Warsaw – the capital city and the biggest city in Poland is full of attractions, but how many days is enough? 1, 2 or more? Of course, the more you stay, the more you see. But let me show you what to see in just 2 days and leave Warsaw satisfied. But before we jump to it, you should know a little bit about the history of Warsaw.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF WARSAW
Some of the earliest mentions of Warsaw were as early as the XIV century, but let’s focus on the times when Warsaw became the capital city of Poland. Not long after the fire of Wawel Castle, Sigmund III Vasa moved the permanent royal residence, manors, and crown offices from Kraków to the expanded Warsaw Castle. It was 1596. The consequence of this was the rapid development of Warsaw and a steady increase in the population. Warsaw also became an important cultural and science center. Unfortunately, the first collapse of the city was brought by the periods of war with Swedes in the mid-XVII century. On May 3rd 1791 the first constitution in Europe and the second in the world was adopted in Warsaw, laying the foundations for the shape of a modern state. In 1795, Poland disappeared from the map of Europe for 123 years, and its lands were absorbed by Russia, Prussia, and Austria. Part of Mazovia with Warsaw, which was degraded to the role of a provincial city, fell to Prussia. The November Uprising, which was in 1830-1831 helped regain independence for a short time. It was still Russia, who was on the front foot. Later 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 was the period of World Wars, which destroyed Warsaw a lot. You need to know, the Warsaw you see today is a rebuilt image of how it looked before. During WW 84% of the city was demolished. Germans with intention bombarded places of interest like Castles, Libraries, Museums, or Churches. Straight after World War II people started to rebuild the city, it lasted until around 1970.
DAY 1: Geological museum – Royal Baths – Bar Bambino – Palace of Culture and Science – Mermaid Monument and Powiśle – Garden at the roof of Warsaw University – Royal Route – Presidential Palace – Castle Square – Old Town Square
DAY 2: Shopping – Hala Mirowska – Gdański Bridge- Bar Gdański – Old Town Square with Mermaid monument – Barbican
FREE ENTRANCE TO MUSEUMS
Visiting museums is not for everybody, but those who want to learn a bit more in detail about Warsaw, its story, and its history can visit a few places. I especially recommend Warsaw Uprising Museum or Royal Castle in Warsaw, but check out the full list here.
It’s located a tram ride from the city center. It’s free for visitors and presents the history of the earth. Its educational exhibition about different eras, fossils, and even dinosaurs or volcanos is interesting not only for school kids.
ROYAL BATHS (ŁAZIENKI KRÓLEWSKIE)
It’s the biggest park in Warsaw, making it an ideal place for a Sunday chill walk. I especially suggest choosing autumn, basically because of the colours, less crowd, and squirrels!! The park is a paradise for them. You’ll meet not one, but a whole lot of squirrels on your way through the park.
The park with its 76 hectares is spotted with palaces, pavilions, two orangeries, an amphitheater, a planetarium, follies, promenades, water features, and monuments of national standing. But the biggest attraction is the Łazienki Palace made on an artificial island in the 18th century for King Stanisław II Augustus.
Reserve at least 2 hours in the park for a relaxed walk. Don’t forget to visit the monument of the composer Frédéric Chopin, designed in 1907 in the Art Nouveau style, on your way back.
PALACE OF CULTURE AND SCIENCE
The most recognizable building in Warsaw, and till 2022 the tallest building in Poland. It is 237 meters and has 42 floors, where you can find four theatres, a multi-screen cinema, two museums, the 3,000-seater Congress Hall, government offices, academic institutions, and private companies. The building itself was a gift from the Soviet Union to the Polish people and was built in 1955. You can elevate to an observation tower there, on the 30th floor. If you want to go inside as well, you’ll need at least one hour.
MERMAID OF WARSAW SCULPTURE
The Mermaid of Warsaw is one of the symbols of the town. It’s half woman half fish. You can find many sculptures, monuments, or imagery around the city. It originated as an image on Warsaw’s coat of arms in 1390. It showed an animal with a bird’s legs and a torso covered with dragon scales. The seal of 1459 had feminine characteristics, a bird torso, human hands, a fishtail, and bird legs and claws. The first presentation of a mermaid dates from 1622. The inspiration for the coat of arms was probably derived from the 2nd-century book Physiologus. Obviously, there’re legends connected with mermaids, but the idea is that she stayed to protect the city. That’s why we often see her with a sword and a shield. The two most recognizable monuments are in Powisle, by the Vistula river and in the Old Town square. The one by the river is one of the few objects that survived World War II without major damage.
COPERNICUS SCIENCE CENTRE
Right next to the mermaid’s monument you can find Poland’s top science museum opened in 2010. It’s a super interactive exhibition that allows kids to touch everything, try things out, and experiment. You can buy your ticket online and spend a whole day there! More practical info here.
WARSAW UNIVERSITY LIBRARY GARDEN
A few steps from the Vistula River lays one of the largest roof gardens in Europe(if we don’t count Turin and Paris): Warsaw University’s library garden. Open from March to November, this one-hectare space is a little dreamland of fountains, streams, pergolas, arbors and lawns. It’s the work of landscape architect Irena Bajersaka. But don’t forget to also look around at the fantastic city views!! You can even see the Palace of Culture and Science.
