Before I first went to Warsaw I actually knew very little about Poland’s capital. I was very pleasantly surprised by Warsaw and especially by the many things to see and do here. Firstly, it’s a really clean and tidy place. Such a lovely environment to walk around. Then there’s the amazing Polish hospitality. There is so much history to discover here as well. I really enjoyed my time in Warsaw and so I think you will too. So, I’ve put together a list of things to see in Warsaw to get your planning started.
What to do and see in Warsaw
Adam Mickiewicz Monument
Walk in the Park War Memorial
Warsaw Rising Museum
Palace of Culture
Barbican and City Walls
Marie Curie Museum
Museum of the History of Polish Jews
Palmiry Cemetery and Memorial
Firstly, no visit to Warsaw would be complete without spending time walking in the Old Town (Stare Miasto). Start in the wide-open square near the Royal Palace and admire the colourful facades of the buildings. During the day this bustles with tourists looking for the perfect photograph. Then at night, it transforms into a fabulous outdoor-dining venue where you can sample the famous Polish pierogies (potato dumplings). If you want to explore the taste of Poland then consider taking a food tour to sample some of these delicious Polish specialities.
The Old Town was badly damaged during the Second World War and many of the buildings were completely destroyed. Fortunately, the Polish people decided to rebuild it to look like it used to and so today we can still view these marvellous buildings. Spend some time wandering through the cobbled streets and see what you discover. You can generally tell if the buildings are the originals or not by looking for the bullet holes in the walls.
Of course, you can do what we tend to do and just wander aimlessly, absorbing the atmosphere and often getting lost. Or, a small-group walking tour is a great way to find out more about the history and also the culture of the city as you explore the Old Town.
Walk the Royal Route
Later, take a stroll along Krakowskie Przedmieście from the Copernicus statue to the Old Town. This pleasant street is right in the heart of Warsaw and features an amazing array of palaces, churches, statues, gardens and more in just a short stretch of road.
You’ll see this stunning church as you walk along the Royal Route. Also, called the Carmelite Church, it features a particularly attractive facade. It’s also famous because Chopin performed here on the organ. The church is not generally open to the public but it is a working church so you can attend mass here. Otherwise, you can arrange a look inside by contacting them first.
Right next to the church is the Presidential Palace. It’s surprisingly easy to get a good view of the palace as it’s quite open at the front. The Palace itself is set back behind railings though. In fact, in 1955 the Warsaw Pact was signed here, assuring its place in history.
Adam Mickiewicz Monument
As you walk along the Royal Route towards the Old Town, you surely can’t miss this impressive statue. Set in landscaped gardens the statue reflects the esteem in which the poet Adam Mickiewicz is obviously held by the Polish people. A great poet of the Romantic era, Mickiewicz was a political activist who was exiled by the Russians during the 19th century.
Discover Chopin in Warsaw
If you arrive in Warsaw by air you’ll arrive at Warsaw Frederic Chopin Airport so that should give you some idea of how important Chopin is to the Polish people. You’ll find references to Chopin wherever you go in the city so keep a lookout.
What a wonderful way to celebrate the life of a composer! If you sit on any of these shiny black benches as you walk around Warsaw and then press the button, listen!. Shortly, you’ll be rewarded with the sounds of one of Chopin’s beautiful musical compositions.
You can also visit the Chopin museum which opened in 2010 for his 200th anniversary. Indeed, this is a fabulous modern museum with lots of interactive exhibits and it’s a really great way to find out more about this Polish favourite.
The Chopin Museum is open from 11 am to 8 pm daily except Mondays. Tickets cost 22 PLN per person except on Wednesdays when entry is free. One of the great free things to do in Warsaw in my opinion.
Of course, there are quite a few free things to do in Warsaw. Another lovely way to spend some time without spending any money is to stroll in the wonderful park. Set right in the centre of Warsaw this expanse of greenery features formal flower beds and fountains as well as large areas planted with trees. Paved walkways make this park very accessible so everyone can enjoy it.
