Warsaw may well lose out in a beauty contest with Paris or Rome, but although not always beautiful, the city is always interesting. Because the streets of Warsaw reflect the history of Europe. Here you will find relics from all architectural movements, ideologies and wars, as glass and steel commercial buildings sit side-by-side with Stalinist concrete, Art Nouveau and classicism, shopping malls, and coffee shop chains.
Poland was the only EU country to experience growth during the financial crisis and its capital city is developing at breakneck speed. Warsaw is going places and is doing so in leaps and bounds. Here is our guide to the things, old and new, that you should take a look at in Warsaw right now.
Palace of Culture and Science
Ever since its completion, Stalin’s gift to the people of Poland has been both loved and hated. The colossal layer cake building in the center of Warsaw is still standing and turns 60 this year. The Palace of Culture and Science has no fewer than 3,288 rooms, and is home to a swimming pool, cinema, museums, offices, cat shelter, and much, much more. With its 44 floors and sitting 237 meters high, it is the tallest building in Poland. Take a trip up to the viewing terrace on the 30th floor and enjoy the views of the city.
Palac Kultury i Nauki, Plac Defilad 1
The Old Town
The Renaissance façades, the Royal Castle, and the marketplace in the Old Town are not as old as they first appear. Warsaw was virtually razed to the ground during World War II and reconstruction work of unimaginable proportions took place after the war. All of Stare Miasto, for example, is a reconstruction of the city as it once was. Visit the City Museum and watch the film showing the extent of the devastation after the war. You will be amazed that the capital was ever able to get back on its feet.
Stare Miasto, Muzeum Miasta Warszawy, Rynek Starego Miasta 28
The beach at Wisla
Wisla’s riverside area was once just an overgrown sandbank with rushes and the odd stray plastic bottle. But now the riverbanks have been transformed into an attractive, modern city beach, complete with sun loungers, beach bars, cool DJs, and hipsters with fritz-kola. And all with a view of the Old Town and the Warsaw skyline.
The beach, with the beach café Temat Rzeka, at Most Poniatowskiego below Stadion Narodowy.
Warsaw’s equivalent of Copenhagen’s Meatpacking District is, appropriately enough, called the SoHo Factory, and is a complex of old factory buildings that are home to hip design workshops, a museum of Communist neon signs, a coffee roastery, a variety of restaurants and a large section of Warsaw’s artistic and creative class. Übercool without being too pretentious, it welcomes everyone.
Ul. Minska 25
Lazienki Park (with Michelin-starred cuisine)
Lazienki Royal Park is a good old-fashioned idyllic space, with water features, peacocks and free Chopin concerts on Sundays. The park is also home to some of Warsaw’s best restaurants, the latest addition being Poland’s first (and only) Michelin-starred restaurant, Atelier Amaro, which creates exquisite Polish cuisine from the choicest Polish ingredients. Here you can sample the very best in Polish dining, but you will have to plan well in advance – the next available table is sometime in November.
Atelier Amaro, Agrykola 1
Museum of the History of Polish Jews
For centuries, Poland was home to one of the largest and most important Jewish communities in Europe. The brand new Museum of the History of Polish Jews aims to recount the 800-year history of Jews in Poland, not just the Holocaust. And it does so in a really beautiful, vibrant, and ultramodern way. With lots of interactive elements, elegant reconstructions, and a wealth of pictures, stories, photos, and films, you are guided through Poland’s Jewish history, which shows that, against all odds, there is still Jewish life in Poland after the Nazi attempts at total annihilation.
Muzeum Historii Zydow Polskich POLIN, Mordechaja Anielewicza 6
Tekst: Lise Hannibal
Published: September 9, 2015