Time zone: UTC +1
Closest airport(s): Warsaw Chopin, Warsaw Modlin
A little bit about Warsaw
Warsaw is Poland’s capital and biggest city and is a significant cultural, political and economic hub. The Warsaw Stock Exchange is the biggest in central and eastern Europe.
It became capital of Poland in 1596 as it was half way between Krakow and Vilnius, the capitals on the then-Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. King Sigismund III Vasa decided to move his court to Warsaw, making a change that stands to the present day.
Sitting on the Vistula River in east Poland, Warsaw was once known as “Paris of the East,” and was considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world until extensive bombing and conflict destroyed over 85% of the city’s buildings and structures. It eventually recovered and is, today, alongside Frankfurt, London and Paris, one of the cities with the highest number of skyscrapers in the European Union.
Why should I go?
Warsaw is everything a capital city should be – diverse, lively and with an abundance of things to do – which makes it a great candidate for a weekend break on the continent.
From the enchanting Old Town to a business and financial centre that wouldn’t look out of place on the island of Manhattan, Warsaw has a lot to offer.
Much like other Polish destinations, it’s cheap, meaning that even budget travellers need not worry about sampling Warsaw’s wonderful food, or getting a round in, in one of the city’s lively bars.
The main attractions
Palace of Culture and Science
The Palace of Culture and Science is quite possibly Warsaw’s most famous building. It opened in 1955 and given as a “gift of the Soviet people to the Polish nation,” and was offered by Joseph Stalin himself
The palace has over 3,000 rooms including offices, institution headquarters, two private universities and the Polish Academy of Sciences. It also houses a multiplex cinema with eight screens, four theatres and an auditorium with a capacity of 3,000 called Congress Hall.
But for visitors of the touristic persuasion, there’s a panoramic viewing terrace on the 30th floor, offering up spectacular views of the city. I would recommend going there as the sun is setting. That way you can benefit from seeing the contrast between Warsaw in the day and Warsaw at dusk.
Warsaw Uprising Museum
The Warsaw Uprising Museum is one of Europe’s very best. Detailing the event which saw the Polish underground resistance’s attempt to liberate Warsaw from German occupation in 1944 and the broader stories concerning the Holocaust and World War II, the Warsaw Uprising Museum tells its stories with brilliantly laid out and captivating exhibits.
One of the city’s most significant historical events is told in fantastic detail and this museum is a must-see for anyone heading to Warsaw.
The Saxon Garden is a 15.5-hectare public garden which can be found in central Warsaw. It is the oldest public park in the city and is also the site of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a national memorial to the unknown soldiers lost in battle while representing Poland. Guards from the Representative Company of the Polish Army watch over the eternal flame and floral tokens that lay on the tomb.
The park is also one of the most photogenic areas of Warsaw, so if you decide to go then don’t forget your camera!
Warsaw’s Old Town is the oldest parts of the city and is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Much of Old Town was severely damaged in World War II and the reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century is quite remarkable.
Here in Old Town you’ll find the Royal Castle where visitors can find a gallery for the portraits of Polish kings, the functioning Presidential Palace, beautiful St Anne’s Cathedral and even the church containing the preserved heart of famous Polish composer Frédéric Chopin!
Old Town is also the place to go for some of Warsaw’s best bars, restaurants and cafés serving local produce which harks back to simpler times.
Lazienki Palace sits in the wider Lazienki Królewski palace-garden complex, where fans of classical music visit for the al fresco Chopin concerts on Sunday afternoons from mid-May through September.
What was once a hunting ground attached to a castle was acquired by King Stanislaw August in 1764 who sought about transforming it into a park complete with palace, amphitheatre and various other buildings.
The palace, which was the king’s summer residence, is open to visitors who can gain access to various buildings on the site including the Palace on the Isle, the Old Orangery and the White Pavilion. Oh, and if you go, don’t forget to take some bread with you to feed the beautiful peacocks with!
If you’re flying into Modlin then it is probably an idea to get the Modlin Bus. Modlin Bus run regular express buses into Warsaw city centre and it is the cheapest direct route from the airport. Taxis are much more expensive and are also an option, in addition to a train from Modlin train station, which requires a shuttle bus to get to.
Coach company Lux Express operate routes both in Poland and internationally with cheap to reasonable prices. Warsaw Centralna is the capital’s main railway station and is a gateway to the rest of the country and continent.
