When it comes to describing Warsaw, where do you begin? It is almost impossible to sum up the city in just a few sentences. Warsaw is a city with a rich history, something that is reflected in its architecture. At the same time, it is a modern commercial and financial centre with chic restaurants and luxury shopping as well as a vibrant nightlife.
There are so many sides to Warsaw – from UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site to modern commercial and financial centre. Let’s explore the different sides to the majestic Polish capital.
The Old Town on the UNESCO Trail
Dating as far back as the 12th century, Warsaw’s Old Town is the historic centre and the oldest part of the town. It is also the cultural centre of the capital city. Two historic squares – the Old Town Market and the New Town Market – are transformed during the summer into a musical stage on which highly appreciated jazz concerts take place, a theatre arena, and an art gallery under the sky.
The romantic streets descending to the Vistula River are vibrant with music and numerous restaurants and cafés in the former bourgeois tenement houses. They are extremely popular spots with visitors and locals alike, and they pulsate with life until the wee small hours. The oldest churches in Warsaw can be found in the Old Town – this is the 14thcentury St. John’s Chapel, St. Martin’s Church and the Gracious Mother of God Church. Completely destroyed during the Second World War, the Old Town was faithfully restored in the 1970s and is listed as an UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site as “an outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century”.
A Walk Through the Centuries
The road from the Old Town along the Royal Route is the most fascinating walks in Warsaw. This is the historical route joining the Royal Castle with the Palaces in Royal Łazienki Park and Wilanów Park, and it takes in many places of interest along the way – including the marvellous residences of magnates from a by-gone age, magnificent churches and palaces, and of course many interesting café and shops. A walk along the Royal Route is indeed a journey through the centuries.
Frédéric Chopin is one of the most famous citizens of Warsaw. He spent the first 20 years of his life in the city. He took his first piano lessons there, and over the years acquired the significance of his Polish nationality. He gave his first concerts in Warsaw salons before going into exile. The Frédéric Chopin Museum contains the largest collection of Chopin related objects in the world (the Museum will be closed for renovation from May 2008 to December 2009). There are many places in Warsaw that have significant connections to with the great composer. The Chopin Salon at Krakowskie Przedmieście Street, for instance, is particularly worth a visit, as is the monument in Royal Łazienki Park where concerts of his music take place every weekend from May to September.
Warsaw at War
It is fair to say that history has not been kind to Poland, yet time and time again, Warsaw has proved itself to be a courageous city. Examples of the heroic history of this town can be found in every corner of the city. The Warsaw Citadel, one of the architectural attractions of the city, is an impressive 19th century fortification and one of the best preserved examples of defensive architecture in Poland. Located next to the barracks, the Citadel and its 10th century pavilion has been the central investigation prison for political prisoners, including Romuald Traugutt and Józef Piłsudski, were held. Fighting in Warsaw came to a dramatic climax during the Second World War. The Warsaw Rising Museum, opened on the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of the struggle against the German occupants, is one of the city’s most popular museums, and should certainly be on every visitor’s itinerary. This modern exhibition not only describes the heroic struggle, but also tells the story of the everyday life of the insurgents. The museum pays homage to the citizens of Warsaw who fought and were killed for the freedom of Poland and its capital city. To understand this more profoundly, when you are in the Old Town pay a visit to the Monument to the Little Insurgent.
The Jewish population of Warsaw accounted for more than 30% of Warsaw’s pre-war population. After New York, Moscow and Chicago, it was one of the world’s most significant Jewish centres. At that time, there were hundreds of Jewish schools and libraries, as well as theatres, sport clubs and newspapers specifically for the Jewsih population. Among these Warsaw inhabitants were the writer and Nobel Prize laureate, Isaac Bashevis Singer, the composer and pianist, Władysław Szpilman and the prominent actress, Ida Kamińska. Therefore it is not surprising to find so many places in Warsaw where Jewish culture has made its mark. The Nożyk Synagogue, the picturesque Próżna Street, a Jewish cemetery and the Jewish theatre are only the beginning of a walk in the traces of Warsaw’s Judaica. There are also many places commemorating the tragic pages of Warsaw’s history such as the Umschlagplatz, the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, and a section of the Ghetto wall on Sienna Street.
The Red Capital
The Palace of Science and Culture located in the centre of the city is one of the most recognisable buildings in Warsaw. Built in 1955, the Palace of Science and Culture remains the tallest building in the city at over 234 metres, and is a valuable landmark for locals and visitors alike. Yet it still evokes strong controversy.
