Warsaw Old Town

1 Day in Warsaw: What to Do in 24 Hours | 2023 Edition

You only have 1 day in Warsaw? Here is our detailed 24-hour travel guide through the capital of Poland.

Also known as the “Paris of the North” or “Paris of the East”, it’s a beautiful city full of history and charm. Even if it is often overshadowed by its better-known colleagues, such as London, Paris, and Berlin, the city remains among Europe’s most fascinating capitals.

What does it have to offer? A spectacular view of skyscrapers like any other self-respecting modern metropolis, an Old Town full of history, stunning architecture, and unique and affordable food.

Reading the city’s history is enough to understand its fascinating and painful complexity. By the end of 1944, half of its population was decimated, and 85% of the buildings were razed to the ground.

However, Warsaw, like a phoenix, was reborn from its ashes, starting a reconstruction so authentic and faithful as an architectural miracle. As you can imagine, visiting Warsaw in one day and understanding it can be challenging, but nothing is impossible!

So, if you only have 24 hours available to dedicate to the city, here is a guide to making the most of your visit. Moreover, Warsaw is also a low-cost destination, suitable for any traveler, and can be visited in any season.

The Best Area to Stay in Warsaw for just one night

Warsaw is a vast city, extensive and full of things to do and see, many free or cheap. All neighborhoods hide pearls and insane views, but for a single-night stay, it is preferable to stay in the central areas, where most of the best tourist attractions are located and from which you can quickly start your 24-hour tour of Warsaw.

So, even if transport communication is one of the best in Europe and all areas are well connected, the best neighborhoods to stay in are undoubtedly Śródmieście and Stare Miasto.

Due to its central location, convenience, and proximity to most of the major attractions, Śródmieście (literally, “City Center”) is among the most well-liked neighborhoods to remain in Warsaw.

The city center of Warsaw during sunset.
The city center of Warsaw. Taken during sunset from the Palace of Culture and Science by Poland Insiders photographer Andrzej Tokarski.

On the other hand, with its vibrant buildings, churches, and landmarks, Stare Miasto, or “the Old Town,” is genuinely charming and lovely. Plenty of boutique stores are nearby, along with cozy cafes and eateries. Most likely the ideal place to stay In Warsaw for visitors.

Read: The best hotels with a pool in Warsaw

Although the Old Town formally falls under the Śródmieście district, it is preferable to discuss it separately due to its extensive size and wealth of attractions. The entire Śródmieście district (including the Old Town) is the true beating heart of Warsaw, the most popular and most centrally located area, with all the key monuments and unique architecture. Here is some helpful information about this part of the city.

Śródmieście: Warsaw Central

Śródmieście, which makes up a sizable portion of Warsaw’s city center, is where trade, politics, and entertainment occur. It is also where the city’s history started. It is easily connected to other Warsaw neighborhoods, making it the ideal starting place for your 24-hour excursion to discover the city.

The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw.
The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw during sunset. Taken by Poland Insiders photographer Andrzej.

You can find many significant Warsaw tourist sites and monuments here, including the Palace of Culture and Science, the tallest building in the city, which reaches 231 meters, and a ton of shopping, particularly at the modern Złote Tarasy shopping center.

Additionally, there are numerous shops, cafés, and some of Warsaw’s top restaurants — a good mix of people going about their daily lives.

Take a stroll through the Saxon Garden, enjoy a drink at Rondo De Gaulle, or get some food on Nowy Świat Street, where old and modern coexist in various buildings, shops, bars, and hostels.

Śródmieście is a rather large district that houses different areas of the capital with different architectural styles and numerous places of interest. Among them are the already mentioned Saxon Garden and the Palace of Culture and Science, as well as the Warsaw Uprising Monument, the Krasińskich Palace and Garden.

Śródmieście has two railway stations for those traveling by train, one of which is the biggest, Warsaw Central Station (Warszawa Centralna). For these reasons and others, the district is among the best places to remain in Warsaw because of its convenient location and easy access to public transportation.

Stare Miasto: Warsaw Old Town

Barbakan Warszawski in Warsaw
The Barbakan Warszawski towers in Warsaw. Taken by Poland Insiders photographer Andrzej Tokarski.

The Old Town, called in Polish “Stare Miasto,” is the part of the city that developed between the 13th and 14th centuries. It still retains a medieval structure today, even if, in reality, it was practically destroyed in 1944 during the Second World War.

However, its reconstruction was so precise that in 1980 the entire area was included by UNESCO in the list of World Heritage Sites.

