Warsaw, Poland’s Previously Stodgy Capital is Having a Moment

From where to stay to what to see and eat, check out these insider tips to Warsaw, Poland, an affordable city with a cool vibe.

Old Town is a riot of color
Old Town is a riot of color

Sure, London, Paris, and Rome are totally wonderful, but if you’ve been there/done that and think you might like to try someplace a little rougher around the edges, yet you still require a luxury hotel, designer shopping, some riveting history, lots of culture, and above all, lots of fabulous food, then you, my friend, will love Warsaw!

It has a very cool vibe going on now, due in part to a fabulous juxtaposition of “something old/something new” that can be seen in their architecture, museums, and food scene that makes it really interesting.

Old mansions home to edgy galleries
Old mansions home to edgy galleries

If you need more incentive it’s dirt cheap compared to other capital cities plus LOT Polish Airlines, which is based in Warsaw, just launched a non-stop flight between Los Angeles and Warsaw. This is the first direct flight between California and Central-Eastern Europe and it will be a real game-changer.

Loved the comfy lie-flat biz class
Loved the comfy lie-flat biz class

Below are a few of my favorite finds:

STAY

Hotel Bristol- A Luxury Collection Hotel

Holding court on the famous Royal Route, this landmark hotel was founded by Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the famous pianist and politician. For over a century, Hotel Bristol has hosted such notables guests as Queen Elizabeth II, Sir Paul McCartney, John F. Kennedy, which all have a spot on their unique Wall of Fame.

Sophisticated suites at Hotel Bristol
Sophisticated suites at Hotel Bristol

The Bristol Spa, which uses quality ESPA products, features a pool, fitness room, sauna and steam room.

The elegant Marconi Restaurant, a romantic, Art Deco delight, serves excellent traditional Polish food with a creative twist and Italian seasonal cuisine. For a high-end restaurant it serves the best Zurek, a humble sour rye peasant soup, in town!  More casual options are available at the wildly popular Bristol Wine Bar (a hot-spot for all the pretty people) and the gorgeous Café Bristol, a Viennese-style coffeehouse, that looked so authentic that I half-expected to bump into Freud.

Decadent sweeties at coffee house
Decadent sweeties at coffee house

Sheraton Hotel Warsaw

The five-star Sheraton Hotel, emerging fresh-faced from a revamp by London based designer, Alex Kravetz, has an enviable location at the prestigious Three Crosses Square- footsteps away from a world-class shopping street, Laazienki Royal Park, and historic Old Town.

The Sheraton Warsaw
The Sheraton Warsaw

It gets bragging rights for Warsaw’s smallest gourmet restaurant, Chef Table Sheraton Warszawa, an exclusive four-seat, one-table eatery nestled inside the main kitchen, where the master chef will create a culinary extravaganza.

Inside tip: Keep an eye peeled for the opening of the luxurious Europejski Hotel (a Raffles property) later this year.

SEE and DO

Begin with a walking tour of Warsaw’s impeccably rebuilt Old Town which earned a place on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites as “an outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century”. Marvel over the cobblestoned Castle Square, Royal Castle and Zygmunt Column, built to honor King Zygmunt III Wasa, who moved Poland’s capital from Krakow to Warsaw in the 17th-century.

Lively Old Town
Lively Old Town

To learn more about Warsaw’s turbulent past and its heroic people a visit to these two museums is highly recommended. Plan on a couple of hours each to simply scratch the surface.

Striking POLIN
Striking POLIN Museum

The architecturally stunning POLIN won the prestigious European Museum of the Year Award in 2016. Built on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto the POLIN tells the thousand-year history of the Polish Jews, through eight chronological galleries; starting with First Encounters, when the Jews arrived in Poland during the 10th century, up to today. The multi-media galleries are composed of everyday objects, artworks, and state-of-the-art installations. Don’t miss the painstakingly hand carved, painted replica of the 17th-century wooden synagogue of Gwo?dziec.

