Warsaw is increasingly leaving its mark as a travel destination of choice and I’m not surprised. To many, Poland remains sort of exotic, unusual; a random place to visit. But those who give it a go love it.
Warsaw is beautiful in its own twisted way that sets it apart from other big cities in Europe. It’s not expensive compared to many other European capitals and it’s just the right size to easily navigate your way around.
Before I moved there as a teenager, I was obsessed with Warsaw. To me, it always had that allure coming with a bit city with even bigger history and everyone’s right to anonymity. I got to live in the Polish capital for three years, I visit it once a year, and I still act like a tourist. I think everyone there does a little.
And here’re the touristy things Warsaw’s locals do.
1. Feed peacocks in the Lazienki Park. Built during the second half of the eighteenth century, the park features a neoclassical Palace on the Water (Lazienki Palace) surrounded by gardens, canals and ponds. My favourite thing about it have to be the shiny peacocks walking around the estate. They are fairly friendly and you can feed them (they eat veggies). For a fluffier wildlife experience bring peanuts – there are lots of red squirrels about.
2. Enjoy ice-cream in Starowka. The Old Town is stunning: Gothic alleys, baroque palaces, flamboyant houses. The atmosphere there has a unique sense of history and there is nothing better to do in the summer than grabbing ice cream from the Hodun café and have a stroll down the cobblestone streets.
3. Climb up the Palace of Culture and Science. Not literally, just take the lift to the top – the view is impressive. The Palace, the tallest building in Poland, was completed in 1955 as a ‘gift from the Soviet people’ and it is the embodiment of Socialist Realist architecture. It’s okay to think it’s ugly.
4. Try every filling of pierogi, the Polish dumplings. Personal favourite: mushroom & cabbage, and cottage cheese for dessert. Best place to get those? My nan’s kitchen.
5. Learn something new in the Copernicus Science Centre. It’s genuinely is more interesting than you might first think. Lots of hands-on experiments, real life riddles and answers to worldly questions. The exhibits are in English and Polish.
6. Wave to Nike. The giant cast iron statue of Nike (the Greek Goddess of Victory, not the shoe brand) is there with her sword watching over the city. Her official name is ‘Monument to the Heroes of Warsaw 1939-1945’ as she remembers the thousands of locals who fought against – and died under – the Nazi rule. Nike has always been my favourite. Warsaw’s sweetheart, however, is Syrenka Warszawska, the Warsaw Mermaid.
7. Go out for a drink in Nowy Świat. Until the 16th century, it was the main road leading to numerous palaces and villages of the Warsaw’s nobility which then steadily developed, to be destroyed in the Warsaw Uprising. At the end of the war, they decided to rebuild it, reverting the street to its early 19th-century appearance. Today, it’s one of the buzziest spots in Warsaw, full of bars, restaurants and shops.
8. Take a day to go to the Masurian Lake District. For a quick trip, there are some lovely spots only an hour away from Warsaw. If you have more time, go wild and visit Mikolajki.
9. Get merry in Powisle. Set in a former ticket hall, the PRL-era concrete rotunda has been Warsaw’s favourite summer gathering point since it transformed into a bar.
10. Indulge yourself in history and culture. Warsaw breathes history and the opportunities are endless. Visit one of the museums (The Warsaw Uprising Museum is absolutely one of a kind), explore a church (St John’s Cathedral has been listed by UNESCO as one of the key places of cultural significance) or have a tour around the Royal Castle.