Before we went to Poznan for the first time, all the way back in 2014, we didn’t know much about the city. We did our research before visiting it but our vision of Poland was more focused on Warsaw than Poznan, and we realized our mistake when we started walking around the streets and seeing all the historical places to visit in Poznan.
Poznan is considered by many people as the birthplace of the Polish nation and, because of that, it has more historical places than we could visit. Also, Poznan is one of the oldest cities in Poland, and it used to be one of the most important areas for the Polish people during the Middle Ages. There are traces of those elements in most historical places that we visited in Ostrow Tumski, the island where the city came to be, and around Poznan.
Below, you can learn more about all the historical places to visit in Poznan that we believe you are going to love.
First, you need to visit Porta Poznania
If you are going to Poznan for a weekend and want to see the most of the city, don’t skip Porta Poznania. This museum is where you’ll learn how the Poznan of today came to be, the history of Cathedral Island and you’ll learn about this through some amazing multimedia interactive installations and presentations.
Porta Poznania is one of the newest museums in Poznan, and it’s located in one of the oldest parts of Poznan. A place where the rivers Warta and Cabin meet and it shows a beautiful mixture of the ancient and new city. On one side of the river, you have this white looking building that looks like a piece of the future; it’s there that you will see the installations. On the other side of the river, you’ll see the Cathedral Lock that used to be a part of the Prussian fortification system that surrounded the city in previous times.
After a visit to the modern looking museum, you’ll understand how Ostrow Tumski became so important to the future Polish state and get a glimpse of everything that happened in the area in the centuries before. But, don’t go to Porta Poznania if you want to look at old artifacts. This museum is a place for storytelling, a place where you can learn about history in a new way. This is what you’re going to see there, and we’re pretty sure you’ll love it.
A visit to the Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul
Between the two branches of the River Warta, there is an island where you can find the oldest part of Poznan. Nowadays, this area is known as Ostrow Tumski — Cathedral Island in English — and this is where you are going to find one of the oldest church in Poland and the oldest Polish cathedral.
The construction of the Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul dates back to the 10th century, and everything started as a small chapel as it happened to most churches back then. Historians believe that the chapel was built for Dobrawa, the devoted wife of Poland’s first historical ruler, the great Mieszko I of Poland. Also, historians believe that he was baptized there back in 966, one of the key events when it comes to the Christianisation of Poland.
The Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul has a mixture of styles that go from Gothic style to Romanesque, going through baroque and, finally, neoclassical style. All of this because the church suffered some damages through the years like a fire in 1622 and a major one in 1772.
And, of course, there was some damage to the church during the Second World War when the city became one of the towns on the way of the Red Army in the direction of Berlin. The church was so damaged that it only opened again in 1956.
A visit to the Archcathedral Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul is also a visit to the place where Mieszko I is buried. So, if you are looking for a historical tour of Poznan, you know that this is one of the places that you cannot miss.
The Old Market Square in the Middle of Poznan
It’s in the center of the city that you’ll find one of our favorite historical places to visit in Poznan and this place is the Old Market Square — known in Polish as Stary Rinek. On this square, you’ll find the old Town Hall surrounded on every side but rows of merchant houses that, today, are a mix of restaurants and breweries.
The most prominent place in the Old Market Square is the Town Hall. A building so beautiful that it’s known as the most beautiful non-church Renaissance building north of the Alps. This is an example of how great Poznan was during those years for its location in one of the most important trade routes of the time.
If you want to visit the building and learn more about it, you can visit the museum inside the old Town Hall, but we have to tell you to try to be at the square around noon, at least once. The reason why is simple: the mechanical goats that appear from the mechanical clock on the roof of the building. They’re so popular that there was a massive crowd in front of the Town Hall when we saw the goats bang their head for the first time.
These goats have been there since 1551, and the story behind it is legendary. According to what we heard, when the tower clock was finished, there was a feast to commemorate the end of the construction. At the table, you would see the governor of Poznan and its councilman, but one of the cooks made a mistake and burnt one of the main dishes. Trying to save the party, the chef stole two goats and brought them to his kitchen, but they escaped and went to the Town Hall. When the guests arrived, they saw the goats butting their heads on the edge of the tower, and it inspired the governor to make the clock, and this is what we have today in the heart of Poznan.
The Imperial Castle and the Centrum Kultury Zamek
If you want to see castles, you will love Poznan since the city is home to not one but two castles. One of them is the Imperial Castle, and it’s known as the last and the youngest monarchical residence in Europe. The castle was built during the city German years by Emperor Wilhelm II because he wanted to show Poznan that the city belonged to him and this is why the city has a castle in the middle of it. But the castle’s history didn’t stop there.
The Imperial Castle was the place where the Mathematical Department of the Poznań University was housed after the First World War, and they were responsible for breaking the codes of the Enigma, the infamous German ciphering machine. This why you will find some numerical statues in front of the building.
During the Second World War, the Imperial Castle went through some remodeling by Albert Speer, Hitler’s favorite architect. Hitler wanted to use the castle as his personal residence in Poznan, but he never set foot in the building. But, inside it, you can still see the only office built for the leader of Nazi Germany that still stands. A dark part of history that can be seen today.
Nowadays, the Imperial Castle answers to a different name: Centrum Kultury Zamek. From the outside, it looks like a castle but, from the inside, it’s difficult to grasp how different the place can be. Centrum Kultury Zamek is a place for arts. A place of exhibitions, books, meetings and even an Animation Theatre. When you visit the site, don’t forget to have a coffee and watch all the details of this fantastic place.
Genius Loci Archaeological Park, a place for hardcore history lovers.
If you want to see how Poznan came to be, you need to visit Genius Loci Archaeological Park. There you’ll see a different view of the medieval past of Poznan. There you will see an archeological site where the unearthed Cathedral Island of former times come to life. This is where you can learn and understand more how was the life of those who used to live in Ostrow Tumski more than a thousand years ago.
At Genius Loci Archaeological Park, you are going to see the original wooden and stone structures that formed the first walls that surrounded what would become Poznan one day. You’ll walk on top of a glass path that follows the original 10th-century city walls and embankments.
We’re not sure if this is the place that most people would like to go but, as you can see in my description here, we loved everything there.
If those five historical places to visit in Poznan didn’t quench your thirst for history, you can also visit Konzentrationslager Posen, a Nazi German concentration camp not far from the city center, and Park Cytadela, an old fortified area that is one of our favorite places in Poznan. It also houses the Museum of Armaments Poznan if you like military history as we do.
Again, Poznan is one of these cities that you go once and continue going on every chance possible. We love this town, and we say this to everyone that wants to hear. If you haven’t visited it, you really should. You’ll not regret it, trust us on that.