Exploring Medieval Toruń, Poland

I’ve come to learn that in any trip of considerable length one needs some built-in downtime to recharge and relax. Maybe it’s a sign that I’m not the crazy hardcore sightseer I was in my early 20’s. Or maybe it reflects the slow shift my travel tendencies have made towards visiting every possible museum to sampling all the noteworthy local food and drink spots.

At any rate, in our 16-day trip through Poland, Toruń was the halfway point. And after running around Krakow and Warsaw, a change of pace was certainly welcomed and needed. Luckily Toruń was next on the itinerary. It is a medieval town that boasts two things besides overall cuteness: being Copernicus' hometown, and for producing gingerbread. What better place for my science-minded hubby and his foodie wife to explore?

Toruń's most famous homeboy, Nicholas Copernicus, showing his theory that the sun (not the earth) is at the center of the universe 

Of course, I’m not trying to downplay the lovely medieval charm with the mention of Copernicus and gingerbread. The city earned its UNESCO status for its preserved street pattern and medieval brick buildings.

This fountain in front of town hall portrays the legend of the rafter. Toruń was overrun with frogs and what better way to drive them out than with a tune on the violin? Apparently the rafter's plan worked and the town commemorates the story with this scene in the center of town.

We happened to be in town on May 3rd, which is a national holiday in Poland known as Constitution Day.  Hence all the Polish flags in our photos everywhere!

Keep your eyes open in the town center! This cute dog is in honor of the Polish cartoonist Zbigniew Lengren, whose well-known comic series involved Professor Filutek and his dog, Filus, shown here forever holding the hat of the professor.

Oh, you know, just some ruins of the castle that stood here from the Teutonic Knights. It was the order's first castle. Don't feel too bad though - their ginormous Malbork Castle in the area still stands and can still be visited. 

To give you an idea of the smaller scope of must-sees, here’s an example. During a walk to explore the town we came across one of its “attractions.” Move over, Pisa, this is Toruń’s Leaning Tower! It’s a medieval tower (see below) that shifted over time. Instead of walking up it like in Pisa, you stand at the base of the wall with your legs together and arms outstretched in front of you. Superstition is that if you can balance longer than 5 seconds, then you are considered unfaithful (though something else I read indicated the longer you last, the more upstanding you are). I say give it a try, because either way you don’t need a tower to dictate your character - it’s just a fun little exercise. My spastic self is either very faithful or very bad.

There it is - the Leaning Tower of Toruń

Also of note are the brick buildings that helped secure Toruń’s UNESCO status, given the fine example of medieval brick architecture they provide. Be sure to take a peek into one or more of the churches, like this one - St. James Church (Kościół św.Jakuba). 

Inside Toruń’s St. James church (Kościół św.Jakuba)

Hopefully by now I’ve convinced you that Toruń is a quaint little Polish city. But for those of you who are like me, you may be wondering about what there is to do, besides walking around. As much as I say that we came to Toruń to rest, the two of us aren’t the best at sitting still sometimes. After all, we’re still fundamentally those two newlyweds who went to Aruba for a week-long honeymoon to relax (not even bothering to read anything about the island) and ended up sitting at the activities center within 24-hours booking tours. 

Look no further - the top thing to do is go to the Gingerbread Museum (thankfully for me, more popular and better rated than the Copernicus House). This isn’t your typical “museum” though. You’ll learn about gingerbread but it’s a hands-on, interactive experience.

It’s best to head over in the morning to reserve a spot, and then you’ll be given a scheduled time to come back for the session. The large group demonstration and gingerbread cookie-making instruction is given in both Polish and English, so there’s no language barrier to worry about. However, the particular session we were in was made up of an exclusively Polish crowd, plus us. And we were the only adults in the room not holding a child by the hand. But we’re kids at heart, so it worked out.

Well, until the participatory part started. You know that feeling when you were in school and you just knew the teacher was about to call on you for an answer? Yeah, that happened. I knew I was going to have to participate in some way as the American girl in a sea of cute Polish kids. 

According to the museum guides, the gingerbread dough could only be mixed by a woman. Insert my starring role, stepping in to show some muscle (because that stuff was not easy to stir!).

