Guide to Warsaw: Polish City Breaks
This is the first instalment of a three-part guide to Poland. First and foremost is my guide to Warsaw, the capital of Poland.
In April 2017 I went to Poland for the first time and fell in love with it’s character, architecture and shockingly cheap prices. I went as part of a three-city trip for my best friend’s 21st birthday. We visited Berlin, Warsaw and Krakow in an urban adventure that was heavily characterised by its historic approximation to WWII.
In Berlin, we explored the rise of Nazi party, the history of the Berlin wall and its collapse, and life in the German Democratic Republic through various museums and historical landmarks.
Warsaw is known for being home to the largest ghetto in German occupied Eastern Europe during WWII and the effects of the war, most notably from the Warsaw Uprising, are still visible around the city today.
We visited Krakow, our last stop on the trip, in order to go to the Auschwitz concentration camp (accessible via bus from Krakow), the largest German Nazi concentration camp and extermination centre.
Although, not the ideal 21st birthday celebration for some, for my history-nerd Jewish best friend, it was important for her to visit and each city was at the top of her bucket list. While the trip catered to my best friend’s WWII interests, I also fell in love with each city that we came across, and most surprisingly I loved both Polish cities the most!
Here’s my guide to Warsaw, a summary of where to stay and what to visit, including some extra tips and tricks along the way!
We arrived late in Warsaw after a full day on the coach from Berlin. Shrouded in darkness, it can always be a little intimidating arriving in a brand new country, especially when my best friends are relying on me to swiftly transport us to bed after a tiring day.
I was relieved that Warsaw had a metro system as I find these are always pretty straightforward to navigate and feel safer than buses and walking in the dark. The Warsaw metro stations were amazing: large, clean with futuristic space-inspired lighting. Thankfully, it was also extremely simple AND cheap. A full metro day-pass is the equivalent to £3 (compared to £12.70 off-peak day travelcard in London) while a 20-minute ticket is a mere 70p!
On our walk from the metro to our hostel, we were grateful to come across an open local food store, which was lucky considering it was late in the evening. We had hardly eaten all day and were starving.
From the shop we bought dinner for that night, pastries for breakfast, supplies for lunch the next day, snacks and an impulsive bag of 7 doughnuts, which all came to under -the equivalent of- £15 for the three of us.
We were giddy with excitement on the way back from the shop. So much food for £5 each, completely unheard of in England. That was the moment I knew that I’d love Poland!
Accommodation: Hostel Fabryka
The Hostel Fabryka was about a 5-minute walk from the nearest metro station and surrounded by local shops and amenities, which was really useful considering how little time we had to explore Warsaw. It’s situated on several floors of what seems like a pretty old building. We had to buzz the intercom to be let in and our journey to the hostel up the ancient, creaky staircase, past doors that vibrated with heavy dub music, was quite scary.
However, the reception area, when we reached it, was modern, nicely decorated and the staff were friendly. The kitchen and common area are both adjoined to the reception and are fully equipped. I especially liked that you could order coffee and other drinks from the reception because I love barista-made coffee (especially lattes!)
To get to the dorms, you have to leave the apartment that holds the reception and climb further up the creepy communal stairs. The receptionist took us to our 12-bed dorm, which was right at the top of the building. The hallways were pretty dark and dusty and when we arrived at the door to our dorm, the receptionist couldn’t manage to unlock the door.
After struggling for a while with the lock, she went back downstairs to get a different key and we stood awkwardly in the hallway when all of a sudden, an elderly man, skeletal in figure, wearing white undergarments and a vest and with a white beard about a foot long opened the door with a clang. We were all pretty surprised and for some reason assumed it couldn’t have been our dorm after all, beginning to back away from the door and apologise. However, the receptionist flew back up the stairs and confirmed it was in fact our dorm and proceeded to give us our dorm and locker keys.
The actual dorm was large, spacious, with plenty of room for the amount of beds. I liked the fact that everyone got their own large locker to store their things. The communal bathrooms were extremely old and rusty but everything worked fine and it was clean enough. Overall, I thought the hostel was pretty good, I especially liked the communal areas, though some areas (particularly the bathrooms) could do with an update.
For more information on this hostel, and to book your stay, click here.
Exploring the Polish city of Warsaw
The next day, we woke up early with the mission of exploring as much of Warsaw as possible in the short one day that we had before our bus to Krakow.
As we checked out of our accommodation in the morning, we had the dilemma of where to store our massive backpacks for the duration of our day before the evening bus. If you have this problem and your accommodation is right in the centre of town, you can always ask to keep your bags behind reception to pick up later.
However, if you don’t feel comfortable doing this, or like us, your accommodation is a bit further from the tourist spots, you can always do what we did and store your bags in a locker. On our way from our hostel to the centre of town we stopped by Warszawa Centralna railway station, the capital’s main train station, and used the lockers available there. For mere penance we were able to store our three backpacks in one huge locker to keep safe for the day, taking only our valuables and cameras along for the sightseeing.
We were surprised that despite being early spring, the weather in Poland was drizzly, overcast and unbearably cold (I had to buy myself a big wooly hat to stave off some of the freezing wind) but we were determined not to let it dampen our spirits, spending some time in an adorable pastry shop and café in the cosy old town streets at lunchtime to warm our bones. Here’s a summary of my favourite landmarks from Warsaw:
Old Town Market Place
Warsaw’s Old Town Market Square is the oldest part of Warsaw’s old town and is also undeniably the most charming. Unfortunately, the Market Square was blown up by the German Army shortly after the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and was completely restored after the war ended. The reconstruction took five years and the buildings were restored to their 17th-century greatness.
Although I only spent one full day in the beautiful Polish city of Warsaw, I headed back to this spot time and time again, wandering in circles to capture each of the beautiful Baroque facades. If you visit Warsaw, there’s no chance you won’t visit the Old Town Market Place, not least because it’s unavoidable, being slap-bang in the centre of the city!
Royal Castle is located in the lovely Castle Square, just a short walk from the Old Town Market Place. The castle served as a royal residency for Polish kings and queens from the sixteenth century. Like the Market Place, it was completely destroyed, burned and looted by German Nazis in the Second World War, and it was not completely restored until 1984.
I absolutely loved its vibrant pink and green colours and awe-inspiring stature, standing quite grand compared to the intimate and small old town houses and buildings that surround it.
Whilst I felt that the Market Place and the Royal Castle deserved special mention, the entirety of Warsaw’s Old Town merits a place on my favourites list. You should set some time aside to get lost in the beautiful old town labyrinth streets. I’m pretty used to perfectly preserved medieval architecture, after living and exploring France for a year, however Polish old towns certainly have their own special feel that I love.
Warsaw’s old town is home to cosy cafés, boutiques that boast traditional art and Polish antiques, it’s dotted with striking architectural features, stunning cathedrals and barbicans and it’s enclosed by the medieval city walls. You could truly spend hours on end appreciating the beauty and history of Warsaw’s old town.
Our trip to Warsaw was pretty short and sweet as at the end of a full day exploring the Polish capital, we set off on another bus journey to Krakow. However, I did feel like one day was enough to see the main sights and really get a feel of the city, especially its historic old town. If you’d like to take your time exploring and really get to know Warsaw, a few more days -maximum three or four- would probably be plenty!
My next posts will cover Krakow and the lesser known city of Lublin to make up my full three-part guide to a city break in Poland.
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