Warsaw, the eclectic capital of Poland, stands out among the country’s many historic cities with its unique mix of tradition and modernity. Throughout the centuries, it was able to transcend the many tragedies and blows from the past and transform them into sights and stories that make the living, breathing city one of the most compelling European capitals. Spread out and marked by diversity, Warsaw’s neighborhoods are like a trip back in time. You’ll see restored Gothic architectural marvels standing side-by-side with concrete communist building blocks and modern skyscrapers. This is very much a city of art, of culture, of Chopin’s music, but also a city marked by the tragedy of the Jewish ghetto and the devastating consequences of WWII. It is all on display here, so one day in Warsaw will always be a profound experience.
WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT WARSAW?
Warsaw lives a life of its own and is certainly not dependent on tourism like many other popular destinations. With the largest university in Poland located here, not to mention the many businesses and industries, the city’s bars, restaurants, nightclubs, museums, and galleries are all open year-round.
That said, owing to the pleasant temperatures in summer, the months between June and August constitute the city’s peak season and are widely regarded as the best time to visit Warsaw. If you are just on the lookout for things to do in Warsaw proper, without leaving the city, and especially if you plan to stay indoors, the winter months are also a good choice due to the discounted accommodation rates and lower flight costs.
As for the events, the magical Christmas market in December is for many the best time to visit if you plan on spending just one day in Warsaw. The Warsaw Carnival is one big party, and on April 19 you will see people commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Interestingly, the city has festivals dedicated to Mozart and Beethoven, and Midsummer’s Eve (known as Slaska Noc Swietojanska) is also celebrated loudly every year. Definitely, plenty to choose from!
A FEW FACTS ABOUT WARSAW
Warsaw, or Warszawa as the Polish would call it, is a city of 1.8 million people spread across an area of 517 square kilometers (200 square miles). The Vistula River (the longest river in Poland, rising at Barania Góra in the south) cuts the city in half, roughly northwest to southeast.
The city rose to prominence in the 16th century, after being incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland in 1526 and the Sejm (the Polish Parliament) started meeting there after 1569. World War II was a particularly dark time for Warsaw, as it suffered more than most European cities. It was basically completely leveled to the ground by frequent bombing raids. After the war, it was slowly rebuilt using archive footage and 18th-century paintings.
Warsaw Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the oldest part of the city, established in the 13th century. Its Old Town Marketplace is the most prominent section of the historic area. When it comes to famous people born in Warsaw, Maria Skłodowska-Curie certainly stands out, in addition to Frédéric Chopin, Władysław Szpilman, and others.
ONE DAY IN WARSAW ITINERARY
Welcome to Warsaw, a truly fascinating city steeped in history! You will be able to enjoy incredible culture, wonderful architecture and generally get to know a city where so many world greats were born. However, if you’re spending only one day in Warsaw, you will need a good itinerary, and this one is exactly what you need. These are the top sights and things in Warsaw, so go ahead and enjoy!
Start Your Trip at Lazienki Park
You don’t have to start too early, but seeing as you have only one day in Warsaw, make your way to Lazienki Park around 8 AM. This should get your tour of the city off to a good start. By far the largest public park in Warsaw, Lazienki Park is located right in the center of the city.
When it was first built in the 1600s, it served as a bath park. However, King Stanislaw August then recreated it as his personal summer retreat. And the remarkable historical architecture surrounded by beautiful, well-maintained green spaces really is fit for a king. The park houses a large number of neoclassical and Baroque buildings, some of which have been repurposed as museums. Examples include the Myślewicki Palace, the park’s amphitheater, and the beautiful Palace on the Isle.
Tour the Palace on the Isle
After spending the first thirty minutes exploring the park, pay a visit to the Palace on the Isle, located in the middle of a small lake in the center of the park. The 18th-century Palace was originally a bathhouse pavilion, but it was soon repurposed as the king’s summer palace.
Sitting on top of an artificial island, the palace is marked by two distinct architectural styles. The Corinthian columns and the opulence of the interior are great examples of Polish Baroque architecture, with later neoclassical additions. There is a museum inside, allowing you to tour the lavishly decorated rooms and see the extensive royal art collection. This includes 6 paintings by Rembrandt and a well-known series of paintings that depict King Stanisław Augustus as the wise biblical king Solomon.
