There’s no denying it: No Poland itinerary is complete without a stop in Warsaw. And with plenty of quirky & interesting things to do in Warsaw, there’s little reason not to drop into the capital of Poland to give it the chance it deserves.
Warsaw won’t strike every traveller as mightily as the more easily-digestible Krakow; it’s far better at converting new admirers with longer exposures than quick glances. My own first impression of Warsaw wasn’t exactly compelling. No more than five minutes after exiting Warszawa Centralna, I found myself fending off an unpleasant vodka-fuelled morning encounter with one of Warsaw’s less fortunate denizens.
I refused let it sully the experience. Pushing on, it didn’t take long for Warsaw to unfold before me, revealing an interesting and complex city that stuck with me long after leaving.
Not sure how to begin planning your trip? Here’s my guide to a few of the most captivating Warsaw attractions…
Table of Contents
- What to do in Warsaw: Top 10 attractions & best places to visit
- Explore Warsaw further: A quick list of more things to see & do
- Where to stay: The best hotels for sightseeing in Warsaw
- Where to go in Warsaw: A summary of the top points of interest
What to do in Warsaw: Top 10 attractions & best places to visit
Unlike Krakow, Warsaw isn’t famous for its sightseeing opportunities. But there’s plenty of beauty in Warsaw, even if it does need to be coaxed out.
Planning out your time in Warsaw isn’t as easy as in other cities in Central Europe. Although many of the best things to do in Warsaw are fairly central —and can be tackled with even just one day in Warsaw—plenty other cool attractions await just far enough to rule out walking for some travellers.
Fortunately, public transportation in Warsaw is cheap and plentiful. Finding your way to most points of interest in Warsaw isn’t difficult, save a bit of a language barrier.
Old Town Warsaw (Stare Miasto)
Warsaw’s reputation as an unsightly and bleak city is completely shattered the moment you first enter Old Town (Stare Miasto). To be sure, Old Town Warsaw can’t compete with the historical centres of Krakow or Prague. But its beauty is compelling enough to overthrow your expectations and dispense with much of the negative press Warsaw unfairly gathers.
The heart of Old Town beats at Rynek Starego Miasta (Old Town Market Square). This central market square is the oldest in Warsaw, with roots digging back to the late-13th century. Beautiful merchant houses lining Rynek Starego Miasta, reconstructed in the post-war era to reflect the 17th century originals, add an air of distinction to the district.
Experiencing Old Town is as simple as wandering aimlessly in search of churches, palaces, and other hidden gems. Keep your eyes open for Warsaw’s best medieval architecture including the Barbican, a former city defense fortification that will bring your memories of childhood fairytales of the Middle Ages back to the fore.
After checking out Stare Miasto, also be sure to catch a glimpse of the Warsaw Uprising Monument in Krasiński Square just on the outskirts of the historical area.
Getting to Old Town Warsaw
From Warszawa Centralna, Old Town is a 35- to 40-minute walk. My favourite approach to Old Town is via Krakowskie Przedmieście.
To get there, exit Warszawa Centralna onto Aleje Jerozolinskie. Turn left, following the street to Marzałkowska. Take another left on Marszałkowska. Walking past the unmistakable Palace of Culture & Science, find your way to the second major cross-street, Królewska. Hang a right here.
Walk along Królewska past the botanical garden to Krakowskie Przedmieście. Walk north along Krakowskie Przedmieście, one of the major thoroughfares on the Royal Route, past the Presidential Palace to get into Old Town.
If these walking directions seem overly complicated, public transportation will get you to Old Town in about 20 minutes. From the central train station, simply find your way to Marszałkowsa. From one of the Centrum transit stops, catch a northbound bus (160, 518) or tram (4) to Old Town.
Palace of Culture & Science
No building in Warsaw is more polarizing than the Palace of Culture & Science. For decades, Varsovians were patent in their resolve to hate the place. It was, after all, a communist-era gift from the Soviets. Not exactly an era that many feel comfortable reliving in any way. Even with attitudes softening, you’re bound to find a few who’d rather see it reduced to rubble than to clog up the Warsaw skyline for another day.
