Warszawa, Polska

Once described by a friend as the Berlin’s cool weird uncle, Warsaw is not to be missed when visiting Poland. Unless you aren’t into trendy cities with great food and lots of history.

Unlike in many European cities, the Old Town is Warsaw’s least exceptional area. Visit briefly to get a sense of this historic area—the Museum of Warsaw is quite good, you can explore the re-built Royal Castle, and it’s pleasant to sip a beer in the Old Rynek (marketplace). Then move on to the rest of the city. 

From Old Town, walk down Nowy Świat to people watch on the busy street, then turn right onto Chmielna, another pedestrian avenue where you can stop for a pączek (try the rose jam filling in one of these “Polish donuts” for the most authentic experience). The street ends in a row of commercial giants—Uniqlo, Zara, TK Maxx, etc.—all of which ironically face the Culture of Palace. The Palace was a “gift” from the Soviet Union, and its austere figure still stands as a reminder of the country’s dark socialist past.

While Warsaw is home to a new science museum and other museums about famous Poles like Chopin and a Marie Curie, skip them if you’re short on time, and instead explore the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews or the Warsaw Rising Museum. Both offer modern exhibits loaded with information about Warsaw and Poland. 

If you’re not a museum person, but don’t want to leave the country without learning something, then try the Museum of Life in the Polish People’s Republic, a smaller museum dedicated to information about everyday life for Poles during communism. Across the street from the museum,  enjoy a cheap feast of traditional food at Marszałkowski Bar Mleczny. Then continue to stroll down Marszałkowska to Plac Zbawiciela. The circle is full of cute bars and restaurants, or for even more options, head to a newly redeveloped food hall in the area—Hala Koszyki.

For a slower afternoon, take a stroll through Łazienki Park, the Royal Baths that now serve as Warsaw’s largest park. In the summer months, you can enjoy Chopin concerts each Sunday afternoon on one of its lawns. Another outdoor option would be to walk on the “Bulwary”–a wide pedestrian boulevard along the Vistula River. 

Finally, make time to cross the river and experience Praga. The city’s eastern district is the equivalent to New York City’s Brooklyn. Here you can find excellent meals, some of the city’s most authentic architecture, and even a museum about vodka.

Na zdrowie! 

TO EAT: 

  • Marszałkowski Bar Mleczny: Take a Pole or a dictionary because the women do not speak English, and they are not friendly, either; this is best for a big lunch
  • Źródło: Fantastic seasonal dishes at a hip spot in Praga
  • Pyzy Flaki Gorące: A must try spot if you like dumplings or tripe
  • Bułkę przez Bibułkę: A popular breakfast spot that’s always busy
  • Relaks: The coolest coffee shop in Warsaw, complete with a rotating display of cool posters
  • ale wino: the restaurant / wine bar to choose for your fancy night out
  • Cukiernia Pawłowicz: A tried and true for a good pączek

TO LEARN: 

TRANSPORTATION: 

  • Buses and trams in Warsaw are the most efficient, but you can also hop on the metro. 

TO GET YOU IN THE MOOD: 

  • The Pianist (film)
  • The Zookeeper’s Wife (film) 
  • Swimming in the Dark (book) 
  • The Doll (book) 
  • Varsovie (music)  

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