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Top 5 things to do in Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw may not be your typical ‘beautiful city’ as some other Central European capitals are famous for, but if you give it a chance and are prepared to explore its…

Warsaw may not be your typical ‘beautiful city’ as some other Central European capitals are famous for, but if you give it a chance and are prepared to explore its inner beauty, you will realise it’s a city full of energy. Ninety percent of the city was destroyed during WW2, and the Warsaw you will see today is still a result of the vast damage it suffered during the war, especially after the reconstruction and remodelling of its architecture. Even the famous ‘Old Town’ is actually fairly ‘new’ as it’s only about 40 years old, but due to its amazing reconstruction it has reserved a place on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. Warsaw also provides a great twin centre holiday with Krakow, giving you the chance to really see the best of Poland.

Everybody asks me how many days are enough for Warsaw, and two are probably enough if you want to see the major attractions and places of importance in the city, but note that the longer you stay the more you will discover and fall in love with. No matter what, Warsaw today represents a vibrant and cultural city that definitely deserves a visit during your journey through Poland, because its finer features do eventually stand out.

So let’s start. Top 5 recommended things to do in Warsaw include;

DISCOVER THE OLD TOWN

This is the best place to begin your sightseeing in Warsaw, simply because this is the oldest historic district of the city and the location of Warsaw’s most important landmarks. At the entrance of the Old Town you will discover the Royal Castle, where I definitely recommend you a visit as you will learn a lot about the history of Warsaw’s Old Town. The palace used to be an official residence of Polish monarchs, which after WW2 was totally demolished, today stands as a red brick building serving as a museum after the reconstructed interiors were finished in 1984. I recommend you grab a ticket and have a wonder through its impressive interiors at one of Europe’s most important royal residences. (Regular ticket: 22PLN)

Right in front the Royal Castle you can find a 22 meter high column, which is known as the Sigismund III Vasa Column. The column was moved from the previous capital of Poland, Krakow, to today’s capital city Warsaw. During the Warsaw Rising the column was demolished by the Germans but was repaired and placed four meters away from the original place.

Walking further from the Castle Square you will move into the heart of the Old Town Square, which is filled with tourists enjoying the architecture, artists and numerous cafes and restaurants nearby. The Old Town Square is the most famous for the statue of Syrena (Mermaid), which is a symbol for Poland’s capital.

The Old Town is also home to one of Warsaw’s oldest churches, which is St. John’s Cathedral, famous for it’s neo-Gothic pieces of architecture. When heading north you will spot the Barbikan. The Barbikan represents the remaining relics of the historic fortifications that once encircled Warsaw, and it is also the border between the Old and New Town.

What surprised me is that sometimes we simply do not pay attention to the details and are only attracted by big things, but if you look deeper, you will find many of Warsaw’s hidden sights in the Old Town and you may even spot some of the original bullet marks caused during WW2.

WARSAW RISING MUSEUM

Without a doubt, this is a MUST visit for anyone who is travelling through Warsaw! Dedicated to the Warsaw Rising of 1944, the museum officially opened its doors in 2004, and very quickly became one of the most popular museums in Poland. For an individual ticket of 14 PLN you can see the hundreds of exhibition items, photographs, films and other educational material. For 2 PLN, you can see a 3D movie titled “The city of ruins” which you should definitely do after visiting the whole museum grounds to have a better understanding of how Warsaw looked after WW2. As soon as you step in the museum the clock goes back to September 1st, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. As you explore the museum, you chronologically go through the stages of the war and see the affects it had on past and present Warsaw. One of my personal highlights was a scale model of the Warsaw sewers which were used for transportation and communication during the Warsaw Rising for the city’s citizens. If your interest is perked by history, I recommend before visiting Warsaw to watch the film titled “Kanal” by the Polish director Andrzej Wajda, as the movie documents the history behind Warsaw’s sewers during the Rising. After viewing the movie, personally my understanding and interest was enhanced whilst visiting the museum. Plan to spend about 3-4 quality hours here.