Ignoring all the negative hype, most travellers will find the monolithic Palace of Culture & Science enthralling. What’s truly interesting is that the design of this “communist” building was inspired by the Empire State Building in New York City, the undisputed “capitalist capital” of the world at the time. The Palace of Culture & Science is somehow a little more foreboding, though, emitting a dystopian vibe that’s both exciting and unnerving.
The biggest reason to visit the Palace of Culture and Science isn’t just to gawk at its enormity. Snag a ticket (20zł/15zł) to zoom up the high-speed elevator to the observation terrace on the 30th floor. The views of Warsaw from atop Poland’s highest building are simply magnificent.
Getting to the Palace of Culture & Science
The Palace of Culture & Science is the easiest building to find in Warsaw. Just look up almost anywhere, and you’ll see it! From Warszawa Centralna simply take the exit towards Emilii Plater. The Palace of Culture & Science is across the street on plac Defilad.
Warsaw Rising Museum
There’s a nary a more heroic story than the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Watch it unfold before your eyes at the Warsaw Rising Museum, one of the country’s most interesting museums and one of the coolest places to visit in Warsaw.
At the Warsaw Rising Museum, you’re warped through the darkest days of Nazi occupation through to the liberation of Warsaw in 1945. The interactive exhibits feature multimedia and tactile elements ranging from video footage to replica equipment.
Most harrowing are the before and after photos depicting the nearly complete destruction of Warsaw following the movement’s ultimate failure. Seeing Warsaw’s transformation from rubble to a dynamic European capital is placed in an evermore clear context after visiting the Warsaw Rising Museum.
Getting to the Warsaw Rising Museum
The easiest way to get to the Warsaw Rising Museum is by tram. From Warszawa Centralna, exit to Aleje Jerozolinskie and catch westward tram 9, 22 or 24. Alight at the Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego stop.
Taking a quick breather in a high-octane city like Warsaw is almost obligatory. And there’s no better place to clear out your lungs at any time of year than among the whopping 180 acres of greenery at Łazienki Park.
Łazienki Park may not have the size (or beer gardens) of a park like the Englischer Garten in Munich. That’s not to say it isn’t special. Besides the beautiful flora and fauna, Łazienki Park conceals aging palaces, statues, and orangeries in its midst.
The most famous building in Łazienki Park is the Palace on the Isle, also known as, unsurprisingly, Łazienki Palace or the Palace on the Water. Originally built as a Baroque bathhouse, this neoclassical palace reflects upon the still waters of Stawy Łazienkowskie creating a classic scene that no visitor to Warsaw should miss.
Getting to Łazienki Park
To get to Łazienki Park from Warszawa Centralna, hop onto bus 525 from Dw. Centralny north of the station. Get off at Rozbrat 01 and walk south into Łazienki Park.
Like so many former no-go zones in post-communist cities, Praga District has (mostly) shed its rough-and-tumble reputation to become one of the hippest places to visit in Warsaw.
There’s still a certain grittiness and working-class feel to Praga that separates it from the tourist-soaked Old Town enclave to the west over the Vistula. Following the Warsaw Uprising, while much of Warsaw laid in ruins, Praga was somewhat spared the same fate. Pockets of pre-war Warsaw remain, even if they’re slowly being swept aside by bohemian tides.
Although Praga is most famous for its raucous nightlife, visiting during the day lets you experience Warsaw’s quirkier and most artistic side.
Getting to Praga District
Praga lies across the Vistula River from Old Town. From the Stare Miasto transit stop, cross the Vistula over Most Śląsko-Dąbrowski, Follow straight on to Targowa to reach the heart of Praga. The walk is no more than 25 to 30 minutes.
Alternatively, hop on any of the eastbound trams at Stare Miasto to reach Praga in less than 10 minutes from Old Town.