The architecture of MDM – the Marszałkowska Housing District – deserves attention from those looking for traces of recent histoy, as it is the main element of a great – even unique in the world - Stalinist, socio-realist urban development. Constitution Square, designed with the notion of political rallies in mind, with its characteristic candelabra lighting fixtures and massive statues of workers is currently one of the busiest parts of the city, but today with a completely different everyday character and style. Further out of the city centre, the Mausoleum of Soviet Soldiers in the Pole Mokotowskie, a pleasant park in which to take a stroll, is equally impressive.
A Green City
If you had to pick a colour that would best describe Warsaw, it would have to be green. Almost a quarter of the city’s area is covered with verdant neighbourhoods: parks, squares and gardens - historic parks, the setting of royal palaces and magnates’ residences, such as the Saski Garden, and the Łazienki and Wilanów Parks as well as more modern examples, such as the roof-garden of the University Library. There are several nature reserves in Warsaw, and it is also one of the very few cities in the world that can be proud of a forest inside the city boundaries.
The Kampinos National Park is the only park of this kind to be recognised by the World Biosphere Reserve. Warsaw, being a large agglomeration, is also a haven for numerous protected animal species, including butterflies, lizards, reptiles and many others. Warsaw is also a great place for ornithologists on account of the wide and varied avian population that takes shelter on the green shores of the Vistula River. The pair of peregrine falcons living on the top of the Palace of Culture and Science is another great example of wild life in this green city.
The Praga district, located on the right bank of the Vistula, had been a town in its own right for many centuries, but it became officially incorporated as a part of Warsaw at the end of the 18thy century. For many years it was considered as a secondary part of the city; it was not damaged during the wars and is currently becoming an interesting district which has been chosen by artists for their ateliers, galleries and alternative theatres. Fashionable clubs and post-industrial buildings transformed into culture centres, cinemas, galleries and bars have created a specific atmosphere in the district. In Praga you will encounter many streets that have preserved their historic architecture; with old street lamps, pre-war paving and the only one of its kind, the Różycki market place. Perhaps one of the best-loved attractions of Praga is the zoo.
Warsaw is an extremely dynamic city with new hotels, apartment buildings and offices which seem to appear on an almost daily basis. Modern residential estates and shopping centres are popping up everywhere, and there have been some major changes in the city skyline over the recent years. Skyscrapers and imaginative constructions, many of which still under construction, by renowned Polish and international architects are proof that in spite of being a city steeped in history, Warsaw is a city with a bright future.
Warsaw is not only the administrative-economic centre of Poland; it is also a vibrant city, offering culture and entertainment offering something for every taste and budget. It boasts numerous collections of Polish and foreign art (which can be seen at the National Museum, Royal Castle, Wilanów Palace and Łazienki Palace) and contemporary art (which can be seen at the Zachęta National Gallery of Art and at Ujazdowski Castle). Prominent annual cultural events are held in the city - the International Poster Biennial or the International Theatre Meetings, for instance. There are also numerous galleries, theatres, cinemas, exhibitions and concerts which delight and entertain locals and visitors alike.
Warsaw is a city of Music. The Grand Theatre, National Opera, the Chamber Opera, National Philharmonic and the National Theatre are all popular with classical music enthusiasts from all over the world. There are significant world-class events which take place in Warsaw, such as the Frederic Chopin International Piano Competition, The International Festival of Contemporary Music, the “Warsaw Autumn” festival, The Stanisław Moniuszko International Vocal Competition, The Mozart Festival, The Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival and The Festival of Old Music to name but a few. There are also numerous concerts in the city for jazz enthusiasts, including the JVC Jazz Festival, Warsaw Summer Jazz Days and Jazz In the Old Town – an annual series of al fresco concerts.
Whatever your reason for visiting Warsaw, you can be certain that you’ll find an aspect of this vibrant and multi-faceted city that will delight and fascinate you. What are you waiting for? As the slogan for the city suggests, it’s time to fall in love with Warsaw!
Somewhere to Stay
Warsaw has no shortage of accommodation from the no-frills to the luxury, there is something to suit every budget and taste.
