Warsaw is living proof of the old adage that appearances can be deceptive.
Warsaw is the capital of Poland and is the country's largest city. Located on the Vistula River, it is right in the heart of the Masovian Plain and offers some of the best views in Europe.
The city initially comes across as more beast than beauty with its grey housing estates and austere buildings serving as relics from the days of Communism – those that weren't obliterated by World War II bombs that is. But start looking beneath the surface and you'll find a thriving cosmopolitan city that has come to terms with its turbulent past and now has its eyes fixed firmly on the future.
Warsaw is split down the middle by the murky water of the Vistula River. Visitors tend to stick to the western bank where the majority of sights are to be found but a quick trip to the eastern side will take you to the heart of Polish suburbia and the business district.
Sights And Attractions
For a taste of living history, head to the bustling Stare Miasto (old town) at the northern end of the city centre. The area was decimated during the war but the multi-coloured tiered houses have now been meticulously restored to their pre-war glory with the attention to detail extending as far as the cobblestones on the ground. During the day there's no end of buskers and artists to entertain you whilst you sip your overpriced coffee.
A visit to the Muzeum Historyczne Starej Warszawy will soon get you up to speed on Warsaw's history with exhibitions detailing its growth from a tiny settlement to a thriving modern city. Those who like their literature can nose around the Muzeum Mickiewicza, dedicated to the Poland's national Romantic poet.
The Archeological Museum in the Old Town district comes with a hearty recommendation for tourists. Housed in a massive 17th century building, it showcases exhibitions on the pre-history of Poland.
The Muranów and Mirów districts are built on Warsaw's former ghetto area where the Nozyck Synagogue and the Okopowa cemetery both stand in memory of the lost Jewish population.
Stalin's legacy is no more evident than in the Palac Kultury i Nauk (Palace of Culture and Sciences) which he gave as a gift to the Polish people as a symbol of friendship during the Communist era. Its sheer size makes it awe-inspiring and its top floor offers the best panoramic of the city. Inside, it hosts a range of events from congress to concert – and to wreak some capitalist revenge, it is also home to a casino.
The move from Communism to capitalism is getting more obvious every day with Western shop fronts and towering skyscrapers nestling amongst the architectural relics of the city's imperial past. For a spot of shopping, head to Marszalkowska which is lined with department stores and clothes shops. Boutiques around Chmielna and Zgoda are also noted for their hand-crafted leather goods.
At weekends, try the Dziesieciolecia stadium in Praga, one of the biggest of the outdoor city markets where you can buy pretty much anything your imagination can come up with. The traditional market areas of the Hala Mirowska are also worth a visit for the atmosphere alone.
When night falls, those looking for a bit of cheap alcohol and a spot of dancing go out to play in one of the late-night bars in the centre. Clubs offer a range of music from Latin salsa to classic cheese but the emphasis is really on commercial techno.
Culturistas can head to a concert for a dose of Chopin or maybe the theatre for a few hours of avant-garde drama. Warsaw also hosts a number of festivals ranging from jazz to Mozart throughout the summer months.
Warsaw has a thriving cultural scene, so be sure to catch the contemporary music showcases that take place in autumn and jazz festivals in late October.
Also, the Akwarium Jazzarium in the city centre is a hot spot for those who have a passion for live music and jazz/blues rhythms.
In terms of Polish cuisine, visitors are likely to encounter delicacies such as Polish sausage, red beet soup, Polish dumplings, flaczki (tripe soup), cabbage rolls, Oscypek, Polish pork chops and various traditional Polish stews.
After spending a few days in Warsaw, most people tend to start viewing the city through beer goggles – not only because of the cheap alcohol on offer but because the vivacity of the place makes you forget about its physical appearance. Certainly, the tourists keep flowing, much like the vodka and as the city grows in confidence and sophistication, it will soon be up there with the other big name European capitals.
Weather In Warsaw
Spring in Warsaw (from March to May) is initially cold and windy but later becomes pleasantly warm. Summer (from June to August) is predominantly warm with plenty of sunshine punctuated by heavy rains. If it is sunshine you are after, note that the city's temperatures peak in July.
Destination Checklist For Warsaw
- The city has a population of just over 1.7 million.
- Polish is the official language spoken.
- The official currency in use is the Zloty.
- The international dialling code is +48.
- Warsaw is just one hour ahead of GMT.