Things to Do in Warsaw
Almost entirely destroyed during WWII, Warsaw’s historic Warsaw Old Town (Stare Miasto) underwent an extensive restoration that transformed the area into a vibrant riverfront hub. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the neighborhood boasts striking recreations of 17th- and 18th-century structures, as well as the Warsaw History Museum.
Praga is Warsaw’s right-bank area that was once an independent town, from the time of its first mention in 1432. In the late 18th century, it became formally associated with Warsaw as a small settlement.In its early days as a suburb, many buildings were repeatedly destroyed by natural disasters and military battles; the only surviving historical monument from that time is the Church of Our Lady of Loreto.
Although it suffered repeated damage in its early days, Praga managed to resist WWII destruction, and today, it’s considered one of Warsaw’s trendiest neighborhoods, oozing a cool bohemian vibe. Post-industrial buildings have been converted into art galleries, cinemas, and pubs. Also look for pre-war elements like sidewalks, apartments and lampposts.
Praga is quite a departure from the well-traveled tourist spots in Warsaw proper. Its popularity is on the rise, so now is the best time to visit. Don’t miss historic monuments like Agnieszka Osiecka, ode to the Polish poet and journalist who authored over 2,000 songs; Kapela Podwórkowa, a tribute to pre-war cloth-capped buskers and musicians known as The Courtyard Band; and Monument of Kościuszko Division (Pomnik Kościuszkowców), a tribute to the 1st Tadeusz Kościuszko Infantry Division, who tried to help during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944.
A towering 758 feet (231 meters) high, Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science was commissioned by Stalin during Poland’s communist era. Today, the country’s tallest building comprises concert halls, offices, shops, restaurants, and a 30th-floor viewing terrace.
This stunning Gothic cathedral in the heart of Warsaw's Old Town is one of the most interesting historical landmarks. Built in the 14th century, St John's Cathedral - or Katedra Sw Jana - is one of the oldest churches in all of Poland, but was completely destroyed during World War II during the Polish Uprising. However, like much of the Old Town, it was reconstructed after the war, true to its original architecture.
In addition to being the site of many historical events, such as the coronation of the last Polish king, the cathedral also houses the beautiful red marble tombs of many Mazowian dukes, and its crypt is the resting place of many celebrated Poles such as Nobel Prize-winning author Henryk Sienklewicz. The Gothic architecture and artwork is some of the most impressive in Warsaw, and is not to be missed.
The haunting monuments and memorials of Warsaw’s former Jewish Ghetto (Getto Zydowskie) tell the story of its tragic past—during World War II, it was the largest Jewish Ghetto in all of Nazi-occupied Europe.
Rebuilt following the destruction of World War II, the Royal Castle stands watch over the entrance to Warsaw Old Town. Explore beyond the brick facade to find a trove of historic furniture, artwork, and gilded decor. From the Great Apartments to the Throne Room, Warsaw Royal Castle showcases centuries of Warsaw history.
The Old Town Square Market - or Rynek Starego Miasta - is the oldest part of Warsaw, originally constructed in the late 13th century. After being destroyed by the German army, it was restored after World War II to its beautiful prewar charm, lined with 17th and 18th century houses, shops, and restaurants. The historic center of Warsaw, cafe life is at its height with street vendors and performers abound.
Stop to try a local beer or taste traditional Polish fare and admire the incredible architecture all around you. A UNESCO World Heritage site, this area is not to be missed.
Originally used as a communication route, Warsaw's famous Royal Way (or Royal Route) is a beautiful, 2.5 mile-(4 km) long road that goes from the The Royal Palace at Old Town to the Wilanow Palace. Walking this road assures you an incredible view of Polish historical landmarks, including St. Anne's Church, the Tyszkiewicz Palace, the Holy Cross Church, St. Alexander's Church, Lazienki Park, and so much more. An entire day can be spent exploring the monuments and side streets that are considered part of the "Road of Kings", and there are innumerable sights to be seen.
An impressive monument to the Polish composerChopin sits in the Lazienki park, and during the summer, classical musical concerts are held on the lawn. In addition to being the living quarters of many Polish nobles, including the Polish president, museums, chic shopping, people-watching, and fine eateries are abound on this most beautiful and historic of streets.
