The Polish capital combines fascinating – if often heartbreaking – historical attractions with a spirit and nightlife that’s vastly underrated.
SIGHTS AND ATTRACTIONS IN WARSAW
Warsaw’s Old Town is as pretty as any in Europe, but the real marvel is that it was reconstructed from a pile of rubble after World War II. The Royal Castle (4 Plac Zamkowy, 355 5170) is the best example of this extraordinarily meticulous resurrection. It’s more impressive inside than outside. Also built after the war was the widely hated Palace of Culture and Science. It’s the tallest building in Warsaw and – whisper it quietly – it’s actually rather impressive. Of the city’s many grand scale monuments, the powerful Warsaw Uprising Monument at Plac Kransinskich tells the most vivid story.
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BOOK YOUR OWN ADVENTUREThe following sites are usually my first port of call when booking a trip - so I recommend them as somewhere to start when booking your own holiday.
HOTELS: Hotels.com (£) or Agoda (£)
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CAR HIRE: Car Rentals (£)
GUIDE BOOKS: Amazon (£)
TOURS AND ACTIVITIES: Viator (£)
Cultural attractions in Warsaw
The Warsaw Rising Museum (79 Grzybowska, 539 7909) is the city’s absolute must see. It tells the tragic tale of Warsaw during World War II – the horrors of Nazi rule, the bravery of the local people in standing up to it and the Soviet betrayal that led to 84% of the city being destroyed are explainedd with consistently creative displays. For art lovers, the John Paul II Collection (1 Plac Bankowy, 620 2725) has a surprisingly high quality hoard – including works by Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Goya and Tintoretto. Less heavy, but worth a browse, is the Museum of Caricature (11 Kozia, 827 8895).
Everyone expects a grim mountain of concrete, but Warsaw is a surprisingly green city. This is partly due to former Polish kings being elected and each of them wanting a park to put a palace in for their families once they died. The Lazienki Park is the best example of this – it’s a glorious part-wooded, part- manicured public space containing numerous mildly absurd buildings. If you’re looking for a walking route, then start at Plac Trzech Krzyzy before heading up Nowy Swiat and through the Old Town to the city walls. You’ll pass many of Warsaw’s highlights, including the National Museum, the Royal Castle and the Copernicus Monument.
Warsaw City-Tour (+48 500 033 414) operates a half day city tour that takes in the Belvedere Palace, Lazienki Park, the area of the former Jewish ghetto and World War II sites before finishing at the Old Town. It’s a good way of covering non-central areas without juggling public transport timetables). If you prefer exploring on foot to going by bus, then SlowWarsaw’s (+48 662 390 815) three hour walking tour should be just the ticket. City Discovery (+1 866 988 8687) offers a range of trips further afield, including to the Majdanek concentration camp and the monastery at Czestochowa.
Find the best deals on Warsaw hotels using the search box on the right, but the accommodation options below have been inspected and come recommended.
Budget accommodation in Warsaw
Warsaw has a couple of excellent hostels with en-suite private rooms. At Nathan’s Villa (24 Piekna, 622 2946, from 174 zloty), you essentially get a mini-apartment to yourself, complete with kitchen facilities. Hopelessly thin curtains and a few flights of stairs are the trade-off. Every room at Oki Doki (3 Plac Dąbrowskiego, 826 5112, from 202 zloty) has its own theme, and the inventive arty touches make it genuinely distinctive. Try to get the delightful Vincent Van Gogh-themed room if you can. Premiere Classe (2 Towarowa, 624 08 00) is your basic budget cookie cutter hotel near the station that does all it needs to do.
Mid-range hotels in Warsaw
With Old Town location, individual artist-designed rooms and a joyous theatricality about every fixture and fitting, the Castle Inn (2 Świętojańska, 425 0100, from 349 zloty) is a tremendous find. It’s great value, and more fun than most of Warsaw’s other hotels put together. The Mercure Warszawa Grand (28 Krucza, 583 2100, from 272.16 zloty) is surprisingly fresh, bright and perky – it feels brand new and is more impressive than many pricier five star options. The MDM (1 Plac Konstytucji, 339 1600, from 252 zloty) is a little worn in places but it has life to it and usually offers excellent rates.
Luxury hotels in Warsaw
Luxe generally equals well known chains in Warsaw. The Radisson Blu stands out from the bland, nickel-and-diming pack, however, with free Wifi and a choice of Scandinavian, Maritime or Italian-themed rooms. The Residence Diana (13 Chmielna, 505 9100, from 461 zloty) is more liveable, with beachy pebble-pattern bathrooms, in-room kitchen facilities and a bright apartment look. Warsaw’s real star, though, is the Rialto (73 Wilcza, 584 8770, from 420 zloty). It’s a trip back to the 1930s, with impeccable Art Deco style running through everything in sight. And what other hotel puts a free barometer on the wall?
Top end hotels in Warsaw
Warsaw hasn’t really got megaluxe accommodation right yet. Le Meridien Bristol (42 Krakowskie Przedmieście, 551 1000, from 562 zloty) leads the pack – rooms feel palatial, the bathrooms are a marblefest and the suites are gigantic. The Intercontinental (49 Emilii Plater, 328 8888, from 653 zloty) is the best bet amongst the plush chain five stars – rooms feel bright with the curtains open and sensual with them closed. The views and 43rd floor pool are a plus, too. Otherwise Le Regina (12 Koscielna, 531 6000, from 683 zloty) has prime wedding venue elegance, but the muted, smallish rooms don’t live up to the standard of the common areas.
