When we visited Warsaw in 2016, we were initially attracted by the cheap flights and accommodation. We didn’t quite know what to expect from this survivor of the Communist era but thought it worth the risk. It didn’t take us long, however, to be impressed with Warsaw. A modern city, but one which has cherished its links to the past. Krakow, Warsaws southern cousin, quite understandably receives huge crowds of tourists. However, for the discerning traveller, Warsaw is an unbeatable alternative. Indeed, we loved Warsaw so much, we went back the next year!
Locations Mentioned In this Travel Guide
5 Unmissable Attractions:
Old Town –We have spent many hours walking through Warsaw’s Old Town, and, if we are lucky enough to visit Warsaw again, we will no doubt spend even more time soaking up this visually captivating area. Amazingly, the heart of Warsaw was virtually destroyed during World War 2, and it is a testament to the pride and labour of Poland that the Old Town was meticulously reconstructed. Indeed, when the work was completed in 1984, it was placed on the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. We found that the Old Town Market Square was the jewel in the crown and looks exactly as it would have done in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Address: Warsaw Old Town, Warsaw, Poland
Warsaw Uprising Museum (Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego)– In many ways, it is difficult to escape the effect of World War 2 on Warsaw when visiting the city. One of the most significant actions of the war was the Warsaw Uprising, when the civilian population rose up against its Nazis occupiers towards the end of the war. The Warsaw Uprising Museum was opened on the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of fighting in Warsaw. The exhibition depicts fighting and everyday life during the Rising and can be a little harrowing at times. The museum is large – it even has a replica Liberator B-24J bomber in the centre – and you should plan to spend around three hours there. There is a chronological flow to the museum, so make sure you follow the signs!
Address: Grzybowska 79, Warsaw
Royal Castle (Zamek Królewski w Warszawie) – Dominating the beautiful, wide open space of Castle Square, is the former residence of the Polish monarchs. Like much of the Old Town, the Royal Castle was reconstructed following World War 2. The self-guided tour takes around an hour and gives you an idea of the luxury that the Polish Kings enjoyed during the 18th century. An interesting fact that we found out was that the first ever European codified national constitution was signed here in 1791, just four years after the US. Following the visit, it is also worth checking out the side of the castle that faces the river, as it can be easy to miss this lovely vista.
Address: plac Zamkowy 4, 00-277 Warsaw
POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews (Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich POLIN) – This modern, well laid out museum presents the thousand-year history of Polish Jews. There is a great deal to see and read, so plan to spend up to three hours in the museum. The museum won the 2016 European Museum of the Year Award from the European Museum Forum and it is easy to see why. It is hard to miss, but make sure that you also visit the Jewish Ghetto Memorial at the front of the museum during your visit.
Address: Anielewicza 6, 00-157 Warsaw
Wilanow Palace – This sprawling palace, set in beautifully manicured gardens was a delight to visit. Opened as a museum in 1805, it was actually one of the first museums in Poland and displays the furnishings and valuables of two Polish kings – John III Sobieski and Augustus II. The palace is located to the south, outside the centre of Warsaw, however, it is well connected by public buses and we found taxis to be very cheap in Warsaw.
Address: Stanisława Kostki Potockiego 10/16, 02-958 Warsaw
10 Hidden Gems
Katyn Museum (Muzeum Katyńskie) – The Katyn Museum documents the shocking events of 1940 when around 20,000 Polish officers were executed by their Soviet captors in the middle of a Russian forest. The museum is housed in part of a fortress, just to the north of the Old Town, however, it is quite off the tourist track, so doesn’t receive the attention that it deserves.
Address: Dymińska 13, 01-783 Warsaw
Jewish Cemetery (Cmentarz Zydowski)–The Jewish Cemetery is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in Europe and in the world. It was established in 1806 and contains over 200,000 marked graves, as well as mass graves of victims of the Warsaw Ghetto. Had it not been raining hard during our visit, we could have easily spent an hour or so wondering around, checking out the different styles of grave stones and mausoleums.
