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Warsaw Impressions and Favorites

Let's put a little travel in the travel forum, eh?

I'm dreaming of a trip to Warsaw whenever Poland is ready to receive travelers. My only stop in Poland so far has been Krakow with a quick peek at Zakopane. I have a 10-night, refundable reservation at a hotel near Warsaw's old town for September, just in case I have the option of going this fall. I've read my copies of The Rough Guide to Poland and the RS guide to Eastern Europe, along with a good number of books about Poland. I've found Poland's excellent English website that lists COVID-19 restrictions, so I will know exactly what the rules will be.

I'm interested in hearing others' impressions of Warsaw -- good and bad. Tell me what you liked and what you didn't like. I would love to hear favorite activities, sites, parks, cafes, restaurants, day trips, etc (with the recognition that some may not exist when travel starts again). If you're planning a trip there (I know some of you are), I would love for you to share any cool things that you have found. Feel free to share your tragic disappointment at what Warsaw had to offer, too, or to cast doubt on my decision to stay in Warsaw for 10 days.

Posted by
1421 posts

I was in Warsaw in April of 2019.

I really enjoyed a tour I took in a communist-era van. I thought it sounded cheesy when I first read about it, but I did some research and decided to go ahead with it. It was informative, fun, and gave a great overview. And we ended at a small restaurant for a traditional Polish lunch, a place you'd never find in guide books or discover on your own.

I went to the opera. I saw a performance of Billy Budd by the Polish National Opera at Teatr Wielki. It was excellent. Sung in English, but with both English and Polish supertitles.

The POLIN museum is outstanding for insights on the history of Jews in Poland.

I didn't take any organized tours of the historic old town and didn't feel the need. I just explored on my own with the help of Rick's guidebook. Same with the royal castle.

Posted by
6712 posts

I think you've done all your homework and excellent research, so I doubt I could offer any sites that you haven't read about yet. Please feel free to PM me if you have any questions because I was born there, grew up there (under communism at that time), and have all my family there. I feel too biased to give my impressions, but I will say that it's a very manageable (flat, easy to navigate, not too big, good transport system) and very affordable capital city as far as European capitals go - it has changed tremendously since communism fell and with increased investment. It is not Paris, it is not Berlin, certainly not London....but if you set your expectations accordingly, you can have a wonderful time there and thoroughly enjoy yourself.

The tourism website (https://warsawtour.pl/en/brochures/) has excellent PDFs and other resources for walks centered around all sorts of interests (museums, Jewish history, etc). There are also many easy train trips to take from there because it's a central hub for the country. Łódź is one day trip I would highly recommend. Ten days in total in Warsaw seems like a lot but you seem genuinely interested in Poland and its history and, for that reason alone, I think you can fill your time and not have any regrets. Visiting Łazienki Park is one of my favorite childhood memories. They have wonderful Chopin recitals there, although in the Springtime (through Sept, I think). You also have to try the jelly donuts, called pączki.

Posted by
2874 posts

I wasn’t prepared to enjoy Warsaw as much as Krakow when we visited a few years ago. It was fall, the weather was sunny, the rustic decorations in cafes in the old town were beautiful, there was a festival going on in the old square with singing librarians one of the days (be still my heart). We took a tour of the uprising sites, visited beautiful and packed churches, historic monuments and parks. We loved the cafe scene and food. I’d LOVE to go back and spend 10 days.

Posted by
18850 posts

I spent eight full days in Warsaw in 2018. Although much of Warsaw is modern, it's very lively and real-world. It's lovely to be surrounded mostly by people who live there. I kept extending my stay because I found more to do. I would have enjoyed more time. I do walk a lot, including many occasions when others would just hop on a bus or a tram, so I might have been able to squeeze everything I did into 6 days or so if I'd been more aggressive. In addition, I'm all-in at the historical museums I visit, and both POLIN and the Warsaw Rising Museum are very, very time-consuming if you want to absorb all the information presented. Poland has done a magnificent job of making its museums English-accessible. Often there are subtitled videos to watch as well as printed material to read.

