Part of the beauty of Poznań lies in aimlessly roaming the streets and alleys, making chance findings from one turn to the next. That said there are a number of must-see sights whose discovery should not be left to chance.
Your natural start point should be the main square, the glorious Stary Rynek. Taking centre stage is the Old Town Hall (Stary Rynek 1), once renowned as the most beautiful building north of the Alps. Today it is home to the Historical Museum of Poznań as well as a pair of mechanical goats who emerge at noon to the delight of the sightseers gathered below.
Other noteworthy museums in the vicinity include the excellent Archaeological Museum on Wodna 27. Exhibits here include Egyptian mummies and obelisks, as well as bits and pieces from prehistoric Poland; compulsory viewing for anyone with aspirations to follow in the footsteps of Indiana Jones.
Art fans should head to the National Museum (Al. Marcinkowskiego 9), an excellent museum with a rich collection of modern Polish art (including interesting impressionistic works) in the new wing, and impressive Italian, Dutch and Flemish paintings, as well as medieval art in the connected old building. Also, don’t miss a visit to the Models of Poznań (ul. Franciszkańska 2), a huge model that shows Poznań as it was in 1618. Constructed over a period of six years the model takes up a space of 50m2 and is built on a scale of 1:150. The decorative details are impressive, and it’s more than just a great way to get out of the rain.
To avoid churches in Poznań would take a serious case of river blindness. They’re everywhere, no more so than on Ostrów Tumski. The island is dominated by the Cathedral (Ostrów Tumski 17) with its twin towers and surrounding chapels. The oldest remains are in the cathedral crypt, where you can see sections of excavated walls that date back to the founding of Poland. Trek back to the Old Town though to find Poznań’s most impressive place of worship - the Lesser Basilica of St. Stanislaus (ul. Gołębia 1). Created as a Jesuit temple in the 17th century it boasts an interior by a veritable who’s who of Roman Baroque artists as well as a beautiful pink exterior.
Poznań was also affected deeply by the war, and a visit to the former Gestapo penal camp (Wielkopolska Martyrs Museum, Al. Polska) is a disturbingly poignant side-trip. Hardly more uplifting is the Poznań Army Museum (see Citadel Park), which aside from boasting displays of modern military hardware documents the defence of Poznań in 1939. It’s close to here you’ll find Soviet, Polish and Commonwealth Military Cemeteries – Brit visitors should note it’s here that Roger Bushell, leader of ‘The Great Escape’, is buried. Equally saddening are the few remaining traces of Poznań’s former Jewish community.
Poznań wasn’t much more fortunate when the war ended, and to hear the story behind its struggle with communism visit the June 1956 Uprising Museum, a moving exhibition set inside a castle formerly used by Kaiser Wilhelm II.