As well as being a licensed tour guide in Warsaw, I am a mother. Wherever I go, I try to include my five year old daughter, as I want her to enjoy the city and get to know it well. It was through doing this that I came up with the idea of creating a special city tour for children and their parents. While most city tours are suitable for children, they are essentially targeted at adults. There is nothing worse than your children moaning that they are bored when you are on holiday, so I decided to put together a tour that was interactive, and that enabled families to discover Warsaw’s hidden secrets together.
When I created the tours, I had to think about the needs of children, and consider ways to make Warsaw more accessible to them. First and foremost, the tour had to be fun, so I made sure that the mood was lightened by jokes, puzzles and general silliness. As children tend to have quite a short span of attention, it was also important to avoid long, rambling lectures about the city’s history – instead, I took the key points of the city’s history and put them into a story-telling style that children would understand, making sure that there were also plenty of opportunities to interact with them. During a three-hour sightseeing, I incorporate a stop for a snack too.
My sightseeing tours take many routes, however there are two that are the most popular; a longer one for older children who are able to cope with a longer walk and a shorter one for the younger ones, who tire easily. The longer route typically covers the centre of Warsaw, exploring the city’s best-loved sights: the Palace of Culture and Science, part of Royal Route and the Royal Castle. During the summer months, I like to include a boat trip on the River Vistula, and in autumn and winter, a ride in a horse-drawn cart is always popular. After a couple of hours on their feet, both parents and children are more than happy to take a well-earned rest at the popular E. Wedel chocolate café, where lunch is served – the elaborate chocolate desserts are always a hit!
What are the most popular activities for Warsaw’s younger visitors? Searching for a lost city in the concourse of the Palace of Culture and Science, taking a ride to the top of it and enjoying the panoramic views of the city, counting mermaids - yes, the mermaid is the emblem for Warsaw, and she appears throughout the city, and watching the changing of the guards at the Monument to the Unknown Soldier. They can also count the steps leading on the top of Saint Anna’s Church Tower, which is just to the side of the Royal Castle Square, and offers an impressive and unforgettable view of the Old Town. The tour usually comes to an end in the Market Square of the Old Town, where the final task is to find out where the Syrenka Warszawska (the mermaid) and the Bazyliszek (the dragon of Warsaw) used to live. This is done using maps of the Old Town, as well as with a bit of help from mum or dad.
The second, shorter route covers the Old Town and the New Town, where the scene is set for spooky stories and tales of the royal families. The tour group gathers at the bell behind the cathedral of Warsaw – this is the bell that never rang and is now placed on the ground, where it listens to the secrets and wishes of anyone who talks to it. The tour continues with a walk along the city’s defensive walls, and takes in the Barbican, the most splendid part of the historic defense.
Children like to ask lots of questions – and young visitors to Warsaw often ask why there are two parts to the city; the Old Town and the New Town. They never stop asking which is the tallest building, the oldest, the smallest... All of those questions are answered as the tour continues through the city’s iconic sights before taking a break for lunch in the Old Town.
While the two tours that I have described are the most popular ones, my tours can be adapted to accommodate different age-groups and abilities and I can adjust them to include more or less history, or to focus more on nature around the capital city. For instance, a more active tour would include Łazienki Park, arguably the city’s most beautiful parks, and also the setting for the royal palace. This is always popular with children – not only because it is a large green space to run around in, but because they can go canoeing on the lake and feed the squirrels and peacocks, which are so tame that they will eat from your hand. Łazienki Park is the only place in the city where there are still gas-lit street lamps, which give the park a certain olde-worlde charm. There are also playgrounds where children can burn off their excess energy.
Warsaw is indeed a friendly city that offers a warm welcome to its visitors – from the young to the young at heart. It is a city that experienced the worst of the Second World War, but has become a modern, cosmopolitan city. It is a unique city, and it does not try to be Paris, Rome or Prague. The only way to experience Warsaw is to visit the city and explore its streets and squares.
About the Author
Marta Rzeznik is a licensed tour guide in the City of Warsaw who has an impressive knowledge of the city and its surrounding districts. She offers a selection of different walking tours in both English and Polish, and can create customised tours upon request. To find out more about her “Warsaw for Children and Parents” tour as well as other tours on offer, visit www.insightwarsaw.com
When you’ve spent all day exploring the Warsaw’s historic attractions, unwind at Hula Kula, where there’s family fun all under one roof. A ball pool and adventure play area for small children, to pool tables and ten-pin bowling for older ones. There are also child-friendly menus in the centre’s café and restaurant. For further information, visit www.hulakula.com.pl