Visit the Palace of Culture and Science and Enjoy Sweeping Views of the City
Parade Square, or Plac Defilad in Polish, is one of Warsaw’s central squares, located in the city’s downtown area. While it is a fairly new square, built in the 1950s, it is one of the largest squares not only in Poland, but in the whole world. In the EU, only Alexanderplatz in Berlin is larger.
The square’s star attraction is the Palace of Culture and Science, a masterpiece of Soviet architecture erected at the same time when the square was built. Take a few minutes to explore the square before entering the palace commissioned by Stalin himself as a gift to Poland from the Soviets.
Even today, the tower is the tallest building in the country. It has cinemas, libraries, concert halls, and auditoriums that host thousands of people every day. You will want to get to the 30th floor and enjoy incredible views of Warsaw from the large terrace. An unmissable historic landmark and an iconic example of Soviet architecture, the Palace of Culture and Science is one of the best things to see in Warsaw.
Explore the Warsaw Uprising Museum
The Warsaw Uprising Museum is located approximately 2 km east of the Palace of Culture and Science. To get there, it will take you 10 minutes max by bus (4 stops), or 25 minutes on foot. So, if the weather is nice, why not enjoy a nice walk through the city?
The Warsaw Uprising Museum, one of the most popular museums in Poland, documents the history and displays artifacts from the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. This was a major operation by the Polish underground resistance in WWII. The Uprising was ultimately unsuccessful, even after 63 days of constant fighting. In retaliation, the Nazis systematically executed both Polish citizens and the Jews they were harboring, in addition to razing the city. A total of 16,000 members of the Polish resistance were killed, with 200,000 civilian casualties from mass executions. It is estimated that 85% of the city was completely destroyed.
It was the largest and the most heroic effort undertaken by a European resistance movement in WWII. Spend a couple of hours at the museum to understand the desperation that led to the uprising, as well as the catastrophic consequences. The ground floor contains an exact replica of a B24 Liberator bomber, while the second floor is full of photographs documenting the extent of the destruction that followed.
Grab a Bite to Eat at the European Square
After touring the museum, take a short 5-minute walk and explore the European Square across the street. It is a lovely green city park/square with a fountain resembling a mountain spring. Modern office buildings surround the square, and there is a number of great restaurants to choose from.
Among them, STIXX Bar & Grill stands out with its diverse selection of dishes from all over the world. It has a stylish, yet energetic and entertaining vibe. Their steaks are amazing, although you can just go for a veggie hotdog or a regular hamburger with a view of the gorgeous Warsaw Spire building.
The nearby Wabu Sushi Bar & Japanese Tapas is a good alternative if you’re a fan of sushi. Here, you will enjoy sophisticated flavors paired with excellent wines and champagnes. There is a lot of customization available, so you can easily create the perfect meal.
Soul Kitchen is not too far away either, and this great restaurant serves some excellent Polish dishes. It has a nice patio too, so you can enjoy some people-watching along with a delicious meal.
Check Out the Copernicus Science Centre
When it comes to things to do in Warsaw, visiting the Copernicus Science Centre tops the list. The Centre, funded by the European Union, is a stunning modern museum with a number of unique attractions. These include an interactive humanoid robot and exciting thematic areas with experiments and exhibitions including a real flying carpet, a spaceship you can pilot, and four interactive labs covering physics, chemistry, biology, and robotics.
The Copernicus Science Centre is certainly exciting, especially if you are visiting Warsaw with kids, so definitely consider visiting it if this is a family trip for you.
For those who would prefer to see something a little bit different, there are a couple of options in the vicinity. One of them is the Frederic Chopin Museum, set in a gorgeous renovated 17th-century villa. The other one, right next door to the Science Centre, is the Museum of Modern Art. It has hundreds of works of art by renowned contemporary Polish and international artists.
Feel free to set aside an hour or two at one of the museums, but don’t spend the entire afternoon there, since the Warsaw Royal Castle closes at 6 PM.
Take a Short Walk to the Old Town and Tour the Warsaw Royal Castle
The Warsaw Royal Castle is located in the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Warsaw Old Town, a relatively small, but ancient section of the city on the banks of the Vistula River. The area by the river is very nice and modern, with paved walking trails, cafés, restaurants, and a long sandy beach halfway between the castle and the science museum.
