Historic and modern at the same time, Gliwice is a Silesian industrial city that ballooned in the 19th century but held onto its Medieval core. During its industrial golden age Gliwice was designed as a “Garden City”, which explains why you’re never more than a few steps from a park, and why there’s an exotic palm house in the middle of town.
Gliwice was German for a much of its past, and on the eve of the Second World War the Radio Tower here was the setting for the Gleiwitz Incident, a false flag attack by the SS. For those seduced by the bourgeois splendour of the late-1800s, Gliwice has Willa Caro, a plush industrialist’s mansion that hasn’t been altered inside or out.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Gliwice:
1. Gliwice Radio Tower
The wooden transmission tower in the city’s northern Szobiszowice district is a valuable piece of Second World War heritage.
On August 31 1939 the tower, then part of Germany, was attacked by SS personnel disguised as Poles.
The false flag attack was part of a chain of operations to justify the German Invasion of Poland that began in earnest on the following day.
But even without this history the tower would warrant a detour: Dating to 1935 it rises to 118 metres, which makes it the tallest wooden structure in Europe.
It was designed for medium wave broadcasts and is still in use as an FM and cell site.
2. Palmiarnia Miejska (Palm House)
On rainy days you could make for this palm house in the Chopin Park.
The first greenhouses in the park were founded in the 1880s, while the current palm house is from the 1924 and has come through numerous updates since then.
It holds five pavilions, for medicinal and aromatic plants, tropical plants, historical cultivars, succulents and an aquarium that opened in 2012. The first four pavilions also have terrariums and aviaries, with reptiles, turtles and exotic birds like parrots.
Gliwice’s compact and picturesque market square has a shape first marked out at the end of the 13th century.
Naturally it has moved with the times, and the architecture on the borders of the square is almost all from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
At the base of almost every tenement house are arcades, some of which have been filled in with windows.
In good weather there’s also a near-continuous strip of bar and bistro terraces under parasols.
With pride of place in the middle is the Neoclassical town hall, which has its own cafe attached beside a fountain with a statue of Neptune on a dolphin from 1794.
4. Willa Caro
On Ulica Dolnych Wałów you’ll be met by a sophisticated Neo-Mannerist villa ordered by the industrialist Oscar Caro.
But where Willa Caro differs from many of the lavish properties built by factory owners in the late 19th century is that it has been kept as a museum for most of its existence.
The museum was founded in 1934, so the chandeliers, silk wallpapers, wooden panelling, coffered ceilings, furniture, portraits and decorative items are as they were when Oscar Caro was living large.
The property also has an exhibition about Silesian folk culture, and immaculate gardens.
5. Piast’s Castle
Despite having a name taken from Poland’s Piast royal line, there’s no proof that princes of kings ever lived at this castle.
But that doesn’t make this Medieval and Renaissance complex less compelling.
The castle’s tower is the earliest part of the property and previously belonged to Gliwice’s city walls, while in the middle of the 16th century it was made a little more comfortable by the nobleman Friedrich von Zettritz.
In its time it has been used as a jail, armoury and magazine, before being incorporated into the Gliwice Museum and renovated over the last few years.
The exhibits inside dip into the history of the city, with reconstructions of home interiors from various periods and models of how Gliwice would have looked in Medieval times.
At the Europa Centralna Shopping Centre on the southern outskirts of the city is a miniature world taking up 900 square metres.
The attraction has 460 metres of miniature railway, 235 buildings, 195 cars on its streets and miniature figures of 3,200 people and animals.
You may recognise some of the landmarks from around Gliwice, like the tenement houses of the market square, the town hall and the main train station.
The model switches between night and day on nine-minute cycles, and the city lights up when everything goes dark.
There’s also a moving sailing ship, and a “Wild Gliwice” based on the Old West.
7. Kościół Wszystkich Świętych (Church of All Saints)
In the northwestern nook of Gliwice’s Old Town is a Late Gothic church from the 15th and 16th centuries.
The church’s brick tower stands is 63 metres high and can easily be seen from the Market Square a few streets away.
Nearly all of the decoration and fittings are from after 1601 when the church almost burnt down.
The main altar is from the second quarter of that century and has hints of the early-Baroque, with lively sculptural decoration and an image of Mary surrounded by saints.
The Rococo pulpit meanwhile was crafted in the middle of the 18th century, with a carving of Christ the Good Shepherd at the back and a canopy showing him handing the keys of heaven to St Peter.
