Zgorzelec Travel Guide: A Diamond in the Rough

zgorzelec travel guide

Your Zgorzelec Travel Guide

This may be the first Zgorzelec travel guide in English. In researching my trip to the German – Polish border towns Görlitz & Zgorzelec, I soon realised that little information exists about the city on the Polish side.

There is plenty about German Görlitz, but the grittier, more real Zgorzelec is not nearly as popular with bloggers and guidebooks. So I decided to go off the beaten path and create a Zgorzelec travel guide myself.

Zgorzelec Travel Guide
Crossing the border between Poland and Germany. Photo taken on the Polish side, facing Germany.

About Zgorzelec and Görlitz

Set at the intersection of two major 18th century Central European trading routes, Zgorzelec and Görlitz were a single, prosperous German entity until 1945. During the war, it was one of the only places to completely escape bombings.

After World War II, Germany’ territory shrank drastically. As a result, the new Polish border was drawn along the Neisse River. The Neisse, however, flows right through the city of Görlitz, which meant that this flourishing merchant town got split in two.

Both Görlitz and Zgorzelec (which means Görlitz in Polish), were hidden away behind the iron curtain until the fall of communism, and neither was treated kindly. Although, being in Poland, Zgorzelec’s fate was much worse than Görlitz’s.

Zgorzelec travel guide
The Neisse River, flowing between Poland and Germany. Photo taken from the bridge between the two countries.

Why Write a Zgorzelec Travel Guide?

Wandering around Görlitz in 2020, you could hardly tell that the town had ever suffered. Indeed, since 1995, a mysterious benefactor has been pouring millions into refurbishing the city’s monuments and facades.

Zgorzelec is another story. You still see damage from the communist era and passage of time. While some areas have been restored, others look their age – a few hundred years old.

But it is specifically this contrast between pristine Görlitz and authentic, unabashed Zgorzelec that made me curious to find out more. This city looks lived in, like it has many stories to tell.

As you’ll see in the next section, there is plenty of beauty in Zgorzelec, too.

German side (in the foreground) and Polish side (in the background), with the bridge linking both countries.

What to Do in Zgorzelec

Discover an Array of Architectural Styles

A mix of grand villas, fading baroque facades and colourful apartment buildings await. Zgorzelec has not been sanitised the way Görlitz has, so wandering the streets will take you back 30 years – or 100.

There are architectural reminders of the past all around, strangely, in perfect harmony with the present.

Immerse Yourself in Local Culture

Upon crossing the bridge into Poland (which you can even walk over), you will soon notice that you really are in another country. After wandering a few streets back, past shops advertising cheap cigarettes and vodka in German, you will enter the Zgorzelec where locals are.

Arriving in Zgorzelec.
After crossing the border, wander a few streets back to leave behind the shops catering to German tourists.

This may mean browsing second-hand shops – of which there are many – with everything written in Polish. Or sitting down at a bistro filled with locals, where the only language around you is Polish, and enjoying a dish of homemade meat pierogis. (Although between announcements they were playing Taylor Swift on the radio.)

If you miss international travel as much as I do, you can get your quick fix of ‘going abroad’.

Zgorzelec travel guide
A Zgorzelec travel guide would not be complete without mentioning pierogis.

Escape to Nearby Nature

It is so easy to escape urban life in Zgorzelec. There is a river trail stretching along the Neisse for miles, affording views over ivy-clad buildings on the other side.

Zgorzelec travel guide
On the eastern bank: a section of Zgorzelec’s river trail.

Right at the heart of Zgorzelec, you’ll find Andrzej Błachaniec Park, with forested areas, towering oak trees and little lakes with islands.

The park also houses a stage, cultural centre and playground areas. At the park’s edge, you’ll find many grand residences – I wonder whom those once belonged to.

Snap Some Great Photos

Zgorzelec is very hilly, adding “layers” to the surrounding landscape. As you wander up and down the winding avenues, you’ll be able to get great photos of the city, river, and Görlitz on the other bank.

Zgorzelec travel guide

Getting to Zgorzelec

It is very easy to get to Zgorzelec. If you are coming from Berlin, take the RE2 and change in Cottbus to the RB65.

Get off in Görlitz and either walk 20 minutes or take a local train to Zgorzelec’s main station. Total travel time from Berlin’s central station is just over 3 hours.

Proud to be Polish.

Has This Zgorzelec Travel Guide Convinced You?

My trip left me wanting to find out more about the German/Polish dynamics in this region. Indeed, a visit to Zgorzelec is incomplete without some time in Görlitz, and vice-versa.

One city’s fate could just as easily have been the other’s. I hope this Zgorzelec travel guide will inspire to you see both sides of the story for yourself!

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Published by margueritebravay

Marguerite Bravay is a marketer by day, blogger in the early mornings and traveler always.

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