So, take the 15-minute walk to the Warsaw Old Town and visit the Royal Castle, a beautifully reconstructed palace from the 14th century. In the beginning, the castle was just a simple tower with a couple of wooden buildings. In the 16th century, however, King Sigismund III modernized it, giving it the form we see today.
The royal apartments, especially the king’s chambers, are a real gem, with brightly painted walls and lavish furnishings. The throne room is equally impressive, as well as the Great Assembly Hall, which has been completely restored to its 18th-century glory. This includes the ornate crystal chandeliers and the golden columns. A jaw-droppingly beautiful place!
Spend Some Time at the Warsaw Old Town Market Square
Located just 150 m northwest of the Warsaw Royal Castle, the Warsaw Old Town Market Square is as old as the city itself. The square stood there from the 13th century until it was destroyed in 1944. It was rebuilt after the war, together with the colorful burgher houses, in line with the original architectural styles.
Some of the major landmarks here include the 19th-century water pumps, the Syrenka (bronze mermaid monument dating back to 1855), the Adam Michkiewicz Museum, and the Museum of Warsaw. So, you can do some more sightseeing or take a well-deserved break at one of the charming coffee shops.
Move on to the Multimedia Fountain Park
Located less than 500 m from the Warsaw Old Town Market Square, the Multimedia Fountain Park. Built in 2011, this is an expansive fountain complex overlooking the river. After dark, the fountains create an impressive audio-visual show, combining light effects, sound, music, and 376 water jets into one impressive, widely acclaimed spectacle.
If you want to see the show, you can stay at one of the Old Town coffee shops until after dark and head there. However, you may want to go there earlier for a chance to also see the Warsaw Barbican during the day. The Warsaw Barbican is a large section of Warsaw’s 16th-century castle defense wall. Like the rest of the area, it was reconstructed after the war and is now among the most interesting things to see in Warsaw, especially its large, tall towers and beautiful arches.
Try Traditional Polish Dishes in One of the Nearby Restaurants
While a quick snack or a simple dish may do the trick for lunch, come dinnertime, you’ll want to treat yourself to a real Polish dinner near the beautiful Warsaw Old Town.
Podwale 25, facing the Warsaw Barbican, is a great local restaurant with a warm, pub-like atmosphere and hearty traditional Polish dishes. The restaurant is extremely popular thanks to its great menu selection, generous portions, and fair prices. Live music is also sometimes a part of the experience.
Restauracja Zapiecek, located in the same area, specializes in traditional sweet or savory Polish dumplings. In addition, there are other delicious dishes such as the tasty “bigos”, superb pierogi, excellent Polish sausages, and the best potato pancakes in town.
Choose a Local Bar for an Enjoyable Night Out
If cigars and cocktails are your thing, especially if you don’t want to leave the Old Town, then pay a visit to Podwale Bar and Books after dinner. Amazingly decorated, classy, and convenient, the bar serves rare whiskeys and great cocktails to the tune of live jazz music. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Level 27 is a bit more stylish and modern, a typical nightclub. It guarantees a “Higher level of clubbing”, according to their official slogan. And it’s not all talk, either! Level 27 is an official member of THE WORLD’S FINEST CLUBS, meaning it’s one of the world’s best nightclubs!
WHERE TO STAY IN WARSAW?
Emilii Plater 49, Sródmiescie, 00-125 Warsaw
Tall, lean, and elegant, InterContinental Warszawa is more than just a hotel. It is also a major landmark of the city and one of the tallest buildings in Warsaw. Many of the hotel’s luxurious, air-conditioned rooms offer unobstructed views of the magnificent Palace of Culture and Science. Enjoy the hotel’s state-of-the-art spa center or its large indoor pool, with the city in the palm of your hand. While the hotel’s premier location is certainly an important strong point, it is not the only one. The fresh, modern design, the large windows, the abundance of natural light, and the numerous modern amenities are just a part of what you get here. The excellent on-site restaurant, for example, recognized by the reputable Michelin Guide, will provide a great dining experience.
