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 Poland’s capital 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. Here’s my guide to a few of the most captivating Warsaw attractions:
Table of Contents
- Planning out what to do Warsaw? Here are the top 10 things to do in Warsaw, Poland.
- Other Warsaw attractions & places to visit in Warsaw
- Summary: The best things to do in Warsaw, Poland
Planning out what to do Warsaw? Here are the top 10 things to do in Warsaw, Poland.
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, plenty other cool Warsaw 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
Warsaw’s reputation as an unsightly and bleak city is completely shattered the moment you first enter Old Town. 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. 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.
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 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 & 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.
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 movements 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. 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 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 plac Zamkowy, one of the main squares of the historic quarter. Walking straight up Krakowskie Przedmieście, 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 a memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (in the former Warsaw Ghetto, to boot) or the building’s radical postmodern design, everything 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. 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 the 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. 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.
Other Warsaw attractions & places to visit in Warsaw
Need some more ideas for things to do in Warsaw? Check out some of these other cool Warsaw attractions:
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
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.
Copernicus Science Centre
Block 10 Museum
ul. Skazańców 25. A museum in the Warsaw Citadel that was once the wing of a political prison.
Warsaw Jewish Cemetery
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. Tuesdays are free.
Summary: The best things to do in Warsaw, Poland
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.