Ready and Roam / Warsaw, Poland
Roam Guide, Adrienne Bednarz
Adrienne was born and raised in New York and New Jersey by Polish parents. She is well versed in visiting Warsaw having spent a substantial amount of time in Poland, where some of her family still resides. After spending her college years in Spain, she moved back to the US where she now puts her writing and editing skills to use as a Team Lead for Anti-Money Laundering at a British-based, international bank. In her spare time Adrienne travels the world creating content for her website, The Girl with the Red Backpack which supports the under-represented Hard of Hearing and Deaf communities in travel. Her writing and visual storytelling is intended to encourage others who are hard of hearing to travel well and travel often.
When to GO: All year round, depending on the vibe you want. Summer is warm and super touristy, while fall is known for its golden colored leaves and foggy mornings. Winter is brutally cold and Spring less so, both quiet.
I typically organize a trip to Warsaw to visit family in the Fall, and finding a flight to the city is never a hassle with direct and one-stop flights leaving EWR or JFK on the daily. Arrival at WAW is simple because the airport is one long hallway. Within minutes, I’m taking the Szybka Kolej Miejska (SKM), which translates to “Fast Masovian lines,” and is the express mode of transportation that services central Warsaw and the surrounding districts (suburbs, so to speak). we only have two lines of metro and this isn’t it. I typically de-board at Warszawa Srodmiescie or Warszawa Centralna, respectively. These are two of the most central stations in Warsaw (close to old town and historic center). Warszawa Centralna is also a train stop so from here you can grab a train to anywhere in Poland, as well as some cities in the surrounding countries. Taking a taxi to the hotel from the airport is a fine idea as well. For the most part, the city is walkable and easily accessible by bicycle. You certainly won’t need a car because the public transportation options (the trams!) are superb.
Rtip: It’s good to know that, while Poland is a member of the European Union it has its own currency, the Zloty, which means “golden.” One Zloty (pronounced Zwoty) is equal to about .25 cents US. In other words, you need four to make a dollar and it’s an easy conversion for Americans.
The capital city of Poland is surrounded by forestry, making it one of the largest green-space cities in all of Europe. Warsaw’s varied architecture reflects the city's extensive and turbulent history, from Gothic churches and neoclassical palaces to Soviet-era blocks and modern skyscrapers. In fact, 80% of Warsaw was destroyed in WWII, more specifically during the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, when portions of the city were wiped flat and many structures were left as shells of their once grand facade. The Old Town of Warsaw as you see it today, was rebuilt brick by brick from people’s memories and from photographs. Because of that, it’s so historically accurate it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old Town of Warsaw is one of the only places on that list that has been entirely rebuilt. If you want to know more I suggest the Warsaw Rising Museum.
Warsaw Rising Museum (Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego)
This museum is entirely about the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, when the whole city rebelled against and fought the Nazis, hoping that the Russians camping on the other side of the river would help them fight the Nazis off. The museum is free on Sundays, but no matter when you go you should pay for a ticket to see the 3D rendered movie of a flight over Warsaw at the end of the uprising. It shows you the level of destruction the city suffered during the war. You should allow at least two hours to get through the museum.
Most luxury travel sites will steer you to Raffles Europejski Warsaw or Hotel Bristol but there are so many other nice hotels to consider (and for likely 1/2 the price). Poland is actually one of the most affordable countries to visit in the EU, so it’s a wonderful place to combine with a more expensive destination to offset costs and extend your European holiday.
Sofitel Victoria Warszawa / see pricing at Booking.com or Expedia
Perfectly tucked away by the Saxon Garden and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, this hotel is super close to Old Town and within walking distance of Warszawa Centralna. The property has been renovated in recent times so it’s clean, comfortable and modern. I enjoyed the indoor pool, where I would recommend spending the evening relaxing while cooling off (or warming up) before heading to bed.
Intercontinental Warsaw / see pricing at Booking.com or Expedia
Located nearby the Warszawa Centralna station, it is within walking distance to the old town and the center of Warsaw. The Intercontinental is a relatively new construction, and is the tallest hotel in Warsaw and Poland. It boast beautiful views of the city, and even has an infinity pool overlooking the Palace of Culture and Science.
