This post was last updated on January 28th, 2019
As you know from my most recent minimalist packing post, I went to Warsaw last weekend for a short city break. I tried to use my time wisely and ended up sacrificing museum visits due to the stunning weather. In this post, I’ll share some of my thoughts and pictures.
I didn’t expect much from Warsaw as it’s not really a city that is on most people’s radar. Tourists to Poland much prefer Krakow or even Gdansk. The last time I had been to Poland was more than 20 years ago where we also got to see Gdansk which I remember as a very beautiful, quite Nordic looking city.
I felt similarly in Warsaw in that some of the older architecture reminded me of northern Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. Since everything is also in good shape and very clean, it feels a lot less like the stereotypical Eastern city.
I struggled a bit with buying a metro ticket as there were many different machines some of which didn’t accept 20zl bills. I asked two teenagers for help and managed to get on the metro for two stops to get to my Airbnb. While I was staying only two metro stops from the central station, the area seemed quite a bit less modern. There were a lot of liquor stores, and the gray buildings gave off more of a traditionally Eastern vibe.
I decided not to explore the city during the evening but rather to rest and get up early the next morning to start getting to know Warsaw better.
I decided to rely solely on my feet for transport so I would be able to take in as much as possible of the city and perhaps see things I would miss if using public transport.
Before going to Warsaw, I had been told that the Old Town was not that special as it was, in fact, not all that old having been rebuilt only after the Germans destroyed most of the city during World War II. However, to me, it was even more impressive that so much time, effort, and money were invested in restoring the city to a more glorious past.
Being there on a Sunday morning made strolling through the city really enjoyable because it was pretty empty which made it much easier to take pictures. However, it also meant that souvenir shops were just opening up, and there were no cafes open for breakfast.
I saw some individual other tourists and one bigger group, but other than that I had the city pretty much to myself which was great.
The weather was brilliant which I imagine further enhanced my positive opinion of the city. I’m not sure how I would have felt had it been cold and raining. I think visiting Warsaw in the spring or summer is probably the best option if you want to take advantage of the fact that it’s such a walkable city.
Apart from some other tourists, I also saw several people on their way to and from church. Polish society is fairly religious and this was noticeable even in the capital.
In comparison with Bucharest, the only other former Communist capital I have visited, I felt that Poles are more at peace with the different stages in their history. Neoclassical buildings, practical but unattractive buildings from the Communist era and modern office buildings coexist in Warsaw. While this is a lot of contrast on some streets, it seems that the inhabitants of Warsaw are aware that this is what makes their city special.
Warsaw also appeared to be a very young city, and many of these younger people speak English without any difficulties. It’s also a city with an incredible cultural life and particularly attractive to artists which added to the cool vibe in Warsaw.
Warsaw is very proud of its famous composer Chopin, and if you’re at all interested in classical music, you will be thrilled to hear that, in the warmer months, there are free Chopin concerts in the city and that there is a museum dedicated to this pianist from the Romantic era.
Warsaw is also a very cheap city. So cheap, in fact, that people at stores don’t like to take 100zl bills which are the equivalent to just a little over 20 euros. This obviously makes the city perfect for a short trip as you will be paying very little aside from the flight and your accommodation.
Traffic seemed very safe in Warsaw, and people stop at red lights even if there is no car in sight. Likewise, cars let me pass every single time which I’m not used to at all anymore from Athens.
Warsaw appears to also be a fairly green city with several parks. I went to the largest one called Łazienki Park which features a Chopin monument with free musical performances. I only saw the entrance area, but if you check a map you will see that this park is rather big and would make for a really nice walk. Due to the amazing weather, there were many people taking advantage of the possibility of spending Sunday in the park.
Once I ventured away from the big avenues, I felt transported into the Communist 1950s with gray buildings that don’t have any charm, yet somehow make this city special. Since everything is kept in decent shape, these streets didn’t seem like sad leftovers of difficult times, but, rather, like an open-air museum of a significant part of European history. I could feel the isolation from Western Europe as if it was still a fact.
I ended my trip to Warsaw at the Orthodox synagogue (which was closed, unfortunately) and at the Palace of Culture and Science. I wanted to go to the viewing terrace, but the line was huge, and I was worried I might miss my bus to the airport.
While I didn’t have the time to see any of the museums I was interested in, I still feel like I got a wonderful overview of one of the more underrated cities in Europe. I was impressed with the emotional reaction the mix between old and new, bourgeois and Communist, Eastern and Western, created in me.
Have you ever been to Warsaw? Let me know in the comments below if you liked the city.