Warsaw surprised me.
As we were planning our visit, a few people that had been to Poland told me that I shouldn’t even bother with Warsaw, or just give it a day at the most. However, when I was doing my own research, I felt like there were enough things that we wanted to do and see to warrant spending a couple of days there – so that’s what we planned.
When our awesome, Chris, drove us to Warsaw after our brief stay in Zakopane, we arrived at night. Upon first entering the city and seeing the boxy, cement buildings, crush of traffic and lack of charm, I remember thinking to myself “They were right…we should have skipped it.”
But, oh, how wrong I was!
Warsaw is wonderful, charming, proud, and full of amazing things to see and experience (and eat). I wish we had stayed another day or two, but now I have an excuse to go back! Based on my experiences there, I want to share with you my top five things to do in Warsaw.
Hang Out in Old Town
This area of town is so full of charm it will knock your socks off. As you wander along the streets admiring the architecture, bold colors and old European grandeur, you will find it hard to believe that pretty much everything you are seeing was re-built after World War II.
Partially surrounded by medieval walls, this area is the oldest in Warsaw. It was founded at the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, and the original layout remains to this day.
Spend some time in the Old Town Square, which is filled with cafés, restaurants and shops. You’ll also come across some street performers, artists and the famous statue of the mermaid (first picture above). The mermaid also appears on the Warsaw Coat of Arms, and, according to legend, is the protector of the city.
Don’t forget to look up and enjoy the beautiful architecture. Or maybe spot a cat enjoying the fresh air.
Wander Along Krakowskie Przedmieście
We stayed in the Hotel Bristol (review coming soon), which is located right on Krakowskie Przedmieście, and the location cannot be beat. This street is part of the Royal Route, which is named for all of the former royal residences that line it. As you walk toward the Old Town, both sides of the street are filled with cafés, restaurants, bars, shops, churches and statues of famous Poles – and it’s packed with tourists and locals alike at all hours of the day and night..
As you walk down the street away from the Old Town, you will come upon the residence of the Polish president (pictured below), as well as the main location of the University of Warsaw.
Stroll Through Łazienki Park
You can easily spend a whole day in Łazienki Park. It’s not really within walking distance of anywhere you’ll likely be staying, but it’s easy enough to grab a cab and get there in about 5-10 minutes. The park is huge, measuring 80 hectares (almost 200 acres) and its origins date back to the 17th century.
The park is open to visitors year round. Every Sunday from May to September, you can enjoy a Chopin concert that takes place by the monument of the great composer:
There are numerous paths to wander, and you will come across many different buildings like the old and new Orangeries, Temple of the Sibyl and the Palace on the Water. If you are so inclined, you can take a ride around the carp-filled lake on one of the swan boats.
If you’re lucky, you’ll spot one of the beautiful peacocks wandering around the gardens as well.
The park is a really great place to be on a nice day. You feel like you are in the middle of a vast garden oasis (which you basically are) that makes for a perfect place to leave the city behind and enjoy nature.
Be Astounded at the Warsaw Uprising Museum
This is simply the best and most moving museum I have ever been to. No matter your nationality, religion or age, this museum is not to be missed. I can’t imagine that any person could visit this museum and not experience a deep and unforgettable emotional impact.
Opened in 2004 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, the whole museum is spread over three floors and tells the story (in chronological order) of the Uprising. It is filled with interactive displays, photos, copies of old newspapers, and oftentimes horrifying video footage. Adding to the feeling of intensity, in the first section of the museum, you will hear the sounds of machine guns, bomber planes and an always present, pounding heartbeat.
In the photo above, you can see the really unique way they allow you to watch short and very emotional video clips. Each plaque below the “binoculars” explains what you are about to see, and then you lean in and watch it before moving on to the next one.
They also have a life size replica of a B24 Allied plane on display, as well as things like uniforms, weapons and many other relics from the war and uprising.
I never knew a whole lot about the Warsaw Uprising before visiting this museum and, sadly, I think that is true of most people. This museum does a phenomenal job of showing visitors what life was like in Warsaw under Hitler’s rule, during the uprising, and then after the uprising and the end of the war. It is such an eye-opening experience – and one that should not be missed if you are going to Warsaw.
The Uprising Museum is reachable by cab, and tickets are 18 zloty for adults, 14 zloty for children, and children under 7 are free (but personally, I don’t think I would bring a child that young). Prepare to spend at least a few hours here.
Enjoy the Beauty of the Church of the Holy Cross
This beautiful church is located on Krakowskie Przedmieście and is definitely worth a visit. The original church was destroyed in the 1650s during the Swedish Deluge, and was subsequently rebuilt in the latter part of that century. Sadly, the church was badly damaged again during World War II, when most of the interior was destroyed and had to be rebuilt once more.
As you enter the church, the first thing you will notice is this beautiful sculpture of Pope John Paul II. The sculpture has an almost ethereal feeling to it and does a great job capturing the Pope’s beatific facial expression.
Also of note in this church is the urn that contains the heart of Fryderyk Chopin, which is built into a pillar of the nave.
You’ll want to spend some time wandering around the church and enjoying its beauty.
>I’m so glad that I didn’t listen to the people who told me that Warsaw wasn’t worth visiting! Although parts of the city are indeed very industrial and not overly charming, there is so much to see and do and enjoy. The people of Warsaw are very proud of their history…and they should be. Everyone we met was friendly and helpful, and it’s definitely a city that I would like to go back to someday.
Have you ever visited Warsaw? If so, what did you think? Let me know in the comments below!
Coming soon, I will post a review of our hotel, as well as some recommended places to eat.