For some reason, Warsaw has a reputation for being an ugly and boring city. Although most of the city did not survive the Second World War, I vehemently disagree. Based on other peoples opinions, my expectations for Warsaw were very low. However, when I got to Warsaw, I immediately liked it!
The city is bustling and full of life, even in cold November. Sure, it doesn’t quite have the charm of Krakow, but very few cities have. Warsaw has its own character, a beautifully reconstructed Old Town and a rich history. It’s both modern and traditional, touristic and authentic. I recommend spending a day or two in Warsaw to learn about Polish history, both ancient and contemporary, eat some delicious Polish food and enjoy a few cultural events. Here are the best things to do in Warsaw:
Explore the Old Town of Warsaw
Did you know that 97% of the Old Town of Warsaw was destroyed during the Second World War? So even though it may look old, almost everything you see in Warsaw today is a reconstruction.
But that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying the Old Town of Warsaw. It may not be “real”, but it is very pretty and picturesque. And especially impressive considering the majority of the reconstruction was done by the citizens of Warsaw, without government support! Check out the Royal Castle, stroll through the little streets and go see the mermaid, the symbol of Warsaw.
If you want to learn more about the history of Warsaw and the Old Town in particular, I highly recommend the Old Town Free Walking Tour. The guides are great, very informative and fun. There are multiple tours a day, depending on the season, so check the website to be sure.
See the Former Jewish Quarter
Although the Jewish Ghetto was completely destroyed during the war, it is far from forgotten. There are lines on the ground to show you where the walls used to be. Several memorials have also been placed around the former Jewish Quarter. You can visit the memorial for the uprising of 1943, called the Ghetto Heroes Monument, and the Jewish Cemetery, one of the largest in Europe.
If you want to dive even further into the Jewish history of Warsaw, check out the Polin Museum. This museum is dedicated to the history of Jews in Warsaw and Poland. The exhibitions are both informative and engaging. You can also join the Jewish Warsaw Free Walking Tour, that takes you through the painful history of Jews in Warsaw.
Visit a Museum
Did you know that one of the most famous female scientist, Marie Curie, was from Warsaw? She grew up and was educated here, before moving to France to study. She went on to win two Nobel Prizes (one with her husband) for her work in nuclear physics. The Marie Curie Museum is all about the life of this fascinating woman and feminist icon and her scientific and social accomplishments. It’s a small museum and entry is just a few euros.
Aside from the serious historical museums, Warsaw museum can also be fun. Vodka is a vital part of Polish culture, so it’s no suprise that there’s a whole museum dedicated to the stuff. Polish wodka is considered by many (including me) to be the best in the world, and real Polish wodka is nothing like the cheap lighterfluid you used to drink as a student. At the Polish Wodka Museum you can learn all about the history and production of Polish Wodka and even taste a few different ones. You have to prebook a ticket for one of the guided tours, but it’s definitely worth it!
Listen to Chopin
Murie Curie is not the only famous child of Warsaw. The composer and pianist Frédéric Chopin was born just outside of Warsaw to a French father (hence the name). He became famous at a young age and played his first concert at 8 years old. Even though he was banished from Poland and died at 39 in France, he is widely considered the best Polish composer of all time.
Eat Delicious Polish food
I love Polish food! I love fermented and pickled foods, so most Polish cuisine is right up my alley. And it’s surprisingly veggie friendly as well! Although traditional Polish food is largely meat based, there are plenty of delicious vegetarian options.
If you want to try a traditional Warsaw food experience, you have to eat at a “milk bar”. Milk Bars date back to the late 19th century, when food was scarce and expensive. At the milk bar (bar mleczny in Polish) cheap, but hearty food was served. It was largely dairy based, as it was a nutritious but affordable ingredient. These establishments became especially popular during the 1930s and Soviet times. Milk bars are designed to be as economical as possible, so they rely on canteen style self-service. In the 2010s, milk bars are going through a revival and are popular lunch spots. If you want to try home-made Polish food, a milk bar is the best place to go. Lunch at a milk bar can cost as little as 2-3 euro for a full meal! In Warsaw, I really enjoyed Gdanski Bar Mleczny. It’s a hip and more comfortable take on the traditional milk bar with English-speaking staff and bathrooms. The food is delicious, especially the pickle soup!
Another must eat in Warsaw are pierogi. These pillowy dumplings come with a variety of fillings, traditionally meat or cheese. Although it’s a bit touristic, Goscininiec makes terrific pierogi, especially for vegetarians. I ordered a mix of the vegetarian pierogi with cabbage, spinach and potato fillings, and they were all yummy.
As you can tell, Warsaw has plenty to offer its visitors. Do you have anything to add, or is there anything you want to know about visiting Warsaw? Let me know in the comment!
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