PALACE OF CULTURE AND SCIENCE

The Palace of Culture and Science, Warsaw

The tallest building in Poland, the Palace of Culture and Science, is usually visible from most parts of the city. The palace itself represents a ‘gift from the Soviet people’ and it was commissioned by Stalin himself. The building wasn’t initially accepted by the Polish people, and even today many Poles hate it as they consider it to be a symbol of Soviet domination and refer to it as a “Russian Wedding Cake”. Today it serves as an exhibition centre and office complex, and also offers cinemas, theaters, museums, bookshops, conference halls and more. So you are probably wondering, why should I go there? Well, for the price of 20 PLN and after a lift ride with a lift attendent, you can admire Warsaw’s panoramic view from the viewing platforms situated on 30th floor of the building. If you are interested in learning more about the Palace of Culture and Science, there are numerous travel agencies who give a whole tour of the place.

THE FRYDERYK CHOPIN MUSEUM

The Fryderyk Chopin Museum

Wherever you are in Poland, you won’t escape the name of one of the most famous Poles; Fryderyk Chopin. I wasn’t too sure what to expect from this museum, because to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of classical music. However, my impressions of the museum were really good in the end and here’s why. This is one of the most interactive museums I have ever visited, and as you move through the museum, the technology and features of the museum sparks your interest more and more, which is obviously a positive thing for those who are not much in touch with classical music. You can see many of the autographs, notes, works of art and personal items of Chopin in the museum. From the moment you enter the museum you will learn about the begin’s of Chopin’s life, see where he travelled during his life, and you will finish the route by visiting the big black box which represents his death. And that moment when you sit and listen to his works, accompanied by animated video, and feel like you are in a fairytle, you know this museum is a success. No matter how old you are or what your tastes are, there is something for everyone in the museum! The museum is also very family friendly and it even has a kids play area.

EATING AND SHOPPING

Polish pierogi

As the capital, Warsaw offers a vast variety of not only traditional restaurants but also international cuisine. A must in Poland is to try one of their most famous dishes; Pierogi. These dumplings are prepared in many ways and filled either with meat, cheese, spinach or various other fillings. Before your main meal, try the Polish barszcz which is a vegetable soup, although there are many variants of recipes on offer. If you are not really keen on the most popular Polish drink, vodka, maybe you’ll enjoy having a Tyskie beer to accompany your meal. Try the Zapiecek restaurant for pierogi.

Before you leave Warsaw, a little shopping is in order for some local souvenirs and some traditional Polish arts and crafts. Check the Cepelia store and Desa store, as they offer the biggest collection of traditional souvenirs in the capital, and even amber which Poland is famous for worldwide. When looking for amber, check out some of the designer shops located in the Old Town as they usually have bigger stock on offer and are specialized in selling just amber itself and not souvenirs. And don’t forget to check out this guide to Krakow too!

Have you been to Warsaw? What are your personal favourites? Let us know in the comments below! 🙂



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Top 5 Things To Do In Krakow, Poland

This is a guest post by Nic and Paul of The Roaming Renegades. The blog chronicles their escape from the 9-5, reports on their experiences, gives advice and offers destination…

This is a guest post by Nic and Paul of The Roaming Renegades. The blog chronicles their escape from the 9-5, reports on their experiences, gives advice and offers destination guides. Be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter too!

We visited Krakow late last year and were blown away by its beauty, history and culture. We had heard great things about this city but the depth of our admiration for it took us by surprise. By the time we had roamed its cobbled streets and weaved our way through its maze of bohemian districts we had fallen head over heels in love with it! It offers up so much for so less, it is full of exquisite architecture and rich culture but yet financially, it is one of the cheapest places we have ever visited!

Here are our top 5 things to do in Krakow!

1. Pay your respects at Auschwitz

A haunting and truly memorable place to visit, Auschwitz is somewhere which is difficult to stomach and will forever stay with you. But in that sense it is even more important to make the trip out from Krakow to this place of horror and suffering. To see the worst that humanity is capable of is an overwhelming torrent of emotion which is almost too much to take in. Walking on the grounds of the most infamous symbol of the Nazi regime, the death place of over 1.1 million people really brings into focus the need for the people of the world to overcome our differences and work together for peace.

