Warsaw, the capital of Poland, found on the banks of the Vistula River, and at the true heart of Poland, is definitely worth visiting because it has something to offer for everyone. For many reasons, Warsaw received a record number of votes in winning the European Travel Destination of the Year for 2023.
However, if you are like me, before I came to Warsaw, I could not tell you what Warsaw is known for other than it was the capital of Poland. Do not let this fool you, I fell in love with Warsaw quickly after arriving, there is much to love. Warsaw has beautiful architecture in multiple styles, top-notch museums, peaceful parks seemingly on every corner, and a bustling culinary scene and nightlife.
With all these options, it may be hard to decide where to go, and there are certainly places in Warsaw that might be considered slightly overrated. Although I always recommend getting to know a local and asking for their recommendations, as a now 7-month resident of Poland’s capital, I will supply my insight into what must be done in Warsaw!
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10 Reasons Why Warsaw is Worth Visiting
You will find 10 reasons why Warsaw is worth visiting, plus one bonus reason unrelated to what is specifically in Warsaw’s city limits. I hope you will find this insightful and helpful as you plan your trip to Warsaw.
1. The Charming and Beautiful Old Town of Warsaw
The UNESCO World Heritage site that is the rebuilt Old Town of Warsaw should be first on every traveler’s list when traveling to Warsaw. Settled continuously since around 1300, the Old Town is perhaps the most important historical and cultural location in Warsaw. It also home to some stunning architecture that is colorful to boot, so if the gray buildings in some other parts of Warsaw get to you, the Old Town will add some color to your life!
What is unique about this “Old” Town is that the buildings you see were rebuilt during the 1950s after Warsaw was mostly razed to the ground by the German Nazi forces. However, the city was rebuilt meticulously, deferent to the style of the original buildings, even using a painting as a reference point for accuracy in restoration!
The Old Town holds some of the most popular sites of Warsaw, so you will certainly not be alone on this journey. In the Old Town Market Place, you will find a statue of a mermaid, a symbol of Warsaw, as well as many restaurants and shops in the surrounding squares and alleys. During the winter, this square becomes a free ice-skating rink, and a perfect winter environment when snow falls. Leaving the square, you can also find St John’s Cathedral, whose roof almost looks like an attempt to build a stairway to heaven, and whose basement has many important Polish figures’ burial sites.
Moving to the outskirts of the Old Town proper, you will find the rebuilt brick City Walls, on which you can walk up and down, and get beautiful views of the Vistula. At the opposite end of the Old Town is Castle Square, home to the Royal Castle of Warsaw (more on that later), the iconic Zygmunt’s Column, marking the historical entrance to Warsaw. You can also get a beautiful panorama of the Old Town at the observation deck of St. Anne’s Church or get a free view on the overpass over Solidarity Avenue.
Heading further south beyond the Old Town proper (but still technically part of the Old Town), means a walk down Krakowskie Przedmieście, which is the so-called Royal Route, home to restaurants, bars, and other commerce. You will find many monuments, a square named after Herbert Hoover of all people, the Presidential Palace, a few small parks, the main campus of the University of Warsaw, and finally at the end, the Staszic Palace. All in all, this part of Warsaw holds the most history, and is a perfect place to take an easy walk and see lots of sights, and you do not even necessarily have to spend any money!
2. Centrum: A modern city center will killer views
I can tell you that when I came to Warsaw, I did not expect it to have any skyscrapers. But there are 13 of these buildings over 150 meters (490 feet) tall. Warsaw has built its center up to be one of the most impressive skylines in all of Europe, and actually currently lays claim to the highest building in the European Union with the 310-meter (1020 ft) Varso Tower. If you are visiting in 2024, an observation deck will be opened that will be by far the highest in all of Poland.
The building that the Varso Tower surpassed is the iconic Palace of Culture and Science. This building was a “gift” from Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin when Poland was a Soviet satellite state. Thus, the building is viewed with mixed opinions by natives. Some view it as a remnant of one of the darkest times in Polish history, while others acknowledge its beauty. As an outside observer, the building is just stunning, and visible from many points of the city. Additionally, there is no better way to be introduced to Warsaw from above than taking the swift ride up the elevator to the viewing deck. I highly recommend this experience, but make sure you book your tickets in advance to avoid waiting in line during peak tourism times.
