What you need to know about Warsaw
On arrival, Warsaw’s mix of Communist-era grey apartments and modern developments will probably look quite unpromising. But whilst Poland’s capital doesn’t have the shoreline of Gdańsk or the charm of Kraków, it has a rich cultural history, ancient streets full of hidden treasures and plenty of vibrant nightlife.
85% of Warsaw was wiped out in WWII, but meticulous restoration of the charming Old Town and extensive redevelopment has created a modern, cosmopolitan capital, with a thriving festival calendar and outstanding museums. Explore Warsaw’s Baroque palaces and beautiful parks, then wander the streets of the picturesque Old Town – it’s friendly and likeable and definitely grows on you!
Food and drink
Warsaw’s restaurant cuisine is rich and varied, with a great range of international restaurants serving everything from Italian to Vietnamese, Indian and Japanese Sushi, which is popular with the new wave of professionals in the city. However, Polish cuisine is well worth sampling – the most famous local dish is Pierogi, a dumpling which you can order stuffed with various fillings like meat or fruit. Restaurants in the Old Town Square are for tourists and priced accordingly, but take a wander down the back streets and you’ll find plenty of great bars and restaurants serving good value, hearty food. Don’t miss one of the few remaining Warsaw Milk Bars (mleczny) – these cheap canteens provided food for the masses during communist times, and are a fascinating insight into life in Eastern Bloc Poland.
Warsaw offers a nice combination of flashy malls and quirky markets and bazaars, so it’s worth taking a little time to explore the main shopping areas. For big brands, head to the the impressive Złote Terasy shopping mall, or the designer stores in Plac Trzech Krzyzy. If market browsing is more your thing, the daily Hala Mirowska market is the place to go for fresh fruit and veg, or on Sundays you can rummage around the Kolo Antique Market for cold war relics, vintage posters, art deco furniture and bric-a-brac. For another peek into Communist Warsaw, head to the Russian Bazaar in Praga – in the old days these wooden stores were the only places to buy foreign-made goods in the city, and it’s great for a wander on a Saturday.
As Poland’s capital city, Warsaw is home to many of the main state-owned businesses and local government departments. However the number of companies operating with foreign capital is on the rise, with companies like Coca-Cola Amatil and Metro AG having regional headquarters in the city. Warsaw has the biggest concentration of electronics and high-tech industry in Poland, and is also an important local centre for food processing.
Warsaw’s transport infrastructure has improved significantly over recent years, with a comprehensive city network of buses, trams, metro trains, light railway and bicycle sharing schemes that will take you from the front door of your serviced apartment to anywhere you need to go across the city. Whilst the Old Town is lovely for exploring on foot, the wider city is quite sprawling, so you’re better off using public transport or taking a taxi, which are cheap and reliable. Warsaw has the third highest level of traffic congestion in continental Europe, so it’s not a great city for driving!
Things to watch out for
The Royal Castle was the stronghold of the Polish monarchy between the 14th and 19th centuries, and is adorned with stunning tapestries and crystal chandeliers. Don’t miss the castle’s art collection, with includes two Rembrandt portraits.