Packed with a bizarre mix of gleaming office buildings and grey, Communist-era apartment blocks, WARSAW (Warszawa) often bewilders backpackers. Yet if any city rewards exploration, it is the Polish capital. North of the lively centre are stunning Baroque palaces and the meticulously reconstructed Old Town; to the south are two of Central Europe’s finest urban parks; and in the east lie reminders of the rich Jewish heritage extinguished by the Nazis.
Warsaw became the capital in 1596 and initially flourished as one of Europe’s most prosperous cities. In 1815, however, the Russians conquered the city and, despite a series of rebellions, it was not until the outbreak of World War I that this control collapsed. Warsaw again became the capital of an independent Poland in 1918, but the German invasion of 1939 meant this was to be short-lived. Infuriated by the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, Hitler ordered the total destruction of the city, leaving 850,000 Varsovians dead and 85 percent of Warsaw in ruins. Rebuilding is an ongoing process.
The main sights are on the western bank of the Wisła (Vistula) River where you’ll find the central business and shopping district, Śródmieście, grouped around Centralna station and the nearby Palace of Culture. The more picturesque Old Town (Stare Miasto) is just to the north.
There are plenty of good private hostels, mainly in Środmieście, most offering free internet, breakfast and free/cheap laundry services. Hotels tend to be pricier than elsewhere in Poland.Read More
Drinking and nightlife
Drinking and nightlife
The bar scene in Warsaw has really taken off over the last decade, and the city now genuinely provides a great night out that rivals Prague and needn’t blow your budget. Praga, across the river, is a formerly dangerous neighbourhood that now boasts a lively, bohemian bar scene – an interesting alternative to the more glitzy hangouts you’ll find downtown. Check out the English-language Warsaw Insider (available in most hotels; w www.warsawinsider.pl) for more information on nightlife and a monthly list of events.
The tipple most associated with Poland, vodka is actually in danger of being eclipsed in popularity by beer among young Poles, so it’s well worth seeking out the varieties you can’t find abroad before they disappear from Polish shops and bars completely. Traditionally served chilled and neat – although increasingly mixed with fruit juice –vodka can be clear or flavoured with anything from bison grass to mountain herbs to juniper berries or honey. There’s even been a revival of kosher vodkas, although whether their rabbinic stamps of approval are kosher themselves or just a marketing gimmick isn’t always obvious.
The city’s festivals enhance the celebratory vibe, especially the Warsaw “Summer Jazz Days” Festival, a series of outdoor concerts held throughout July and August.
Cinema Films are usually shown in their original language with Polish subtitles. Tickets 17–30zł.
Music Live bands are apt to appear in bars without any warning; W Oparach Absurdu and the Irish Pub are your best bets.
For flashy boutiques and department stores, first explore the gleaming Złote Terasy shopping centre (replete with such Western titles as H&M and Zara), opposite the Palace of Culture and Science on ul. Emilii Plater, before passing through to the mainly pedestrianized streets of ul. Chimielna and ul. Nowy Świat.
The Hala Mirowska market on al. Jana Pawła II is the place to go for fresh fruits and vegetables (daily); antique hunters should head for the Kolo Antique Market on ul. Obozowa (trams #13 & #23 from the Old Town; Sun 7am–2pm), where you’ll find everything from war medals to old Christian icons.