Warsaw travel guide
As the capital of Poland, Warsaw was one of the most beautiful and sophisticated cities in central Europe until it was almost totally destroyed during the Nazi occupation of World War II. The end of the war saw most of the city reduced to rubble and ruins, and large swathes of the population killed or interred in Nazi concentration camps. The city underwent a major rejuvenation project following this havoc, and the buildings in the heart of the old city were meticulously restored.
Most of the historic Old Town was painstakingly rebuilt from a pile of debris, restoring it to its original 17th and 18th-century grandeur. The charming Old Market Square, the centre of the rebuilding process, is now a major, UNESCO-listed attraction.
Warsaw is divided into two distinct halves by the Vistula River, with the Old Town, the modern city centre and most of the tourist attractions on the western side. The eastern side of the river is comprised mostly of uninteresting residential suburbs and business districts. Today Warsaw presents a modern urban landscape of high-rise buildings, and the years of communist rule have left an uninspiring architectural legacy of drab concrete structures and uniform prefab-style housing.
Dominating the skyline is the city's major eyesore: the massive shape of the Palace of Science and Culture, Stalin's bequest to Polish citizens. Lying in determined contrast to this concrete greyness are traces of Poland's grand past, including castles and palaces, open parklands, impressive churches, and the restored streets of the historic Old Town. Signs of former political austerity have been replaced by modern progression, with dreary state shops turned into fashionable boutiques, and consumerism a growing hunger.
Although many people give scant regard to Warsaw as an appealing tourist destination, it is still Poland's largest city and the political, economic, scientific and cultural hub of the country. It has many museums and historical monuments, galleries and historic attractions, a variety of restaurants and open-air cafes, and an energetic nightlife. With green open spaces and classical music concerts, this modern, bustling city is a far cry from the severe communist-era images of post-war Warsaw, which still dominate the global imagination. Visitors to Warsaw will find a resilient and captivating city with lots to offer.
Old Town (Starego Miasta)
The busy Old Town of Warsaw provides the historic focal point of
the city, having been rebuilt in the original 17th and 18th-century
style following the almost total destruction of the city during the
war. The picturesque Old Market Square (Rynek) is at the centre,
surrounded by restored buildings and colourful three-storey
merchant houses with Baroque and Renaissance facades, lively
open-air restaurants, art stalls and the Historical Museum of
Around the two old central water pumps the atmosphere is a constant buzz of activity with buskers, painters and musicians providing entertainment for the milling crowds, while around the fringes the clattering of hooves signals the arrival of another traditional horse-drawn carriage. Fanning out from the square is a network of cobbled streets and alleyways that contain beautiful Gothic churches and the former palaces of the aristocracy. The impressive Royal Castle was once the home of the Polish Kings and is now a museum displaying tapestries, period furniture, portraits and other decorative items.
The narrow streets also lead to the ramparts and watchtowers of the medieval walls surrounding the old city, providing unforgettable views of the heart of Warsaw. The Old Town is generally, and deservedly, the starting point for sightseeing in Warsaw.
Museum of Warsaw
The History Museum is one of the best of Warsaw's impressive
array of museums. Its three storeys are crammed with fascinating
exhibitions, covering every aspect of Warsaw's history and life
from the city's establishment to the present day. The museum was
founded in 1936 and reopened in 1948 after closing during the war.
It now occupies almost an entire side of a square in Old Town,
housed in quaint historical buildings and boasting 52 rooms with
permanent exhibitions, four with temporary exhibitions, a cinema, a
library and a reading room.
One of the highlights is the collection of old photographs, clippings and articles on display from everyday pre-war city life. Another special feature is a documentary film showing the destruction and reconstruction of the city, with footage shot by the Nazis during their calculated and systematic annihilation of Warsaw, and footage of the careful rebuilding after the war. The film is shown in English at 10am and 12pm from Tuesday to Friday, and at 12pm and 2pm on Saturday and Sunday.
Unfortunately the permanent collection of the Historical Museum of Warsaw is currently closed for refurbishment, but tourists can still visit the cinema and the museum shop.
Address: Rynek Starego Miasta (Old Town Square) 28-42
The Royal Way
Known as the Royal Way, this two-and-a-half mile (4km) route
stretches from the Royal Castle in the Old Town to the stately
King's Palace at Wilanów on the outskirts of the city. It is the
most important thoroughfare, bisecting the central city from north
to south, and is lined with galleries, museums and historical
buildings (including St Anne's Church, where the Polish princes
used to swear homage to the King).
Along the way are the royal gardens of Park Lazienki, one of the city's most beautiful green spaces with its lakes, peacocks and charming 18th-century Palace Upon the Water, which was the royal summer residence. There is a monument in the garden to the famous Polish composer Frederic Chopin, and outdoor concerts of his classical music are held on the lawns in summer. The Royal Way ends at the splendid Wilanów Palace, the former residence of King Jan III Sobieski, that was modelled on Versailles. It is now a museum containing a marvellous collection of old paintings and furniture.
In the well-kept park behind the palace is the Orangery, housing an art gallery. Guided tours of the lovely gardens and palace museum are available, but it is also possible to explore independently. Exploring the Royal Way is a must for tourists in Warsaw.
