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Why Visit Warsaw Poland? 10 Reasons to Take the Polish Capital Seriously

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Chances are when you’re considering visiting Poland, you’re mostly looking at Krakow and that’s about it. I don’t blame you, I was the same.

But then an opportunity to visit Warsaw Poland presented itself and I jumped at it and couldn’t be happier about the decision!

Let me explain why the city of Warsaw deserves more love and attention, not just from the locals :) I had JayWay Travel show me the place (together with Wroclaw), and also met a local blogger friend who helped uncover even more layers.

So what is it about Warsaw? Let’s go one by one:

1. One of the best places to learn about (not only) Polish History, especially:

World War II (1939 – 1945)

At the onset of the 20th century, Warsaw flourished. Pre-war Warsaw even used to be referred to as ‘the Paris of the North’ by the Soviets. But with the onset of World War II the history of Warsaw Poland got darker.

In 1939 Nazi Germany invaded Poland and bombed Warsaw heavily. Back then, about 30% of the population, about half a million people, were Jewish.

Hitler had them all herded into the so called Ghetto of Warsaw, from which they were eventually transported to concentration camps.

Visit Warsaw Ghetto and see what's left of the Jewish buildings in Warsaw Poland
Remnants of Buildings in Warsaw’s Jewish Ghetto
Fragments of walls in the Jewish Ghetto Warsaw Poland
Fragments of walls left behind in Warsaw’s Jewish Ghetto.

In 1943 the Jews rebelled but their protests were severely crushed. At that time the Warsaw ghetto district was essentially flattened. Only a church and a few wall fragments survived.

It’s interesting to note that after the war, new development was built right on top of the flattened rubble. Can you imagine? I can highly recommend a Warsaw ghetto visit to learn even more about its history.

If you love movies, check out The Pianist – it’s based on a true story of a local Jewish pianist.

In addition to visiting the actual sites, you can also pay a visit to the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, locally referred to as POLIN.

Mural in the former Jewish Ghetto Warsaw Poland
A mural in the former Jewish Ghetto, which was developed on top of the rubble after flattening the district.

Warsaw Uprising (1944)

In the wake of the Red Army advance in 1944 Warsaw saw a massive local uprising. Again, it was severely crushed as the Germans retook the city and demolished it.

Stalin, the Soviet leader at the time, decided to do nothing. Around 700,000 people died during the German occupation.

It was a year later when the Soviets finally liberated Warsaw.

Warsaw Uprising Monument
The main Warsaw Uprising Monument

There are many reminders of the Uprising with the main memorial dubbed ‘Warsaw Uprising Monument’ by the Krasiński Square.

In the Old Town, you’ll also find a statue of a young boy – the ‘Little Insurrectionist’ (Mały Powstaniec). It commemorates the child soldiers who fought in the Warsaw Uprising and perished.

Young soldier monument in Warsaw Poland
Young soldier monument commemorating Warsaw Uprising

Every year, the Polish capital remembers the Uprising with a minute of silence. At 5pm on August 1 sirens let the Poles know it’s time to remember the past.

The city stands still for a minute while locals pay tribute to the insurgents. See the short video to understand what it’s like:

You can learn even more in the Warsaw Rising Museum.

Warsaw Pact (1955)

After the war came the Warsaw Pact, which was essentially a military partnership to counterbalance the power of emerging NATO. Countries in the Warsaw Pact entailed the Soviet Union and 7 Soviet satellite states of Central and Eastern Europe.

In my home country (Czech Republic) the Warsaw Pact carries a bitter taste, as it was the troops of Warsaw Pact countries that invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968 and put a bloody end to a hopeful and prosperous era known as the Prague Spring. It was the only military action of the Warsaw Pact countries (minus Romania and Albania).

Learn more about the Warsaw Pact here on Wikipedia.

Castle Square in Old Town Warsaw Poland
Castle Square: Only the building on the far right survived the WW2 bombing.
Holes from Warsaw bombing
Reminders of the war on the walls of Warsaw

Communism (until 1989)

The Soviet presence largely changed the look of Warsaw. The streets were made bigger, large housing projects were built, and a few communist landmarks sprung up.

