Poland is still thriving after joining the European Union in 2004 as Europe’s first post-Communist government. Sandwiched between Germany and Russia has resulted in turbulent history, with Warsaw showing this by virtue of its Communist buildings but now giving rise to a modern metropolis. With excellent museums, hearty food and vibrant nightlife, read the best things to see in Warsaw as part of our series of guides to the best cheap European city creaks.
Travel Essentials for the best things to see in Warsaw
Airline: Wizz Air from London Luton Airport (LTN) to Warsaw Chopin Airport (WAW). From £20, return.
To the city: Bus 188 outside terminal to Metro Politechnika and then M1 (blue metro line) to Ratusz Arsenal.
Cost: 4.40 PLN (80p) for a ticket valid for 75 minutes.
Journey time to centre: 35 minutes.
Distance and direction from airport to centre: 10km (6.2 mile) south of the centre.
Need to know
Visa: From 1st January 2021, UK residents can visit for a maximum of 90 days in any 180 day period.
Travel: See the FCDO website.
Currency: Zloty (£1 = 5.5 PLN approximately).
Tips: 10% although not obligatory.
Travel Adapter: Type C and E.
Language: Polish, and some German.
Best time to visit: May until September. Winters are notoriously cold.
Time: GMT + 1.
Quick facts about Warsaw
- Maria Skłodowska-Curie, better known as Marie Curie was born here in 1867.
- The Palace of Culture and Science is Poland’s tallest building at 230m (754ft).
- Home to the narrowest house in the world, Keret House.
- Twinned with Chicago (US) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), amongst others.
- Nicknamed ‘Paris of the North’.
The best things to see in Warsaw
- Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town – Free.
- Wander around Castle Square – 40 PLN for castle entry (Adult).
- Walk along Nowy Świat- Free.
- Admire the Presidential Palace – Free from the outside.
- Observe the Warsaw Uprising Monument – Free from the outside.
- Reflect at the Jewish Ghetto Memorial – Free.
- Visit the Polin Museum of the history of Polish Jews – 35 PLN (Adult).
- Visit the iconic Palace of Culture and Science – 20 PLN (Adult).
1. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Old Town
After the original Old Town, or Stare Miasto, was destroyed during WWII, it was rebuilt with cobblestoned Gothic streets and baroque buildings. The mermaid statue first appeared here in 1855, stayed until 1928, moved around the city, and returned in 2000. The original is housed in the Museum of Warsaw.
2. Wander around Castle Square
The focal points of the Old Town are the Castle Square (Plac Zamkowy) and the Royal Castle. The castle was destroyed in WWII and reconstructed between 1971 and 184. The 90-foot façade now matches its 17th-century appearance. Inside are exhibitions and paintings, including two by Rembrandt donated in 1994. Since 2013, the castle has been part of the Association of Royal Residences in Europe, associating 30 institutions in 15 European countries.
Opposite the castle is Sigismund’s Column, erected in 1644, and is the first secular column monument in modern history. It is at the heart of the Old Town which was awarded UNESCO status in 1980 as an outstanding example of 13th to 20th-century restoration.
3. Walk along Nowy Swiat
Extending from the Castle Square is Nowy Swiat, or New World Street, the city’s most famous street. Dotted along this 1km (0.6 mile) stretch of road are numerous shops, bars and restaurants, government buildings and The Raffles Hotel. Following the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the street now matches its early 19th-century appearance.
4. Admire the Presidential Palace
The palace forms the official residence of the Polish president and head of state. Built in 1643, this modern, neoclassical version was completed in 1818. Following occupation by German forces during WWII and the Warsaw Uprising, it witnessed the signing of the Warsaw Pact between the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries in 1955. The equestrian statue of the Polish General during the Napoleonic wars, Józef Poniatowski, is at the front of the palace.
5. Observe the Warsaw Uprising Monument
Unveiled in 1989, this monument is dedicated to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Located in Krasínski Square, it is one of the most poignant monuments of post-war Warsaw, marking the city’s destruction by German forces.
The bronze monument is 10m (32ft 8in) tall, showing insurgents in combat, running from a collapsing building. The smaller monument shows them escaping into a manhole to avoid German forces. There has been criticism of the monument for depicting Socialist realism and defeatism.
6. Reflect at the Jewish Ghetto Memorial
The Jewish Ghetto Memorial commemorates the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at the spot where the first armed clash took place. The uprising was the act of Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto during German-occupied Poland in WWII.
7. Visit the Polin Museum of the history of Polish Jews
Facing the Jewish Ghetto Memorial, the glass, copper and concrete museum honours those who perished. The core exhibition opened in 2014, occupies more than 4,000 sq m (43,055 sq ft), and is a journey through the 1000-year history of Polish Jews, exploring past and present Jewish culture.
The formal opening in 2013 marked the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. A standout gallery is The Jewish Town from 1648 to 1772, where there is a unique construction of the roof and ceiling of a wooden synagogue from pre-war Poland.
8. Visit the iconic Palace of Culture and Science
The 230m (754ft) high Brutalist structure, a parting gift from Stalin to the people of Poland in 1955, affords the best views of the city from the viewing platform at the top. The two original lifts have been replaced with smaller ones and they quickly ascend the 42 floors to the observation deck.
Try the Oki Doki Old Town Hostel, a good location, reasonably priced and with helpful staff. It is part of the only 18th-century building left intact in Warsaw Old Town. A single bed in an 8-bed mixed dorm costs 71PLN (£13) per night.
Hotel Polonia Palace is a 4-star centrally located hotel opposite the iconic Palace of Culture and Science. All rooms are soundproofed and come with a minibar, plus heated bathroom flooring. Standard doubles start at 394 PLN (£72) per night.
Opened in 1857, the Raffles Europejski Warsaw, located on the Royal Route, or Trakt Królewski, is close to all the attractions. With a classic exterior and a modern contemporary interior, all guests enjoy 24-hour butler service. Deluxe doubles start at 1,423 PLN (£260) per night.
A must-try in Warsaw are pierogi (or Polish ravioli). These crescent-shaping hot dumplings stuffed with vegetarian (Pierogi ruskie) or meat fillings are found all over the city with the tastiest at Zapiecek (ul. Nowy Świat 64).
Other Polish delicacies include Žurek (Sour rye soup), Bigos (a stew made from sauerkraut), Kotlet Schabowy (pork cutlet in breadcrumbs) and Golabki (Cabbage rolls). As a dessert, Makowiec (poppy seed roll) with a minced walnut or chestnut filling always goes down well.
Warsaw is a city that is on the rise, with designer shops, not one but two Michelin-star two-star restaurants and eclectic nightlife. All of this followed a complete rebuild of the city after the war. The people are friendly, and it is cheap compared to other capital cities. The Zloty can stretch quite a long way, particularly where food is concerned.
In addition to the attractions, there are parks and green spaces. Yes, the winters can be chillingly cold, but the city blossoms in the summer. Polish people speak English well, which makes communicating and socialising relatively easy.
We have covered a selection of the best things to see in Warsaw. Other free things include the Warsaw University Library, with one of the most extensive rooftop gardens in Europe, the Chopin Monument, the Powaski Cemetery, Warsaw’s most famous resting place for many including the composer Fryderyk Chopin’s heart, embedded in a pillar of the main hall at the Holy Cross Church.
Read about our other cheap European city breaks.