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If you read my recent post about my favorite European capitals, you may have been surprised to see Warsaw quite high up on the list. Not many travelers venture to Poland, let alone Warsaw — it’s just not a place that you read a lot about. And yet Poland’s capital city really surprised me. It’s a COOL city, so long as you take the time to get to know it.

Warsaw Old Town

Warsaw street

So what makes Warsaw so awesome? I’ll give you 7 reasons:

The history

Not unlike Berlin (another of my favorite cities in the world), Warsaw has quite a painful recent history. In 1944, toward the end of WWII, resistance forces in Warsaw decided to rise up against the Germans. The Warsaw Uprising largely failed, however, and the Nazis decided to punish the city by making an example of it — which meant essentially obliterating it. More than 80% of the city center was flattened following the Uprising, and the city’s population plummeted from 2 million to about 1,000 because people simply had nowhere to live and were forced to leave the city.

Best place to learn more about this history: The Warsaw Uprising Museum.

Warsaw war memorial

Warsaw Uprising Monument

The Warsaw Uprising Monument

Little Insurgent Monument, Warsaw

The Little Insurgent Monument, dedicated to the young kids who fought during the Warsaw Uprising

Old-but-new

Thanks to the Uprising and resulting destruction of the city, most of Warsaw is actually new — well, “new” as in built since 1945. Despite its name, even the “Old Town” is new, having been completely rebuilt after WWII. This makes for quite an interesting downtown area. You have the “new-old” Warsaw Castle and the colorful Old Town contrasted by Soviet-era buildings like the Palace of Science and Culture and more modern architecture like at the Złote Tarasy shopping center (it looks like waves of glass!).

Best place to experience the old-but-new: Warsaw Castle’s “The Royal Castle — from Destruction to Reconstruction” exhibit. Inside the castle, you can also see the collection of paintings of the Old Town that architects used to help reconstruct things almost exactly as they had been before.

Warsaw Old Town

Warsaw Old Town

Warsaw Barbican

The Barbican in the Old Town

Warsaw Castle

Inside the new-old Warsaw Castle

Warsaw architecture

And some new, more modern architecture

The green spaces

For a city that was nothing but rubble 69 years ago and was then under Soviet rule for years, one doesn’t necessarily expect to find a lot of green spaces (no offense to the Soviets, but I only think of drab, gray things where they’re concerned). And yet Warsaw is FULL of parks and gardens and other green spaces. Lively green spaces, too. While walking through Łazienki Park (the Royal Baths Park) one chilly Sunday afternoon, my Warsaw-dwelling friend Kami and I stumbled upon a live Chopin concert beneath the memorial dedicated to the native composer — with hundreds of spectators. I also stumbled upon greenery at Saski Park (the Saxon Garden), at the Jewish Cemetery (where the greenery is overgrowing), and even on the rooftop of the library at the University of Warsaw (more on this later).

Best place to find greenery: Check out this list of parks in Warsaw.

Łazienki Park, Warsaw

Fountain in Łazienki Park

Saski Park, Warsaw

Saski Park

Saski Park, Warsaw

Saski Park

Jewish Cemetery, Warsaw

The Jewish Cemetery

The food

As someone who grew up eating lots of Polish and Slovak food, I couldn’t get enough of the food in Warsaw. I had some tasty pierogi my first night in town, and then let Kami drag me around to as many “milk bars” (Bar Mleczny) as possible. Contrary to their name, milk bars do not serve up milk — they serve up traditional (and very cheap) Polish food, cooked by cranky old Polish ladies and dished out on plastic flatware. Even though I have no clue what most of it was (and even though most of it didn’t look very pretty), everything I tried was delicious.

Best place to experience great Polish food: The milk bars! (Read more here.)

Pierogi in Warsaw

Pierogi!!!!

Warsaw milk bar

Inside a hip milk bar

The little quirks

Warsaw has so many little quirks that I loved: The milk bars that are morphing from sad Soviet staples to hip, cheap places for university students to eat. The gritty neighborhoods with shrines to the Virgin Mary hidden down alleyways. The beautiful rooftop garden on top of the University of Warsaw’s library. The little Neon Museum that displays old neon signs that used to adorn Warsaw’s streets. There are so many cool details to be found in Warsaw — and I think these details are what made me fall in love with the city the most.

Best place(s) to experience these quirks: My top picks are the Neon Museum and the Library’s rooftop garden.