You won’t be able to miss the Palace of Culture and Science, sometimes nicknamed ‘Stalin’s erection’. The Palace, which was essentially built for the people, featured concert halls, a theater and a swimming pool.

If you look at it, you’ll see inspiration from some American skyscrapers of that time. To me, they resembled ones that I’ve seen in Chicago.

Palace of Science and Culture Warsaw Poland
Stalin’s monstrous Palace of Science and Culture

Nowadays, the palace remains a source of controversy, since it’s a relic of the Soviet past and it still visually dominates the city. It happens to be the tallest building in the whole Poland.

Some people want to see it torn down, while some see it as an important part of history that shouldn’t be forgotten.

If you come to Warsaw via the Central Station, you won’t be able to miss it.

We were able to learn about the Communist history on a Communist tour, while driving around the city in a repurposed communist van. It was a lot of fun even despite the lack of A/C :)

The tour was a private one provided by JayWay’s partner Warsaw Behind the Scenes

If you won’t go on a tour and will rather walk everywhere on foot, then you’ll need the best walking shoes for that.

Communist tour of Warsaw Poland
This is the retro minivan we discovered the Communist side of Warsaw with.

Read more about Warsaw’s history on Wikipedia.

If you’re not familiar with what it was like to live in the Communist times, go check out the ‘Life Under Communism’ Museum.

2. Beautiful (and small) Old Town

No, I’m not comparing Warsaw’s Old Town to any other city. I know, it’s not fully original, since the city was bombed so badly that only about 15% of the buildings could be saved.

Nowadays, these serve as the main attractions in Warsaw.

Even UNESCO praised the rebuilding of Warsaw’s Old Town and had it inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1980. So rest assured that they did a good job with the restoration.

Old Town Square Warsaw Poland
Picturesque houses in Warsaw’s Old Town Square
Details on Old Town House Warsaw Poland
Details on a house in the Old Town. Any guesses who might have lived in this particular house?

Mermaid Statue

In the heart of the Old Town, in the middle of the Old Town Square, sits a statue of a mermaid called Syrenka Warszawska in Polish. A mermaid has become a symbol of Warsaw and is actually on the coat of arms too.

Legend has it that a mermaid was just passing by and decided to take a rest. She liked it so much that she stayed. Local fishermen fell in love with her and when a rich merchant trapped her, they saved her. Ever since then the mermaid, armed with a sword and a shield, has been protecting the city.

What the mermaid was up to during the war remains a history. Perhaps she was on holiday?

Mermaid Statue Old Town Warsaw Poland
A statue of mermaid with a sword and a shield protecting Warsaw

Warsaw Castle

If you like castles, the Royal Castle in Warsaw is for you. Originally the seat of Polish monarchs, the castle too suffered serious damage following the events of the 1944 Uprising.

Nowadays, the Castle houses the ‘Royal Castle Museum’ with a permanent exhibition of oriental carpets and other oriental decorative art.

Warsaw Castle Poland
Warsaw Castle dominates the Castle Square

Warsaw Barbican

When visiting the Old Town, be sure to check out also the fortifications – the Barbican. It connects the Old and New Towns of Warsaw.

It was built in the 16th century but was not really used for its original defense purpose, due to quick advances in artillery. It had to be rebuilt after the destruction of Warsaw together with the Old Town.

Warsaw Barbican Poland
A defence tower forming a part of the Warsaw Barbican walling the city off from enemies.

For the best views of the Old Town, climb to the top of St. Anna’s Church Warsaw located right at the Castle Square. The tower opens at 10am and the entrance costs 6 zloty.

View of Warsaw's Castle Square from St. Anna Church
View of the Castle Square from St. Anna Church
Veronika in Warsaw Old Town
Hello from Warsaw Old Town!

The Old Town is a must, even if you have just 2 days in Warsaw.

3. Warsaw is so Green!

30% of Warsaw is made up of greenery, with a total of 79 parks! What other capital has that? I found it hard to believe but it’s actually true :)

Greenery in Warsaw Poland
I told you – Warsaw is GREEN!

