Visit Szczecin, Poland: Discover Charming Blends of Parisian Chic & Berlin Cool
I was recently invited to visit Szczecin and fortunate enough to meet locals on my trip (sponsored by the city’s tourism association, Visit Szczecin). Therefore, I got to see much more of the real Szczecin that, as a typical tourist, I might have missed. And now, I’m able to share more hidden gems and insider tips with you!
Planning to visit Szczecin, Poland? Good choice. This lesser-known Polish city has it all: maritime ambiance, award-winning architecture, and plenty of free cultural events in open spaces. Plus, third-wave coffee culture has hit hard, so if you’re a caffeine fan(atic) like me, you’ll be in heaven!
I’d even go as far as to say that Szczecin is a blend of Berlin and Paris – a fusion of street art and contemporary trends, Hausmann architecture and manicured parks.
One thing that definitely struck me right away was the passion locals have for Szczecin, from people working at the tourism agency to strangers I had quick chats with during my stay.
In this blog post, I’m sharing 21 local-approved things to see, do and eat in Szczecin, plus FAQs to help you plan your trip.
Locating Szczecin in Space and Time
Szczecin is set close to the German border in the Polish province of West Pomerania. Located on the banks of the Oder River, this is Poland’s third-largest city.
A town with a long history, Szczecin was first settled by the Vikings back in the 8th century, before falling under Polish, Swedish, French, German and, once more, Polish, rule.
During the 19th century, Szczecin boasted one of the most important ports in the Prussian Empire – and industrialization and trade helped make the city very rich. German was the predominant language between 1871 and 1945, before the city was officially transferred back to Poland.
Trapped behind the iron curtain, Szczecin suffered greatly and was relegated to a third-rate city. But since the fall of communism in 1989, Szczecin has sprung back to life. Today, you’ll discover a bustling hub where past and present artfully collide and residents optimistically look towards the future.
Where to Stay in Szczecin
Hotels in Szczecin are relatively affordable, especially if you’re coming from a country with a stronger currency like the Euro.
I stayed at Hotel Dana, which is set in an absolutely beautiful, century-old building. While the exterior has retained its 19th-century appearance, the inside has been refurbished to offer sleek rooms. Breakfast is also an experience at Hotel Dana – a buffet spread awaits in a luxurious restaurant with gold & black details and marble floors.
You can walk from Hotel Dana to the central business district in about 10 minutes, the iconic philharmonic orchestra in 15, and the waterfront and Westend Villa Colony in 20.
21 Things to See, Do, and Eat While You Visit Szczecin: Approved By Locals
As you can now tell, a city as rich in history as Szczecin definitely has some stories to tell – and plenty of places to discover. The below 21 spots are my top recommendations, approved by locals.
Szczecin Sights & Activities
Wander Along the Waterfront
I had the chance to experience Szczecin during Zagle 2021, a major sailing event that drove half the city – and many visitors – down to the docks along the Oder River!
This waterside event aimed to bring the public closer to the maritime world. Ships travelled to Szczecin from across the seven seas and people could climb aboard to get a little glimpse into a sailor’s life.
While Zagle, hosted by Sail Szczecin, is now over for 2021, you can keep tabs on their next events via Instagram. And, event or not, I’m pretty sure that Szczecin’s waterfront is a great place for a stroll and drink. On one side of the Oder, you’ll find little cafes and restaurants. On the other, the Wheel of Szczecin beckons.
See Szczecin From Up High
If you like taking in city views from above, make sure to purchase tickets to the Wheel of Szczecin. 80 meters high, this is the tallest Ferris wheel in Poland. Although offering panoramic rides during the day, the Wheel of Szczecin truly comes to life after dark, with its bright neon colours adding a little bit of magic to the skyline.
Get Waterfront Views from Castle Bridge
I discovered the best spot to get waterfront views in Szczecin quite by accident, as I was walking across the romantically named Castle Bridge to access the Ferris wheel.
Standing in the middle of this bridge will grant you practically a bird’s eye view of the Szczecin waterfront and both banks.
Pro tip: it gets very windy up here, so make sure you wear appropriate clothing!
Tour the Philharmonic Orchestra
When you visit Szczecin, you will likely end up in front of the iconic Mieczysław Karłowicz Philharmonic at some point. This is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. The building has won many awards, including the prestigious EU Prize for Contemporary Architecture in 2015.
The exterior is a modern take on traditional Hanseatic homes (Szczecin was part of the Hanseatic League – a trade group of over 200 Baltic cities across 7 countries in the Middle Ages). During the Second World War, many of Szczecin’s Hanseatic structures were destroyed. Today’s philharmonic pays homage to them.