Step aside boys, I got this. Thanks to my assistants, we were able to create the dough for our cookies (and make an appearance in some Polish family photo albums for years to come).

Here is the baking master, who kept asking me if it was difficult to stir. Which it was (hence the strong men helping to hold down the bowl). Each time I answered, "Yes!" he would reply, "Good! Now keep going!"

Afterwards we all went to our stations to work with the dough and each make a gingerbread cookie. We were told that they were only for decoration and not for eating, so now I have a wonderful smelling Christmas ornament to add to my collection, handmade in Poland.

The final product - gingerbread cookies fresh out of the oven

If you’re still looking for more to do, the climb up the Old City Town Hall’s tower was another favorite of mine. It offered great views of the city from above, featuring the pretty facades of buildings around Town Hall and those brick Gothic churches. 

One of the many statues in the courtyard of the building 

From above you can get a good view of the Vistula River

I love to see cities from above, and I also love to visit art museums. Toruń provided both activities, and I also recommend a stop at the Centre of Contemporary Arts (CSW) (Wały Generala Władysława Sikorskiego), provided you enjoy or are interested in contemporary art. 

Toruń reminded me of Bruges, Belgium in some ways. For one, they are both preserved medieval cities that see an influx of tourists during the day and then are calm when the day-trippers leave. And what does one do once the crowds die down a bit? The answer in both places is simple: enjoy a beer. Or two.

We certainly stayed in Toruń longer than the average person, and for more time than was really needed to see the town (we stayed for two nights, and had 1.5 days to sight-see). Though as I mentioned, it was the built-in downtime of the trip and well-worth the slower pace for us. And both nights, our hang-out spot was the Jan Olbracht Browar Staromiejski. This brewery is the place to go for some local beer. My favorite was the gingerbread beer, in keeping with the local tradition of Toruń’s famous treat! While staying over two nights was slightly overkill, I would recommend spending one night in town to see the city wind down and to spend an evening at this brewery.

Dark gingerbread beer at Jan Olbracht Browar Staromiejski in Toruń

And that about sums up our visit in lovely, picturesque Toruń! I can't say that it's a little-known destination as I did go based on my handy Rick Steves' guidebook, but it's certainly a smaller and less-visited city than the "big three": Krakow, Warsaw, and Gdansk. It's about halfway between Warsaw and Gdansk and makes for a great stop in between, whether you opt for a day-trip or stay overnight!

Do you have any places you've enjoyed slowing down and exploring at a leisurely pace?



Coffee at Kona Coast Cafe [link in Polish]
Chełmińska 18, Toruń, Poland
Open Monday-Saturday from 9am-9pm / Sunday from 11am-6pm 

Pierogi at Pierogarnia Leniwa Toruń [link in Polish]
Ślusarska 5, Toruń, Poland 
Open 11am-9pm

Beer at Jan Olbracht Browar Staromiejski
Szczytna 15, Toruń, Poland
Open Sunday-Thursday from 11am-12am / Friday and Saturday from 11am-2am


Centre of Contemporary Arts (CSW) (Wały Generala Władysława Sikorskiego)
Wały Generała Władysława Sikorskiego 13, Toruń, Poland
Hours: Closed Mondays, September - June: Tuesday - Sunday from 10am-6pm except Fridays (late night until 10pm) / July and August: Tuesday - Sunday from 12pm-6pm
Admission: Adults: 10 pln, Reduced price 5 pln, Free admission on Thursdays (prices as of February 2015)


Muzeum Piernika
Rabiańska 9, Toruń, Poland
Open daily from 10am-6pm 
English shows at 1pm and 4pm
Admission: Adults 12 pln, children 9.50 pln (prices as of February 2015)

Old Town Hall tower
Rynek Staromiejski 1, Toruń, Poland
Hours: Closed Mondays, High season (May - September): Tuesday - Sunday from 10am-6pm / Low season (October - April): Tuesday - Sunday from 10am-4pm 
Admission: 11 pln regular price, 7 pln reduced price (prices as of February 2015)


Hotel Spichrz 
Mostowa 1, Toruń, Poland

And as an additional note, the website Torun Tips helped me a lot in planning my trip!