Last updated on January 05th, 2023
Bursting with history, culture and stories to tell, Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. A major tourist attraction, it is considered a political and economical hub.
Despite the destruction of nearly 90% of the city during the Second World War, Warsaw has been miraculously renovated to reflect its proud heritage through faithfully rebuilt buildings. This has earned it the nickname of the Phoenix City because it was rebuilt from the ashes in a way to reflect its previous image.
From unusual claims (Warsaw is home to the world’s narrowest house) to the sensational (the Old Town was rebuilt using 17th and 18th Century pictures), Warsaw is overflowing with memorable experiences, moving tributes and captivating people.
Warsaw is sometimes overlooked in favour of Krakow when people are considering a trip to Poland. It’s understandable in as much as Krakow is a fascinating city itself, and of course many people travel there as part of a visit to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. However, such a choice means people miss out on a real diamond, a city and a people worthy of incredible admiration and praise.
With so much potential waiting to be unleashed, every moment of your trip will be precious. Here’s our guide on the best things to do to help you decide what’s right for you.
Here are some of the neighbourhoods that will give you the accommodation of your life, and an experience like never before.
Old Town Marketplace
Explore the most historic part of the Old Town and delight in being enfolded by colourful buildings purposefully made in the image of their predecessors.
Bizarre and endearing in equal measure, the square was immediately rebuilt after the war, confirming its place close to the heart of the local population.
The Royal Route
The Royal Route: many of Warsaw’s most sought after sights can be seen by following a series of connecting streets. Starting at the Old Town and heading south, churches, palaces and parks are in plentiful supply, many of which have staggering historical or political significance.
With all the grandeur you would expect of a palace intended for a King, Wilanów sits at the southern end of the Royal Route. Remarkably, it survived the Second World War unscathed!
A tour gives you the opportunity to delve into the personalities of previous owners of the palace who have each added their own unique, personal touches.
National Museum in Warsaw
The biggest museum in Warsaw and one of the largest in the whole country, the National Museum tells a story of culture and history not just of Poland, but many significant empires from around the world.
Palace of Culture and Science
The tallest building in Poland for a number of decades, this ‘gift’ from the Soviet Union splits opinion. The palace dominates central Warsaw and took thousands of workers three years to build. Since it was finished in 1955, it has continually mesmerised tourists with its beauty.
Its unmissable attraction is the terrace on the thirtieth floor which gives sensational views of the whole city.
More than that, however, the building is home to theatres, cinemas, a swimming pool, museums, a large congress hall, government offices and academic institutions. It is a complete, multi-purpose building fitting of being the central figure of the city.
Copernicus Science Centre
The Copernicus Science Centre combines fascinating facts and education with immense fun. Over a million visitors a year enjoy more than four-hundred exhibits. A combination of permanent and temporary exhibitions keeps the interest rolling, and the centre occasionally holds specific events for different age ranges.
A state of the art planetarium is among the highlights, as well as science shows and a robotic theatre.
Royal Castle and Castle Square
The Royal Castle, originally built in the fourteenth century, is unlike any other castle around the world. It is a symbol of a country’s tenacity, determination and dedication to stay committed to its roots because it is actually a reconstruction of the original!
Like much of Warsaw, the castle was completely destroyed by the Nazis in World War Two. Now rebuilt, it is a place to celebrate not just the history of what has occurred on that site, but of the recovery made by Poland since those times.
Inside you will find lavishly decorated rooms, fine art and extensive information about the history of the castle. Outside is the Castle Square, itself with numerous claims of famous and infamous historical moments.
POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
One of the finest examples of modern architecture in Poland, the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews uses artefacts and reconstructions to tell the story of Poland’s Jewish community, including its destruction and the devastation it felt during the Second World War.
Combining moving stories and tales of heroism, as well as artefacts such as a prayer book from 1272, the museum is sure to leave a lasting impression on all visitors.
Warsaw Uprising Museum
Exceptional and at times overwhelming, the Warsaw Uprising Museum tells the story of the Polish people’s doomed fightback against Nazi occupation in 1944. Although often overlooked in the picture surrounding that year, the uprising was a time of desperation, destruction, yet immense bravery from the people involved.
In the museum, you can see displays, film archives, photographs and even use a pre-war telephone receiver to hear the voices and memories of the people involved.
Eating and Drinking
Wedel Factory Chocolate Tour
In the city’s Praga district, you will find its finest chocolate. You can tour the Wedel factory before taking a timeout in its trademark café, which serves coffee, hot chocolate and delicious treats made in the factory.
With a history dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, Wedel has developed its name and reputation over many years and still holds a significant chunk of the Polish confectionery market.
Visit a Bar Mleczny
When in Poland, it is well worth taking time out to eat at a bar mleczny – literally “milk bar”. Good food and good service are the order of the day, and exceptionally cheap too.
Simple Polish cafeterias, they have had a varied history, but through times of trouble have always played an important role in feeding Poland’s workforce. Though under threat in certain areas as more affluent residents move in, the bars will continue to play a key role for Polish people for years to come. A part of typical Polish life, an experience at one is not to be missed.
Eat a Zapiekanka
A traditional Polish street food, Zapiekanka is an open sandwich on half a baguette or other long bread. It is traditionally, since its creation in the 1970s, made with mushrooms and cheese, though other ingredients can be added.
