Warsaw Travel Guide – Top 10 Vacation Highlights

Warsaw is a dynamic city filled with fascinating historical sites, art, theater and Poland’s best music and nightlife scene. Following the Second World War, the city of Warsaw required complete rebuilding and the resultant architecture is magnificent. With its striking sights and rich history, Warsaw has plenty of attractions to offer its visitors.
Warsaw Travel Guide
Table of Contents

Stare Miasto, Warsaw’s old town was completely destroyed during the Second World War bombings but has since been rebuilt painstakingly to its former glory. It isn’t old in essence, but it sure does feel like it is and it does take visitors visually back. The old town is a great spot for taking a leisurely stroll and having a casual meal at one of the numerous quaint cafés.

Stare Miasto is home to a number of interesting churches including St. John’s Cathedral. Built during the 14th century, St. John’s Cathedral is one of Warsaw’s oldest churches. The church is in the Brick Gothic style and has numerous crypts underneath containing the remains of Polish royalty, famous musicians, composers, statesmen and other notable figures in Poland.

Lazienki Krolewski is a great spot to hang out in when the weather in Warsaw is pleasant. The palace-garden complex was built during the late 1700s. The palace sits on water and is surrounded by 76 hectares of magnificent landscaped gardens, ponds and canals with pea fowl and other birds. The park offers a quiet, green space in the middle of the city ideal for a picnic or leisurely walks.

The museum at Palac w Wilanowie houses one of the largest collections of poster art in the world, with works by Dali, Warhol and Picasso. Here you will find an amazing exhibition of craft, design, color and artistry with posters dating back more than 2 centuries, as well as a regularly changing contemporary exhibit. Visitors can also admire the Baroque architecture of the Palac w Wilanowie.

Built in 1548, the Barbakan features old defensive city walls with a decorative Renaissance that represents the northwestern border between old town Warsaw and the new city. Partially dismantled during the 19th century, the Barbican was restored to its original condition following the Second World War, and is today used as a showroom for temporary exhibitions of the Warsaw Historical Museum.

The Palac Kultury i Nauki is the palace of culture and science that was built during the Fifties and is today the tallest building in Poland and Warsaw’s most symbolic landmark. The famous building features more than 550 ornamental sculptures and a public observation deck that’s located on the 30th floor.

The capital of Poland is fast becoming a hot tourist destination with its tasty traditional Polish dishes, historical museums, heritage sites, cathedrals, galleries, churches and busy night life. Warsaw is an ideal city for everyone, on any budget – and that includes you too.

1. Stare Miasto & Trakt Krolewski

Stare Miasto is Warsaw’s old town and the city’s historic center. This is the oldest part of town that dates from the 13th century. The largest section of old town Warsaw was destroyed during World War II but later reconstructed. This reconstruction was so precise that one is hard pressed to decide whether the building was rebuilt or it merely survived the war.

Situated in the middle of the old town is the beautiful market square with its great variety of restaurants. The market square in old town was founded during the 13th century. Today, the square houses cafes and restaurants that mainly stock Polish specialties. There are also portrait painters and barrel organ players about on the square. The old town is also a great spot to purchase souvenirs in Warsaw from the various souvenir stores found here.

A bronze statue of the Warsaw Mermaid dating from 1855 stands on the site of the former city hall that was torn down in 1817. The statue is a symbol of Warsaw. At house Number 20 on the market square is the Mickiewicz Literature Museum, while the Historical Museum entrance sits at Number 42.

There are several churches in the old town including St. John’s Cathedral which was established during the 15th century but completely rebuilt following World War I. Many famous Polish personalities are buried inside the cathedral.

Situated next to St. John’s is the Jesuit Church which dates from 1609 and which was also reconstructed after the War. St. Martins is another beautiful church in the old town whose style resembles a mix of Gothic on the lower section and Baroque on the upper section of the structure.

From the old town, do yourself a favor and take the Trakt Krolewski, Warsaw’s Royal Route. The route starts at the royal castle in castle square, which is where the old town ends. This route then leads directly to the Wilanow Castle which is situated about 10km south. In the old days, you could continue further south, ending your trip in Krakow.

