Warsaw is back. Despite numerous battles and being almost completely demolished in World War 2, the vibrant city has slowly emerged as one of the star attractions in Eastern Europe’s crown. At first glance you wouldn’t believe that 85% of the city was ruined in 1944. Fortunately the city’s rich heritage remains largely intact, thanks mostly to painstaking restorations efforts that have seen many of the city’s historical monuments rebuilt. Beside the relics of yesteryear now sit a multiplying number of shiny skyscrapers, new restaurants and hip bars. It’s a distinct nod towards Warsaw’s future and underlies that exciting times are ahead for both the city and those that choose to visit.
There’s definitely no shortage of attractions in Warsaw. Top of the list for most visitors is the meticulously reconstructed Old Town. The rebuilt Royal Castle is an immense indication of Poland’s determination to reclaim its heritage, while Fryderyk Chopin Museum, Warsaw Historical Museum and Warsaw Uprising Museum are a perfect trio of museums for history buffs. Add Lazienki, Wilanow and Presidential Palaces to your list of things to see in Warsaw, but remember there’s definitely many more so leave as much time as possible on your itinerary.
A walk around central Warsaw will give you countless choices of places to eat and drink. Old Town is particularly saturated with options. Restaurant Senator is a good place to sample Polish food including Pierogi (dumplings stuffed with meat), so too is Pod Samsonem, a traditional Jewish restaurant that’s been bustling since 1958. Polish cakes and pastries are particularly irresistible and A Blikle on Nowy Swiat is one of Warsaw’s oldest cafes and still one of its best. The Polish donuts are a must try while the cheesecake at Folk Gospoda is itself a folklore. Famous for its range of vodkas, these days beer is just as popular a drink in Warsaw. You won’t have to pick a favourite at Praga, a lively area across the river. There you’ll find a wide range of bars with an even wider range of beer, vodka and more.
Where to Stay
From glitz to grunge, Warsaw’s hotels offer something for everyone. Starting with the city’s premier offerings, the 110 year-old Le Meridien Bristol is a historical landmark as a well as an outstanding hotel, having featured in the spy novels of Alan Furst. Rialto Hotel and Le Regina are two more of Warsaw’s old world charmers and both have elegant rooms in excellent locations. Radisson is one of the best mid-range options, while Ibis and Best Western are just as well located but even lighter on the wallet. Golden Tulip Hotel is a good choice for business travelers and offers 3-star rated rooms and a sauna.
Shopping in Warsaw is just as much about the experience as it is about what you end up putting in your bag. Zlote is the city’s number one shopping centre, with more than 200 shops and late opening hours, while Tarasy and Arkadia are two more malls to find something special to take home. Thanks to its communist-era design and retro feel, centrally located Sezam is just as much a tourist attraction as a shopping destination but good buys can still be found. Fashionistas, head to Mokotowska Street and seek out leading Polish fashion brands including Ania Kuczynska, Bohoboco and Maciej Zien. Come weekend, join the locals and head to Bazar na Kole (antique market) to trawl for some well-priced souveniers and antiques.
Warsaw like a Local
If you want to dine line a local, keep an eye out for a sign reading ‘bar mleczny’. Literally translated to ‘milk bar’, this Polish form of cafeteria was established in 1896 as a means of providing affordable dairy-based and vegetarian meals. During the post-war and communist eras milk bars became government subsidised, forming a major part of local dining culture. Less milk bars remain today but recent years has seen nostalgic Varsovians resurge interest in these modest restaurants. Zlota Kurka, Rusalka and Bambino are just a few in a long list of much loved milk bars where time still stands still but menus and quality are largely similar so seek out the ‘bar mleczny’ sign more than a particular restaurant if you want to experience this quirky part of Polish history.