Warsaw, Poland is more than just a historic city. Second World War was harsh to them and the communist regime that came afterward is not an easy one to handle. Although scattered from the foundation, now Warsaw is a vivid and modern city. For a good background, check this documentary website. However, if you’re in Warsaw during summer time, go out of the Old Town and experience the usual city life. Polish people have a thing for deckchairs, ice-cream and beer, so my personal recommendation is to lie down and enjoy the life.
Expect many hip cafes, with deck chairs outside and queues to artisanal ice-cream spots (lody in Polish). Summer days are perfect for long walks on the large boulevards and parks and for multiple stops at pubs and bars, while enjoying the strong local beers. Oh, and promenade along Vistula River is a must! Walk along this river side, rest on the urban beaches and bars along the Vistula River and admire the biodiversity on the Praga district side.
Warsaw and Poland, in general, is very cheap. The local currency (zlots) almost equals Romanian (RON) money and 1 zlot is less than 30 cents. Keep only a small account in cash, you can pay almost everywhere with the card. Good ice-cream 1 – 2 EUR, a lunch approx 4 – 10 EUR, museums fee approx 5 EUR, transportation from the airport to the city center with local bus – less than 1 EUR and cheap Uber.
What to do in Warsaw
Warsaw during summer is wonderful, so my recommendation for you is to choose outdoor activities, rather than spending time inside. If the weather is chilly, you can opt for one of the many museums or shops in town. You can see the city in one day or one week, you will not get bored. In 3 days and a half and 20 km per day walking we reached to less touristic neighborhoods.
Being destroyed 80% in the Second World War, now the Old Town in Warsaw is a masterpiece of city restoring. We had a lovely 2-hours walk with the Orange Umbrella’s Free City Walk, which I totally recommend.
Royal Palace square, with Sigismund Statue, has colorful buildings and authentic architecture. Sigismund III of Poland had Swedish roots and was known due to its influence in Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. So it’s no surprise that he moved the capital from Krakow to Warsaw just to be closer to the northern states. You can visit the Royal Palace, or at least go into the courtyard to see the architecture details.
Then enjoy The Old Town Market, the center and the oldest part of the Old Town. A UNESCO site, this is a crowded area with lots of restaurants, souvenir shops and the Museum of Warsaw. Tourists are trying to capture the “Fighting” Mermaid Statue placed in the middle of the square, a symbol of the city.
Barbican is the getaway between the Old and the New Town. Along the fortification you’ll see the Statue of the Little Insurgent, in the memory of children who lost their lives in the Warsaw Rising.
Get lost on the less crowded streets, these are quiet and tiny. In one of the courtyards you will see one of the smallest buildings in Europe. It’s a trick – it’s just the façade, which consists of the front door only, but the rest of the house has a normal size. This gimmick was a solution to pay lower taxes, back in time the taxes were based on the size of the façade.
This is an old communication route from the Old Town to the South, at Wilanów, Sobieski’s palace. It includes a series of old royal residences and landmarks, which makes it very important for tourists. The burger houses, with prominent roof windows, and the neoclassical buildings with perfect geometry will enjoy your eyes.
On this route you will see Nicholas Copernicus Monument, University of Warsaw, neoclassical Tyszkiewicz palace, Łazienki Park and Presidential Palace and many others. Even you don’t go all the way, take a walk along lively Nowy Swiat to enjoy the architecture of the buildings and its many cafe and boutiques.
I realize that outdoor recreation is a trend that I definitely like! The city is split by this large river and the river bank is nicely set up. One side has more bars, deck chairs and sand, paved walking alleys, while the eastern bank has rather wild beaches and biodiversity.
The eastern side of Warsaw is known as Praga district. From the distance it seems like a forest with few buildings. Actually, in the past, it was an industrial area, where only the poor people lived. The area is in a constant development, but can still see traces of its poverty on flats, old markets and bars.
We walked a lot in this area, but I think 2 or 3 hours are more than enough.
My recommendation is to cross one of the bridges close to the National Stadium, go through Skaryszewski park (loved it!) and visit the Soho Factory area. Soho is a mix of cultural and industrial styles, where you find design shops, exhibitions, restaurants. Here you can also visit a cool museum, Neon Museum. You may think it’s silly, but after checking it and reading the history behind it, I saw many neon signs on the streets.
Hipsters and all kind of artists are reported to hang out at the bars on the 11 Listopada Street. Just make sure you get there after 6 pm and you throw yourself into this local unique experience.
Palace of Culture and Science
This is a Stalinist present, a massive building common among former communist countries. We have a smaller replica, here in Bucharest. In Warsaw, this “palace” stands up among all other modern sky scrapers around it. I wouldn’t recommend visiting it unless it’s on your way and you want a close picture of it. Anyway, you can see it from the bridges or towers which offer the city panorama and if you go to the central train station.
Warsaw has plenty of stories to say, due to its history and some scientists. I’m not a museum freak, but I like to check at least one while traveling and to dig into one specific topic.
I’ve already mentioned Neon Museum, but there’s another one you should consider: The Warsaw Rising Museum. Set in an industrial building, lots of pictures, videos, stories and objects will show you the fighting and everyday life during the Rising. Entrance fee is 20 zlots or you can visit it for free on every Sunday. The museum is located in Wola district, an area in flourish which seems to me a business and upper-class residential area.
Outside of history, you can go into arts at Chopin Museum, or at Centre for Contemporary Art (located in the beautiful Lazienki park). For science passionate, there’s Marie Curie Museum and Copernicus Astronomical Centre. Plenty of choices for everyone, you just need time.