Are you planning a trip to Warsaw? Try out this list of fun things to do, unusual things to see, and alternative city tours in Warsaw. Whether visiting for a day, a weekend or a week, you should be able to use this city guide to plan your itinerary and have a memorable experience in the capital of Poland.
Warsaw is so much more than the Lazienki Park, the Old Town with its Market Square, and the Uprising Museum. This dynamically developing city with a troubled history hides many surprising attractions.
Read this blog post and uncover Warsaw’s secrets!
Let's go! :)
1 | Visit The World's Narrowest House: 152 cm (4.99 ft) !
The Keret House is not only the narrowest house in the world, but it is also an artistic installation. This unique two-floors art construction is a kind of an insert between two buildings representing different historical periods of Warsaw: one building is from the pre-World War ll period, and the other one is a post-war building. The house is named after the Israeli writer Etgar Keret whose parents survived the Holocaust in Poland.
It's more than a building: the Keret House is a symbol of filling the emptiness, patching the crack and reconciliation with the past.
How to find it: it is a space between buildings at 22 Chłodna street and 74 Żelazna Street in Warsaw.
If you want to visit the Keret House from inside (and it is the best option for a more meaningful visit of this place), you have two options: check the fan page of the Keret House for their Open Doors days or send an email to email@example.com.
More info on www.kerethouse.com
2 | Look At The Magical Window @ FOTOPLASTIKON
There is a little charming place in Warsaw. It is called Fotoplastikon. As soon as you cross the threshold of Fotoplastikon, you will be carried into the past.
So what is it? It is a big room with a sort of device surrounded by chairs that allows you to watch three-dimensional photos. The photos are not random but compose a mini-movie. Each time there is a different story to watch, made of old black and white photos (there are more than 3000 photographs in their archive). You can get on a story about Warsaw in different historical moments, about the creation of comic strips, expeditions, different countries, or legends.
For me, going there was quite an emotional experience. When I was a small kid, I had my own mini-fotoplastikon as a toy for watching 3D cartoons. It was a toy for dreaming, for fantasy, for imagination because I had to complete the images with sounds and words myself. "Watching" a story at Warsaw Fotoplastikon brought me memories from my childhood and a sensation where the line between imaginary and real, past and present blurred.
The place itself is quite unusual, and it is open in Warsaw since 1905. It’s the only one Fotoplastikon in Poland and one of few in the world. Check it out if you would like to visit something off the beaten track in Warsaw.
Where: Al. Jerozolimskie 51
Open: Wednesday-Sunday, 10:00-18:00. Entry fee 4 PLN (1 EUR). Free entry on Thursday.
3 | Discover Unusual Murals and Street Art
Get lost in the streets of Old Praga district, wander around the atmospheric pre-war buildings, and suddenly stop with a “waw” whoop. Because you
would see a piece of street art like this one:
There are more and more masterpieces appear in different parts of the city. It definitely gives a unique character to Warsaw and makes it brighter during gray winter days. The most important, Warsaw street artists can now express themselves freely, and we can enjoy the results of their work. I totally love the idea of bringing art into the everyday life!
You will find amazing murals and street art not only in Praga but also in Zoliborz district, in Fort Bema or even in Śródmieście.
Here are some streets where you can hunt for street art: Widok, Aleja Jana Pawla ||, Nowogrodzka, Minska, Nowolipki, and Raclawicka.
I will try to make a map soon to make you find these street art spots easier.
4 | Go On The Communist Warsaw Tour
To understand Warsaw, you have to understand its past, especially the period under the communism (1945-1989). A fork on a chain, milk bars, queues in the shops, buying meat from under the counter, - these are the symbols of the People’s Republic of Poland (PRL). Can you imagine, it was just 30 years ago?
Don't miss the opportunity to ride in the time machine and travel to the communist times of Warsaw.
A fun way to learn about life under communism in Warsaw is through the Bike Tour of Communist Warsaw.
During this tour, you will visit the Communist sites, such as the Palace of Culture, Communist Party HQ, and Soviet Soldiers Cemetery, and others. You will hear horror and humorous stories about the absurdity of the PRL time from a local, and much more. Check the details here.
Photo by GetYourGuide
If you are not a fan of pedaling, try Warsaw Off The Beaten Path Self-Drive Tour or Behind the Scenes City Tour in Communist-Era Car.
It is a truly unique way to explore Warsaw in the cars from communist time: Fiat 126p a.k.a "Toddler" or an authentic red van, known as a "Żuk." Expect a very informative, "outside the box" tour of Warsaw and alternative attractions.
