, from classical music to conferences and concerts. It seems like the architects received a carte blanche because there is a whole series of striking buildings to be seen here:
- International Conference Center: striking because of the green carpet on the roof. Address: Plac Slawika i Antalla 1;
- Spodek (saucer in Polish): the most unique building in Kato. From a distance it resembles something out of space, a UFO. Spodek is used for concerts and events. Address: Al. Korfantego 35;
- National Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR): probably the most modern opera hall in the world. The acoustic seems to be one of the best in Europe. Address: plac Wojciecha Kilara 1.
Strolling around the Mariacka and Rynek
In Gdansk, Poznan, and Wroclaw the Rynek is the center of attention. A Rynek is a beautiful old market square surrounded by colorful merchant houses. In Katowice this is not the case. To make it worse: the Rynek in Katowice used to be a big roundabout. Fortunately, the city decided it was time for a change and started renovating the city center. Śródmieście (Polish for city center) became a pedestrian domain. Ul. Mariacka is a perfect example of this transformation. Back in the days this area was used to park your car or to visit a strip club or massage parlor. Today, ul. Mariacka is the most popular pedestrian street of Kato. This street has two sections. On the west side at the ul. Mielęckiego you will find the ‘evening side’. This is where the bars are located. If you walk towards the St. Mary church you will find the ‘dayside’ of the Mariacka. This is where cafes and restaurants are located. So, get a coffee on one side of the street and a beer on the other.
And the Rynek? Today, this is a modern city square with lounge chairs, a pond and a few restored historical buildings. Still, it is nothing like the colorful market square in other Polish cities, but it is a huge step forward to Katowice.
Discover the red-brick neighbourhood Nikiszowiec
Back to the mining history of Kato, because did you know that mine companies built special residential neighborhoods for their employees? At the beginning of the twentieth-century coalmine company ‘Giesche’ built the residential neighborhood called Nikiszowiec and housed 1.000 people here. It was a self-sustaining community with their own school, hospital, police station, bakery, and church. The design of this neighborhood showed unity and symmetry: all buildings were constructed with red bricks and red-painted window frames. The neighborhood consisted of about six blocks and every block had its own big communal courtyard. If you look at the photos, it might remind you of a scene right out of the Netflix series Peaky Blinder, doesn’t it?
Pick up the audio tour
I recommend everyone to pick up a free audio tour at the Industrial Ethnographic Museum (Rymarka 4) before you start wandering off into the neighborhood. With the information on the audio tour the area comes more to life. To pick up the audio tour, you have to pay a deposit of 50 zloty and you have to show your passport or ID. By the way, Nikiszowiec is still a residential area, so please treat the area and the people who live here with respect.
How to get to Nikiszowiec?
Take bus 30 or 920 from Al. Korfantego (near hotel Katowice). Are you near the bus station (Katowice Dworzec)? Take bus 647 or bus 930. You can buy a ticket at the yellow machines or in a kiosk. The public transport system in Katowice works with a three-zone system. Nikiszowiec is zone 1. A one-zone ticket is 3,80 zloty.
Go get a Polish sandwich: zapiekanka
A visit to Poland is not complete without a zapiekanka. This is the Polish version of a pizza sandwich. Perfect for lunch or as a snack on the road. Traditionally, the zapiekanka comes with cheese, mushroom, and ketchup, but we saw so many other varieties. I have a deep respect for the Polish people and their skills to eat a 50-centimeter long zapiekanka on the go without dropping the whole thing. How do they do that?! The best zapiekanka in Katowice was the one at Todojutra. This local chain has fifteen varieties on the menu, among them a vegan version. The menu is in Polish, but to help you out: the vegan version is no. 11: weganka. I tell you: the best zapiekanka in Poland!
You may also want to try these tasty cafes in Katowice:
- Zloty Osiol: great salads for lunch, ul. Mariacka 1;
- Nieinaczej: vegan snackbar with burgers, Mariacka Tylna 13;
- Bujna: vegan Polish dishes (like pierogi), Mielęckiego 10.
Katowice: boring or kind of cool?
The main question from the intro: is Katowice a dull grey city as many people tend to think it is? Even if you have not read the article and only scanned the photos, you would still come to the realization that Katowice has actually a lot to offer. This Polish city might not be as colorful as Poznan or Gdansk, but it is not grey or dull either. Kato has character, it has a story to tell. The city got a second chance and has developed into a modern city full of street art and interesting entertainment venues. In short, Katowice is not your average city trip, but if you give it a chance you will see it is a cool modern city.
Traveling to Katowice by train or bus
- Train: the modern train station Katowice Dworzec PKP connects the city with Krakow (travel time: 2 hours) and Warsaw (travel time: 2,5 hours). You can also catch a train from Prague to Katowice (travel time: 5 hours).
- Bus: due to repair work on the train tracks around Prague, we traveled by bus from Prague to Katowice and arrived at Dworzec Autobusowy Katowice (travel time: 7 hours, Flixbus). There are also bus connections between Warsaw (travel time: 4,5 hours) and Krakow (travel time: 1,5 hours). By the way, the bus station of Katowice looks more like a parking lot than a proper bus station.
- Airport shuttle from Katowice airport to the city: are you flying to Katowice? From the airport, there is a bus departing every hour or so to the city. Departure point: near Terminal C.
- Suggestion for a longer overland trip: why not combine Katowice with Wroclaw of Dresden? If you are based in the Netherlands, it is possible to travel by overnight bus from Amsterdam to Katowice. It is a long 18-hour journey though, so why not break it up into two or three parts and make a stop in Cologne, Dresden of Wroclaw.
This article is based on my trip in 2019. Please note that prices or addresses might have changed.