The Royal Castle in Warsaw
Even if there are more epic castles in Poland elsewhere, a visit to The Royal Castle in Warsaw (Zamek Królewski) creeps in among the best things to do in Warsaw. Truthfully, compared to medieval stunners like Malbork Castle, it’s hard to even call The Royal Castle a “castle.” What you’ll find resembles instead a Baroque palace, not unlike others you’d find strewn about Central European cities like Vienna.
A trip through this 17th-century royal residence, rebuilt after World War II like much of Warsaw, rolls through a number of stops. The Royal Apartments, where King Stanisław Augustus Poniatowski hung about, features heavy on artwork depicting Poland at various points in its history.
Also on the tour are the former Houses of Parliament, where Polish democracy got a kick-start, and the gilded Great Assembly Hall.
Getting to The Royal Castle in Warsaw
Once you find yourself in Old Town, the Royal Castle isn’t far off. The palace sits on Castle Square (plac Zamkowy), one of the main squares of the historic quarter. Walking straight up Krakowskie Przedmieście, part of the original Royal Route, you can’t miss it.
POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
Opening in 2013 to much fanfare, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews quickly catapulted into the ranks of best museums in Warsaw.
When the first shots of World War II rang, about 3.3 million Jews called Poland home. Whereas most memorials like the Jewish Museum in Berlin focus mostly on the horrendous ripples that followed, POLIN celebrates their rich thousand-year and importance in Polish culture.
Nothing about POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews is accidental. Whether it’s the museum’s location across from the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, remembering the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (in the former Warsaw Jewish Ghetto, to boot), or the building’s radical postmodern design, everything here is soaked in meaning.
The permanent exhibition at POLIN stretches across eight galleries, each documenting a different era in the history of the Polish Jews. Beyond the more sombre and serious parts of the exhibition, more light-hearted moments keep you smiling such as the recent temporary exhibit “Jukebox, Jewkbox!”, outlining the contributions of Jewish producers and artists to popular music on vinyl records.
Getting to POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
From Warszawa Centralna, it’s about a 33-minute (2.8km) walk to POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Walk north on Aleja Jana Pawła II to the east of the station, eventually turning right on Anielewicza. The museum will be about a block up Anielewicza to the left.
By public transportation, take tram 17 or 33 up Aleja Jana Pawła II. Get off at the Anielewicza stop and walk east on Anielewicza to POLIN.
With so much of Warsaw reduced to rubble in World War II, Wilanów Palace is a breath of fresh air from the post-communist architecture that’s “decorated” most of the city. This magnificent 17th-century Baroque palace, set in an over 100-acre park, is not only one of Warsaw’s best attractions, but one of Poland’s most important national treasures.
The main museum at Wilanow Palace walks you through the royal apartments as set about for a string of Polish kings from Jan III in 1696 to August II in 1733. Throughout the palace, ornate decorations, from sculptures and paintings to mouldings and ceiling frescoes, catch the eye. For more information on the interior of Wilanow Palace, visit the official site.
Getting to Wilanów Palace
Unless you’re a marathon runner with plenty of time to spare, the 2-hour walk from central Warsaw all but eliminates the possibility of getting to Wilanow Palace by foot. From Dw. Centralny 27 behind Warszawa Centralna, bus 519 makes the trip to the palace in less than 30 minutes.
As a Cold War kid, there’s hardly a museum in Warsaw more “enlightening” than the Neon Museum. Set in a old factory complex, the Neon Museum presents a stunning collection of the Vegas-like signage from Poland’s postwar era.
Following the fall of communism, the changing façade of Polish cities relegated many old Cold War relics to the wayside. Among them were the luminous neon signs that brightened Warsaw for decades. The two London-based museum directors, David S. Hill and Ilona Karwinska, made it their mission to ensure that Poland’s glowing artform lived on.
The Neon Museum, today, displays hundreds of these preserved and restored signs among its meandering halls and is among the top attractions in Warsaw. Visiting for a taste of this tumultuous, but interesting, bygone era has the added bonus of supporting the private Neon Museum’s urban restoration projects elsewhere in Warsaw.