I have special interests in art and WWII and Cold War history. I list below are some places I enjoyed that probably are not mentioned in many guidebooks. I used a lot of sources to build my list of sightseeing targets in Warsaw (including this forum--its worth going back through the older threads). I think most of the places on my list are mentioned by In Your Pocket, whose free guide to Warsaw can be downloaded here: https://www.inyourpocket.com/data/download/warsaw. This article about dark-tourism sights may also be helpful: https://culturaobscura.com/dark-tourism-memorial-sites-museums-in-warsaw-poland/

  • Pawiak Prison Museum
  • Museum Walki (Gestapo prison); some overlap between information presented here and at Pawiak.
  • Katyn Memorial/Museum: Excellent exhibition on the Soviet massacre of Polish military officers during WWII. Takes more time to see it than one might imagine. Take Metro to Park Traugutta 04 station.
  • Colonel Kuklinski Intelligence Museum: Small but well-documented museum about the important Polish spy of the Cold War era whose exploits were detailed in the movie "Jack Strong".
  • Neon Museum (tricky to access even on foot; use electronic map and allow extra time)
  • Communist-Life Museum (near Neon Museum): An interesting, though low-budget, look at life under Communism.
  • Poster Museum (Wilanow Palace complex): Great for lovers of graphic art. Polish poster art is renowned.
  • The Museum on the Vistula: Modern art.
  • Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art: I was sad to miss this; it was closed on the day I tried to visit; perhaps I didn't check the website before heading over.
  • Zacheta National Gallery of Art: Polish contemporary art
  • National Museum (probably in all the books): Archaeology and art.

Possible day-trips:
- Treblinka Camp: Take train to Malkinia, then taxi. There are museum-like displays in the visitor center.
- Płock ("Pwotsk"): Nice small city with attractive historic center and multiple museums, one focusing on art nouveau. I spent two full days there, but a day-trip would be fine for most people.

Food in Warsaw:
Thai Me Up, Foksal Street near "Palm Tree Circle" and not too far from National Museum: Quite good Thai restaurant.

Zapiecek: Local chain of pierogi restaurants. Alas, each order contains something like 9 pierogi, which makes for a heavy meal. (Polish restaurants aren't exactly known for their vegetable offerings.)
But they're cheap, so you don't really have to eat all of them.

Blikle: Good bakery. French-style pastries as well as filled donuts (paczki)

Posted by
5961 posts

It was a lot more up-to-date, bright and cheerful than we expected. No disappointments. We just loved walking all the way along the main road, from the embassy area all the way to the Old Town. Lots of places to eat along the mostly pedestrian only street. Note the church by the University where Chopin's Heart is entombed. Polands Tomb of the Unknowns is a few blocks west, near the square that was briefly named Adolf Hitler Platz during the occupation.

With ten days, for day trips, consider Czestochowa, where the Shrine of the Black Madonna is a pilgrimage site. Kazimierz Dolny is a pretty little town to the southeast.

We really liked the website (and downloaded guide) for shopping and restaurants from the site "InYourPocket (city)__" for both Warsaw and Kraków. The site had lots of interactive maps. RSE also has a City guidebook for "Warsaw/Krakow/Gdansk" that was helpfully focused more than the "Eastern Europe Guide".

Posted by
1634 posts

hey hey dave
a couple ideas for you from my friend's husband that was born and raised in poland. he's been here about 35 years now and goes back once a year. hopefully my friend and i can go when all is clear to travel. his family home about 2 hours away
gpsmycity.com/warsaw
deliciouspoland.com/blog
the culturetrip.com/12 things to buy only in poland
saving these sites for traveling later. enjoy
aloha

Posted by
18 posts

Since you have 10 days, you don’t have to rush and you can see so much! And the weather is lovely that time of year.

I’d add the Copernicus museum; it’s supposed to be for kids but it was so much fun. It’s like a very modern museum of science. If you like music, you’ll enjoy the Chopin museum. It’s also very modern with exhibits you can listen to, play music, all kinds of things. If you’re interested in art, the National Museum is the art museum and it’s not bad and we had the place to ourselves. If you’re interested in history, the Warsaw Uprising museum was very good. It’s a bit far from the Old Town, so you may want to take a taxi. But we’re walkers and hiked there and back. There’s a university library and the exterior of the building has designs of “languages” including the language of science and music. It’s mentioned in RS guidebook and it’s much cooler than it sounds.

Food - you’re going to Poland, so eat Polish food! I don’t think you can get much Polish food in SC! You have to stop at a Wedel chocolate shop and have a European style hot chocolate. It’s much thicker and richer than the stuff in America. Someone suggested the bakery Blikle which will be near your hotel; I suggest you go in the morning while the pastries are fresh and try a rose-filled pącki (bismarck). It’s a traditional Polish flavor of filling. There are a number of restaurants that serve basic Polish food and some haute cuisine restaurants with a modern interpretation of Polish food. Try all of them! They import their wine (although I understand they are starting to develop vineyards) but they have been making beer for centuries, so try all of them, just not all at the same time.

