If you were to describe Szczecin in three words, the words would probably be green, aqueous, and industrial. Above all the city is green and lush, with civilized city parks in tune with Szczecin's superb urban design. It also has an untamed side: wild groves and meadows, numerous little islands only birds can reach that spread along the endless little streams, channels, lakes, and ponds. In the north, the town melts into the woods of Las Arkoński; from all sides on the other three sides, it is surrounded with forests: Puszcza Bukowa, Puszcza Goleniowska, and Puszcza Wkrzańska. Though not directly on the Baltic, Szczecin is formed and exists in connection with water. The Odra (Oder), the second-largest Polish river, divides into two parts shortly before it reaches Szczecin, creating the unique landscape preserved in the Park Krajobrazowy Dolnej Odry. The divided river reaches the city as the Odra Zachodnia on the west and the Odra Wschodnia (or the Regalica) on the east. Numerous channels, tiny lakes, and even another short river called the Parnica cut through Szczecin, and farther north many merge into the Jezioro Dąbie, the city's largest lake. This area, although partly inaccessible, hosts Port Szczeciński, the harbor that impedes nature with industrial flair. The best point to admire this landscape from is Wały Chrobrego, the main town promenade, which is perched high above and along the river. The promenade is surprisingly peaceful even during tourist season. The port landscape, which creates Szczecin's characteristic skyline of cranes, is supported in its industrial glory by a network of roads and highways (particularly the Trasa Zamkowa, which was finished in 1996) that cut through and cross the peaceful land and water. It's supplemented by the buildings of Stocznia Szczecińska, one of the two biggest Polish shipyards, a steel plant, and numerous other factories. The urban, industrial look of Szczecin was created chiefly in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The vast, gloomy, brick or concrete public buildings, reminders of the past Prussian glory, are knitted into a complex unity that also includes a net of steel tramway lines, knots of railways, and bows of steel bridges. Despite its monuments, interesting 19th-century architecture, good museums, theaters, opera, and outdoor opportunities, Szczecin is not a typical tourist destination, and most tourist traffic bypasses the city. It is, however, an excellent starting point for further explorations of northwestern Poland. To paraphrase Jack London's description of Oakland: "Szczecin is a town from which one starts to see the world!"
In Szczecin, location is important, so you should find a hotel in the vicinity of Kasprowicza Park, a green, charming, and quiet villa district within walking distance to the heart of town. This excellent location will allow you to explore the city and its green surroundings, and you will also get a taste of what a daily life is like since this is also an upscale residential area.
If you are looking for a beautiful view while you dine, consider this one in a nice wooden pavilion on Wały Chrobrego. The interior may remind you of an old ship or battered port tavern. Unlike many places in Szczecin, the menu concentrates on meat rather than fish, offering hearty steaks with different additions. It doubles as a pub; beware that it's often noisy.
According to Piotr Bikont, one of Poland's renowned food experts, Chief is the best fish restaurant in Poland. A recent renovation gave the place a more elegant look, while the food remains as good as ever. Owner Andrzej Boroń is an ichthyologist and fervent admirer of the sea. In the cellar, a pool holds live crayfish for the specialty of the house, crayfish boiled with dill. Fresh fish from all over the world is on the menu. This is not a hidden gem; it's well known, so book your table as far in advance as possible.
Katedra św. Jakuba
The cathedral's first incarnation was built on this spot in the late 12th century and was later replaced by a Gothic, three-aisle church built between the 13th and 14th centuries. In 1456, the 390-foot tower and the vaults collapsed. The present tower dates back to late 15th century and holds one of the biggest Polish bells, the baroque "Saint Jacob." Each of the church's three aisles is of equal height, so light fills the vast, homogenous space. Partly rebuilt after World War II, the modest, white-walled interior includes a 14th-century triptych from Ciećmierz and a 15th-century Pietà from Lubniewice. The biggest stained-glass window in Pomerania is in the eastern wall. Since 2008, organ music festivals have been held here annually in summer.
Zamek Książąt Pomorskich
Szczecin still carries many reminders of its Medieval heritage, including the grandiose castle, built on the left bank of Odra, which, due to its favorable defensive position, was inhabited as early as the 8th or 9th century. The oldest surviving parts date back to the 14th century and the reign of prince Barnim III. The clock tower dates from the beginning of the 16th century; later in that century, it was expanded by by prince Barnim X and again by Jan Fryderyk. Eventually, the castle grew to have four wings and a courtyard decorated with picturesque loggias, reminiscent of Wawel in Kraków. In the 17th century a fifth wing was added, creating a second narrow courtyard and a second tower (the bell tower, which, incidentally, offers the best panoramic view of the city). Today the reconstructed castle is a cultural center.
