Having been completely destroyed during World War II following a tragic timeline of events – German subjugation, a failed rebellion and the Red Army’s betrayal – Warsaw has since proved its admirable resilience. A complete rebuild of the Old Town means an exact replica of the original now stands proudly while the Uprising Museum tells the heroic yet heartbreaking story of the 1944 rebellion and its catastrophic aftermath. Remnants of the city’s Soviet past remain – Stalin’s Palace of Culture and Science one glaring example – but the city has successfully achieved the unimaginable feat of transforming into an inspiring destination that delivers an exciting line-up of culture, food and partying.
Old Town is Warsaw’s main tourist hub thanks to its picture-perfect pastel houses and high concentration of restaurants and bars while further neighbourhoods such as Praga and Mokotow attract visitors and locals alike with their diverse menu of craft beer pubs, wine bars and trendy restaurants. From the major attractions and coolest neighbourhoods to the hippest bars and best restaurants, this guide details the best things to do in Warsaw during a long weekend.
Where to stay in Warsaw:
Julia’s Apartments – Warsaw Old Town, Rycerska.
Located right in the heart of Old Town, this apartment is perfect for anyone who wants to get up early and see the pretty cobblestone streets and market squares before the crowds descend. Sympathetic to its surroundings, the apartment is located in a block of traditional townhouses while the smartly dressed interior has a contemporary design and all the amenities needed for a weekend break, including a surprisingly comfy bed. Additionally, Julia provides a comprehensive video directing guests to the apartment and leaves the key in a safety box, allowing for a smooth arrival even when taking a late-night flight.
What to see in Warsaw:
After being flattened by the German army during World War II, more than 85% of Warsaw’s Old Town was left in a state of ruin. Until the Varsovians stepped in, that is. Assisted by 18th century paintings by Venetian artist Bernardo Bellotto, the city’s residents created an exact replica of the original, and the Old Town now boasts UNESCO World Heritage Site status. At its heart, the Old Town Square brings together Renaissance, baroque, neoclassical and Gothic architecture while the surrounding cobblestone streets are lined with attractive medieval buildings. The most recognisable aspect, however, is the Castle Square, home to The Royal Castle, Sigismund’s Column and an array of colourful houses. Make your way to the top of St Anne’s Bell Tower for a spectacular view of the square and beyond.
Set over three floors, this comprehensive museum is the attraction that Warsaw residents most want visitors to see. Charting the entirety of the uprising, the story commences in 1939 with Poland’s division, when the West was taken over by Nazi Germany and the East by the Soviet Union. The display then moves onto the uprising against the Germans, which the Poles hoped would herald a speedy liberation by the Red Army. The sheer amount of information is overwhelming but it provides an important education that’s a must when visiting the Polish capital.
Cost: 20 PLN per person. Plus 10 PLN for an audio guide.
Tip: Don’t visit on a Sunday, when the museum is free and much busier.
Palace of Culture and Science
Despite providing an unwelcome reminder of days gone by, many locals have come to develop a love-hate relationship with Stalin’s overbearing Palace of Culture and Science. Tourists can take advantage of its height by ascending to the 30th-floor viewing terrace, where far-reaching views across central Warsaw, the Old Town and the outer neighbourhoods can be enjoyed.
Cost: 20 PLN per person
Warsaw’s largest park, Lazienki Park features both well-kept gardens and wild areas, with beautiful palaces, lakes, pavilions and theatres peppered throughout. It’s the perfect spot for a peaceful walk and its most famous attraction, The Palace on the Isle, is an impressive centrepiece. The former residence of the Polish King Stanislaw August Poniatowski, the neoclassical palace sits gracefully on a lake with two bookend colonnade bridges connecting it to the rest of the park.
Where to eat in Warsaw:
Hidden on Mokotowska Street, Ale Wino is a standout among all the other restaurants. Home to a pretty decked courtyard filled with greenery and pastel coloured chairs, it’s an idyllic little spot and the food is even better. While the wine is obviously the star of the show – the Hungarian sparkling is the perfect lunchtime refresher – the food is worth a visit alone. Cheese boards come piled high with brioche and chutney, meat boards offer an array of flavours and spices, and duck rillettes boast a myriad of flavours and textures. To find the restaurant, head into what looks like a car park behind shop number 48.
Comprising 18 food and drink outlets in a 110-year-old market building, Hala Koszyki is the first of its kind in Poland. Set over two floors, the expansive venue gives a striking first impression with high arched ceilings and wrought iron fixtures. Concrete floors and exposed lighting complete the industrial feel. A large bar forms an impressive centrepiece – look down at it from the first-floor level for the most impressive view – while trendy Thai, tapas, burrito, sushi and Hawaiian eateries line the walls. Outside, a large courtyard is the perfect spot to enjoy some food and drink under the summer sun.
Located in Old Town Market Square, this restaurant is quite touristy and a little on the pricey side. Saying that, it’s easy to see why with such a splendid view – who can complain when dining under the sun in one of Warsaw’s prettiest squares? Furthermore, the fluffy pancakes drizzled in syrup are an indulgent way to start the day and certainly worthy of the extra cost.
In the hipster Praga district, this quirky Russian restaurant provides an unusual dining experience. Traditional dishes like dumplings with vinegar and beef stroganoff with potato pancakes are served in a mismatch dining room that’s reminiscent of a classroom with old Soviet propaganda posters on the walls and books lining the shelves.
Another pricey Old Town restaurant, this is one for the meat lovers. A hunting theme runs through the décor and the food, with stuffed boars and deer adorning the walls and venison, lamb and steak making up the menu. Located in Castle Square, the outside seating also boasts one of the best views in town, with The Royal Castle, Sigismund’s Column and the rest of the square in view.
Where to drink in Warsaw:
W Oparach Absurdu
Located in Praga, this quirky bar has a gothic vibe with a moody colour palette, striking candle chandeliers and burning incense. Antique paisley rugs line the floors, flower tapestries adorn the walls and mismatch furniture marries well with the hipster neighbourhood.
Warsaw has a burgeoning craft beer scene but Same Krafty is the only specialist beer bar in Old Town. Set in a beer cellar style venue with exposed brickwork and cosy alcoves, it’s a lively yet intimate spot to enjoy a drink or two. Choose from a vast range of draught and bottled beers along with a selection of pizzas and Polish bar snacks. There is also a sister pizza restaurant across the street.
One of Warsaw’s most popular craft beer bars, PiwPaw has a great vibe, trendy décor and a fantastic line-up of beers. Bottle caps cover the walls, beer-related typography decorates the ceiling and wicker lamps give a flattering candlelight effect. The music is pitched at just the right level and a large number of beers means there’s something for all palates.
In the same neighbourhood as PiwPaw, Jabeerwocky is another fantastic option for beer aficionados. With exposed brickwork, surrealist illustrations and reclaimed 100-year-old floor tiles, it has an on-trend urban design while 15 taps serving a rotating menu of both Polish and European beers ensure there’s always something different to try.
Bar and Books
If you’re more inclined to a cocktail and don’t mind paying a little extra, Bar and Books is for you. Located on the edge of Old Town, the bar has an English pub style aesthetic on the outside and a trendy prohibition vibe on the inside. It’s a romantic spot with a vast, high-end menu but the service is patchy and the tap water doesn’t come for free.