Warsaw: checking out the historical centre
The capital of Poland has had it’s drama of course during the Second World War thanks to the Nazi Germans destroying everything but since then the city has been rebuilt during communist times to the modern day era. I have checked out Warsaw on a few occasions and the city to explore gets better and better. From the rebuilt old town, the communist structures to the modern day restaurants and bars, here is my guide on what to do and see for first timers to this Central European city.
The Old Town of Warsaw
This part of Warsaw is completely destroyed in the Second World War but walking around the main square (Rynek Starego Miasta) it feels like nothing has gone and the buildings are of that of their original structures. The locals have rebuilt the square and surrounding side streets to its original designs. I am so pleased about this as it felt I was taking a step back in time but in the summer months it’s fantastic to see people sitting outside the bustling cafes and restaurants.
Just off the square on ul. Nowomiejska is the Barbican and some of the city walls which have survived over the years. The building known as the Barbican was built here to defend the city from attackers from the north but was destroyed in the Second World War. Now it has been rebuilt since then despite the fact there is no need for it as it wasn’t in use many years before it got destroyed.
Walking around the old town visitors (and as I found out) can check out the Cathedral of Saint John (as well as the old town’s other 10,000 churches – I am joking but there are several as Poland is a very religious Catholic country) but the other main sight to check out is the Royal Castle (Zamek Krolewski) which was built in the 16th century when the capital of Poland was moved from Krakow to Warsaw. Once again this castle was destroyed by the Nazi Germans in the Second World War but has been reconstructed in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Just northwest of the Old Town Square on pl. Krasinskich is the monument to the 1944 Warsaw Uprising which commemorates the heroes of this historic event. Walking around this amazing monument was a quiet, somber one, thinking about those who gave up their lives to fend off the Nazi Germans. The sculptures represent soldiers and are separated into groups around the square. One group is shown defending the barricades and the other group going into the sewers. The locals used the sewer system to move around Warsaw during the uprising and near to this monument, one of the entrances can be found into the system.
The area around the Old Town is probably the best place to grab some food and drinks. Like most cities in Europe, the restaurants around the touristy centres can be the most expensive but don’t even worry about that in Poland. For at least ten years Poland is one of the cheapest countries to visit and is great value for money, so even a good three-course meal with drinks can be very cheap, so my advice is don’t worry about splashing the cash. Also personally speaking, Poland offers some of the best food and cuisine in Europe and is definitely worth checking out.
South of the Old Town
Krakowskie Przedmiescie is the street which runs down from the Royal Castle southwards towards the central train station etc and is full of modern shops, restaurants and bars. Carry on straight and the road name changes into Nowy Swiat. Down a side street called Foksal there is a bar called Ciechan na Foksal. Here there are sixteen taps supplying the regional beers from the area of Ciechanowie, far away from Warsaw and we managed to get through a few of these Polish delights, including Ciechan, Lwowek and Bojan brews. The taste of the beers are a bit stronger and sharper than other Polish beers I have tried but loved the place (and the staff) to bits and would recommend this bar to any visitor coming to Warsaw.
The City Centre
Visitors to Warsaw are most likely to start and finish their adventures of the city here as the Central Train Station and bus station is located here and also plenty of taxis and airport buses which runs passengers to and from the main airport plus the small airport in nearby Modlin (mostly used by no-frills airlines). If doing a journey after Warsaw by public transport and need some snacks, there are plenty of shops and cafes around here to get by on.
The first sight most visitors see when leaving the station is the huge (but ugly looking) Palace of Culture and Science. This horrible building was a gift to the nation of Poland from its neighbours, the then USSR and was built in the early 1950’s. It is said that the o’mighty Stalin (leader of the USSR and a big bully who likes to kill his own people) said he offered Warsaw a metro system or this building. The people wanted a metro system, Stalin didn’t listen and gave them this building. When it was built it was the second tallest building in Europe but now has the record of being Poland’s tallest. Now for some stupid facts, it has 30 storeys, 40 million bricks were used and the spire is 230m (750ft) high. Anyway, some locals still hate this building because of the history with the Soviet Union (Stalin was a funny character, saves Poland from the Nazi Germans but then was acting like a puppet master with the Polish government, I don’t do politics but thought I mention this) and still calls for its demolition.
However for a small fee (and I have been up here twice), I made our way to the top level and managed to get some amazing views. Well, Warsaw isn’t the prettiest of cities, it can be ugly in fact with many ugly-grey-concrete-Soviet style buildings but there is a nice river and a modern sports stadium worth checking out. Walking around I was taking in the marvel of the bricks and the architecture and thinking, well, it is an ugly building but this ugly building has its charm and good points as well. I couldn’t put my finger on it but without the history, this building wouldn’t have been built and where then could visitors or myself get views of this amazing city.
Don’t get me wrong, Warsaw has many other interesting things to see and do, many churches to take a peek in, many memorials and museums but what I have written about are the top places to hit in the Polish capital. I usually use the city as a passing through point to get to other towns in the country or take the train eastwards towards Minsk and Moscow or get a cheap bus northwards towards Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and while I have a few hours, I always tick off something new here. Also accommodation in Poland and Warsaw itself are very cheap compared to other countries in Europe and there are plenty of options to choose from.