A weekend in Warsaw: A sustainable guide to 48h in Warsaw
A city filled with music, hip speakeasy bars and wonderful interactive museums. Warsaw is emerging as one of the top capitals to visit in Europe. Spend a weekend in Warsaw discovering the complex history, mish mash of architecture while eating a belly full of delicious pierogis (Polish dumplings).
The first time I went to the capital of Poland, Warsaw was back in 2008. I stepped of a train from Gdansk, after an interesting experience with a train conductor. The truth was, I was not supposed to be in Warsaw for another few days but my knowledge of Polish was limited to dzień dobry (hello) and so I missed by stop by about 280 kilometres.
I got hopelessly lost, ended up with a fine for crossing the street when the light was red and had an interesting time finding vegetarian options. Although I carry fond memories of that trip, the overarching feeling was that the city was gray and in dire need of a little TLC.
Fast forward to 2021 and things could not be more different. The remnants of the functional communist architecture still dominate the skyline (Palace of Culture and Science) and the Praga neighbourhood remains slightly dodgy. But aside from that Warsaw has been polished up and is now serving you its culture and history on a silver platter with a large serving of hipster sauce.
For those wondering, Polish Rail now has signs in English (and conductors that speak English) and vegetarian Polish food is ubiquitous. We spent but a mere 48 hours in Warsaw but frankly you could spend a week and not have visit half of the Warsaw tourist attractions.
Planning a last-minute trip? Here are some useful resources:
Top accommodations in Warsaw:
- € Old Town Kanonia Hostel & Apartments: Located a mere 3-minute walk from Old Town Warsaw this hotel is great value for money. The breakfast is good and the environment is cozy.
- €€ Chopin Boutique B&B (most eco-friendly option): Located a 15 min from the Palace of Culture and Science the hotel has their own beehive and vegetable garden. Options available for various price ranges
- €€€ H15 Boutique Hotel (luxury with a great location): Surrounded by plenty of bars & restaurants and an easy 10 minute walk from the Palace of Culture and Science.
Top tours in Warsaw:
- Highlights and Hidden Gems: Discover the city with a local through a 3-hours walking tour.
- Free walking tour of old town: Learn all about the history of Old Town Warsaw
- Polish Food Tour: Take half a day and learn all about Polish Food with a local
- Bike Tour of Warsaw: Ride around the city with a guide for half a day
The history of Warsaw in a nutshell
Although the symbol of Warsaw is a beautiful mermaid, it could very well also be a Phoenix. This beautiful and complex city has managed to raise itself from the ashes throughout history. What started off as a small cluster of houses 1400 years ago, turned into a brimming capital of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the 16th century, after the then king set fire to his palace in Krakow.
After a short spell as capital of South Prussia in the 18th century, a heroic liberation by none other than Napoleon a constitutional monarchy was set up under personal union of Imperial Russia in the early 19th century. As was the case all over Europe, the second half of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century saw both great prosperity and turmoil for Warsaw.
The development of Warsaw came at a cost, Russian authorities closed Polish schools & started a mass building of Russian Orthodox churches, in effect trying to eradicate Polish culture. This in turn led to mass uprisings and protests all the way up to the start of WWI.
Fighting between Russia and Germany took place in the heart of Poland. After a decisive battle on the outskirts of Warsaw, the German army took firm control of Poland. A pattern that would be repeated in WWII when Adolf Hitler drew up plans to destroy Warsaw and make it “the new German city of Warsaw”. What ensued after was the closing of higher education, mass executions and the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 which eventually led to Adolf Hitler destroying 85% of Warsaw (including the centuries old charming Old Town and the Warsaw Castle).
After the fall of the Nazi regime, the Soviet troops marched into Warsaw and renamed Poland the Polish People’s Republic and so it would remain until the Iron Curtain came down in 1989.
The fall of the Communist regime gave Warsaw the freedom to start its ascent to become one of the coolest capitals in Europe. Now its time to go and explore all the activities in Warsaw!
10 Things to do during your weekend in Warsaw
Spending a weekend in Warsaw means a packed itinerary with a lot of walking! The city has a lot to offer for those who like a splash of culture, to dabble in street art and ofcourse the history buff.
