Warsaw is Poland’s capital and largest city, lying on the Vistula River in the central part of the country. It is located around 360 km south of the Baltic Sea and 300 km from the Carpathian Mountains and is the political, economic, scientific and cultural center of the country. The city boasts numerous museums, galleries, attractions and monuments. It is also home to diverse restaurants and open-air cafes and a lively nightlife.
Warsaw suffered extensive damage during WW II; as much as 85% of the city was destroyed and the majority of population killed, were deported to concentration camps or were made to flee. After the war the old town center was meticulously recreated to appear just as it had in the 17th and 18th centuries. The work was completed in 1980 to much international acclaim, gaining a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The Vistula River divides the city into two; the western part is comprised of the Old Town and the modern city center. In the east, however, there is mostly unremarkable suburbs and industrial zones. Thus the city is an unusual mix of charming churches, castles, palaces, restored old town and green parks and grey concrete Soviet-style architecture.
Warsaw has a humid continental climate. It has four distinct seasons. Winters tend to be cold with average temperatures around -3 °C. Summer temperatures often reach 30 °C. July experiences the most precipitation. The weather in spring and autumn is moderate and sunny and therefore the most pleasant.
January average temperature -1 deg Celsius 28 mm rainfall February average temperature -1 deg Celsius, 25 mm rainfall March average temperature 2 deg Celsius, 30 mm rainfall April average temperature 7 deg Celsius, 38 mm rainfall May average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 51 mm rainfall June average temperature 16 deg Celsius, 66 mm rainfall July average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 76 mm rainfall August average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 71 mm rainfall September average temperature 13 deg Celsius, 46 mm rainfall October average temperature 8 deg Celsius, 41 mm rainfall November average temperature 2 deg Celsius, 38 mm rainfall December average temperature 0 deg Celsius, 36 mm rainfall
Warsaw Frederic Chopin Airport is located 10 km south of the city center and handles all domestic and international air traffic.
Bus: line #175 connects the airport with the central bus station in the city. The ride takes 30 – 45 minutes, depending on the traffic conditions. It is by far the cheapest transfer. Tickets must be bought before boarding and validated once onboard.
Taxi: Taxis hired inside the terminal tend to over-inflate their prices. A better option is to choose among the airport recommended companies, their cabs are located near the exit of terminal 1. Taxis can also ordered by phone.
The Old Town can be easily explored on foot as its attractions are all within easy walking distance.
Trams are safe, cheap, reliable and easily understandable – not to mention scenic - but get crowded during peak hours. There are 30 tram lines that operate between 5:00 am and 11:00 pm.
Route T is a special sightseeing route that operates during July and August. It runs from Narutowicza Square to the Zoo. The sightseeing tram operates between 11 am and 7 pm and departs every 40 minutes.
The bus network is extensive. The services operate from 5:00 am to 11:00 pm. Tickets for both buses and trams can be bought at kiosks and must be validated once onboard the vehicle.
The Metro system has one line and runs every five minutes. Services operate from morning to midnight, Fridays and Saturdays until 3:00 am. It is mostly useful for commuters and not so much for sightseeing. Web: www.metro.waw.pl/
Taxis are metered and can be ordered by phone or hailed in the street. The ordered taxis are cheaper.
During the summer only, Warsaw gets its very own beach, several hundred meters of sand and fun under the sun. It features lawn chairs, wicker baskets, volleyball and badminton fields. In the evening concerts and DJ parties are held. There is a great view of the Old Town from the beach. The city features two other beaches on the River, namely on the Cypel Czerniakowski and Wał Miedzeszyński Street.
The Old Town was almost completely ruined after WW II and was later meticulously reconstructed in the original 17th and 18th century style. It is a wonderful place to spend a few hours, wondering around the cobbled streets, sitting down in one of its numerous open air cafés ad restaurants. The focal point is the Old Market Square (Rynek), which is said to be one of Europe’s most beautiful city squares, surrounded by colorful buildings with Baroque and Renaissance facades.
THE ROYAL CASTLE (ZAMEK KRÓLEWSKI)
Address: Plac Zamkovy 4 Phone: (022) 355 5170. Web: http://www.zamek-krolewski.com.pl Open: Tuesday – Saturday: 10:00 am -6:00 pm, Sunday and Monday: 11:00 am -6:00 pm
The castle has come to symbolize Warsaw’s resurrection from the ashes of WW II. It was rebuilt between 1971 and 1977. The interior is lavishly decorated with tapestries, period furniture and art pieces.
The castle is set on a plateau overlooking the Vistula River and was the seat of the Polish kings from the 17th to the 18th century. Later it housed the parliament and today it serves as a museum.
THE ROYAL WAY
The Royal Way is a 4 km long thoroughfare stretching from The Royal Castle in the Old Town, to the King's palace at Wilanów lying on the outskirts of the city. It is lined with galleries, museums and prominent historical buildings and green parks. The Royal Way ends at the Wilanów Palace.
