Warsaw, the eclectic capital of Poland, stands out among the country’s many historic cities with its unique mix of tradition and modernity, as well as its admirable ability 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 – with restored Gothic architectural marvels standing side-by-side with concrete communist building blocks and modern skyscrapers. Warsaw is 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, the good and the bad, the glory of the past, the lessons learned, and joys yet to be had.
WHAT’S THE BEST TIME TO VISIT WARSAW?
As the capital of Poland, Warsaw lives a life of its own, and is certainly not a slave to the fickleness of tourism like so many other popular destinations. With the largest university in the country being in Warsaw, 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. Not to mention the magical Christmas market in December, which is, for many visitors, the best time to visit if you plan on spending just one day in Warsaw.
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 it was 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 was hit harder than most European cities. It was basically completely levelled to the ground by frequent bombing raids. After the war, it was slowly rebuilt using archive footage and 18th century paintings. The Warsaw Old Town, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the oldest part of the city, established in the 13th century, with the Old Town Market Place being 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
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in Warsaw.
Start Your Trip at Lazienki Park
You don’t have to start your day too early, but seeing as you have only one day in Warsaw, making your way to Lazienki Park around 8 AM should get your tour of the city off to a good start. By far the largest public park in Warsaw, Lazienki Park is located in the center of the city. When it was first built in the 1600s, it served as a bath park, before King Stanislaw August recreated it as his personal summer retreat. Visiting Lazienki Park is one of the top things to do in Warsaw if you are interested in remarkable historical architecture surrounded by beautiful, well maintained green spaces. 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 a great example 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, which includes 6 paintings by Rembrandt and a well-known series of paintings which 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 very young 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 which was erected at the same time when the square was built. To get to the square, hop aboard bus number 171 from the Agrykola 02 station to Dworzec Centralny 12 (7 stops total). Take a few minutes to explore the massive square before entering the Palace of Culture and Science, which was commissioned by Stalin himself as a gift to Poland from the Soviets. Even today, the tower is the tallest building in the country, with cinemas, libraries, concert halls, and auditoriums that are used daily by thousands of people. You will want to get to the 30th floor and enjoy expansive panoramic 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. Every 5 minutes, there’s a bus (171 or 109) from Dworzec Centralny 12 station to Rondo Daszyńskiego 02, near the museum. To get there, it will take you 10 minutes max by bus (4 stops), or 25 minutes on foot. You shouldn’t spend too much time at the Palace of Culture and Science anyway, apart from the time spent at the terrace enjoying the view. The Warsaw Uprising Museum, one of the most popular museums in Poland, documents the history and displays artefacts from the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, a major operation by the Polish underground resistance. 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, and 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 about the catastrophic consequences. The ground floor contains an exact replica of a B24 Liberator bomber, while the second floor is filled with 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, a green city park/square with a fountain resembling a mountain spring. The square is surrounded by modern office buildings, with 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 and the 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. Whatever you choose, you can count on it being prepared with a no small amount of creativity and passion. The nearby Wabu Sushi Bar & Japanese Tapas is a good alternative for fans of sushi who enjoy sophisticated flavors paired with excellent wines and champagnes. There is a lot of customization here, allowing you to choose the exquisite fresh ingredients to suit your taste and individual needs.
Check Out the Copernicus Science Centre
When it comes to things to do in Warsaw, visiting the Copernicus Science Centre tops the list. After lunch, grab a taxi or take the subway from Rondo Daszyńskiego to Centrum Nauki Kopernik (approximately 7 minutes). The Copernicus Science Centre, funded by the European Union, is a stunning modern museum with a number of unique attractions, such as the interesting, interactive humanoid robot, and the 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. While the Copernicus Science Centre is certainly exciting, especially if you are visiting Warsaw with kids, it is very much your typical state-of-the-art interactive science museum.
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, with hundreds of works of art by renowned contemporary Polish and international artists. Feel free to set aside an hour or two at for one of the museums, but don’t spend the entire afternoon there, seeing as the Warsaw Royal Castle closes at 6 PM.
