I visited Warsaw for the first time as part of my Baltic Explorer trip. With a population of 1.8 Million and as the capital of Poland, Warsaw is the leading city in the country. I like to visit the big, capital cities to get an idea of a country’s people and culture, even if they are not the favorite tourist destination! Read on to see what I found in Warsaw!
Much of Warsaw was destroyed during World War II and rebuilt after the war in Soviet era style, making the first impression of the city very different from the Baltic capitals I just visited: The city center is laid out in broad boulevards in a grid with wide sidewalks and blocky concrete buildings lining the streets. The Palace of Culture and Science, a gift from the Soviet Union, is the tallest building in Poland and an example of the style of that era. The Poles have a love-hate relationship with the building, but it’s worth checking out. Since the fall of the iron curtain and the entry into the European Union, a modernization has started and you can find some renovated buildings or brand new construction mixed in. Some of the old buildings have been taken over by offices, stores or restaurants, making for a mix along the streets. It’s nice to see those changes, although it leaves Warsaw’s city center a bit of a jumble: You have government offices and residential buildings, offices and stores, nightclubs, bars and restaurants all mixed together without a “neighborhood feel” that makes many European cities so popular. It makes it harder to explore Warsaw on your own and some local guidance for the best spots is helpful!
Fortunately, Warsaw got a head-start on the renovation of its old town in the 80s, so you will find the “old” (really old) and “new” (just old) town, fortifications and royal palace beautifully restored. Even though it is no longer the city center, it still feels like the true heart of the city. With many locals strolling along Nowy Swiat and tourists exploring the cobblestone alleys, it has a wonderful, lively feel and much more character than the city center. Despite the tourist sights and inevitable nick-nack stores, it feels natural and was my favorite place to hang out – you can read my Walking Tour of Warsaw’s Old Town for more!
One of the reasons I always have the capital cities of countries I visit on my itinerary is that they usually are the cultural heart and a great place to explore what a country has to offer. Warsaw has a very long and proud history and is no different. During my visit, Warsaw was celebrating one of its famous sons, the composer and pianist Fryderyk Chopin! From the old town to the parks of the city, you could find piano concerts to honor him and it was great fun to sit on the curb or the grass and listen to the wonderful music. It’s this type of life in the streets, square and parks that make visiting European cities so much fun!
While Warsaw might not be on the top of your list of European cities to visit, as the capital of one of the largest European countries, it makes for a good weekend trip to explore the old town and historic buildings and to take the pulse of the new Poland!
Check out my Map of Warsaw for sights, hotels and restaurants!