As I’ve previously written about the 2.5 days that I spent in Kraków, I thought it about time that I did the same for Poland’s capital city, Warsaw. Let me set the record straight (and incite a riot) at the beginning. If you only have time to visit one Polish city, I’d head to Kraków. It just edges it for me in terms of architecture, atmosphere and proximity to day-trip locations.
That being said – I would, if you can spare 5-7 days, recommend taking a trip which covers both cities. Especially since you can do this, with flights and accommodation included, for under £200. Trust me on this.
I flew into Warsaw, got a bus straight to Kraków and returned to Warsaw with almost 2 days to spare before my flight back to London. While it may not seem like a lot of time – I felt that for someone who was time constrained, it was the right length of time to get a taste of the city. Hopefully I’ll give you a taste of what Warsaw has to offer, without planning your trip for you (never let anyone do that).
When you arrive, the first thing you see will probably be the hideous Palace of Culture and Science. It’s a Soviet-era eyesore that dominates the city skyline. You can, however, venture inside, explore the exhibits and get a view from the top for under £4. Some people argue that this is the best view across Warsaw, but I can only assume that’s because you don’t have to actually look at the Palace of Culture and Science when you’re inside it. This is not a must. In fact, since the view from the top is only really over the newer part of the city, I’d say you could definitely give this a miss if you were pushed for time.
Instead, head straight to Warsaw’s Old Town Market Square. This is the heart of the city and the place to start any adventure in Warsaw. Get your photographer groove on by taking some shots of the cool pastel coloured buildings. Unlike most Old Town Squares, the prices in the restaurants here are not as outrageous when compared to the rest of the city. I’d still suggest getting a bit off the beaten track to grab some food though.
You can waste a few hours wandering through the Streets of the Old Town. Unlike Kraków’s relatively well-preserved old town, Warsaw had to rebuild around 80% of theirs after the Second World War. In that sense, for an old town, it’s relatively new. That doesn’t make it any less impressive though.
Eventually you’ll wind your way through to Sigismund’s Column, which is conveniently located in front of the Royal Castle. The column is there to commemorate the dude that moved the capital from Kraków to Warsaw – and yes, from listening to a tour guide in Kraków, they hold a grudge. I’m not going to lie to you – this castle is not one of Europe’s most impressive, but you can still grab a drink, sit at the bottom of the column and watch the world go by. Unless it’s freezing – then don’t do that. Also, don’t get cinnamon spiced beer – it does not taste good.
If I had better timed my trip, I’d almost definitely have gone on the free walking tour which starts at the bottom of the column every day of the year, but alas, I had not. Each time I’ve been on one of these free tours in the past, I’ve been very impressed, so while I can’t recommend this tour specifically, you’ll probably luck out and have a fascinating few hours.
From here you’ll want to head down Krakowskie Przedmieście, a historic street that is lined with some very impressive buildings (and some benches which play Chopin’s music). This is the royal route and is probably one of the most famous streets in Poland.
Eventually you’ll end up at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Here soldiers stand guard, while a flame continuously burns over the ashes of an unknown soldier killed in the Battle of Lemberg in 1918. The memorial respects all the unknown soldiers that lost their lives and is one of many to appear after WWI.
There are a couple more places you wont want to miss in your remaining hours. Firstly, you’ve got Lazienki Park. It’s a lovely park, with some beautiful landscaped gardens, impressive buildings and a large pond. It’s a great place to go for a walk and is located down the end of the royal route. Check out the Chopin monument if you’re into that sort of thing.
Finally, there’s the Warsaw’s Uprising Museum, which I thoroughly recommend. This museum will teach you more about how the Polish Home Army fought to liberate Warsaw during World War II. Even though the Soviet army was on the doorstep, they sent no support over the river to reinforce the locals. Some accused Stalin of intentionally letting the Polish resistance be crushed – so he could move in and dominate. Thousands of troops and civilians were killed (including by mass execution) in the aftermath and large chunks of Warsaw were leveled. This museum has got some fascinating exhibitions that tell you the everyday story of the resistance, introducing people rather than grand numbers. It’s well worth a visit.
More than 36 Hours?
If you’ve got more time – I’d strongly recommend getting the bus and spending a couple of days in Kraków. From there you can do a day trip to Auschwitz & Birkenau Concentration Camps too. Make sure you check out my other posts on Poland for further recommendations, tips on what to eat and a guide on how cheap all this can be done.
Warsaw is a fascinating city that is well worth some of your time. With return flights to London for under £35, accommodation for less than £10 a night (for a private en-suite) and a pint of beer for about £1, it would be rude not too.