Warsaw

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4/5

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Date of travel

June, 2017

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This post is a shout out to the lovely city of Warsaw. Have you ever thought of a city break there? Do you know anyone who has been? No, it’s not a popular destination as yet.

Of course it is not in the league of great cities like Venice, Paris or London, but it has something about it that draws you into the heart of Europe. I was really taken aback to ascertain that there are as yet no individual guides to the city, as there is for the smaller Kraków (the Poland country guides include Warsaw of course, but there are no stand-alone copies). I am sure, however, that in the coming months, one of the big travel guides will address the delights of the city, as there are easily enough of them to warrant an individual guidebook. So for now, here is just a snippet of what you can do in the city.

Arriving at Modlin Airport, way outside the city, there is a pink bus – the Modlin Bus – that whisks you into the city centre and drops you at the Palace of Culture, which will be your orientation point for your stay. It towers above everything and is very much a statement building. You can spot it virtually anywhere in the city, so it is useful for getting your bearings.

There are reminders everywhere of central European history, the movers and shakers who left their mark on the city both positive and negative.

We stayed in the Mirów district, 30 minutes walk West of the Stare Miasto (Old City). It is a mix of architecture and restaurants and renovation works. Soberingly, there are innumerable references in the pavement which provide evidence of the perimeter grid of the Warsaw Ghetto, which at its peak had 400,000 inhabitants.

The Stare Miasto was first built in the 13th Century but was destroyed in various episodes during World War II. Following the end of the war, it was meticulously rebuilt and thus, what you see today is not original, but an extremely sympathetically and well built replacement. Plenty of eateries, flowers in the Summer months and attention to detail make this a delightful place to explore.

Clearly Fryderyk Chopin is an important son of the city, who has a dedicated museum and also a tremendous monument in Lazienkowski Park, about 30 minutes walk south of the Stare Miasto. As we headed from the Old City down towards the park, who should we spy in the Embassy quarter? None other than former US President Ronald Reagan with his own dedicated street, Ronalda Reagana. Maria Skłodowska-Curie also has her own museum in the city, where she was born and trained, but later she moved to France.

One of the highlights is walking across the Swietokrzyski Bridge, in pursuit of two museums on the eastern side of the river. The first was the tiny and well-hidden PRL Museum, two rooms of what life under Communism was like, charming and quite stark. The second was the Neon Museum, just two minute’s walk away, but again, well hidden! Again, a charming and idiosyncratic museum that will delightfully educate you about the wonders, history and political significance of neon lighting in the last century across the city – and of course across the world.

There are many more museums to explore from the Warsaw Rising Museum to the Coperinicus Science Centre by the river. They would all keep you busy for several days.

The sense of recent Communist history is never far and the innumerable blocks of flats are testimony to a past that felt at times quite grey – and still does today. Mass housing has left its mark on the city, with very wide boulevards where the traffic tears along at break neck speed. As a pedestrian these 3 lane roads (that’s three lanes going in each direction!) are a staple of the city. I can only imagine they were built with the breadth of tanks manoeuvres in mind. Crossing points are, however, well managed. Some of the “iconic” (and I use that word loosely) buildings have been restored and the Sofitel has made good use of a cube structure, turning it into a 5* hotel. Nearby is the Cenotaph, with a double guard of honour.

Castles and gardens are plentiful, and wandering around Łazienkowski Park certainly gives a sense of the cultural past, with its Palace on The Isle and a beautiful outdoor theatre (with dying gladiator), all populated by strutting peacocks.

Just wandering around the city brings the visitor to areas where there are no tourists (to be honest there aren’t that many tourists as yet anyway). We stumbled upon Hala Mirowska, a covered market that sold everything – and even had a small dedicated shop to the humble TV widget. Bakeries, fruit and vegetables and many more shops selling a variety of wonderful items.

At 20 Chłodna, you can find a true urban jewel. Art nouveau cherubs adorn the façade of this delightful building. Adam Czerniakow, head of the wartime Jewish Council, lived here. He took poison in 1942 rather than collude with the Nazis and organize transports to Treblinka. There is certainly beauty to be found in the architecture of Warsaw amongst the drab slabs.

DINING

Food quality is great. We found a variety of places to eat and Winosfera in the Mirów District is a must. An excellent and innovative menu within a great space – you will be tempted to walk past as it is in a run-down block with dodgy looking facades, but you will be amazed by the space behind!

Czerwony Wieprz is a novel dining experience. Firmly dining out on its Communist past, it serves all kinds of dishes suitable for the Proletariat or the VIPS. The story is set out on the menu, the quality of the food – essentially Polish fare – is good and surprisingly no tourists when we went.

DoWoli Bistro had more of an international flavour, casual dining in a wonderfully bright space.

The city is well served now with cheap flights, it’s an interesting city to explore, so, go on and book a few days – Summer time is the best time to visit, the Winter could be quite brutal and grey, I imagine.”My review on TripFiction”:http://www.tripfiction.com/shout-city-break-warsaw/

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