‘Phoenix City’ – a pseudonym that Warsaw earned as the world watched how it rose from piles of cinders and rubbles brought by the vicious reign of communist regime and World War II. Warsaw’s enduring beauty continued to evolve by embracing who it was before the war and who it had become after it.
Bullet holes can still be observed seared through brick walls when you meander around the streets of Praga; the unwanted gift of Stalin to Warsaw is still towering over the city; permanent exhibits serve as a reminder of Poland’s horrific past, symbols of Warsaw Uprising still scrawled on buildings, some even wear it like a badge on their skin.
But more to the somber history of Warsaw is a bustling city on both its feet serving great food at hipster-fied restaurants and milk bars, upholding lively Polish traditions and giving away warm smiles to tourists who come to pay a visit.
Take a trip to Warsaw and see how this city is rediscovering itself as a city worth a traveler’s time.
Most of the tourist attractions found in a tour guide map about Warsaw has a lot to do with World War II but you will be thrilled to know that you will stumble into a quirky relic every now and then.
Old Town Square – It’s every bit as stunning as an Old Town quintessential to this city’s history should be. Radiating a unique sense of history through its narrow cobbled streets and colourful buildings. Like most parts of the city, it has been rebuilt to its late-baroque appearance based on Bellotto’s 18th century paintings since 90% of it had been systematically blown up by the Germans immediately after the Warsaw Uprising.
Warsaw Barbican- erected in 1540, the Barbican is a part of the historic fortifications that once encircled Warsaw. It’s located between the Old and New Town.
The Royal Route (Trakt Krolewski) – further south from the Old Town, is a guaranteed route for any travellers to make the most out of their first day in Warsaw. This route is an 11-km stretch from the Old Town all the way to the palace complex in Wilanow.
– Retrospective Walk –
Street of Palaces
Royal Castle Square
Uruski and the Tyszkiewicz Palaces
Street of Churches
St. Anna’s Church
St. Joseph the Guardian’s Church
Holy Cross Church (Chopin’s and Reymont’s hearts are in the side pillar of the nave)
Street of Monuments
Monument of Adam Mickiewicz – the greatest romantic poet
Monument of Prince Jozef Poniatowski – one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s generals during the Battle of Leipzig
Monument of Nicholas Copernicus – astronomer
Warsaw’s Mermaid – coat of arms of Warsaw
Palace of Culture and Science – a.k.a Stalin’s Palace was a ‘gift’ of Joseph Stalin to Warsaw post-Soviet domination. Often considered a symbol of communist oppression, it is truly an out of place structure perched right in the heart of the city. Iconic as it may seem, I couldn’t help but feel I had stepped into a wormhole and onto a different city… Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Warsaw anymore.
Wilanów Palace – from Baroque Warsaw, is a royal palace tucked away in the Wilanów district. Serves as a reminder of the culture of the Polish state as it was before the 18th century war. It has a beautiful garden that speaks volumes about its European art inspiration with distinctive Polish building traditions.
Entrance: Free on Sundays
Warsaw Parks – this city takes pride of its well-tended green parks. You may want to slow down a bit and pop open a book at any of these parks: Łazienki Park, Ujazdów Park, Saxon Garden or Mokotów Field.
District of Praga – on the right side of the Vistula river is an interesting bohemian neighbourhood of Praga. This district boasts some of the oldest buildings in Warsaw and was relatively left intact after WWII. When in Praga, one must pass by Ząbkowska Street and Jagiellońska Street for some old school bars, hip outdoor restaurants and pre-war architecture spectacle. I got really lucky when I missed my tram stop and stumbled into this undefiled part of Warsaw (thank heavens for the gift of zoning out when in transit!)
Let it be known: Praga was once a no-go zone but with its emerging ‘underground’ scene that promises a transformation to a culture/nightlife/café hub, this reputation is going to be put to rest soon.
Warsaw has plenty of top-drawer museums for the history buff and art lover traveller. Here are some of Wander Jungle’s picks!
Warsaw Uprising Museum – if you want to better understand Warsaw’s history, start your trip with this particular museum. It is said that the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 was the biggest rebellion of its kind that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives. The museum captured just as that with the amount of historical accuracy represented by love letters, replicas, photographs, weapons and a hangar collection from pre-Uprising to all but annihilation of the city will send shivers down your spine.
Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews – was a highly anticipated state-of-the-art museum that finally launched in 2014. It meticulously showed the history of Jews in Poland from the medieval times to the present time (when antisemitism seems to be happening again in some parts of Europe).
Frederyk Chopin Museum – you can’t call yourself a classical audiophile and not spend some time in Chopin Museum. The museum has carefully crafted ways to stimulate any visitors senses from the music, to the smell of wood and mood lighting that bring you to a level of intimacy that is both soulful and invigorating.
Bonus ♦ Warsaw Neon Museum – situated in the hip Soho Factory complex, is a museum with fully lit installations of iconic neon signs gathered from all over Poland that dates back to the Soviet domination.
Polish cuisine has a mouthful (pun intended) of culinary influence from Czech, Lithuanian, German, Italian, French, Russian and Jewish cultures that makes Polish food rich, hearty and oh so tasty!
Must-Try Polish Food:
Zurek soup – fermented rye soup with sausage and egg
Barszcz czerwony – red beetroot soup or borscht
Golabki – stuffed cabbage rolls
Bigos – Hunter’s Stew with Polish kielbasa, pork and beef meats
Pierogi – stuffed dumplings
Zrazy – pork rolls with pickles and bacon
Kaczka pieczona z jablkami – baked duck with apples
Where to eat in Warsaw:
Zapiecek – a pierogarnia (restaurant that serves Polish dumplings or pierogi) that’s a mainstay in any traveller’s list headed to Warsaw. I had to sample at least 3 kinds of pierogi because there were too many to choose from! 😮
Stary Dom – learn more about Polish cuisine in this very welcoming restaurant with its unpretentious menu and cozy decor.
E. Wedel – best for breakfast or afternoon snack. They have the best hot chocolate in town and mouthwatering desserts!
Rózana – perfect for couples on date night. Fine dining set up with music and a courtyard gardens decked out with fresh flowers. Serves traditional Polish food with great wine selection.
φ Backpacker’s Saving Tip: Cutting back on those expenses? Try to eat at a traditional Polish milk bar. Food is humble and homely but the taste is equally satisfying.
What can you expect from a place that’s known to be the birthplace of vodka and has a famous penchant for cold brews? E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. Warsaw has nightlife on lockdown. You just have to research, research, research if you want to pull an all-nighter.
Got money to burn? Head out to Nowy Swiat, Plac Trzech Kryzy or Plac Pilsudskiego.
Not up for dressing up? Check out boho Praga district and socialize in this hip and trendy neighbourhood. Odds are, you might meet lots of cool locals here.
Down for the funk? Klub Balsam or Klubo Kawiarnia.
Afterparty? Try the unofficial afterparty venue, Eve.
Bed and Butter
Hostel prices – Hostel dorms average around 15-60 PLN, while private rooms cost 75-150 PLN, although this price varies by city. Hostels in the city centre are some of the most affordable.
Budget hotel prices – Budget hotels range from 125-580 PLN for a room with either single or double occupancy.
While I am a firm believer that there’s no such thing as a great time to experience a city, plenty of travellers will disagree since there are many factors to consider such as seat sales, weather conditions and current events. So I’m dedicating this part for control freak travellers out there (no hard feelings):
- high season: June to September
- low season: January to March, November
- shoulder season: April to May, October, December
There are quite a number of unmissable events in Warsaw during the summer like the Musical Garden Festival, Chopin’s concert, Mozart’s concerts, performance arts festivities and Warsaw Uprising anniversary. More info.
♦ Poland has produced plenty of the most revered personalities in the world: Nicolaus Copernicus, Frydyryk Chopin, Marie Curie, Catherine the Great, Pope John Paul II are only some of them.
If you’re a fan and want to acquaint yourself with your Polish hero, I suggest you take a walk to where your hero(es) used to hang out, where they used to live or where they’re dearly remembered.
♦ Warsaw Pass – not enough time to create your itinerary? Perhaps the Warsaw pass can help you with that.
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Warsaw is in an exciting phase of rediscovering its character as evidenced by its cultural resurgence.
It’s safe to say that this Phoenix City, is once again as glorious as ever!