The most interesting section of this route is the stretch between castle square and the Rondo de Gaulle. This stretch can easily be covered by a 30 minute walk, and includes two notable streets, the Krakowskie Przedmiescie and the Nowy Swiat, which merge at the Staszic Palace.

Walking from the royal castle in the south on the Krakowskie Przedmiescie, you will come across sights such as the Prazmowski House. The House was first erected in 1660, and later rebuilt in the Rococo architectural style. Following the War, the House was reconstructed to its 1660s style.

The Adam Mickiewicz Monument was erected in honor of the most famous Polish romantic poet of all time. The monument was unveiled in 1898 on the 100 birthday anniversary of the poet.

The Carmelite Church was constructed towards the end of the 17th century but its façade was changed about a century later. It will be worth your while to also venture inside St. Joseph’s Church which displays nice artworks in the Rococo style, along with some beautiful paintings.

The Presidential Palace was built towards the mid-17th century and is today the official residence of the president of Poland. At the front of the Presidential Palace stands the Jozef Poniatowski Monument.

Hotel Bristol dates back to around 1900. Despite undergoing renovations, the interiors of the Hotel still gives a feel of the atmosphere of the older days, especially inside the hotel rooms.

The Tyszkiewicz Palace was constructed before 1793 and is today part of the University of Warsaw. Also part of the University is the Uruski Palace that was built around 1845.

Czapski Palace was constructed at the start of the 18th century but remodeled severally over the centuries. Situated just across the university, this building is famous for the people who have lived here including Chopin and the Krasinski family.

The Holy Cross Church was constructed in 1696. Inside the church is a pillar containing the heart of Frederic Chopin. This is in keeping with Chopin’s last wish to have his heart brought back to Poland, his home country.

Between the Holy Cross Church and the Staszic Palace, the name of the street changes from Krakowskie Przedmiescie to Nowy Swiat.

The Staszic Palace was constructed in the Classical style at the beginning of the 19th century. At the front of the palace is the Nicholas Copernicus Monument that was unveiled in 1830. The current look of the Kossakowski Palace dates from a remodeling of the palace completed towards the mid-19th century.

The remainder of the buildings along Nowy Swiat were built mainly during the 19th and 20th centuries. At the end of the 19th century, the first restaurants and shops appeared. Nowy Swiat is today a popular spot for taking a walk, eating and shopping.

Its Foksal Street has splendid buildings including the Przezdziecki Palace and the Zamoyski, while the Chmielna comprises of one of the few pedestrian zones in the area. There are plenty of cafes, restaurants, discos and bars close to where the three streets cross.

Continue further south on the Trakt Krolewski and you will bypass the Rondo de Gaulle, the Three Crosses Square that houses St. Alexander’s Church, Lazienki Park, Ujazdowski Park and finally the Wilanow Palace.

2. Nowe Miasto

Situated between the Old Town and Park Traugatta, Nowe Miasto is Warsaw’s new town. First built during the 14th century, Nowe Miasto is directly connected to the city’s old town. By the 18th century, the new town section of Warsaw operated as a separate city with its own administration, church and town hall. Ulica Freta is the main thoroughfare of Nowe Miasto, which leads from the Barbakan through most of new town.

Most of the Neo-Classical and Baroque buildings you see around the Nowe Miasto market square are post-Second World War reconstructions, the originals having been damaged or destroyed during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Today, the charming streets of new town offer numerous cafés and restaurants for the visitor’s pleasure.

Rynek Nowego Miasta is the market square and the center of new town. The square traces its origins to the 15th century as a rectangular square with a town hall in the middle, but which was torn down in 1818. Where the town hall once stood at the center of the square you will now find an iron well dating from 1958. The iron well stands at this exact same spot today, and is decorated with a Virgin and a Unicorn, which represent the coat of arms of New Warsaw.

The main attraction in the square is St. Casimir’s Church. The church was built between 1688 and 1689 and features some Baroque elements dating from the 18th century.

Nowe Miasto has a number of other interesting churches. The Church of the Holy Spirit is also a Baroque-style church that was built in 1717. The church stands on the site of an earlier wooden church from the 14th century that was destroyed during the Swedish War. This church stands adjacent to Warsaw’s smallest building and is also the starting point of the famous pilgrimage to Czestochowa.