Cafés in Warsaw
On the up-and-coming Plac Zbawiciela, Charlotte (18 Wyzwolenia, 628 4459) straddles the line between café and wine bar. It’s full of young, self-styled trendy types on Macbooks, throwing back espressos and watching the bread being made in the open kitchen. Podwale Piwna Kompania (25 Podwale, 635 6314) offers a Bavarian-style courtyard by the Old Town and gigantic portions of hearty Polish classics. Most loveable, however, is Kafka (3 Obozna, 826 0822), where patrons pluck books from the shelves, face off over the Scrabble board or lounge on the sunflower-patterned deckchairs whilst making pasta and a coffee last all afternoon.
Snacks in Warsaw
The Poles that flocked to the Fish and Chips (30 Koszykowa, +48 692 240 804) sells chocs and crisps from Blighty as well as a classic battered cod. Warsaw’s bakeries generally aren’t up to much, but Saint Honore (20 Krakowskie Przedmieście) is an honourable exception. Expect cracking sandwiches, quiches and pastries. MG Eat (32 Chmielna) is one of celeb chef Magda Gessler’s many outlets, but it’s designed for on-the-go eats with a sangas, cakes and even the lesser-spotted East European vegetable lurking in the salad bar.for work in the late 90s and early 2000s are beginning to return. And they’re bringing the British chippy with them.
Best restaurants in Warsaw
U Fukiera (27 Rynek Starego Miasta , 831 1013) is the one with the atmosphere to match the food quality in the Old Town. Cuisine leans towards gamey, but it’s a fantasy world of carvings, tapestries, vaulted ceilings and a flower-strewn courtyard. Restaurant Michel Moran (9 Piłsudskiego, 826 0107) is the place to go to for high quality French food in an atmosphere that’s not too stuffy. And, unlike many star-chef restaurants, the man himself actually works there. If you’re taking someone somewhere in a bid to impress, 99 (23 Aleja Jana Pawla, 620 1999) does the trick for both power business lunches and seductive evening dining.
WARSAW ENTERTAINMENT AND NIGHTLIFE
Bars in Warsaw
Zubrowka bison grass vodka with apple juice is apple pie and cinnamon in a glass. Sense (19 Nowy Swiat, 826 6570) is a sleek bar in which to try it, then plough through the rest of the cocktail menu. The food’s excellent too. also does some rather good beers, and Bierhalle (64 Nowy Swiat, 827 6177) serves up many of them whilst brewing a few of its own on the premises. For a bar hop, head into the maze of backstreets and courtyards through 26 Nowy Swiat. Colloquially known as ‘the Secret Garden’, this is a laidback, slightly grungy hive of tiny bars.
Live music in Warsaw
Warszawa Opera Kameralna (76 Solidarnoski, 831 22 40) is highly regarded within Europe for opera productions that are affordable for the masses without sacrificing quality. The range runs from medieval to modern via Mozart. Tygmont (6 Mazowiecka, 828 34 09) is arguably the best of Warsaw’s jazz clubs – it has something of a prohibition era vibe, and the musicians aren’t afraid to lurch way beyond the standards. For big name pop and rock acts, the Congress Hall at the Palace of Culture and Science (1 Plac Defilad, 656 7741) tends to draw in the most impressive line-up.
Nightclubs in Warsaw
If you prefer your clubbing to be refreshingly attitude-free and with a good time energy, then Butiklub (2 Przeskok, 827 0283) is a great bet. It pulls in big names such as Grandmaster Flash and Hed Kandi too. Club Capitol (115 Marszalkowska, 826 8570) has the moneyed-up Moscow kids vibe – the décor is completely OTT, you’re dancing beneath chandeliers and the benefits of plastic surgery are regularly on display. 1500m2 (18 Solec, 628 8412) is the latest hotspot – it’s an enormous former warehouse that keeps the industrial vibe going and hosts big electro marathon events.
Markets in Warsaw
Bazar Rozyckiego (54 Targowa) isn’t one of the places that come to mind when people say they “just adore wandering around markets.” Once the hub of capitalist enterprise in a communist system, it has now declined to the point where it’s a depressing spot visited out of necessity than joy. Kolo Bazar – a flea market held every Saturday and Sunday on Obozowa – is much more fun. It’s all about the haggling, and the range of goods on offer ranges from ceremonial weaponry and old vinyl records to nostalgic posters and silver-plated cutlery. It’s as much about the characters as the goods on offer.
Shopping in Warsaw
Warsaw’s main shopping area is – very roughly – in the streets between Nowy Swiat and the Palace of Culture and Science. You’ll find a good mix of chains, mini-malls and boutiques in the mix. For higher end fashion shopping, head for Plac Trzech Krzyzy – the designer lables such as Ermenegildo Zegna, Escada and Armani can be found either on the square or on the streets just off it. If you’re after souvenirs, gifts and other nick-nacks of questionable craftsmanship, then it’s best to head to the Old Town’s cobbled streets. The Lapidarium (15 Nowomiejska, 635 68 28) is the most engaging of the gift and souvenir shops – it’s a shambolic jumble of amulets, troll-like plastercine models, military medals and Virgin Mary lockets.
WARSAW TRAVEL INFORMATION
Warsaw travel tip
Warsaw is a strong candidate for being Europe’s most underrated city. The Old Town’s lovely, it’s amazingly green, and there are numerous museums, churches and monuments worth checking out. In other words, it’s worth more than a cursory day on a European tour. Try and get there at the weekend when the city’s party-hard ethic is most evident. Accommodation rates are also cheaper at the weekends, due to the suits most hotels rely on having gone home.
The currency is the zloty, though you may sometimes be quoted accommodation rates in euro.
Poland’s international dialling code is +48, and Warsaw’s city code is 22. Add +48 12 to any seven digit numbers listed above if calling from abroad. Other – non-Warsaw – numbers are listed in full.
Details correct as of August 2011, when this guide was researched by David Whitley. It was originally published by the Sun-Herald in .