Take a Short Walk to Old Town Warsaw 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, approximately 1.5 km north of the Copernicus Science Centre. The area by the river is very nice and modern, with paved walking trails, cafés, restaurants, and a long sand beach halfway between the Warsaw Royal Castle and the science museum. Take the 15-minute walk to the Warsaw Old Town and visit the Royal Castle, a beautifully reconstructed palace dating back to the 14th century. In the beginning, the castle was just a simple tower with a couple of buildings made of wood. In the 16th century, it was updated and modernized by King Sigismund III, taking the form we see today. The royal apartments, especially the king’s chambers, are a true highlight of the Warsaw Royal Castle, 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, including the ornate crystal chandeliers and the golden columns. A tour of the castle costs 20-30 PLN, with Wednesday being admission-free as of September 2018.
Spend Some Time at the Warsaw Old Town Market Square
Located just 150 m northwest of the Warsaw Royal Castle past the royal cathedral, 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 at the Warsaw Old Town Market Square include the 19th-century water pumps, the Syrenka (bronze mermaid monument dating back to 1855), the Adam Michkiewicz Museum, and the Museum of Warsaw. Take your time admiring the intricate facades and the mermaid monument, or take a well-deserved break at one of the charming coffee shops.
Move on to the Multimedia Fountain Park
Located les than 500 m from the Warsaw Old Town Market Square, the Multimedia Fountain Park, built in 2011, 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 coffe shops until after dark and head there, although 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, when you are still in a hurry and trying to save time for all the different things to do in Warsaw, 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 adored not only by tourists, but also by the locals due to its great menu selection, generous portions, and fair prices. The service is impeccable – expect complimentary spirits at the end of your meal, and -if you’re lucky – live music, as well. Restauracja Zapiecek, located in the same area, specializes in traditional sweet or savory Polish dumplings, in addition to 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, and especially if you don’t want to leave the Warsaw Old Town, then pay a visit to Podwale Bar and Books after dinner. Amazingly decorated, classy, and conveniently located, the bar serves rare whiskeys and great cocktails to the tune of live jazz music playing in the background.
Level 27 is a bit more stylish and modern, essentially your typical night club, only one that guarantees a “Higher level of clubbing” according to their official slogan. And it’s not all talk, seeing as Level 27 is an official member of THE WORLD’S FINEST CLUBS, frequently topping the lists of the best nightclubs in the world.
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 a major landmark in the heart of the city, standing out as 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. When relaxing at the hotel’s state-of-the-art spa center or swimming in the large indoor pool, the city’s most recognizable point of interest seems to be within arm’s reach as you hover above the rooftops. 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, the numerous modern amenities, and the excellent on-site restaurant, recognized by the reputable Michelin Guide on a number of occasions, can be counted among InterContinental Warszawa’s other, equally important outstanding features.
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, especially from the top floor, where the property’s Wellness Center and sauna are located. The hotel’s great location near the metro station and numerous bus lines is certainly a plus, as are 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 top 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, indicating that Sound Garden Hotel Airport is a 21st-century property with 21st-century solutions and ideas in a city that is primarily famous for its history.
Targowa 76, Praga Pólnoc, 03-448 Warsaw
Artsy, airy, creative, and conveniently located mere meters from Dworzec Wileński Metro Station, Vava Hostel is one of the top choices in Warsaw for the budget traveler. Managed by two dreamers, an interior designer and an artist, who have both travelled the world, Vava Hostel is a product of their vision, with little details that set it apart from other properties of its type, including the life-saving kitchen, the comfy shared lounge, the delicious complimentary breakfast, and the friendly, helpful staff who treat all of their guests like one big family.
DAY TRIPS FROM WARSAW
Although the city has not forgotten the atrocities of World War II, it has been able to heal over the many years since, with plenty of things to do in Warsaw that have nothing to do with the war. It is kind of tragic, although truly sobering and ponderous, that most of the major attractions that can be reached on a day trip from Warsaw are primarily concentration camps and memorial sites where millions of people perished. Examples include Majdanek, Treblinka, Auschwitz-Birkenau, and even Hitler’s own Wolf’s Lair Headquarters. On the lighter side of things, you can also visit Krakow, Torun (medieval town and birthplace of Copernicus), the Old Town in Lublin, the UNESCO-listed Wieliczka Salt Mine, and other major testaments to Poland’s rich and varied culture and history. More on that in our separate article, where we list the best day trips from Warsaw.
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 half 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 are not expected to tip taxi drivers, but waiters do typically receive a 10% tip.
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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).