You have the time, so take a walking tour. I’ve been to Warsaw several times (we have family in Poland), but the first time I took my brother there we took a walking tour and he really enjoyed it. And you’ll be supporting the tour guides which are really hurting around the world.

RS was going to film two new shows in Poland when the virus hit. He’ll go back as soon as he can to film these shows, so maybe you’ll run into RS himself!

You’ll have a wonderful time. If we’re lucky we’ll be in Greece in September. Keeping my fingers crossed for everyone who loves to travel.

Posted by
303 posts

I think foodie tours are great fun and a great way to get to know a city. I traveled with three others to Poland in 2019 for a fully guided group tour. In advance, when we were trying to plan some activities for our free time in Warsaw, I read a blog post by Rick Steves' colleague and guidebook author Cameron Hewitt about his experience taking an Eat Polska foodie tour in Warsaw. Cameron's post claimed it was the best tour of this type that he's taken anywhere in Europe. That was a good enough endorsement for us and we signed up online, filling 4 of 8 slots. Our reservation confirmation told us to meet up with our guide at 1:00 at the Nicholas Copernicus statue located in the square in front of the Polish Academy of Science. Just two others join our group of four that day. Eat Polska has a dozen or so guides. Ours, Mischa, happened to be the same one who had lead Cameron around on the tour that he later blogged about. Our afternoon with Mischa was fabulous! This tour was an opportunity to leave some of the touristy areas of the city and venture into lesser known areas. We had a four course meal as the afternoon progressed, visiting four wonderful restaurants. Each was quite a different experience from the others. We learned so much, not just about Polish food but about daily life and culture in these neighborhoods in Warsaw. Mischa felt like a good friend by the time the tour was over. After Warsaw, the next stop on our group tour was going to be Krakow so before we parted ways with Mischa, we asked him if he had any favorite restaurants in that city. He took our email address and later sent us a list of restaurants recommended by his colleagues in Eat Polska's Krakow office. Above and beyond! I highly recommend an Eat Polska tour of Warsaw!

Posted by
2579 posts

Thanks for all the responses so far!

Lane -- I did a Trabant Communist tour in Krakow. It was kind of kitschy but fun and informative. We ate lunch at a great milk bar. I've seen a Communist van and a Communist bus tour in Warsaw -- I imagine I'll do one of them.

Agnes -- I remember you mentioning in a prior thread about growing up in Poland (and the apartment complex in which you grew up being spruced up with some green stripes or something like that). I have looked at a ton of websites... except the Warsaw Tourism website. What a wealth of information! Thanks for pointing it out to me. Israel Benjamin Singer's The Brothers Ashkenazi put Łódź on my radar, but I need to look a little closer at the city to see what it has to offer.

Mona -- Thanks for sharing your experience. Who wouldn't love a group of singing librarians? And... did you visit a library while you were in Warsaw? That's one of the things I seek out when I visit a city.

acraven -- Wow. Thanks for all the info. I have a special interest in WWII and Cold War history, too. I wasn't aware of the Kuklinski Museum. I'm excited about that (saw the movie and read a biography). My original plan for this trip was an epic 25-day Warsaw to Gdansk trip with stops in northeastern Poland, but (a) that short-changed Warsaw and (b) that's too much to plan without being certain of being able to be in the country. Treblinka was on the itinerary; it looks like that site is very well done. I'm still hoping to pull off the epic trip in the future (with less time in Warsaw and more time in other places).

stan -- Thanks for your thoughts, too. Kazimierz Dolny is on my list of potential day trips. Someone on the RS site turned me on to the In Your Pocket guides (I think it may have been acraven) -- they are awesome.

princess pupule -- Thanks for the links. I'll check them out.

cpiechtravel -- I appreciate your comprehensive response. I think if I could only pick one thing to do in Warsaw, it would be the Warsaw Uprising Museum. I have seen the Copernicus Museum mentioned several times, primarily in the context of kids. I'm glad you had a good experience there and would love to see it. Thanks for the food recommendations. Also... I'm a big fan of local guides and use them a lot.

Posted by
2579 posts

Vickie -- You sneaked in while I was answering the others. Thanks for your enthusiastic endorsement of the foodie tour. I've heard good things about the Eat Polska tours. That's another thing on my list of things I would like to do in Poland -- either this trip or the next one while in Gdansk.

Posted by
2205 posts

I feel many first-time visitors make the mistake of underestimating Warsaw as just a gloomy grey city, but it's quite the modern "happening" metropolis. I've found that there are two Warsaws, the well-know area composing of the reconstructed old town and Royal Square, and then there is a side of Warsaw that goes under the radar for many tourists. For example, in the area radiating out from Plac Zbawiciela, one can find Asian bistros, hipster craft breweries, and upscale Polish fusion restaurants.