Situated opposite of the Church of the Holy Spirit is St. Jacek’s Church, which was constructed in the Baroque style between 1603 and 1639. Its chapel is worth a peek.

St. Francis Church was built at the turn of the 17th century. Beside the church is a building dating from 1727. Many of the church’s original Baroque elements survived the Second World War, including the pulpit, organs, epitaphs, portraits and side altars dating from the 17th and 19th centuries. The insides of its chapel are worth a look.

The Church of the Visitation of Blessed Virgin Mary is one of Warsaw’s oldest churches and was built in the Gothic style from 1411. The church stands on the site of an earlier pagan temple and its Gothic silhouette with bell tower makes it one of the most distinctive buildings by the Vistula River. The church today forms part of Warsaw’s charming skyline and has a terrace that offers great panoramas of the Vistula and the right bank of Warsaw.

Another new town attraction is the Raczynski Palace which was constructed in 1786. The Palace is today used as an archive and has a beautiful ballroom. Also check out the Sapieha Palace which was constructed between 1731 and 1746 and today houses a school. The Palace was inspired by Late Baroque and was completely destroyed during the Second World War, only to be reconstructed again.

The Maria Sklodowska-Curie Museum was established in 1967 and is housed in the 18th century townhouse in which Marie Curie was born. The Museum exhibition is dedicated to the life and activities of the great scientist and displays authentic objects and tools that belonged to Marie Curie, as well as others from her era.

3. Palac w Wilanowie

One of the most important monuments of Polish national culture, Palac w Wilanowie or the Wilanow Palace is one of the few historic buildings that was completely undamaged and untouched during the Second World War bombings. Today, it stands as a wonderful example of completely original Baroque architecture in Warsaw.

The history of Wilanow Palace began in the year 1677, when the village of Wilanow became the property of the Polish monarch. The original residence was rather modest and designed to signify a typical building in the Polish republic. However, military successes and the monarchy’s growing importance led to the significant expansion of the original project in the years that followed.

Following completion of a massive extension between 1677 and 1696, the palace exhibited an interesting combination of a Polish noble’s mansion, an Italian garden villa and a palace in the classic style of French monarch, Louis XIV. From 1720, side wings were built into the palace and changes made into its interior décor. In 1805, one of Poland’s first museums was opened inside the Wilanow Palace.

4. Praga

Praga is the right bank of Warsaw. Through the centuries, Praga was an independent town. Only in the late 18th century did it become formally attached to Warsaw.

For years, Praga was the secondary part of the city that survived the devastation of war. But today, Praga is a fascinating district overflowing with artist studios, galleries, alternative theaters and underground clubs. Thanks to this infusion of cool culture, many of the surviving post-industrial buildings have been transformed into cultural centers, galleries, cinemas and pubs.

Also in Praga are numerous streets that went undamaged during the Second World War. As such, you will find here some beautiful pre-war sidewalks, lamp-posts and apartment blocks.

Built during the first half of the 17th century, the Church of Our Lady of Loreto is Praga’s oldest temple. Inside is a copy of the House of Our Lady in the Italian town of Loretto, that houses a statue of the Virgin Mary Kamionkowska dating from the 15th century.

Praga’s Beach on the Vistula River is a couple of hundreds of meters long and opened only during the summer months. Lawn chairs, volleyball, DJs and concerts are just some of the attractions found here. There is also the charm of being able to enjoy unparalleled views of the old town, in all its splendor.

The Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel and Florian the Martyr was built as a form of protest and act of defiance in direct response to the “Russification” of Poland. During the second half of the 19th century, the monumental Orthodox Church of Mary Magdalene was erected, prompting the local parish to build a new catholic church in the Neo-Gothic style. Visible from afar, the new church’s 75 meter high towers soared and dominated the onion dome of the Orthodox Church nearby.

The church was completely destroyed during the Second World War, its only surviving sections being fragments from the external walls and 2 statues of Saints Michael and Florian. Reconstruction was completed in 1970 using bricks produced during the 19th century to provide the church with a feel of authenticity.