Due to its size and accuracy, it represents a unicum in the history of restoration on an urban scale. Its history and the magic of its narrow streets and buildings with colorful facades make it one of the favorite areas for both tourists and locals.

Consider this as you stroll up to the Castle Square along the Barbican, the fortified wall that runs alongside the Starówka, another term for the Old Town.

Royal Castle in Warsaw
The Royal Castle in Warsaw. Taken by Poland Insiders photographer Andrzej Tokarski.

Even the impressive Royal Castle, one of the most important sights to see in Warsaw, was nearly entirely devastated and later rebuilt.

Admire the picturesque panorama of the Old Town from the Bell Tower at St. Anna’s Church (next to Plac Zamkowy); would you ever say that it is a reconstruction?

I want to open a small parenthesis on the security of the Polish capital. If you wonder if Warsaw is a safe destination for travelers, the answer is undoubtedly yes. This applies to the whole city and especially to the areas mentioned above. It’s a question that many people ask themselves, especially tourists from the West, a doubt that perhaps arose due to a lack of knowledge of Poland, and more particularly of its capital.

I can safely reassure thoughtful travelers and say with certainty that Warsaw is one of the safest capitals in Europe, if not in the world, and to confirm this is the fact that it is ranked 13th among the safest cities in the world, which is not at all a bad result! Especially in the central districts, whether you are a single woman, single man, couple, or family, you will feel safe at night or during the day. 

Read: Things to do in Warsaw when traveling with children

Must-eat food to try in Warsaw

The fundamental premise to make before getting to the heart of Polish cuisine is that most of the typical dishes are highly caloric! So, if you’re wondering what to eat in Warsaw while staying light, you should put your diet aside for one day!

But you’ll see, you won’t regret it! The Polish gastronomic tradition will surprise you with ingredients and combinations inherited from neighboring countries and ethnic groups. The influences come from the Slavic countries, nearby Germany, and the Jewish culture.

The day’s first meal is obviously breakfast, which is very important for the Poles. The typical Polish breakfast is strictly salty, unlike in other countries. Often, there are butter, jams, and fruit preserves only as an accompaniment. Of course, sweet breakfasts can also be found, with relatively low-fat desserts often made with a bread-like dough, offset by creative and hearty toppings.

The main meal, the richest and heaviest, is lunch: a burst of calories to face the whole day and the harsh winter temperatures.

Dinner is instead the lightest meal for the Poles, often a simple snack, such as a sandwich accompanied by vegetables or the famous pickled cucumbers.

As for the typical drinks, I recommend you enjoy your meal while sipping a kompot. This non-alcoholic sweet fruit-based beverage may be served hot or cold, depending on tradition and season.

If, on the other hand, you are an alcohol lover, you can accompany your meal with mugs of typical beer or vodka.

Śniadanie, or rather Polish breakfast

Staying in Warsaw for just one day, I suggest you try the typical Polish breakfast par excellence: scrambled eggs. Polish-style scrambled eggs (jajecznica) are often served with kiełbasa (typical Polish sausage), diced bacon, or ham.

You will also find numerous vegetarian variations with cheese, mushrooms, beans, tomatoes, or red peppers.

Walking along Mokotowska Street, one of the most beautiful and authentic streets in Warsaw, you will find many cozy cafés offering a very Polish breakfast. From here, you can easily walk to Łazienki Park to start your day and visit with a pleasant morning stroll.

Lunch in the Old Town

Once in the Historic Center, you will surely be hungry. And what to eat in Warsaw if not the famous pierogi?

The typical dish of the culinary tradition of all Eastern Europe (they can also be found in other countries, albeit slightly different), pierogi are filled dumplings made with fresh dough.

They look like Chinese dumplings, but the texture and filling vary greatly and come in many combinations. They can be boiled or fried; the filling can include meat, potatoes, mushrooms, spinach, or various types of cheese (feta, cream cheese, or the typical twaróg).

Fried and boiled pierogies in Warsaw.
Fried and boiled pierogies together with sour cream and gravy with bacon. Taken and eaten by Poland Insiders photographer Andrzej Tokarski.

Depending on the filling, they can be accompanied by sauces and other condiments such as cooked onions, diced bacon, or sour cream.

The most surprising thing is that they also exist in a sweet version, which makes them a genuinely imaginative sweet first course (or dessert). One caveat: they are extremely satiating!

If you still need to get full, I suggest you try some typical Polish sausage accompanied by boiled onions or cabbage.