Beyond these two buildings, it is just awe-inspiring to walk between the many tall buildings that make up the center, an experience as close to New York as you might be able to get in Europe. There are many luxury hotels and restaurants if those are your thing, as well as shopping, although the Złote Tarasy mall often recommended in online guides is supremely overrated and overcrowded. If you want a view of the skyline from the ground, I recommend going to Plac Grzybowski, Piłsudski Square, or if you are really dedicated to photography, the eastern end of Gdański Bridge.
3. Parks: Warsaw is a city of green spaces
When most people imagine this part of the world, they imagine run-down buildings, air pollution, and other things that would not indicate a city with good nature. However, those Hollywood depictions of Poland could not be more incorrect. Warsaw is overwhelmingly green. There are parks on what seems like every corner, full of big leafy trees, sprawling lawns, and ponds and creeks where one can find swans and ducks. Generally, any park near where you are staying is a good place to hang out and eat your store-bought lunch, but there are a few specific parks of note in Warsaw.
Located south of the Old Town, Łazienki Park is a massive park that is a must see in Warsaw. The main sight is the large pond in the center of the park, home to the Palace on the Isle, where you are likely to see someone getting their wedding photos taken. You can also find the elusive albino peacock hiding in the bushes nearby. Walking through the rest of the park takes you to many spots that are perfect for relaxing, with benches on either side of the trail, and the occasional hammock and lawn chair as well. During the fall, the many trees turn golden, and Łazienki Park becomes the perfect place to see the so-called “Golden Polish Autumn.”
There are a few other parks that are worth a visit in Warsaw. Pole Mokotowskie is found close to Centrum and is a common place for young Poles to hang out and drink before going to the club. It is also a nice place to walk with good views of the skyline, and a few monuments strewn throughout. Another park I personally like is Park Moczydło, a park my girlfriend introduced to me. It is home to a few nice ponds, but the crown jewel is the small hill that is a perfect place to have a picnic and is also home to hammocks and some stellar views of the Warsaw skyline. Finally, for a little more of an adventure, take a trip to the south end of the M1 Metro line to Kabaty Woods, where you can feel like you are in the middle of nowhere while still being in the Warsaw city limits (although the large number of Poles who recreate there might reduce the peace somewhat).
4. The Vistula River: A spot for socialization and recreation
The Vistula River (or Wisła as it is called in Polish) is Poland’s main river, flowing through or near many important Polish cities. While the river might not be as wild as the Brazilian Amazon, or as serene as the blue Danube, it is still a worthy spot. If you are young, this is a place to come meet local university students, who spend sunny spring days drinking beer on the steps on the west bank of the river. In fact, this might be the only place you can legally drink outdoors in Poland and get away with it (test it if you dare). If you want to drink in a more legal environment, there are also bars found on barges directly on the river.
While the Vistula is one of the main social hubs of Warsaw, it is also a spot for recreation. The east bank of the river has sandy beaches, such as Poniatówka, a popular spot for sunbathing (swimming in the river is not recommended due to a strong current). This beach is also a wonderful place to enjoy a sunset over the city skyline. If you want to get on the water, there are boat tours available, but maybe the best way to enjoy the water is through a kayak rental. For the relatively expensive (by Polish standards) price of around 50 Złoty per hour, you can enjoy the beauty of the city from the river, and it is a nice way to cool off on a warmer summer day.
5. Palaces Galore: Visit the Royal Castle and Wilanów Palace
Warsaw, as the capital of Poland since 1611, has some royal history to offer, such as on the previously mentioned Royal Route. Thus, there are many palaces (rebuilt after the war) that can be visited in Warsaw. Each supplies a window into the era of the king at that time, and helps paint the picture of the interesting, but complex history of Poland. Specifically, there are two palaces worth visiting in Warsaw to enrich your time and admire some beautiful architecture and gardens.
The first, and easiest to visit, is the Royal Castle, found in Castle Square at the southern end of the Old Town. The beautiful, orange-tinged building was the residence of a few Polish monarchs of ages past and was also the site where Poland’s first constitution was signed. It has been fully reconstructed to appear as it did in the 1600s, which adds to its immersion as you tour. Block out at least two hours to see the entire building and grab a complementary audio tour, available in many languages, to add history to what you see.