How to visit

You can either book a tour from many stalls dotted around the city or even your hotel which will include a guide and transport. This usually costs around Zl: 100.

Or you can take the bus from the main station headed to Oswiecim (Zl 12 each way, buy singles as there are a few different bus companies on the route) and tour the site on your own.

Entrance to the camps is FREE and a shuttle bus runs between Auschwitz 1 and Birkenau.

Auschwitz camp near Krakow

2. Visit the ancient churches

Krakow really is the city of churches, each one spectacularly detailed and decorated and they represent an entrance to a world of color, artistry and devotion. No matter what you might think of religion or how strongly you feel, these churches are one of the most notable features of this grand old city. Many have survived generations of instability and war to stand as testament to the spirit of Krakow and its people. A visit would not be complete without silently taking in these awe inspiring architectural wonders and also observing the local passion for their religion.

Some of the most notable churches to visit are:

St. Mary’s Basilica:

Located in the centre of Old Town, this twin towered cathedral is the focal point for the city and one of Poland’s most important buildings.

St Mary's basillica Krakow

Wawel Cathedral:

At over 900 years old this church has seen plenty of history and monumental changes in Poland. It sits as part of the castle complex and contains the famous Royal Sigismund Bell.

Church of St. Peter and St. Paul:

This is one of the most beautiful and certainly one of our favorite churches! It was the first baroque building to be built in Krakow and it’s famous for its impressive white domed interior.

St Peter and Paul's church Krakow

3. Climb the Town Hall Tower and take in the view

You cannot fail to notice the Town Hall tower whilst strolling through the Rynek. The massive gothic tower stands at 70 metres tall as it’s the last remaining section of the Old Town Hall. The walk up the narrow stairwell is a tough 100 steps but it is worth the effort for the amazing panoramic views of the city the tower affords! The tower also leans to one side by 55cm due to storms in 1703!

Town Hall Tower - Krakow

4. Explore the Wieliczka Salt Mines

Located 10 kilometers outside of the city itself, this UNESCO listed site is the pride of Poland and stands testament to generations of miners and their work ethic. It is one of the oldest salt mines in existence anywhere in the world, having produced salt from the 13th century right the way up until 2007. The mines themselves stretch for over 178 miles and most visits, which take around 3 hours, only cover 2% of that! The mines not only served as the work place for thousands of miners but they also made this place their own. One of the most spectacular features is the exquisite Chapel of the Blessed Kinga, a cathedral standing over 200ft below the surface and carved entirely out of salt. This really is a must see!

To visit the mines you must take a guide and as such the best way is to book a tour from either a stall in town or your hotel which will include transport as well!

Wieliczka salt mines in Krakow

5. Roam the Old Jewish district (Kazimierz) and Ghetto (Podgorze)

Old Town may be the main attraction for most visiting Krakow but make sure to visit the other fascinating districts this city has to offer, each with their own features and history. Kazimierz was once the bustling heart of the Jewish community in Krakow, which was infamously ripped apart by the occupying Germans. Although the Jewish community still hasn’t recovered to its pre-war numbers, many families have returned and their culture is celebrated on these streets. The area is also home to many of the alternative and artistic communities and has a distinct feel from the rest of the city. Much of this area hasn’t changed since the war and it is one of the reasons why Schindler’s list was filmed here. Make sure to explore its authentic and winding streets and also head over to the Old Synagogue to delve more into the history of the Polish Jews.

The Jewish Ghetto of Podgorze sits just over the river and was the place many of the events depicted in the Schindler’s list actually took place and as such a visit over here would not be complete without visiting Schindler’s factory itself. Now converted into a massive museum, telling the story of not just Schindler himself, but of the occupation of Krakow from the Nazi’s to the Soviets and paints a both fascinating and horrific picture of what the people of this city endured.

Jewish ghetto Krakow - top 5 things to do in krakow

Liked what Nic and Paul recommended? Have something to add? Feel free to comment below and if you are heading to Poland soon, don’t forget to check out my “Top 5 Things to do in Warsaw, Poland” too.

1 Comment on Top 5 Things To Do In Krakow, Poland

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