One of the only landmarks in Warsaw to remain untouched by the World Wars, the stunning Wilanow Palace is one of the most beautiful buildings in Poland. Stroll around the incredible gardens, take in the Gallery of Polish Portraiture, or just take in the ornateness andsplendorof both the interior and exterior design of the Palace.
Built for King John III Sobieski in the late 17th century, the Wilanow Palace is considered to be one of the major masterpieces of Polish architecture, and is often referred to as the "Polish Versailles". Be sure to make time for the gardens, which can be just as engrossing as the palace itself.
One of the best museums in Warsaw, this space is dedicated to the Warsaw Uprising, an effort of the Polish Resistance Movement during the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1944. Opened in 2004 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the movement, visitors experience a thorough survey of every stage of the uprising, from the breaking out of the fighting to the fate of the resistance members.
In an effort to display all historical aspects of this period, the museum houses a collection of artifacts from letters between resistance members to the weapons used by the insurgents. Learn about this crucial period of World War II history in a wonderfully constructed and thoughtfully conceived museum.
Be sure to pay special attention to the armbands that were preserved from the insurgents, and if you have children, a supervised activity area known as the Little Insurgent's Room is a great option for your visit.
More Things to Do in Warsaw
Part of the Adventure Warsaw attraction — which runs Communist-themed tours of the city — at the Soho Factory in bohemian, grungy Praga, the Life Under Communism Museum highlights the mundane, cheerless quality of life under the Soviet regime in Poland. Previously knownas Czar PRL, it's now called Muzeum Życia w PRL, which literally translates as Museum of Life in the Polish People's Republic.
The Poles and the extraordinarily powerful Solidarity freedom movement, led by Lech Wałęsa, voted the Communist system out in the 1989 elections, leading to the break up of the Soviet Union. Although there is no sentimentality in Poland towards the former Communist regime, this clever little museum allows younger generations to glimpse life behind the Iron Curtain as it was for 45 years.
Among the busts of Lenin and Marx in the Museum of Life Under Communism are a scattering of Soviet uniforms, Communist-era radios and record player spinning vinyl from little-known Eastern Bloc bands. However, the highlights of the exhibition are the rudimentary rooms kitted out in typical Soviet style with austere furniture — some sourced from the former headquarters of the Polish United Workers’ Party (PZPR) and more donated from the general public. The sparse kitchen has a 1980s’ cooker and fridge; a rather depressing beige bedroom has a simple wooden bed and the walls of a party worker’s office are hung with portraits of Communist leaders. And this privately owned museum just keeps on growing, with the curators appealing for any artifacts that belong to the Communist era to use in their displays.
Żoliborz is one of Warsaw’s northern districts, located on the left bank of the Vistula River, directly north of Warsaw’s city center. Żoliborz is the smallest district in Warsaw and gets its name from the French words, joli bord, which mean "pretty bank" or "beautiful embankment."
Żoliborz began really developing oncePoland regained independence in 1918. New houses, parks and squares filled the area, mostly in modernist architecture styles. One notable area is Żoliborz Oficerski, a higher-end spot built up with villas for Polish Army officers and other figures.During the Warsaw Uprising, Żoliborz was a place of conflict but the district was fortunately spared the damage seen in many other parts of Warsaw.
Today, Żoliborz is a quiet neighborhood. It’s gaining some popularity with expats, despite not having an international school nearby, and Kepa Potocka Park hosts summer concerts and is the ideal spot for a quiet afternoon getaway. One of the main sights is the Citadel (Muzeum X Pawilony Cytadeli), built during the 19th-century Russian occupation.Another important sight is St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, which contains the tomb of the blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, a Roman Catholic priest murdered by Polish communist intelligence agents. He has since been recognized a martyr, and his tomb has seen over 20 million visitors.
The Katyn Museum (Muzeum Katyńskie) is an annex of the Polish Army Museum, and is dedicated to the Katyn Massacre, a Soviet-directed mass murder of Polish Nationals by the secret police in the spring of 1940.
Located in the Czerniakowski Fort, you can see objects recovered from the POW camp, left by those murdered, photographs, and documents of both the crime and its victims. Also on exhibition in the fort is an impressive collection of Polish military aircraft and other weaponry.
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