My love affair with Poland continues, and I find myself on another solo trip, this time to the country’s capital. Here are 25 amazing things to do in Warsaw.
I arrived in Warsaw after a slight delay in my scheduled flight. Flying in from Doncaster-Sheffield airport, this would be my second trip to Poland this year, and third in nine months. Taking an Uber from Warsaw Chopin, I arrived at my apartment, a short walk from the Old Town Square. The journey took around 30 minutes and cost 42zł, which at the time of travel was approximately £12.
The apartment I stayed in belongs to the Warsaw Museum, which I thought was incredibly cool. The room was a self check-in apartment. A 24-hour security guard let me into the courtyard. The key was waiting for me in a small lock-box next to the apartment door. The apartment was amazing, read: Review: Rent like home – Muzeum Warszawy na Starówce, Warsaw.
A QUICK HISTORY LESSON
Warsaw is the capital and largest city of Poland. Its history is long and complex, shaped by wars, invasions, and political upheavals.
Early history: The area around Warsaw was inhabited by various tribes from the 9th century. The first recorded settlement on the site of modern Warsaw was a small fortified village called Warszowa in the 14th century.
16th-18th centuries: Warsaw became the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1596. The city grew rapidly and became a center of culture, science, and politics. However, it was repeatedly invaded and occupied by foreign powers, including Sweden, Russia, and Prussia.
THE WAR YEARS
World War I: Warsaw was occupied by the Germans during World War I, but was returned to Poland in 1918 after the war ended.
World War II: During World War II, Warsaw was occupied by Nazi Germany. The city’s Jewish population was forced into a ghetto, and in 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place. In 1944, the Polish Home Army launched the Warsaw Uprising, an unsuccessful attempt to liberate the city from German occupation. As a result, the German army destroyed much of the city, including the historic Old Town.
Post-war: After the war, Warsaw was rebuilt from the ruins. The Old Town was reconstructed using the original plans and materials, and in 1980, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Warsaw became the capital of the communist People’s Republic of Poland, but after the fall of communism in 1989, it became the capital of the democratic Republic of Poland.
Today, Warsaw is a vibrant city with a rich cultural heritage, including museums, galleries, and theaters. Its historic sites, such as the Royal Castle and the Wilanów Palace, attract visitors from around the world.
TIME TO EXPLORE
My first day in Warsaw and it was raining. I had plans to walk around the Old Town, but I visited some museums and churches instead. Nice and dry! I ducked into a nearby Caffè Nero for a coffee. It was early, and it seemed to be the only place available for a caffeine fix. Most of the local coffee shops hadn’t opened yet. It was about 8.00am and the streets were empty.
During the rest of my stay the weather was incredible, seriously summery and so hot. It made a nice change from past trips over to Poland during the colder months. So, what did I get up to during my time in this incredible city?
OLD TOWN MARKET SQUARE
A typical Old Town Market, lined with beautiful buildings. Here you will also find many bars, restaurants and gift shops, as-well as the Warsaw mermaid fountain. During my trip, the square also played host to a Jazz concert. I relaxed here most evenings with ice-cream or a snack as it was seconds from my apartment.
MUSEUM OF WARSAW
The Museum of Warsaw charts the history of the city through exhibitions and some incredible artefacts. The museum was first established in 1936. During the Warsaw Uprising, many of its items and parts of the building were damaged. 90% of the city was also destroyed.
You will learn all about the re-build after World War II and learn the history of the house in the Old Town. Admission to the museum was 20zł.
THE OLD TOWN WISHING BELL
The Wishing Bell is a prominent landmark in the Polish capital of Warsaw. It was installed in the Sigismund Tower of the Royal Castle in 1644, just in time for the wedding of King Władysław IV Vasa’s son. Legend tells that the bell has the power to grant wishes to those who touch it.
Over the centuries, the bell has been damaged and repaired multiple times. During World War II, the Royal Castle was heavily bombed and destroyed, but thankfully the bell survived. It was subsequently moved to the Castle’s Vistula Terrace and now hangs in a white tower overlooking the river.
Visitors and locals queue up to touch the bell and offer their silent wishes. The bell is especially popular among newlyweds and students during exam season. People believe that if they touch it, their wish will come true. Some also say that if you touch the bell with your left hand, you’ll be granted good luck for the rest of your life.
SAINT JOHN’S ARCHCATHEDRAL
To give it its proper title, the Bazylika Archikatedralna w Warszawie p.w. Męczeństwa św. Jana Chrzciciela is a Roman Catholic Church within the Old Town. Originally built in the 14th century, the building was destroyed during World War II. After the war, they completely reconstructed the church as part of the city’s rebuilding process based on plans and a drawing from the 17th century.
VISIT THE CRYPT OF SAINT JOHN
Underneath is a crypt and a small ossuary, which is the final resting place of the last King of Poland, Stanisław August Poniatowski, and Presidents Gabriel Narutowicz and Ignacy Mościcki. The crypt is 5zł to enter and is worth the look around, very interesting.