This guide will take you through some of the most popular activities in Warsaw, so pick up your sustainable backpack and lace up your sneakers. Please note, some tours/ activities have expressly been left out due to their impact on the environment (vintage-car tours, …).
Climb up the tower of Saint Anna’s Church and take in the best views of Warsaw
When it comes to views of the centre of Warsaw, this one is hard to beat! If the climb up did not take your breath away, the views will! All around you are remnants of the history of Warsaw: Old Town Castle Square, which derives its name from the (rebuilt) Warsaw Castle greets you as you walk onto the viewing platform. A quarter turn to your right provides sprawling views over the Vistula river and the Praga district. Turn a second time to spot the imposing Palace of Culture and Science a remnant of former Communist times, which is now ironically surrounded by high-rise skyscrapers that make up the business district of downtown Warsaw.
On you way down, make a stop to visit the 18th century Saint Anne Church itself, the most ornate church in Warsaw which escaped destruction during WWII.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday: 10:00 AM – 21:00; Saturday to Sunday: 11:00 AM -22:00
Entrance Fee: 10 PLN ($2.5)
Best time to visit: Right before sunset
Important notice: Going up requires walking up 145 stairs. Not suitable for wheelchairs or people suffering from vertigo.
Take a peek inside the University of Technology
The public university of Technology was founded in 1826 and is one of the oldest universities in Poland. Today it has a yearly student body of around 36.000 students. Although not technically an official Warsaw “tourist attraction” e.g. no tours are organised to go inside but if you are in the neighbourhood it is well worth popping in to have a look inside the main hall.
The adventurous visitor can take the stairs to the third floor, aside from a few inquisitive glances from the students, you will be rewarded with magnificent views of the glass ceiling and the sweeping staircase. It had me wistfully thinking back to my days as a student!
Entrance Fee: Free
Opening Hours: Try and make it during a weekday if you can to get a real feel of university life.
Delve into the life of Frederic Chopin
The famous composer and pianist Frederic Chopin is one of Warsaw’s most distinguished citizens. Born on the outskirts of Warsaw, he lived in the city for 20 years and it was here that at the tender age of 8 years old he held his first concert. Although he died in Paris, his heart is buried in the Holy Cross Church, a small commemorative plaque marques the exact spot.
On the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth in 2010 the city of Warsaw inaugurated 15 musical Chopin benches places along the Royal Route in places that were important in Chopin’s life. Simply push the button, sit back and enjoy the melodic composition. Each bench has a different work of Chopin playing.
One of the best places to visit in Warsaw to gain more insights into the life of Chopin is the Chopin museum, which is housed in the picturesque Gniński Palace. As with many of the museums in Warsaw it is interactive and great fun for both young and old. Read Chopin’s correspondence to George Sand (his one true love), take in some of his many drawings and learn about his untimely death.
Entrance Fee: 23 PLN ($5.77)
Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday: 11:00 AM – 19:00
Grab your tickets for the daily 19:00 evening Chopin Concert
Get lost in the colourful alleyways around Old Town
Old Town is an exquisite feat of reconstruction! Almost entirely raised to the ground in WWII it is now one of the main attractions of Poland. Reconstruction of the red bricked, pastel colored façades and dainty turrets are but a few of the marvels that await you.
Visit Warsaw Castle which now holds an impressive art collection, check to see if sphere in the hand of the King Sigmund statue(the large statue in the middle of the square) is pointing upwards – if not, get on the first flight out as legend has if it is turned downwards the city is going to fall.
Saunter over to Old Town Market Square through the little mews interconnecting both impressive squares. Make the acquaintance of the Mermaid said to be the best friend of the Little Mermaid of Copenhagen and the symbol of Warsaw. Come a few hours before sunset, when the fairy lights are turned on and the city becomes extraordinarily romantic. Cosy up with a glass of Vodka or tuck into a hearty dish of Pierogi, the perfect way to spend on of the evenings of your 48 hours in Warsaw!
Visit the Palace of Culture and Science
The omnipresent Palace of Culture and Science towers over the Warsaw Skyline and served – to a certain extent still does so today – as a reminder of Soviet supremacy. Gifted in 1952 by Stalin himself and built to the exact specifications of its seven sister buildings in Moscow, there was no question about it: This palace was meant to impress in scale and size.
