With so many things to see and do, Warsaw is a great option for travelers looking to avoid the crowds of tourists that throng the streets of more popular destinations such as Kraków, Gdańsk, and Wrocław.
The capital of Poland, Warsaw is the largest city (~1,800,000 inhabitants) in the country, the 7th largest in the European Union and the 14th in Europe. It boasts 20 theatres, 4 doll theatres, the opera, the National Philharmonic Hall, almost 40 museums, and several dozen exhibition galleries. Warsaw hosts many cultural events such as the International Jazz Festival, the Chopin Piano Competition, the International Book Fair, the Warsaw Theatre Meetings, and the musical review called the Warsaw Autumn.
Over 85% of Warsaw’s buildings were destroyed in the Second World War, as depicted movingly in the Roman Polanski film The Pianist (2002). The rebuilding of the city continued until the mid-1960s.
Are you planning to visit the capital of Poland? Here are my top 15 things to do and see in Warsaw.
Where is Warsaw?
Located on the east-central part of the country, on both banks of the Vistula River, Warsaw lies within the province of Mazovia.
Interesting historical facts about Warsaw
- The first traces of human settlement in the present-day area of the city date back to the Bronze Era (about 2,000–700 BC).
- When a town was founded around 1300 by the Duke of Płock Bolesław II in the vicinity of Jazdów, it was named Warszowa.
- The city was first mentioned in written sources in 1313.
- It was the capital of the Principality of Mazovia (XV–XVI centuries), the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1791–1795), the Duchy of Warsaw (1807–1815; actually under the French protectorate), the Kingdom of Poland (1815–1915; in the possession of the Russian Empire), the Republic of Poland (1918–1939), the Polish People’s Republic (1952–1989).
The top 15 things to do in Warsaw
The Royal Castle Square
The Royal Castle Square is a good first stop when touring the sites of Warsaw’s Old Town. It features the landmark Sigismund’s Column to the south-west and is surrounded by historic houses. The various street performers, musicians, and merchants that line the streets here will certainly keep you entertained as well.
This beautiful square is the site of numerous outdoor exhibitions, concerts and other public events throughout the year.
The Old Town Market Square
The Old Town Market Square dates back to the 13th century and used to be the center of Warsaw’s life, hosting political speeches and executions.
Today the square offers a wide range of cocktail bars and good restaurants as well as street art and souvenirs. Whilst you are here, you might also like to visit the Literature Museum and the Historical Museum of Warsaw.
Royal Łazienki Park
With picturesque alleys, small ponds, historic palaces, and creative sculptures, the Royal Łazienki is the most beautiful public park in Warsaw. It is famous for concerts of Fryderyk Chopin music, which takes place from the middle of May to the end of September.
In the 18th century, the place became the property of Poland’s last monarch King Stanisław August Poniatowski. The best architects of the time, including the Italian architect Domenico Merlini, filled this space with magnificent Classicistic buildings.
Palace of Culture and Science
At 237 meters (778 ft) high, the towering Palace of Culture and Science is the tallest building in Poland. It can be seen from almost every part of the capital.
Constructed in 1955 as a “gift of the Soviet people for the Poles”, the building today houses cinemas, theatres, museums, universities, libraries, sports clubs and, at the top, a panoramic view of the city.
The Gothic Church of Saint Mary
Built between 1409 and 1411, it is one of the oldest buildings and one of the few surviving examples of Gothic architecture in the city. Saint Mary’s Church is located in a picturesque and quiet area of the New Town.
Its most striking characteristic is the tower, features in many historic panorama paintings of Warsaw.
The Rococo Church of Visitandines
The Church of Visitandines was built in the Rococo style according to the plans of the Polish architect Karol Bay in the years of 1733–1754. It is one of the few buildings in Warsaw, which was not damaged during the Second World War.
In 1825–1826, Poland’s greatest composer Fryderyk Chopin used to play on the church organ here.
The Royal Route
The Royal Route is one of the most beautiful venues in Warsaw. Among the buildings lining Krakowskie Przedmieście and Nowy Świat streets are the Neoclassical Presidential Palace, the Warsaw University campus, as well as beautiful churches and houses.