HOLY CROSS CHURCH
This beautiful 18th century church is a short walk away from the Old Town and houses the heart of the world-famous composer, Frédéric Chopin.
It is said that with his last breath; he asked for his heart to be removed and for it to be taken back to Poland. He was terrified of waking up in his coffin, and said to his sister Ludwika, “Swear to make them cut me open, so that I won’t be buried alive.”
Frédéric’s last wish was granted. They removed his heart and placed it in a jar of what was thought to be Cognac to help preserve it. Ludwika then smuggled it past Russian border guards back into Warsaw.
WARSAW ROYAL CASTLE
Warsaw Royal Castle has served as a Royal Residence for centuries. It is at the entrance to the Old Town, just off the banks of the Vistula River. They built it in the 15th century and it was home to many Masovian Princes. When the capital of Poland moved from Kraków to Warsaw, it was then the seat of the King and his government.
They have renovated it many times over the years, but the German army destroyed the church during World War II. They rebuilt the castle during the 1970s and 1980s, even using some of the rubble left over from the bombings.
The castle is now a huge museum and is the home of many incredible artifacts. There are a handful of different ticket options, but I opted to buy the ‘Royal Route’ ticket for 40zł. This allowed me into the Kings Apartments.
There are several famous artworks here, including paintings by Canaletto, an official painter to King Stanisław August Poniatowski and two original Rembrandts. At the end of the route, there is a beautiful painting by Angelica Kauffman.
In Castle Square you will find Sigismund’s Column. Originally erected in 1644, on September 1st 1944, 300 years later, the Germans destroyed the monument during the Warsaw Uprising. They repaired the column after the war in 1949 and raised once again. Parts of the original stone column lie next to the Royal Castle entrance.
VISIT THE OBSERVATION DECK
For another bird’s-eye view of the city visit the observation deck, Taras Widokowy, on the corner of Castle Square. For 10zł you get 360-degree views out over the city and beyond.
THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WARSAW
Another large museum featuring Polish art and sculptures from ancient to modern times. The museum is closed on Mondays but offers free admission on Tuesdays. Address: al. Jerozolimskie 3, 00-495.
WARSAW UPRISING MUSEUM
Dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The museum features exhibits and artifacts that illustrate the history and experience of the uprising, which was an armed struggle by the Polish resistance Home Army against Nazi German occupation forces during World War II. An adult ticket costs 30zł and the museum is open from 8am weekdays, 10am Saturday and Sunday, and is closed on Tuesdays. Address: Grzybowska 79, 00-844.
ADMIRE THE ARCHITECTURE
The city is a mix of stunning old and new architecture because of the big rebuild that took place after World War II. There was a huge project to rebuild and regenerate the city using typical styles and reconstructions from old images and photos. Have a wander and admire the skyscrapers and office buildings down in the business district. Some of these are just as beautiful.
PALACE OF SCIENCE & CULTURE
Another remarkable piece of architecture is the Palace of Science and Culture. I had planned to visit the museum and take the lift to the observation deck here, but it was absolutely rammed with tourists and what looked like local school trips. Queues for tickets were long, and I didn’t want to waste time as I still had lots to see.
The building was first known as Joseph Stalin’s Palace of Culture and Science, but they later changed this due to de-Stalinization in 1953. It is the second tallest building in Poland, and Warsaw after the Varso building, standing an impressive 237 meters.
MUSEUM OF POLISH JEWS, POLIN
Another great museum to visit is the POLIN, Museum of Polish Jews. Not only does the building look incredible from the outside, the exhibits and stories inside are both fascinating and moving. Adult tickets to see the exhibits are 45zł. In 2016 the POLIN museum won the European Museum of the Year Award.
The Cmentarz Żydowski. It is listed on Google Maps as the “Final resting place since 1806 of prominent Polish Jews & mass graves for victims of WWII massacres.” I didn’t get a chance to see it for myself as I completely overlooked it when planning my trip. Located on the outskirts of the city, If you are into your history and have visited other Jewish cemeteries like the one in Prague, I would recommend a visit.
WARSAW BARBICAN & CITY WALLS
The Warsaw Barbican is one of the most iconic landmarks in Warsaw. It is a fortified gateway that dates back to the 16th century and was originally part of a series of walls and fortifications that surrounded the city. The walls were built in response to the constant threat of invasion and were constructed over a period of several centuries.
During World War II, the Warsaw Barbican and the city walls were severely damaged by bombing and artillery fire. In the post-war period, the city of Warsaw undertook a massive reconstruction effort to restore the historic site to its former glory. Today, the Barbican and the city walls are a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike, and are considered an important part of Warsaw’s cultural heritage.
Along the wall you will also find the monument commemorating all the child soldiers of World War II, Mały Powstaniec (Pomnik Małego Powstańca), The Little Insurrectionist.