Warsaw has an impressive war memorial just off the main street. Set in a large paved area it stands alone and thus has a special impact. As I have noted previously, my research involved the First World War, so I’m always drawn to war memorials and museums. The one in Warsaw is particularly striking and I think the red flower beds really add to the effect.
Warsaw Uprising Monument
The Warsaw Uprising is a particularly important event in Polish history and it is commemorated by this stunning monument. The Uprising began on 1st August 1944 and lasted for several months until the beginning of October. Many citizens were killed during this time in a brutal response by the Nazi occupiers. The monument was designed by Wincenty Kućma and unveiled in 1989. You’ll find it near the Supreme Court and not, as I previously thought, near the Uprising Museum.
I visited the Uprising Museum as part of a small group tour when I was in Warsaw and I think it’s a great way to get more detail about the events depicted. Organised over several floors the museum is dedicated to the people of Warsaw who were involved during the uprising. Many, many people died in the hope of gaining freedom for the Polish people during this time. Although they were unsuccessful then, it is a testimony to the spirit of the Polish people who tried to break free from Nazi oppression.
Make sure to view the film in the auditorium as it has so much useful information about the uprising. Inside the museum, you’ll see extensive collections of photographs, film, audio recordings and also exhibits from the time preceding the uprising and throughout. The stories told by eyewitnesses are particularly moving.
Museum Opening Hours:
Monday, Wednesday, Friday 10.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m.,
Thursday 10.00 a.m. – 8.00 p.m.,
Saturday and Sunday – 10.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m.,
Tuesday – closed
Tickets cost 25 PLN (approx £5).
If you are visiting on a Sunday then admission is free.
Additionally, you can rent an audio guide for 10 PLN (£2) which is excellent value and well worth doing.
Palace of Culture & Science
This Soviet-built tower stands near Warsaw Central Station. Although it looks fairly impressive to a tourist, it’s not a building which is particularly loved by the Polish. Mainly, this is because it was a gift to the city of Warsaw from Josef Stalin and will forever stand as a symbol of Russian oppression in Poland.
Nevertheless, the tower offers a great way to get a view right across the city of Warsaw. Head up to the observation deck for what the locals will tell you is the best view in Warsaw. That’s because you can’t see the tower itself from there!
Viewing Terrace Opening Hours:
Daily 10 am to 8 pm
20 PLN for adults (approx £4)
15 PLSN for children and students (approx £3)
The viewing terrace is popular and there are often long queues, especially in summer. You can skip the queue by purchasing your tickets online before you arrive. If you do this, then look out for the separate line at the entrance.
At certain times of the year, they also open late to offer night-time viewing. It’s a great opportunity to see the city lit up.
City Walls & Barbican
Warsaw was once a fortified city surrounded by walls and you can still get a glimpse of some of these today. Most impressive is the Barbican or outpost which stands beside the walls. It dates back to around the 16th century and although like much of Warsaw, it’s been extensively reconstructed and repaired, you can still see parts of the original structure.
Today, you can walk along the walls for fabulous views across Warsaw and also down to the River Vistula. It’s a lovely place to walk and absorb the sights and sounds of the city. During the day it can be quite lively in summer with street artists and souvenir stalls.
Marie Curie Museum
Another great citizen of Warsaw, Maria Skłodowska-Curie was born in the city on November 7, 1867. Marie Curie, who worked alongside her husband, Pierre Curie, is, of course, famous for the discovery of Radium and Polonium. She was the first women to win a Nobel Prize when she received the award for Physics in 1903. She also went on to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911 making her the only women to have won the prize in two different fields.
This biographical museum is situated in the house in which the Sklodowska family lived when Marie Curie lived in Warsaw. It showcases exhibits on Curie’s personal life and also her work. Sadly, many letters and other personal documents were lost during the Warsaw Uprising so those that remain are particularly precious.
