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. 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!)

    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!

    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!

    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.

    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!

    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 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!

    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 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!

    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!

    […] 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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