If you are a vegetarian, no worries! This diverse metropolis is one of the most vegan-friendly cities in Europe, and the Southern Downtown neighborhood has emerged as the center of plant-based dining.

It’s soup time!

Polish Beef Soup
Delicious Polish beef soup in Warsaw. Taken by Poland Insiders photographer Andrzej.

Soups are one of the highlights in Warsaw, but generally throughout Poland. So, whether it’s winter or summer, you can only leave the city with at least having dinner with a typical soup.

I recommend żurek for your dinner: a steaming, succulent soup often served in a loaf of bread. Inside, you will find various ingredients such as potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, sausages, or mushrooms. As you can understand, it is a substantial but exciting and delicious dish.

Tip: If consumed with a good Polish beer, it will be even better!

If, on the other hand, you want a slightly less elaborate soup, you can enjoy a delicious rosół, the traditional Polish soup based on meat broth. Obviously, rosół also exists in a vegetarian version.

Alternatively, you can find other soups such as ogórkowa, with fermented cucumbers and potatoes, or red barszcz, often served with small dumplings.

Snacks

If you get hungry after a visit to the museum, walking through the streets of the Old Town, or returning to your hotel in the middle of the night, don’t worry! Warsaw will surprise you with unique specialties.

If you’re in town around Christmas and you love cheese, for example, you’ll be able to find stalls selling oscypek. It is a smoked and goat cheese typical of Poland’s southern regions. Trust me: strolling through the Christmas markets while enjoying excellent oscypek is priceless. In addition, the cheese crust is often engraved with decorative motifs that make you want to taste it even more.

In the afternoon, in the evening or as a midnight snack, however, I recommend the zapiekanka, or Polish pizza. Also, in this case, the Southern Downtown district offers the places with the best zapiekankas. Still, you can find it almost everywhere, even if more popular fast-food chains have now replaced many places that used to sell this typical street food. The components are a long, baguette-like bun roasted until crispy, along with button mushrooms, melted cheese, and ketchup on top.

On the other hand, if you are looking for a dessert to accompany your coffee break in one of the cafés in the center, the szarlotka is the dessert for you. Szarlotka is the quintessential apple pie, a concentrate of calories similar to the classic apple pie but accompanied by whipped cream. Nothing better than taking a sweet break after long walks in the center of Warsaw.

Italian ice cream inside an ice cream parlor in Warsaw, Poland.
Italian ice cream in Warsaw. Taken by Poland Insiders founder and photographer Andrzej.

Last but not least, ice cream. I know perfectly well that it’s not a Polish dessert, but walking the streets of Krakowskie Przedmieście and Nowy Świat on a sunny day with delicious Italian ice cream in hand is pure magic.

1 Day in Warsaw Sightseeing Spots

Łazienki Królewskie

The Palace on the Isle in Lazenski Park
The Palace on the Isle in Łazienki Park, Warsaw. Taken by Poland Insiders photographer Andrzej Tokarski.

Start the day with a healthy walk in the beautiful Łazienki Park. The park has also been a summer residence over the centuries. Today it is a museum and one of the most visited places by tourists who decide to stop in Warsaw.

The park’s highlight is the Palace on the Isle. Still, several museums and historic buildings exist, such as the Myślewicki Palace, the White House, the Orangery, and the Belvedere Palace. Near the latter is the Monument to Fryderyk Chopin, dedicated to the famous composer born in Warsaw, a real pride for the city!

The visit may take you some time, but it is worth it! After immersing yourself in the park’s peaceful atmosphere, reach the Historic Center.

The Old Town

Warsaw Old Town
Colorful houses in Warsaw Old Town. Taken by Poland Insiders photographer Andrzej Tokarski.

Saxon Garden, Castle Square, Market Square, Presidential Palace, Sigismund’s Column, Royal Castle, St John’s Cathedral, Warsaw Uprising Monument, St. Martin’s Church, Statue of the Little Insurgent, and much more! There is plenty of attractions to visit in this area.

The discovery of the Old Town can only start from Market Square (Rynek Starego Miasta). This square was the heart of Warsaw for years, where daily life was concentrated. The square is enclosed by many colored houses, which were entirely rebuilt after the bombings of the Second World War, which destroyed a large part of the city. In the center is the Little Mermaid Statue, considered the sister of the famous statue in Copenhagen. According to legend, the little mermaid lived in the Warsaw River and kept annoying the fishermen, who caught her. Later, she was released, and from that moment, she has been protecting the city.

