We have already promised ourselves that Bielsko-Biała will be our next destination. We were tempted by an intriguing story and mountains that start just outside the city.
I think every Polish when saying ‘Bielsko-Biała’ thinks a car factory and animated films. It was not different with me. I had less than a month when in June 1973 the first Fiat 126p left the Small Cars Factory (FSM) in Bielsko-Biała. And on the 18th birthday, I received keys from my parents for my own Maluch (“Toddler”). Well, Daddy bought it occasionally for himself, but it turned out that it only ignited from gear two because the starter did not work, he gave it to his firstborn. A few years earlier, on Saturday evening, I sat in front of the TV (mostly at my grandmother’s) to see Cartoon – the adventures of Bolek and Lolek. I did not like puppy Reksio too much – he was too polite to me. For the “Kidnapping of Baltazar Sponge” with a villain – Spy of Rainy Land, I loved it. All these films were made in the studio of “Polish Disney” in Bielsko-Biała. But although from my hometown Zakopane it’s basically a stone’s throw, I never got there. And I have the impression that the city of Bielsko-Biała was waiting for me until 2018.
We have travelled a lot in Poland in recent years. But there are few cities that during the walk still carry us through the ages. In Bielsko-Biała, we can feel like in the “old, good KK monarchy”, where Art Nouveau and solid Habsburg architecture are the perfect settings for the confectionery where elegant company drinks the Viennese coffee Julius Meinl. But next to it, we find workers’ houses from the first half of the 20th century. A little further all the quarters marked by the communism in its late edition. Some pavilions from the ’90s hung with advertisements. And as we have to look back, the neo-renaissance town hall, an architectural pearl from the turn of the ages, is emerging from behind the corner.
And there are great mountains with dozens of hiking trails for the whole family. Just outside the city. And everywhere, a whole bunch of cyclists who are speeding on their mountain bikes.
Our goal was to show Bielsko-Biała to a five-year-old son. That’s why this list of Bielsko-Biała hits is set not in the order of the tour, but in line with what Wiliam liked best. This is the top ten. The next five, in turn, our types. For a small child, for understandable reasons, they will not be high on the list. But Bielsko-Biała is a fascinating, multicultural city for the whole family, which is worth showing and explaining to a child.
Number 1: Market Place in Bielsko
Silesian Bielsko for centuries dominated Lesser Poland Biała, and the local market did not differ from its brothers – from the Rhine to the Vistula. We thought that we would go quickly, taking a picture of Neptune standing in the middle of the square and we would go further. But Wilhelm was delighted with a 15-meter-long, artificial river that flows on the square from the fountain to a rectangular board with a mock-up of the old town.
Our son enthusiastically joined the band of local rascals and waded in the shallow water. Boys splashed and ran on, and Wili played in the water alone for a half hour. Thanks to this, we discovered a cafe by the market, which became our number two hit.
Silver medal: cafe „Jednorożek”
Located in the corner of the market, at the picturesque street of Podcienie 2, it serves fantastic coffee, and above all excellent craft ice cream of its own production. The Unicon (Jednorożek) Café at the market in Bielsko-Biała operates only seasonally, until September, autumn and winter, producing ice cream for premises throughout Poland.
But now we could eat “the best ice cream in life” – according to Magda, and relax on the sun loungers. Fairytale!
Third Place: Ropes course Dębowiec
That it will be a hit, we knew basically since we came to the parking lot for a year-round chairlift leading to the top of Dębowiec and saw the structures in the ropes course. You have to bend your head hard to see the high-level characters of climbers overcoming sky-high “ferrata”.
Fortunately, there is a big obstacle course for kids like Wili. The first time it was not easy and he was sweating enough, setting the edge and hanging.
And then he wanted again. And again. And again…
4. Just behind the podium, but also high: a Luge Track
You know that I do not like sledges. They gave me a good bone in Stubaier Tal in Austria. That’s why I went to a year-round luge track in Bielsko as for beheading. I was completely unnecessarily afraid. Because the luge track on the slope of Dębowiec (Skalna 58 street) is great! Together with Wili, we had a great time and every ride was bolder (a little hint – lean towards the bend, it’s completely unintuitive, but it works great).
5. Railway Station
The railway connection Vienna – Krakow was probably the apple of Archduke Ferdinand eye. Well, if instead of driving an open convertible after Sarajevo he was faithful to elegant coaches, maybe the World War I would not have emerged, and Bielsko would still be the pearl of the Habsburg monarchy. Anyway, at the Bielsko-Biała train station, the time has seemingly stopped in Belle Epoque. Seemingly, because although the city missed the destruction of World War II, this beautiful railway station from the turn of the 19th and the 20th century regained its splendour quite recently, after an expensive and accurate renovation. Our son immediately fell in love with shiny floors, on which he brilliantly drives plastic cars. And we admired the exquisite decoration of walls and ceiling. Such places probably enforce good behaviour. In our opinion, it is the most beautiful railway station in Poland. And the best smelling…
6. Tourist Information Center
We always try to start a visit to the city from the Tourist Information Center. We can find here people who know their region best and who always suggest something interesting. The centre is located at 4 Ratuszowy Square and on Saturday it is open from 8 am! We went out of there with a handful of maps, guides and gadgets. The field game “12 Adventures in Bielsko-Biała” proved to be a hit for the family afternoon. The Tourist Information Center is well prepared for the visits of small travellers. Have a look with your family there! And before leaving, check HERE, what are the most interesting attractions for children in Bielsko-Biała.
