One day in… Warsaw, Poland
Last year was the first time I had the opportunity to go and visit Poland. Although I’d never been before, I’d heard from others that it’s a lovely country and I wasn’t disappointed! I only went to Warsaw so I can’t comment on other cities, but I found it to be very safe, the people very friendly and the city very moving with countless monuments and plaques to commemorate some of the awful tragedies that happened in the city during the German Occupation of Poland. I was always a bit of a history geek at school, so this was really interesting to see.
Poland is the 9th largest country in Europe and has a population of around 38.5 million. It is located in Central Europe, bordering the Baltic States. During WWII, Poland was invaded from both sides by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Following the War, Poland was a Soviet Satellite State until 1989, when it finally became established as the modern democracy it is today.
Warsaw is the capital and the largest city in Poland with a population of around 1.75 million people. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the city is known for its luscious parks, cultural heritage and vibrant restaurant and nightlife.
How to get there: You can fly direct from various airports and with various airlines in the UK to the main airport, Warsaw Chopin Airport: British Airways from London Heathrow; LOT Polish Airlines from London Heathrow; Norwegian Air Shuttle from London Gatwick; Wizz Air from Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bristol, Doncaster/Sheffield, Glasgow, Liverpool, London Luton. Flight time from London is around 2 hours 15 minutes.
Currency: Although Poland is a member of the European Union, they don’t have the Euro. Instead, make sure you get hold of some Polish złoty: 1 GBP is worth just over 5 złoty.
Language: Polish. However, you’ll find that pretty much all staff in hotels/airports and younger people will speak English without any problem. I did come across some taxi drivers who couldn’t speak any English at all, so if you can learn some Polish that’s great, but you might also get lucky with German or Russian (a historical linguistic hangover amongst the older generations!)
Culture: I was once told that the Polish are actually quite similar in temperament to the British, so that might be why I felt so at home there! The culture is unassuming and somewhat reserved by day (although you’ll always find someone to help), but by night you can expect the locals to be having some fun with friends/colleagues either in a lovely local restaurant or in the numerous vodka shot bars around the city.
Getting around: Try to take local taxis rather than hotel taxis if possible – they’re perfectly safe and will charge a lot less! However, in Warsaw I’d highly recommend taking some decent shoes and getting out and about for a walk – it’s a beautiful city that’s very walkable as it’s mainly flat and I think I would have missed a lot without going for a wander.
Other: Poland is one of the most visited countries in Europe, so it caters well to tourists and is generally very safe. You should take the normal precautions as you would anywhere, and be aware that there are more people around trying to sell you stuff in the historic Old Town area of the city, but everywhere else is pretty hassle-free. Particularly in Warsaw where there are a lot of wide, open spaces, it’s unlikely anyone will be getting in your way.
During this trip to Warsaw, I stayed in the Novotel. This is a great central location, with shops and restaurants nearby. You can also walk to the Old Town if you have time to spare; it took about 45 minutes each way but it was well worth it to see the city (and the weather was gorgeous!). The staff were all fluent in English and the food in the restaurant was really nice, which is great when you’re travelling on your own for work and just need something quick and easy. My room was fairly small but clean and had this fantastic view of the Palace of Culture and Science:
I only stayed in Warsaw for two nights, so I had limited opportunities to try the local cuisine, but I did get chance to go to an authentic local Polish restaurant not far from the Old Town. We had some of the largest vodka shots I’ve ever seen, including the famous Bison Grass vodka, as well as traditional beers. I had goulash, which was absolutely delicious although absolutely huge and a cup of traditional Polish soup (I think it was called Zurek), which also had some meat in it.
We then had chance to explore some of the vodka shot bars – an interesting concept considering it only takes about 5 minutes to choose a shot, order it, have it made and drink it. To be honest, in some ways this is a great idea as there’s minimal chance of drink spiking or drink spillage, but be careful to take it easy – some of the shots taste just like your favourite cocktails but are much quicker to drink!
Warsaw is a great cosmopolitan city, with lots of eating and shopping to do, but I think the highlight of the city for me has to be its cultural and historical offerings. Here are my top sightseeing recommendations for if/when you find yourself in this beautiful city:
Warsaw Ghetto Memorial – This isn’t something I actually planned to have a look at before I arrived as I hadn’t seen much information about it anywhere. It turns out that all that remains of the infamous Warsaw Ghetto that I learnt so much about in History lessons at school is a small corner on a busy crossroad slightly away from the centre of the city. One wall and one gate are all you’ll see of the former Ghetto, commemorated by a small plaque with some historical details. Nevertheless, I think it’s something everyone should try to see in Warsaw, as it formed a monumental part of Polish (and European) history. It’s a very sad memory, but when you turn back to see the rest of the city, it’s incredible and inspiring to see how things have moved on from such dark times.
Historic Old Town – On a lighter note, the Historic Old Town in Warsaw is a must-do to see some incredible architecture. I generally love to visit Old Towns anywhere I go, as you can get a great sense of the spirit of a city (and pick up any tourist tat you’re after to take home!). The Old Town in Warsaw has a breath-taking, expansive main square with many cobbled streets leading off it to take you to another part of the Old Town. The city walls and Barbican are also great sights to check out whilst you’re here. I found it very easy to spend time in the Old Town in Warsaw as there’s a lot of information around about the history, such as on the city walls themselves. There’s also an abundance of restaurants, bars and cafés in this area, so it’s perfect for a lunch stop in the middle of a busy sightseeing day!
Parks – Warsaw has some absolutely beautiful parks to enjoy, with countless flowerbeds and stunning fountains. I think Warsaw is a great city to be able to unwind in during the summer when the weather is good as there’s so much space. I love to see local parks when I travel to get a much-needed dose of vitamin D and sit and people watch (nearly always better than local TV). The parks are scattered everywhere across the city, which is why I would highly recommend walking Warsaw – you never know what you’ll discover!
Have you visited Warsaw? What’s your favourite place to visit in Poland? Let me know in the comments below!