For me, it was quite unusual to go on the communist tour because I was born in the USSR. I was curious to know what was the life during the communist times in Poland from a local. A part of the tour was a visit to the Life Under Communism Museum where I had an impression I found myself in the apartment of my grandmother in Syberia 20 years ago.
It is a recreated communist-style room with all the equipment and artifacts of the everyday life of that time: furniture, phone, toys, vacuum cleaners, kitchen utilities and other quirky items. If you come from a country that never was a part of the communist block, you will like the communist tour as it will transfer you to another world.
5 | Find unique neons at the Neon Museum
It is a truly unique place that will plunge you into the aesthetics of Socialist Realism in Poland. In this museum, you will discover historic neon signs from the 60s-70s “neonization campaign."
Why are these neons so special?
During the Communist time, the neon signs had an entirely different function then the signs in the capitalist countries. While in the Western
countries, it was free to install the neon signs as the advertisement to promote business and brands, in Poland, with the centrally controlled communist economy, neons were not commercial. They
rather served as decorative elements in the urban design and were supposed to provide information to people about socially important places. In addition, the neon signs were seen as a form of
Polish Applied Arts and, as you may guess, they were installed on the buildings according to the national plan on "neonization".
In this museum, you can find unusual neon signs of motorcycle and car factories, flower shops, public libraries, train stations and cinemas made by Polish neon artists.
The museum is located in the Soho Factory - a prominent spot on the cultural map of Warsaw. It is a former jute factory that became revitalized, and now this space hosts design shops, offices, cafes and restaurants, artistic installations, concerts and attracts hipsters and creative people. If you come here in the warm months, you can enjoy a beautiful outdoor area with hammocks.
Where: Mińska 25, Warszawa (Soho factory, building 55)
Open: Wednesday-Sunday, 12:00-17:00. Entrance fee: 10 PLN (2,5 EUR).
6 | Try Unusual Polish Food That Will Surprise You
What do you think it is? It is the main ingredient of the most popular Polish soup Flaki: a tripe. It is known as a perfect remedy against hangover (maybe it’s one of the reasons for Flaki’s popularity?). It took me a while to force myself to try a tripe soup. I did it out of curiosity. Was it tasty? Well, to be honest, one time was enough for me, but I still recommend you to try it, it’s a fun experience, and who knows, maybe you will find it delicious.
Some other Polish dishes that surprised me in Poland are Fish Jelly (Rybna Galaretka), sweet noodles with strawberries or other fruits (in addition, sometimes they add sweet milk to it), soup made of duck blood (Czarina), and blood sausage (Kaszanka). Where can you find it? In any restaurant specialized in Polish cuisine. Just ask for it. Or join the Polish food tour to explore all the variety of the Polish dishes with an expert.
Apart from these unusual food examples, there are numerous delicious Polish dishes and desserts. I have to admit I am a big foodie and I went to the countless number of restaurants in Warsaw. Here are the dishes that you must try before leaving Warsaw (or Poland): Pierogi (Polish dumplings), Żurek (soured rye flour soup with white sausage and hard-boiled egg), Gołąbki (cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat), Krokiety (breaded rolled pancakes filled with meat, cabbage and mushrooms), Zrazy zawijane (beef rolls), and Pyzy (potato dumplings). As for a dessert, you will not regret tasting Ptasie mleczko ("bird's milk," a candy with milk soufflé), Sernik (a Polish type of cheesecake), and Makowiec (poppy-seed cake).
You will need some time to try it all.
If you visit Warsaw just for a weekend and have big ambitions for exploring Polish cuisine, you may choose an option with food samples tasting that will give you an overview of what Poland has to offer. Like this, you will know what to order in the restaurant on your next trip to Poland.
7 | Take a Mystical Stairway to Heaven
It's one of the most unusual monuments I found in Warsaw: a stairway to heaven in the form of the DNA spiral.
You can look at it and ask yourself some questions about the meaning of life, or you can even climb the stairs and reach the sky (though the second option can be a little dangerous). The installation is located near the Camaldolese monastery in the Bielany district. It was created to commemorate Saint Romuald, the founder of the Order of the Camaldolese, who, according to the legend, saw in his dreams white monks ascending the stairs to the sky. There is no explanation why the creators decided to make the stairs in the form of the twisted DNA strands, but you can try to guess it for yourself.
Near the stairway, there is a church with a sun clock on a wall saying “time is our the most precious resource”. As a bonus, you will find here a permanent Christmas crib with live donkey and sheep.
