At the end of September I traveled to Warsaw for one weekend. I did not have many expectations from this city, a communist city in a country on almost the same level of development as Romania, I thought. I did know that the city center was on the UNESCO heritage list, but I did not even try to find out why. In fact, to my shame, I did almost no research in advance as I wanted a relaxing weekend and thought there would not be much to do in this city. I could not have been farther from the truth. Warsaw surprised me with every step I took.
1. UNESCO historic center
The entire city center has been bombed and more than 85% destroyed in WWII. This was the fate of many cities at that point. After the war, Warsaw was so damaged that the administration wanted to move the capital in another part of the country. But people from all over the country started to go back to Warsaw and rebuild what they could. In solidarity with the people, it was decided that Warsaw would remain the capital of the country. It can be said that the Polish people voted with their legs. During the next years, the city center was rebuild almost from scratch, but with consideration to the historical architecture. In 1980 it became an UNESCO site, being the only reconstruction on the list from that moment until 2005 when the old bridge area of the city of Mostar was also listed.
2. Almost as old as the royal castle
The guide from the free tour gave us badges with these words and it is true. The royal castle was rebuilt from scratch in the 70s and 80s from donations. It was only opened for the public in 1984. In how many places can you say when you are asked about your age that you are almost as old as the royal castle, or even weirder, a little older than the royal castle? It almost makes you feel royal.
3. Beautiful squares and streets
Usually, when I think about old city centers, I also think about narrow cobbled streets, most of the times pretty crowded and sometimes a little dirty, even if nonetheless romantic. Warsaw surprised me again with its wide, clean, cared for cobbled streets, beautiful buildings, huge squares and multimedia fountains. You can also spot some remains of the walls of the old city and even a gate and you don’t have to walk out of the center for this. The Royal Route connects the Castle Square with the Lazienki park also makes for a very nice stroll.
4. A royal park
How many things can be royal? A castle, a family, a route and a … Warsaw park? The Royal Lazienki Palace and Garden complex was the summer residence of Stanislaw August, the last king of Poland. Now, you can take a walk around the park or even enter the palace and its annexes.
5. The Wedel Chocolate Factory & Praga
The Wedel factory lies in Praga district, considered Warsaw’s Christiania. No matter if you want to buy chocolate as a souvenir or not, if you’ve got the time it is well worth a visit. They have some tours, but not many and they are not advertised. However, the main reason for me to recommend it is their hot chocolate, bitter-sweet, dense and in different combinations, all of them delicious. And they even have packages of small cups for you to try more than one. If you also plan to buy chocolate for home, head first to the bar , as you will also get a 10% voucher. We did it the reverse way and did not take advantage of it, but you are informed now.
6. Frederic Chopin
If you are into music, you will for sure want to listen to a Chopin concert and Warsaw is the perfect place for it. You will see posters everywhere around the town advertising concerts. Some of these concerts are free, at the magical fountains or in the park, some cost, in the opera house or in a church. And if you don’t run into one of them you can still sit on one of the black benches that are spread around the center and listen to a fragment of a song.
7. Maria Skłodowska – Curie
Even if you are not that much into science, you should know that the first woman to win a Nobel prize was Polish. And not only this, but she was the only person that won this prize not only in one discipline, but two, physics and chemistry. She lived in Warsaw and in her former house there is a small museum where you can find out more about the life of this fabulous woman. Even if she moved to France and lived most of her life there, she did not lose her Polish identity, proof of this is the name of one of the two the chemical elements she discovered and researched, polonium. The other one is radium.
I usually try to sample some traditional dishes anywhere I travel, but, in Europe, in general, food is not that different from the one in Romania. I’ve had tasty meals in other countries before, but not so different from the food I am used to at home and still delicious. I really recommend that you try zurek soup. It does not look great, with its grey color, but I assure you that it will be a pleasant surprise. Other traditional dishes, pretty different from what I ate in other countries are the cold beetroot soup and the beetroot soup with beans. These ones might taste a little strange and might not suit everyone’s taste, but they are still worth a try.
Pierogi, stuffed dumplings, are also considered traditional, even if you can have similar dishes in Ukraine, Italy (ravioli) and probably other countries also. What is different about them here? Well, the Polish would put anything in them, from cabbage to forest mushrooms, meat, cheese, jam, mixed and you can also have them not only boiled, but also fried, which I strongly suggest that you do.
Where to eat?
You should definitely try a milk bar. These are left from the communist era and are a lot different from a normal restaurant. They are more similar to canteens with cheap, good food. A small training before you go in one of them: have cash with you and especially change, don’t expect smiles or nice plating and exercise a little bit the sign language before you go in, as it will come in handy 🙂 If you want a traditional restaurant with reasonable prices and tasty food I recommend Zapiecek. There are at least three locations around the center, food is great, staff is nice and the atmosphere cheerful. Don’t let the queue at the entrance scare you. It will go away pretty fast and it totally deserves a little waiting.
Did you ever want to find out how lollipops are made? I don’t mean the ones done in a factory by machines, but the crafted ones. Probably not, I was not very curious about the process either when I entered the shop. Just wanted to check it out. Right then a demonstration started and I was fascinated by the process and the amount of work involved in order to transform a sugary liquid into a perfect handmade lollipop. I was so fascinated that I was probably the only “child” that really followed the entire process and also the only one that got a special lollipop in the form of a heart. You can find a lot of small shops where the craftsmen will be more than happy to make a demonstration for you.
- Warsaw is dirty cheap compared to the majority of the European capitals.
- It is easy to reach from the airport. You just need to take bus 175 that stops right in front of the exit. Tickets can be bought from the ticket office next to the tourists information center or from the driver.
- An unbelievable modern center just around the corner from the old town.
I don’t say that an weekend is enough to such a city and I’m sure you can find more beautiful places in or around it, but if you have little time, you can wander through Warsaw and I promise you that you will be surprised at every step.