Warsaw’s largest park, the Łazienki-Krolewskie park, is located just a 10 minute bus ride away from the main square. There used to be a bathing pavilion there, from which the park derives its name – the Royal Baths Park.

Apart from strolling the park for hours on end, if you have time, you shouldn’t leave out the King’s Palace built on a lake. This was King Stanisław August’s summer residence.

Also the monument to Chopin is worth seeing. I only had 10 minutes for the whole park, so I ran around like a crazy person and completely missed most of it.

King's Summer Palace in Lazienki Park Warsaw Poland
King’s Summer Palace in Lazienki Park
(photo by Kami of www.mywanderlust.pl)

Some other parks worth visiting, most of them located near city center Warsaw, are:

  • Mokotów Field
  • Skaryszewski – near Praga district
  • Wilanów Park
  • Saxon Garden Park
  • Ujazdów Park

4. Food, Coffee & Bar Scene

Warsaw took me by surprise, when it came to food. I didn’t expect such a variety and a mix of both traditional and trendy flavors!

The food scene has developed tremendously in the last few years and I wouldn’t hesitate to call it a foodie’s paradise.

Here are some places I can highly recommend you try:

Real Polish food

From milk bars to more fancy restaurants, real Polish food is everywhere. And that’s good, because the Poles certainly do have some cuisine to be proud of.

From pierogi (dumplings) to simple zapiekanki (half of a baguette baked in with yummy toppings), you should try as many things as you can. Everything is a bit heavy, though!

Pierogi at the Polka Restaurant Warsaw Poland
Pierogi at the Polka Restaurant

Milk Bar Familijny (Bar Mleczny Familijny)

Milk bars in Poland are places with a very ordinary look, which shouldn’t put you off, though. Here’s the recipe:

Enter, look past the occassional rough service, and enjoy a meal like you would get from a Polish grandma.

One of the best milk bars in Warsaw close to the city center is Bar Mleczny Familijny. It lies on Warsaw’s Nowy Świat (New World) Road, just about 2-3 bus stops away (or 20 minute walk) from the Castle Square.

See it on TripAdvisor

View of Nowy Swiat Road Capital Warsaw
View of Nowy Swiat Road from the Castle Square and Warsaw’s skyscraper cityscape :)

Pyzy Flaki Gorące

Nothing sounds familiar in this restaurant’s name, right? :) The bistro specializes in pierogy in a jar! A modern take on the traditional pierogi, here you’ll get a small mason jar containing pierogi with the ‘filling’ on top instead of on the inside.

We tried a variety of flavors and loved them all. Perhaps these could be the best pierogy in Warsaw! The bistro is located near the Praga district.

See it on TripAdvisor

Pierogi in Pyzy Flaki Gorace Bistro Warsaw Poland
You can’t see it but there are pierogi in those mason jars! Yumminess from Pyzy Flaki Gorace Bistro.

Restauracja Polka

The high-end restaurant will amaze you as soon as you enter. The arched interior with intricate wall paintings and décor plays to the senses even before the excellent food arrives.

I was feeling a little under the weather when we had our dinner there, but my soup and salad were still so delicious that they awoke my numb taste buds.

You can, but don’t have to, eat traditional Polish food here. Many meals are based on traditional recipes but feature a modern twist.

See it on TripAdvisor

Polka Restaurant Warsaw Poland
Polka Restaurant – beautiful not only on the outside
Inside Polka Restaurant Warsaw Poland
Inside Polka Restaurant. Lovely decor, right?

If you need a more in-depth food guide, check out this whole article on the best Polish food.

International flavors

Hala Koszyki

A trendy market hall recently reopened after 100 years features 18 different restaurants and bistros!

You get yourself a drink, pick a seat wherever your heart desires, and then stroll around until some special food calls your name :)

This ‘hipsterish’ dining experience, the variety of food on offer and the laid-back atmosphere makes it a favorite option among locals. It’s a little far to walk there from the city center, so use a bus or a taxi.

See it on TripAdvisor

Inside Hala Koszyki Warsaw Poland
Inside Hala Koszyki. It looks quite cool, right?