Visiting this monument is rather for people who stay in Warsaw for longer than a weekend because the place is quite far away from the city center. I went there twice; it made an impression on me.
Where: 5 Dewajtis Street
How to get there: for public transportation, please check the website www.jakdojade.pl.
The best way to reach the place is by Uber. It's fast and cheap. If you never used it, here is the code (alexandran1417ue) to get your first ride for free.
Update: I've been there recently, and the monument was not there anymore. I don't know if it was demolished or removed for reconstruction...
8 | See Warsaw From Above
Get a different perspective of the city by observing Warsaw from above. To enjoy the view, you can go to the numerous viewpoints and observation decks located both in the modern part of the city and in the Old Town.
I wrote a separate blog post where you will find the list and addresses of the best places with scenic panoramas - sky bars, rooftop bars, hotels and viewpoints in Warsaw.
9 | Go For a Drink to Warsaw Hipster and Alternative Bars
Foto by Cud Nad Wisla, Facebook
Did you hear that Warsaw is a new Berlin?
When you start exploring alternative and hipster bars here, you will understand why this comparison makes sense. Funky and conceptual bars keep popping up in different parts of the city. All these alternative places are more than just bars. They host exhibitions, stand-up comedy evenings, cinema nights, slam poetry, travelers meetings, music concerts out of the mainstream and brew their beer.
Often the bars open in the post-industrial buildings that were abandoned for a long time and now revitalized to serve a social purpose.
An excellent example of the post-industrial bar that I like a lot is Skład Butelek, a club housed in the former rubber factory. With its Industrial-chic furniture, candles, graffiti on the walls, local beers, unforgettable ambiance, and one of the best jam sessions in the city, Skład Butelek is a gem on the cultural map of Warsaw.
Another cool post-industrial artistic place is 1500M2 DO WYNAJECIA. It is a huge old printing house converted into a space for artistic expression. You will find here concerts, performances, photo exhibitions, and all sorts of creative, independent projects.
Some other funky post-industrial places and cultural hotspots in Warsaw that I recommend visiting are Znośna Lekkość Bytu located in the former joinery workshop, artists and surreal Sen Pszczoły housed in the old metal hangar, and Fabryka Trzciny, an artistic complex in the ex-factory of cane sugar.
The best alternative bars of Warsaw are located in bohemian Praga, Zbawiciela Square (also called by locals as ‘Plac Hipstera’), Powisle, Zoliborz district, and banks of the river during summer time. I think I will write a separate blog post on this with the reviews of the places.
But for now, here is a very helpful map with the major alternative spots in Warsaw.
Spend one of your evenings in such place to feel a different vibe of Warsaw.
In case you travel alone and don’t feel like hanging out in the bars on your own, you can join the Craft Beer Tour or the Pub Crawl with Free Drinks during which you will explore the coolest bars of Warsaw in a cool company.
Photo by theNerdPatrol, Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Where To Stay in Warsaw?
If you have an option to stay in the Polish house - don't miss the possibility to immerse in the Polish culture. Try Couchsurfing, there are thousands of hosts in Warsaw. Or, if you don't have the time to send couch requests, you may opt for Airbnb room or apartment rental. By the way, if it's going to be your first time using Airbnb, with this code you will get a $25-35 discount. Check it out.
As for the hotels, there is an excellent choice of hotels and hostels in all price ranges in Warsaw!
Try to choose your hotel to be close to the tram or metro lines if you plan to explore the city.
Warsaw is a very safe city in comparison with other European capitals.
The only district that had a reputation of the place to avoid was Praga. However, it is changing now. Praga became a hipster and bohemian neighborhood, attracting not only artists and musicians but also startups. Even Google opened their Warsaw Campus in Praga. So, if you look for something not-touristic, consider staying in Praga. Vava Hostel is a trendy place with brick walls and hipster look. Prices start from 6 EUR/night. It is located in a safe area near the metro station "Dworzec Wilenski."
If you want to be in the middle of the action, it is better to stay in the Old Town or Centrum areas.
Budget accommodation (9-11 EUR/night): Hipstel Warsaw is a new hostel with the funky interior design. It is clean, centrally located and has great reviews. Oki-Doki is a design hostel with themed rooms and a great ambiance. In this hostel, it is very easy to meet people and make friends thanks to its lobby area and a bar. You don't need to go out of the hostel because the party is there.