Polish Poster Gallery
The Galeria Grafiki i Plakatu (Polish Poster Gallery), located
in the splendid Old Town area of Warsaw, houses what is undoubtedly
the finest collection of graphic art and posters in the country -
and perhaps even in Eastern Europe. The Polish Poster Gallery was
established in 1975, and now proudly exhibits over 5,000 posters
and pieces of graphic art, many of which display some facet of
Visitors will see theatre, music and cinema posters as well as the pick of the lot, fantastic Polish Solidarity political posters, designed by greats such as Cieslewicz, Stasys, Gorowski and Sadowski. Although most of the art is Polish, the gallery also displays some iconic American, British, French, and German posters, among other nationalities, and tourists may be excited to see classics like West Side Story, Moby Dick or the original Polish poster for Dirty Dancing among the collection.
The posters have an iconic style and will delight graphic art fiends; the collection is also an interesting way to get to grips with Polish culture. Thankfully, as visitors tend to fall in love with some of the art, the museum has a great selection of prints for sale (about 2,000 different designs), and these make for fantastic souvenirs and gifts for friends and family back home.
Address: No. 23 Old Market Square, Warsaw Old Town
Bialowieza National Park
Bialowieza National Park, located on the border between Poland
and Belarus, is a heavily protected area that guards the last
remnants of the primeval forest that used to cover most of Europe
at the time of the last ice age. This ancient woodland is a UNESCO
World Heritage Site, and an absolutely enthralling place to visit.
Visitors can take a guided tour of the forest, and feel as though
they are trespassing in a land that time forgot.
An additional bonus is that the Bialowieza National Park is also the last place on earth that tourists can see European bison, huge beasts that once roamed across the continent, living undisturbed in their natural habitats. An ecotourism destination of international repute, the nearby town of Bialowieza has begun to cash in on the popularity of the National Park, with numerous luxury spa resorts offering high-class treatments and supremely comfortable lodgings. Bialowieza National Park is a short train ride from Warsaw (two and a half hours) making it possible to visit the park on a daytrip, but it is best to spend at least one night in the area if possible.
The Marriage of Figaroamong many others.
The programme is typically comprised of about 40 shows and
concerts; in fact, at its inception the festival was the only one
in Europe to showcase Mozart's entire output for the stage, and the
programme still includes all the composer's operas as well as
selected oratorial works, symphonies, instrumental concertos and
chamber works. The performances take place in the most prestigious
and beautiful venues the city has to offer, including the Royal
Castle, Royal Theatre, Wilanow Palace Museum, Warsaw Chamber Opera
Theatre, Church of the Holy Cross, and the Seminary Church.
The Mozart Festival has been held for more than 20 years and is one of the most popular and famous events in Warsaw, conveniently scheduled for the summer, which is the peak tourist season in Poland. There are a variety of ticket options and fanatics can buy special passes which come with a range of benefits. For more information check out the official website listed below.
Venue: Warsaw Chamber Opera; Date:23 June to 31 July 2017; Website: www.operakameralna.pl
Warsaw Chopin Airport
Location: The airport is situated six miles (10km) southwest of Warsaw.
Time: Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
Contacts: Tel: +48 (22) 650 4220.
Transfer between terminals: Terminals are within walking distance of each other.
Getting to the city: Municipal buses 175, 148, 188 and 331 operate daily from 4.35am to around 11pm ferrying commuters to Warsaw city centre and the right riverbank. Some hotels provide a shuttle bus service to and from the hotel on request. The Polski Express bus provides connections to the biggest polish towns. The bus stop is on the Arrivals Hall level of Terminal 2.
Car rental: Avis, Budget, and Hertz, along with a number of other companies, operate from the airport outside arrivals in Terminal 1.
Airport Taxis: A taxi stand is located in front of the Arrivals Hall.
Facilities: There are shops, bars and restaurants at the airport. Other facilities include banks, bureaux de change, ATMs, a post office, and tourist information and hotel reservations kiosks.
Parking: Short-stay parking at P1 and P3 parking lots starts at PLN 10 per hour for the first three hours. P1 level 0 and P4 is the long-stay lot and charges a daily rate of PLN 100 and PLN 60 respectively, which decreases the longer you stay.
Departure tax: None.
Buses and trams ply the streets from 5am to 11pm each day and are the cheapest way to get around. Tickets are valid for all modes of public transport and must be bought in advance. The metro trains run frequently to and fro between the southern suburbs and the city centre and the metro is the fastest way of getting around Warsaw.
Metered taxis can be hailed on the streets or ordered by telephone from a number of different companies; it is best to agree on a price before getting in. Taxis ordered by phone are usually a lot cheaper. Hiring a car is unnecessary except for excursions out of the city. The historic Old Town is best explored on foot and a lovely way to get around the city is provided by the rental bike system.
Warsaw has a humid continental climate, with cold, snowy winters and mild to hot summers. On average, summer (June to August) temperatures range between 47°F (9°C) and 73°F (22°C), while winter (December to February) temperatures range between 25°F (-4°C) and 42°F (6°C). The average temperature in Warsaw is 27°F (-3°C) in January (mid-winter), and 66°F (19°C) in July (mid-summer), although summer temperatures frequently reach 86°F (30°C).
July is the wettest month, although rain does fall sporadically throughout the year; generally rainfall is heaviest in summer, with winter receiving the least rain. Spring (March, April, May) and autumn (September, October, November) are both lovely seasons with pleasant, mild temperatures and plenty of sun, although autumn can be misty.
Warsaw has a long tourist season and the city is lovely to visit any time between April and October. The peak tourist season is summer, especially July and August; however, the city can become unpleasantly crowded. Those who don't mind the cold and snow will find that Warsaw is a great winter destination.
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