Rtip: If you prefer a smaller property check out the perfectly central seven room Apple Inn, inside the attic of a renovated 19th century townhouse. Each unit offers a shared kitchen and there is even a bakery below. Another boutique option is the Mamaison Hotel Le Regina Warsaw with only 58 rooms, it’s actually housed inside the historic Mokrowski Palace so you don’t have to fight crowds to see one of the cities best attractions.
Palace of Culture and Science (Palac Kultury i Nauki)
This is the tallest building on the Warsaw skyline and the first thing you’ll see when coming out of the main train station, Warszawa Centralna. It houses theaters, offices, public institutions, sports clubs and the Polish Academy of Science. It also provides the only “birds eye” view of the city from this side of Warsaw. The Palace of Culture and Science, is called PKiN for short and was a gift from Stalin to the Polish people in 1955. It’s for this reason, it’s so controversial. Many people who lived through the Stalinist era strongly oppose the symbolism, while the newer generations just admire the building for its beauty. It has a several nicknames that reveal Varsovian’s animosity towards the building, including PKiN (pronounced Pekin—like Peking, the alternative name for Beijing).
Whatever the case it’s a significant Polish landmark, so even a walk through the surrounding PKiN grounds is worth it. You access the building from the entrance facing away from the Warsaw Central Station. Inside there are three exhibits— Bodyworlds & The Cycle of Life (science based), The Galleria of Metal Figures, and my favorite The Horizon of History. The Horizon of History is a Visual Reality 3D project that shows the growth of Warsaw through the centuries; from a tiny fishing village by the river to the modern city it is today. It’s super interesting and interactive—you can even play with swords and shoot bow and arrows. If the exhibits are not of interest, just head up to the terrace on the 30th floor to enjoy the incredible view of Warsaw from above. On weekends in the summer you can also access the terrace at night.
The Invisible Exhibition (Wystawa Niewidzialna)
As much as I don’t want to spoil the surprise of what this place is (because that was what was so intriguing to me, my first time), let’s just say that this exhibition gets really dark. This is like nothing you’ve ever experienced. The sister exhibit in Czechia is the single most popular tourist destination in Prague. Unfortunately, it can only be booked with a guide, so if you want an experience in English you’ll need to reach out ahead of time via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). To get here, take the trams to the Plac Zawiszy stop.
Walk the historic thoroughfares through Old Town
It’s important to know that there are a stretch of streets in Warsaw that comprise a section of the city once called the “Royal Route.” Officially the entire route runs from the Warsaw Royal Palace in old town, south to the Palace in Wilanów. To begin your exploration of old town, you’ll want to take the tram to a stop called, Muzeum Narodowe. It is here you’ll cross the street to Ulica Nowy Swiat (which translates to New World Street). Just enjoy a leisurely walk along Nowy Swiat until it turns into Krakowskie Przedmiescie. In the Nowy Swiat portion of the route, you will see a lot of stores and restaurants. As you enter the Krakowskie Przedmiescie section, you’ll begin to discover the more historic aspects of the city including authentic street cafes and monuments. If you continue along Krakowskie Prezedmiescie you will inevitably find yourself in Castle Square right in front of the Royal Palace (the official residence of the Polish monarchs). From here, simply walk between the houses by the Palace to reach the famous Old Town, market square. After sufficient time here, you can venture further to the Barbacan (old town’s walls), before crossing into the New Town. This whole area allows an opportunity to visit a plethora of important landmarks (listed below):
Nicholas Copernicus’ Statue - look down at your feet, you’ll see rings with planets, as a nod to the heliocentric theory.
The Holy Cross Church - right across the street from the statue—it still holds Frederic Chopin’s heart in its walls.
The University of Warsaw - where Frederic Chopin lived as a boy. The Kazimierzowski Palace is also on the campus.
Biblioteca Uniwersytu Warszawskiego - This library is worth visiting. It has a very unique design and on top of it is a huge garden with views of the river. It’s located behind the University of Warsaw.
The Presidential Palace - the largest of Warsaw’s palaces (and a few other homes of the noble classes)
Hotel Bristol - distinguished for it’s luxury and famous for it’s significance during the Communist time.
The Statue of King Zygmunt - erected in 1644 it’s one of Warsaw's most famous landmarks.
