Warsaw is a city that I’ve been raving about for years.
This past June during Euro 2012 was my fourth visit there and in my opinion it just keeps getting better and better every time I go. As I’ve said before, Poland has a lot of lovely cities, but there’s something about Warsaw that makes it my favorite. I used to defend its grey concreteness with the fact that it was full of interesting people and way more forward-thinking than the rest of the country, but the truth is that is actually has a lot to offer aesthetically-speaking if you just walk away from Centrum or go when the weather is warm and skies blue.
With that said, I’ve got some new things to add to the list I compiled back in the day of five of my favorite things in Warsaw and I think some of them will really surprise you.
1) Łazienki Park
I was shocked to learn this time around that Warsaw is the greenest capital in Europe – as in has the most greenery, not most environmentally friendly. That title belongs to Copenhagen.
I’m not saying it is the absolute truth, this was just what an overzealous tour guide told me, but upon further inspection I will say that he could be right if you are counting trees. Apparently 25% of Warsaw is covered in trees, you just have to get away from the very center a bit. Thankfully I decided to do this one day and ended up lost in the middle of a freaking forest. WHO KNEW?
Well most Varsovians, for one. Łazienki Park, Warsaw’s largest park, is probably the most popular place to get your nature on in the city. On a nice day you can find all kinds of people strolling around this place doing all kinds of things as trees are not the only things you can find in here. There are also a couple of palaces, a Roman theater, an Egyptian temple, two orangeries, ponds you can take a boat ride on, peacocks you can play with.
2) Plac Zbawiciela
I am not really a hipster but should you be, you’ll probably be happy to learn that there is a place for you to hang in Warsaw. In and around Plac Zbawiciela there are all kinds of “hip” coffee spots, restaurants, bars, etc – my favorite being Charlotte where you can sit out front and stare at the city’s new permanent rainbow over a sexy cappuccino.
This rainbow, conceptualized by artist Julita Wójcik, has been up since June 2012 and was specially imported from Brussels where it stood during the Polish presidency of the EU Council in 2011. A bit random, almost as random as the one in Kiev, but definitely brightens this corner of the city up.
3) Ząbkowski Milk Bar
As much as I want to say milk bars have become totally trendy, they really haven’t. More and more people might know about them and eat at them, but that still hasn’t changed the character of these old-school dining establishments. I say “dining establishments” because to call them restaurants would be a stretch. More like Communist-era canteens.
Sadly one of my old favorites on Nowy Świat closed, undoubtedly to make way for another Starbucks or something of that nature, but I’ve got a new favorite to recommend. Ząbkowski Milk Bar in Praga, just at the corner of Targowa and Ząbkowska. It’s big, it’s clean, and it’s got ah-mazing chłodnik.
4) Polonia Palace Hotel
Every time I have been in Warsaw I have either just been passing through or staying with people I know so on my latest trip I thought it would be a good idea to branch out a little. My goal was to find a cool place to stay that I’d be able to recommend to those who aren’t blessed with awesome Varsovian friends and did I ever.
After a bit of research I found the Polonia Palace Hotel, the only hotel in Warsaw to have survived the destruction of World War II and therefore the oldest hotel in the city. Diplomats, ambassadors and even U.S. presidents have all been guests here so if you are looking for a place with history (which I was), this is the spot. It’s also directly across from one of my old loves, the Palace of Culture and Science aka one of Stalin’s “wedding cakes”.
Perhaps one of the best things I discovered about this hotel is that it is actually cheaper to stay on the weekends. Who would have thought? This also reaffirms my belief that if you are to splurge on luxury accommodation anywhere in Europe, your best bet is to do it somewhere in Central or Eastern Europe. We’re talking 4-star hotel from 55-65 euros on a Friday or Saturday night depending on the season for a standard double room. A LUX standard double room.
5) The beach
Yes, THE BEACH. Bet that’s the last thing you expected to hear about in Warsaw but there are in fact quite a few sandy spots along the Vistula where you can find people urban bronzing, hanging out in speedos, and drinking cold beverages when it is warm outside. Swimming, not so much.
Yeah this spot just under Śląsko-Dąbrowski Bridge near Praga Park is no Ipanema Beach, but drink enough 5 złoty piwos and it very well could be. It even has beach clubs where you can dance until the wee hours during the summer. Then again so does Berlin so not even sure where I am going with this anymore…
I doubt the sand in Berlin gets this hot though.
Have you ever been to Warsaw? Feel free to add your favorite things in the comment section below. Big thanks to the Polonia Palace Hotel for hosting me on my last night in the city. While I was a guest, all opinions stated here are indeed my own.
RobDecember 29, 2012 at 3:54 am
That hotel looks nice and agree, the place in Europe to splurge.
LarissaDecember 29, 2012 at 4:22 am
You gotta get there, Robby. Think it might change your life, amongst other things..
Greg ProhlDecember 31, 2012 at 8:20 am
Great stuff about Warsaw. I’ve never been but you make it look more appealing than I would have thought, especially the “green” aspect of the city – always a big plus. Lovely photos.
LarissaDecember 31, 2012 at 6:56 pm
Thanks a lot! Yes, the previous two times I went were in winter so therefore completely grey. Was very pleasantly surprised this last time around.
ShaunDecember 31, 2012 at 4:22 pm
Wow, never would have thought it was cheaper on the weekends. Great digs for that price too!
