Łódź is the third largest city in Poland, however, it has a surprisingly short history. There was a settlement there during the medieval period, but it was very small and insignificant. It wasn’t until the end of the 18th century when Łódź experienced a population explosion. During the second partition of Poland, when Prussia annexed this region, Łódź rapidly industrialised and was flooded with migrants, notably Germans and Jews, and this continued unabated when Łódź came under Russian rule in 1816, and the city became the centre of textile production in the Russian Empire.
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The history of Łódź has created a city fairly unique for travelers visiting Poland. There may not be the usual ancient castles, churches or walls to explore, but this once prosperous city has beautiful 19th century buildings and industrial gems, as well as a dark past during World War Two’s holocaust to delve into.
Łódź is well connected by road with the north of Poland, being a one and a half hour drive from Warsaw, but it is a more difficult drive south to Krakow, taking a full three hours or so to get there by car.
So, without further ado, please find our 10 Things to See and Do in Łódź…
1. See how the textile kings lived by visiting Herbst Palace
The Herbst Palace Museum is a refurbished mansion, formerly owned by a family of industrialists. The palace has become the exhibition space for old masters works (mainly those of the 19th century), as well as having beautiful interiors from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries and giving an overview of the history of the Herbst family of industrial tycoons. There is also a very pleasant garden and conservatory café which can be visited. Just across the road from the palace are the Priest’s Mill. This mill, now converted into apartments, gives an indication of the sheer size of the textile industry in Łódź. The factory housed 1,200 looms and 70,000 spindles, a weaving plant, and an entire gasworks to light his factories and the neighbouring workers’ houses too - the first private gasworks in the city.
2. Follow the map to find Łódź’s world class street art
Since 2009, Łódź has successfully created a cultural re-invigoration of the city by encouraging and promoting the work of street artists from around the world, and the community group Urban Forms have created a map of much of the city’s street art – see how many you can tick off! It seems that around every corner in the city center is a beautiful, colourful and challenging piece of street art. Street artists from around the world, notably Os Gemeos from Brazil, Aryz from Spain, and Remed from France, as well as Polish artists such as M-City, Bezt and Sainer, have been employed to brighten up and fascinate the city.
3. Visit the Holocaust prison
Radogoszcz prison was established in early November 1939, and it was here that the Nazis rounded up all the members of Łódź’s intelligentsia – namely: teachers, academics, civil servants, politicians, and artists. Due to the multicultural character of the city and the region, a considerable part of this intellectual elite was of Jewish descent. Polish citizens of German origin who refused to relinquish their Polish identity were also imprisoned there. On average, there were between 500 and 1 000 prisoners at a time in Radogoszcz. It is estimated that a total of 40 000 people were imprisoned here. The greatest tragedy came when, in the face of the Red Army arrival, the Nazis set fire to the building and burned the prisoners alive. That night, about 1 500 people were killed. Only 30 of the inmates survived. The burned out building has remained standing as a memorial to those prisoners, and next door is a very informative museum about the Nazi occupation of Łódź.
4. Visit the Holocaust railway station
The Radegast Station was a train station within the Jewish ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Łódź. The station became the Umschlagplatz (transshipment point) for Jews to be exported to the extermination camps. Today, the station hosts exhibitions regarding the holocaust and the part that the station played in this.
5. Shop till you drop!
Manufaktura is a massive shopping and entertainment centre in the heart of Łódź, and is the result of Poland’s largest renovation project since the reconstruction of Warsaw’s Old Town in the 1950s. Manufaktura was once a series of factories – all producing various textiles – that were constructed in the latter part of the 19th century. The mills were the property of
Izrael Poznański, a Jewish merchant who saw the need for high quality textiles on the eastern markets of Russia, Japan and China. As Łódź was at the time the most westerly city in the Russian Empire, Poznański was able to match western textile expertise and industrial practises with limitless access to eastern markets. It was a huge enterprise well into the twentieth century, but as the economies of the Warsaw Pact countries declined, so too did the textile trade in Łódź, and the factories of Manufaktura finally closed in 1997. The story ended positively, however, because by 2006 the factories had been converted to shops and is now the vibrant heart of Łódź. Manufaktura now covers an area of 54 football pitches, over 90,000m2, and makes use of 45,000 square metres of restored original brickwork, fifty kilometres of electric cables and over a kilometre of metal framework.
6. Take a break from retail therapy and enjoy some culture at The Museum of Art MS2
The Museum of Art MS2 is located in the historic building of a 19th century weaving plant, and is part of the Manufaktura complex. The unique collection of the museum is concerned with 20th and 21st century art. The permanent exhibition is a ‘work in progress’, constantly subject to alterations, rearranged by invited curators and artists themselves.
7. Have a further top up of culture at the Museum of Art MS1
The spectacular 19th century building on Więckowskieg houses the Museum of Art MS1. The museum is a venue for a programme of temporary exhibitions, projects related to experimental film, video and performance art, as well as workshops and educational activities. The collection focuses mainly on the art of the 20th and 21st centuries. It is exceptional, because it was created by artists themselves who donated their work to the future museum, and is one of the oldest museums of contemporary art in the world. The museum also houses a cool café restaurant which we can highly recommend.
8. Walk Piotrkowska Street
Piotrkowska Street, the main artery of Łódź, is one of the longest commercial thoroughfares in Europe, with a length of 4.9 km. It is one of the major tourist attractions of the city. It runs longitudinally in the straight line between the Liberty Square (Plac Wolności) and the Independence Square (Plac Niepodleglości). Look up as you walk along, and you will be captivated by the exquisite architecture, harking back to prosperous days gone by.
9. Go underground!
Visit the Museum of the Sewer "Tube"! It was once part of the sewer system constructed in 1926 to clean the sewage network. Nowadays, however, it is open to visitors and is fitted with exhibits form the Łódź History Museum. It is also a lot cleaner! The Tube is 142 metre long, just over 1.5 metres wide and 187 centimetres tall. Tickets can be purchased from the office next to the Pharmacy Museum on Liberty Square.
10. Visit Poznanski Palace, the grandest residence in Łódź
The Museum of the City of Łódź is housed in the grand Poznanski Palace, and displays the artwork and history of Łódź and of Poland in general. The mansion was built for the family of one of the wealthiest factory owners in 19th century Lodz, Izrael K. Poznański. Apart from an exhibition presenting the history of industrial Łódź, a number of rooms are arranged to present memorabilia of artists associated with Łódź and other distinguished citizens: Artur Rubinstein, Julian Tuwim, Jerzy Kosiński, Jan Karski, Aleksander Tansman, Karl Dedecius, Władysław Reymont, as well as Marek Edelman and Alina Margolis.