Warsaw is the capital of Poland, is situated on the Vistula River, and has changed a lot throughout history. It was once known as the ‘Paris of the North’ until World War II.
Even though the city (and country) went through some tough times in the 20th century, Warsaw still has a lot of history, culture and experiences to offer for all travellers.
As a brief background on the city, settlements in the area date back to the 9th/10th century, and were founded by regional clans. In 1300 Warszowa was established by Prince of Plock, Boleslaw II of Masovia, and was incorporated into the crown of the Kingdom of Poland in 1526.
My trip took me to Warsaw at the beginning in December, so snow had begun to fall and Christmas decorations were all around. There are two airports in Warsaw – Warsaw Chopin Airport and Warsaw Modlin Airport. Choplin is the closer of the two airports and you can catch the S2 train into the city that will take 20 minutes and cost you €1. Modlin is further away and you can catch a bus into the city centre for €2.10, which takes 50 minutes – or you can take a taxi that can cost around €40…
A great starting point in the city is the old town. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was established in the 13th century. Surrounded by a city wall that was built in the 14th century it is still central to locals’ lives even to this date. The area is scattered with amazing old buildings and architecture, you could roam the streets for hours taking it all in.
A popular gathering place is by the Royal palace, but before I go into detail I want to tell you about Castle Square.
This square has musicians and street performers everywhere, as well as the Royal Route which goes south of the Palace and has several historic buildings next to it. In the centre you will see Sigmund’s column, which is a monument to King Sigmund III, and was built in the 17th century in his honour.
To get a view of this promenade I suggest going up Taras Widokowy, where a viewing platform is located between Castle Square and St. Anne’s church. It will only set you back 20 Zloty (Roughly £4.00), and after a relatively easy climb of 150 stairs you’ll find yourself at the top with 360 degree views of the old town, castle and Vistula river.
As it was the middle of winter there was ice everywhere at the top, so be careful if you visit at the same time of the year as they don’t clear it properly.
Next to the viewing platform is St. Anne’s church. It has a Neoclassical facade and is believed to be one of Warsaw’s oldest buildings, constructed in 1454.
The Royal Castle is the central point in the old town in Warsaw. Even though the current structure was built in the mid-20th century (it was destroyed during the German occupation) the building is a recreation of the medieval original and is a symbol of history and culture for Poland. A tour within the Castle will cost you 30 Zloty (£6.00).
Within the old town you also have the main market place. As it was winter there was a giant ice rink in the centre of it. The Old Town Market Square is surrounded by lovely buildings that were all rebuilt after being completely destroyed by the Germans during the Warsaw Uprising in WWII.
These days during all seasons there are stalls selling food and trinkets of locally made goods.
One great place to enjoy some chocolate goodies was Chocolate Cafe E.Wedel. This little cafe is cute and well styled, and has a huge range of chocolate treats for you to enjoy during your busy day exploring the city.
One thing you must learn about is the Warsaw Uprising. During WWII the Germans and Soviets both invaded Poland (the Germans on September 1st 1939, beginning WWII), annexing and dividing up the country.
Poland was repressed and an underground resistance decided to fight back against their German occupiers, although they were unsuccessful before the Soviet army took control of Poland.
It will cost you 25 Zloty (£5.00) to enter the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising, and it is worth it to get a better understanding of this important time in Polish history.
There is also a monument to the Warsaw resistance fighters, which you can see from one of the great, free walking tours.
Another collection of important stops for travellers are the Jewish Ghetto Memorial and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This museum has free entry to the main exhibition and covers some of the horrific experiences the Jewish community faced under the Nazis.
Death camps were built across Poland and around 90% of the Jewish population (Roughly 3 Million) were murdered, along with 1.8-1.9 million ethnic-Poles who were not Jewish.
Poland really did suffer during WWII and it is important to visit these types of museums to remember those that suffered.
Religion is a really important part of Polish culture.
The country is 90% Roman Catholic so scattered across Warsaw you’ll encounter several churches.
The Holy Cross Church (original) was built in the 1500s, and the current building was created in the Baroque style in 1757.
The St. Kazimierz Church is just north of the old town, and was rebuilt after WWII to represent the original Baroque style church.
One of my favourites was Bazylika Archikatedralna w Warszawie p.w. Męczeństwa św. Jana Chrzciciela. This brick Gothic-style church was opened in 1390 and has a lovely style to the front of the cathedral.
Just behind this cathedral you will find the Wishing Bell. Originally from the 17th century, this Bell has a local fairy-tale attached to it. Tour guides will tell you about the romantic story behind the bell and you are advised to walk around or skip around the bell three times, and if you make a wish at the same time it will apparently come true. Great time to wish to win the lottery 😉
One of my final stops – and where I got the bus to and from the airport – was the Palace of Culture and Science.
Being the tallest building in Warsaw, it was constructed during the Soviet era and resembles the Empire State Building in New York, USA (Coincidence?).
I personally did not go up, but you can pay 15 Zloty (£3.00 – 2018) to go up if you wish.
Warsaw is a really pretty city with not only amazing architecture and historic buildings but also several monuments and sculptures scattered across the city. Some examples are the Zacheta Monument and the Copernicus Monument.
As I was only there for a weekend trip in the middle of winter, I did not get a chance to see everything there is in Warsaw. One of the places I’ve been told to go back and visit is Wilanow Palace. Surviving all the wars, it is a great place to learn more about royal culture in Poland.
Built in 1696 in the Baroque style it will cost you 20 Zloty (£4.00) to enter.
Warsaw is really a gem in the east in Europe and I encourage all travellers to take the time to visit and gain a better understanding of the culture, history and livelihoods of the Polish people and their country throughout history.