Getting to the Neon Museum
The Neon Museum rocks out in the increasingly hip Praga District. Unless you’re already in Praga, it’s a bit of a hike to get to the Neon Museum by foot from most places in Warsaw.
Public transportation is the easiest option. To get there from Warszawa Centralna, catch tram 22 at Dw. Centralny 07 behind the main station, exiting at the Gocławska stop (about 23 minutes). The museum is a couple blocks north of here.
Visiting a milk bar (bar mleczny) is a uniquely Polish experience. And Warsaw is one of the best places in Poland to go for it!
Milk bars are among the few leftovers from the post-WWII communist era that aren’t shunned by Poles. It isn’t, as you’d expect, simply a place to slurp up milk and go along on your merry way. The name derives from the cheap and filling dairy-based food they historically served.
One of best milk bars in Warsaw is Bar Prasowy (Marszałkowska 10/16). Varsovians have visited Bar Prasowy for over 60 years, making it one of the longest-standing milk bars in the city.
Bar Prasowy is most famous for its pierogi, an Eastern European dumpling stuffed with various fillings. Eating these delicious treats is, truthfully, one of the best reasons to visit Poland!
Coming from a Ukrainian family, I could blame my slightly pudgy childhood belly on stuffing my face with homemade pierogi far too often. The pierogi at Bar Prasowy gives Eastern European grandmothers a run for their money.
Unlike many other milk bars in Warsaw, Bar Prasowy rustles up their pierogi to order. The extra wait-time is more than compensated once the deliciously doughy delight reaches your lips.
A few of the best pierogi varieties at Bar Prasowy include:
- Pierogi z mięsem. Filled with meat.
- Pierogi z kapustą. Filled with sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) and mushrooms.
- Pierogi ruskie. Classic Russian-style dumpling filled with a potato and cheese filling. (My fav—yum!)
- Pierogi z jagodami. Filled with blueberries.
- Pierogi z truskawkami. Filled with strawberries.
Getting to Bar Prosowy
The milk bar sits at Marszałkowska 10/16, a major north-south avenue that runs in front of the Palace of Culture & Science. From there, it’s a 2.5-kilometre walk (about 30 minutes) down Marszałkowska. Alternatively, take a tram, bus or metro from Centrum to get to Bar Prasowy in about 10 to 20 minutes.
Explore Warsaw further: A quick list of more things to see & do
Need some more ideas for things to see & do in Warsaw? Check out some of these other cool tourist attractions in Warsaw…
- Warsaw Poster Museum. ul. Stanisława Kostki Potockiego 10/16. A cool museum on the grounds of Wilanow Palace that houses the world’s largest collection of artistic posters. Free admission on Mondays.
- Fryderyk Chopin Museum. ul. Okólnik 1. An interactive museum dedicated to Poland’s most famous composer. The 5,000 artefacts make the Chopin Museum one of the most detailed of its kind in Europe. Free admission on Sundays.
- Pawiak Prison Museum. ul. Dzielna 24/26. A 19th-century Imperial Russian prison that was infamously resurrected under the Nazis. The memorial museum gives insight into the lives of the over 100,000 political prisoners who suffered in Pawiak’s horrendous conditions. Museum is closed on Monday and Tuesday. Admission free on Thursdays.
- St. John’s Archcathedral. ul. Świętojańska 8. A beautifully reconstructed 14th-century Brick Gothic Cathedral in the heart of Old Town. Holds a special place in Polish history as a coronation site and burial grounds for several noteworthy Poles.
- St. Anne’s Church. ul. Krakowskie Przedmieście 68. One of the only historic buildings in central Warsaw to survive World War II mostly intact. The church’s neoclassical façade, dating back to the late-18th century, betrays a Baroque interior that’s tastefully adorned with stunning frescoes. Climb the bell tower for epic views over Warsaw’s Old Town.