Formerly known as Victory Square, they named it after Marshal Józef Piłsudski who played a huge part in the restoration of the Polish statehood after the First World War. Here you will find various plaques, monuments and nods to Polish independence and the Polish Uprising. Pope John Paul II visited the square on his Polish pilgrimage in 1979.
TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER
At the far side of Piłsudski Square you will find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Both the tomb and eternal flame are flanked by guards 24/7.
THE SAXON GARDEN
A beautiful public park and gardens opened in 1727, with a large fountain and many statues and monuments, it is the oldest public park in the city. It was so hot during my time here, so the park was very busy with locals and tourists alike, all enjoying the Summer sun. A perfect spot for a picnic or to relax.
SUPREME COURT OF POLAND
Now, this might not be for everyone, but if you’re a fan of architecture, head on over to this amazing building. Its highly polished windows, and straight lines made it blend into its surroundings and look like it was part of the sky, it looked incredible in the Summer sun. It was designed and built in the 90s by Polish architect Marek Budzyński.
CHOPIN BENCHES & MUSEUM
If you love classical music or are just looking for things to add to your itinerary, search for the Chopin benches. Scattered about the city are 15 small black benches, they all have a QR code on them and some information. Scan the code to be taken to a page full of more info, pictures and more. Some of the benches even play music.
COPERNICUS SCIENCE CENTRE & MONUMENT
Nicolaus Copernicus (Mikołaj Kopernik), was a Polish astronomer and mathematician born in 1473. He is best known for his theory of helio-centrism, which placed the sun at the center of the universe instead of the Earth.
This theory challenged the long-standing belief in geo-centrism, which claimed the Earth was the center of the universe. Copernicus’ revolutionary idea was based on careful observations and mathematical calculations. Although he faced criticism and his theory did not gain acceptance until centuries later, we know him as the father of modern astronomy for his contribution to our understanding of the universe. Copernicus died in 1543, but his legacy lives on today.
There are many nods to Copernicus throughout Warsaw including this monument, street names and the science centre. You can find the science centre down by the Vistula River, Centrum Nauki Kopernik. Adress: Wybrzeże Kościuszkowskie 20, 00-390. Tickets start from 25zł.
RELAX BY A FOUNTAIN
It seems the Polish love a fountain. I have noticed their abundance in other towns and cities I have visited, and Warsaw is no different. There are several small fountains dotted around the centre. Visit the Multimedia Park Fountain, during the day and in the evening for a different experience. It is relaxing and therapeutic in the daylight hours, vibrant and colourful at night.
THE DOLLHOUSE, DOMEK DLA LALEK
I tried so hard to get access to this small house during my trip. It seems it is now locked away behind private residence and business doors. Built in 1910, this tiny tenement house on Hoża Street sits within the courtyard of Abram Szajnberg’s tenement house. Also known as ‘Baba Yaga’s’ house, if you can gain access to the courtyard, this charming little brick built residence is worth a look.
ADD A DAY TRIP OUTSIDE OF WARSAW, VISIT ŁÓDŹ
I had planned to visit the city of Łódź (pronounced “Wuj“) during my stay. I pre-booked tickets with Flixbus and was really looking forward to it. The city is famous for its once huge textiles industry. It is becoming a popular place for tourists with its up-and-coming scene. Unfortunately, I slept in and missed my bus, it absolutely mortified me as I was really looking forward to visiting Łódź. I suppose I’ll just have to work it in to another trip soon.
SAMPLE SOME LOCAL CUISINE
Looking for some good old-fashioned Polish scran? I honestly think I could eat my weight in Pierogi, and I always look for the best places to try that when in Poland.
A short walk from my apartment, and just off the corner of the Old Town Market, you will find this cute little traditional Polish food restaurant, Gospoda Kwiaty Polskie. According to their website, they are 50 steps away from the Barbican Gates.
The Pierogi here are to die for, full of flavour and cooked fresh. I wish I had ordered a few more dishes here, as everything they were bringing out looked incredible. Plus, at the time of my visit, I was the only foreigner here; it was full of Poles, so the food must be good! Just what I like to see. Address: Wąski Dunaj 4/6/8, 00-256.
MORE TRADITIONAL EATS
Next, I found a place called Gościniec. I couldn’t wait to tuck into some more Pierogi, so I ordered some fried dumplings with pork, red beans and corn, on the menu as Pierogi meksykańskie z wieprzowiną, fasolą i kukurydzą. A taste sensation, all washed down with a cold Polish beer. Address: Podwale 19, 00-252.
Zapiecek have a number of restaurants in Warsaw and a handful in other areas of Poland. Being a chain, I wasn’t sure how the food would be, but the reviews looked good, so I gave them a try. I was very impressed, I opted for some Goulash with a potato pancake here and it was super tasty.
MORE PLACES TO VISIT IN POLAND
Looking for some more inspiration for a trip to Poland?
Kraków. How to spend three days in Kraków, Poland.
Gdańsk. Things to do on a city break to Gdańsk, Poland.
Visit the Polish Tourism Organisation.
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