Housed in a baroque palace–and in an annex across the street–the branch of the National Museum in Szczecin is devoted mainly to art: older paintings, sculpture, and antiques (most 13th- to 16th-century Pomeranian), and some other Polish pieces from the 17th century. The building itself is a palace of the former regional parliament, Sejm Stanów Pomorskich, built between 1726 and 1727 and designed by Gerard Cornelius von Walrawe. The highlights of the museum include an 18th-century oak cross from the cathedral in Kamień Pomorski, richly sculpted 13th-century columns from the Cistertian cloister in Kołbacz, a portrait of Prince Filip I by Lucas Cranach the Younger from 1541, and a set of 16th- and 17th-century gold jewelry and robes.
Kościół św. Piotra i Pawła
The parish church of Szczecin was built between 1425 and 1440. Built of brick, with a simple white interior, it was remodeled at the end of the 17th century and turned into a late-baroque structure. On the ceiling, a fresco depicts the Holy Trinity. The church is situated next to a busy road, so it's filled with traffic noise and has, to be honest, seen better days. Outside, notice the Pomeranian tracery (brick ornamental decoration) and terra-cotta late-Gothic portraits of town burgers on the facade between the windows.
Brama Królewska The magnificent gate was built shortly after Szczecin fell under the rule of Prussia, and its purpose was basically to show off Prussia's power. The gate, designed by Gerhard Cornelius von Wallrave and built between 1725 and 1728, shows a shield with the Prussian eagle, the chain of the Black Eagle Order, and a crown. Next to the gate, on the same square, a lone mast belonging to the steamship Kapitan Maciejewicz, from 1929, is a favorite photo opportunity.
This defensive tower was previously a part of the Medieval city fortifications that were otherwise destroyed in the 18th century. The responsibility of its defense belonged to the guild of tailors, who realized a difficult task by providing seven coats for Princess Anne. In honor of that deed, it was called "Baszta Siedmiu Płaszczy" (a tower of seven coats).
Galeria Sztuki Współczesnej
The third branch of the National Museum in Szczecin occupies an 18th-century palace called the Pod Głowami (literally, "Under the Heads"). Unfortunately, the interior shows nothing of its original splendor, instead, it offers somewhat cold design from the 1960s. White walls, geometrical iron crates, and smooth, ornament-free solid woodwork (softened by 40-some years of patina) create a stylish, though forlorn, space to enjoy modern art. Although the gallery owns an exquisite collection of modern Polish paintings and sculptures, the collection is not on permanent display. Instead, different temporary exhibitions take place.
Known previously as "Berlin gate" (Berliner Tor), this structure dates back to the years 1724 to 1740, when Szczecin was defended by a complicated system of fortifications. It is decorated with the personifications of Glory, and they are blowing their trumpets towards coats of arms of Friedrich Wilhelm I, king of Prussia, who purchased Szczecin from the Swedes in 1719.
Kościół św. Jana Ewangelisty
This 19th-century Gothic church hides remains of one from the 15th century–include its beautiful wall frescos–and a beautiful 18th-century pipe organ. The church once belonged to the Franciscan order; when they lost their holdings as a result of the Reformation in 1527, their buildings were turned into a hospital and a shelter for the poor. They retained that function until 1957, when the buildings were returned to the Catholic church. They are now home to the Pallotine order.
This branch of the National Museum occupies a building designed in 1909 by Wilhelm Meyer-Schwartau. From its windows one can admire the splendid view of the port and the bank of the Odra. Its focus is everything water-connected–including sailing, shipping, and the sea. There is also a new aquarium exhibition with colorful species of fish from the world over, with a separate entrance fee. Behind the main building is an open-air skansen morski (maritime museum); the old retired ships or their parts enjoy prolonged lives on the grass, far from water. Inside, the highlight may very well be almost 250 ship models, including the Mayflower.
The Old Town Hall dates back to the turn of 15th century and was rebuilt in the 18th century. Since 1975, the building has hosted the Museum of History of Town. In addition to a permanent exhibition on the history of Szczecin, you can also admire a treasure found in the Podzamcze (Lower Castle) in 1999, a vast collection of 14th- and 15th-century coins and about 300 pieces of burgers' silver as well as some gold jewelry.