The other palace worth visiting in Warsaw, and perhaps one of Warsaw’s crown jewels, is Wilanów Palace, found in southern Warsaw. Built in the baroque style in the late 1600s by King Jan III Sobieski, there is also a beautiful collection of gardens surrounding the building. Essentially, this palace is, in my opinion, Poland’s Versailles. Also, the palace was spared during WWII and keeps its original charm and color. Inside are many gaudy rooms full of art commissioned by earlier owners. In general, this building is certainly fit for royalty, and is fit for a few hours of your time when visiting Warsaw.
6. Museums: View beautiful art and learn the history of Poland’s capital
Warsaw is home to many fabulous museums that should be visited. In addition to the museums housed in the palaces, there are museums that can be split into two main categories: Polish culture and World War II. There are also a few other museums that are not related directly to either of these topics that are worth visiting.
Regarding Polish culture, it is important to visit the National Museum in Warsaw (MNW). Located not far from the Old Town, the MNW houses many works of Polish artists you might never have heard of but are still very beautiful. You will also find a variety of work by foreign artists, including a certain German leader whose name I will not state. You will also find collections of antiquities from Rome and Greece, and a large collection of Chinese and Nubian art.
If the MNW is not enough, visit the Neon Museum to see a large collection of Soviet-era neon lights, and the Museum of Warsaw and its branch the Museum of Praga to learn about the history of Warsaw on both sides of the Vistula.
To learn more about Polish icons, visit the Chopin Museum to learn and listen about Poland’s most famous composer, and the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum, whose Polish name is often ignored because history books choose to only include her husband’s name (to the great consternation of most Poles).
Related to World War II, perhaps the most important museum to visit is the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Located in the historic neighborhood of Wola, this museum is dedicated to the atrocities committed by German Nazi forces during 1944, after an attempt by Varsovians (the Polish word for natives of Warsaw) to take back their city. Be warned the story told by this museum is very sad, so if you are not into depressing history, do not visit.
You can also visit the POLIN Museum to learn about the history of Jewish people in Warsaw. This museum is where the Warsaw Ghetto was placed during the war, so the impact of those horrible events hits hard as you imagine those who walked where you do today 80 years prior.
Finally, if you have kids, you must visit the Nicolaus Copernicus Science Center. Located on the banks of the Vistula River, this museum captures the spirit of perhaps Poland’s most famous citizen, and supplies sensory opportunities for kids and adults alike, while also learning about science. Make sure to book your tickets in advance, as this wildly popular destination usually sells out. For more on what to do with your kids in Warsaw, visit here.
7. Music: Enjoy the live music scene in Warsaw
Warsaw is a city of music. While the central city of music in Poland might be Opole, as the capital, big international names come through quite often. But Warsaw also has its own individual music scene. First, on your visit to Łazienki Park, make sure to attend the Chopin Concerts every Sunday, starting on May 15 this year. Each Sunday there are two different pianists who perform music of Poland’s beloved classical composer. These composers come from all over the world to perform, and the location supplies a beautiful ambience to the beautiful songs of Chopin.
If you like classical music and theater, you should also consider attending an opera in the opulent Teatr Wielki Opera Narodowa. My roommate states that it was a wonderful experience, and the location near the Old Town means it is easy to go grab a drink before or after the opera.
If classical music is not your style, you can head to one of the music festivals held in the city, such as Otwarta Ząbkowska in trendy Praga. The city of Warsaw blocks the streets for the first weekend of September, and you can listen to a variety of local artists and enjoy other activities and food and drink.
Also, Warsaw has a bustling live music scene. There are many bars in the classic commercial areas of Warsaw, but perhaps my favorite live music in Warsaw was at Jeff’s, an American style diner near Pole Mokotowskie (and in a few other places). While as an American, the food was quite bad and inauthentic, the blues band that plays there is lively and entertaining. So, skip the food, grab a drink, and enjoy the tunes.
8. Smacznego: Enjoy the culinary offerings of Poland in Warsaw
Polish food is delicious and cheap. Whereas Warsaw does not necessarily have any specialties compared to the rest of Poland, if you can only go to Warsaw, you must try as much Polish food as you can!
Pierogi, the delectable dumpling that are one of Poland’s largest cultural exports, are found everywhere. Picking the right restaurant to try them is essential, so this guide might be helpful to help you decide. But, Warsaw is also home to many other types of cuisine beyond Polish that you might not find easily in other parts of Europe, such as Georgian cuisine. You can also find other classic world foods, such as Thai, Indian, Chinese, Italian, and more.