Warszawa Powiśle

Now this is something even more unique. Imagine an old train station turned into a funky bar / restaurant and you’ve got Warszawa Powiśle.

They make breakfast here, as well as pierogy. However the main draw is the space and the atmosphere. So come here in the evening, grab a beer and do some people-watching. Good fun is guaranteed.

See it on TripAdvisor

Warszawa Powiśle Bar & Restaurant Poland
A restaurant & bar in a repurposed abandoned train station. How cool is that?

Vegan options

Don’t be afraid to go vegan in Warsaw, as the city has a surprising number of options.

I had a delicious dinner from a Mango Vegan Bistro at the above-mentioned Hala Koszyki, which also has a few other locations around the town. The Loving Hut vegan restaurant chain can also be found in Warsaw.

Cafés in Warsaw

There’s a plethora of cafés in Warsaw. From the typical touristy ones in the heart of the Old Town, to more sophisticated places with quality brews.

Cafés in Warsaw city center

You won’t make a mistake by going to the popular coffee chains – be it Costa Coffee or Café Nero, both located just off the Castle Square.

Cafés outside of Warsaw city center

Venturing out of the center can make things a lot more interesting! If you find yourself on the Nowy Świat thoroughfare, you’ll have a lot of café options.

One good example is Wrzenie Świata, a cool bookstore and a café in one.

Wrzenie Świata Bookstore & Cafe Warsaw Poland
Wrzenie Świata Bookstore & Cafe: If I lived in Warsaw, I’d be there all the time!

Bars in Warsaw

During the super short amount of time I had in Warsaw, a fellow blogger and a friend, Kami from MyWanderlust.pl, showed me a lot of cool places.

The few amazing-looking bars that we peeked into were:

PiwPaw Beer Heaven

If you like cool pubs with a large variety of beers on tap, this is your place.

PiwPaw Pub Warsaw Poland
PiwPaw Pub with walls covered in beer caps :D

Pawilony Nowy Świat

An even higher concentration of bars and ‘hole in the wall’ places can be found at the Pawilony Nowy Świat, just off the Nowy Świat Road.

Try out e.g. Naprawa or Klaps and let me know how you liked your drinks!

5. Authentic Quirky Side of Warsaw

I just love Warsaw’s quirky side. It’s everything. It’s traditional, it’s authentic, it’s trendy and it’s all blended together. If you came not just for sightseeing but also to have fun in Warsaw, the quirkiness will tickle your fancy.

For example:

  • The main Nowy Świat Road starts off with a fake palm tree. ‘What the hell?’ was my first reaction but after learning that it was a fun art installment that became so popular among locals that it remained as a permanent installment, I quickly changed my opinion :)
  • Street art is plentiful and randomly located. Most of it is in the Praga district, which has enough alternative places on its own.
  • There exists a Neon Museum. If you’re curious about the 60 neon signs from the Cold War era they have on display, go check it out and let me know how you liked it :)

 

Palm tree in Warsaw Poland
Palm tree marking the start of Nowy Swiat Road. Weird but fun :)
Random Mural in Warsaw Poland
A random mural in Warsaw. There must be some story behind, though…
Praga District Warsaw Poland
Praga District: Street art, alternative spaces and a bit of roughness around the edges

6. Top Quality Easily Available

If you’re expecting top quality, be it in accommodation or food or services, you can find it in the Polish capital.

Of course, don’t just go to the most alternative areas and expect top-notch service. But when e.g. looking at accommodation, 5-star hotels are no exception here.

I stayed at the boutique hotel Mamaison Hotel Le Regina and the quality was impeccable. The walk-in bathroom had so much space you could nearly dance around.

What I was most fond off, though, was the breakfast. I’m a sucker for hotel breakfasts. Here there were so many delicious and fresh things to taste that I struggled each morning to make a choice. Highly recommended!

Room at Mamaison Le Regina Hotel Warsaw Poland
My room at Mamaison Le Regina Hotel. Too bad the amazing fruit bowl on the table is barely visible on the photo.

7. Visit Warsaw for Chopin’s Legacy

Did you know that the world-famous composer Frédéric Chopin spent half of his life in Warsaw? That’s right!

