In their seminal 1970 song, The Temptations posed the question of ‘War – what is it good for?’ before quickly concluding the answer was ‘absolutely nothing’. But despite sounding very similar, the same certainly can’t be said for Warsaw (see what we did there?).
The Polish capital is a place dripping with history – showcased by amazing architecture, fascinating museums, and so much more, that we’re 1000% confident on giving a starkly contrasting answer to The Temptations. Warsaw – what is it good for? Well, lots! So much that we’ve written a whole blog on it.
Whether you’re here for a city break or a longer trip moving through Poland, one sight you’ll be sure to see is the imposing Palace of Culture and Science. Built by Stalinist architects and known as the ‘gift of the soviet nations to Warsaw’, it’s certainly quite hard to miss. It was so synonymous with Stalin that the tower was dubbed the ‘Eighth Sister’ to the seven similar ‘Sisters’ found all over Moscow. Today, the building houses a cinema, four theatres, two museums, and even a university amongst other things, but despite all this change, the amazing panoramic views from the top have remained very much the same.
The colourful Old Town is one of 17 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the city and its historic centre dates all the way back to the 13th century. Almost entirely obliterated in the Second World War, it’s been meticulously reconstructed to great effect. A stunning highlight here is the Royal Castle (Zamek Królewski), which can be found after strolling down New World Street (Ulica Nowy Świat). The palace was the first base for King Sigismund III Vasa after he moved the capital from Kraków to Warsaw.
Those seeking a peaceful environment will find multiple parks across the city, but the most famous is the 17th-century Saxon Garden (Ogród Saski). The oldest public park in the city, it is actually one of the first publicly accessible parks in the world thanks to its 1727 unveiling. Complete with colourful flowers, lemonade and ice cream stalls, and paths aplenty, it’s the perfect place for a stroll in the sunshine.
After relying on your eyes for the past three sites, let’s get that brain involved and take in some learning. As mentioned earlier, the city is known for some world-class museums and the Museum of the History of Polish Jews is a shining example of that. Detailing the lives of the Jewish community in Poland right up to the Holocaust, the museum is a vibrant one with centuries of Yiddish history and the amazing sounds of klezmer music combining with more sombre tales of WW2. Ignoring the fascinating contents inside for a moment, the building itself is more than worth the ticket price with its post-modernist design. For more Polish stories on their WW2 involvement, the Warsaw Uprising Museum is a moving testament to those who fought for Poland’s independence.
The National Museum is famous for its vast art collection of over 830,000 pieces from local masters like Matejko and Witkacy, as well as international artists like Botticelli and Rembrandt. Those with younger visitors should visit the Copernicus Science Centre for some vibrant, interactive learning. Classical music lovers will love the Fryderyk Chopin Museum, which is completely dedicated to the Polish composer’s body of work. Art fans should head to the National Gallery of Art – Warsaw’s answer to the Tate Modern and home to many amazing contemporary pieces. And for those seeking something a bit more off-kilter, the Neon Museum is an enlightening (literally) look at the captivating neon signs used in the Cold War era.
Similar to many capital cities, the extensive food options in Warsaw extend to so much more than just Polish cuisine. But for this next section, we’ll focus on where to get the best Polish food and what to order when you’re there. Starting with a chain restaurant found all over the city, Zapiecek bistros turn out the self-confessed ‘best pierogi in Warsaw’. For the uninitiated, pierogi are filled dumplings similar to ravioli or even a Chinese dumpling. A polish speciality in a number of dishes, the best on offer here are fried pierogi with forest mushrooms for mains, and then pierogi with strawberry and cream for desserts.
Those interested in the Communism-era of the country will find 70s stylings in Czerwony Wieprz. Making you feel as if you’ve travelled in time and lifted the red curtain, the restaurant serves special dishes from all over the former USSR and not just Poland. Różana is a restaurant styled after the elegant town houses found in the city before WW2, and it’s a perfect place to go for an oasis of calm in an otherwise busy city. Serving great Polish cuisine with a twist, the meringue is a popular choice with all visitors – so make sure to save space for dessert.
Apart from the aforementioned pierogi, other Polish staples you need to try in Warsaw include pączek, the signature Polish dessert which resembles a melt-in-your-mouth donut, the open-faced toasted sandwich of zapiekanka, and bigos – a hearty stew of sauerkraut and meat. And when you're jonesing for a good cup of tea, remember to ask for milk as most Poles take their tea black with a slice of lemon.
Perfect for history enthusiasts, music lovers, and foodies alike, Warsaw is the city break that has something for everyone.