Warsaw is a city packed with all sorts of museums. The most popular of these remain the Frederic Chopin Museum, the Nicolaus Copernicus Museum and the important Warsaw Uprising Museum. These three obvious museums are joined by the National Museum and the Marie Skłodowska Museum for being well-known and busy tourist museums. But in order to delve deeper into Warsaw’s more raw culture, you’ll have to visit these six unusual museums, which have a reputation for peeling back a few more layers of this city’s rich history.
Although vodka consumption is one of the most popular pastimes among Polish people, the impressive Vodka Museum still remains an off-the-beaten path gem. Housed in a former Koneser Vodka distillery, this is a museum in a building with real history. It’s one of the few vodka museums around the world that is housed in a place that used to distill vodka in mass quantities. What’s even more intriguing is that it is in a very local part of Warsaw, the trendy up-and-coming Praga neighbourhood. The main theme of the museum’s elaborate exhibition is the journey it takes you on through the 600-year history of vodka production in Poland. The museum was the brainchild of the Pernod Ricard Group, who have similar museums in other countries. Also near the museum is Ząbkowska Street, which is one of the oldest streets in Warsaw and now houses some very cool cafes and bars.
Also located east of the Wisła River, in the hip Soho Factory area (home of the city’s creative businesses), the Neon Museum has over 60 neon signs from the Cold War era. Some of them adorn the exterior walls of the complex and can be seen lit up after dark. It makes for a truly fascinating alternative to the city’s mainstream museums. Another great surprise is that photography is allowed and encouraged here. Please note it has short opening hours and is completely closed on Tuesdays.
Pawiak is another chilling testimony to one of the darkest chapters in Warsaw’s history. Formerly a prison that was most significantly used by the Nazi occupiers to imprison and even execute Poles, the site of Pawiak now houses a small museum. Only a few remnants of the original prison remain after it was blown up in 1944; however, reconstructions inside the new building give just a taste of what life was like for the inmates. A visit to Pawiak is a haunting experience, allowing present day tourists to understand the tragedies that occurred at the site not so long ago. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
One for the artistic museum buffs, this Poster Gallery and Museum is one of the more obscure museums in Warsaw. Founded in 1966, Muzeum Plakatu is the oldest and therefore longest running poster museum in the world. It was created with the objective of promoting the creative pursuits of Poland’s most talented graphic artists. Since then, it has become one of Poland’s best-stocked galleries showcasing the heritage of the Polish Poster School. Over the years, and through tumultuous political change, it has exhibited a wide range of work, from politically charged posters to more conceptual, abstract graphic work. Some of the most prominent artists featured have included Franciszek Starowieyski, Jan Tarasin, Rosław Szaybo and Jan Lenica. In addition to showcasing individual artists, the gallery also organizes thematic, collective exhibitions. It has limited opening hours and has free entry on Mondays.
The Muzeum Czar PRL is a real treat for those who want a glimpse of communist times in Poland. The country was known as PRL (Polska Rzeczpospolita Ludowa) from 1952 to 1990 and was an important part of the eastern block. This museum manages to capture the highlights and lowlights from that era. The museum was founded by local travel guides Rafał and Marta Patla, who love to show the various stages of Polish history. Inside, expect to find all sorts of items, paraphernalia and family memorabilia to create a constant display of the communist regime. To add to the quirkiness of the experience, the museum is housed in a garage in a Soho Factory in Warsaw’s Praga district.
Another cool museum in Warsaw worth checking out, yet often neglected by everyday tourists, is the Warsaw Gasworks Museum. The museum is in a large area with 12 main buildings to explore, many of them are typical examples of Polish industrial architecture dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The main museum is indoors, but the grounds are worth exploring from the outside too. It is located in the city’s Wola district and the area still has broken windows, decaying bricks and overgrown grass. The museum is free entry and is well connected by public transport, but has limited opening hours and is closed on weekends.