7 Reasons Why Warsaw Is Awesome

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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.

7 reasons to visit Warsaw

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!

(And if you want even more ideas for things to do in Warsaw, check out this post: 35 Amazing Things to Do in Warsaw.)



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

 

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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74 Comments on “7 Reasons Why Warsaw Is Awesome

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  1. 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.

      Pierogi comas are never a bad thing. 😉

      But yes, Warsaw really surprised me! It’s a great city.

    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!

      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!

    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!

      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!)

    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.

      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.

    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.

      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.

    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”. 🙂

      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.

    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.

      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.

        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!

          Yes they definitely are very similar! You should check it out sometime – Poland might surprise you!

    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!

      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.

    […] 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??), […]

    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.

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

    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.

      Aww yay! Great to hear. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    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 😉

      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!

    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!

      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.

    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.

      Poland is quite a surprising place! Check out Warsaw next time, too – lots of cool stuff there, too!

      I am glad Poland surprised you. You are saying that Polish people have a bad reputation in the UK. Hmm, possibly bad reputation amongst the Brits that you are surrounded by, meaning your friends etc. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they have a bad reputation generally. I work in London, Canary Wharf with many professionals from Poland at the senior level and they have an excellent reputation 😉 Change your surroundings 🙂

        I agree with you! Many people become prejudiced against other nationalities based on chauvinistic ideas rather than facts. The problem is rightout ignoratha because some people just don’t read anymore! They just watch tv and form their opinions on digested media sensationalism. On top of that, the educational system in the UK is too Anglocentric and that is why one sees Brits writing offensive nonsense like that. Don’t worry about it though! Millions of people like me know about Poland and would love to visit!

    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.

      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.

    […] 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, […]

    I was just in Poland on business, in Warsaw and Krakow, and came across your article on Warsaw. I was blown away by Warsaw! It reminded me of a mix of Copenhagen and Prague for some reason, and the outdoor parks and spaces were absolutely gorgeous! What a lovely city and often overlooked. I hope to go back and spend some more time, your photos are awesome!

      Thanks, Karina! And yes, I was really blown away by Warsaw, too! I loved it so much!

    I liked you when I read the title, and loved you by the end of the first paragraph. I love Warsaw, it’s a city where I grew up and I spent hours and hours as a teen walking around both the touristy places and the lesser known, not so pretty modern areas (that was a while ago). Thank you for promoting this great place. It definitely should be more popular with tourists!

      Aww thanks Jolanta! Warsaw really IS awesome, and I always tell people now that they should go there!

    Great post! I’m headed to Warsaw in May. It will be my second trip to Poland, but my first time to Warsaw. Your photos have certainly encouraged me to add Saski Park into my schedule. It looks lovely!

      All the parks in Warsaw should be beautiful in May! I hope you enjoy the city as much as I did. 🙂

    I also fell in love with Warsaw when I came here to visit my family (I grew up in Canada but I have Polish roots). I keep trying to bring more and more of my international friends here so that they can experience Warsaw in all it’s glory. I came here, fell in love with the city and even started working for a University here. And to create more awareness students and alumni have created a blog just about Warsaw and student life here. I hope you check it out if you have a chance! (www.studentsinwarsaw.com)

    Great post! very informative! I have to check out the neon museum as I haven’t been yet. 🙂

      Yay for the Warsaw love! I always tell people to go there now too. 🙂

      And yes, go check out the Neon Museum!

    My husband (British) and I (American) LOVE Warsaw! We live in London and are headed back to Warsaw in a couple of weeks for my birthday. It will be our third trip in as many years.

    I fell in love with Warsaw the first time. The most easily recognized piece of Warsaw architecture is The Palace of Culture. They have beautiful houses, delicious restaurants and good clubs.

      Glad to hear of someone else who loves it! I think a lot of people kind of forget about Poland when planning a Euro trip – but it’s such a cool country!

    Hi Amanda,

    Great blog, what area would you recommend staying? I’m looking at booking an apartment for a few nights November

      To be honest, I don’t know enough about the different neighborhoods to really be able to give you a good recommendation. I stayed with a friend in Warsaw, and so didn’t really have to decide! I liked the area around the university, if I remember correctly, but there are so many different neighborhoods to choose from! It really depends on what you’re looking for.

    Thank you for showing this city in a such great shape and presentation. Warsaw is changing fast. I am always happy to read when people say they like a lot Warsaw. Thank you also for putting it in your top 10 european cities 🙂

      It’s a great city, and I look forward to visiting again someday!

    This post was amazing. My cousins and I are visiting London to spend time with family and we are taking the non-traditional route to visit Poland for the first time. We are visiting Warsaw and this post really helped. I cannot wait.

      So glad to hear that, Keyma! I really enjoyed Warsaw a lot – I hope you love it, too!

    This was a great post and couldn’t agree more! I just got back from a few weeks in Poland, and I loved Warsaw! The other cities were cool too, and everyone talks about Kraków but I found it almost busier with tourists than Prague. Definitely will be going back to Warsaw and spending more time there.