Novotel Warszawa Centrum
Marszałkowska 94/98, Sródmiescie, 00-510 Warsaw
The centrally-located Novotel Warszawa Centrum is one of the most popular and sought-after hotels in Warsaw, and rightfully so. Stylish, welcoming, and forward-thinking, this modern hotel also offers spectacular panoramic views of the city. The top floor is particularly attractive, with the hotel’s Wellness Center and sauna. The great location near the metro station and numerous bus lines is certainly a plus, and you will love the well-appointed, spacious rooms and the hearty, comprehensive breakfast with a wide range of options to choose from.
Sound Garden Hotel Airport
Żwirki i Wigury 18, Wlochy, 02-092 Warsaw
If you are spending just one day in Warsaw, the Sound Garden Hotel Airport stands out as an excellent choice due to its amazing location only 5 minutes from arrivals. The rooms are on the smaller side, but are beautifully decorated and very cozy. The gorgeous bathrooms and the clever, efficient bedroom layout are a real highlight. The whole hotel is based on the principle of conserving water and energy, something that certainly has to be commended. Modern, convenient, and very comfortable, this is a great hotel if you want easy access to Warsaw airport.
a&o Warsaw Wola
Marcina Kasprzaka 18/20, Wola, 01-211 Warsaw
If you’re looking for a hostel in Warsaw, look no further than a&o Warsaw Wola. Perfectly clean, very comfortable, and within walking distance from some of the most important sights, it is a great place to stay when visiting the city. There is a bus stop in front of the hostel too, so you can easily explore. Even pets are allowed! Thousands of tourists and backpackers have already stayed here and loved it. You will, too!
DAY TRIPS FROM WARSAW
There are a number of day trips from Warsaw you can take if you want to explore Poland. The country’s fascinating culture and history will always leave a strong impression, wherever you go. However, there are some day trip destinations that offer a more profound and enlightening experience. If you have a day to spare while in Warsaw, here are a few places that are definitely worth visiting.
Another great Polish city, Krakow is about two and a half hours away from Warsaw by high-speed train. It too is full of fascinating architecture and intriguing history, with the wonderful Wawel Castle rising above you. The abundant street art and sculpture will only enhance the illustrious vibe the city gives out. Truly, one day in Krakow is a day well spent, no matter how you slice it!
Treblinka is a name that makes anyone who knows a bit about WWII shiver with dread. One of the most notorious concentration camps operated by Nazi Germany, this is the place where hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered. Approximately 80 kilometers from Warsaw, the camp is a stark reminder of the cruelty humans are capable of and showcases one of the biggest tragedies in human history.
Lublin is a city less than two hours from Warsaw, which makes it a fairly convenient destination for a day trip from Warsaw. There is plenty to see here, and listing all the sights in this short paragraph is simply not possible. However, places like the Lublin Castle and the Lublin Village Open Air Museum certainly deserve a place here. Do take some time for a walk through the city’s old town – it’s simply magical!
Masurian Lake District
If you’re looking for a day trip from Warsaw that will show you Poland’s natural beauties, go to Masurian Lake District! The nature here is simply stunning and the town of Olsztynek quite charming. You can hike, rent a bike, or go on a guided tour. Whatever you choose, the breathtaking beauty of the lakes and the forests will leave a lasting impression. Ideal for relaxing and recharging batteries far away from city life.
EXTRA TIPS FOR VISITING WARSAW
-You are expected to follow a certain dress code emphasizing decency when visiting religious sites such as churches and cathedrals. Poland is still quite traditional when it comes to religion. After all, one of the most famous popes in modern history came from Poland.
-While taking photos is often permitted, you will often have to turn off your flash or pay a small fee if you want to snap a couple of shots.
-Always have a copy of your identity document on you, but keep other documents and valuables you don’t need locked in a safe in your hotel room.
-Tipping is not mandatory, but it is certainly customary. You don’t have to tip taxi drivers, but waiters do typically receive a 10% tip.
PIN FOR LATER!
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Anca is a travel writer and the founder of One Day Itinerary - the biggest collection of travel itineraries for those who are time-limited or just want to maximize their time while traveling. Although she easily becomes homesick for Croatia, she thinks travel is essential to her happiness. She has traveled to more countries than she is years old and doesn’t plan on changing that fact. In her travel guides she aims to inspire people to travel whenever they have a spare day (or two).