Beautiful hand-carved temple
Beautiful hand-carved temple

The Warsaw Uprising Museum pays homage to the doomed Polish insurgents who heroically fought and died for their country’s independence. After exploring the three floors filled with fascinating interactive displays, including moving personal accounts, watch the shocking 3D movie ‘The City of Ruins’ which is a simulation of the Liberator plane flying over a demolished Warsaw in 1945.

Sobering yet uplifting
Sobering yet uplifting

Inside tip: A good one to add to your list, The Museum of Warsaw will be open at the end of May after a lengthy renovation. It is located in 11 historic tenement houses at the Old Town Market Square, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Zookeeper's house
The Zookeeper’s house

The Warsaw Zoo was established in 1928, destroyed during the World War II, and reopened in 1949. But the animals are not the main reason for your visit. One of the most poignant examples of Poles saving Jews from the Nazis is the story of the Director of Warsaw Zoo, Jan ?abi?ski, and his wife Antonia, the main characters of a very successful book, “The Zookeepers Wife”. The Zabinski’s risked their lives to hide Jews not only in their villa but also right in the zoo!

Tunnel to the basement
Tunnel to the basement

Inside tip:  If you email ahead, villa@zoo.waw.pl, you can arrange for a  fascinating tour of the villa filled with personal photos and memorabilia, and you can even see the tunnel and basement where the the Jews were hidden.

For the best shopping try Mokotowska, an elegant street that survived the war and has preserved its old character. It’s lined with handsomely decorated, renovated tenement houses that now are home to a plethora of designer boutiques, upscale restaurants, and galleries. Stop in at Mo61 Perfume Lab to create your own signature scent.

Mo61 perfume lab
Mo61 perfume lab

Younger fashionistas can check out Mysia 3 (name and address are the same) an edgy “department store” showcasing trendy Polish designers such as Anna Orska’s handmade jewelry made from recycled metals.

For an unsurpassed panoramic view, head up to the 30th floor of the Palace of Culture and Science, the tallest building in Poland, which was a “gift” from the Soviet people, that came with a few strings attached.

Tall building designed by Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind
Tallest residential building designed by Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind

 

EAT & DRINK

Breakfast market
Breakfast market

Start your weekend at The Breakfast Market- ?oliborz , where you can graze on dozens of local food products, at about 30 stalls featuring the best bites from a variety of organic farms, restaurants and catering companies. Although breakfast isn’t a big thing in Poland, hip locals meet here to catch up on the weekly gossip. Search out the perogie stand with over a dozen flavors ranging from sauerkraut and cheese to a chocolate version. They are happy to mix and match.

Best perogie stand
Best perogie stand

My fave dining place has to be the new Hala Koszyki- the only food market hall in Poland. The ‘Koszyki’ market hall, AKA the ‘People’s bazaar’ was built in 1906 where it served as the city market. After a five-year restoration, it finally reopened and it is truly a thing of beauty. Not only is it esthetically pleasing (reminiscent of San Francisco’s Ferry Market) but the gastronomic offerings at the approximately dozen restos and bars are all spot on.

Hala Koszyki, a new market hall, is always buzzing
Hala Koszyki, a new market hall, is always buzzing

If you’re lucky enough to nab a seat at the always packed, Bar Koszyki, you must order the Koszyki’, a delish cocktail made from a secret recipe. For an exceptional meal and to get a sense of what new Polish cuisine is all about, reserve a seat at the uber trendy MA (moth).

Uber cool 24 hr resto CMA
Uber cool 24 hr resto CMA

Created by Mateusz Gessler (part of the famed foodie Gessler clan) who uses food to celebrate life’s finest moments. Small plates are broken down by category; Hot & Cold Plates, Grill, Flour Dishes, Furnace, etc. I started with an artistically plated salmon salad, some classic Polish dumplings, finishing off with a decadent dish of Foie Gras with truffles and caramelized fig. Open 24/7 it’s perfect for popping into after a night of drinking.

