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Both Wroclaw and Brussels are fantastic cities, but which is better for your city-break or holiday?
We understand your dilemma. There is a wealth of information about both cities, but little stating which is the better destination and more suited for your trip.
This article will provide our unbiased opinions of Brussels and Wroclaw, and hopefully help you to choose the best city to visit.
The article is divided into the following sections, and can be jumped to using the underlined links:
1) Introductions -
2) City scores -
3) Which one should I, friends, or family visit? -
4) When to visit and weather -
5) Who is the city suited for? -
6) The perfect 48hours (with map) -
7) Tourism details (where to stay? airport details?)
Wroclaw (spelt Wrocław in Polish) is the historical capital of the Silesia region. It's been ruled and fought over and shaped by countless tribes and peoples, from the warring Slavs of the first millennium to the Habsburg emperors to the Prussian generals of the 1800s.
It is all too easy to over-look Brussels as a city break destination, especially considering it is the home of modern European politics. However, there is a surprising amount here to explore and enjoy, and a visit here can end up being one of those unexpected hits that with hindsight, you can’t understand why you hadn’t been before.
Being smaller than many of its European counterparts it is able to offer the perks of a more manageable and friendly atmosphere with fewer crowds, exceptional art galleries, museums and medieval churches abundant around every cobbled street corner. It is also brimming with quirky café charm and home to the highest standard of food you will find anywhere in the world.
Which city would I go to?
Which one would I recommend to my parents?
Which location for my 19-year-old cousin?
Which for my food obsessed friend?
Note: The above comparison does not consider the weather, and assumes travel at the best time of year (which is detailed later in this article)
The following sections compare the two cities and considers; how long to spend in them, when to visit, and provides suggested 48hours in each city (along with an interactive map). The final section is tourism practicalities and includes which airport to fly into, what district to be based in and how best to explore the city.
We hope that you find all of this information useful, in planning your next exciting trip!
Brussels is compact city, and as such, you can see all the sights in 1 or 2 days. There is ample to see, but most of it is packed into the historical core.
Walking from the Grote Markt (The Grand Place) in the very middle of the city to the EU Parliament and through the bustling streets of the Stalingrad District hardly takes more than a couple of hours – depending on how many Belgian beers you stop for en route, of course!
With extra time, you could consider outings to places like Waterloo (the battlefield where Wellington defeated Napoleon in 1815) and the handsome medieval city of Bruges.
Wroclaw isn't a big place. Yes, it's one of the largest cities in Poland, but its Old Town is still eminently walkable. There's also a nifty tram network that can whiz you around the main sights for just a few zloty here and there. All that means you should only need a day or two to explore the whole place. The presence of a dedicated airport also makes Wroclaw a prime candidate for a fly-in, fly-out weekend away.
Longer trips to Wroclaw should be supplemented with day outings – there's probably not enough in the town to sustain week-long visits. Get out and you have the wooded mountains of Karpacz (one of the larger Polish ski resorts), the Game of Thrones castles of the Eagles Nest Trail, and the holy Catholic pilgrimage site of Jasna Góra.
Unless you're a fan of air pollution and sub-zero temperatures, Wroclaw is not the place to be in the winter. The whole of south Poland gets cold between November and March – really cold. We're talking minus 10 degrees regularly, with sudden snowfalls and freeing rain. Of course, when there is a dusting of the white stuff, the Old Town of Wroclaw can look wonderful, but recent winters haven't been so promising.
For sightseeing and enjoying the student buzz of the town, it's probably better to hold off until May. That's when the weather really starts getting good. You might have chilly evenings, but you should be able to don the shorts and t-shirts for your wanders through the city. What's more, the local university is in session, so the bars will be lively and vibrant.
Summer sees the students go home and the tourists arrive. It's a reliable period for weather, even if you have to deal with the occasional thunderstorm around early afternoon. September is just as nice, if not even better. That's when the trees of the island parks in Wroclaw start to change to yellow and ochre, lending a romantic atmosphere to the Silesian capital.
Brussels gets busiest during the warm months of the summer. Everyone from city breakers flying in on short-haul budget links to Interrail backpackers on a cross-continent grand tour pass through during the main holidays from June and August.
There's a real buzz about the bars of the Grand Place then, with people chatting and snapping selfies all around the UNESCO-tagged streets. Some downsides: Brussels can have heatwaves, and the price of hotels at this time is sure to be peaking.