However, Warsaw also offers some unique opportunities to try food. First, you must visit one of the Żabka Nano stores (like an Amazon Go in the US) to try a hot dog. However, what is special about these stores is that the hot dog is made for you by a robot! The robotic arm toasts the bun, places the hot dog inside, adds mustard, and delivers it to you in around 3 minutes. While it may not be quite as fast as a human effort, it is a unique experience, and fun video to record.
Finally, you must eat in a Food Hall somewhere in Warsaw. Food Halls are kind of like food courts, except also with open bars and music, and no fast-food restaurants are to be found, but rather a variety of different cultural cuisines. Some of my favorites include the one found inside Elektrownia Powiśle, a short walk from the Vistula, Hala Koszyki found steps from Centrum, and Browary Warszawksie, found in the heart of commerce at the former location of a brewery.
9. Let’s Party: Have a night out on Nowy Świat
If you are young, or young at heart, Warsaw has decent nightlife to offer. While Kraków or Gdańsk have better nightlife in my opinion, Warsaw’s nightlife is still nothing to sniff at. Perhaps the essential place to spend a night out is Nowy Świat, which extends south from the Royal Route near the heart of Warsaw. Located on this street, you will find many bars and clubs.
Make sure to explore some of the side alleys too to find some basement bars, a classic in Warsaw. Just be warned that these places can get very crowded due to how popular they are, and the crowd tends to be younger, so if either of those things are not your cup of tea, I would not recommend it.
If you are looking for a quieter, more refined, experience, book a table at the Panorama Sky Bar, which while on the pricy side (at 55-60 Złoty per drink), supplies a beautiful panoramic view of the Warsaw skyline from the 40th floor of a skyscraper. Or you can book a table at a variety of other bars available in the more business-inclined districts of Warsaw.
One nice cocktail bar I like (and I am biased because I went on my first date with my girlfriend here) is The Alchemist – Metropolitan, which has cocktails at a more reasonable price in a modern building near the Saxon Gardens. This cocktail bar is also within walking distance of the Opera House, and close to Cubano, perhaps the most popular club amongst non-Polish university students. It is usually free, so if you like dancing to Reggaeton and other Latin music, spend until the early hours of the morning at the Cubano!
10. Goal: Attend a Legia Warszawa Match
What if I told you that one of the most dynamic sporting atmospheres in Europe could be found in Warsaw? I would not have believed it, but the fans of Legia Warszawa, one of the better teams in Poland’s top football (soccer, to my fellow Americans) league, provide this top-notch experience. Fans of Legia can be quite intense (some of what they say makes this not a child-friendly experience). And they are loud! Flags are waved, smoke is released, and chants are yelled.
Legia’s success only bolsters the fans, and it makes every match a sort-of religious experience. Again, just make sure you do not buy a ticket in the fan section, it can get quite intense. But if this is what you are looking for, you will not find a better atmosphere in Poland for a sporting event.
BONUS: Warsaw is the perfect jumping off point for further travel in Poland!
While this is not a specific point about Warsaw as a city, it is still worth saying. Poland is a perfect jumping off point for journeys to other major touristic destinations of Poland. Most budget flights will fly to Warsaw, and many flights from the US will fly only into Warsaw, so it is likely you will have to start your journey in Warsaw regardless. And Warsaw’s location means it is no more than 4 hours to any of the main cities of Poland.
Gdańsk is about 3 hours away, as are Kraków and Poznań. Adding an hour on the way to Kraków gets you to Zakopane. The Masurian Lakes Region and Lublin are also short drives away. Wrocław is the farthest city away, at around 4 hours.
Additionally, there are many other minor sights around Warsaw that make it worthwhile, such as Kampinos National Park. There are also perfect day-trip cities, such as Kazimierz Dolny, Toruń, and Łódź. Warsaw overall is a good place to start your trip in Poland, after you finish exploring its sights of course!
Conclusions: Why you should visit Warsaw this year
Warsaw is the Europe travel destination of the year for a reason. It offers a lot to do, and you can spend anywhere from 1 day to 1 week and not get bored. There are buildings to explore, museums to peruse, food to try, and nightlife to enjoy.
While Warsaw might not have been on your radar before, you should visit it now, before it gets more popular and becomes like its Western Europe counterparts in the tourism department. Then you can tell everyone that you visited Warsaw before it was cool to do so!