Why I Was Wrong About Warsaw
When planning my trip to the Baltic countries this year, I realized that I could add on a couple days in Warsaw and still have enough time to explore the capitals of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Admittedly, once I had booked my flight into Warsaw, I checked the train distance to Wroclaw, a city that had been on my travel bucket list for a while, and was disappointed when I came to terms with the fact that my fast-paced schedule didn’t allow enough time to make the trip to Wroclaw.
Having already been to Krakow, I wasn’t completely sure what to expect from Warsaw. Krakow oozes with Polish old world charm, but Warsaw is a much larger, more industrial city. Krakow has an authentic, historic Old Town, whereas Warsaw’s Old Town was leveled to the ground during WWII by the Nazis and has been completely reconstructed. My guidebooks warned me that Krakow (not Warsaw) was the city to visit for beauty and charm. I found myself worried that my first trip to Krakow had set the bar too high. Would I be disappointed by Warsaw? I’ve been wanting to explore more of the country that my ancestors immigrated from, but visiting cities like Wroclaw and Gdańsk ranked higher on my priority list than Warsaw.
So, I lowered my expectations, assuring myself that I could enjoy a couple days in any Polish city (if even just for the food and vodka), packed my bags and off to Warsaw I went. Once I arrived in the capital city, my concerns quickly dissipated and I had realized that I had been wrong about Warsaw – Warsaw is a bustling and vibrant capital filled with culture and plenty of things to do and see!
Your Warsaw City Guide
Things to Do & See in Warsaw
Visit Old Town: I’m a sucker for beautiful historic Old Towns or city centers. Knowing that Warsaw’s had recently been rebuilt, I was concerned as to whether I would agree with the segment of travelers who think that the Old Town looks cheesy, feels like Disney World or is akin to a movie set. But, I don’t share this opinion, whatsoever. Although you can tell by looking at the buildings that they are not original (many of the building facades are painted on rather than having intricate carvings or decorative details as they probably used to), I didn’t feel that the building exteriors detracted from Old Town’s charm.
In fact, if you look closely, you’ll find buildings which have bits of mismatched old brick or stone built into their walls. These building materials at first glance appear to be out of place, but they are actually small parts of the original buildings that were salvaged after the war.
Old Town also has a gorgeous main square, Market Square, which has a lively vibe, perfect for grabbing a drink, enjoying the weather and people watching. Tip: Try a local beer with raspberry syrup added to it. This concoction is typically served with a straw and is quite popular in Poland during the summer. It’s refreshing and delicious!
Take a Walking Tour of the City: Since I found myself mesmerized by the city’s rebuilt Old Town, I decided I wanted to learn more about it, so I joined the Orange Umbrella Tour. The tour was packed with interesting information. (Not to mention that, in true Polish fashion, the tour ended with a vodka shot). The best part? The tour is “free” – meaning that you decide how much the tour was worth at its conclusion. The company also offers free Jewish and WWII Warsaw tours.
Visit New Town: Ironically, Warsaw’s New Town is older than Old Town since parts of New Town date back to the 14th Century. The area borders Old Town and is a great place to grab a drink or meal since the prices are lower than the tourist hub of Old Town.
Stroll Down Nowy Swiat Street: Don’t miss this pedestrian-friendly street outfitted with flower vendors, shops, restaurants and cafes. It’s a lovely place to stroll, grab a drink or a meal and watch the world go by.
Continue Down Al Ujazdowskie: Follow the Royal Route down Al Ujazdowskie street to continue your picturesque stroll. The tree-lined boulevard is brimming with historic mansions that have been turned into embassies.
See the Warsaw Barbican: Located between Old Town and New Town you will find the Warsaw Barbican, which is one of the few remaining relics of the fortification network and walls that once encircled the city. Tip: Follow the steps down to the lowest level of the Barbican (where it seems a moat should be) to get the best angle to take photos of the fortress.
Stroll Old Town’s Market: On the edge of Old Town near Sigismund’s Column you’ll find a narrow market that is worth a quick stroll though. The vendors are pedaling all sorts of goods ranging from clothing to food to the typical souvenir knick-knacks. You’ll also find a stand selling Polish Highlander cheese – a delicious (and cheap) snack. The cheese, which is traditionally served during Christmastime, is grilled and topped with berries.
Visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum: The modern museum details the city’s occupation by the Germans, Warsaw’s uprising in 1944, and the aftermath that ensued. The museum is excellently done and will educate you on the history of Warsaw, allowing you to further appreciate the city. Tip: Lines were long when I visited the museum. I would recommend that you arrive before opening and set aside a few hours so you don’t feel rushed.
Stroll Through Lazienki Park: Lazienki is the city’s largest park and is stunning. I wasn’t sure whether the walk to the park would be worth the time and effort, but without a doubt, it was. The park provides a peaceful retreat from the city and is home to live peacocks. Sunday afternoons in May through September make a particularly perfect time to visit since you’re likely to stumble upon a free Chopin piano concert.
Take a Food Tour with Eat Warsaw: Polish food is delicious and there’s a lot more to try than just kielbasa and pierogis. Why not take a food tour to learn more about Polish food and customs and sample some new dishes? While in Warsaw, I took “The Food Tour” with Eat Warsaw, which was positively delightful! Our guide, Halina, took us to four different restaurants around the city to sample a wide array of Polish cuisine. Halina is passionate about Polish cuisine and was well-versed in all things Warsaw. She was able to answer our questions and gave us great recommendations as to how to spend the rest of our time in the city. When I return to Warsaw I plan on trying one of the other tours offered by Eat Warsaw, such at “The Vodka Tour” or “The Pierogi Class.”
Your Warsaw City Guide
Where to Eat in Warsaw
Baszyliszek (Old Town – ul. Rynek Starego Miasta 1/3): As you would expect, the prices in Old Town are steep since the area caters to tourists. But, at Baszyliszek, you can find local prices in the heart of Old Town.
Zapiecek Polski Pierogarnie (Old Town – Świętojańska 13): I didn’t expect to find super delicious food in Old Town and ended up eating in the area solely for convenience and ambiance. However, I thought the pierogis at Zapoecek were great. Don’t let the waitresses’ cheesy touristy outfits scare you away – grab a plate of “salty” (you must top them with the bacon filled “gravy”) and a plate of “sweet” pierogis to share, and sample some of the dozens of filling choices offered.
Kamanda Lwowski (Foksal 10, 00-001): I arrived to Warsaw late after a long day of travel and asked the concierge at my hotel where I could find delicious, authentic Polish cuisine. He definitely pointed me to the right place! Kamanda Lwowski serves Polish food with a Ukrainian flare. What’s that like, you ask? Delicious. We sampled an array of dishes and everything was great. Plus, the atmospheric restaurant has live music in the evenings. I liked this place so much that I didn’t even mind when our food tour took us back to the restaurant the very next day. (It just gave me another chance to sample more deliciousness)! If you only take one of my restaurant recommendations, do yourself a favor and make it this one.
Solec 44 (ul. Solec 4): This place is completely different than the others mentioned above. Off the beaten path, trendy and the home of a local celebrity chef. Don’t let that scare you away though – the atmosphere is casual and relaxed.
E. Wedel (multiple locations throughout Warsaw): Of course, I’m not going to leave you hanging without a recommendation for dessert! E. Wedel Chocolate Cafes are spattered throughout the city and worth the trip.
Your Warsaw City Guide
Where to Stay in Warsaw
While in Warsaw, I stayed at the four star Mercure Warszawa Grand. I really can’t find any fault with this hotel – the great reviews on Trip Advisor were spot on! The rooms were modern and very large by European standards, plus, there were delicious bites of (complimentary!) cheese, fruit and chocolates waiting in the room upon my check-in. During my stay I had the opportunity to try the hotel’s spread of breakfast options which were fresh and tasty. The hotel staff was extremely knowledgeable and friendly and provided me with great recommendations for places to eat and drink within walking distance.