While winter is probably best avoided unless you're on the hunt for cosy Christmas markets, spring and autumn have their pluses. They're both typically cheaper. There's fewer people around, so you're more likely to score tours of the EU Parliament and whatnot. And everything costs a little less, from hotels to flights deals into town.
One of the great joys of Brussels is just how many facets there is to the city. You're certain to be entertained if you love architecture. The main square alone comes with Gothic, Neo-Gothic, and Renaissance elements.
Then there's all that fabled Belgian food, from the double-cooked chips to the chocolate-topped waffles to the frothy monk-brewed beers you find in the pubs. Add in enthralling tours of important parliament buildings, pretty parks, and some seriously rich galleries, and you've got a destination suited to all sorts.
Of course, some people might not feel right at home, Brussels is urban to the core. Finally, budget seekers could find themselves a little happier elsewhere. Brussels hardly breaks the bank, but it's no penny saver either.
If you're the sort of traveller that loves to find off-the-beaten-track cities that don't necessarily have big-name sights, then Wroclaw is sure to be right up your alley. It's not as well known as other towns in Poland but comes with local vibes and interesting neighborhoods. It's also a student city, which means the nightlife can get pumping during term times (September to December and January to June).
Wroclaw has something for those who like the great outdoors, too. Not only is it a green place with lots of parks and riverside areas to explore, but the mountains of the Karpacz and the Czech borderlands are only a short drive to the south. They've got hiking, skiing, spa towns and more.
48hours in Brussels
A whirlwind 48 hours in Brussels can take you from curious statues to modernist structures, regal parklands to beautiful palaces. Of course, there's plenty of time to fit in home-brewed beers and indulgent waffles along the way.
Day 1: The Grand Place is the only real place to begin in Brussels. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the kernel of the city, and has been since time immemorial. Look to the north end and you can see the elegant façade of the Brussels City Museum. It's housed in the Neo-Gothic Maison du Roi, hosting collections that include masterworks by Flemish painters and the original Manneken Pis statue (more on him later).
On the south flank is the indomitable Brussels Town Hall. Gaze up at its gorgeous medievalist spire and wonder at the carvings of dukes on the portals. The rest of the square is a photographer's dream, with guild houses and pubs and more. Next, the area of Stalingrad calls. Curiously named, it's nonetheless one of the liveliest quarters of Brussels.
It's also where you'll find the famously underwhelming Manneken Pis statue – we won't spoil it with a description! After lunching in one of the taverns there, head east to the acclaimed Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium. It's a must for any culture vultures, what with exhibits that contain works by the likes of Anthony van Dyck, Bruegel, and Rubens. It demands a whole afternoon.
The town hall on the Grand Place, the main plaza of Brussels
Day 2: Overdosed on art and ready for something completely different? Good, because day two begins at the Espace Léopold. Welcome to the vast European Parliament; the corridors of power for 27 states that range from Romania to Portugal. Tours of the huge debating chamber and the plenary rooms where the decisions are made run daily from 9am.
After an hour inside, you can head for the grand Parc du Cinquantenaire that sits just behind. It's a prime example of Brussels' flamboyant public garden style, hosting the eye-watering Arc du Cinquantenaire, a national symbol of Belgium.
The afternoon sees you hop on trams (a combo of Tram 5 and Tram 6 usually does the trick) to the area of Laeken. This otherwise green a leafy suburb has one major claim to fame: the strange Atomium. You might not believe it, but it was built in 1958. Up top there's a lookout point with panoramas of the whole city.
For the evening, mosey back to the Grand Place and seek out the iconic Delirium Café on the side streets nearby. It's home to a whopping 2,000 variations of Belgian and global beers!
48hours in Wroclaw
Two days is all that's needed to explore Wroclaw from top to bottom. Most of your time will be spent in the charming Old Town area, but a few jaunts to parklands and other districts can combine with lively nights on the beer to boot…
The interactive map below shows a suggested route for the 48 hours in Wroclaw, with day 1 highlighted in green and day two in yellow.
Day 1: Every history lover, people watcher, foodie and sightseer will want to see the Stare Miasto district. That's the Wroclaw Old Town; the piece de resistance of this southern city. It begins around the wide boulevard of Piłsudskiego, passing through a few blocks of Soviet-era tenements before hitting the historic area proper. That starts in earnest by the Fosa Miejska, a centuries-old moat that was part of the town's medieval fortifications until it was destroyed by Jérôme Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon.