From the outside, the Castle Inn looks like any other town house in Warsaw’s Old Town, but is in fact a boutique hotel comprising of 21 individually designed rooms, each designed by different artists to ensure that no two rooms are the same. Rooms are furnished with antiques and individual pieces of furniture. The result is eclectic – take your pick from a pop art inspired room that is entirely black and white, a room that draws inspiration from beach resorts on the Baltic coast, and a room that resembles a compartment on the Orient Express. As well being individual works of art, each room is equipped with everything that you would expect, including en-suite bathrooms, flat-screen television and complimentary wireless internet. Double rooms start from PLN 220 (approx. GB£ 50) per night. For further information, visit www.castleinn.pl
Also in Warsaw’s Old Town is Le Regina, an elegant five star hotel that was named “Warsaw’s most prestigious hotel” in November 2006 by Forbes magazine, and was awarded the “Traveller’s Choice Luxury Hotel” award by the independent travel review site, TripAdvisor in 2008. The hotel, which comprises of 61 rooms, effortlessly manages to combine eighteenth century style with the modern amenities that are expected of a five star hotel, including complimentary internet connection. The hotel’s spa area includes a swimming pool, fitness centre and sauna. Double rooms start from €80 (approx. GB£ 70) per night. For further information, visit www.leregina.com
The last word in luxury, the Polonia Palace hotel has been recognised as one of the most prestigious hotels in the capital city since 1913. Recent renovations brought a breath of fresh air to the hotel, yet it still maintains its charm and elegance. For further information, visit www.poloniapalace.com
The InterContinental is an architectural landmark, as it is one of Warsaw’s tallest buildings. A popular choice with business travellers, the hotel provides all of the facilities that one would expect of a five star hotel, including a swimming pool on the 44th floor, offering spectacular views of the city. Where better to relax after back-to-back meetings? For further information, visit www.ichotelsgroup.com
In the centre of Warsaw, not far from the Palace of Culture and Science, the city’s most recognisable landmark, is the Hotel Rialto, another luxurious five star hotel. Each of the hotel’s 44 rooms contain art deco furniture, and are finished with stylish touches such as glass mosaics in the bathroom, and specially designed light-fittings, and even zebra skin wall-hangings. Complimentary internet connection, flat-screen television, CD / DVD player are standard in every room. Double rooms start from €170 (approx. GB£ 150) per night. For further information visit www.rialtowarsaw.com
If you are on a tight budget, the Premiere Classe hotel in the capital city ticks all the boxes for no-frills accommodation: a central location, close to the central railway station, and clean en-suite rooms for less than PLN 200 (approx. GB£ 44) per night. For further information, visit www.premiereclasse.com.pl
If you fancy a bit more independence, or want to feel a bit more like a local, how about a serviced property? P&O Apartments has an extensive range of properties across the capital – from small and cosy apartments, to more palatial pads. For further information, and to view some of the properties on offer, visit www.pandoapartments.eu
Somewhere to Eat
Whether you fancy dining out in style, or grabbing a quick bite to eat in laidback surroundings, Warsaw’s got it all!
Restauracja Warszawska brings the past to life, with modern interpretations of traditional Warsaw dishes such as trout in almond and raisin sauce, sauerkraut soup and stuffed pork loin in aspic, as well as meats and fish baked in a magnificent, wood-fired oven in the middle of the restaurant. Starters range in price from PLN 19 – 30 (approx. GB£ 3.50 – GB£ 5.60) and main courses from PLN 49 – 69 (approx. GB£ 9.20 – 13) and there is an extensive range of wines and sprits to accompany the dishes. For further information, visit www.restauracjawarszawska.pl
In the very heart of Warsaw, strawberries are in full riotous bloom and white geese have flown in to chase the rain and grey away. Magda Gessler - the well-known creator of unique dishes and famed for her interior designer – invites diners to Plac Trzech Krzyży for a succulent meal in a delightful setting. Chandeliers, angel feathers and fresh flowers create a gently optimistic atmosphere, while the comfy sofas, wooden tables and perfect service make your visit a relaxing experience. Despite the fact that the restaurant is downstairs, there is no sense of dark or damp – it is a playful, fun interior, perfect for romantic dinners, business lunches and family Sunday Luncheons with children.
AleGloria specialises in New Polish cuisine, a form of culinary fusion which takes traditional Polish dishes and tastes and adds unusual and surprisingly modern twists to them, resulting in fascinating dishes of great sensorial beauty. For example, the borsch (beetroot soup) at AleGloria is mixed with raspberry syrup and the beets are marinated in balsamic vinegar – it is amazing that the most well-known and traditional soup in the country may be given such subtle touches which have a big impact on the flavour. For a main dish, it is recommended to try the deer hide (marinated three times in wine), drizzled with fresh cream and served on a bed of Polish forest mushrooms. Whatever you do, don't forego dessert: this is an opportunity to try classic Polish sweets with unique touches and flavours – so indulge in this amazing combination of Old and New Poland, with taste, style and sweetness. For further information, visit www.alegloria.pl
On a quiet corner, just opposite the grandiose National Philharmonic, is an elegantly styled interior by Magda Gessler called Gar. The restaurant is a fascinating combination of modern chic married with royal splendor. The result is shamelessly dramatic, glamorous and luxurious; the setting is fit for kings and queens and this is how guests are treated – and expected to feel. Despite this sophistication, it is not a pretentious environment: everyone from business associates to hand-holding couples; from large families to small children are very at home in Gar, and the feel is warm, cosy and welcoming.