Inside, the Philarmonic is an ode to minimalism: the only colours are (predominantly) white, followed by tones of grey and black. The spacious foyer and the upper levels are connected by a spiral staircase.
There is, however, one room that is an exception to the Philharmonic’s minimalist rule. The lavish main concert hall stuns with its gold and black tones. If you visit Szczecin during concert season (aka not during the summer break), you might even be able to catch a performance here.
If you’d like to go behind the scenes at the Mieczysław Karłowicz Philharmonic while you visit Szczecin, you’ll be able to do so by booking a tour conducted in English, German and Polish.
Explore the Lentz Villa
The many villas in Szczecin testify to the city’s wealthy industrial past. Perhaps the most prominent of these stately homes is the Lentz Villa.
August Lentz, the villa’s first owner, was a self-made man and wanted a home that reflected his hard-earned success. So he commissioned the best construction companies in Prussia to design the most ostentatious villa in the city, at the heart of the prestigious Westend Villa Colony.
Lentz moved in with his family in 1890 but unfortunately died in 1895. The villa was passed on to his daughter, then to a variety of wealthy merchants, before being sold to the city, occupied by the Nazis and, later on, the Red Army. Today, Villa Lentz hosts a wide range of art exhibits, both indoors and on the spacious grounds.
It was so much fun to wander around, imagining what life must have been like for the bourgeois who once walked these same halls. My personal highlight was the Oriental Room, instantly transporting me miles away from Western Pomerania.
If you’re interested in history, art, and architecture, make sure you fit in some time at the Lentz Villa while you visit Szczecin!
Walk the Westend to Discover More Villas in Szczecin
Although potentially the most impressive, the Lentz mansion is only one of many villas in Szczecin dotting the streets of the Westend. This part of town was named after the famous eponymous neighbourhood in London.
If you don’t have time to visit Willa Lentza, a stroll through the Westend will give you a good idea of what life was like for Szczecin’s wealthy merchants of the last centuries. You’ll find plenty of lovely old homes; some are private residences and others are now businesses.
Admire Szczecin’s Churches
Church of the Holy Family
Irrespective of religious beliefs, Szczecin’s churches are fascinating spots where you can enjoy a moment of tranquillity while diving deeper into the city’s history.
Take the Church of the Holy Family, for example. This red-bricked Catholic parish at the heart of the Westend is the oldest in Szczecin.
The current church was built in 1936, but nuns have been operating an orphanage and hospital on the premises since the middle of the 19th century. Today, sisters still inhabit the property.
Visitors are welcome to walk around the grounds, where you’ll also find a small outdoor exhibit that goes into details about the church’s history.
Orthodox Church of Szczecin
With its golden dome, the Orthodox Church of Szczecin is definitely eye-catching.
This temple is the first Orthodox church in Western Pomerania. And, it has an incredible support system: this parish is almost 100% funded by local parishioners and the international Orthodox community.
Pro tip: to get the best shots of the Orthodox Church, make sure to look out the “Instagram window” at the Philharmonic during your tour. Just ask your guide – he or she will know what I’m talking about!
Snap Away at the City Hall
When you visit Sczcecin, you’ll soon notice just how colourful the city’s buildings are. Especially if, like me, you are coming from Berlin, where bright colours do not always dominate the streets.
One of my favourite buildings in Szczecin is the City Hall, built in neo-Baroque style in the 1920s and affectionately called “Spinach Palace” by residents of the time. Indeed, the stately property is a deep green and looks more like a palace than your typical city hall!
Stroll Along Ksiecia Boguslawa X
Sticking to the theme of colourful architecture, let me now introduce you to the beautiful Ksiecia Boguslawa X, a cobblestoned pedestrian street with serious Parisian flair.
This lovely avenue is flanked by pastel apartment buildings on both sides, the ground floors of which are occupied by bars and restaurants. Even if you’re not hungry, this is a fabulous spot to simply wander around and take your next Instagram shots.
Don’t Skip the Street Art
As you visit Szczecin, you’re likely to notice a number of artful murals – on building facades, schoolyard walls and even underpass pillars. Close the station, down by the docks or watching over the old town – you never know when you might stumble upon one!
Some murals remain from the communist era, where they were used as means of propaganda or for advertising purposes. Today, many new murals have been added by local artists, often inspired by the city’s maritime heritage.
You’ll be able to find out more about Szczecin’s murals and their whereabouts on the official tourism website.
