Dubbed the “Polish Manchester”, Łódź (pronounced “Woodge”) has undergone a dramatic makeover in the past decade – and there are still a few layers of slap to come. Poland’s third biggest city was a 19th century industrial powerhouse before falling into a post-war slump, known as Grey Łódź.
Now it’s back and brighter than before. Derelict buildings are transformed with murals. Textile mills are now villages with hotels, boutiques, restaurants and al fresco bars. Brilliantly, because it attracts more business than leisure travellers, flights and hotel rates are lower at weekends; Łódź is a real bargain.
What to do
Outside the Neo-Renaissance Grand Hotel you’ll find “Holly-Łódź”. This Walk of Fame has pavement stars for Roman Polanski, a graduate of the city’s Film School, and pianist Arthur Rubinstein. Further south, bronze statue Rubinstein’s Piano sits outside his childhood home at number 78.
The city’s first public park, Źródliska, was founded in 1840 as a meeting place for cotton mill workers. A factory orchestra played regularly on the bandstand, watched by crowds sipping vodka and juniper brandy. Now you’ll see families picnicking on the grass or wandering around the Palm House. Built to protect trees dating back 140 years, the roof occasionally has to be raised as they grow.
Izrael Poznański’s Palace (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Go on an art hunt
The new and improved Łódź is full of colour if you know where to look. Peek down Rose Passage to see an old weaver’s cottage, spruced up with mosaic blooms that sparkle in sunlight. Take a seat with The Creators of Industrial Łódź – a bronze statue of the city’s three major mill owners around a table – and explore the most attractive stretch of Piotrkowska, at 4.2km Poland’s longest street. At the junction with Piłsudskiego, glance up and left to see the city’s biggest street art mural. A love letter to Łódź, it depicts the town hall, Liberty Square and a wooden sailboat.
Peruse a palace
The 19th century Izrael Poznański’s Palace is a grand example of the city’s eclectic architecture, with Neo-Renaissance and Neo-Baroque details. The residence of Łódź’s second richest citizen, who built the textile factory that’s now shopping, dining and entertainment complex Manufaktura, the vast, vaulted-ceilinged rooms inside are just as impressive, as are the sculpture-dotted gardens. Entry 12PLN (£2.50).
Piotrkowska is Poland’s longest street (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Two galleries for the price of one
Just 16PLN (£3.40) gets you entry to MS1 (msl.org.pl), with 20th and 21st century art spread across four floors and a focus on Polish culture, and the more conceptual galleries of MS2, with floor-to-ceiling stained glass windows between each floor. The combination ticket also includes entry to Herbst Palace, once home to one of Poland’s wealthiest industrial families.
Where to stay
Vienna House Andel’s Łódź (viennahouse.com) is the best hotel in town. Within the glowing tangerine bricks of a former weaving mill, part of the Manufaktura complex, are 277 chic design-led rooms. Snoop Dogg has stayed in the presidential suite, complete with vertiginous staircase leading to a library and terrace. Doubles from €117, room only.
Hotel Stare Kino (cinemahotel.pl) was built on the site of Poland’s first permanent cinema, and each of the 22 characterful rooms represents a different film theme. In the Promised Land suite, for example, one wall features a still from the 1975 film directed by Andrzej Wajda. Doubles from £46, room only.
Hotel Stare Kino is cinema themed (Hotel Stare Kino )
Where to eat
MITMI Restobar (facebook.com/MITMIrestobar) has tables spilling out on OFF Piotrkowska. Late breakfast (“brunch” is yet to catch on) is served 11am-2pm on Sundays. Order fluffy brioche-style buns topped with eggs and pretty much anything else you fancy, or cottage cheese pepped up, Polish-style, with radish and spring onion.
Koperek Bistro (facebook.com/KoperekBistro) at 2 Roosevelta is where locals go for traditional Polish home-style cooking. A typical meal of beetroot soup with stuffed “ears” (dumplings), breaded pork chop and potatoes costs just 13PLN (£2.75).
Lokal Restaurant does vegetarian and vegan fare (Lokal Restaurant )
Join Łódź residents at Lokal Restaurant (facebook.com/lokallodz) at 61 Sienkiewicza for Polish small plates, live music and vegan/vegetarian options. Small plates 5PLN (£1), mains around 30PLN (£6.30).
Meanwhile Klub Spadkobierców (klub-spadkobiercow.com.pl) is a warren of polished parquet floors, intimate dining rooms and crisp tablecloths tucked upstairs in Neo-Renaissance Goldfeder’s Palace at 77 Piotrkowska. Mains such as goose fillet with a tangy pomegranate sauce are around 45PLN (£9.50).
Where to drink
Perch outside Piwoteka (facebook.com/PiwotekaNarodowa) at 6 Sierpnia. Only small-batch beers, brewed onsite or from local producers, are served in this tiny pub. Try Lactobacto, a refreshing sour beer, or – if you’re feeling brave – the ominously named Killingskiego. This oatmeal stout infused with habanero chilli is best sipped slowly (and with caution).
SkyFLY Bar offers top-notch cocktails and views (Vienna House)
Grab a cocktail with vodka, apple and honey at skyFLY Bar for the best views across Łódź. Housed in the city’s coolest hotel, Vienna House Andel’s Łódź (viennahouse.com), this chic rooftop bar with twinkling terrace is something of a rarity in this flattest of cities.
Where to shop
OFF Piotrkowska is a pedestrianised square with independent restaurants, bars, food trucks and local stores on the site of a former cotton mill. Try Pan Tu Nie Stał for beautifully packaged T-shirts and covetable notebooks, Bardzo rozsądnie for vintage posters and quirky souvenirs, and Peggy’s Boutique for Fifties-style frocks.
Mainstream shops, including MAC Cosmetics, H&M and Hugo Boss are found in the sprawling mall at Manufaktura.
OFF Piotrkowska is Lodz’s answer to Shoreditch (Getty Images)
Look out for the House of Schichts on Piotrkowska Street, dripping with Art Nouveau details. The Neo-Baroque domed House of Sheibler is also worth a gander.
Nuts and bolts
What currency do I need?
What language do they speak?
Should I tip?
Tipping is expected for good service in restaurants – around 10 per cent is the norm.
What’s the time difference?
Łódź is one hour ahead of the UK.
What’s the flight time from the UK?
Łódź is a two hour and 15 minute flight from London.
Łódź is best explored on two feet or two wheels. Register for the public bicycle hire scheme (lodzkirowerpubliczny.pl) for 20PLN (£4.20) to use bikes from 148 stations around the city. Free for the first 20 minutes, 1PLN (20p) for an hour, 3PLN (65p) for the second hour, and 5PLN (£1.05) for each subsequent hour.