Bielsko-Biała is one of the largest cities in the Silesian Voivodeship in Poland with a population of about 170,000 in the city itself and over half a million if its metro area taken into account. Aside from various festivals throughout the year and impressive examples of Viennese architecture (the city has been described as 'Little Vienna') Bielsko attracts many tourists through its position as a gateway to the Beskidy mountains.
The city is situated by the intersection of S1 motorway, main road going north-to-south through Poland. It is situated 50 km south of Katowice and 75 km west of Kraków. The city was once renowned for its magnificent linen, but now its main industries are strictly mechanical. The average relative height difference between places in the city goes as big as 900 meters, as in the city borders there are several mountain peaks - that generates magnificent view. Bielsko-Biała is place of tourism, people from all over the country visit the city as it is logistical and cultural center for nearby ski-sport towns, such as Szczyrk, Wisła, Ustroń and Żywiec.
The today's center of the town was probably developed as early as in the first half of the 13th century. It was then when a castle was built on a hill still used for this purpose today. Sometime in the 13th or 14th century the town was granted a town charter; the exact date is unknown because the document is now lost.
The town of Bielsko was first mentioned in a letter by a Duke of Cieszyn in 1312. For centuries, Bielsko belonged to the Duchy of Cieszyn. From 1457 the Biała river was the border between Silesia and Lesser Poland. Silesia belonged to Austria, Little Poland to Poland. In 1723 on the opposite bank of the river the city of Biała came into being.
In 1772 Biała was annexed by Austria and included in the crownland of Galicia. In 1918 both cities became part of reborn Poland, though a significant part of the population was ethnic German. During World War II the city was annexed to the Third Reich and its Jewish population sent to Auschwitz Nazi German concentration camp. After the liberation of the city by the Red Army in 1945, the ethnic German population was expelled. The city of Bielsko-Biała was created on January 1, 1951 when the adjacent cities of Bielsko and Biała were unified.
The Katowice-Pyrzowice Airport (KTW IATA) in Pyrzowice (80 km north of Bielsko-Biała) is an airport with several domestic and European flights. There's a frequent shuttle bus from outside the terminal building to the city centre dropping off near main railway station. For further information see GTL Travel .
The other option, perhaps better is the Kraków-Balice Airport (KRK IATA) - it is located about 65 km to the east of Bielsko-Biała. It is the second biggest airport in Poland, with frequent domestic and international (mainly European) charter and scheduled flights. There are even some connections with the USA and Morocco from Kraków-Balice Airport. The main flight companies operating in the airport include British Airways, LOT (the Polish national airline), Lufthansa and low-cost carrier Ryanair.
1 Bielsko-Biała Główna station is located in the city center.
Trains from all parts of Poland and other countries arrive at Main Station. There are Intercity and Eurocity express trains stopping at Bielsko-Biała, as its railway goes on the line Budapest - Bielsko-Biała - Katowice - Warsaw and Vienna - Bielsko-Biała - Katowice - Warsaw.
The trains within Poland are run by Polskie Koleje Państwowe (see PKP)
The main approaches to Bielsko-Biała are:
- from Kraków one can choose the A-4 motorway to Katowice and then S1 motorway to Bielsko-Biała (110 km), or alternatively shorter road through Wadowice (70 km)
- from Katowice south by the S1 motorway
- from Wrocław on the A-4 motorway to Katowice, then S1 south to Bielsko-Biała
- from Warsaw south on the S1 (E-67) European main road; Bielsko-Biała is about 350 km south of Warsaw
- from Cieszyn (on the southern border) on the S1 (E-75) European main road; Bielsko-Biała is about 25 km northeast of Cieszyn
Long-distance bus services arrive at the 2 Main Bus Station (near the Main Railway Station). Services are available from Kraków (2 hours - an hour quicker than the train), Warsaw, Lublin, and in summer to the Baltic coastal resorts.
Public transport is operated by the MZK Bus Company. Tourists are advised to check bus schedules in advance if possible as buses are not normally at regular intervals and there can be long waits between one coach and the next.
Bielsko-Biała has a comprehensive bus network stretching out several kilometres in every direction. It was designed during the Communist period (indeed, many buses still date from that period) when most residents did not have access to a car and therefore serves the different parts of the city well, and generally runs between about 5:00 and 22:00, with occasional night buses. A single 20-minute ticket is available for 3,00zl from any of the many kiosks around town (don't expect the people working in them to be able to speak English! The Polish word for ticket is 'bilet' and should be understood) and must be stamped upon entry into the bus, or you are liable for a fine of up to 110zl if caught by the very infrequent ticket inspections. Tickets are also available from the driver for an increased price. A ticket for the whole day costs 12,00 zł.
Taxi-stops are situated in several places in Bielsko-Biała. You can also call one of the taxi companies by phone and order a taxi.
- 1 Bielsko-Biała Museum and Sulkowski Dukes’ Castle (Zamek Sułkowskich), Wzgórze 16, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Tu, Sa: 9:00—15:00. W-F: 9:00—16:00. Su: 10:00—18:00. 15 zł.
- 2 City Hall (Ratusz).
- 3 Weaver’s House (Dom Tkacza), Jana III Sobieskiego 51, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tu, Sa: 9:00—15:00. W-F: 9:00—16:00. Su: 10:00—18:00. 10 zł.
- 4 House of Frogs (Kamienica Pod Żabami), Łukowa 12. One of the finest art nouveau examples in the city.
- 5 Polish Theatre (Teatr Polski), ul. 1 Maja 1. Built in 1890.
- 6 Cathedral of St. Nicholas (Katedra świętego Mikołaja), plac Świętego Mikołaja. One of the most dominating churches in the city, with a tower which is 60 meters high.
Easily accessible by bus number 8 from the railway station is the Szyndzielnia cable car taking passengers up to above 1000m with excellent views of the city, and visible from the city are many ski runs, operational during the winter season.
- Cieszyn — an interesting town on the border with the Czech Republic
- Szczyrk — a close-by town in the Silesian Beskids with frequent public transport operating from Bielsko-Biała