Neon Museum, Warsaw

The Neon Museum

University of Warsaw library rooftop garden

The University of Warsaw library

Mary shrine, Warsaw

A shrine to the Virgin Mary

The famous residents

As far as art and science goes, Warsaw actually has contributed a lot! Composer Fryderyk Chopin was born here. All over the city you can find benches that will play his music when you walk by/sit down on them. And (perhaps coolest of all) physicist/chemist Marie Curie also called Warsaw home. Not only did Marie contribute a ton to the study of radioactivity, but she was the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize. Hell YEAH!

Best place(s) to experience these famous residents: You can often hear live Chopin concerts in Łazienki Park on summer weekends, and you can visit Marie Curie’s birthplace (though I suspect it’s been rebuilt) at 16 Freta St.

Marie Curie's birthplace, Warsaw

The vibe

This last point is more difficult to describe than the others. Warsaw just has a vibe to it that I really connected with. A mixture of the old and the new; the touristy bits and the gritty bits and the hip bits and the modern bits. There’s a square in Warsaw that’s known colloquially as “Plac Hipstera” — Hipster Square — because of the coffee shops there and the hipster-like clientele. There are big, modern shopping centers alongside milk bars and old Soviet buildings. There are parks, trams, and wide sidewalks. There is a large university-aged population, which perhaps adds to the atmosphere of a city that is evolving.

Warsaw

Warsaw

Warsaw Old Town

Warsaw from across the river

Warsaw from across the river

Overall, Warsaw is a great and interesting city. It’s not especially touristy, yet still offers up all the amenities a tourist would need. An ideal destination to me.

So, if you’re looking for a slightly-less-obvious place to visit in Europe, consider Poland — and, more specifically, Warsaw!

——

Have YOU ever been to Warsaw? If not, is it a city you’d like to visit?

 

 

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34 Responses to 7 Reasons Why Warsaw Is Awesome

  1. Beth says:

    I’d love to visit Poland just to eat myself into a pierogi coma! Although from your photos, I actually like the look of Warsaw.
    Beth recently posted..Savoring Paradise at Kuramathi Resort

  2. Sam says:

    1945 is very new by European standards! I actually didn’t know the city was mostly rebuilt then, but now that I think about it, it makes sense: duh! Warsaw definitely isn’t an obvious choice of cities for many (non-Europeans) travelling in Europe, though I get the impression that it’s become more popular as a holiday destination among British people since Poland’s accession to the EU (meaning no visas!), which is great!
    Sam recently posted..How We Rent Apartments While Travelling: South America Edition

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yes, there definitely IS an increase in people traveling to Poland these days. But it’s still by no means a well-known destination. That’s not a bad thing, though – just makes for more chances of being surprised!

  3. I’m so glad I came across this post! My family & I are planning a Euro trip for next Spring and it would save us about $300 per person to fly into Warsaw (instead of Berlin or Prague). I was a bit skeptical about spending time in Warsaw but now I’m not. Your photos alone make me want to go!
    Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) recently posted..#JAchat topic: Street photography. Focus: Istanbul.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I would definitely suggest it!! I mean, Berlin and Prague are great, too. But I think Warsaw would also make a lovely addition to your travels! (And, it’s cheaper even than Berlin and Prague, which is saying something!)

  4. I was in Warsaw in June, which has to be the best time of year to be there. The locals are still in town, rather than being away on vacation, and where their are trees and shrubs everything is green and in bloom. I stayed near Saski Park and spent much of my free time people watching in the park. I have visited Warsaw in the winter too, and without the greenery I found the city to be a bit bleak, but then IMHO so is anywhere in winter.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I was there in September, when it was starting to get chilly but the leaves were also just starting to change. I really liked it! I imagine it would be even better in June, though.

  5. Its also one of those easy to walk around cities which makes things more enjoyable. I must say I love the parks in Warsaw, could spend all day sitting around in them.

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I agree! The parks are so nice (and I’d imagine are even nicer in the summer!), and it’s really easy to walk around the main parts of the city.

  6. Gray says:

    I’ve got to admit, Warsaw has not been on my travel list before, but you’ve completely won me over with this article. It takes some serious dedication to rebuild a city the way it was before. That on its own is kind of mind blowing. You also had me with “green spaces”. :-)
    Gray recently posted..San Antonio for the History Lover

    • DangerousBiz says:

      That’s awesome to hear, Gray! I don’t think Warsaw is on many people’s lists – it gets a bad rap sometimes. But if you delve into the history (and spend time in some of those parks), it’s a really amazing city.