It is eaten hot with ketchup on top and is seen as often associated with times of austerity and the communist regime in Poland. Now making a comeback, you can find much greater variety in ingredients and the quality tends to be much better.
Visit the Hala Mirowska, an old market in the centre of Warsaw, for a traditional Polish experience. You can expect to see few tourists here, and it lacks the splendour of other parts of the city, but that’s where its charm lies.
Fresh ingredients can all be found here, including juicy fruit and vegetables and sumptuous meats. As with the rest of the city, the market has a historical tale to tell. Once the largest market in Poland, it was destroyed during the Second World War. Now going strong again, it is a throwback in time with a truly authentic vibe.
A vast array of tap beers and bottles greet you with staff willing to help you find the perfect drink for you. Available to sit in or take your choice away with you, Piw Paw is the place to visit for beer lovers or anyone looking to wind down at the end of a day’s exploring.
National Stadium, Warsaw
Home of the Poland football team, the National Stadium was built for the 2012 European Championships. It has a retractable roof, a heated pitch and a seating capacity of nearly sixty-thousand.
Decorated in red and white, a reference to the Polish flag, it has also hosted American football, speedway, concerts, an annual science education fair and volleyball world championships.
There is an observation point to get a stunning view of the stadium’s interior, or for a more in-depth look, you can join a daily tour which runs in English.
The Grand Theatre in Warsaw
Originally dating back to 1833, the Grand Theatre or Teatr Wielki – Polish National Opera in Warsaw was destroyed in World War Two and reopened twenty years later.
The building itself is spectacular, and hosts classical music concerts, ballet and opera.
With a busy schedule of performances and exhibitions, combined with great architecture and a pulsating backstory, you should definitely check out what is on here during your visit.
Warsaw Film Festival
If you love film and are looking for the best time to visit Warsaw, October is your time to go.
The annual Warsaw Film Festival has been running since 1985 and is a recognised competitive film festival by the FIAPF. The festival specialises in central and eastern European films, but has entries from across the globe.
With a proud tradition of seeking new up and coming filmmakers, you are sure to uncover some real gems here well before the rest of the world.
Wildlife and Nature
Lazienki Park or Royal Baths Park
The park with its charming gardens and peaceful setting defies its location so close to one of Europe’s largest cities. It is the largest park in Warsaw and is popular with both locals and tourists.
The ideal place to sit back and relax, observe curious wildlife or venture around the three main types of garden, the Łazienki Park also features a number of buildings that are well worth a visit, particularly the Łazienki palace sitting on the artificial island on the lake.
Wisła River Walk
Developing into a trendy meeting point, or the place to catch the latest urban music star-to-be, the Wisła river is a beautiful place for a stroll at any time of day.
You can also find cafes, bars and a beach pavilion for any refreshments that you may need.
University Library Gardens
One of the largest roof terraces in Europe, the University Library Gardens opened in 2002, the work of landscape architect Irena Bajersaka.
The garden is a wonderland of streams, lawns, fountains and flowers. It has stunning views of the city, captivating the imagination and providing a superb opportunity to pick out where you head to next.
Opened to the public in 1727, Saxon Garden is the oldest public park in Warsaw and was one of the first publicly accessible parks in Warsaw.
The Garden has countless features and historical monuments, but none more impressive than the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, dedicated to the unknown soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for Poland.
On the eastern side of the Wisła river is the Praga district of Warsaw. Until the late eighteenth century, it formed its own town. It has had a reputation for high crime-levels and unemployment, as well as poor living conditions.
However, it has more recently undergone a revival, meaning it is now open and much safer for tourists to explore. Street art, alternative museums and underground bars can be seen and visited here, giving the more adventurous tourist a different perspective of the city than the western side of the river.
The Neon Museum hosts the biggest collection of neon lights in Europe, the museum was the brainchild of photographer Ilona Karwińska, a British photographer specialising in world cultures.
During the European Museum Nights of 2017, the museum attracted fourteen-thousand visitors in a single night. Giving light to Poland’s post-war history, your visit will be short but stimulating and can be combined with a look around the Praga district.
Warsaw Gasworks Museum
Containing various machinery used in the production and metering of gas, the Warsaw Gasworks Museum has exhibits that are over a hundred years old and still in fantastic condition.
The building itself is an impressive structure, especially given its age, and well worth a visit for anyone seeking something outside of the typical tourist hotspots.
The Keret House
The narrowest house in the world can be found in Warsaw, and it’s well worth a visit just to stare at in disbelief. The work of Polish architect Jakub Szczęsny, the building challenges ideas of what is possible and what is not. It is named after Etgar Keret, the Israeli writer and filmmaker who was the first tenant of the building.
With so much to fit into your trip, make sure you plan carefully to find time for all the highlights closest to your heart. Warsaw is a city with a shocking, yet fascinating past looking to develop a bright future for its people. The resilience of locals, determination and driven energy that has seen the reconstruction of the city since the end of the Second World War is remarkable. History, culture, character and fun are plentiful in every region of the inspirational Phoenix City.
As an individual place to visit or as part of a wider tour of Poland or Europe, Warsaw has the power to stagger and amaze any visitor. Not the top of list for most tourists, you can be certain that you will receive an authentic experience that will stay with you for years and with a new appreciation of the people in this fine city.
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