Warsaw is another one of those cities with a fantastic underground rail network. The extensive Metro system reaches much of the city and single tickets are dirt cheap. Tickets also permit rides on the city trams and buses which hit the nooks and crannies that the Metro doesn’t.
Where to stay
We stayed in one of the apartments owned by City Aparthotel Wola. The four-person apartment was great for the three of us and was clean, spacious, safe and conveniently located by a tram stop.
Much like everywhere else in Poland, accommodation is quite cheap compared to most European destinations, and you can’t go wrong with Booking.com’s selection of hotels, hostels and more.
Eat and drink
Food and drink are obviously cheap. It’s Poland; that’s already been covered. But just because the food is cheap, doesn’t mean that the quality isn’t there. Make sure you hit one of Warsaw’s food markets and try sumptuous Polish favourites like smoked sheep cheese Oscypek and pumpkin seed cookies. Old Town is also a hive of great restaurants such as Bazyliszek and Kmicic, which serve traditional Polish food, as well as favourites such as BrowArmia Królewska and Hard Rock Cafe.
Sunday night is not one for nightlife in Warsaw
After a really early flight and a long Saturday in Warsaw, we didn’t go on a night out on the traditional day. So we waited until our second night, Sunday. That turned out to be a bad idea as we couldn’t find any clubs or lively bars in which to to party the night away. If it’s nightlife you’re looking for, make sure you stick to Friday and Saturday because the rest of the week it isn’t really guaranteed atmosphere.
Warsaw or New York?
The observation deck at the Palace of Culture and Science was probably my favourite part of our Warsaw trip and we, accidently, timed it right. We were fast approaching the evening when we took the elevator to the 30th floor, but there was still enough time left to look over Warsaw in daylight.
We'd been up there for a good 90 minutes, which meant that we saw day transition to night. It changed the whole dynamic of the view and what was something stunning became a breathtaking sight, as Warsaw’s buildings came to life with light. The business and financial district looked picture perfect and reminded me very much of New York.
Public transport in the UK is ridiculously overpriced
“This has nothing to do with Warsaw,” I hear you say. But stay with me. Whilst I was at university I had a part time job at a small supermarket in Manchester city centre. In my last two years I started working night shifts, and when I was living at home I would have to get the train from Manchester to a town near to where I lived, before having to get either a taxi or a bus from there to home.
The fare from Manchester was £9.95 – a peak fare in the morning, one way. For just four pence more I flew to Warsaw last November, one way. The return was £19.98, a mere eight pennies more than two one-way tickets from Manchester to a place vaguely near where I wanted to end up.
It just put into perspective for me how overpriced public transport in the UK is. Over the past couple of decades there has been a push for people to be more sustainable in the way they live their lives, and one way of helping to do that is using public transport instead of using a car. But when public transport costs an amount of money that is neither indicative of the distance travelled nor the service delivered, it reflects poorly on a network in need of a massive overhaul.
Flying is proving to be real value, especially to places like Poland where it is generally cheaper to do so.
Warsaw is a BIG place
I knew that Warsaw would be fairly sizeable being the capital city of the ninth-biggest country in Europe, but I didn’t realise it was on the scale that it is. Warsaw is huge, with a big Old Town and a sprawling downtown district packed with clean-cut steel and glass high rises and plenty of new architecture.
Going to the viewing platform at the Palace of Culture and Science was a real eye opener. It was a surprise, but a welcome one, and just to see and experience the sheer size of the place left me very impressed.
Warsaw is great, but it lags behind its rivals
I’ve been to Poland three times, and Warsaw was my second visit. My first was Krakow and my third, Wroclaw. Out of the three I’ve been to I would say Warsaw wasn’t quite as good as the other two.
I’m a big city boy, but I almost feel Warsaw is too big to be its country’s ultimate destination. It lacks that warm Polish intimacy that are key characteristics of the other two places. In a way that’s fine, because Warsaw offers something different. But it doesn’t feel like quintessential Poland to be and definitely shouldn’t be your first thought if you decide to visit the central European nation.
Did you know?
The world’s narrowest house is in Warsaw. Measuring just 36 inches across at its narrowest point, Keret House was originally created as an art installation and was a product of the mind of Israeli writer and filmmaker Etgar Keret. Keret lives in the house whenever he is in Warsaw, which is spread over two floors with a total 46 square metres of floor space.