Travel Guide to Warsaw, Poland

By Rachael Funk


A unique city with a tumultuous past, Warsaw sprawls out over a wide area. With a reputation for the best dining and entertainment scene in Poland, the city has a tantalizing selection of bars, clubs, and restaurants to try. Warsaw is a city that blends the old with the new. While it hasn’t forgotten its past, the city sees no problem with having a little fun in the present.


What to Know

The capital and largest city in Poland, Warsaw is a revitalized city. Gone are the days of dreary gray, replaced with brightly painted buildings and modern glass structures sitting side by side with restored communist buildings. Although Warsaw sustained terrible damage at the end of WWII, the city has rebuilt its historical sites, providing visitors with a rich variety of options to explore the area’s past.


When to Go

A great time to visit Warsaw is between the months of June and August. The city’s peak season, this is when you will find the most seasonal activities and the best weather. Usually, during this time, the temperatures hover in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. If you’d prefer to travel in the shoulder season for discounted hotel and airline rates, winter travel is the most cost-effective, but prepare for temperatures in the 20s and 30s.


How to Get Around

Public Transport

Warsaw has an integrated public transport system which is operated by Zarzad Transportu Miejskiego (ZTM) and includes tram, bus, and metro lines which all use the same ticketing system. Main routes are open from about 5 am until 11 pm and services are frequent and reliable though crowded during rush hours. Past 11 pm, some night buses link major suburbs to the city center about every half hour. On Friday and Saturday nights, the Metro runs until 2:30 am.

Taxi

You can hail a cab in the street, but it may still be better to call taxi dispatch and have a car sent to pick you up to ensure a fair ride. Agree on a price before you enter the taxi; the fare from the Warsaw Chopin Airport to the city center is usually between 35-50zł, so be sure you’re not overpaying for your service.

Car rental

To rent a car in Poland, you’ll need to be over the age of 18, provide a credit card (not a debit card), and have an International Driver’s License. Be aware that you are not permitted to cross the borders into Ukraine, Belarus, or Lithuania in a rental car, but as long as you’re staying local and abide by the local driving laws, you shouldn’t run into many issues.


Where to Eat

If bland images of boiled cabbages and potatoes slide through your mind when you think of the Polish palate, you couldn’t be farther off the mark when it comes to Warsaw cuisine. A shining star in the culinary arts, Warsaw’s food scene is as vibrant and varied as the buildings that inhabit the city’s Old Town. While you’re visiting, here are a few places you may want to try:


What to See

Royal Łazienki Park

Designed in the 17th century Baroque style, this beautiful park would be a shame to miss, especially if you are traveling during warm weather, when free yoga and meditation classes are offered within the grounds. The park is home to a collection of palaces including the stunning Palace on the Water, a neoclassical amphitheater, and orangeries.

Museum of the Warsaw Uprising

Modeled after Washington DC’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, Warsaw’s Museum of the Warsaw Uprising is a moving presentation of the city’s uprising in 1944. Visitors can see bunkers used in the uprising, read newspaper excerpts, and see multimedia presentations which bring the history to life.

Royal Castle

The Royal Castle is located in the Old Town on Castle Square. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, it was home to Polish royalty then was destroyed by the German army during WWII. Reconstructed in the 1980s, the castle holds a collection of 18th-century paintings.

Copernicus Science Centre

Poland’s largest science center, this incredible museum is not to be missed! Boasting over 400 exhibits and six permanent galleries, the interactive space invites guests to explore, learn, investigate, and discover. This family-friendly experience is a great way to spend a few enriching hours with kids or other adults!

POLIN – Museum of the History of Polish Jews

This museum is located where the Jewish district used to be in pre-war Warsaw. Opened in 2013 for the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the beautifully designed museum covers 1,000 years of Jewish history in Poland. The exhibition begins with the arrival of Jewish merchants through the “Paradisus ludaeorum” in the 16th century and guides visitors through to the devastating massacres by Nazi Germany in WWII. Admission is free on Thursdays.


Tips and Tricks

  • Hit up a Polish milk bar (or “bar mleczny”) while you’re in town! These cafeteria-style eateries are the best place to get authentic Polish food. Hint: if you’re looking for a good recommendation, we’ve helpfully linked you to a great one above!

  • Don’t call it Eastern Europe. Poland is in Central Europe and if you will be quickly corrected if you say otherwise.

  • It is illegal to drink in the streets in Poland, so if you were hoping to crack a beer in the park or any other public place, you may want to rethink that plan, unless you are willing to pay a fine.

  • If you give flowers as a gift, make sure to buy an odd number of blooms. Even numbers are reserved for funerals.


Day Trips

Krakow

Magnificent for its architecture, city life, and even the legend of how the city itself was founded, Krakow is a striking destination for first-time and repeat travelers. Krakow’s Old Town is bursting with churches, museums, cafes, clubs, restaurants, and bars. Beautifully balancing history and nightlife, Krakow is a great addition to a trip to the area.

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Established by German Nazis in 1940, this former concentration camp was turned into a museum displaying evidence of the genocide after the war. Today, you can visit it free of charge (or hire a guide for a fee) and learn about what went on within the camp.

Wroclaw

An idyllic city which is home to a thriving student community and is the cultural, gastronomical, and commercial hub of the region, Wroclaw is a pleasure to visit. The city boasts several theaters, major festivals throughout the year, and a vibrant nightlife, so if you can extend your day trip into a two-day trip, you may consider making this one an overnight stay!

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