Whether you’re a classical music freak, science nerd, visual-art aficionado or history buff, Warsaw has a lot to offer. If you’re planning a trip to Poland’s beautiful capital city, check out these places to visit to make the most of your Warsaw sightseeing.
Included on the Unesco World Heritage list, Warsaw’s Old Town was completely rebuilt after World War II, based mostly on 18th-century paintings by the Italian painter Canaletto. The heart of the area, guarded proudly by the Mermaid of Warsaw, is the Old Town Market Place with its restaurants and cafes. Visitors should also make sure to see the Barbican and St John’s Cathedral, as well as explore the picturesque winding streets.
Formerly the royal residence between the 16th and 18th centuries, the castle now houses a museum and is open to the public. Restored and furnished with repossessed furniture and works of art, it transports visitors to the time of Stanisław August Poniatowski, the last king of Poland.
Built right after the war on the rubble from the completely destroyed Jewish ghetto, Muranów was designed as a memorial, housing estate and representation of the ideology of socialist realism. Walking around the neighbourhood, visitors can see and feel the city’s history outside of pristine museum walls.
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The Łazienki Królewskie is not your average city park: it features a long lake with an 18th-century summer palace in the middle, as well as a botanical garden and an amphitheatre with free plays, performances and Chopin concerts during the summer months. Located in the city centre and spanning 76ha (188 acres), this park is a great place to visit on a hot summer’s day.
Commemorating the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, this state-of-the-art museum tells the story of the Polish rebellion against the Nazi occupation. Comprising video, audio and photographs, mixed into an interactive experience, this unique, tactile exhibition gives an interesting glimpse not only into the city’s history but also into the country’s historical narrative around one of the most traumatic events in its history.
Dubbed as the most modern biographical museum in Europe, the Fryderyk Chopin Museum offers a real treat not only to the fans of Chopin’s music but for anyone interested in the time period in which he lived and created. The collections include printed copies of his works, his correspondence and personal memorabilia, divided into 15 rooms, each creating a separate mini-exhibit.
One of the best examples of Polish Baroque architecture in Warsaw, the Wilanów Palace used to be the summer residence of King Jan III Sobieski, before being turned into the first Polish museum in 1805. The palace is lavishly decorated and is surrounded by magnificent Italianate gardens.
Warsaw Fotoplastikon is the only such institution in Poland and one of only a few in the world. The stereoscopic theatre, based on the Kaiserpanorama system of rotating images, allowed viewers to watch changing three-dimensional images and was a precursor for cinemas. Warsaw Fotoplastikon’s archives include over 3,000 original photographs from the city and around the world.
Located on the Old Town Market Place, the Museum of Warsaw is composed of 11 modernised tenement houses that feature the core exhibition – The Things of Warsaw – as well as temporary exhibitions, a cinema, workshops and special tours. It’s a great starting point for those who want to learn more about the city’s turbulent yet fascinating history.
Dedicated to showcasing contemporary art, Zachęta stages temporary exhibitions that showcase what are arguably the most important phenomena of the 21st century. In efforts to promote living artists from Poland and abroad, the gallery organises talks, discussions and screenings. Visitors should stop by the bookshop, which features a great selection of art-related publications.
Fine-arts aficionados should head to the National Museum, where they will be able to find Polish and European art from the Middle Ages to the present day. The museum is home to several galleries dedicated to Polish art, which include some of the best works from the country’s leading painters, including Jan Matejko and Józef Chełmoński. The museum is also known for its engaging temporary exhibitions, so be sure to check out what they have currently on display before you visit.
Constructed between 1952 and 1955, the Palace of Culture and Science divides Warsaw’s inhabitants into those who still hate it and those who learned to accept it. This “gift of the Soviet people to the Polish nation”, offered by Joseph Stalin himself, has become one of the city’s most widely recognised symbols. The Palace houses a cinema, a swimming pool, four museums, four theatres, universities and numerous coffee stores and bars. Visitors can also take advantage of the terrace located on the 30th floor, offering a mesmerising view of the city’s panorama.
The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews has an interactive exhibition that offers an incredible journey over 1,000 years – from the first Jewish settlements in Poland to present times. Aside from broadening their knowledge about Polish-Jewish relations, visitors can also enjoy traditional Jewish cuisine at the restaurant as well as participate in numerous events organised by the institution.
Described as “an art installation in the form of an insert between two existing buildings, representing different historical periods in Warsaw’s history”, Keret House is the narrowest fully functional house in the world. Designed by Jakub Szczęsny and operated by the Polish Modern Art Foundation, Keret House is used primarily as a space for art residencies; however, visitors are invited once a month. Those interested should book their tour in advance.
Located on the bank of the Vistula River, Copernicus Science Centre is the largest science centre in Poland, with over 450 interactive exhibitions in six interdisciplinary galleries. Especially worth visiting is the Heavens of Copernicus planetarium, which offers movie screenings and live shows. Those who want to escape the crowds of excited children can choose to visit the centre during adults-only evenings taking place once a month between 7pm and 10pm.
At the weekend, both sides of the river become a buzzing meeting spot – especially popular among young people. The east side, with its sand and grass, is characterised by a more natural feel and countless campfires, whereas the west side, covered in concrete, attracts people with numerous food trucks and beach bars.
The Museum of Neon is trying to preserve the unique tissue of Warsaw’s Cold War era: the city’s characteristic neon signs. Designed by famous artists, designers and architects, neons are slowly disappearing from the streets but are finding, at the same time, a refuge in this special institution. The museum offers an interesting lesson in typography as well as the preservation of functional design.
Currently the centre of the vibrant entrepreneurial scene and home to Google Campus, Koneser Vodka Distillery is an interesting example of Gothic-style industrial architecture. Relatively undamaged during World War II, the old distillery and the surrounding neighbourhood give a good glimpse of what the city used to look like before the war.
The resting place of some of the most important names in the country’s history, Powązki Cemetery is a real treasure, with impressive sculptures from the Neoclassic period and Secession to contemporary art. Established in 1790 by King Stanisław August Poniatowski, the cemetery’s catacombs house the remains of the King’s family and members of his court. In 1925, the Aleja Zasłużonych (Avenue of Merit), located along the southern wall of the catacombs, became a resting place for accomplished Poles, including Noble Prize-winning writer Władysław Reymond and writer Maria Dąbrowska.
The State Ethnographic Museum is for those interested in the customs and habits of Polish culture. Especially worth visiting is the permanent exhibition Biblia Pauperum, which explores the narrative power of the Bible and how it influenced peasants’ view of the world.
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