This historic thoroughfare is a big draw because of its shops and an extensive range of bars, cafés, and restaurants.
The Baroque Church of Saint Anthony of Padua
This is the first Warsaw Baroque church, built in 1671–1681 for the Order of the Franciscans reformers to a design by the Italian architect Simone Giuseppe Belotti. In 1766, the church hid the famous Italian adventurer Giacomo Casanova (1725–1798), who was wanted by a Polish nobleman, Franciszek Ksawery Branicki.
The Church of Saint Anthony of Padua was often visited by King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, John III Sobieski (1629–1696).
The Byzantine Cathedral of Saint Mary Magdalene
Built in the Byzantine style, the main Polish Orthodox church was opened in 1869. It is one of the two (the second is the Orthodox church in the Orthodox cemetery in Wola) surviving Orthodox churches in Warsaw after the demolition of Orthodox churches in Poland, once the country reclaimed its independence in the 1920s.
In 1965, Saint Mary Magdalene Cathedral was entered into the Polish register of monuments.
Copernicus Science Centre
The Copernicus Science Centre, standing on the bank of the Vistula River, is one of the largest and most modern science centers in Europe – over 450 interactive exhibitions await the visitor in six interdisciplinary galleries.
This is a great place for both adults and kids to learn a lot about Polish scientific discoveries, as well as other scientific discoveries of the world.
Opened in 1928, the Warsaw Zoological Garden covers about 40 hectares (99 acres). It is home to over 4,200 animals representing more than 500 different species.
The zoo is an accredited member of the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA).
Vistula River Boulevards
The Vistula River Boulevards, located on the western side of the river, are the ideal place for a stroll or a bicycle trip. The promenade is also adapted for the needs of people with disabilities and families with children. Warsaw can now say its riverside boulevard is one of the best in Europe.
The Boulevards offer different functions and can be divided into three areas: recreational, service, and historical.
The best way to see parts of Warsaw you might otherwise miss is to hop into a tram and just ride it out in any direction. I recommend riding either the 4 or 7 trams. They take you through some of Warsaw’s most important landmarks. There is a special route T operated by historic cars from pl. Narutowicza. ‘T’ only runs in July and August.
The first electric trams appear on the city’s streets in 1908. Today, the extensive network consists of 27 tram routes. It stretches over 290 km (180 mi) and transports over 48 million passengers per year.
Warsaw at night
Warsaw at night is different – it is more charming thanks to the illumination. The city does a great job lighting the buildings, and from across the Vistula River, you can get great views and photos at night.
The capital of Poland is developing a vibrant nightlife scene, with many trendy clubs and bars constantly opening, and it is getting a reputation as one of the best places for an affordable night out.
“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” – Victor Hugo.
I like symbols, and Warsaw is one of them – the city is a phoenix reborn from ashes! During the Nazi occupation, Warsaw lost 700,000 people and 85% of its buildings. After the war, almost all buildings of historical importance were reconstructed. In 1980, the Historic Centre of Warsaw was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as “an outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century”. It is really fantastic!
I have been to Warsaw countless times and this is the city I admire most in Europe. Its cozy Old Town, beautiful parks, American-looking center with spectacular skyscrapers – I love everything in it!
Knowing foreign languages is always great! My native language is Lithuanian (closely related to neighboring Latvian and more distantly to Slavic, Germanic, and other European languages) but I speak fluent Polish therefore when I am in Warsaw I feel at home. Varsovians are some of the kindest people I have ever met!
I hope you enjoyed my guide on what to do in Warsaw! Please share it with your friends on your social media. Here are a few more informative and interesting articles that I recommend you read next:
- The 6 most beautiful churches in Poland
- Saint Mary’s Basilica: The largest Brick Gothic church in Poland
- Gdańsk Zoo: The largest zoological garden in Poland
Have you been to Warsaw? If so, what activities did you enjoy? What do you think of my list? Feel free to post a comment below.