Visitors can check out the Former Water Chamber which is one of the oldest and most valuable buildings on Warsaw’s right bank. Also known as the “House of Columns” the Former Water Chamber is situated at the entrance to the boat bridge that was used to cross to the other side of the Vistula River. It was here that tolls were paid before the first permanent crossing was built on the River.

Visitors can take a peek at the building’s façade that features a carved relief representing Neptune’s chariot drawn by fish-tailed horses and surrounded by dolphins. Also of interest are the cast iron plates that document the record heights of water levels of the Vistula in 1813, 1839 and 1844.

Unveiled in 2006, the Monument of Praga’s Backyard Orchestra depicts a neighborhood band from the days when such musicians roamed the Warsaw courtyards, especially within the Praga neighborhood, playing popular Warsaw tunes. The band features a guitarist, violinist, drummer, and banjo and accordion players. Surrounding the monument is a small square with benches on which you can rest and listen to music, including tunes from Poland’s pre-war years.

The Rozycki Bazaar was founded during the late 19th century to serve as a major trading center in Praga. It originally had 7 indoor stalls, but today houses approximately 250 merchants. Rothblith House is one of the oldest preserved houses in old Praga. It is one of two old houses that date from 1819 and 1830 respectively. The buildings currently belong to the Museum of Praga and feature exhibition spaces.

Zabkowska Street is one of old Praga’s main streets with its oldest buildings dating from the 19th century. Take a walk along the Zabkowska and you will see how the architecture of Praga evolved from the second half of the 19th century to the present day.

The street’s oldest surviving house is a tiny ground-floor house at Number 14, which dates from 1866. The restored house at Number 7 dates from 1880 and is regarded as one of the most beautiful on Zabkowska Street. At Number 2 you will find one of the most recognizable buildings in Praga, a 4-floor renovated house that was constructed in 1914.

Koneser is the old vodka factory that’s housed inside a complex of red brick buildings dating from the late 19th century. For over 100 years, an alcohol factory was located here. The building is today one of the most valuable examples of industrial architecture with some of its structures inspired by Gothic elements such as the front gate which reminds one of a castle with a small turret.

The Fabryka Trzciny Art Center is the city’s famous private art center which is housed inside a former factory dating from 1916, which produced sausages and marmalade. Today, the Center comprises of an auditorium, a theater hall, exhibition hall, a meeting room, as well as spaces used to host film festivals, fashion shows and events organized for special occasions, among others. The unusual venue is notable for its avant-garde style blended with tradition, as well as aspects of the original old factory.

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was built during the early 20th century and is one of the capital’s most impressive religious buildings. The church’s architecture is modeled on the Basilica of St. Paul in Rome and its soaring modern belfry houses a bell from 1712.

Inspired by Byzantine architecture, the Metropolitan Orthodox St. Mary Magdalene Church was constructed during the second half of the 19th century. St. Andrew’s Church previously stood in its place but was destroyed during the late 18th century for being a symbol of Russian domination. An orthodox church was then put up in its place.

In the Church basement you can view fragments of mosaics preserved from the defunct Warsaw Council of Alexander Nevski. The orthodox church survived the destruction of the Second World War, thanks to which its interiors still retain the original design.

5. Palac Kultury i Nauki

The tallest building in Poland, Palac Kultury i Nauki, is Warsaw’s palace of culture and science. The building is rather impressive with a height of 230 meters. At the time of its construction, the building was the second tallest in Europe with 42 floors.

Built between 1952 and 1955, the Palac Kultury i Nauki today houses a museum, theater, libraries, cinema, swimming pool and congress hall. There are also offices, institution headquarters, as well as the Polish Academy of Sciences.

The Congress Hall and Concert Hall of the Palac Kultury i Nauki are among Poland’s most important concert halls. Over the years, the Congress Hall has hosted many prestigious acts by guest performers such as the late Cesaria Evora, Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones.

The main attraction of the Palac Kultury i Nauki is its large viewing terrace. Situated on the 30th floor, the viewing terrace has a height of 114 meters and offers gorgeous panoramic views over the city. It is particularly nice to watch the sunset from here during the summer months.

