Why You Should Visit Łódź: Poland’s Most Underappreciated City
When you think of Poland, the first things that come to mind might be the grand historic market squares of Kraków, Torun, and Wrocław, or the hip metropolitan hustle and bustle of Warsaw. But smack bang in the center of this large central European country is a city you have probably never heard of, let alone be able to pronounce correctly. But it is one that you should absolutely visit should you have the time and opportunity to do so. The name of that city is Łódź: surprisingly pronounced, “woodge”.
Why is Łódź Underappreciated?
Łódź is underappreciated because it’s very different from other Polish cities. Unlike other major tourist destinations in the country, it’s completely lacking in the Medieval history and architecture that draws crowds year upon year.
This is because Łódź came into prominence during the industrial revolution of the 1800s. Before then, it was nothing but a small trading town on a regional trade route with naught of note. The result of its industrial boom is opulent “palaces”, a gorgeously grand central street, and colossal red-brick mills. However, it still lacks the domineering castles and decorated market squares that draw visitors go to see in other parts of Poland.
What’s more, the city entered a period of significant degradation and decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which took Łódź’s sizable textile industry with it. This made it an infamously inhospitable and near post-apocalyptic shadow of its former self for the next nearly 30 years.
After Poland’s acceptance into the European Union in 2003, giving it access to redevelopment funds, and also from much private investment in the city, it has undergone a dramatic ongoing renaissance. It now has many thriving commercial areas and is home to many international company offices. It even has it’s own tech start-up scene including successful companies such as PizzaPortal, Listonic, Bluerank.
It’s because of this phoenix-from-the-flames story that makes Łódź such a surprising and worthwhile place to visit in Poland. Not only does it have its own unique and fascinating history centered around its old textile industry, it also has a thriving cultural scene to go with it.
Things to Do
Given that Łódź is Poland’s 3rd largest city after Warsaw and Kraków, it’s no surprise that, despite its relative obscurity, there’s a lot to do here.
The main point of interest is Piotrkowska Street: the main street of the industrial city. It’s lined with grand buildings built by Łódź’s rich and famous. Architectural styles range from late 18th century European to the early 19th-century art nouveau and art deco. No. 86, one of the most impressive buildings, is adorned with spear-brandishing dragons with protruding golden ball bellies.
There are also plenty of museums to visit. The main museum is the Museum of the City of Łódż (Ogrodowa 15), located inside the grand residence of the city’s wealthiest mill-owner: Israel Poznański. Rooms within the palace are dedicated to notable Łódź residents, inducing pianist Artur Rubenstein. However, even if you have no clue who any of these influential figures are, the sheer magnificence of the building and its astonishing period interiors is more than worth the humble ticket price alone.
And don’t forget to visit Manufaktura (Drewnowska 58): a consumerist mecca that is the epicenter of Łódź’s regeneration. Formerly one of the largest textile mills in the city, it has been converted into an entertainment complex. It boasts a large modern shopping mall, a luxury hotel, a museum about the factory’s history, a multiplex cinema, restaurants, and cafes, including what locals claim is the largest Starbucks in Poland. If you don’t particularly fancy shopping ‘til you drop, the restored grandeur and scale of the Manufaktura complex is something well worth a look regardless.
If you do want to try some of Poland’s more traditional cuisine, there are plenty of places to head for. For a wide selection of Polish fayre, head to Galicja (Manufaktura, $$) where folk-costumed staff will serve you Polish and Hungarian cuisine in a kitschy rustic environment. You may also want to finish off your Polish meal with a delicious donut (pączek) freshly baked from Gorąca Pączkarnia (Piotrkowska 105 & Manufaktura, $).
Despite Poland’s reputation for gorging itself on meat and dairy, it’s incredibly easy to be vegetarian and vegan in Łódź. Try hearty Polish home-style veg and vegan food at Porcja (Roosevelta 7, $), sample a vegan twist middle-eastern street-food at Tel Aviv, (Piotrkowska 122, $$), or pull out all the vegetarian stops at upmarket Zielona (Manufaktura, $$$).
Just as there’s plenty of places to eat out, there’s also plenty of places to socialize and party. But don’t expect it to be all vodka and Poland’s infamous own-brand of tacky Euro-pop: “disco Polo”. Young Poles these days shun vodka for craft beer and prefer rock music.
So, if bespoke brews are your thing, head to PiwPaw (Piotrkowska 147, $$). This bar’s name translates as “beer peacock”, and once you enter you’ll understand why. It has a mind-boggling 140 taps, each stocked with a unique beer or cider. This makes it the largest variety of beer and cider available anywhere in Poland. But if you’d rather quality over quantity, then Piwoteka (6 Sierpnia 1/3, $$) is the bar for you, brewing its own excellent beers in its own local brewery.