CMA salmon salad
CMA salmon salad

Der Elefant, a cool, wrought iron, warehouse-chic restaurant (designed by the Oscar-winning production designer of Schindler’s List) would be right at home in SoHo. This cosmopolitan spot is a maze of dining venues, from eating around the open kitchen where you can watch the cadre of chefs racing to fill orders, to a seafood bar, a colorful children’s area complete with mini-playground, al fresco dining, and many other nooks and crannies.

Der Elefant
Der Elefant

Fresh seafood rules here. My Labrax, a European sea bass, came simply stuffed with lemon, garlic and herbs, letting the fresh flavor shine through. Word is that their finest quality filet mignon is one of the best deals in town.

Der Elefant
Der Elefant

Stary Dom is wonderfully old-fashioned. The rustic, wood-beamed dining room is homey and inviting-a throwback to the good ol’ Polish days. The food is based on traditional, often pre-war recipes, with portions fit for a Polish farmer getting ready to put in 12-hour day planting potatoes. Even if your cholesterol is sky high you have to try the steak tartare prepared tableside by a master chef.

a "single" serving Stary Dom pork knuckle in honey
A “single” serving Stary Dom pork knuckle in honey

Fun fact: one of the owners, Piotr Adamczyk is a famous Polish actor who played Pope John Paul II in the film “Karol, A Man Who Became Pope”.

For some avant-garde barhopping made easy, head to Pozna?ska, a narrow side street chock full of bars. They run the gamut from upscale wine bars to dive spots, brewpubs, and ethnic food joints with people wandering from one to the other. Some of the coolest ones, which are nameless, can be found nestled inside elegant pre-war buildings.

Hipster bar
Hipster bar

HOW TO GET THERE

For the approximately 12 hours, 6,000 mile-flight, LOT uses Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Opt for business class (which is the top premium class offered and comparable to first class on other airlines) where the fully flat seats allow for a “dreamy” night’s sleep. This was my first time flying on a Dreamliner and huge props for the roomy seats, spacious overhead bins, special air filters which reduces that jet-laggy feeling, special glare-free tinted windows tinted and tasty food.

Just for starters on LOT
Just for starters on LOT

If you’re connecting to another fight in Warsaw, be sure and take advantage of their business class lounge which offers an ever-changing roster of dining treats. But the best part was the life-saving spa, where the treatments, ranging from a facial, back massage, reflexology, express make-up, etc. are FREE! My masseuse, Monika, my masseuse, had me purring after a marvelous 30-minute knot-defying massage.

Lots more info and some unique itineraries can be found at www.warsawtour.pl and www.poland.travel.

Janice Nieder

Janice Nieder

Janice could be the love child of Indiana Jones and Julia Child. She was a specialty food consultant in NYC with a client list that included Tavern on the Green and Dean & Deluca. A culinary trendsetter, Janice has visited almost 100 countries searching out gastronomic adventures. She might be found sharing a smoked monkey dinner with Shuar Indians in the Amazon jungle or “running with the dogs” while truffle hunting in Marche, Italy. To keep things in balance, Janice also writes about her Girlfriend Getaways, including everything from luxurious city penthouses and Michelin starred meals to bespoke travel in remote destinations. You can follow her travels at www.janicenieder.com

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4 Comments
  1. Just came back from Warsaw and wished I had read Janice’s notes before I went! I only did a fraction of what she describes, and now I feel I have to go back to do all the rest! Even with all my guide books I still missed the vibe of the city which she so well describes. I’d like to know where she’s off to next so I can follow in her steps and not miss anything! Thx for all the inside scoop.

  2. My friend and I have been researching destinations and wanting something different. I had never thought about Poland but am now seriously thinking I’ve found it! Thanks for the colorful guide of what to see and where to go, eat and stay.

  3. Warsaw is really great city, probably one of my favorite European cities. It is modern and diverse, and there are so many amazing spots there! One of my favorite places in Warsaw is actually a bar called Bubbles – I always hang out there with my friends. The atmosphere of this place is very casual and cozy, and they serve champagnes from all over the world as well as really delicious food. It is one of the best spots in Warsaw for me :)

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