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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75 Comments on “7 Reasons Why Warsaw Is Awesome

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  1. wonderful city, I would like to visit 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.

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

    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 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!

    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 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.

    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!

    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!

    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!

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