Mid-range accommodation (30-60 EUR): if you want to enjoy a central location, privacy, and space, go for apartment rental with SleepWell Apartments. Their flats are modern, stylish and have everything you may need during your stay. Leonardo Royal Hotel from JM group generally falls in high-end accommodation because it's a 4-star hotel. However, it has often a reduced price on Booking.com (from 60 EUR in low season), so I included it in this list as well. It's a comfortable hotel with spacious rooms and excellent service. Located close to the public transportation lines, the hotel offers easy access to all the attractions of Warsaw.
High-end accommodation (80 EUR and up): all the leading 4 and 5-star hotel chains such as Sofitel, Hilton, Marriott, Novotel, Radisson Blu are present in Warsaw. The good news is that for some reason, the prices for the top hotels are much lower in Warsaw than in other EU capitals. Also, there are often very generous discounts on Booking.com. It's worth to check it out as you may end up staying in a luxury hotel for the price of a middle-range one. All these hotels are conveniently located close to the city sights and provide outstanding facilities and service.
I am sure you will choose something suitable out of it!
So, does Warsaw sound exciting?
I hope, at least a bit? :) I didn't include everything I find interesting and cool about Warsaw in this post, otherwise it would be too long. Come here with an open mind and during the warm months (May-September), and you gonna love Warsaw.
Thanks for reading, my friend!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hi, nice to meet you! I'm Sasha, a “free spirit” and a world citizen at heart who was born in the country that does not exist: Transnistria. I am on my adventurous journey to discover alternative, quirky, unique and unusual things to do and to visit in cool cities around the world. Join me and try something new! I write in Globish, since English is not my native language, so feel free to correct me or to make fun of me :).
Тамара (Sunday, 12 March 2017 21:22)
Супер, супер, супер!!!!!!!!
Очень интересно! Познавательно!
Carli (Thursday, 04 May 2017 15:28)
I love visiting Warsaw, it is such a dynamic and fascinating city, one of my favourite ones in Europe! I love how many alternative attractions and places are there to try. My personal favourite is a bar in the Old Town called Bubbles. They serve champagnes and sparkling wines alongside simple dishes, like tartare or green beans. It is an unusual but surprisingly delicious combination:) I hope to visit Warsaw again soon and explore the city even more
Sasha (Sunday, 07 May 2017 10:01)
Thank you for your recommendation, Carli! I don't know this bar Bubbles and will definitely check it out! Cheers :-)
Kate (Friday, 09 June 2017 12:53)
Incredible guide! Those are really amazing recommendations, I have never even heard of some of those places, but they all look so fascinating! I hope to go to Warsaw this summer and visit them, especially Fotoplastykon. I have been to Warsaw only few times, but I love this city. It so unique and fascinating for me. I love discovering new flavours and one of my favourite spots in the capital is the restaurant called the Akademia. It is a quiet, romantic restaurant with both traditional Polish food and European dishes. I love Polish pierogi, and in this restaurant I had the best pierogi in my life:)
Sasha @ The Alternative Travel Guide (Friday, 09 June 2017 13:54)
Thank you for your kind words, Kate! :)
Actually, I am still in search of the best pierogi in Warsaw. It seems you can't go wrong with this dish as it's rather simple, but after I tried the best pierogi in Katowice, I am looking for the same quality. Thanks for a recommendation, I am going to try pierogi at the Akademia! :)
Martin (Friday, 16 June 2017 09:07)
Even during summer time weather can be fickle in Poland! My safest bet are always the pub there. My friends recently took me to a brew bar Drugie Dno where they serve you amazing Polish craft beer. Definitely worth checking out and the beer they serve is much better than what you find in a regular pub.
Jon (Sunday, 12 November 2017 21:19)
Hey Sahsa, fantastic guide! Warsaw is definitely a place that has many hidden secrets, and you've got them all together here. I thought I knew the city well, but I've never seen the Stairway to Heaven - it's on the list for my next trip. I hope you get round to writing a guide to the bars by the river, it seems to get bigger down there every year :-)
Irina (Saturday, 09 December 2017 11:24)
Unfortunately I couldn't find the staircase when I went there. I found the live crib with the donkey and sheep but when I asked people for the staircase they either said they didnt know or that it is not there anymore.
KIVI (Sunday, 28 January 2018 00:55)
My greatest discover is Pinball Station on Kolejowa 8A street. Totally 'back in time' style. Hidden in some industrial area, 10' walk from Plac Zawiszy. It's soo retro, time-consuming and awesome!
CodiGeeks (Friday, 20 July 2018 11:58)
What an amazing and a fascinating place to visit. I really didn't know much about this but after reading this post I will surely visit one day. Thanks for sharing such an amazing post.
Kim Lang (Friday, 20 July 2018 12:01)
Amazing place to visit. Love it.