Located in the southwest corner of Poland, Jelenia Góra (yeh-LEH-nyah GOO-rah) is a glimpse into centuries-old history and timeless natural splendor. The small city, which in Polish translates to “Deer Mountain” (more on that later), stands in the middle of four mountain ranges: the Izera Mountains to the west, the Kaczawskie Mountains to the north, the Rudawy Janowickie Mountains to the east, and, most prominently, the Krkonoše (Karkonosze) Mountains to the south, along Poland‘s border with Czechia.
A Jelenia Góra Day Trip
Ok, now let’s explore Poland’s 44th largest city! If you arrive via train, particularly to the main station just west of the airport, you will have a perfect point to begin and end a day in Jelenia Góra; most of the main sites I will talk about are located on the same road as the station, 1 Maja (1st of May Street), to the west, though the road’s name changes towards the old town.
Church of the Holy Cross
The Church of the Elevation of the Holy Cross (Kościół par. pw. Podwyższenia Krzyża Św. w Jeleniej Górze) is the first site you’ll take in as you head west on 1 Maja, on your right-hand side. Silesian protestants were obliged to pay the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph I for permission to build it. Completed in 1718, the grand, gilded interior can hold up to 7000 congregants.
Kościół par. pw. Podwyższenia Krzyża Św., 1 Maja 45, 58-500 Jelenia Góra [see in Google Maps]
St. Peter and Paul’s Orthodox Church
St. Peter and Paul’s Orthodox Church (Cerkiew św. Piotra i Pawła Apostołów) will be the soft-yellow one next, built in 1738, though the first Catholic church in this same spot was built in 1453. For almost 200 years (until 1925) it was a Catholic church, but then it was closed for a time and after World War II, it was reconsecrated as an Orthodox church. For artistic value, if you can get inside, the interior was decorated by the late Polish painter, Jerzy Nowosielski. Its northern wall holds two penitential crosses, also known as atonement crosses, a type of medieval justice where a convicted criminal would have the tool of their crime carved into it; one of the crosses here still displays a bow and arrow, so perhaps this one killed someone in this fashion. Neat, huh?
Cerkiew św. Piotra i Pawła Apostołów, 1 Maja 43, 58-500 Jelenia Góra [see in Google Maps]
Wojanowska Tower and Gate & St. Anne’s Chapel
Connected architecturally more so than historically, Wojanowska Tower and Gate (Baszta i Brama Wojanowska) and St. Anne’s Chapel (Kaplica św. Anny) have their own stories. The tower and gate were built originally to guard the road to Wojanów, but was blown down by high winds (makes you wonder, no?) in 1480. It was rebuilt and stood for 300 years, before being demolished and rebuilt again. St. Anne’s Chapel was originally built there as a sort of bastel house, but it burned down. The present structure was completed in 1715.
Basilica of St. Erasmus and St. Pancras
Built in the early 1300’s, the Basilica of St. Erasmus and St. Pancras (Bazylika świętego Erazma i świętego Pankracego) grew into the massive monument it is today over the centuries. It is dedicated to the patron saints of Jelenia Góra.
Bazylika świętego Erazma i świętego Pankracego, plac Kościelny 1/2, 58-500 Jelenia Góra [see in Google Maps]
Town Hall, Town Hall Square & the Neptune Fountain
The town hall (ratusz miejski) of Jelenia Góra, namesake for and located within Town Hall Square (plac Ratuszowy), is just about the very center of Jelenia Góra’s old town. Its latest incarnation (after a fire, of course) was completed in 1749. An attraction itself, the Neptune Fountain (Neptun Fontanna) stands tall at the western corner of the square.
Surrounding the square are arcades with several restaurants and shops; while you’re there, stop into the Karkonoska Tourist Information (Karkonoska Informacja Turystyczna) center where you’ll find a wealth of knowledge on the area and the friendliest and most helpful tourist guide I’ve ever met.
Ratusz Miejski, plac Ratuszowy 2, 58-500 Jelenia Góra [see in Google Maps]
Neptun Fontanna, plac Ratuszowy, 58-560 Jelenia Góra [see in Google Maps]
Karkonoska Info. Turyst., plac Ratuszowy 6/7, 58-500 Jelenia Góra [see in Google Maps]
Catch your breath before we continue, as we’re about to climb the first (!!!) tower in our Jelenia Góra day trip. Castle Tower (Baszta Zamkowa) is situated on the western edge of the old town area. Remarkably, it doesn’t seem to get much attention, so you may have the whole thing to yourself – I did when I went in late May during pleasant weather. The top offers some nice views, but perhaps it is not tall enough for the view to be great. Still, it’s worth the climb.
Baszta Zamkowa, Jasna, 58-500 Jelenia Góra [see in Google Maps]
Ramparts of Jelenia Góra
The Ramparts (Mury Obronne) are the remains of some wall fortifications that used to surround parts of the old town area. The best place to see an example is just north of Castle Tower, hidden by some trees on the edge of a boring parking lot.
Mury Obronne, Podwale 27, 58-500 Jelenia Góra [see in Google Maps]
Before we continue, let’s catch our breath, shall we? You’re gonna need it! Perhaps head just west across Podwale to Nowy Rynek mall, which has a nice Polish restaurant right at the front and sometimes has food trucks with various offerings, depending on the season. Rested? Great! Let’s move on.
Lookout Tower on Krzywousty’s Hill
Heading out of the mall on the northwest side, passing the bus station, you’ll need to cross the Aleja Jana Pawła II by going down some stairs under it. Then you’ll continue through some buildings until the space opens up and you reach a small stream. Once you cross the bridge, the highway’s hubbub should have died, and you continue through some marked trails in the forest, uphill, until you get to the base of the tower.
The Lookout Tower on Krzywousty’s Hill (Wieża Widokowa na Szczycie Wzgórza Krzywoustego) is a test of human endurance – you climb a mountain through a forest before realizing you must climb the tower still. However, it is quite an important part of the Jelenia Góra tour: Legend has it that the Polish prince Bolesław III Wrymouth in 1108 was hunting and chased a wounded deer at the base of the mountain. He finally killed the deer on this mountain, and the city below got its name, Jelenia Góra, “deer mountain” in Polish.
Wieża Widokowa na Szczycie Wzgórza Krzywoustego, the mushroom-head-shaped protuberance hidden in the trees on the hill, Jelenia Góra [see in Google Maps]
If you have some time to kill, and/or you are in need of some coffee after all that walking and climbing, Kukutu Cafe offers some of the best. The cafe is arranged comfortably, with couches and loveseats in haphazard positions, and there is a record player and a box of records on the floor where you can just pick one and set the needle yourself. It’s a bit of a winding, uphill walk southeast of the old town, but this is the last one, I swear!
Kukutu Cafe, Nowowiejska 27, 58-500 Jelenia Góra [see in Google Maps]
Related Read: Kielce, Poland: A Day Trip Guide
Jelenia Góra offers even more to see and do, especially for nature lovers. If you have more time, check out the Karkonosze Museum, Chojnik Castle, Grodzka Tower, or the nearby city of Wałbrzych. But even if you’ve just a few hours, Jelenia Góra will leave you no doubt with fond memories, scenic photographs, and new historical insight – and probably with wheezing lungs and aching calf muscles 😉