On the banks of the Vistula River, which runs from the Carpathian Mountains to the Baltic Sea, Warsaw is a city full of history. It might look modern but it’s had to rise from the dark history of World War II when the city was virtually obliterated – by 1945, 80% of Warsaw lay in ruins. Before then, it was a city of princes and kings, uprisings and thriving periods of expansion – some lovely baroque and gothic architecture survived the bombings. Today, Warsaw is a modern European city with a population of around 1.7 million.
Day 1 – Get acquainted with Warsaw
Warsaw is a big, spread out city. To get a feel for what’s where take a half day sightseeing tour. You’ll get to pass through the infamous Warsaw Ghetto area, along Royal Route with its aristocratic mansions, and see the Old Town and the Royal Castle. Wander around the Old Town – perfectly reconstructed so that the houses still lean on one another as if with age. Lovely cafes edge the central square; sit and watch the world go by surrounded by the multi-colored buildings, imagining life here before WWII. Tour the Royal Castle – another reconstruction but with much of the original furniture, which was saved. In front is grand Castle Square, used for speech-making and by local skateboarders, performers etc. See Zymunt’s Column, an original 17th century memorial to a Polish King, and wander down Royal Route which becomes Nowy Swiat. This is the main shopping street and also has lovely cafes. Stop for cake – a specialty in Warsaw.
Day 2: Warsaw History
To get a real understanding of Warsaw you have to understand what the city and the people suffered during World War II. An excellent place to do this is at the Warsaw Uprising Museum. The Uprising was a key moment in 1944 when the heroism of the Polish people came to the forefront as they struggled to liberate their city from the Nazis. The modern interactive museum has exhibits that clearly show the damage and suffering during the Nazi-occupation. Walking around the area that was the Warsaw Ghetto there is still evidence of the damage to buildings. In happier times, the city was the birthplace of Chopin and there is a monument to the composer in Lazienki Park. The original 1926 monument was destroyed during the war but this replica is a popular meeting place and location for concerts. Lazienki Park is a lovely treed space and also has the Lazienki Palace on an island in the lake. For more modern architecture don’t miss the Stalinist Palace of Science and Culture, built by the Russians in their post-war, communist reconstruction of Warsaw.
Day 3: Warsaw and Beyond
Leave Warsaw for a while and see traditional Poland. Head out to the small villages and farming communities which still live the way they always have. There are lovely forests and lakes to tour north in Masuria. Or head out into the Mazovian countryside and visit the birthplace of Frederic Chopin.
Warsaw is a thriving cultural, economic and political center. Respect its past, look forward to its future. And don’t forget to try the delicious cakes!