The hotel is conveniently located near Nowy Swiat Street (discussed above), where I became a regular fixture during my stay. I enjoy exploring a new city by foot, so I also walked to Lazienki Park and Old Town from the hotel. In fact, the only location I felt like I needed to catch a cab to was the Uprising Museum. But, if you’re not as keen on walking, the hotel is close to a bus stop and taxis were plentiful. On my next visit to Warsaw, I won’t hesitate to book again at the Warszawa Grand and would definitely recommend the hotel to my readers. You can check rates for the city’s hotels here.
Your Warsaw City Guide
Tips to Save You Money in Warsaw
Generally speaking, Warsaw is an extremely reasonably priced city by western standards. Since the US dollar was strong during my visit, I found the exchange rate to the Polish Zloty as favorable as it was on my last trip to Poland five years ago! Nonetheless, there are still some simple tips I stumbled upon that can help you save money on your trip to Warsaw:
On weekdays Warsaw is filled with business travelers who clear out come Friday. I just went on about how inexpensive the city can be, but the one exception I noticed was the price of lodging. Hotel prices can get quite expensive during the week. But, if you can plan your trip over a weekend you will save a ton on your lodging. If you’re on a budget, booking during the weekend could mean that more upscale hotels, like the Mercure Warszawa Grand, may fall into your price range since you’ll only be paying a fraction of their weekday rates. You can find a great deal on your Warsaw hotel here.
Food & Drink
One of the things I love about Poland is that you can easily find cheap, filling, delicious food! In Warsaw, you can save a ton of cash on your meals by eating outside the touristy areas and avoiding the restaurants in Old Town. (Not to mention, Old Town isn’t exactly known for having great food, although I did find a couple exceptions noted above). As far as drinks go, you’ll spend less if you indulge in local beers and vodkas rather than imports. Make sure to try some of the vodka that the Poles are known for. Tip: Generally speaking, vodka is served one way in Poland – chilled and in a shot glass, which is meant to be shot, not sipped. Know that you may receive some confused looks if you order your vodka as a drink with a mixer.
Warsaw is a large city, but if you like to walk and book at a centrally located hotel, it’s possible to get to many of the tourist sites by foot. Otherwise, the city does have an extensive public transportation system. (Although, I can’t personally vouch for it). I found taxi prices to be quite reasonable and you can save a bit of cash if you hail a cab or pick one up from a taxi stand, rather than taking one of the cabs waiting outside your hotel. If you’re staying at the Mercure Warszawa Grand, there is a taxi stand just across the street.
Like with many cities, beware of unscrupulous taxi cab drivers. The people in Warsaw were all very kind – perhaps the nicest I came across throughout my entire trip through the Baltics, but there will always be exceptions. Unfortunately, we experienced one such exception after a long night out on the town when the cab driver charged us double what the fare should have been. I suspected that we were being taken for a ride (both literally and figuratively), but the driver insisted that taxi fares in Warsaw drastically increase in the evening. Since this was the first cab we had taken at night, I couldn’t be certain that my intuition was right and ultimately decided that I was too tired to argue with the driver (who, ironically, was quite grandfatherly looking). But, based on the other cab rides we took later during our stay, it’s safe to assume we definitely got ripped off. It was only a few US dollars, but still, you can learn from my mistake!
If you’re traveling to other cities or countries in the area before or after your trip to Warsaw, I would highly recommend that you use Lux Express coach service. My most typical mode of transportation is a plane since I’m usually traveling with time constraints. I’ll admit, I was weary of my first “bus” trip – but the Lux coaches are not your typical bus. Each seat was outfitted with its own TV screen and outlet, and the buses come with wifi and a beverage machine dispensing complimentary coffee and cappuccinos. By booking in advance, you can get some great deals (I paid $9€ for my overnight coach to Vilnius)! If you have a little extra cash to spare, I would recommend that you upgrade to the Lux Express Lounge, where you’ll get a larger, leather reclining seat with a foot rest and complimentary water and snacks.
Have you been to Warsaw? What did you think? If not, would you like to visit?
Although I was a guest of the Mercure Warszawa Grand and Warsaw Eats, as always, all opinions are my own. Some of the above links are affiliate links, meaning that if you choose to book through them I will earn a small commission at no cost to you. I appreciate your continued support to keep this site up and running!
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