In addition to the aforementioned Pączki, I would also not miss tasting the local Zapiekanka (Polish Pizza) in Warsaw, where there are a number of modern Zapiekanka shops with inventive toppings and dipping sauces. The quintessential street food when in Warsaw!

Also for a short half-day from Warsaw, you can consider a visit to Modlin Fortress, one of the largest 19th century fortress in Europe, originally built by Napoleon Bonaparte, it was expanded multiple times by the Russians into a vast network of fortifications. One of the last stands of the brave Polish army against the German invasion of 1939 was at Modlin Fortress. To get there, just take the train up from Warsaw Central Train Station to Modlin, from which the fortress is a just 10-15 minute walk. However there are a few guide tours of the Modlin Fortress complex, but it's just as easy to just go solo.

You can read more here: https://www.inyourpocket.com/warsaw/modlin-fortress_151919v

Posted by
4886 posts

While in Warsaw, make sure you see a few of the scraps of the Ghetto Wall that survive in various neighborhoods. We found one near our hotel, at Graybowska/Zelazny.

I am glad that we went to the POLIN museum, and had a great ethnic meal in the lobby. But much of the museum's objects are represented by slick color photos or transparencies, rather than the actual objects, from private collections all over Europe. It's invaluable to build a replica of a wooden Synagogue when they were all ruined or destroyed. But it dims the value of a museum to show replicas of paintings, carpets, and textiles.

There is more to Lodz than "Jewish Tourism." Even a major (long tram ride) location, the "largest [some dispute about this] Jewish cemetery in Europe" has general value as an artifact of multiple wars and ethnic life of the past. But the real surprise is seeing a major city poised between "Post-industrial ruin" and "Successful reinvention/gentrification (Ironica typeface!)." It's very easy to daytrip by train from Warsaw, although discounted, advance-purchase train tickets cannot be changed to another time if you finish fast or late. I would like to have had time to see both textile-baron complexes instead of settling for the more in-town one. Great soviet-era power station across the street from the Lodz train station, trams everywhere, great day out. It was strange bad taste after a good lunch in the "best Jewish restaurant in Lodz" (Anatewka) to be offered a selfie in a "put your face through the hole" as a Hassidim!

Madame Curie has been very big in the U.S. in recent years, so I am sorry to have missed her museum/workshop in Warsaw. Probably more worthwhile than Copernicus ... ?

On a nice day, consider the small landscape garden and rooftop terrace/view (all free) on top of/beside the Warsaw University Library, near the river. It's pretty near any sightseeing walk.

Here's a art-history/travel video we didn't see until just last year, too late to consider the Łazienki Palace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gx17FoH1XZs&t=112s

The taxi driver we were assigned by the Warsaw airport taxi line dispatcher was scrupulously honest and incredibly, unbelievably cheap. Take a cab.

Posted by
1634 posts

hey dave
as a poster writes when in poland eat polish food. my friend's husband loves to have "us girls" over for a traditional dish called golumpki every year around the holidays. it's like a cabbage roll soup with ground beef, rice, onions and spices rolled in a cabbage leaf, baked then he puts in a tomatoey broth. it's so good. put my bib on and enjoy it with bread and wine.
swedishnomad.com under food has some traditional dishes to eat while in poland. enjoy
aloha

Posted by
2579 posts

Carlos delivers yet again with a helpful post containing unique information. Thanks for pointing me to Modlin Fortress.

Thanks, Tim for the info on Lodz and the Łazienki Palace link.

Posted by
2579 posts

Some of the obscure places that I have found and hope to visit:

Posted by
18850 posts

Thanks for reporting on your research, Dave. I'm recording the info for possible use on a follow-up trip.

Posted by
4361 posts

Princess pupule was referring to Gołąbki which is pronounced gowampki. Roughly translated as "little pigeons" they are as described by PP. Stuffed cabbage rolls are ubiquitous amongst most of Eastern Europe and beyond with stuffings varying the farther east and south you go. I grew up with them having Polish grandparents and I've since introduced them to my wife and kids who love them as well (apart from the youngest who hates cabbage).

I've visited Warsaw on three occasions. First with my wife before me married, next as a family and finally with a group of friends just over two years ago. All three trips were different with the last one being the most food and drink orientated. We loved Momu (http://momu.pl/) a short walk from the Old Town. It specialises in smoked food and was so good we ate breakfast there on our last day and went back for lunch two hours later prior to our flight simply to try the lunch menu.

