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 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
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
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! 🙂