7. Statue of Reksio
Wili did not really associate the flagship tale of the Polish People’s Republic, but the idea of the statue of a nice pooch definitely suited him. Well, Reksio is polished from the children’s hands. You need to rub it because it brings luck at school. Willy did not need to be said twice… Reksio statue can be found at 11 Listopada street, next to the Biała River. Not far (at the Sfera II shopping centre) there is also the monument of Bolek and Lolek.
8. Wojska Polskiego Square
Next to the Town Hall is a square which – as unfortunately many old markets in Poland – has been turned into a car park. And surely it would not arouse our son’s enthusiasm, if not for the tin box with the banner of “ESKIMO”, which our child infallibly led by the sixth sense, associated with ice cream. The barrack looked like it had been there for at least three decades. Or maybe four. The ice cream was slightly worse than in the “Jednorożek”, but for the “assortment”, as if written in a communist newspaper, there were tubes with cream. What else to add here…
9. House under frogs
On the other side of Wojska Polskiego Square, on the corner of Targowa Street, there is a completely cool tenement house from the end of the 18th century. Once a wine cellar was located here, and today – a Chinese restaurant. On the front wall (opposite the church), supported on a barrel of wine, sat down two large frogs, which look like they were transferred from the cartoons of Wilhelm Busch. One smokes a long pipe, the other is playing the mandolin. They were probably supposed to personify the entertainment character of the pub on the ground floor. A pity that this wine cellar is gone…
10. Bar Pierożek
To eat “like at grandma’s”, we return to the Bielsko-Biała market. It’s a really short, 15-minute walk from the town hall. And the bar “Pierożek” (Rynek 24) is recommended by all citizens. The local dumplings stuffed with fruit are so esteemed that when we try to order them at 14.00, the cook almost bursts out laughing. “At this hour, Lord, they’ve already eaten.” We can order dumplings and croquettes. What we do, too. They are delicious and affordable.
11. Town Hall
Ah, if all of Bielsko-Biala was built in the Viennese style, just like this beautiful town hall… That would be a city! He draws attention with lightness and at the same time, solidity like the Strauss waltz played in the Golden Hall by the Vienna Philharmonics. It is a pity that you can not enter the clock tower. But on the other hand, it would not be possible to admire the town hall from there, so in total nothing is lost (Town Hall Square 1).
12. City walls and Schodowa street
Medieval Bielsko was a typical Silesian city, with a cathedral, a town hall and walls tightly surrounded tenement houses. It is worth going for a walk to the beautifully exposed defensive walls from the first half of the 14th century, which are among the oldest in the province. The atmosphere of a slightly younger birth certificate of the old city will feel you walk along the street Schodowa.
A small renovation would be nice and it would be like Montmartre in Paris.
13. St. Nicholas Cathedral
To appreciate the uniqueness of the Bielsko Cathedral of St. Nicholas (St. Nicholas’ Square), you have to look at it from a distance. Then the tower is best seen, which surprisingly resembles the crowning of the Venetian San Marco. A fifteenth-century church, many times over the centuries it fell victim to fires. It was rebuilt each time in a different style. Today’s shape is the effect of the work of nineteenth-century architects.
It’s worth taking a look inside, even when it’s closed. Doors to the porch are usually open.
14. A Monument of Martin Luter
Silesian Bielsko was a Protestant city from the mid-15th century. Later, in the Catholic Habsburg monarchy, Silesian Lutherans were reluctant to tolerate. But in spite of everything, they were allowed to put up a monument to their patron. At one time, it was one of the two monuments of Martin Luther in the empire. And now it is the only one in Poland. Our family, from the Pinkwarts’ side, has been Lutheran for centuries, so visiting “doctor Martin” is important to me. Although it is a bit too early to discuss this with five-year-old Wilhelm…
15. Szyndzielnia: cable car and an observation tower
I grew up in Zakopane and for many years it seemed to me that Kasprowy Wierch is the only mountain on which one can leave the city with a cable car. Meanwhile, Bielsko-Biała has a cable car for Szyndzielnia for almost seventy years (366 Al. Armii Krajowej, a station can be reached by city bus No. 8, paid parking 5 zlotys is about a kilometre from the station).
In the winter it takes skiers, and in the summer – cyclists and tourists. You can go from here to Klimczok, or simply climb the 18-meter-high tower from which, when weather conditions are good, we will see the Tatras, and certainly we will cover the entire valley in which Bielsko rested.
After such an exhausting climb, all we have to do is relax on a sunbed next to a mountain hostel, which from the pre-war times makes it easier for tourists to contemplate the panorama of the Beskidy Mountains.
During the weekend in Bielsko-Biała, we lived in the Hotel Dębowiec (Armii Krajowej 220). It has moderate prices (double room with breakfast: PLN 220, children up to 6 years free). It is a bit far from the city centre, located in a quiet, green area. You can walk to the luge track, the ropes course and the lift to Dębowiec as well as to the Szyndzielnia cable car. We recommend!