It continues to impress tourists; the Palace is one of the most visited Warsaw attractions! Inside you will find a pool, cinema complex, 100 toilets and one of the best viewing platforms in the city. Head up to the 30th floor in a whirlwind elevator ride which lasts exactely 19 seconds and step out to see Warsaw from above.
Personally I prefer the views that can be seen from the Saint Anne’s Church Tower, but I was very curious to see the grand scale of the Palace of Culture and Science. The entrance way is absolutely huge and I could not help wish the walls had ears, oh the stories they could tell! It is one of those iconic European Landmarks that merits a visit.
Opening hours: Monday to Sunday: 10.00 AM – 20:00
Entrance Fee: 20 PLN ($5)
Want to learn more about communism in Poland? There are a few cool tours which focus on this period of Polish history.
Stroll around the Lazienki Gardens
Time to head to one of the most beautiful places in Warsaw, filled with friendly red squirrels, lush 76 hectares of greenery, and more than a few palaces. We only had a quick walk around the main sites, but one could easily spend a full day strolling around, especially if your 48 hours in Warsaw happen to be sunny!
A few of the main places to visit in the park include:
The Palace on the Isle: A former bathhouse which was transformed into a palace during the 18th century for King Stanislaus Augustus. After your visit, continue walking along the banks of the Lazienki river for about 400 meters until you come across the 18th century classical amphitheatre. Inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture it might feel slightly out of place and time. The theatre has withstood the hands of time and is still continues to be used as a stage for performances during the summer months.
The Old Orangery: The highlight of the old orangery is the beautiful 18th century theatre, which accommodated 200 of the Kings most esteemed guests for an evening of fun.
The Myślewicki Palace: This elegant palace holds the name the Myślewice town, which today is all forgotten except in name.The original building dates back to the 18th century and withstood the devastating bombings in WWII, sub sequentially the majority of the richly decorated interior is still intact.
Entrance Fee: 40 PLN – One ticket for all the above attractions. The park is free and open 24h!
Opening Hours Ticket Office: Tuesday to Thursday 10:00 AM to 15:00; Friday to Sunday: 10:00 to 17:00
More info for your visit and where to purchase tickets on the official website
Head up to the Warsaw University Library Gardens
Now this is a library unlike anything you have ever seen before. The library building has been designed in a way that is vaguely reminiscent of the pages of a book, interwoven or taken over by the forces of nature. Read all about what the various elements represent on the university website. My favourite part of the library was the vast gardens on the rooftop which had a wonderful view of both the city and the Vistula river. Walk around the upper and lower gardens across a maze of different pathways, leaf covered tunnels and around the various ponds.
Opening hours of gardens depend on the time of year, be sure to check out the university website before heading over.
Top Tip: If you love gardens and have some time over you might want to try squeeze in a visit to the Warsaw Botanical Gardens.
Visit the Neon Museum
One of the coolest museums in Warsaw and what a story it tells! The Cold War and neon signs are not two things one spontaneously associates with each other. Yet, the Neon Museum uncovers how neon signs were meticulously hung along the main axes of large cities in the Eastern Bloc to add a little glamour in the otherwise drab and harsh reality of life under communism. A so called last attempt to entice the masses with colourful propaganda to save a dying regime.
The best designers of the country pulled out all the spots and went crazy with fonts, characters, colors – one of the few areas where there was a relative creative freedom under communist regime was in the design of neon signs. Once a more alternative museum, it has recently become one of the main Warsaw tourist attractions for kids (both local and tourists).
Entrance Fee: 15 PLN ($3,8)
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday 12:00 – 18:00; Sunday 12:00 17:00
Explore the hip Praga Neighborhood
Geographically Praga is located on the right bank of the Vistula river (Old Town is located on the left bank). It was not until the late 18th century that the city of Praga was incorporated into Warsaw, as a borough. The slightly more remote location meant that is was spared the majority of the heavy bombing during WWII and came out relatively unscathed.