Ogrod Saski (Saxon Garden) - a vast courtyard where you can stand at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
I’ve been there twice, and it’s cool in the sense that it’s very interactive (touch screens and blank papers that actually start some recordings). However, they don’t always work correctly and much of the museum has fallen into a bit of disrepair since it first opened. That said, if you are still interested in seeing the museum, it’s free on Sundays. The address that they give on the website is misleading as the entrance is actually on Tamka Street. You can gain entry at the little plaza-like area squished in between two tall buildings.
In recent years the city of Warsaw has taken a separate initiative in memorium of the pianist, Chopin, who was born here. You can get a tour guide of “Chopin’s Warsaw” at the tourist office near the Old Town, and it gives you cool facts and information to supplement the museum. It explores the places where Chopin grew up, performed and continues to live on. It’s a great thing if you are a music lover and want to see more about the places that impacted the legendary Frederic Chopin. Best part is it’s all very near to the “Royal Route”
If you think that the famous, two-time Nobel Laureate scientist who discovered Radium and Polonium was born in France, think again. She named the radioactive compound, Polonium, for her birth country. Marie was born in Warsaw, and spent many years in the city because her father was a teacher at the high school. This museum is dedicated to her in the Old town of Warsaw, on 16 Freta Street, which used to be a girl’s boarding school owned by Maria’s mother.
Landmarks also part of the “Royal Route,”
Lazienki Park- The Royal Bath (Lazienki Krolewskie)
This is the most expansive and enchanting park in Warsaw, that’s also part of the “Royal Route” from the Royal Castle (mentioned above) in the Old Town to the Palace in Wilanów (below). One of the most captivating parts of this park is the Palace on the Isle. It’s literally built on the water. Stroll around to discover the Old Orangery, the splendid Myslewicki Palace, as well as several of their gardens. In the summer, concerts are held at the Chopin Monument in the park with regular performances by famous pianists well versed in Chopin’s pieces. To get here, take bus #116 from Nowy Swiat (the stop is around the corner, next to Sephora), and go to stop called, Lazienki Krolewskie. That will leave you off in front of Frederic Chopin Monument so you can walk past it on your way to the Palace on the Isle.
This palace is on the outskirts of Warsaw, but it’s worth it to go see. The palace itself is beautiful inside and it houses a ton of history. It was recently restored and is stunning in its yellow color. A visit to the palace contradicts certain preconceptions of the times in which these people lived. The first thing to do when you get here is head to the cashier’s office to purchase tickets to get inside. Make sure you note what time you have to enter the Palace (it should say so on the ticket), and make sure you are on time to the entrance because they are pretty strict on that. The entrance to the Palace interior is to the right of the building. It’s nondescript so just know that as soon as you get past the walls and you are facing the palace, the entry will be on your right.
Pierogi (or pierogies) originated in Poland. These dumplings are made from a combination of fillings limited only by the chef’s imagination. Traditional Pierogi will be either potato, cheese, potato & cheese, meat, or blueberry and they are all delicious. In my opinion, Pierogi are either cooked in boiling water (the traditional way), or fried (the modern way). Some other notable Polish foods include, bigos (hunter’s stew), borscht, żurek (sour bread soup), pączki (doughnuts), kopytka (potato dumplings), gołąbki (cabbage rolls), placki ziemniaczane (potato pancakes).
“I often describe Pierogi as a dumpling similar to empanadas or wontons.”
Rtip: As far as the Polish language goes, we suggest you to stop trying to sound out the overwhelming number of sz's cz's and dz's in their words. Instead just learn a few phrases and try your best to use them appropriately. It goes a long way with the friendly Polish people when they see you are trying to speak their language. English is widely spoken as well.
Zapiecek’s s is known as “Pierogarnia” because they specifically serve pierogi. They have multiple locations in prime spots around the city, and they always seem to be busy. Because they can be busy they can get impossibly loud you may have to wait for a table. Despite this, the restaurant is very homey, in a modern cabinhouse style. I would for sure tell you to get, the cheese pierogi with sour cream and their chicken noodle soup.
#Rtip if you are wondering where to find the best pierogi in Warsaw, check out this article because, “grandma’s house” is not a good answer to give a tourist.
Milk Bar-Bar Mleczny,
Bar Mleczny, literally translates to “Milk Bar” but the name is deceiving. It really is a cafeteria that serves different affordable homemade-style meals. The menu changes daily and it’s a great way to try different types of Polish food. A few Milk Bars worth trying include,
Bar Prasowy—with it’s history rooted in communism this place has been around since the 50’s and is the first place locals will guide you to when you ask about milk bars.