On the way to the modern city center

In addition to some of the monuments already mentioned, immersing yourself in the hustle and bustle of the city along Krakowskie Przedmieście Street and then Świętokrzyska Street, you will find trendy shops and restaurants that will make the walk even more exciting and rewarding. This way, you will get an idea of the liveliness of Warsaw. Still, you will also be able to admire characteristic buildings such as the University of Warsaw and the Central Bank (Narodowy Bank Polski). The walk will also lead you to another of Warsaw’s iconic buildings, the Palace of Culture and Science.

Palace of Culture and Science

30th floor viewing platform on the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw.
Tourists taking photos on the 30th floor of the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw. Taken by Poland Insiders photographer Andrzej Tokarski.

In addition to being one of the most beautiful and particular buildings, the Palace can be visited inside with access allowed on the 30th floor, where an unparalleled panoramic view of the city awaits you.

From the 30th floor, you will have an extraordinary 360° view of the city. From here you will be able to observe the historic center and the entire extremely modern part of the new city.

The skyscrapers are numerous, take on original shapes, and reflect the sunlight in all corners of the busy economic district. Moreover, there are many new buildings under construction, many skyscrapers, meeting places, and even indoor markets, which tells us that there will be more to discover in this incredible northern European metropolis in a few years!

Praga: a world of sensations

To conclude the evening, I recommend reaching the Praga district, on the opposite riverbank. This is the artistic and trendy district where you can get to know the Polish nightlife! The whole area still exudes the characteristic style of past centuries, with red brick buildings, tracks, and old locomotives now renovated, made embellishments of the industrial contexts now used as meeting points. Several street art works will accompany you through the streets that lead, for example, to the Vodka Museum. On this side of the river, there is no boredom. You will find, for example, the Cathedral of St. Michael, the Cathedral of St. Mary Magdalene, and the Monument to a Street Band.

Need to take a break?

Warsaw is full of exciting cafés. If you decide to take a break during your visit to Łazienki Park, have a coffee and a cake at the suggestive Flora Caffè, a small place surrounded by greenery where you can relax after a long walk. If you visit the park on a summer Sunday, stay for the Chopin tribute concert. The concert is free and held every Sunday from mid-May to the end of September.

If, on the other hand, you are a tea person, an unmissable stop is the Odette Tea Room, where, in addition to enjoying excellent hot tea, you can take beautiful photos for your Instagram profile!

Panorama Sky Bar in Warsaw
The Panorama Sky Bar in Warsaw right after sunset. Taken by Poland Insiders photographer Andrzej Tokarski.

Do you love the social life and want to enjoy Warsaw’s beautiful skyline more? Sip a drink on a rooftop, such as the Mariott Hotel’s Panorama Sky Bar or the NYX Hotel’s Ether bar. From the Loreta Bar, you can enjoy a drink with a view of the Palace of Culture and, if instead, you want to move slightly towards the Wola district, The Roof at Rondo Dazyńskiego is also worth a stop (you can reach it on foot from the Palace of Culture or by metro).

If you are a lover of more particular places, while you get lost in the streets of Praga admiring the most suggestive murals and graffiti, look for the Różyckiego Bazar and visit Brzeska Street: you will be immediately transported to the past!

Staying in the district of Praga, if in the summer you absolutely must take a break on Poniatówka beach, near the National Stadium, and admire the sunset from the beach. Few things in life have been more inspiring than enjoying this moment.

Whether in winter or autumn, take a break at the colorful Saxon Garden or Krasińkich Garden and enjoy the Christmas markets in the Market Square, where you can also ice skate. Suppose you lengthen your walk between the Historic Center and Krakowskie Przedmieście Street and are looking for a thoroughly modern place. In that case, you can also stop at Elektrownia Powiśle, on the riverside. It is a former factory now used as a food hall and shopping center in full industrial style.

How to get around

To get around the city, there are many options; the metro, tram, bus, Uber, bicycles, and electric scooters are scattered throughout the city center. In short, you have everything you need to move quickly from one point to another. It will be helpful as you often need to cover large distances and speed up your movements.

Tickets for public transport are cheap compared to other European capitals. The single ride costs 3.40 PLN (20 minutes) or 4.40 PLN (75 minutes), and you can also purchase tickets on the vehicles through automatic machines.

The day ticket (24h) costs 26 PLN, and if you want to combine the means of transport with the entrance to the city’s museums, consider taking a Warsaw Pass. This card gives you both for 149 PLN.

Consider downloading the Uber app for a cheap taxi, Veturillo to rent a bike, or Bolt for an electric scooter; your visit to Warsaw will be even more fun!

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