      Krakow is a beautiful city – there’s no arguing with that. But I think I actually preferred Warsaw! (To be fair, though, I have a friend from Warsaw who showed me around, and I think that definitely influenced me a lot!)

    Hello I really like your article, everything is true, i went to Warsaw once first, and fell in love with it, so i went two more times 😀 ,,,, Actually i loved it more than other European more famous destinations for example, i liked it more than Paris… It has this vibe that makes you fall in love with it, also the cheap prices and cheap food is a big plus… I would also really recommend visiting ZAKOPANE-Poland,,,it is a piece of art, all in the mountains among the nature ,,, visit it in the summer, and it takes about 7-8 hours by bus from Warsaw to get there. I know that this is an old post,,but i hope you get my reply 🙂

      I agree that Warsaw has a great vibe! And I definitely do need to visit Zakopane one day!

    You can never go wrong with pierogi:) I love Poland and its culture, and of course Polish food. Warsaw is actually one of my favourite European cities. There are so many great places worth visiting, it is sometimes even hard to choose one. My go-to is a great bar in downtown called Bubbles. They have simple but delicious meals as well as champagnes and sparkling wines from all over the world excellently paired up with the food. Can’t wait to visit Warsaw again.

      You’re so right – you can never go wrong with pierogi! And that Bubbles place sounds awesome!

    Warsaw is an amazing City. City of History, nice people, full of green parks, good food, cheap for an “average” tourist, a mix of different styles, not overcrowded like other destinations. For the last 10 years, with no doubt one of the most dynamic european city (and the move is on and is still going on for the next years). Every year brings sth new, at a very fast tempo. One can only love Warsalove !

    Varso- VIE !

      It’s definitely a place I’d like to return to!

    I absolutely agree that Warsaw is awesome. Even though it is very often underrated, it is one of my favorite European cities. It is diverse, beautiful and very interesting. I visit it at least once a year, and I usually try to stay in different districts to get to know the city better. My favorite are so far was Mokotow – quite close to the city centre, but much calmer and quieter. And my favorite restaurant is localized the – the Akademia Restaurant. It is amazing place with Polish food but in more modern version and combined with European flavors. It is one of the best restaurants I have been to in Poland!

      I’ve only been the once, but I still always recommend Warsaw to people – I liked it so much! I definitely need to go back sometime.

    i was in warsaw last october, i had always wondered what poland would be like, as it was under communist rule when i was growing up, and as a boy was aware through watching the news as to what was happening there in regard to lech walesa and the solidarity party. in those days it was impossible for your average brittish family to go to poland. fast forward over 3 decades and with kids growing up and me single again, i decided to venture to warsaw. i did a bit of research into its history before i arrived, and im glad i did, it can be described in october with grey cloud and cold drizzly rain as atmospherically depressive. which really appealed to me, as i love photography, delving into polands interesting but brutal history, as well as looking at how the city has changed through the years, from its pre war elegance to its communist oppression years and through to the modern era. Its amazing how much of warsaw has changed and how much has stayed the same when comparing any 2 era,s randomly.

    Im going back to warsaw in july, staying a little longer, doing a little more, museums, tram rides, metro and bus rides, walking, taking more photos, indulging in food and drink and generally enjoying the vibe of the city. what i find strange about warsaw is it does not seem touristy, its not london,paris or barcelona, it dosent seem busy on foot yet the roads and junctions in central warsaw are very busy, buses, cars, lorries, trams all competing with each other, you need to be careful. i also love the metro, its state of the art, space age modern and very clean, ita a real visual feast.

    walking is a good way to get around most of central warsaw, go around a corner and you feel as if you enter a different era in the cities turbulent history.

    And finally, although i didnt get enough chance first time around, this time im going to check out more of the warsaw nightlife, should be good in summer. would also love to experience warsaw in mid winter, it can look depressing some times but warsaw is one very interesting place, dont let first impressions put you off.

      I hope you enjoy this year’s visit to Warsaw! It’s a city I definitely hope to return to.

      The Vodka museum should be opened nextly, you may just arrive as one of the first visitors. Get a look also to the Elektrownia Powisle, should me ready in the end of the year. Have fun !

    I noticed in the pictures there are not a lot of people. Is this place sparsely populated?

      Nope, Warsaw has a population of more than 1.5 million. But I visited outside of the high tourist season, and generally prefer to take photos without tons of people in them!

    its not sparsely populated, but certain parts can seem quite empty especially out of season and if its cold, it can be easy to find peace and solitude however once in central warsaw it is busy, especially the roads, strangely i never found the metro busy, it was a bit daunting as im used to glasgow where in rush hour the place is busy, even in summer in warsaw it is easy to find your own space, touristy places are not chalk a block like paris ,london or barcelona. this is what i liked about warsaw, small queues for museums was a major plus. the junctions at centrum, rondo onz and rondo dysanskiego can be busy though with traffic.

    I would surely like to visit Warsaw. I just love the different places in Warsaw.

    You can have a tasty meal in Warsaw, at Bubbles. They have a cheap dish for 5 euros and something better for 20. The taste, service and the restaurant’s decor is worth recommending.

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