Be sure to enter the Chapel of St Mary, which has Gothic frescoes of bible scenes painted in 1470.
The park with the Palm House has a few things to hold your attention a little longer.
One is right at the entrance to the Palm House, where on two pedestals there’s a pair of “Lying Lions”, designed by the acclaimed Prussian sculptor Johann Gottfried Schadow and cast at the Royal Iron Foundry in Gliwice in 1830. The park also has a monument to Frédéric Chopin, put up in 1949 on the centenary of his death, made of white marble and with a medallion of his likeness.
A more recent monument is from 2001 for the victims of totalitarianism, while you could also just take it easy among the rhododendrons, oaks, chestnuts and maple trees.
9. Sts Peter and Paul Cathedral
Despite its Gothic inspired architecture, Gliwice’s cathedral was only completed in 1900, but warrants a few minutes because of its magnitude and the richness of its fittings.
The monument was damaged in the war, but was quickly repaired, while the luminous stained glass windows in the chancel depicting the saints Barbara, Hedwig of Silesia, Adalbert, Hyacinth, Peter and Paul would be restored in 1956. Above the entrance see the painting in the tympanum of Peter and Paul, and go in to have a peek at the main altar, four side altars, pulpit, baptismal font and the sculptures in the vestibule, all produced at great expense at the turn of the 20th century.
10. Oddział Odlewnictwa Artystycznego Muzeum (Artistic Foundry Museum)
Set up in 1798, Gliwice’s Royal Iron Foundry was one of Europe’s most advanced metalworking facilities at the time.
In 2010 its spectacular 19th-century production hall was turned into a museum documenting the history of artistic casting for sculptures and decoration, as well as the story of metal processing and manufacturing in Silesia.
You can view the many different ornamental objects that were cast at this facility, from figurines to furniture, all set in cleverly designed showcases accompanied by lots of multimedia and information.
11. Dom Tekstylny Weichmanna (Weichmann Textile House)
If you find yourself on Ulica Zwycięstwa, pause for a moment at no. 37, which is no ordinary building.
This cube-like construction, now hosting a branch of PKO Bank Polski, was designed by none other than the Art Deco pioneer Erich Mendelsohn.
It dates to 1922 and is seen as one of the standout German Modernist buildings in Poland.
Now inscribed as a Polish monument, the Weichmann Textile House was a department store when it was constructed, and would serve as the model for similar buildings in Wrocław, Stuttgart, Nuremberg, Chemnitz and Solingen.
12. Park Kultury i Wypoczynku (Culture and Recreation Park)
It might sound strange, but within walking distance of Gliwice’s market square there’s a forest with boars, deer and hares.
The Culture and Recreation Park is 200 hectares of mostly deciduous woodland that was first documented in the Middle Ages.
And when Gliwice came to be developed at the end of the 19th century its role as a garden city depended on big tracts of woodland like this being kept as part of the urban fabric.
13. New Jewish Cemetery
On the western border of the park is the new Jewish cemetery.
This was founded in 1902, with 600 preserved tombstones and a monument from 1932 of the Jewish soldiers killed during the First World War.
Restored in 2016 is the Tahara or Pre-Burial House, where the deceased would be stored before burial.
This beautiful Neo-Gothic building dates to 1903, and has a main hall laid with black and white floor tiles below 10-metre-high vaults painted with a starry sky motif.
14. Kąpielisko Leśne (Forest Resort)
Deep in birch and pine forest on the northern edge of the city is a set of three pools edged by lush lawns.
Kąpielisko Leśne has three main pools of different depths and sizes, along with a paddling pool where toddlers can make a splash in safety.
Older kids won’t get bored here either, scrambling over inflatable obstacles in the water and riding a 73-metre slide.
On the shore there are four kiosks and cafes, three beach volleyball courts and a children’s playground.
A good pick for a day trip is a fairytale palace 20 minutes by road northwest of Gliwice.
This parcel of land was first documented in the 14th century when there was a castle that survived until the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century.
Later, in 1789, the property was gained by the Ballestrem family, who would stay here until the end of the Second World War.
The grand palace is a neo-Mannerist building dating from the 1880s, with hipped roofs, turrets, dormers and quoins.
It was abandoned and looted after its owners fled the advancing Red Army in 1945, but was fully restored in 1993. Everything down to the ceiling beams, stained glass windows, paintings, furniture and library, was returned to its pre-war majesty.
The park was also planted in the 1880s and has many of its 19th-century trees, including a powerful oak with a trunk five metres in diameter.