The capital and the largest city in Poland, Warsaw is a modern city whose rich architectural heritage was almost completely swept away by the misfortunate events of the past century. Thanks to the hard work of young architects its beautiful Old town was carefully restored to its pre war state, giving the new city a touch of continuity. During the late 20th century communist residential blocks were massively built in the periphery, leaving the area closest to the historical center empty for decades. That hole was filled with private capital through large corporations that purchased the best city lots and taking advantage of the moment made Warsaw’s skyline look like that of American cities. If you are visiting Warsaw for the first time this guide is for you!
What is Warsaw Like
Warsaw is located on both banks of the Vistula River in the middle of the Masovian lowland. The city spreads in circles starting from its historical Old town, located near the river. Most of the streets within it are narrow and almost entirely pedestrian. On the other side, the rest of the city is dominated by wide boulevards that stretch for kilometers. One of the main characteristics of communist urban planning, an open space, can be found in many neighborhoods, with a huge collection of parks of different sizes and shapes. While the Old town has a circular shape, the rest of the urban grid is orthogonal.
What to See in Warsaw
Warsaw’s main attractions are concentrated in the Old town inside the city walls and along two streets that lead to the north and to the south respectively: Freta and Krakowskie Przedmieście. To the north the New town is home to some fine sacral edifices, while to the south you can find some impressive palaces. The Old Town Market Place in the oldest part of the Old town, is probbaly the most photographed place in Warsaw. It was originally built in the late 13th century, although the buildings rebuilt after the II world war belong to the renaissance and baroque movements. Just 200 m southeast of the square the Royal Castle, once the official residence of Polish kings, serves as a museum. A further 3km southeast the Ujazdów Palace and the Łazienki Park are just part of the elegant royal route ending at the Wilanów Palace which was the second home of many polish monarchs. Modern Warsaw has a lot to offer too, from the communist Palace of Culture and Science, built as a gift of the Soviet Union, to the recently opened Copernicus Science Center next to the Vistula, and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Muranów.
Warsaw has a wide range of accommodation options. The majority of hotels are located in Śródmieście district, near the historical center or west of it in Wola district. Unlike most European metropolis in Warsaw it’s possible to find cheap upper midrange hotels if you book in advance. Most of them are located inside the Old town or in the area surrounding the Palace of Culture. For budget options, the large area around metro Centrum offers many guesthouses and hostels. A lively nightlife is also in the neighborhood.
Warsaw is a completely flat city and most of the historical center is a pedestrian only area, so walking is a great option. Biking is another fun way to discover the city, besides the streets are wide so there are no major obstacles to bike around. Don’t forget proper gear since the harsh weather can last roughly from October to March. Otherwise public transport is fairly developed and traffic indications are frequent and clear. There is only one metro line (north – south), but there are plenty of tram and bus lines. Taxis are everywhere and quite cheap, especially if you compare them with the rest of Europe.
If you follow the news about economy you have probably stumbled across texts praising Warsaw as an economic tiger. And while that so called ‘economic boom’ is visible in the modern skyscrapers popping up everywhere like mushrooms, huge numbers of communist style mega blocks can be scary to some visitors. Nevertheless it all somehow blends harmonically together with the historical heritage, magnificently rebuilt after the time of chaos. Perhaps it is the vast green areas and the mighty Vistula that unite them in the again powerful capital of one Europe’s largest countries.
Please also take a look at this best three cities in Poland guide.
Warsaw Travel Guide
- Stay in Centrum, near the Palace of Culture. Happy Frog recommends Novotel Warszawa Centrum
- The Royal Castle and Presidential Palace;
- The newly built Museum of the History of Polish Jews;
- Copernicus Science Center;
- Praga neighborhood, across the river.
- Check out this 1 day in Warsaw guide
- Have lunch in Karmnik while visiting the Old Town.
- On foot, by bike, metro, tram, bus or taxi.
DO NOT MISS:
- Explore the Old town starting from the Market Place;
- Walk through the New town and visit its churches;
- Enjoy the views from the Palace of Culture and Science;
- Spend a day in Łazienki Park and Wilanów Palace;
- Discover the monumental public buildings close to Nowi Świat street.