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The Traveller's Magazine
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Liked the post about Kiev? Well, lets jump to another host city for one of next year’s top sporting events: Warsaw, the capital of Poland. The capital is ready to give a warm welcome to football fans from around Europe, are you ready?

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What to see in Warsaw

Looking back...

Beautiful and glorious: Warsaw seems to be just that at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, a city at its absolute height of importance, a metropolis in Europe known locally as the “Paris of the North” with its tree-lined avenues, literary cafés and culture central for the old continent.

Then came the Second World War: after being bombed by the Germans, Warsaw was never going to look the same. The city was, for the most part, destroyed. This didn’t stop the Poles from gathering up every single stone to rebuilt their capital, this time to suit the tastes of the Socialists. Today the Old Town still shines in all its glory, surrounded by a myriad of new buildings, including the Palace of Culture and Science.

Not to miss

Old Town (Stare Miasto)

As we said, this area was rebuilt by the Polish with great passion which renewed the city and gives visitors a glimpse of Warsaw’s earlier splendour. The reconstruction respected original city plans, even the use of the original material and architectural style. Let’s take a look at the essentials in this corner of the city:

  • Market Square (Rynek Starego Miasta): the heart of the Old Town. All the small roads converge here and is the perfect beginning to a perfect afternoon walk. On foot you can reach Castle Square where the Zamek stands. It was once a royal palace but today it is now one of the city’s finest museums with a number of important masterpieces inside.
  • Religious buildings: these are without a doubt the most beautiful buildings in the city and it would be unthinkable to come all the way to Warsaw and not visit the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in perfect Gothic form. Tired? Take a little break before heading over to the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Church of St. Hyacinth, two important examples of the Baroque style in the city.

Warsaw’s palaces

Zamek

Warsaw’s palaces are fine examples of beautiful architecture, built in a number of different styles which show that many artistic movements that swept through Europe actually arrived quite a bit later in Poland than in western Europe which is why you’ll see such a mix of styles and influences around the city. The result is nothing but captivating.

  • Wilanow Palace: this is probably the most beautiful palace in the whole country, from the aesthetic point of things. From the outside you’ll see where the Italians had an effect on the design. The English and Oriental influences can be found inside, in the different motifs. The palace houses one of the country’s most impressive collections of paintings. Don’t miss the exterior gardens as well.
  • Palace of Culture and Science: this was a gift from the Soviet Union to Poland, built in just 3 years with the help of thousands of workers. When communism collapsed in the 1980s the Polish government discussed at length what should be done with the building. They decided to transform it into a major tourist attraction, making it also the highest building in the country.
  • Water Palace: located in the wonderful Lazienki Park, you can also visit a number of other neoclassic buildings nearby including a theatre which stands on an artificial island in the middle of this enchanting park.

Other areas of interest

Warsaw towers

Warsaw is a very multi-faceted city with ample opportunities to experience a journey within a journey, visiting some of these interesting neighbourhoods that can take you back in time.

Jewish Ghetto: this area of Warsaw is now home to one of the biggest Jewish communities in a previously Nazi-occupied European country. The past is tainted red; many Jews were taken from here to the nearby concentration camps. The Jewish Ghetto isn’t a sombre stop on the tourist trail, it shows what’s possible after an atrocity. Nozyk Synagogue: for many with Polish ancestors who were killed during the Second World War this is a site of pilgrimage where the fallen are memorialized in the Jewish Cemetery.

Praga Quarter: the area beyond the Vistula, on the right bank, was separated from Warsaw for more than three centuries. It was a city in itself, part of which was hardly touched by the German’s bombs. While Warsaw grew and expanded, the residents in Praga just watched, staying close to their humble roots and never straying too far from their river-side homes.

Warsaw by night

The sun slowly disappears beyond the horizon and the atmosphere of the city takes a 180° turn. Warsaw’s nightlife offers travellers a little bit of everything. What kind of party or experience are you looking for? Let’s take a closer look.

Bars

  • Chlodna 25. If you like the more alternative/bohemian vibe then head here. The place has hugely been neglected but the locals like its laid back, grunge vibe. Get here early because it’s packed on weekends with the local crowd. Address: 75a, ul. Zelazna
  • Praga Port. Looking for something a little more refined? Cocktails, high-heels and collared shirts. As the name suggests, you’ll find this chic place in Praga. Address: 23, ul. Stefana Okrzei

Nightclubs

  • Piekarnia. Part of being the coolest club in town means that this place is really busy on weekends. Theme nights are a real hit! Some of the best DJs from both the European and the international circuit come to spin their discs here. Address: 11, ul. Młocinska
  • Platinum. As the name suggests, Platinum is quite exclusive. The nightclub spreads out on two floors, giving the perfect setting for an intimate and luxurious evening. If you’re set to impress your date, bring them here after a couple of cocktails at Praga Port. Address: 6, ul. Fredry

Other tips

City of Warsaw

Warsaw is both quiet and hospitable but as in most major cities there are a few areas that are worth staying away from as a foreigner at night. Avoid the small and narrow streets of Praga when the sun sets. Unfortunately this is an area with a rising number of petty crimes like theft and muggings. Better to keep your eyes open and walk with a group.

As for taxis, make sure your driver has a well-displayed licence and that the meter is turned on right away. In general, it’s better to take a taxi back to your hotel in Warsaw than to walk at night.

In Warsaw’s tourist areas you won’t have a problem getting around and asking for directions in English however if you plan to explore other areas of Poland and even the capital, pick up a simple Polish phrase book before you go with an English/Polish and Polish/English glossary in the back.

Getting to Warsaw for cheap

The only low cost airline connecting London to Warsaw is Wizz Air although if you search far enough in advance you’ll find that regular airlines match, sometimes even beat, Wizz Air’s prices. Try Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa or Brussels Air.

Have you ever been to Poland? Are you planning on seeing some of next year’s Euro 2012 matches in Warsaw?

Imgs: Ahorcado, elektronhjarnan, tripsoverpoland, Logofag / Flickr cc.


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