In 2000, the Palac Kultury i Nauki was fitted with the highest clock tower in the world and the second largest clock in Europe. The clock hands stretch out to a length of 6 meters, ensuring that the clock can be seen from far away.

You will be astounded to learn that it took only 3 years to build the Palac Kultury i Nauki’s 3288 rooms. About 3,500 workers worked day and night to complete the palace as fast as possible. Sixteen workers died during its construction.

Unpopular with many Poles, the Palac Kultury i Nauki building remains a symbol of close to 45 years of Russian oppression after the Second World War. The palace was the brainchild of Stalin who sought to give the Poles a “gift from the Soviet Union.” Instead, the Polish people saw the palace as a symbol of Russian domination.

6. Kosciol sw Anny

Completed during the second half of the 15th century, the Kosciol sw Anny is one of the oldest churches in Warsaw. The church also plays an important academic role in Polish capital.

The current Neo-Classical façade of the Kosciol sw Anny conceals a rich Baroque interior that includes some original elements such as the main altar and 3 pairs of lateral ones, the pulpit and the organ, all of which date from the 18th century. Close to the church on the belfry is a lookout terrace.

The Gothic church has been destroyed many times only to be rebuilt in different styles each time. In 1515, the Kosciol sw Anny was burnt down and in its place a new and larger church was built. Constructed in 1522-23, a tombstone of a princess was the first monument in the rebuilt church. At the end of the 16th century, a free-standing brick bell tower was built close to the church and today serves as a vantage point.

7. Zamek Krolewski

Situated at the Plac Zamkowy or castle square in old town Warsaw, Zamek Krolewski is Warsaw’s royal castle. Dating from the 14th century when wooden buildings and a tower stood here, construction of the castle in its current form started towards the end of the sixteenth century.

The Zamek Krolewski was expanded in 1596 shortly after Warsaw became the capital of Poland. More expansions were to follow including the building of the Wladyslawowska Tower in the courtyard and the remodeling of the castle exterior facing the Vistula River with the wing facing the north.

During World War II in 1939, a large section of the Zamek Krolewski was damaged, and the remaining parts destroyed in 1944. The royal castle you see today is in fact a reconstruction of the old castle. Fortunately, a lot of the original details can still be viewed today as they had been kept in a secure location during the War.

The interiors of the Zamek Krolewski are referred to as the Castle Museum and feature various attractions, including 2 original Rembrandt paintings. The Ballroom or Assembly Room is the castle’s most beautiful room with its decoration of mirrors, columns and chandeliers.

The Throne Room is also impressive with a throne standing in the centre of one side. The Throne Room sparkles in red and gold, making it a lovely spot to spend some time in. The Marble Room features portraits of the Kings of Poland. Be sure to check out the wonderful paintings found on the ceiling.

The Canaletto Room has paintings from the 18th century that feature scenes from Warsaw that are as detailed as a picture. Canaletto was court painter to the Polish monarch at the time of the Zamek Krolewski’s construction. His paintings were vital to the post-war reconstruction of Warsaw. Stay here for a while to explore what the Polish capital looked like back in the day.

The walls of the Knight’s Room are covered in large oil paintings while the center of the room has a Statue of Chronos. The King’s Bedroom is a pretty room with a small bed built in 1775. The Senate Chamber holds another throne and was the venue of the ratification of the first Polish Constitution in 1791.

On the Vistula side are the Kubicki Arcades that support the foundations and cliffs, giving the Zamek Krolewski structure its shape. The Arcades today house an archaeological exhibit and pension.

8. Lazienki Krolewski

Established during the 17th century, Lazienki Krolewski is the most beautiful planned area in Warsaw and one of Europe’s most beautiful palace-garden complexes. Warsaw’s biggest park, the Lazienki Krolewski is equally stunning with regards to its architecture and greenery.

The palace-garden complex of Lazienki Krolewski houses a big amazing park comprising of 76 hectares of nature in the city center, as well as many other historical objects. The park was created within the old wild forest so that the animals found here remain within their normal natural conditions.

