Travel

Warsaw, Poland: The Sweetheart of Central Europe

Ever thought about visiting Poland? If not, why not! Ania from The Filth of the Void has written a comprehensive guide to what to expect in Warsaw!

The year is 1944, Poland is in the midst of a fighting back against a powerful, destructive force, the Nazi army. Although the war began in 1939, it was 1944 which was the year that seemed to have sealed Poland’s fate as the world watched Warsaw burst into flames. Once a city of music, romance and dance now nothing but a pile of ash and brick, an unrecognisable landscape of misery.

So how come is it 2018 and Warsaw is cropping up on travel sites already? What’s with the adverts of cheap flights to Warsaw? Chopin’s city and the birthplace of Marie Curie, two of Europe’s greatest heroes.

Not even 100 years since the war, whilst the world continued spinning for a lot of Western countries, Warsaw was silently rebuilding itself, giving itself a new brand and logo. Progress being escalated by the fall of communism and rise of solidarity and democracy, Warsaw has brushed the dust off its shoulders and opened its arms to the world, welcoming new tourists, businesses and residents alike.

Before travelling to any foreign country, it’s a good idea to do your research and where else to start but the Internet! The trouble with Warsaw is, year after year it is evolving, so it’s difficult to navigate through countless reviews and blog posts as they expire quickly and aren’t usually a viable source of information a year down the line.

So this post was designed to give you some comprehensive tips to modern Warsaw that will not expire within a few years.

Take a full day to experience Old Town

Rebuilt to its pre-war glory, Old Town is a part of Warsaw that was rebuilt from scraps of blueprints and old photographs. This is the little gem of Warsaw that lets you experience the capital without the chaos of glass skyscrapers and constant traffic. Old Town is a world of its own pocketed away near the Vistula River that splits the Phoenix City right down the middle. With narrow alley ways and cobbled streets that break off into quiet areas of greenery, Old Town has an atmosphere like no other part of Warsaw has yet achieved. Although on a map it may seem like quite a small area, I would definitely recommend taking an entire day to fully appreciate this place. Why not start with a trip to the Royal Castle Museum? Rebuilt according to old documents, it has a large collection of artefacts, paintings and historical information worth noting.

When you’re outside of the Castle, I say good luck picking a place to sit down and eat or have a drink! Old Town is packed to the brim with restaurants, cafes and bars, all of which are unique in their own way. Whether you wish to taste some traditional Polish cuisine or stick to the safe side of international dishes, there will definitely be a place for you in Old Town.

It’s very easy to get caught up in Old Town’s central market square but I recommend exploring every little alley and cobble street you can see. A lot of pre-war buildings have stories and art carved into them, differentiating in colour and style. You’ll find a lot of sites remembering those that fought during WW2, painting an incredible picture of the past.

Currency, pricing and shopping

The very centre of Warsaw is a collection of skyscrapers, communist style residential buildings and shops with neon signs, enticing you to spend money. Poland has it’s own currency called Zloty which literally translates to ‘gold’. If you’re looking to change your money over, go to an exchange counter either inside a shopping centre or a random one in a more residential area. Whatever you do, avoid airports and Old Town exchange counters as they tend to lower their rates by two to three zloty per pound.

If you’re travelling from the UK, Poland will seem extremely cheap, as every pound is worth anywhere between 4.50zl and 5.20zl (subject to changed of course). Now don’t get put off with how cheap everything seems. Cheap doesn’t mean bad in this circumstance. You’ll find a meal at a restaurant or street food to take out will cost you what you’d consider spare change. Renting an apartment can also be a cheap alternative to an international branded hotel, so make sure to have a good stalk through booking.com.

You’ll find when it comes to shops and shopping centres, Warsaw definitely doesn’t lack in places to spend your money. Economical growth has attracted the likes of Sephora, Zara, Mac and many, many other international brands to the market. This means they are everywhere and have been popping up all around the place. Definitely go to Golden Terraces shopping centre in the heart of Warsaw for a true, almost Parisian, shopping experience.

Watch out however, because when it comes to international brands, pricing isn’t too different. For example if you buy a scarf in H&M and it seems really cheap, in reality, put it back into pounds and it’s not much different to what you’d pay in the UK.

Museums, monuments and memorial sites

Between the rows of apartments, glossy window displays and countless parks, you’ll find Warsaw to be quietly remembering it’s past all over the city. Although some less noticeable than other, Warsaw is peppered with monuments and memorial sites in dedication to the soldiers and nurses of WW2. This Phoenix City takes a lot of pride in it’s achievements but it will only be obvious if it’s what you’re looking for. If you choose less popular streets to go down, where tourists are less likely to reside, you’ll find plenty of stones, statues and flowers laid down by the residents.

Or on the other hand, you could visit one of many Warsaw’s museums. The Museums of the History of Polish Jews is an award winning museum with fascinating structures that takes at least a few hours to explore. I’d also recommend the Warsaw Uprising museum, which takes you back into the haunting past of the city.

Museums overall tend to be quite cheap in Warsaw, and there are times when they are free or slightly discounted, especially for children, students or the elderly. Try and fit some museums into your trip and see for yourself the magic of Warsaw.

Parks, parks everywhere!

Who says a city can’t be green? A simply google of ‘Warsaw Parks’ is proof in itself that a city can be green and functional. Warsaw has acres of park and forest land that take hours each to explore, each different to the last. Enjoy some free outdoor piano concerts at Lazienki Park or visit a royal castle at Wilanow Castle and bathe in the sun while you’re at it.

If sitting around in greenery is not your thing, have a visit of the Multimedia Fountain Park, where during summer you can watch fountain shows in the dark.

You’ll find that the locals are very respectful of their surroundings and cherish what they have. This will be reflected in the cleanliness of the parks so I suggest keeping your rubbish in your pocket until you see a bin.

Customs and the little details

Did you know, j-walking can get you fined in Warsaw? Warsaw can be a very chaotic city especially during rush hour, and j-walking is very frowned upon and can get you fined if spotted by the police. Always keep to your crossings!

While Polish people don’t expect you to know Polish at all, a simple ‘thank you’ at a restaurant or ‘good morning’ as you enter a shop can completely change the atmosphere and light up the face of whoever is serving you. Little independent delicatessen and cafes are usually family run, and their English won’t be as good as lets say the customer service in Sephora. So a little hello or goodbye is highly appreciated and will definitely go a long way for that person.

When it comes to tipping in Poland, it is expected but not necessary. While your server may not be happy about it, you’re by no means obliged to give a tip when you finish your meal. Also, if you’re in a tourist hotspot, look out for a service charge on your bill, in which case tipping is definitely not necessary.

In family run food businesses, there will usually be a jar by the cash register. In this case, just drop in a coin or too while you’re paying for your food. That is already classed as a tip and you’ll notice it will be greatly appreciated by the business. Personally, I usually try to tip with a one zlote coin or a two zlote coin. In British pound, this translates to around 20p but it is actually a lot more valuable in Poland.

The best way to enjoy Warsaw overall is not to rush. From district to district there will always be something new to discover and something new to enjoy. With the prices of food and accommodation being so cheap, a two week stay is not difficult to plan. Warsaw is always extremely cyclist friendly and has a well thought out public transport system. Getting around can be really easy with those, but if you’re wanting a more private option, Uber has a network of hundreds of drivers around the city, so you’re never far from your next taxi. With the vastness of history and architecture the city hides in the oddest places, it really is a place of wonder that can for some be really addictive.

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