Search for Mosaics in Szczecin
Just as it is a hub for street art, Szczecin has a mosaics trail – visitors can wander around the central part of town to uncover a series of mosaics, many of which are tucked away just out of sight.
While on the hunt for these works of art, you might find yourself walking to the back of a parking lot or insider a popular local diner (more on that in our food section)!
Step Back in Time in Stare Miasto
If this is your first trip to Szczecin, make sure you stop by the Old Town, or Stare Miasto. Sadly, much of this area was destroyed during World War II bombings, but like the impressive Altstadt in Dresden, Germany, everything got rebuilt as an exact replica of the original.
Stare Miasto is quite small, so you can definitely see everything in a couple of hours when you visit Szczecin. Below are a couple of sights you should not miss.
Hay Market Square
Hay Market Square is the colourful hub of Szczecin’s Old Town. On one side, you’ll find blue, pink, and yellow houses built in traditional Hanseatic style. On the other, you’ll see the Old Town Hall, Szczecin’s first city hall turned local history museum. The Old Town Hall was first built in the 15th century and almost entirely renovated in the 1970s.
Szczecin’s Ducal Palace
The Ducal Palace has always reminded me a bit of a wedding cake, with its white exterior topped by ornate embellishments. But like the city, the castle has changed hands – and appearance – many times throughout history.
It was first built by Pomeranian dukes in the 14th century. As the Swedes and Prussians took control of Szczecin, the castle was frequently renovated, with new wings and features added.
Fun fact: Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia and one of the most powerful women in history, was born and raised in the castle.
Today, visitors and locals can take part in castle life: the palace hosts free cultural events in the courtyard, and the grounds are open to all.
In Contrast: Discover Modern Szczecin
Szczecin may be a historic city, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t find seriously modern spots, like the new Hansa Tower.
As the name suggests, this skyscraper, shaped like a sail, also pays tribute to Szczecin’s maritime heritage. Boasting 28 floors (although 3 are underground) the Hansa tower is the tallest building in Szczecin.
Stroll Through Parks & Gardens
Did you know that Szczecin consists of 40% water and green space? For all of the city’s urbanness, you’ll find plenty of spots to reconnect with nature.
Leafy squares and parks with water features pop up where you least expect them, blending perfectly into the scenery. Locals love spending time in their parks – be it to sunbathe, play with the kids, or just chill with a book or coffee.
I stumbled upon Plac Jasne Błonia im. Jana Pawła II after walking around the Villa Colony. This expansive green square leads up to the City Hall. There’s a little train to take the visitors around – yes, it’s actually big enough to be worth grabbing a ride!
Cafes and ice cream parlours are only steps away, so you can grab whatever suits your fancy and enjoy it in the shade of the tall oak trees bordering the park.
Plac Jasne Błonia im. Jana Pawła II actually backs into the much larger Kasprowicz Park (which I, unfortunately, did not have the time to visit), crisscrossed with walking trails and housing a small lake.
Top Spots to Eat in Szczecin
As you visit Szczecin, you’re bound to be hungry! Another way I could describe my time in Szczecin is “I walked and ate” – which is my favourite way to discover a destination! So without further ado, here is my little Szczecin foodie list. It’s a mix of places I stumbled upon on my wanders and spots locals recommended to me.
Traditional Savoury Dishes
One of the first things I learned about food culture in Szczecin is Paprikarz szczeciński. This traditional Szczecin dish is a little bit like risotto, but with canned fish ground and mixed into rice and tomato paste.
Restaurants serve Paprikarz as an appetizer or entire meal. You can also purchase cans at the supermarket, but I’ve heard these don’t have the same flavour.
There’s an interesting story behind Paprikarz. During the communist era, Szczecin’s fishermen were away at sea for months on end. A group of them got bored and started playing around with ingredients onboard the ship. That’s how the first Paprikarz was created. Back at home, the dish spread like wildfire and soon become a pillar of Szczecin’s culture and even identity.
I sampled Paprikarz in two restaurants and must say it was delicious! I might even try making it at home.
Another Szczecin foodie tip is Pasztecik – a diner serving, well, Pasztecik (deep-fried rolls with a variety of fillings), since 1969.
The one I tried after cluelessly ordering was cheese and spinach – and definitely a hit!
Perhaps the best sign of all is that I arrived at 10:05 AM on a Saturday, a few minutes after opening, and local families were already lining up to order.
In terms of aesthetics, the diner is also very interesting: it has not be altered since the 1960s, so stepping inside gives you the impression of having jumped back five decades.
What’s more, the walls are covered in beautiful mosaics. So if you stop at Pasztecik, it’s like killing two birds with one stone. You’ll be able to try a local specialty and tick another mosaic artwork off the list.
