Warsaw is a truly fascinating city with its Old and New Towns, protected old architecture alongside modern shopping malls, and love of culture mingled with a Communist disdain for all things beautiful, the city is a mixture of numerous influences and historic events. Constantly evolving and changing – while fiercely mindful of its turbulent past – there are many ways to explore this uniquely Eastern European city.
Get the most out of your holiday in Warsaw with a well planned sightseeing tour of the city. The secret to sightseeing in Warsaw is to plot your movements with the precision of a military general. This is because things are grouped together in several blocks or streets, and then the next area of interest is somewhere at the other end of the city, also jam-packed full of things to do, see, buy and eat.
Old Town (Stare Miasto)
This is the historic center and oldest part of the city, which was founded in the 13th century as the Prince's castle. During World War II, 90% of it was destroyed, but thanks to its excellent restoration and recovery, in 1980 it was granted the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Culture. Currently, it is a lively place, bustling with tourists and locals, and full of galleries, cafés and restaurants. You will find our Warsaw accommodation is a convenient 5 minutes drive from the Old Town.
- Royal Castle (Zamek Królewski). Built in the 13th century, this castle served as residence of Mazovian princes. The castle has been renovated repeatedly and it was destroyed completely during World War II. Today, the segment with the clock tower opens the way to the Old Town.
- Old Town Market Square (Rynek Starego Miasta). This is one of the most picturesque corners of the city. All its buildings were reconstructed after WWII and their appearance is a perfect match to the Square's original look in the 17th and 18th centuries.
- Monument of the Little Insurgent (Pomnik Małego Powstańca). Moving sculpture of a small boy with a helmet much too large for him; it commemorates the Warsaw Uprising's youngest victims.
The Center (Centrum)
Palace of Culture and Science (Pałac Kultury i Nauki) pl. Defilad 1, Information: tel. +48 22 656 76 00, booking: tel. +48 22 656 74 28 www.pkin.pl Though just barely 50 years old, this is the tallest and most characteristic building in Warsaw. Standing at 234.5 meters and with more than 3,000 rooms, its unquestionable attraction is the terrace at the 30th floor, from which you can admire a magnificent panorama of the capital.
Frederic Chopin's Warsaw
"Born in Warsaw, a Pole at heart, with the talent of a world citizen."- Cyprian Norwid
Chopin's music has become a symbol of national culture – and the year 2010 was declared 'The Year of Chopin'.
- Minor Basilica of the Holy Cross (Bazylika Mniejsza pw. Świętego Krzyża), ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 3, www.swkrzyz.pl Chopin died in France and a burial in his native land was not possible, therefore, his sister Ludwika - according to Chopin's expressed desire to have his heart laid to rest in a free Poland - brought just his heart to Warsaw. Today, the urn rests in the Basilica of the Holy Cross, in the pillar on the far left side of the nave.
- Frederic Chopin Museum – Ostrogsky Castle (Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina – Zamek Ostrogskich), ul. Okólnik 1, tel. +48 22 826 59 35, +48 22 827 54 73, www.nifc.pl Opening hours Museum: Tuesday - Sunday 12:00 - 20:00 Ticket Office: Monday - Sunday 11:00 - 20:00. The museum in the renovated Ostrogski Palace is the most modern biographical museum in Europe. The ticket to enter is actually an electronic card; by using it, one may hear commentary and information in several languages, and listen to music. This museum was specifically designed so that everyone can create their own sightseeing route and itinerary, in accordance with their personal interests.
- Frederic Chopin Monument (Pomnik Fryderyka Chopina). The monument stands near the main entrance to Łazienki Park, when entering from Aleje Ujazdowskie, and it is one of the most recognisable and most often photographed places in Warsaw.
For those who enjoy walking, a tour of Jewish Warsaw is possible to do in a single morning. The Ghetto Heroes Monument (Pomnik Bohaterów Getta) is located on the corner of ul. Zamenhofa and Anielewicza - is a logical starting point. The granite on which the monument rests was purchased by the Nazis from the Swedish government in 1942 and was to be used as a massive arch to the victory of the Third Reich. The fact that Hitler's granite was used to honour the uprising by the very group of people he sought to eliminate is an eloquent symbol.