Even though he was not born in Warsaw, he was only a few months old when the family moved. It’s during his 20 years in Warsaw that the young Frederic developed his incredible talent.

His first performances were in salons of Warsaw aristocrats at the young age of 8 and ultimately in the Warsaw National Theater. And Warsovians are particularly proud of that.

He had to flee his homeland because of war and eventually ended up in France; that’s why the French sometimes appropriate his legacy as well.

Chopin monument in Lazienki Park Warsaw Poland
A Chopin monument in Lazienki Park

So how can you trace the heritage of Frederic Chopin in Warsaw?

  • Chopin’s benches: A fun project that immediately caught my eye/ear. There are benches scattered around the town that play Chopin’s compositions on the press of a button. How clever :)
  • Chopin’s Airport: If you fly in or out of Warsaw, you’ll go through the airport which is named after Chopin himself.
  • Chopin monument Warsaw: The main monument of Chopin, in larger-than-life size, was placed in the Łazienki Park already in 1926. Since the park is well worth visiting in its own right, you need to go there and why not visit Chopin’s monument too, right? In addition, there are often concerts held there and they’re supposedly amazing.
  • Chopin mural: And then there are the more subtle Chopin sights, like the giant mural located on the street Tamka 37.
  • Fryderyk Chopin Museum Warsaw: This is the ultimate place where you should go to learn about the genius of Chopin and about his life.

 

frederic chopin warsaw - mural
You might come across a Chopin-dedicated mural – there are at least two in the city.

See all Chopin-related places on a handy map here.

8. Polish Vodka Museum

In my humble opinion, the Polish Vodka Museum is quite a unique feature of Warsaw. As the new museum proudly claims, this is the ‘only Polish Vodka Museum in the world!’ :)

The museum is modern and interactive. You’ll be able to play with rye, wheat or barley, to watch the whole distilling process nearly live and learn about the vodka making history in Poland.

The liquor became popular in this corner of the world in the 17th century already.

I need to repeat this – the museum is interactive! That means you can also learn a few funky ways to say ‘cheers’, you can learn some interesting stories tied to drinking and even try on goggles that’ll distort your vision as if you were drunk!

Polish Vodka Museum Warsaw Poland
Inside the Polish Vodka Museum

At the end of the visit, there’s an optional vodka tasting. We tasted 3 samples of vodka made from rye, wheat and potatoes.

The shots are fortunately quite small, but still it felt wild to be downing shots in the middle of the day :D My ‘favorite’ was the potato one, as it was the smoothest.

This museum is definitely one of the most fun places to visit in Warsaw :)

Vodka tasting in Polish Vodka Museum Warsaw
The vodkas we tasted… Luksusowa was the smoothest!

See other cool things to do in Warsaw here.

9. Easy Transport Options

It’s just so easy to get around Warsaw, you don’t need to rent a car at all. The best way to go about it is to position yourself strategically, ideally near the Old Town like we did at the Mamaison Hotel Le Regina.

From there you can walk to the city center and use the public transport to go further. There are:

  • Buses
  • Trams
  • Metro
  • Taxis and Uber :)

It’s pretty straightforward with the tickets, you can buy a ticket per single ride or e.g. a daily one. It only costs a couple of zlotys.

And if you love cycling, you can make use of Warsaw’s plentiful city rental bikes.

Castle Square Warsaw Poland
Afternoon in Warsaw’s Castle Square. I need to go back one day!

10. Warsaw is a Student City

Warsaw ranks as the top city in Poland with the highest no. of students. That’s perhaps not unheard of since it’s the capital, but that fact gives the city yet another cool angle.

It manifests itself mainly in all the fun places to go. Students love hanging out by the river, where there are many open bars and a few sun chairs scattered around.

Some of the universities are housed in impressive buildings. E.g. the lucky students coming to the University Library can enjoy breathtaking views of the city from the Library rooftop, which is a wonderful lush green oasis.

