From commemorating the capital’s famous inhabitants, including Chopin and Maria Skłodowska-Curie, to commenting on its past, Warsaw’s murals tell the city’s story in a unique and vibrant way. A scavenger hunt makes for a fun way to spot as many as you can, but for those short on time, here are the key must-see murals:
Neons are an integral part of Warsaw, and even though a lot of them were retired to the Museum of Neons, new ones continue to populate the city’s streets. Their popularity dates back to the 1950s, when the Communist government ‘neonised’ Warsaw in an attempt to bring Western glamour to the streets and turn the city into the European capital of neons. Today these old-school signs have to compete with billboards and posters, but remain an interesting visual reminder of the city’s past.
Warsaw offers a unique opportunity to cross the city from north to south without ever leaving a park. Starting at the Citadel in Żoliborz and continuing all the way to Królikarnia in Mokotów, the green walking and cycling trail is located on the Warsaw escarpment and takes about six hours to complete. The many café-clubs and cultural institutions along the way make for a great pit stop or two if your legs get tired.
Not many European capitals let you light a campfire in the middle of the city, but head to the east bank of the Vistula River and you can enjoy a barbecue with the view of the Old Town in the background.
Dozens of small shrines hide inside courtyards around the city, most of them in the Old Praga neighbourhood. Usually featuring a large statue of Virgin Mary, candles and flowers, the shrines were built during World War II, as a symbol of resistance and hope. Those who want to see them should head to Ząbkowska, Targowa and Kępna streets – just be mindful not to disturb the local communities.
Before leaving the east bank and heading back to the city center, film buffs should go for a walk around Stalowa, Ząbkowska, Konopacka and Mała streets, where Roman Polański shot The Pianist. The iconic movie tells a story of Włdysław Szpilman (played by Adrien Brody in an Oscar-winning turn), a Polish Jewish pianist struggling to survive in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.
Before World War II, Warsaw’s Jewish community was second only to New York City’s in terms of size. Today addresses such as Umschlagplatz, Próżna Street, and Chłodna Street, as well as Nożyk Synagogue, and a fragment of Ghetto Wall at 55 Sienna Street are just some of the places that act as the reminder of the past. During the summer, Singer’s Warsaw Festival showcases live culture from Jewish musicians, authors and artists.
Having had a revival in recent years, milk bars are a great and cheap way to experience traditional Polish cuisine. Their low prices are guaranteed by government subsidies, while their dishes offer an authentic taste of times gone by, served up by staff working there since the previous political system. History and food in one hit – what’s not to love?
It is impossible to go a couple of blocks in the city without passing by a cake shop. Cheesecakes, Polish doughnuts and apple pies tempt passersby from window displays. Give in to temptation and enjoy a slice or two of traditional Polish desserts.
Instead of hopping on a traditional tram or a bus to cross the Vistula River, head over to the river bank near Most Poniatowskiego and jump on a water tram instead. Cruises take place four times a day, exclusively on the weekends and holidays and from July 1 to August 31, and also on Fridays.