If you fancy a more refined tipple, you can sample some of Łódź’s burgeoning wine scene. Dwa Przez Cztery (Piotrkowska 144, $$) has a huge selection of world wines to choose from, served by dedicated sommeliers. For a more relaxed taste of regional Central and Eastern European wines on tap, head to Winni (Piotrkowska 93, $).
As for clubs, there are many on and around Piotrkowska. But to pick the most notable of the bunch you should definitely party at Łódź Kaliska (Piotrkowska 102): not to be confused with the train station of the same name. This is home to one of Poland’s most controversial contemporary art collectives of the same name, who have made the decor absolutely nuts. It’s a higgledy-piggled maze of levels and areas, including bizarre features such as a slanting bar, and unnerving one-way mirrors in the toilets (don’t worry, you can see out but no-one can see in). It also displays tongue-in-cheek to downright scandalous art from the collective’s decades-long body of work.
A tourism campaign from the early 2000s claimed that Łódź holds more festivals per year than Rio de Janeiro. It seems like an absolutely outrageously claim until you actually realize how many festivals actually happen here. At any point in the year, your visit is highly likely to coincide with some manner of festivities happening in the city.
The biggest festival is Lightmove (September). This is a city-wide festival of light installation art. Expect glowing sculptures, live performances, lasers, and jaw-dropping projection mapping shows on the side of some of Łódź’s landmarks, drawing massives crowds every year. If you can make it, it really is quite a spectacle.
As for the rest, Łódź is home to the Dobrego Smaku festival (June), where Łódź’s restaurants offer unique special dishes at a standardized super-low price across all participating restaurants. Also, be sure to catch the Urban Forms festival (July) where new pieces of street art are commissioned and created by local and international artists, as well as offering street-art tours around the city’s countless works of astonishing street art.
Then there are 2 international film festivals, a songwriter festival, several theatre festivals, a vegetarian food festival, 2 fashion festivals, a ballet festival, chocolate, jazz, beer, design, women’s… The list goes on!
Places to Stay
There are plenty of places to stay in Łódź. If you really want to make your stay memorable, you should certainly book a room at Vienna’s House Andels (Manufaktura). This luxury hotel boasts a glass-ceilinged rooftop pool, as well as a swanky rooftop bar. But don’t be surprised if you find it completely booked up as it really is the most sought-after hotel in the city. However, there are other chić boutique hotels popping up around Łódź such as Puro (Ogrodowa 16, $$).
In Łódź you can also expect to find all your expected mid-range hotels, such as Ibis (Piłsudskiego 11, $$), Novotel (Piłsudskiego 11A, $$), and Holiday Inn (Piotrkowska 229/231, $$), as well as some competitively-priced local hotels. There are also several serviced “aparthotels” to choose from.
As for budget accommodation, there aren’t many hostels in Łódź, and budget hotels are few and far between. But hotel rates are generally more than reasonable, and if you find the exchange rate in your favor, accommodation in Łódź certainly won’t break the bank unless you want it to.
How to Get There
Łódź does have its own small international airport, with an equally small selection of flights. Destinations are limited to London Stanstead, East Midlands (UK), Dublin, Athens, and Munich.
However, Łódź is incredibly easy to get to from Warsaw as the city is a mere 70-minute train ride direct from the capital’s center. You can also get direct trains to Łódż from Kraków which take approximately 2 hours.
Other Points of Note
It’s difficult to think of anywhere in Łódź that doesn’t take most major cards. The only one you might have trouble with is American Express. But having a card that works abroad is a must during your visit as public transport is cashless.
However, it is always a good idea to have some cash on you for the exceptions when the card machine isn’t working, and for leaving as tips at restaurants (approximately 10% of your bill).
Łódź’s compact size means you’ll be doing most of your traveling by foot. But if you’re legs are feeling the strain, there is a public bike hire scheme and even motorized scooter hires that require only a bank card and/or phone app to use.
Public transit is comprehensive, but a little confusing for tourists. When you buy a ticket you must get it validated at the nearest validation machine. Tickets are also for time periods, not journeys, meaning you can use as many buses and trams for the ticket’s duration from validation.
There are plenty of taxis you can use too. If you’re worried about the language barrier, Uber and MyTaxi apps are also available in the city.
Polish is an incredibly complex language, making it extremely difficult to learn. However, most young staff in shops and restaurants speak decent English. But it’s a different story for older generations, meaning you may struggle with taxi drivers and supermarket staff.
Regardless, learning “good morning (dzien dobry)”, “please (proszę)”, and “thank you (dziękuje)” is very appreciated by the locals. But please, don’t take offense if they laugh at your attempts. It’s actually quite affectionate.