- Copernicus Science Centre. ul. Wybrzeże Kościuszkowskie 20. One of the best science museums on the entire continent. The interactive exhibits drive excitement for kids and adults alike.
- Block 10 Museum. ul. Skazańców 25. A museum in the Warsaw Citadel that was once the wing of a political prison.
- Warsaw Jewish Cemetery. ul. Okopowa 49/51. A haunting burial ground dating back to the early 19th century that’s home to about 250,000 tombs.
- National Museum in Warsaw. Al. Jerozolimskie 3. The largest art museum in Warsaw featuring the works of European Old Masters from 15th to 18th centuries and an unsurprisingly large collection of Polish art. The Gallery of Medieval art here is one of the biggest collections of its kind in the world. Admission on Tuesdays is free (20zł otherwise).
- Saxon Garden. ul. Marszałkowska. A massive public garden that’s the oldest public park in Warsaw, and one of the oldest in the world. The garden was once part of Saski Palace complex, which was destroyed during WWII. The only surviving part of the palace from the early-20th century is the post-WWI Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
- Galeria Forty/Forty. Fort Bema. A lesser-known art gallery occupying a 100-year-old abandoned fortress to the northwest of Srodmiescie. The walls of the fort are ever-changing with new street art from local artists being added voraciously. You’ll probably need to ask locals for directions as this gallery can be a little hard to find.
- Klub Hydrozagadka. 11 Listopada 22. One of the wildest concert venues in the city situated in the district of Praga.
- Keret House. Zelazna 16. One of Warsaw’s quirkiest places to visit, this art installation/residence holds title as the world’s skinniest home. With just 46 square feet of living space and one area measuring just 28 inches wide, this unique attraction beg to be seen—unless you suffer from extreme claustrophobia of course!
- Warsaw Zoological Garden. Ratuszowa 1/3. Better known as Warsaw Zoo, this attraction in Praga district gets over a million visitors a year to make it one of Europe’s busiest. Besides the wide variety of animals, the zoo is famous for serving as a sanctuary (much like Schindler’s Factory in Krakow) for Jews escaping the horrendous conditions of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.
Where to stay: The best hotels for sightseeing in Warsaw
Despite the size of the city, sorting among the best places to stay in Warsaw isn’t such a problem for travellers. For sightseeing in Warsaw, staying in central areas like Srodmiescie and Stare Miasto (Old Town) will be your best bet to get close to all the action. In these areas, you’ll not only find a bulk of the top things to see in Warsaw, but some of the city’s best restaurants, bars, and clubs.
Not sure where to start? Here are a few of the best hotels in Warsaw:
- ibis Styles Warszawa Centrum: One of the best places to stay in Warsaw on a budget, this stylish & colourful hotel will keep you energized for checking out all the city’s top attractions, many of which are within walking distance.
- Hotel Indigo Warsaw Nowy Świat: When you’ve got a little more to spend, you can’t go wrong with this hip mid-range hotel in the happenin’ Nowy Swiat area in Srodmiescie where you’ll find a multitude of fantastic restaurants & bar for your Warsaw entertainment pleasure.
- InterContinental Warszawa: The ultimate Polish luxury, this 5-star hotel will knock your socks off with its ultra-modern room and luxurious amenities, especially the 43rd-floor indoor pool that features epic views of the Warsaw skyline.
Where to go in Warsaw: A summary of the top points of interest
Still can’t decide what to do in Warsaw? Get inspired with these few final ideas:
- Armchair World War II historian? Nothing will stir you up more than a visit to the Warsaw Uprising Museum.
- Can’t get enough Polish food? Get in line for some of the city’s best pierogi at Bar Prasowy, one of Warsaw’s coolest “milk bars.”
- Seeking classic European charm? Look no further than Old Town, Warsaw’s prettiest quarter that exudes the magnificence that Central European cities are famous for.
- Want to get off the typical tourist track? Head across the Vistula to up-and-coming Praga for a rough-around-the-edges glimpse at the Warsaw of old.