Address: Okopowa 49/51, 01-043 Warsaw
Warsaw Fotoplastikon (Fotoplastikon Warszawski) – The Warsaw Fotoplastikon is a stereoscopic theatre based on the Kaiserpanorama system of rotating stereoscopic images. Don’t let the description put you off, as we found this antique machine very interesting. The images shown are a great historical archive. Operating at the same location since 1905, it is the oldest stereoscopic theatre in Europe still in business at its original location. The Warsaw Fotoplastikon has 24 fixed stereoscopic viewports. The building is set back from the road, within a courtyard, so make sure you keep a look out for the signage.
Address: Aleje Jerozolimskie 51, Warsaw
Fragment of Ghetto Wall – The fragment of Ghetto Wall is the only bit that remains of the Jewish ghetto, and is hidden in the backyard of a housing estate. The address takes you to a row of small shops, but there is a narrow lane between them, which then leads into the tenement courtyards.
Address: Złota 62, Warsaw
Neon Museum (Muzeum Neonów) – The Neon Museum can be found in the Bohemian district of Praga. We were surprised to learn about the history of Polish neon signs and its cultural importance during the Communist era. It is also a visually stunning museum, great for an Instagram shot or two!
Address: Mińska 25, Warsaw
Field Cathedral of the Polish Army – Warsaw and Poland in general is a place of stunning churches and cathedrals, both big and small. This cathedral doesn’t seem to get the attention from travellers that it deserves, perhaps because there are so many other things to see in the Old Town. However, it is well worth a twenty minute visit to see its beautiful altar and can be found directly across from the Warsaw Uprising Monument.
Address: Długa 13/15, Warsaw
Museum of Gas Industry – The Museum of Gas Industry is one of the best preserved industrial complexes of historical architecture from the late 19th and early 20th century. It is, however, the most difficult to find of all the places we visited in Warsaw, but don’t let this put you off. Go to the entrance of the PGNiG compound (the state Oil & Gas company) and request access to the museum. The museum is housed in the former compressor and pump building constructed in 1888 which was used to supply the compressed gas to users and has a fascinating exhibition. Outside the museum, the buildings of the old gas works, some well preserved, others derelict, offer a great piece of industrial history.
Address: Kasprzaka 25, Warsaw
Keret House (Dom Kereta) – Keret House was designed by Polish architect Jakub Szczesny and is the narrowest house in the world. So narrow, you could easily walk past it without realising what it was! The building measures only 92 centimetres at its narrowest point.
Address: It is precariously located between buildings at 22 Chłodna street and 74 Żelazna streets.
Praski Park Bears – Walking through the hip suburb of Praga, we checked out the famous Praski Park Bears. They have lived on a concrete island in Praski Park since 1949. Don’t be too disappointed, however, if they are asleep and well-hidden like they were during our visit!
Address: aleja Solidarności 61, 00-001 Warsaw
Frederick Chopin Museum – Classical music lovers will find many references to Frederick Chopin throughout Warsaw, and if you visit in August, as we have done in the past, you can take in some of the many concerts held throughout the city during his commemorative festival. The Frederick Chopin Museum should always be the first stop of the traveller, however, in order to fully appreciate the man’s life and talents. The museum is housed in the Ostrogski Palace, a baroque-classical jewel of a building.
Address: Okólnik 1, Warsaw
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Where to Eat:
Stary Dom Restaurant– Stary Dom Restaurant is out with the centre of Warsaw, near Chopin Airport, however, this traditional restaurant is well worth finding. Also make sure you try something from their onsite bakery – pure indulgence!
Address: Puławska 104/106, 02-001 Warsaw
Folk Gospoda– Folk Gospoda is a rustic inn with wooden beams, tables & floors, an open hearth & menu of traditional Polish cuisine.