Coffee and Sweets
Google Maps actually pointed #Alternatywnie out to me as I was exploring that part of town, indicating that this was a highly rated coffee shop in my vicinity.
Although this was slightly creepy of Google, I’m so glad I stopped by #Alternatywnie – a cafe that locals confirmed was a top spot in Szczecin.
If you’ve been following Berlin & Around for a while, you’ll know that I’m a huge fan of flat whites, so of course that was my drink of choice. And it definitely met my expectations!
Cafe Castemila looks out on Plac Jasne Błonia im. Jana Pawła II, mentioned a bit higher up in our “Parks & Gardens” section.
This pink-themed coffee shop doubles up as an ice cream parlour and offers a very inventive selection of drinks. I tried a rose petal latte, which I highly recommend if you like a bit of sweetness in your coffee.
This is a delicious, artisanal ice cream parlour with two locations in the city. Lody Marczak offers an array of rich and creamy flavours, as well as sorbets. To add a unique touch, their little spoons are made out of waffle material and 100% edible!
While enjoying our treats outside, we were privy to a band playing in front of the cafe across the street, with people were clapping and dancing to the music. I’m not sure if this is a regular occurrence on Saturday evenings, so you’ll just have to go see for yourself!
Practical Q&As for When You Visit Szczecin
Is Szczecin Worth Visiting?
If you haven’t heard of Poland’s third-largest city, you might ask yourself, “is Szczecin worth visiting?”. Well, if you’re a foodie and coffee lover with a penchant for grand architecture and accessible culture, the answer is a resounding yes! Szczecin is definitely worth visiting, and not just for a day trip from Berlin.
Do They Speak English in Szczecin?
Everyone in Szczecin learns English in school, with German being optional. But that doesn’t mean that everyone speaks English in Szczecin. However, locals are friendly and open, and if you say “English?”, they will be quick to usher over a colleague who does master the language. From my experience, I’d say that someone in each customer-facing business does speak in English in Szczecin.
How Can I Get Around Szczecin?
Szczecin is a very walkable city – if you enjoy walking, that is. Attractions aren’t necessarily a hop, skip and a jump away, but if you don’t mind walking 20 to 40 minutes, you’ll be able to reach most of Szczecin’s sights.
Alternately, you can take public transport to get around Szczecin. I personally did not do so, as I really enjoy walking. But if you opt for the tram or bus, it will cost you 1.50 zloty (circa 0.30€) for 15 minutes and 4 zloty (circa 0.90€) for 60 minutes on board.
As you visit Szczecin, you’ll soon realize that traffic lights are few and far between, but pedestrians have the right of way at all cross-walks. I crossed multiple major intersections not regulated by traffic lights and cars would slow down and wait for me to cross.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you can just cross the street without looking both ways – please still be careful as you amble about!
How to Get a Covid Test in Szczecin (Accurate as of August 1, 2021)
In case you also need to get a Covid test while you visit Szczecin, I’ve outlined my experience below. I actually googled “how to get a Covid test in Szczecin” when the German government announced a last-minute change to re-entry requirements, meaning I would need to get an Antigen test to return home.
I couldn’t find any search results in English or German on where/how to get tested in Szczecin, but through my contacts at the tourism board and by reaching out to expats in this English-language Facebook group, I was successfully able to get my Covid test on a Saturday morning.
I went to the Medicus clinic in the center of town. While their website is in Polish only, you can easily translate it with Google Translate (like I did).
The clinic is open every day of the week, but please note that you can only get tested in the morning on Saturday and Sunday.
Upon arrival, you will first have to register at the general reception area on the 2nd floor and pay 150 zloty (30€). They will then give you a declaration form to fill out, where you state that you do not have any Covid symptoms. Next, you’ll be sent one floor up to get tested.
As you need to sign forms, make sure to bring a pen! I didn’t know this and had to walk around asking multiple people in the waiting room. That’s extra stress when you don’t need it!
I waited about 20 minutes to get tested and was then asked to stay at the clinic until my results were available (about 40 minutes later). All in all, everything worked out smoothly. It also helped that both the receptionist and lab employee spoke some English.
In Conclusion: If You Visit Szczecin Once, You Will Probably Be Back!
As you can tell from this novella…erm…blog post, I fell in love with Szczecin and cannot wait to return! There’s something in the city for everyone, whether you are a nature lover, history or culture buff, foodie, walker, sailor, you name it!
The only downside: it might be hard to just visit Szczecin once! Like me, you’re probably going to want to return, time and time again!