Warsaw’s Old Town is a photographer’s dream, from the nooks and crannies of the poky side streets to the perfectly reconstructed walls and buildings. Work your way through these pretty streets, snapping to your heart’s content whilst falling in love with Warsaw’s sublime beauty. You can spend weeks touring the delightful streets and photogenic sights of Warsaw’s Old Town. But if you only have one day, this guide will cover the best sights, starting off on the edge of the Old Town and culminating in a visit to the famous Royal Castle.
Start off in the main square in the Nowe Miasto (New Town). Here, you can concentrate on three main sights to photograph. Firstly, the Zabytkowa Studnia is a monument of a lady with a spear and a unicorn. Then photograph the stunning Roman Catholic Church of St Kasimir (at the end of the square) and the Warsaw Theatre before heading onto the photogenic street that leads down to the entrance to the Old Town itself.
Saunter along the pretty cobbled street known as Ulica Freta. Here you will find two large Catholic churches and the enticing Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum, which is housed in the exact building where the famous Polish scientist was born. It is a reconstructed 18th-century townhouse, is one of the best museums in Warsaw and kind of a local secret. For the science buffs, the museum offers a glimpse into the life of one of the city’s most famous daughters: Maria Skłodowska-Curie, not only the first woman ever to win a Nobel Prize, but the only person to win in multiple sciences (physics and chemistry).
Further along Ulica Freta is the start of the Old Town walls that the 1944 Warsaw uprising wiped out. It remains the biggest resistance by any single military effort against the German Nazis during the Second World War. The walls have been reconstructed and restored to their former glory. Enter the Old Town at Barbakan Warszawski, the old gate. Admire its brickwork and roofed towers.
As you enter the old city gate, take time to photograph the walls where you can explore history in brick form. You will notice a mixture of old bricks and new bricks. Clever builders also made the cement line thicker between the parts that were not destroyed and the parts that are new, so you can see the contrast. The eagle-eyed onlooker will spot the joints. From here, there are also views down towards the river, a few stalls selling souvenirs and some street musicians, all adding to the spirit and vibe of this lively Old Town.
Next up on your photographer’s tour is the centrepiece of the Old Town – Warsaw’s Old Town Square itself, not to be confused with Castle Square (or the previously mentioned New Town Square). This Old Town Square is a hive of activity all year round. The most visited sight here is the Warsaw mermaid.
The city’s icon, this mermaid sits proudly in the middle of the Old Town Square hoisting up her shield and sword to protect the city from invasion. Museum buffs will also love the fact that the museum opposite houses yet another mermaid statue – the original one which was replaced in 2008. Head to the Muzeum Warszawy to check it out.
These days, the Old Town Square is very touristic and, of course, has a lot of bars, cafés and restaurants. Some of these are worth checking out for their interior décor and design. One of the most elegant restaurants is U Fukiera, which is located on two floors in an old townhouse. There are three different parts of the restaurant to eat in – the front room, the outdoor courtyard and the downstairs basement. Each of these provide ample photographic opportunities for the keen camera enthusiast or Instagrammer. The restaurant has excellent Polish food and is listed in the Michelin Guide. It’s on the right hand side of the square, in the photo below.
All photographers love to capture a slightly off-the-beaten-path part of town, so once you have taken enough photos of the Old Town Square, it’s time to veer into one of the side streets. Head east of the Old Town Square onto Jezuicka and onto the streets Celna and Brzozowa.
These streets are still residential and are bereft of an influx of tourists – there are no touristic cafés or restaurants here; instead old buildings, a theatre and a wishing bell grace these quieter streets. The wishing bell is located on Kanonia Ulica (Cannon Street) and it will fulfil one of your wishes if you touch it and walk around it while thinking of your wish. Locals swear by it.
Then turn back down Dziekania Street to check out two of the Old Town’s most stunning churches. The first church is called Shrine of Our Lady of Graces (in Polish – Sanktuarium Matki Bożej Łaskawej) and the second one is the Royal Cathedral (in Polish – Bazylika Archikatedralna w Warszawie p.w. Męczeństwa św. Jana Chrzciciela). Both are usually open during the day and welcome visitors, both are located on Świętojańska Street, side by side.
Next it’s time to visit Ulica Piwna – this is one of the oldest and most famous streets in Warsaw and guess what? It translates as ‘beer street’, so this is also a great chance to try some Polish beer in the street’s many bars and restaurants! It’s a good place to capture photos of locals and tourists drinking – be sure to ask for permission before taking photos of the staff and clients though. You might also see traditional horse and carts passing through.
Ulica Piwna (Beer Street) nicely leads you down to Plac Zamkowy (Castle Square). This is where Warsaw’s old meets the new, and the city comes alive with buskers, entertainers and street vendors. The most striking building here is the Royal Palace itself – a magnificent 17th-century Baroque palace. The building was destroyed completely during the Second World War but has since been rebuilt in its entirety. You can go inside for a fee and visit the museum, or simply admire the palace and the square from the cobblestoned ground. It is the largest building in the Old Town and is distinctive due to its striking dark pink colour.
Plac Zamkowy features many entertainers, all happy to be photographed as they add a peaceful and happy spirit to the city. The views from here also provide a glimpse of the Wisła River, the banks of Praga district and onto Krakowskie Przedmieście, one of Warsaw’s modern day thoroughfares.
Conclude your old town tour at Zygmunt’s Column. This is the large pillar dedicated to King Zygmunt himself. Zygmunt is the Polish King who decided to move the capital city from Kraków to Warsaw in 1596. Warszawa in Polish is female in gender, echoed by King Zygmunt in his famous quote to the city’s residents, ‘Did you ever see Warsaw as beautiful, as you saw her tonight?’
Once you’ve said goodbye to King Zygmunt and the Old Town of Warsaw, you can continue your stroll onto Krakowskie Przedmieście, one of Warsaw’s most famous modern day streets, and explore the rest of the city.