Once you’ve travelled around Poland, you realise this: Warsaw is different. Rather than being centred on an old market square, the capital is spread across a broad area with diverse architecture: restored Gothic, communist concrete, modern glass and steel. This jumble is a sign of the city’s tumultuous past.
Warsaw has suffered the worst history could throw at it, including virtual destruction at the end of World War II – and survived. Excellent museums interpret its complex story, from the joys of Chopin’s music to the tragedy of the Jewish ghetto.Warsaw’s restaurant and entertainment scene is the best in Poland. You can dine well and affordably here on cuisines from around the world, and take your choice of lively bars and clubs. This gritty city knows how to have fun.
What to do in Warsaw for 24h to 48h?
Places of Interest
This massive brick edifice, a copy of the original blown up by the Germans in WWII, began life as a wooden stronghold of the dukes of Mazovia in the 14th century. It is filled with period furniture and works of art.
Warsaw’s top palace is Wilanów (vee-lah-noof), 6km south of Łazienki. Wilanów changed hands several times over the centuries, and with every new owner it acquired a bit of Baroque here and a touch of neoclassical there.
Warsaw Rising Museum
One of Warsaw’s best, this museum traces the history of the city’s heroic but doomed uprising against the German occupation in 1944 via three levels of interactive displays, photographs, film archives and personal accounts.
Palace of Culture & Science
Love it or hate it, every visitor to Warsaw should visit the iconic, socialist realist PKiN .This ‘gift of friendship’ from the Soviet Union was built in the early 1950s, and at 231m high remains the tallest building in Poland. It’s home to a huge congress hall, theatres, a multiscreen cinema and museums. Take the high-speed lift to the 30th-floor (115m) observation terrace to take it all in.
Palace of Culture and Science
Pronounced wah-zhen-kee, this park is a beautiful place of manicured greens and wild patches. Its popularity extends to families, peacocks and fans of classical music, who come for the al fresco Chopin concerts on Sunday afternoons at noon and 4pm from mid-May through September.
Museum of the History of Polish Jews
This exceptional museum’s permanent exhibition opened in late 2014. Impressive multimedia exhibits document 1000 years of Jewish history in Poland, from accounts of the earliest Jewish traders in the region through waves of mass migration, progress and pogroms, all the way to WWII and the destruction of Europe’s largest Jewish community.
Old Town Square
At the centre of the partially walled Old Town (Stare Miasto), the Old Town Square is, for those with an eye for historic buildings, the loveliest square in Warsaw. It’s lined with tall houses exhibiting a fine blend of Renaissance, Baroque, Gothic and neoclassical elements; aside from the facades at Nos 34 and 36, all were reconstructed after destruction in WWII.
High-tech, multimedia museum within the Baroque Ostrogski Palace, showcasing the work of the country’s most famous composer. You’re encouraged to take your time through four floors of displays, including stopping by the listening booths in the basement where you can browse Chopin’s oeuvre to your heart’s content. Limited visitation is allowed each hour; your best bet is to book your visit in advance by phone or email.
Where to Eat?
Fabulous restaurant within a huge industrial building in the Soho Factory complex it serves a modern interpretation of Polish cuisine, with French influences. Mains are priced between 60zł and 80zł, so you can’t beat the 25zł three-course set lunch menu served noon to 4pm Monday to Friday.
Celebrity chef Magda Gessler loves to fit out her restaurants with folksy floral wallpaper and rustic wooden tables, and this Old Town venue is no exception. The decor accentuates the high-quality versions of traditional Polish food which issue from the kitchen, including blood sausage, pork shanks on cabbage, and crispy duck in honey. Some tables have views of Castle Sq.
Mango is a stylish all-vegan eatery with a simple contemporary interior and pleasant outdoor seating. Excellent menu items range from veggie burgers to mango sticky rice. The ‘Mango Plate’ (Talerz Mango) of hummus, mango, falafel, eggplant, olives, sweet peppers and harissa paste served with pita bread is top value at 22zł.
Charlotte Chleb i Wino
Dazzling French bakery and bistro facing Plac Zbawiciela. It dishes up tantalising croissants and pastries at the break of dawn, then transitions to big salads and crusty sandwiches through the lunch and dinner hours, and finally to wine on the terrace in the evening. Great value for money.
Where to Shop?
This huge antiques and bric-a-brac market, held on Sundays in the western suburb of Koło, sells everything from old farm implements and furniture to WWII relics such as rusted German helmets, ammo boxes and shell casings. You have to pick through the junk to find a bargain, but that’s half the fun.
Popular, very central mall behind Warszawa Centralna station, with almost every chain shop you can think of. Its distinctive curved glass roof is clearly visible near the Palace of Culture & Science
One of the most interesting shops in the Old Town, Lapidarium sells jewellery, folk art, religious art and militaria, including communist-era collectables such as medals and badges.
Talk about a mishmash of items: this shop sells Polish jewellery, carved stoneware and crafts, along with furniture, shells and even musical instruments from across the globe.
Nightlife in Warsaw!
If you’re weary of the weak filtered coffee of Central Europe, you’ll shed a happy tear when you enter this cool cafe within the sprawling Soho Factory compound in Praga. Excellent coffee is served in an atmospheric industrial interior, enhanced by the aroma of coffee beans being roasted on the premises.
Blue and purple light illuminates this space with comfy plush seating, mirrored ceilings, two bars and plenty of room to dance. Check out the extensive drinks menu, hit the dance floor or observe the action from a stool on the upper balcony. Wednesday night is ‘old school’ night, with music from the ’70s to the ’90s.
Phenomenally popular, this upstairs bar on Plac Zbawiciela draws a mix of students and young office workers. Find some couch space and relax to smooth beats from regular DJs. On warm summer evenings the action spills out onto the street, giving the square the feel of a summer block party.
If scarcity excites you, squeeze through the doors of this oh-so-cool club on the two nights of the week it’s open – Friday and Saturday. Low lighting gleams off pillars, retro decor and the shining faces of Warsaw’s beautiful people as they gyrate within the dance floor throng.