From the Monument, follow the large black Memorial Route blocks to the Umschlagplatz at the corner of ul. Stawki and Dzika, where Jews were boarded on trains aimed for the death camps. Today, there is a wall on which 448 Jewish first names are inscribed (in alphabetical order from Abel to Zanna) which represent the more than 300,000 Warsaw Jews who passed through this place as they went to their deaths.
From here, it's about a 20-minute walk to the Jewish Cemetery (ul. Okopowa 49/51; Opening hours: Mon.-Thurs. 10:00 - 17:00, Fri. 9:00 - 13:00, Sun. 11:00 - 16:00, closed on Saturdays and Jewish holidays; www.kirkuty.xip.pl www.beisolam.jewish.org.pl), which is currently run by one of Władysław Szpilman's relatives (Szpilman's story of survival was documented in the award-winning film The Pianist). The cemetery itself has over 250,000 gravestones and many memorials and monuments.
Once the seedy side of Warsaw and the wrong side of the river, Praga has enjoyed a revival in recent years. Now it's one of the coolest, most bohemian places to eat and drink in Poland. Right across the river from the castle, it's a perfect way to follow up a trip to the elegant Old Town and is just a short trip from our Warsaw hotel accommodation.
Although much of Praga is still waiting for the area's recent revival to reach it, the up side of this is that its buildings - bullet-scarred tenement houses – are genuine: they survived WWII. With the city's oldest surviving residential building at ul. Targowa 50/52, Praga offers a glimpse of pre-war Warsaw. There are many streets which were undamaged during WWII, and so there are some beautiful pre-war lamp-posts, sidewalks and apartment blocks. Take note especially of Ząbkowska Street (Ulica Ząbkowska). It was one of the main streets of old Praga, and the oldest buildings are from the 19th century. For many people this place is 'Praga's Old Town'
- Koneser, old vodka factory, ul. Ząbkowska 27/31, www.monopolpraski.pl This is a complex of red brick buildings from the late 19th century, in which, for over a hundred years, an alcohol factory was located); today it is a modern cultural center, with numerous cultural institutions based here. The factory also offers tours (and samples) every day from 8:00 to 13:00.
- Fabryka Trzciny Art Center (Centrum Artystyczne Fabryka Trzciny), ul. Otwocka 14, tel. +48 22 619 05 13 www.fabrykatrzciny.pl A sprawling former factory which retains all its charm with exposed pipes and brick, this is the beating heart of art in Praga, with fashion shows, film festivals, live music and theatre. Fabryka also has massive gallery exhibiting contemporary art and photos, a bar which serves up reasonably good wine and really good cocktails, and a restaurant which offers something called 'industrial fusion', with a menu full of dishes like carpaccio with strawberries and vanilla.
Off the beaten path is Wilanów, a quiet community with a stunning palace.
Wilanów Palace (ul. Potockiego 10/16, www.wilanow-palac.art.pl) is truly lovely. King Jan III Sobieski's architect, Augustyn Locci, built the Palace (1677-1680) as the King's royal residence. The Palace can be reached by a number of buses, and the journey is about 30 minutes from the center. Buses E-2, 116, 117, 130, 180, 519, 522, 700, 710 and 724 all go directly there; the bus stop is 'Wilanów'.
Old Town area
Since the Old Town area is tourist central, it's no shock that many shops offer souvenirs. Two of the highest-end options include M.K. Jubiler (ul. Świętojańska 7), and Sobieski Crown (ul. Nowy Świat 50), both of which offer truly breathtaking jewelry. The more modest Ateneum Młodych Galeria (ul. Piwna 51/53) shows the work of up-and-coming young Poles and real artistic gems can be bought here - whilst supporting a local artist. With a wide selection of porcelain and glass, Desa (ul. Rynek Starego Miasta 4/6) is a great place to pick up some souvenirs.
- Bazar Na Kole. The place is highly attractive on Sundays, when Koło changes into a place where time has stopped, with an antique market where you can buy almost anything, from furniture to glass, porcelain, paintings, books, disks, instruments and military items
- Bazar Różyckiego, ul. Targowa 54 (in Praga), www.br.waw.pl During WWII, this was one of the few places where Warsaw residents could buy goods, derived – with a bit of cunning and quite a lot of danger - from the German military transport vehicles and stores. Currently, the bazaar is made up of about 250 merchants, and there are plans for entering the marketplace on the Registry of Monuments, which would make it impossible to ever shut down.
In Warsaw you can choose from over 20 shopping malls, two of which – Arkadia and Złote Tarasy - are located near the center.