Address: Waliców 13, 00-865 Warsaw
Delicja Polska – Delicja Polska is an elegant restaurant serving traditional Polish cuisine. Located on the south side of the Castle Square, this is a perfect stop after visiting the Old Town.
Address: Krakowskie Przedmieście 64, Warsaw
Zapiecek – This chain of restaurants is the ideal way to sample Poland’s signature dish of pierogis (dumplings).
Address: Freta 1, 00-227 Warsaw
BrowArmia Królewska – BrowArmia Królewska is a brick-walled basement brewpub serving 12 craft beers & a menu of Polish & international dishes.
Address: Królewska 1, Warsaw
Where to Stay:
Ibis Warszawa Stare Miasto – Budget Price – Located just a 10 minute walk north of the Old Town, this hotel is a plain, but excellent choice for visitors to Warsaw.
Address: Muranowska 2, 00-209 Warszawa, Poland
Warsaw Marriott Hotel– Moderate Price – Located in the modern centre of Warsaw, the Marriott is ideally placed for many of the city’s attractions. The hotel also boasts the Panorama Sky Bar, which gives fantastic views over the city and especially the Palace of Culture.
Address: al. Jerozolimskie 65/79, 00-697 Warsaw
Hotel Bristol – Luxury – Located next to the Presidential Palace, the Hotel Bristol offers luxury right in the heart of Warsaw.
Electricity: Electricity is 230 volts AC, 50Hz and the power plugs and sockets are of type E.
Currency: Złoty (PLN; symbol zł) = 100 groszy. Notes are in denominations of zł200, 100, 50, 20 and 10. The coins are in denominations of zł5, 2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 groszy.
Language: Polish is the official language. There are a few small German-speaking communities primarily in the southwest. English and, increasingly less so, Russian are also spoken. French is also popular.
Telephone dialing code: +48
Emergency numbers: The 112 emergency number is an all-service number.
Public Transport: Warsaw has an efficient integrated public transport network. Metro trains run north to south along the west bank of the Vistula River, buses connect the suburbs to the centre, and trams go to all corners of the city. Tickets can be purchased from stations, ticket machines on platforms, bus drivers and many shops and kiosks. Remember to validate your ticket in the franking machine when you board buses or trams. For sightseeing, ZTM passes offer unlimited travel for one to seven days.
Transport – Taxis: Official taxis in Warsaw are metered and reliable. Look for the ‘taxi’ sign on the roof and the mermaid symbol on the doors. Be wary of unofficial taxis charging elevated fares at tourist hotspots. Reputable radio taxi companies include MPT (tel: 022 19191) and Sawa Taxi (tel: 022 644 4444).
Climate: Warsaw’s climate is temperate with warm (often very hot) summers, crisp, sunny autumns and cold winters. Rain falls throughout the year. The most pleasant times to visit are late spring and early summer (mid-May-June) and late summer and early autumn (September and October).
Water: Mains water is normally chlorinated, and while relatively safe may cause mild abdominal upsets. Bottled water is available everywhere.
Shopping: What to buy in Warsaw:
Żubrówka – bison grass vodka
Cuisine: What to try in Warsaw:
Borscht – beetroot soup
Zurek – soup which includes sausage and egg
Smalec – lard, served with bread
Kielbasa – sausage
Gołąbki – minced meat, onions and rice wrapped in a cabbage leaf
Pierogis – sweet or savoury dumplings
Golonka Pieczona – roasted pork knuckle
Bigos (Hunter’s Stew) – cabbage, sauerkraut, tomatoes, onions and meat
Smoking:Smoking is banned in public places, including railway stations, restaurants and bars.
Tipping: Tipping is expected for good service in restaurants. The norm is to tip around 10% of the bill. The tipping etiquette when taking a taxi is to tip 10%.
Safety: Overall, Warsaw is a safe city where violent crime almost doesn’t exist. There is a small risk of being pickpocketed.