Warsaw, however, doesn’t turn into a ghost town once the students are gone for the summer holiday. I visited in August and didn’t even notice :)

On top of University Library Warsaw Poland
On top of Warsaw’s University Library: Views & Greenery

 

I must say I really loved the city, and I barely scratched the surface! Imagine what lies further… Well, I’ll be happy to report on that on my next visit :)

 

Have you been to Warsaw? Or any other place in Poland? Tell me about your experience in the comments.

 

Disclosure: Veronika of TravelGeekery visited Warsaw on a sponsored trip organized by the boutique tour company JayWay Travel. Her opinions are, as always, her own and unbiased.

 

Warsaw Poland is a surprising gem in the Central/Eastern Europe area. Visit the Jewish Ghetto, learn about the history, and admire the beautifully restored Old Town. But there are many other things to do in Warsaw Poland! Things like following in Chopin’s footsteps, admiring the greenery and the laid back style of local bars and cafés. Quality restaurants with authentic Polish food abound. I provide you with 10 solid reasons to visit Warsaw. You too should travel to Warsaw and discover this gem of a town in Poland. #warsaw #poland #europe #communism #history #cities    10 Solid Reasons why visit Warsaw Poland: Warsaw is a surprising gem in the Central/Eastern Europe area. Visit the Jewish Ghetto, learn about the history, and admire the beautifully restored Old Town. But there are many other things to do in Warsaw Poland! Things like following in Chopin’s footsteps, admiring the greenery and the laid back style of local bars and cafés. Quality restaurants with authentic Polish food abound. I provide you with 10 solid reasons to visit Warsaw. You too should travel to Warsaw and discover this gem of a town in Poland. #warsaw #poland #europe #communism #history #cities    Warsaw Poland is a surprising gem in the Central/Eastern Europe area. Visit the Jewish Ghetto, learn about the history, and admire the beautifully restored Old Town. But there are many other things to do in Warsaw Poland! Things like following in Chopin’s footsteps, admiring the greenery and the laid back style of local bars and cafés. Quality restaurants with authentic Polish food abound. I provide you with 10 solid reasons to visit Warsaw. You too should travel to Warsaw and discover this gem of a town in Poland. #warsaw #poland #europe #communism #history #cities

18 thoughts on “Why Visit Warsaw Poland? 10 Reasons to Take the Polish Capital Seriously”

  1. I loved Poland when I visited it. The country has so much history, beautiful architecture and I learnt a lot about WWII, I was also not expecting the food to be so good and fresh!. I recommend visiting Poland to everyone now.

  2. Living in London and having Polish friends, going to Poland was a must for me. I went to Krakow in 2016 and I absolutely loved it. I am flying to Bydgoszcz next week. I will take a train to Torun. but Warsaw is still in my list. thanks for the guide.

  3. You have portrayed why to visit Warsaw marvellously. The place is awesome and i can enjoy freely across the Warsaw. Thanks for giving me a perfect destinations for next trip.

  4. I like traveling and having fun with my friends. We have recently set Warsaw as a goal. We’ve heard that they have great clubs and the most beautiful girls there, so we decided to check it ourselves. We chose the New Orleans Club and openly we can say that this is an amazing place … There really is a unique atmosphere. A great evening with unique memories. I will never forget it, it’s really worth it!

    • Hehe, good to hear, Oliv! Warsaw is a great nightlife destination too :) Hope you got to see some of the city as well! :)

  5. I once went to New Orleans Gentlemen’s Club and it was nice. I think Warsaw is the most interesting city. Because of all the history :)

  6. My friend and I are currently planning our Europe trip that we are taking next year. Warsaw is definitely a spot we would like to visit, but I am curious as to where you are from/where you have visited. You put a lot of detail into this city and would love to hear your input/advise on other cities.

    • Hello Jared, I’m Czech, based in Prague :) So yes, I have quite some knowledge on travelling in Europe, I’d say. Ask away! Preferably here, so that others can see it too.

  7. Hi guys! I am coming to Warsaw next weekend for a small city break and we’re focused on night life. We want to go to an elegant place where we can have a good time. One of you mentioned New Orleans Club. Has anyone been there? Thanks!

    • Hi Gregor, well, because of the nature of the club, I clearly haven’t been. It seems some guys who commented have been and liked it.

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