On the left as you make for the heart of the quarter is the elegant Wrocław Opera House, while the leafy walks of Park Staromiejski are the perfect place to go for a picnic in the summer. Keep going north and you'll eventually arrive at the Rynek. This is the beating kernel of the Old Town, where you'll find the most amazing sights of all.
The Gothic-styled Old City Hall draws the eye first, followed by the German-built housing blocks of 1931 – considered by the locals to be among the ugliest in town! Be sure to check out the narrow alleys that weave through the middle of the square at the Sukiennice. Also keep the eyes peeled for the little dwarf statues that dot the plaza. They're a kitschy addition to the cityscape that you'll find on many random street corners.
As the afternoon turns into evening, consider settling in for a beer tasting at the hearty Spiż microbrewery. Or, head for Setka, where Communist paraphernalia adorns the walls and you can sample potent vodka with pickled herring.
The Most Tumski Bridge, where romantics leave love locks attached to the rails and throw the key in to the Odra River. To the rear is the spire of the Bartholomew’s church and the twin spires of the cathedral
Day 2: With the Old Town done and dusted, Day 2 starts with explorations of the outlying islands on the Oder River. There are loads to get through, but the chart-topper that gets us rolling is the iconic Ostrów Tumski. Walk over the pretty bridges to that and you'll find yourself in the oldest part of Wroclaw. The twin spires of high Wrocław Cathedral dominate the skyline, heralding the grandest church in town. Delve in for a peek at the beautiful stained-glass windows and the high vaulted apses.
From there, hop over to Słodowa Island. This is especially fun during the summer months, thanks to the groups of local students and youngsters who sit with BBQ grills by the riverside. Wyspa Piasek is also worth a pitstop, thanks to its handsome chain bridges and cobbled roads.
For the afternoon, catch tram 2, 4, or 10 from the Old Town to Centennial Hall. A whopping great big UNESCO World Heritage Site, it's considered to be a masterstroke of concrete architecture, touting a dome that mimics the Parthenon of Rome. Alongside that are lovely gardens that hit a zenith with the chilled Ogród Japoński – the perfect place to meditate and mull the historic wonders of Wroclaw.
Brussels Airport (BRU) and the Charleroi Airport (CRL) combine to offer all sorts of long-haul and short-haul air links into the capital. The cheapest cross-continent flights on Ryanair and the like usually jet into CRL. Transatlantic and premium carriers usually go to BRU.
You can use Brussels City Shuttle to get to Charleroi for as little as €5 each way if booked online and in advance. Meanwhile, direct rail links go to Brussels Airport from Brussels Central, costing €8.60 and taking a little over 20 minutes in total.
In terms of travel safety, Brussels ranks well. Incidents involving tourists are rare, although thefts, bag snatches, and pickpocketing do occur in many of the visitor hotspots.
Try not to walk alone in the city centre after dark, particularly if you've been drinking. Never leave valuable items within sight if you're parking your car. Also always keep one eye on your handbag or wallet when riding the metro.
For hotels, the best area of Brussels is surely the district immediately around the Grand Place. The closest establishments to that UNESCO site typically cost oodles but ooze luxury. A few streets back and you can find affordable local B&Bs with plenty of charm.
The ever-expanding Wrocław–Copernicus Airport is now served by loads of routes coming from across Poland and Europe. It's even possible to arrive on long-haul connecting flights thanks to Poland's flag-carrying LOT airline. There's a bus that leaves the terminals for the centre of town every 20 minutes throughout the day. Tickets cost 3 PLN and the ride is around half an hour.
To get out to the Centennial Hall, Wroclaw Zoo, or other districts, you can make use of the efficient tram network. Buy tickets at the MPK Wroclaw machines at any bus or tram stop and then validate them as you board. Basic fares cost 3 PLN per ride, but you can also score passes for several days using the Urbancard website.
Hotels in Wroclaw are generally all located within the ring road of Piłsudskiego. Roughly speaking, the closer you get to the Rynek square the better the location, though staying right on the main plaza might be noisy at night. There are also some lovely boutique stays and B&Bs to find north of the Oder River.