I should warn you that I am a massive history geek so some of the historical parts of my itinerary may not interest everyone (although I think they would!).
WARSAW HISTORY TOURS
I went on a couple of brilliant free walking tours, one about Jewish history and one about occupied-Warsaw during WW2, which took in some key sites to do with the Ghetto uprising of 1943 and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Most of the guides are history students who all have excellent English and give you a really interesting and thorough overview of the city’s history, showing you several sites of historical interest. They also provide handy free maps with lots of great restaurants, bars and cafes marked out.
The Warsaw Uprising is everywhere and is at the centre of Warsaw history – you can’t go to Warsaw and fail to learn more about it. The locals are, quite rightly, proud of their city’s heritage and have made a concerted effort to remember it in a clear but thoughtful way.
THE OLD TOWN
The newest old town in the world; I loved it. No two buildings are the same, different colours and designs are everywhere, and it is quirky and feels a lot older than it really is. The only downside is all of the birds! Pigeons galore and the worst bit – the Poles love them! Lots of cobbled streets filled with cafes and independent shops bring a lovely charm to the area and you can easily spend a couple of hours pottering around.
It is also worth starting the Royal Route walk from old town. This walk leads to beautiful palaces and gardens via Krakowskie Przedmiescie. With a bit of luck I also managed to stumble on the little stone steps that Napoleon himself walked down and which also lead to the Wisla.
A lot of Warsaw’s museums are free on a Thursday so try and take advantage if you want to take in the city’s main museums. A must-see is the Pawiak Prison museum. Thousands of prisoners were held here during the occupation and the museum not only sets out how cells looked during that time but also explains where prisoners (who survived the prison interrogations) were sent and treatment of them in the different camps.
Polin (about the history of the Polish Jews) is also free on a Thursday and is an exceptionally impressive museum. The design and layout are great and it is worth trekking around (although due to time I focused mostly on the WW2 section). Usually it can take 3 hours plus to go round the whole thing!
Gestapo HQ Museum
Gestapo HQ is an underestimated museum which I would thoroughly recommend. Slightly out of the centre but close to the Royal Route, it only takes about twenty minutes to take in the full museum. It is also free on a Thursday and I had the whole place to myself. It was weirdly eerie (the spooky soundtrack only adding to it) and again, they had kept cells just like they were during WW2. There were even chained handcuffs to the floor to replicate treatment of prisoners. If only walls could talk.
The Uprising Museum
The Uprising Museum was my least favourite and I was quite underwhelmed. Getting seriously lost en route didn’t help. I found the layout confusing, it was not signposted and I also felt the exhibitions themselves were not that informative or interesting. Maybe because everyone talks of this as a ‘must see’ my expectations were set high, but I felt I got a lot more from all of the other museums I went to see.
The River Wisla is a place which locals have turned into a cultural and social hub. You should grab a local Polish beer (an emerging industry, apparently) from a street vendor and enjoy the view. It has a huge tourist centre with a beach and a market with food, drinks and souvenir stalls (and is much less touristy than central Warsaw). I also saw quite a few pieces of quirky street art on the walk down to the Wisla and you can find them throughout the city too.
FOOD: LOCAL DELICACIES
Sweet things are my number one priority, so they came first! Warsaw has its own cake which everyone needs to try – it is delicious chocolately goodness. Apple cake is also very popular and I would highly recommend stopping off at Shabby Chic in the centre of old town – a really cute cafe that has the added bonus of great wifi.
I had also read about this famous donut bakery, Pracownia Cukiernicza that has a queue every day. I obviously got horrendously lost the first time I tried to find it and eventually walked off in a huff as it appeared to not exist on the map. Reinvigorated, the next day I finally tracked it down. Stuck in a queue with fifteen locals I felt slightly out of place -particularly as they were all ordering trays and trays of the stuff! But I felt like I was in on a local secret and managed to taste some tasty local donuts as a result!
E. Wedel is the oldest chocolatier in Poland so I went for an obligatory hot choc and slice of cake but was thoroughly disappointed. It was really expensive and both the hot chocolate and cake left something to be desired.
Next on the list were Polish pierogi (dumplings). A weird combination of gnocchi and Cornish pasty is how I would describe it! Cheap and popular, they are everywhere across Poland but after a whole plate you are left feeling like you need some greens in your life!
I loved my time in Warsaw – a history lover’s dream, it also has a beautiful old town (a European pre-requisite these days), tasty food, and still has the charm of a largely undiscovered city (aka not huge crowds of tourists-yet!).
Have you ever been to Warsaw? We’d love to hear your stories, tips or questions in the comment section below!
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We Are Travel Girls Contributor Anna Hatfield
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