Traditionally a part of the city that has fared less well economically, and was considered off-limits for tourists. Over the last few years the Praga neighbordhood started attracting local artists who have produced some of the cities best street art and art museums. Along with the flurry of artists came pockets of very cool bars and small eateries. Gentrification of the area started and has continued ever since. Slowly but surely and this once off-limit area for tourists now very much warrants a visit if you are looking for a more authentic feel of Warsaw.
Good to know: The neon museum is also located in the Praga Neighbordhood as well as the Praga Koneser Center located on the site of the former Warsaw Vodka Factory “Koneser”. This site also houses the Polish Vodka Museum which is well worth a visit if you have the time.
Learn about Jewish History and Culture
There is a very important part of the history of Warsaw which is not covered in the above recommended activities. If you have some additional time or are looking for alternative things to visit in Warsaw perhaps a tour dedicated to the Jewish heritage of the city could be of interest.
Where to find the best pierogies in Warsaw
One cannot come to Poland and not try this iconic dish! Pierogi or Polish dumplings are my all time favorite polish dish. I remember when I first came to Poland and I ate Pierogi for 10 days straight…trying a different taste combination every day.
Sadly we had but a few days in Warsaw this time, so I enlisted the help of our local guide to provide you with the top three places to get the best Pierogies in Warsaw. (Kuba if you are reading this, I owe you one!)
- Karmnik (old town): A modern restaurant in the heart of old town. The menu contains a variety of items including handmade dumplings (both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options available).
- Przegryz (downtown): The perfect spot to do some people watching while munching down on some of the cities best pierogies (vegetarian options available). The menu is diverse and contains other items too if you are not in the mood for pierogi.
- Zapiecek (chain): There are three locations in Warsaw, each specialising in serving you Pierogi. This chain of restaurants although less authentic than the above mentioned restaurants does offer the widest variety of flavours of both vegetarian and non-vegetarian pierogies.
Learn how to make Polish Pierogi: Learn how to make on of the most iconic Polish Dishes. Vegetarian options available on demand
Best vegetarian – friendly restaurants in Warsaw
Food in Poland is delicious and inexpensive. Lunch menus traditionally cost around 30 PLN ($7.5).
Another little bit of good news is that finding vegetarian restaurants in Warsaw is super easy! The less good news is that vegetarian polish food is a lot harder to find as the cuisine is traditionally very meat-heavy.
I have summed up some really good places to try during your 48 hours in Warsaw. They are suitable for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.
- The hipster restaurant: Elektrownia Powiśle
If you are looking for a quick vegetarian friendly lunch in a historically important location than the former power plant turned shopping mall/food court is the place to be. Head down to -1 to find a host of different restaurants to try. After you are done make sure to keep some time to walk around and see how the architects incorporated the various different items of the power plant into the new design.
Random fact: The toilets are designed in a very cool way!
- The eco-conscious restaurant: Bistro Eden
Slightly off the beaten patch, but well worth a visit. Bistro Eden serves the most mouth-watering vegan food to be found in Warsaw. We had a lovely lunch in their cosily decorated upscale greenhouse in the garden. The restaurant also serves a very good cup of espresso!
- The local food with a twist: Ćma
We came here for lunch and tried all types of dishes (Polish Tapas if you will). A large selection of vegetarian options was available on the menu and my personal favourite had to be the vegetarian buckwheat pierogi! The ambiance is a bit more urban and less romantic. Prices per dish range from $4 to 9$ per small dish. Expect to eat around 3 dishes per person.
- The romantic date night restaurant: Soul Kitchen
The restaurant is warm and inviting, the staff is the perfect touch of attentive and the food is prepared with a lot of love. The lights are dimmed to create a very cozy atmosphere and the menu changes according to the season with plenty of vegetarian options available. Vegan options are available upon request. Slightly more upscale than the average restaurant in Warsaw (expect to pay €30 a person without wine for first and main).
How to extend your 48 hours in Warsaw:
Day trips from Warsaw
Taking day trips from Warsaw is very hassle free thanks to the fact that booking trains in Poland can be done easily on the English website of Polish Rail. Personally I am a big fan of traveling by train as it gives me the chance to connect with locals and watch the scenery not to mention it has a lot lower ecological footprint than private tours.
That being said, I fully understand this is not always within everyone’s comfort zone and have therefore provided both options to take public transport as well as hop on a (small) tour to your destination.