As for the food served in this lovely setting, it is an unusual mixture of French-Polish cuisine. This means that the dishes are traditionally Polish, yet combined with Art Culinaire secrets straight from France. The results that appear in front of guests are startlingly original, with such dishes as Foie Gras served on a bed of crisp pears with a hint of cinnamon, or goose and lamb Cassoulet in thyme and rosemary served with white beans and slender white sausage. Come to Gar, where the French heart and Polish soul become one... For further information, visit www.gar.com.pl
Situated within the elegant surroundings of the five-star Le Regina hotel, La Rotisserie has maintained its reputation for serving some of Warsaw’s finest French cuisine since it opened in 2004. High-vaulted ceilings and soft lighting create set the scene; however it is the selection of carefully crafted dishes created under the direction of Executive Chef, Paweł Oszczyk that puts La Rotisserie on Warsaw’s culinary map.
One of the best ways to experience La Rotisserie is to try the five-course “linner” menu (between lunch and dinner) which includes two glasses of carefully selected wine. This is available at weekends, between 1pm and 6pm, and costs PLN 175 (approx. GB£ 32.50). For further information, visit www.leregina.com
Warsaw Tortilla Factory
Pull up a chair and join the party! The Warsaw Tortilla Factory is one of the most lively Mexican restaurants in the capital. Nachos, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas… all the usual suspects are on the menu. However what makes this restaurant well worth a visit is the friendly, buzzing atmosphere that is helped along by the live music from local bands. Tacos and burritos start from PLN 18 (approx. GB£ 3.30), though a more sociable crowd can share a party plate that comprises of a little bit of everything from PLN 70 (approx. GB£ 12.90). For further information, visit www.warsawtortillafactory.pl
Fret @ Porter
Enjoy a leisurely lunch or a laid back dinner until late into the evening at Fret @ Porter, an 18th century town house that is also an art gallery, showcasing the work of well-known Polish artists as well as up-and-coming new talent. The menu consists largely of modern European dishes, with more than a nod to traditional Polish fare, and there is a three-course set lunch for a rather reasonable PLN 25 (approx. GB£ 4.60). For further information, visit www.fretaporter.pl
Warsaw is a City on the Move
Katarzyna Ratajczyk, Director of the City of Warsaw Promotion Department talks exclusively to Discover Poland.
For somebody who has never visited before, please describe the essence of Warsaw – for instance what is the most striking feature of the city?
Constant change. It is almost impossible to see the same city twice. Every time you come you see something new or places have changed.
Since joining the European Union in 2004, have businesses in Warsaw witnessed an increase in trade with countries such as the United Kingdom and Ireland?
There has definitely been an overall increase in trade and business.
Please tell me about any interesting projects or developments that are taking place in the capital city, for instance are there any parts of the city being regenerated?
Last year, we reopened Krakowskie Przedmiescie, which is arguably one of the most beautiful and elegant streets in Europe. It is a long, attractive street with squares, green spaces and beautiful old buildings. We are now witnessing city life coming back to this part of the city.
What unique factors make Warsaw attractive to investors from the United Kingdom and Ireland?
Investors are attracted by the office space, which offers excellent value for money. A large number of highly qualified professional staff is also attractive to investors.
What is the most common reason for visiting Warsaw – business or leisure travel?
While many visitors come to the city on business, research that we conduced in 2008 shows leisure is the most common reason for visiting Warsaw.
What attracts visitors to Warsaw in the first place?
Warsaw has a fascinating history, and many visitors are attracted by this. The Old Town, which appears in the UNESCO World Heritage List is a good example. It was destroyed during the Second World War, but completely rebuilt shortly afterwards.
The slogan for the city is “Fall in Love with Warsaw” – what is the background to this slogan, and why do people fall in love with Warsaw?
Four years ago, we asked the people of Warsaw to come up with a suitable slogan – and this is what they chose.
With so many cultural and historical sights to visit in the capital, what advice would you give a first-time visitor?
There are so many great places to visit, including The Old Town, take in a Chopin concert in the beautiful Łazienki Park during the summer months, visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum and at night, go to the clubs in the Praga district.
Warsaw recently appeared in the top ten “World’s Next Great Cities”, a survey compiled by Forbes magazine. Please tell me why you believe that Warsaw is a city with a great future.
Because it is definitely a city “on the move”.