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City Guide: Warsaw
City guide: Warsaw
Poland's capital is one of the most culturally rich cities in all of Europe - from groundbreaking art galleries to an incredibly vibrant night life. Divide your time between lowbrow pub crawls in the Praga district and more cultural experiences, such as classical concerts and edgy art galleries.
What to do
A good place to start your voyage of discovery is historic Castle Square, surrounded by beautiful townhouses and holding Sigismund’s Column, which is named after the Polish king who moved the nation’s capital from Krakow to Warsaw in 1596.
Wander towards the Old Town, where you’ll find the St Martin’s Church, with its Baroque-styled facade and cute orange-hued monastery courtyard, and the unique gothic St John’s Archcathedral, one of the oldest churches in the city with distinctive twin spires.
Some of Warsaw‘s artsiest folk can be found at the cafe-cum-photography studio Melon in Inzynierska. The opening of this studio triggered the area’s transformation from a cluster of shady backstreets to the buzzing artistic hub it is today. Check out the cluster of studios and galleries nearby.
Carry on your cultural immersion with the Fryderyk Chopin Museum where an interactive multimedia display tells the famous composer and virtuoso’s story – you can even see one of his own pianos and – oddly – a lock of his hair.
From one legendary Pole to another, visit the Copernicus Science Centre, which celebrates the astronomer’s achievements. Geeky but very cool exhibitions include a laser harp, an air-powered flying carpet and the spectacular Heavens of Copernicus planetarium.
At theWarsaw Uprising Museum, steel yourself for a glimpse into the most harrowing chapter of Polish resistance against the Nazis in WW2.
You’ll need a breather after the museum, so take a trip to Zoom Zoom Design Shop, a design warehouse where you can choose a suitably funky souvenir from the inspired books and accessories.
Easily visible from here – and a short walk down Aleje Jerozolimskie – is the imposing Palace of Culture and Science, which was gifted to the city by Joseph Stalin in the Fifties. The tallest building in Poland, it’s been ominously dubbed ‘Stalin’s Syringe’ thanks to its needle-like spire.
Eating and drinking
Polish food is hearty and tasty. Tuck into pierogi, dumplings stuffed with everything from mushrooms to mince.
Try breakfast at one of Warsaw’s milk bars, Bar Mleczny pod Barbakanem. Milk bars, a relic of the Communist era, offer hearty portions of often dairy-packed grub – think stodgy dumplings and omelettes – for low prices. Don’t let the spare decor and grumpy service put you off, it’s all part of the experience.
You could stop in for lunch at the aforementioned cafe-cum-photography studio Melon or grab some hearty Polish grub, such as zurek, a thick soup, at Krokiecik.
If you’re after yet more comfort food, visit Bar Krokecik or, for generous portions at affordable prices, Kompania Piwna in the Old Town.
Posher fare is on offer atthe art nouveau Porto, where you can get stuck into gourmet delights such as Spanish veal and Balinese tuna tartare.
Drinking vodka in Poland is a custom going back centuries, and you’ll soon discover that everyone from young hipsters to grannies is partial to a shot or two of the stuff. Drink vodka neat and chilled in 50ml measurements. Before knocking it back in one gulp, make friends by saying a toast to good health: “Na zdrowie!”
Famous brands include Zubrówka, flavoured with bison grass from the Białowieza Forest; berry- flavoured Wisniówka and Jarzebiak; and lemon- infused Cytrynówka.
To start on a Praga pub crawl, walk to W Oparach Absurdu, where you’ll be welcomed by a 5ft plastic tarantula. Enjoy a tipple or three among the rest of the bizarre decorations.
Where to party
Warsaw has a jumping club and bar scene. Warsaw’s trendiest popular bar is Warszawa Powisle, described by the owner as “a kiosk with culture and vodka”, it’s housed inside a former railway ticket office – here is where feisty, good-humoured debates are hosted before it morphs into a disco later on.
Big name DJs spin tunes at post-industrial-style club 1500m2 Do Wynajecia, or move on to Hydrozagadka for a dose of live music, DJs and plenty of ready-to-party Varsovians who’ll keep going ‘til the small hours.
Where to stay
Try the centrally located Okidoki Hostel with its bright orange dining and common room.
It’s not for the faint-hearted but you may think youowe it to yourself and history to take the train ride from Warsaw to Auschwitz/Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp during World War II.
Then maybe treat yourself to a sightseeing tour of Cracow afterwards.