Visit the museum at the Wilanów Palace
One of the best places to visit near Warsaw, technically still in Warsaw but on the very outskirts of the city.
Wilanów Palace used to be the summer residence of King Jan III Sobienski after which it, in 1805 it was turned into the first Polish museum. The palace survived the WWII bombings and is one of the finest examples of Polish Baroque architecture to be found in Warsaw. Walk around the beautiful gardens and catch a glimpse of the handsome statues before heading inside to discover magnificent frescoes and furniture befitting the royal character of the palace.
Entrance Fee: 25 PLN for the palace and 7 PLN for the park (total ($8)
How to get there:
From Old Town – Bus 116 or 180 (takes 35 minutes)
From Warsaw Central Train Station – Bus 519 or 200 (takes around 30 minutes)
How to get there by Taxi: Taxi ride should cost around 40 PLN and takes around 35 minutes to get there
Stroll around the former industrial city of Łódź
Lodz (pronounced woodge) is an old manufacturing city in Poland. The city is an eclectic mixture of 19th century crumbling palaces and red brick former textile factories. The city was once the height of wealth in the 19th century but saw its wealth disappear as Tsarist Russia (the largest export market) came under the grasp of Communism. One by one the factories closed down and the city fell upon hard times under the Iron Curtain.
Now, 30+ years after the fall of the Eastern Bloc the city has managed to reinvent itself. Former factories have turned into interactive museums for kids (EC1), trendy shopping destinations (Manufaktura) or even hip bars & restaurants (OFF Piotrkowska). There is plenty to do and see in Lodz, although still one of the lesser known places to visit in Poland it is definitely worth a daytrip from Warsaw.
How to get there:
We took the direct train from Warsaw (Warszawa Centralna) to Łódź (Łódź Fabryczna). The train ride takes between 90 min and 150 minutes, depending on the type of train you take. Multiple trains run daily and prices range from 30 PLN ($7,5) to 60 PLN ($15). Check the timetables and book your ticket online or directly in the Central Station of Warsaw.
Alternatively try a guided tour from Warsaw to Lodz (and back to your hotel).
Learn about a part of history in the Auschwitz – Birkenau State Museum
The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is one of the historical places to see in Poland to learn about the atrocities committed during WWII by Nazi regime that ruled Germany.
How to get there:
The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum is around 280 kilometres from Warsaw.
Step one: Take the direct fast train to Krakow Glowny Station from the Central Station of Warsaw. The train ride takes around 2.5h.
Step two: Take a direct train from Krakow Glowny Station to Oswiecim (The Polish name for Auschwitz). This second train ride will take around 1.5h
Step three: Walk 20 minutes from the Oswiecim train station to the camp or take a taxi.
==> Book your tickets online
Alternatively try a guided tour day tour from Warsaw to Auschwitz – Birkenau State Museum (and back to your hotel).
How to get to Warsaw
Flying into Warsaw
As you are only spending a weekend in Warsaw, you might choose to fly into the Warsaw Chopin Airport. There is both a direct train and bus from the Warsaw Chopin Airport to the city centre which take around 20 minutes.
Taking the train or bus to Warsaw
The city of Warsaw is very well connected to many large European cities.
- Train Berlin (HBH) to Warsaw (Centralna): direct; 6 hours; price range between $57 -$95
- Train Brussels to Warsaw (Centralna): 2 changes; 12 hours; price starting $64
- Train Amsterdam to Warsaw (Centralna): 1 change, 12 hours; price starting $34
- Flixbus Budapest to Warsaw (Centralna): direct; 10 – 13 hours; price from $38
Useful information to know before visiting Poland
- What is the currency in Poland?
In Poland you will need to pay with Polish Zloty
- Is Warsaw safe?
Traveling alone around Warsaw (even at night) we felt perfectly safe. Try and avoid Praga neighbourhood at night though.
- Do they speak English in Warsaw?
Not everywhere, but in places frequented by tourists there will usually always be someone around that speak English.
- Best time to visit Warsaw?
The beginning of Autumn in Warsaw is a great time to visit. Temperatures are still moderate (18°C) and the days have not started to shorten yet. In addition this is shoulder season so there will be less tourists around.