Never heard of a milk bar…. do they just serve yogurt covered treats?
LarissaDecember 31, 2012 at 7:07 pm
Yeah a lot of it has to do with the fact that more people are coming during the week to do business and then leave by the weekend. I’ve seen hostels in Western Europe going for about the same price for a double so absolutely it’s a great price. No yogurt covered treats at a milk bar that I am aware of, just cheap traditional Polish food (that I guess at one time were milk-based for the most part) like pierogis, soups, cutlets, omelets.
ShaunDecember 31, 2012 at 8:10 pm
That makes so much sense! And props for finding the historic hotel. Not easy to do with what the Polish people have been through.
So interesting! It just looks as colourful as some of the yogurt-based food in India that’s why I asked. Are they found throughout Poland?
LarissaDecember 31, 2012 at 9:20 pm
Yep, all over so make sure you hit one up if you make it there. Look for “bar mleczny”. More info if you’re interested —> http://easteuropeanfood.about.com/od/easterneuropeanfoods/a/Milk-Bars-Bar-Mleczny.htm
ShaunJanuary 1, 2013 at 9:09 am
Awesome, Thank you! I feel a little silly for not knowing about these. Will hit up one for sure!
SoniaJanuary 2, 2013 at 12:11 am
Ahhh I love there are some foreigners who like Warsaw :)) usually it is all about Krakow. I used to live 10 minutes from Lazienki and we would always go there after school.
LarissaJanuary 2, 2013 at 1:06 am
Hi Sonia, nice to hear from you! I think you should start getting used to the idea of foreigners liking Warsaw, it’s a smoking hot European city that doesn’t show signs of cooling down any time soon :)
frederick muhlbauerApril 10, 2013 at 4:56 pm
try a walk down Nowy Swiat lovely
LarissaApril 10, 2013 at 5:15 pm
Oh yes, done that plenty of times :) My favorite bar mleczny used to be there but it closed :(
MariuszDecember 3, 2013 at 5:49 pm
Great things about my capital city,really I enjoy this :). I do not live there, I’m from Poznan (If Warsaw is greenest capital in Europe, Poznan is that kind of city in Poland – if you pick the biggests cities). But I like Warsaw very much.
So, come to see Poznan. Maybe this would be a good invitation…
LarissaDecember 18, 2013 at 8:45 pm
Hi Mariusz, glad to hear you enjoyed it! I’ve been wanting to go to Poznan for so long, have heard it’s a pretty cool town so hopefully that will happen soon. Great video too :)
LauraJanuary 10, 2014 at 12:39 am
This is such a nice post! Thank you very much for the information about milk bars…nice blog!
LarissaJanuary 11, 2014 at 10:08 pm
You’re welcome and thank you! Miss those things…
MichaelMay 21, 2014 at 10:50 pm
I have a 10 hour layover in Warsaw and this definitely helped me narrow down where I want to visit. Being from San Francisco (hipster central) I think the Plac Zbawiciela is totally my speed. If you have any newer information for me since this was posted I’d love to hear it. Feel free to email me or I can check the blog.
Theresa Leone DavidsonDecember 3, 2015 at 10:14 pm
Hi, I visited Poland with my husband in the summer of 2011, and we loved Warsaw so much that we went back for Christmas of 2012. I too love Łazienki Park; I also love Old Town, the University in Warsaw, the house in which Madame Curie grew up that is now a museum dedicated to her, the Glass Woman and everything else at the Museum of Technology, E. Weidel’s, the street named after Pooh Bear, and most especially, the BEAUTIFUL benevolent lions in front of the president’s residence. There are so many wonderful things about this beautiful city!!! And I did not know about the history of the hotel in which you stayed, very cool, but I also must give a shout-out to another TERRIFIC hotel, Hotel Metropol, also in the vicinity of the Palace of Science and Culture. Finally, despite visiting twice and being part Polish, I did not know about milk bars – something to look forward to on my next visit!
LarissaMarch 20, 2016 at 12:47 pm
Thanks for your comment and recommendations on what I should see when I am back. Was just talking to a Polish lady from Warsaw the other day and realized it’s just been too long since I was there so hopefully soon I can change that :)
MayaApril 27, 2017 at 3:36 pm
Great article! I love Warsaw, it is such a beautiful city with amazing places to visit. I especially enjoyed all the nice bars and restaurants with delicious food. I still remember the taste of the incredible tomato tartare I have tried in one of the places called Bubble. Their food was incredibly delicious and they also had a huge choice of champagnes and sparkling wines. I hope to visit this place and Warsaw again soon.
LarissaJune 19, 2018 at 3:00 am
I love the food in Poland! Haven’t been in so many years, I’m sure Warsaw has changed quite a bit and I as well hope I can visit again soon :)
LillyJuly 25, 2017 at 1:15 pm
Great post! Lazienki is also one of my favorite spots in Warsaw, they are so romantic and beautiful, and it is a place worth visiting in any time of the year, because it is always spectacular. Also, nearby there my other personal favorites – a restaurant called the Akademia. It is romantic, elegant and cozy. It offers mostly Polish food but in combination with European flavors, so it is very unique but so delicious :) I have actually planned my trip to Warsaw this year and I am looking forward to it!
LarissaJune 19, 2018 at 6:51 am
Thanks for the tip! I would LOVE to plan a return trip – I NEED to plan a return trip! :)