Lazienki performs various functions: it is a museum, a venue for cultural, scientific and entertainment events, and a popular spot for taking pleasant walks. The complex is also an important venue for music lovers; every Sunday in summer, for more than 50 years, free piano concerts have been held under the Frederic Chopin monument in the park.

Lazienki boasts numerous wonderful architectural monuments within its landscaped gardens. The most popular is the Palace on the Water that served as the summer residence of the last monarch of Poland. The Palace on the Water is a symbol of Warsaw and a marvelous piece of Polish architecture. The most important building in the garden area, the Palace is the pearl on the island.

During the reign of the last king of Poland, a pavilion of Lubomirski’s Bath was expanded to serve as one of the monarch’s residences. Although the Palace survived the Second World War, it was heavily damaged. Following restoration, it was once again opened to the public in 1960.

The amphitheater was opened in 1791 on the pond bank in a building reminiscent of the theater in the Herculaneum. The area is topped by statues of famous writers, while its stage reminds of the ruins of the Roman Forum. The amphitheater’s most unique feature is the fact that the audience is separated from the stage by water.

Close by is the Myslewicki Palace which dates from before 1774, with the exact date of its construction remaining unknown. Maintained in the early Classicist style, this Palace is just one of the few examples of this architectural style that remain in Warsaw today. The original palace was enlarged with 2-storey pavilions, while the roof was designed to resemble patterns found in traditional Chinese art.

The Old Orangery features an authentic court theatre with wonderful interiors in its east wing. The audience section is full of decorations while the west wing has guest rooms and servants’ quarters. Adjacent to the Palace on the Water is the Podchorazowka, a building in the eastern section of the garden that houses offices.

9. Barbakan

Built in 1548, the Barbakan is a separation point between the old and new town. In fact, it is situated directly on the spot at which the old town merges into the new town. The Barbakan once served as an access gate for the old town. A good example of defense construction, the Barbakan is directly integrated into the Warsaw city walls surrounding the old town that were built during the 16th century.

Along with the Gunpowder Gate and the Gate Tower, the Barbakan formed the Zakroczymska Gate. In the Barbakan’s entire history, the fortification only once played a role in the defense of Warsaw. This was in 1656 during the Swedish invasion of the city, which was repelled by Polish troops. The Barbakan was partially demolished during the 18th century and later in the 19th century some houses were erected on the structure’s ruins.

Almost the entire Barbakan was completely destroyed during the Second World War. After the War ended, the walls surrounding the former old town of Warsaw, along with the Barbakan, were rebuilt. Reconstruction was carried out based on 17th century engravings using brick derived from Gothic structures that were demolished elsewhere.

10. Biblioteka Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego

Opened in 1999, Biblioteka Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego is the University of Warsaw’s ultra-modern library. The library comprises of 2 buildings; a front lobby area and a main section. The two parts are connected via a small passage – almost a tiny street actually, that’s covered by a glass roof. The entrance to the library building proper is dominated by a large open book. The library itself consists of 4 floors.

While at the library, be sure to drop by the Polish Poster Gallery which exhibits original post-war posters, some of which are very rare and valuable. The collection features about 7,000 pieces, including movie, theater, entertainment and political posters. Visitors to the gallery can admire originals, as well as buy copies of posters by outstanding graphic artists from Poland.

The biggest attraction of the library however, is its roof garden. Spread out over an area of a hectare, this roof garden is one of the largest and most beautiful of its kind in Europe. Open to the general public, the enclosed garden offers the perfect resting place for not only students and researchers, but also for residents and tourists in Warsaw.

The garden comprises 2 parts, and upper and lower area that are linked by a fountain of cascading water. Visitors to the garden can see directly into the library via special windows or the glass roof itself.

Plant lovers will find plenty to admire in the garden, and if you are looking for excellent views of the city, you will not be disappointed either. From the deck you can enjoy sweeping views of Warsaw, the Vistula River and the Swietokrzyski Bridge.

Founded in 1816, the University of Warsaw is the largest university in Poland. The area surrounding the University of Warsaw is home to numerous buildings constructed during different epochs. For instance, the Kazimierzowski dates from the early 17th century and is worth a peek while you’re in the neighborhood.