The park is one of the most beautiful open green spaces in Warsaw and can be found en route along the Royal Way. It features several palaces, among which is the charming 18th-century Palace upon the Water, the royal summer residence, as well as the Pałac Belweder (Belvedere Palace) which was once the residence of King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski and was later used by the Polish presidents during the 20th century. The park is home to the Chopin Monument, dedicated to the famous Polish composer. It is here that the annual summer Chopin Festival is held every year from June to August, featuring free concerts and recitals every Sunday twice daily. The park also features several lakes, peacocks and other wildlife.
Address: Ulica Wiertnicza 1 Phone: (022) 842 8101. Web: http://www.wilanow-palac.art.pl Open: Mon, Wed, Sat 9:30 am – 6:30 pm; Tues, Thur, Fri 09:30 am – 4:30 pm; Sun 10:30 am -6:30 pm.
The Baroque palace was built in the mid 1600s for King Jan III Sobieski as his summer residence. Its design was inspired by Versailles. The palace was one of the few to remain intact by the ravages of WW II and is one of the most beautiful buildings in Warsaw. The complex features the palace, gardens and landscaped park which are all maintained as a state museum.
The Wilanów Park comprises 45 hectares of gardens of various styles: a two-level Baroque garden, a neo-Renaissance rose garden, an English landscape park and an English-Chinese landscape park. Also featured is the Orangerie, housing an art gallery, and Chinese Pavilion.
HISTORICAL MUSEUM OF WARSAW
Address: Old Town Square 28-42 Web: www.mhw.pl/mhw/intro.jsp?place=Menu01&news_cat_id=-1&layout=0 Phone: (0)22 635 1625 Open: Tuesday and Thursday: 11:00 am – 6:00 pm, Wednesday and Friday 10:00 am – 3:30 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10:30 am – 4:30pm. Mondays closed
This is one of Warsaw’s best museums, featuring exhibits from all the eras of the city’s development, up to the present date. There are 60 rooms where maps, historic documents, photos and paintings depict the city’s history. The museum also screens a documentary movie of the city’s destruction and reconstruction, featuring original footage taken by the Nazis during their planned destruction of the city. It plays every weekday at noon in English.
The Palace is Poland’s tallest building, built in the 1950s and was a gift from the Soviet Union to Poland. The building was designed according to Soviet plans by Soviet workers. It is the most visible landmark in the city and has been steeped in controversy since its beginning; many disliked it as it stood as the symbol of Stalin’s grip on the country. The building features offices, a concert hall, a cinema, an ice skating rink, a theatre and a viewing platform on the 30th floor that has a marvelous view of the city. The Palace has hosted numerous performances by famous international artists, among which were Marlene Dietrich, and Jacques Brel, as well as the Rolling Stones, who, performing in 1967, were the first major western rock group to play behind the Iron Curtain.
Location: between Towarowa, Okopowa, Slominskiego, Gen. Andersa, Swietokrzyska and Jana Pawla II Avenue
The Warsaw Jewish ghetto was the largest of its kind in all Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II. On November 16, 1940 the Nazis sealed off the ghetto by a high wall and armed guards so nobody could leave without permission. Most of the population were either killed or deported to concentration camps. There are many monuments and memorials in the district. The Jewish Historic Museum (Gen Andersa Street), the Jewish National Theatre, and Nozyk Synagogue (Grzybowska Street), Pawiak Prison (Jana Pawla II Street), UmschlagPlatz (Dzika Street), the Jewish Cemetery (Okopowa Street) and the Path of Remembrance (Lewartowskiego Street).
Warsaw has come a long way in the arena of gastronomic sophistication. Cuisines from around the world are becoming more easy to find and new restaurants are opening up everywhere in the city.
Dom Restauracyjny Gessler
Address: Old Town Sq 21/21A Phone: (022) 831 4427
The classiest restaurant in the Old Town, serving traditional Polish cuisine in two different settings: the cellar, reminiscent of a rustic inn and the ground floor, with a formal elegant setting. Reservations are recommended.
This trendy restaurant is located on the banks of the Vistula River, north of Old Town serving Mediterranean and Italian cuisine, with a stress on seafood. It features an open air terrace operating during the summer.
Address: Ulica Nowy Świat 19 Phone: (022) 826 6570. Web: http://www.sensecafe.com
The place boasts award winning design and atmosphere, serving fusion food inspired by Malaysia and Thailand and is also a popular cocktail bar at night.
A world renowned piano competition held every five years. The first took place in 1927 and was initiated by Jerzy Zurawlew, an outstanding Polish pianist, composer and pedagogue.
International Street Arts Festival (Sztuka Ulicy)
Date: June (annual) Location: various
The festival takes place around the Palace of Culture and Science and New Town Square. It was initiated in 1993 to offer an outlet for the artists not being shown in the city’s official galleries. Today the festival remains on the outskirts, cultivating an antagonist attitude towards the popular culture. It usually features interactive installations, happenings and performances.
Warsaw has a lively nightlife scene and bars and clubs abound.
The Old Town features many open air cafés and restaurants. A great area to go if you are in the mood for serious partying is the Praga district, where numerous clubs are burgeoning, especially art studios, galleries, alternative theaters and underground clubs, but note that the area is not considered safe to walk around alone at night.