The Royal Way is one of Warsaw’s most famous streets. It’s the name of the former road connecting the Royal Castle in Warsaw with the Wilanów Palace. Currently, it consists of the following streets: Krakowskie Przedmieście, Nowy Świat, pl. Three Crosses, Ujazdowskie, Belwederska and Sobieskiego avenues. It’s around 4 kilometers long and it takes more than an hour to walk it all, but with stops like the Royal Castle, Presidential Palace, and Royal Baths, it can take a whole day.
The Royal Castle is the former seat of Polish rulers. Today, a museum with an amazing collection of Rembrandt, Canaletto or Matejko’s paintings as well as priceless insignias or the real throne. The column in front of the castle is the oldest secular monument in Warsaw. On top of the 8,5-meter high column stands Sigmund III Vasa – one of many kings of Poland. The column was raised in 1644 but was torn down by the Germans in 1944 and its original red marble was replaced with granite. The large, open square is surrounded by colorful buildings and cafes and if you follow one of the narrow streets you’ll get to the Old Town market square.
OLD TOWN MARKET SQUARE
It is the most historic part of the Old Town. It’s surrounded by colorful Renaissance and Baroque merchants’ houses. All the buildings are post-war replicas of what came before, as the square was bombed and blown up during war. The mermaid figure on the fountain in the center is one of many around the city. Be aware of the conmen walking around the square trying to fool you for some money.
This is where we finished the first day,but it took us literally the whole day, 16 kilometers + many more with public transport and the complete lack of energy at the end of the day.
The next day and actually the last day we started with some shopping. We checked out the second-hand shops in one of Warsaw’s districts, close to Powiazki. On streets: Wolska and Płocka you can find 3 second-hand shops at once. But you can also try:
Złote Tarasy – one of the most recognizable shopping center in Warsaw. It sits in the heart of Warsaw – between main train station and the Palace of Culture and Science.
Westfield Arkadia – a big shopping center with more than 200 shops, cafes and a cinema.
Hala Koszyki – a bustling, renovated market hall with trendy bistros and street food options.
Hala Mirowska – two twin market halls with some groceries, stationery or clothes. It’s very lively, especially on Saturdays.
The bridge built in 1957-1959 has 407 meters and is a fantastic construction. It has two levels – the upper one for cars and the lower one for trams, bikes and pedestrians. By crossing the bridge you can get to one of the entrances to ZOO. The bridge is decorated with the sign: Miło Cię widzieć. Nice to see you.
The Warsaw Barbican is a semicircular fortified outpost and one of the few remaining relics of the complex network of historic fortifications that once encircled Warsaw. It was built in 1540 and designed by Jan Baptist the Venetian, an Italian Renaissance architect who lived and worked in Warsaw. The barbican had the form of a three-level semicircular bastion manned by fusiliers. It was 14 meters wide and 15 meters high from the bottom of the moat, which surrounded the city walls, and extended 30 meters from the external walls. The building was massively destroyed during WW2. It was rebuilt after the war, during 1952–1954, on the basis of 17th-century etchings, as the new government decided it would be cheaper to rebuild the barbican and the nearby city walls as a tourist attraction than to rebuild the tenements.
Bary mleczne is an awesome alternative for budget cuisine. We search for a few in different districts, always planning the trip with one on the way. Bar mleczny offers home traditional cuisine for less money than in the restaurant. Remember, most of the time you need to accept that this type of place is chosen by students and less fortunate ones, so the company might not always satisfy you.
Here are two that I recommend: Bar Bambino (Hoża 19) and Bar Gdański (Gen. W. Andersa 33)
Don’t even try driving a car in the city! To begin with, parking everywhere around the city is not for free and finding a spot is almost impossible. Instead, try public transportation. It’s metro, trams and buses. Buy a 24-hour ticket and be faster than on foot. Warsaw is really huge and if you want to cover more, you’ll definitely need to be mobile. Install jakdojade.pl, buy your ticket there and keep your phone charged. The day pass ticket cost 15 PLN for an adult and 7,5 PLN for a kid.
You have plenty of possibilities to come to Warsaw. It has an international airport, train and bus system. It’s connected with most European capital cities with a direct link. If you come by car, remember that parking in zone 1 is paid until 8 pm. You can find some park and ride, with a day pass it’s for free, but anyway you need to take your car at night, as the parking is closed at around 11 pm. You may also find a parking place outside of the first zone, but it’s a risk your car gets stolen.
It’s not difficult to find a luxurious hotel, a cheap room or an apartment to rent. Warsaw is full of it. Depending on your budget, choose where you want to stay a night. We decided to use public transport anyway, so we could choose accommodation a bit further from the center. It was a whole apartment, in a closed, guarded housing estate with monitoring – where we felt extremely safe.
From Warsaw you can get anywhere else in the world! But what about some other locations in Poland? Have you seen Łódź, Katowice or Krakow? And what about the Polish seaside, from Warsaw it’s just 3,5 hours by car to the most beautiful city by the Baltic sea: Gdańsk.
IS IT ENOUGH?
At the very beginning, I thought that within 48 hours we’ll see nothing in Warsaw. The city’s so huge and full of monuments, museums, parks, castles and more. But after all, I feel that we’ve seen quite a big part of it. And I can say that I left satisfied to finally see my capital city (yes, I’m Polish :)). Of course, on another occasion, maybe we’ll get a chance to revisit and see the other parts of Warsaw because let’s be honest – There’s more.