Tuesday – Sunday: 9:00 am to 4:30 pm
Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00 am to 7:00 pm
Adults: 11 PLN (Approx £2)
Concessions: 6 PLN (£1)
Combined ticket with the movie: 16 PLN (£3.50)
Look at the photograph above and you’ll undoubtedly see a lovely garden. A peaceful haven for walking and relaxing, of course! However, this is no ordinary park or garden. In fact, this is the roof of the University Library building. Yes, the roof. Amazing isn’t it! I heard about this from someone at the university while I was at a conference and had to see it for myself.
The garden consists of a series of walkways through landscaped gardens. It’s actually incredibly extensive and quite unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. You can wander here for ages while you explore every nook and cranny. Climb stairs to the higher viewpoints. You can see right across the River Vistula from here and there are also great views of the city. Cross bridges from one part of the roof to another. Whoever thought of this is surely a genius. It is a really lovely attraction and such an unexpected green space in the heart of the city.
Above all, admission to the rooftop garden is completely free. Just look for the entrance turnstile to the left of the library building. I visited in the morning and as a result, I pretty much had the place to myself as you can see. This is surely one of the best free things to do in Warsaw.
Museum of the History of Polish Jews
The Museum of the History of the Polish Jews presents a complete history of the Jewish people rather than just focusing on the tragic events of the Second World War. The museum exhibits showcase the 1000 year history of Jews in Poland from the Middle Ages to today.
The museum seeks to answer questions about how the Jews came to Poland and what were their lives like once they got there. It shows the dramatic and tragic events of Jewish existence in Poland including the Holocaust but it also wants to show brighter aspects of Jewish history. Consequently, at the museum, you’ll find a comprehensive representation of the lives of Jewish people in Poland that goes well beyond modern events.
Monday, Thursday and Friday: 10:00 am to 6:00 pm
Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday: 10.00am to 8.00 pm
On Thursday admission is free
Adults: 27 PLN (£6)
Concessions: 17 PLN (£4)
Audio Guide 10 PLN (£2)
Palmiry National Memorial & Museum
Just outside Warsaw is the forest of Palmiry. As you approach this location the picturesque forest gives no clues to the terrible atrocities which took place here. During the Second World War, many Polish citizens and resistance fighters fled Warsaw and sought refuge in these forests. Unfortunately, that is not what this site will be remembered for.
Probably because of its remote location, the Nazis chose Palmiry as a location for murdering Polish people. During the war, as many as 2000 people were killed on this site in a series of mass executions. The victims included Jews and non-Jews. Anyone that the Nazis considered an enemy of their regime was executed. Many of these were prominent academics, sportspeople, artists, industrialists and professionals.
There is a small but interesting museum nearby where you can find out more information about the terrible events which took place here. As with all these darker tourism sites, it does not make easy viewing. However, they do serve to prevent these atrocities fading from memory which is, in my opinion, extremely important.
Getting to Palmiry
I visited Palmiry on a tour which was organised by the university since I was attending a conference on Representations of War. So, they took us by bus. As it is outside the city of Warsaw, you will need transport to get there.
If you don’t have your own car then it is possible to use the public bus. From the city centre, firstly, take the metro to the Mlociny Bus and Metro Station. Here, you can catch the number 750 bus. Ask the driver to let you know when you get to the Palmiry cemetery. You can then walk to the museum from here. As it is a little way out of Warsaw you will need a Zone 2 bus ticket. Buses are fairly regular, approximately every 30 minutes during peak times. Maybe once an hour off-peak. Staff at the museum should be able to tell you when the next return bus leaves.
I always like to carry a guidebook with me. Then I can browse through when we stop for coffee and it’s useful if we’ve got some spare time to fill. Of course, I carry mine on my Kindle these days but a paperback is just as useful. This is my top pick for a guidebook to cover Warsaw. Lonely Planet is one of my favourite travel book publishers and this one has a comprehensive section on Warsaw. It might also inspire you to try some other Polish cities! Next year, 2020, they’re bringing out a pocket guide to Warsaw which looks great. So keep an eye out for that too.