City Guide to Warsaw, Poland: Part 4 | A Photo Essay & Beyond
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Let’s be honest, Warsaw, Poland probably isn’t one of your future top travel destinations. It doesn’t seem to have the romanticism of a Paris, the exoticism of a Dubai, the royalty of a London, the star power of a Los Angeles, the hustle and bustle of a Tokyo, or the natural beauty of a Yosemite. Moreover, when most travelers plan a trip to Poland, they usually go to Krakow, known for its small town beauty and charm, and its proximity to the Auschwitz concentration camp. But, you’d be wise to give Warsaw a chance; it’s an up and coming destination that may just blow you away! It certainly took us by surprise, leaving us in awe of the city and its rise from the ashes.
This wasn’t actually our first time trying to make it to Warsaw, however it was our first successful attempt. In the very beginning of the year, we’d spoken with a Warsaw homeowner and agreed to care for her cats and home for a week in February. It was going to be freezing (literally!), but we were thrilled to be able to house sit in the capital of Poland! While we don’t know the details of the situation, sadly, the homeowner canceled the house sit because she had a family emergency and had to move back to the United Kingdom. With the house sit cancellation behind us, we weren’t sure if we’d make it to Poland during this travel adventure around Europe, but our fingers were crossed.
You can imagine our glee when everything worked out perfectly for us to visit Warsaw, over six months after our originally planned trip. As our time in Vienna came to a close, we backed up our computers, packed our bags, and left bright and early to take a bus to Bratislava Airport. Once at the airport, we spent a couple of hours in the business lounge (free drinks, food, and premium WiFi, thanks to our Priority Pass!) and then boarded a plane, with our final destination being Warsaw. We knew only a little about Warsaw, mainly its devastating history in World War II and the following communist era. However, almost as soon as we landed in Poland, we were faced with subtle but impressive qualities of the city that we didn’t expect.
The more we travel, the more we learn to spot signs of what a city is ‘like’, as in the culture, the economy, and the outlook and happiness of its residents. Of course, it’s subjective, and we know it centers around our philosophies and ideals, but it does frame our impressions of a city. After all, how could it not? So, when we walked out of the airport terminal we were genuinely impressed that there was sidewalk the entire way out of the airport, making it easy and safe for us to walk to our hotel (Hampton by Hilton Warsaw Airport). In the neighborhoods we walked, we thought they were going to be lined with former Soviet Union style dormitory buildings, and while that style of building did exist, they weren’t the main type of residential buildings. Most of the buildings we saw were brightly painted and as we walked, we quickly noticed the large amounts of green space around the city. Then, when we looked up information on local public transportation, we were thrilled to see the most helpful official website that we’d encountered in Europe so far. And, that was just in the first few hours after landing, but true to form, the surprises continued throughout the duration of our trip.
Exploring Warsaw and Its History
Warsaw was a fantastic city! From the heart of Old Town to the surrounding neighborhoods, we genuinely had trouble finding things we didn’t like about it. The most amazing part of this city, the thing that speaks the most to its character and the perseverance of its people, is that through the extreme ups and downs of its history, it always comes back stronger than before. Warsaw was hit hard by the Swedish Invasion in the mid-17th century, but it quickly recovered to prosper in the 18th century, which saw the construction of many palaces and churches. In 1795, because of the partition of Poland, Warsaw lost its status and was reduced to a provincial town, not to regain capital status until 1806. However, in 1815, all of Poland was lost to Russia, and it wasn’t until the end of WWI that Warsaw was reinstated as the capital of Poland. The city thrived and the population soared, hitting 1.3 million in 1939. Sadly, that was the year that Germany invaded Poland and Warsaw fell in a month. Its citizens were terrorized through arrests, executions, deportations, and the ghettos were built. There were two rebellions, one in April 1943 and another in August 1944, but both were crushed and the people were ruthlessly punished. By the end of the war the city was left in ruins and more than half of the population had been killed. During our time in Warsaw, we heard and/or read that anywhere from 70, 80, or 90% of the city was decimated and 700,000 to 800,000 people were killed. Post war, the city moved into action, rebuilding was quick, and Warsaw was again reinstated as the capital in 1948. However, Communist rule overtook the country in the mid-20th century and by the 1970s living standards had fallen dramatically, and in 1981 martial law was declared. The Communist regime collapsed in 1989, and the city rose once again from near destruction. Today, only remnants of the city’s struggles remain, which serve as a reminder to locals and visitors of the struggles the city has endured and the triumphant returns it continues to make.
We wanted a chance to see all of Warsaw and really get an understanding of its history, its culture, its people, and everything it has to offer. As we usually do, we did hours of research before arriving, looking up everything there’s to see and do in the city. We curated it all into a list of everything we wanted to see and put it on our Google Map, which we used to navigate our way around town when we were sightseeing. So, to possibly make your research on sightseeing in Warsaw (and other destinations) easier, we’ve kept our maps with all of the information we gathered (accurate at the time of our sightseeing). Finding hours, prices, and general information can sometimes be challenging, so we’ve tried to include these details on our maps and provide appropriate links below.
NOTE: We used this sightseeing map for our personal sightseeing adventures, because of that, some notes may not make perfect sense, and some information could be outdated. Information on this map was valid at the time of creation. All prices are shown in US dollars but are actually Zolty/PLN (local currency). That being said, feel free to save it to your Google account and use it as a starting point (or modify it accordingly) for planning out your personalized itinerary in Warsaw.
Fall In Love With Warsaw!
Let us take you on a tour of Warsaw, through our camera lens! We hope you’ll enjoy Warsaw as much as we did! A picture speaks a thousand words, but if you’re looking for more detail, historical and visiting information, be sure to check out our City Guide to Warsaw, Poland: Part 3 | Must See Attractions and City Guide to Warsaw, Poland: Part 2 | Visiting Old Town.
Palace of Culture and Science
Warsaw National Stadium
Warsaw Royal Castle
Warsaw's Barbican/Fortification Walls
Museum of Warsaw
Warsaw is a city that’s known for a turbulent past, one that’s filled with invasions, wars, oppression, and genocide. However, the Warsaw that exists today is strong, vibrant, and proud. It’s truly a testament to the spirit of the people and it’s remarkable to see that Warsaw has blossomed into a thriving city with a beautiful culture!