Bambino Bar— described as a more traditional yet upscale milkbar this spot is legit. They boast an open kitchen and offer sweets like “pierogi leniwe” (or “leniwe”) made of cottage cheese and sprinkled with sugar. Have small bills and a few polish words ready.
What to drink at a milk bar? Not milk. Instead try Kompot which is a non-alcoholic, sweet fruit juice served hot or cold.
Rtip: If you are a fan of market style dining like Pier One in San Francisco, Time Out Lisbon or Covent Garden in London, check out Warsaw’s Hala Koszyki. Another good place is the Night Market by the old Warszawa Glowna station. It’s only opened during the summers.
Once a fruit and vegetable stand, this restaurant is run by just one lady. The Zapiekanki here are quite good and there are several options. A Zapiekanki is a toasted open-face sandwich made from half a baguette. Served with ketchup it’s a popular street food in Poland. Cash only.
This is a unique Art Deco, mix and matched coffee/breakfast/ lunch spot. It’s not Polish food at all, but brings a twists on American food in a Polish and international way. This is a great spot to stop for a bite along your walking tour of the “Royal Route” as you head into Old Town.
Rtip: At Ready & Roam we are always in search of a good brunch spot with outdoor seating. In this case we suggest snagging a table at Charlotte near Plac Zbawiciela square and the Polish Museum.
This is a good, albeit slightly hidden, coffee and dessert spot in the New Old Town (past The Barbacan, aka the wall). Everything is so fresh and tasty here and it’s a perfect for a mid-afternoon coffee break.
“I discovered To Lubie by pure chance while walking around Warszawa two summers ago, and I returned for breakfast as soon as I could. Be sure to go for the dessert of the day.”
Often ranking in the top 10 for the most beer drinkers per capita, craft beer is no joke in Poland. A few notable beer halls include; Piw Paw, where you can get a beer to-go, Gorączka Złota a favorite among locals and finally, Cuda na Kiju, with their great outdoor space and literally means “miracles on tap.”
Rtip: You can visit the city’s most iconic sites, beer in hand ,on a small group tasting tour through BTA. The tour boasts an explanation of the Polish beer ‘code of conduct,’ and a visit to the oldest tap bar in the city.
This is bar used to be a train station and from here you can see one of the Warsaw bridges that connects the city center to the Praga district. It’s a great bar and hangout and I’ve been told they have very good Pierogis as well.
Rtip is to also consider a walking tour in the Praga neighborhood on the east bank of the Vistula River. Meet the locals who live here, learn about the area’s fascinating history and taste the most delicious local food in the city, all with a local by your side.
Mokotowska Street is one of the most picturesque streets in the city and it also provides some of the best shopping. There is a good stretch of boutiques between Three Crosses Square and the Polish History Museum. Worth checking out if you are interested in Polish fashion designers, jewelry and body care, including, Just Paul, Bizuu, Prael, Le Brand, and Ania Kuczynska.
Rtip: If you are shopping with a non-spender, this area is also where you’ll find Warsaw’s first speakeasy, 6 cocktails. Poland actually invented vodka, not Russia, so this place is certainly worth seeking out. If you are looking for a place to eat mid-shopping afternoon, seek out Ale wino for a tapas style seasonal menu al fresco - one of the few websites you’ll find in English.
Take time to discover another well-preserved Polish city. Maybe you want to forget the world at a Baltic spa in the northern coastal town of Kolobrzeg, or you want to visit the iconic merchant houses and taste the legally-protected croissant in Poznan? I recently spent time in Kraków, which used to be Poland’s capital until the 16th century. The city is rich in history and culture, as well as being near to Oswięcim (Auschwitz, the concentration camp), Wadowice (the birthplace of Karol Wojtyła, better known as Pope John Paul II) and the wildly captivating Tatra Mountains. You can read all about my time in Krakow, on my website.
If you’re going in the summer, take a light jacket, and sunscreen for sure. In winter, bring thermal pants or a pair of leggings to wear under your pants as it can get really cold. This book is my latest fav. Literally couldn’t put it down.
Click here to see everywhere Adrienne suggests you include in your visit.