When it came to planning our time in Poland, all of the feedback we received on Warsaw ranged from “don’t bother” to “one day is plenty”. Complaints focused on its lack of character (or over-abundance of Soviet charm), and generally made Warsaw out to be the ugly sister of Krakow, “the Jewel of Poland”. After spending 2.5 days exploring Warsaw, we completely disagree. Here’s why:
Granted, the entire Old Town had to be rebuilt after WWII, but it was restored to maintain the historic charm of the city before the war. In addition to the beautiful castle and Presidential Palace, Old Town is filled with numerous cafes, bars and restaurants (all with big patios) alongside dozens of street vendors. A great bonus is the main street, Krakowskie Przedmiescie, becomes pedestrian and bike-only on the weekends. And even though we were there on a weekend in late July, the city never seemed very crowded to us – not like most major cities in Western Europe in the summer months.
And if you want to visit churches, there seems to be one on every corner. You can even visit the Holy Cross Church where Chopin’s heart is said to be buried below one of the pillars. If you’re into that kinda thing…
Historical references to Warsaw date back to 1313; in 1918 it became the new capital of the independent Republic of Poland.
More recent history focuses on WWII, during which roughly 85% of the city was destroyed. For anyone interested in WWII history, Warsaw is an important place to visit to fully understand the impact of the German occupation, the Holocaust, and the Warsaw Uprising. The Warsaw Rising Museum and Museum of the History of Polish Jews are particularly interesting.
Under communist rule, most of the city was rebuilt and, with it, the enormous Palace of Culture and Science, a controversial building that was a gift from the Soviet Union and is locally known as the “elephant in lace panties”. While it’s true that there are many unattractive communist era apartment buildings in the city, there are also many modern buildings – reflecting the city’s economic growth since the early 1990’s.
This is assuming you like pierogies and vodka. But who doesn’t? Oh yeah, and ice cream. Honestly, we could probably find any type of cuisine here (we saw sushi, tons of kebab shops, and any number of restaurants offering “traditional Polish meals”, milk bars etc. etc.) And unlike our time in the Baltics, at least it was warm enough in Warsaw to justify eating ice cream.
Everywhere we walked there were large parks with nice water fountains, cool monuments and statues, and plenty of sun worshippers. From the Ogrod Saski Park near the Old Town to the huge Lazienki Park where they host free Chopin concerts on Sundays. Lazienki Park, in particular, reminded us of New York’s Central Park with various cafes, lakes, and even a few palaces thrown in for good measure. We have to say, Europeans know how to make a good park.