PiwPaw Parkingowa is a pub with a phenomenal number of beers primarily from Poland and elsewhere in Europe. There are at least a hundred taps and countless bottles. It's a very popular place but we never failed to find a table, usually in the cellar. We had some exceptional beers there but with the sheer number of choices it's actaully difficult to decide what to go for.

Same Krafty bar in the Old Town is another excellent, albeit small, craft beer pub. Not as much selection as PiwPaw but that does mean it's easier to make a choice.

Posted by
2579 posts

More lesser-known historical places that appeal to me:

  • The Żabiński Villa at the Warsaw Zoo. Explore the villa where Jan and Antonina Żabiński hid people (mainly Jews) who needed protection from the Nazi regime. Of course, this was made famous in the book and movie The Zookeeper's Wife.
  • A small plaque on the Jabłonowski Palace memorializing Julian Kulski, the mayor of Warsaw during WWII who resigned his position to go fight with the Home Army during the Warsaw Uprising.
  • Sites related to Janusz Korczak, a Jewish pediatrician and child advocate turned orphanage director who turned down opportunities to escape the Warsaw Ghetto so that he could stay with and calm his orphans through whatever they faced. His original orphanage (Dom Sierot) is at Jaktorowska 6. There are monuments in the city center and in the Jewish cemetery.
  • The recently opened Józef Piłsudski Museum at Sulejówek. Piłsudski lived an amazing life. For anyone who doesn't know, he was a Polish patriot who perhaps saved western Europe from Bolshevik Revolution in 1920 and who helped establish in the Second Polish Republic in 1918; unfortunately, the elected government didn't govern according to his ideals, so he overthrew it via military coup (which may not be so patriotic). Anywho... the museum is adjacent to the manor built for him by his adoring military subordinates. -Monument to the Fallen and Murdered in the East. A memorial for those murdered by the Soviets beginning with Russia's invasion of Poland in 1939.
  • A tour of the Palace of Culture and Science
  • Miniature Park that features miniature versions of buildings destroyed during WWII (including the Great Synagogue).
Posted by
2579 posts

How about some culture?

  • Warsaw Camerata -- a chamber orchestra that performs music determined by its patrons
  • Teatr Dramatyczny -- a theatre company the Palace of Culture and Science that performs (sometimes) with English supratitles
  • Opera Kalmeralna -- chamber opera in Warsaw that offers a variety of performances, including marionette opera.
  • Warsaw Boys Choir -- a post-Communist creation

And some outdoor spaces...

  • Kampinos National Park. Vast national park at the outskirts of Warsaw that has many biking/hiking/horse riding trails, along with tombs/cemeteries for those who died during the 1863 Uprising, the 1939 German invasion of Poland, and later actions against the Polish by the German war machine.
  • Jazdów. A community of wooden Finnish houses that were given to Poland by Finland to help with housing after WWII. Near the Ujazdowski Palace and Center of Modern Art mentioned above.
  • Królikarnia Park. A park in the Mokotów district that surrounds Króikarnia, a palace that now serves as a sculpture museum. The park is surrounded by a nature preserve. Mokotów was one of the later districts to fall during the Warsaw Uprising -- fighting around Królikarnia was some of the fiercest fighting in the district.
Posted by
1940 posts

Many thanks to acraven for the wonderful list (above in this thread) of art and history museums. I located the websites for each, English when available, and have included them in this copy of the original list.

Pawiak Prison Museum

Museum Walki (Gestapo prison); some overlap between information presented here and at Pawiak.

Katyn Memorial/Museum: Excellent exhibition on the Soviet massacre of Polish military officers during WWII. Takes more time to see it than one might imagine. Take Metro to Park Traugutta 04 station.

Colonel Kuklinski Intelligence Museum: Small but well-documented museum about the important Polish spy of the Cold War era whose exploits were detailed in the movie "Jack Strong".

Neon Museum (tricky to access even on foot; use electronic map and allow extra time)

Life Under Communism Museum (near Neon Museum): An interesting, though low-budget, look at life under Communism.

Poster Museum (Wilanow Palace complex): Great for lovers of graphic art. Polish poster art is renowned.

The Museum on the Vistula: Modern art.

Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art: I was sad to miss this; it was closed on the day I tried to visit; perhaps I didn't check the website before heading over.

Zacheta National Gallery of Art: Polish contemporary art

National Museum (probably in all the books): Archaeology and art.

Posted by
2579 posts

Thanks to CWSocial for adding the links above.