Warsaw is the capital city and largest city in Poland. It is an interesting city to visit because it was basically leveled during World War II, so almost none of the original buildings exist. For many people, Warsaw is not their favorite city to visit because of all the new buildings that seem somewhat jumbled together. Whether or not you like Warsaw, it is an important city to visit because of its history. Also, there is a great food and nightlife scene, and it is affordable. We enjoyed our short time here. Read to the end to see why you should also consider stopping for a day trip in Poznan!
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This stop in Warsaw was part of a two week Eastern Europe trip that Ashley took last September that started in Berlin. Our group traveled to Warsaw via bus, which takes about eight hours. You can also fly into Warsaw Chopin Airport, or take the train from numerous other European cities. Warsaw is easy to get around via public transportation.
Two Days in Warsaw
Because this was an organized group trip, we had a tour guide (named Agata, who was great!) who took us around the historical parts of Warsaw. While we enjoy doing our own walking tours, it is nice having a guide in a city you’ve never been to before to point out things. The walking tour we did was only a few hours, so it was not exhausting or boring and we still had the whole day left to explore on our own. Warsaw is a great city to stop in for a few days while traveling around Europe.
Things to do in Warsaw
Warsaw is very proud of the famous people that were born here (obviously Pope John Paul II being the most revered). A really fun thing throughout the city is the Chopin benches. There are 15 benches that are placed in spots that are connected with Chopin’s life. The best part is that the benches actually play his compositions when you press a button! This is an unexpected and pleasant surprise while you are wandering around. For more information about where the benches are and what compositions are played, check out this article. Another famous person that Warsaw is proud of is Marie Curie. While Marie Curie is more associated with France, she was actually born in Warsaw and her maiden name is Sklodowska. Warsaw has a museum dedicated to her life and work at the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Museum.
Obviously you have to visit Old Town Square while you are in Warsaw. This market square dates back to the 13th century. Today there are plenty of restaurants, bars, souvenirs, and street art to look at. There are also a few different museums in the area. Here you will see Sigismund’s Column, which was built to honor the King of Poland who moved the capital city from Krakow to Warsaw in 1596.
The Royal Castle is probably the top tourist attraction here. The original castle was blown up during World War II by the Germans, so everything is a replica. When the castle was rebuilt, it was decided to pay homage by incorporating different facades from the castle’s past. It’s definitely an important part of Warsaw’s history, but it doesn’t give you quite the same feeling of when you are in other cities in Europe looking at the architecture.
Like most of the cities we visited on this trip, there are a lot of World War II related places throughout the city. The Monument to the Heroes of Warsaw Uprising is located more in the modern area of the city. This is a very solemn monument that commemorates those who tried to defy the Germans and liberate the city in 1944. Unfortunately, their efforts did not work and this is what prompted the German army to bomb over 80% of the city as retaliation.
The Museum of the History of Polish Jews is located on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. It is a 1,000 year history of the Polish Jews, as well as a place to learn about Jewish culture. Visit the museum website here for more information. Because the Warsaw Ghetto was basically destroyed, all that is left now are markers set up showing the boundaries of the Ghetto. It’s hard to picture it now because there are just buildings here. On our bus ride from Warsaw to Krakow, we watched the movie ‘The Pianist‘ starring Adrien Brody, which is a movie about a family forced to live in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Warsaw’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located in Piłsudski Square. It is the only remaining part of the Saxon Palace that was destroyed during World War II. The Tomb houses a body of a soldier who died in 1925 defending Poland. There is an eternal flame and an honor guard posted here. It is a nice monument located in a beautiful square. In 1979 Pope John Paul II gave an open air mass here to over 500,000 people. There is also a new monument here to commemorate the victims of the 2010 Smoleńsk Air Disaster, which killed the President of Poland and 94 other passengers.
An interesting looking building you will notice is the Palace of Culture & Science, or as our tour guide called it “Stalin’s Birthday Cake”. This gift from Stalin to Poland in the 1950s was pretty universally disliked by the residents of Warsaw. However, it has sort of become an official symbol of the city now because of its unique look, and it is an important part of the city’s history, even if it is a history most would like to forget. The 42 floor building has museums, theaters, shops, libraries, and much more. There is also an observation deck on the 30th floor that offers great views of the city.
More things to see in Warsaw
Grab a drink at the Warsaw Marriott Hotel. This hotel is located right in the city center. There is the Panorama Sky Bar on the 40th floor that offers spectacular views during the day and a hip bar scene at night. Definitely a great spot to grab a drink.
Check out the milk bars. Milk bars, or Bar Mleczny, have been around since 1896. They were then taken over by the Communist system to provide subsidized meals. Today, milk bars are a way for us to get a little taste of what life was like during the Eastern Bloc. Don’t expect gourmet cuisine, but do expect a really cheap meal.
New Town Square was a quick walk from the hotel we stayed at. We had dinner here at a really nice restaurant called Feta na Freta Cafe. (More delicious pierogies!) This is a quieter area to walk around with shops and restaurants.
Day Trip to Poznań
On our way from Berlin to Warsaw, we stopped in Poznań, Poland for lunch. Poznań is about a three hour drive from Warsaw, and about a three hour drive from Berlin. It was the perfect place to stop for lunch. You can also fly from Warsaw to Poznań.
This charming city is located on the Warta River. It is popular for its Old Market Square with all the colorful, Renaissance style buildings. It is really just a pleasant city that was great for walking around and enjoying a nice lunch. We wish we could have spent more time here!
We spent the majority of our stop in the Old Market Square. For lunch, we stopped at Wiejskie Jadlo. I cannot rave enough about how good this restaurant was. If you do make your way to Poznań, definitely stop here. The pierogies were amazing, and the service was wonderful.
Check out more thing to do in Poznań here!
Where to stay: Our group stayed at the Ibis Warsaw Stare Miasto. This hostel was nice, clean, and safe. I definitely would recommend staying here if you are looking for an affordable option. It is a quick walk from Old Town Square, and located near a big shopping center. It is in a great location for walking around or taking public transportation.
Best time to visit: The peak time to visit Warsaw is the summer (June through August). This is when the weather is the best, but of course the most crowded and expensive time to visit. We traveled here in September and happened to get very lucky with the weather.
Currency: Polish złoty. (See current exchange rates here.)
Safety: Poland in general is considered a safe country to visit. Like any time you are traveling, be aware of your surroundings and watch out for pickpockets. It is also advised to avoid any political demonstrations that are going on.
Have you been to Warsaw? What did you think? Share your thoughts and recommendations below!
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