There are virtually no restrictions on licensing hours so places tend to stay open to suit the mood. There are a few areas where nightlife is concentrated, such as Nowy Swiat Street, Foksal Street and the area surrounding Palace of Culture and Science. Many clubs have a strict dress policy so do not be surprised if you are turned away when you arrive in your sweat pants and tennis shoes. In general, most places are scattered around the city so moving from one place to another often means taking a cab.
Polish theater is well known for its diversity and there are numerous companies operating in Warsaw. The main establishments are the National Philharmonic Orchestra and the National Theater. Cultural season runs from September to July.
Polish Jazz has a very long tradition, it originated somewhere in the 1930’s, has survived communist repression when jazz was officially banned from the radio, and later flourished in the new found freedom. Jazz fans should mark their calendars for the Warsaw Summer Jazz Days, a music festival taking place during July and August, as well as the JVC Jazz Festival Warsaw in October.
Warsaw has a selection of movie theaters ranging from small establishments screening independent productions, to large cinema complexes featuring mainstream Hollywood productions. For current listings check out: http://repertuar.filmweb.pl/
The first traces of human settlement reach back to around 10,000 years ago. The first fortified settlements on the site of today’s Warsaw emerged in the 9th century as Brodno and in the 12th – 13th century as Jazdow. The Warsaw settlement was established around 1294 by Duke Boleslaw II, and became a regional capital in 1413, spreading past the confines of the town walls. At that time the famous Old Town square was built. The town was home to 4,500 people and was gaining prominence as an important crossroad of east - west trade routes, and the Black Sea trade. In the mid 16th century the town was absorbed into the Polish-Lithuanian state and was soon chosen to be the seat of the Parliament of the new republic. In 1596 King Sigismund III moved the capital from Krakow to Warsaw. It became the center of trade, finance and politics of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. The city’s prominent location as a crossroad to trade, however, started to become a liability. During the mid 17th century the Polish-Lithuanian state was subject to several invasions. It was devastated by the Swedes and occupied by the Russians several times during the 18th century. But Poland finally bloomed under Stanislaw August, the last king of Poland. By the 18th century the capital had grown to absorb districts across the river and develop into an important artistic and cultural center and population quadrupled, but after 1795 Warsaw fell to Prussia and its status was diminished to that of a provincial town. It was revived by Napoleon, who made a satellite state from where he launched his 1812 attack on Russia. After several rises and falls in fortune, Warsaw was once again the capital of an independent Polish state in 1918.
MODERN (20TH CENTURY)
On September 1, 1939 World War II broke out. Warsaw was the first major city to be hit by German air raids. On September 27, the city fell into German hands after heavy bombing and fierce artillery attacks. The Nazis then plundered the city, looted its treasures and oppressed the Polish and Jewish population. The Jews were squeezed into a ghetto; many were killed or deported to concentration camps. The 60,000 remaining Jews staged a three week resistance after which the ghetto was liquidated and most of its inhabitants killed. When the Russian army closed in on the city the Polish rose against the Germans, and finally defeated them. After the uprising the Germans deliberately demolished what remained of the city. Warsaw was liberated in January 1945 by Russian and Polish troops. Just before the war broke out the population of Warsaw numbered 1 million people. By the time the atrocities were over, only 162,000 survivors remained. After the war the battered capital was rebuilt according to the original plans of the city wherever possible, resurrecting its historical districts and buildings with meticulous diligence so as to salvage a shred of their past. In other parts of the city where this was not achieved, the city fell under the control of the USSR, which used the opportunity to impose its Soviet building style. Warsaw played a major role in the post-war division of Europe, hosting the 1955 military alliance known as the Warsaw Pact. Toward the end of 1970s, Warsaw was hit by an economic crisis and by 1989 the Communist era was coming to an end.
After the fall of Communism, Western investment flooded in. The city experienced a surge of development, resulting in a curious mixture of historic districts, massive Soviet architecture and shiny new skyscrapers.
Warsaw is a large city and as such has some crime but in general, it is a safe destination. Practice the usual precautions and keep alert for pickpockets and bag-snatchers especially on buses, crowded places and around tourist attractions. Bus line 175, connecting the airport to the city is reportedly pestered by pickpockets, so keep your eyes open.
Theft from cars is also prevalent. Do not leave anything valuable in the car, and keep your possessions out of sight. Do nor carry excess money with you or flash your valuables, rather store them in a hotel safe.
Do not go out alone at night. Some suggest that the Praga district can be a bit risky at night.
Soccer hooliganism and alcohol-related violence do occur, thus it us better to avoid Łazienki Park during and after a soccer match, because the Legia stadium is located nearby.
The Polish consume a lot of alcohol and drunks can sometimes be dangerous, so do not enter suburban areas or visit nightclubs alone. Avoid dark and lonely streets at night.
Emergency Phone Numbers
Police: 997 Firefighters: 998 Ambulance: 999 The general European emergency number is also operational: 112
Warsaw is the most pleasant during spring and autumn so the best months range from April to October. Summers are the most popular due to Warsaw’s rich cultural program of classical and jazz festivals and thus see the biggest number of visitors.