  7. Bridget says:

    You have made Warsaw sound very appealing! Berlin is one of my favorite cities as well and I see a lot of historical similarities between it and Warsaw. Also, visiting a place that is not as overwhelmed by tourism allows for better exploration! There is so much more to Warsaw than I originally imagined.
    Bridget recently posted..Sunday Snapshot: Cliffs of Moher

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I now tell people that if you like Berlin, chances are you’ll like Warsaw, too. I find them to be really similar. BUt yes, so much more to Warsaw than meets the eye.

      • Amy says:

        I love Berlin, and your description of Warsaw sounded so Berlin-esque that I scrolled down to the comments to ask if you found them similiar…and I see I am not the first person to notice the resemblance! I’ve never been particularly interested in Warsaw, but I think I need to move it up on my priority list now. Great article/post!

  8. Jessica Wray says:

    Poland seems like a really interesting place to visit, and from this list I’d love to make it to Warsaw. All the photos just make it look so nice, and when a place has a good vibe to it, I know I’ll be sold. The fact it isn’t too touristy is great also!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Really good vibe in Warsaw (at least, I thought so!). And yes, Poland in general is really interesting and slightly more off-the-beaten path in Europe.

  9. […] I didn’t quite fall in love with Krakow the way I did with Warsaw (what is it with me feeling kind of “meh” about gorgeous historical cities??), […]

  10. You have got me convinced, the photos are lovely. I think that a time of year when it is quieter would be the best time to go.
    Contented Traveller recently posted..The islands of Phang Nga Bay, Phuket, Thailand

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Well, the good news is that Warsaw never really gets “crowded” with tourists! Any time of year would be a good time to visit. :)

  11. Michele says:

    We have Warsaw in our travel plans only because that is where the train goes from St Petersburg however after reading your blog I am looking forward to it.
    Michele recently posted..The Journey

  12. Tom says:

    Hello, I visited Warsaw in March, right after winter, and the city looked very gloomy, cold and depressing. Your photos are beautiful I must visit it again, this time in the summer and spend more time in the old part of the city… Although most of it unfortunately was destroyed after the second world war… A place with unique, interesting history.
    I just don’t agree with one point… that not too many tourists venture to Poland… Go to Krakow in the summer time – you will barely see locals in the main square ;)
    Tom recently posted..Dun Laoghaire, Dalkey and Killiney – “Subtropical” coast of Ireland

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Unfortunately, I think most big European cities would be cold and gloomy in March! I would definitely give it a second chance sometime – perhaps not in the winter!

      And I did indeed go to Krakow. But I was there in September, so there really weren’t that many tourists around at all!

  13. Poland has never really been a country I had much interest in visiting, but your pictures of Warsaw have definitely shown me the error of my ways! The more I travel the more I appreciate the countries that seem to fly under the radar and that most tourists skip over and by the looks of it, it seems like there is plenty to uncover and really enjoy in Poland. Whenever we make it to Eastern Europe, I’m definitely going to make a trip to Poland a top priority!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..To Market, To Market: Kota Kinabalu in Photos

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Poland was largely under the radar for me, too, until about a year ago. Then I started hearing slightly more about it, and decided that it sounded really interesting. Plus, I enjoy going someplace every now and then that not everyone has been to yet.

  14. Sammi says:

    Poland really surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to like it- there are a lot of Polish in the UK and they have a bad reputation- but actually I loved it! It’s so beautiful. I haven’t got as far as Warsaw yet, but I loved Krakow and Zakopane.

  15. Sarah says:

    I really liked Warsaw too! I’d love to go back and see it during the summer or late spring. When I went, it was snowing… Beautiful but very different vibe.
    Sarah recently posted..8 Days in South Vietnam

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yes, I’m sure it becomes a different city in the winter. I, too, would like to re-visit Warsaw in the summer. I was there in September, when it was already starting to get chilly.

  16. […] 7 Reasons Why Warsaw is Awesome […]

  17. […] your wallet, consider heading to some less-expensive cities, too. Cities like Berlin and Prague and Warsaw and Budapest are still really cool and full of history and great places to eat, but are MUCH less […]

  18. […] taken down. The Neon Muzeum, located in an out-of-the-way location in a warehouse-type space in Warsaw, has made a mission of tracking down as many of these old neon signs as possible, restoring them, […]

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