Please tell me you’re actually heading to Warsaw soon. I love this place, and a lot of my family lives here still. Poland itself is the happiest place on Earth for me, but Warsaw has a really special home in the corner of my heart.
I had studied at Szkóła Główna Handlowa w Warszawie (The Warsaw School of Economics) for the fall semester of 2015, and lived in Stary Mokotów. I freaking loved Warsaw. Warsaw is very centrally located in Poland, which makes it easy to take day or weekend trips from here (I’ll probably touch on this at a later date).
Warsaw was almost completely destroyed by the end of WWII. When the Nazi’s were losing the war, they decided to decimate what was left of the city, which left about 1,000 people still living in the city by the time the war was over (go watch The Pianist on Netflix to understand what ‘decimated’ really means). All of Warsaw has been reconstructed while under the power of the Soviet Union. The city is big and sprawling, with lots of big communist buildings and wide streets, so there’s plenty of space to play. But at the same time, there’s a Polish touch to the whole thing.
When communism ended in 1989, the Polish government set up what was basically a 25 year socio-economic plan to get the country up and running very much NOT like a communist country, but more like a capitalistic western European country. One of the professors I had at the Warsaw School of Economics was on this economic advisory and planning board when communism ended, and helped make the decisions that would establish and frame the development of Poland’s economy as it transitioned from communism to democracy.
Being there in 2015 was incredible since that was exactly 25 years since communism ended. Our professor often just said, “Look around, it worked!” when he was teaching us about specific economic and social initiatives that were put in place in 1989. Really freaking cool, but also way too casual of our professor.
There’s your quick history lesson on the city of Warsaw, AKA Warszawa (Vahr-shah-vah) in Polish. I think that’s as brief as brief will ever get with me, so I hope you have a tiny bit more of an appreciation for this city! Now if and when you get there, here’s lots of stuff that I recommend (which is also in Google Map form to make all of our lives easier):
1) Go to the top of the Pałac or the top of the Marriott – Climb something to get a good view! Poles say the top of the Palace of Culture and Science has the best view, because you don’t see the Pałac itself which was a ‘gift from Stalin,’ AKA a nice little reminder of Soviet times. Ya. Or, go to the top of the Marriott hotel, buy a drink or little dessert or something from the restaurant as your ‘ticket,’ and enjoy the view.
2) Free walking tours – Poland has a great free walking tour company, and their tour guides are all very knowledgeable, and are normally locals. There are lots of different kinds of walking tours you can take, but they all last about 2-2.5 hours. Make sure you bring some money for tip at the end.
3) Walk down Nowy Świat (New World) Street – Start at the southern end of the street at the palm tree. No the palm tree isn’t real, it’s ‘art.’ Then head north all the way into the Old Town. This is known as the Royal Route, and there are a lot of cool things all the way down the street like benches that play Chopin’s music, lots of statues, the Presidential Palace, plenty of stores and restaurants, the University of Warsaw, and so on. It’s a completely pedestrian street most of the time, with some buses coming through every now and then if it’s not blocked off to traffic.
4) Hit up Stary Miasto (the Old Town). I already said that Warsaw was completely rebuilt after WWII, but the Old Town was rebuilt using paintings done by the Italian artist, Bernardo Belletto. It’s technically one of the ‘youngest’ old towns in Europe since it was rebuilt, but everything still looks as it did before it was destroyed. Also you can get your fix of souvenirs down here as well, but I recommend this other cool artsy Polish store for souvenirs people will actually like.
5) Eat at AÏOLI – This is the first restaurant I take people to because it’s my favorite. There’s so much good food, their pizzas are all delicious, and they have a pretty good variety of pastas, burgers, salads, starters and so on. They normally have a live DJ on the weekend, their mixed drinks are all fantastic and they always have a drink of the day AND dessert of the day (order those). On Tuesday’s they do a deal where it’s like 10 PLN for a margherita pizza and a shot of vodka, so hit them up on Tuesdays. And for breakfast!
6) Check out the museums! The Warsaw Uprising Museum is completely free on Sundays—if you haven’t heard of the Warsaw Uprising I highly recommend heading to this museum. Almost everything is in both Polish and English, with plenty of handouts along the way.
7) Roam Łazienki Park. In the summer, you can catch a free Frederic Chopin concert. World renowned pianists come to play right next to the giant Chopin statue, and the benches and grass are always packed with people. Be sure to get there early to get a spot, and bring some water because summers in Poland are hot.
8) …. what’s really funny is I started this post in idk 2017 maybe? And THIS is where I left off, I typed the number ‘eight’ and left it blank but my Google map for Warsaw is LOADED and complete. So onwards with other recommendations I can recall right now in 2019 and otherwise, enjoy the Google map I made!
9) Eat lots of pierogi at Zapiecek – This is the go-to chain for pierogi and traditional Polish foods. Since they are a chain, they have multiple locations throughout Poland if you can’t make it to this exact one! It’s normally easy to stop here while you’re just walking up and down Nowy Świat street.
10) Chill at Caffè Nero – This my FAVORITE COFFEE SHOP CHAIN. It tops all other coffee shops in the US and any other place in the world, even with it being a chain. Seriously just stop in to any one of the what seems like hundreds of Caffè Neros in Warsaw for a slice of quiche and some tea, warm up if you need to, rest a bit, and enjoy. This place is so wonderful, I would come here to stay for hours with friends, do homework, use the internet, or pull a book off of the bookshelves and hangout.
11) Get yo’ souvenirs at Pan Tu Nie Stał – The name of this place means “Sir, you can’t stand here” and is great for ‘souvenirs,’ but not like the cheesy and typical postcards, keychains, etc. This store has really cool clothes and random other things like hats, belts, scarves, notebooks, bags, tumblers – things you’d actually use if someone gave them to you with either something by a Polish artist on it, or a saying in Polish on it.
12) Shop for clothes! – I didn’t list any of the stores in the map because these stores can be found across Europe (Stradvarius, Pull & Bear, Bershka, Mango, etc) (omg my heart just even thinking of these places and how a lot of the clothes I still own and wear are from these stores that I acquired while living abroad cry). Head to Złoty Tarasy (“golden terrace”) right by the central train and metro station, or Arkadia which is the largest shopping center in Poland (???) and is in north Warsaw.
And / iiiiii to wszystko! There’s transportation info in the Google map I made for Warsaw (again linked here) along with plenty of other food recs so you can eat your heart out because that’s how travel works ya know? Safe travels and please let me know if and when you ever go to Poland, and what all you do while there. This place still has my heart.