- Arkadia, ul. Burakowska. Duck into Arkadia Shopping Mall (al. Jana Pawła II 82) for one-stop shopping and far too many ways to max out your credit card. And just a seven-minute walk from the mall is ul. Burakowska 5/7, a secluded courtyard area which has several original shops. Definitely drop into Red Onion (jewelry and furniture), Sabon (hand-made beauty products from Israel), Rajana (vibrant silk items imported from Cambodia) and Gal i Lu (specially-blended perfumes, aromatherapy oils and cosmetics) before stopping in Mielżyński Wine Bar which boasts fresh tapas and multi-lingual sommeliers on hand to offer advice.
- Złote Tarasy. A million visitors a month hit stylish Złote Tarasy (ul. Złota 59). To find the perfect souvenir, drop in to Chopin Luxury, which sells the world's only luxury potato vodka, and Apart Jewellers, which sells intricate, original amber settings in white gold.
- Bolesławiec Ceramics (Ceramika Bolesławiec), ul. Prosta 2/14, www. ceramicboleslawiec.com.pl A wide range of table ceramics, handmade and decorated with absolutely unique techniques of stamping, painting and glazing.
- Cepelia; numerous locations including ul. Marszałkowska 99/101, Pl. Konstytucji 5, ul. Chmielna 8 and ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 39; www.cepelia.pl This chain of stores truly reflect Polish folk art, with exquisite ceramics, fabrics, furniture and smaller souvenirs representing over half a century of decorative handicrafts.
Aficionados of traditional Polish food are numerous, even amongst foreigners.
- Alcoholic Beverages. Mead (honey liqueur or 'honey wine') is a huge industry in Poland and can be found at a number of Polish-based producers such as Krakowski Kredens (www.krakowskikredens.pl) A. Blikle (www.blikle.pl) and Nalewki I Inne (www.nalewki-i-inne.pl) Fruit-based and herb-based liqueurs are the best-known. Of course vodka is a popular option: some great ones include Vodka with Caramel from the Beskidy Mountains (45% proof), Vodka Okowita from the Polish Highlands (40% proof) and Plum Vodka from Łącko (40% proof).
- Foodstuffs. Plenty to choose from: honeys, sausages, fruit preserves, marmalades, jams, smoked meats and smoked cheese (especially oscypek) are all made in Poland, and as such, have a distinctly 'Polish' flair or flavour. Polish fruit preserves use very unique ingredients and result in very different combinations of flavours that preserves found outside of the country. For example, there are cowberry preserves, rose petals in sugar and a very unusual plum jam. Finally: don't forget Polish sweets. This is worthy of a separate section of information, as places such as Blikle, factories in Toruń (Poland's gingerbread capital) and Batida produce truffles, cookies, gingerbread and pralines galore. Do try sernik (Polish cheesecake) and szarlotka (an apple pie sort of dessert), as well as poppyseed cakes and real, traditional Polish pączki.
- The Warsaw Rising Museum (Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego) ul. Grzybowska 79, www.1944.pl With an area of over 3,000 meters, nearly 1,000 exhibits and 1,500 photographs and films, the museum is one of the most visited places in Warsaw. Opened on the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of fighting in the city, it is a tribute to those who fought and died for a free Poland and its capital.
- Caricature Museum (Muzeum Karykatura), ul. Kozia 11, www.muzeumkarykatury.pl It shows the best artists of Polish caricature from the 18th century to present day; take note that the exhibitions have English explanations.
- Historical Museum of Warsaw (Muzeum Historyczne m.st. Warszawy) Rynek Starego Miasta 28/42, tel. +48 22 635 1625, www.mhw.pl The museum cinema screens a video documentary about Warsaw between 1939-1945, from Tuesday to Saturday at 12:00 (it is shown in English, but also available upon request are screenings in Polish, Spanish, French and German, so call ahead and ask).
- The National Museum (Muzeum Narodowe), al. Jerozolimskie 3, www.mnw.art.pl This is the largest art museum in Poland, with close to a million paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings.
- The Poster Museum in Wilanów (Muzeum Plakatu w Wilanowie), Stanisława Kostki-Potockiego 10/16, www.postermuseum.pl The Poster Museum, opened in 1968 on the site of a former stable on the Wilanów Palace grounds, was the first museum of its kind in the world. It currently has over 55,000 titles, making it one of the largest collections of poster art in the world.