Warsaw is a capital city that exceeds your expectations. Almost wiped off the map during World War II, the historic districts which lie on the left bank of the River Vistula were rebuilt from the rubble after the war. This rebuilding program was on a scale unprecedented anywhere in the world. To appreciate just how extraordinary this undertaking was, you only have to look at photographs of the city taken early in 1945, and then compare these with the present scene from the top of the 234-meter high Culture Palace. The Culture Palace was built by the Russians as a gift for the city and is an exciting manifestation of socialist culture. The best way to understand any city is, to begin with, a macro view from a high vantage point unless you stay in a fifty-floors chain hotel headfirst for this imposing building. After absorbing the panoramic view of Warsaw, then you can gradually explore it at ground level. The second item on your list of places to visit should be the historic part of Warsaw, where a route beginning from Castle Square takes you to the Old Town (Stare Miasto) that was reconstructed brick by brick, and to the adjacent New Town (Nowe Miasto). The main sights on your route are the Gothic St John’s Cathedral on Swietojanska Street and next to it, the 17th century Jesuit Church. The Market Square in the old town is surrounded by picturesque buildings of the 17th and 18th centuries, on whose ground floors are cafés, restaurants, and souvenir shops.
This is a favorite tourist haunt, and the square is filled with street sellers, musicians, painters, and entertainers. Here you can happily spend an afternoon. Jazz music is a strong tradition in Poland, and you can find cheap and high-quality CDs in the square and amber from the Baltic. The graphic arts are another area where Poland scores high marks, as you will notice from the posters on sale here. Do not worry about them getting creased in your suitcase because they are carefully packaged.
Warsaw has been the capital of Poland since King Zygmunt Waza III moved here from Cracow in 1596. The royal palace was one of the buildings destroyed in the war and rebuilt, and it is well worth seeing. Between Castle Square and Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street are numerous historic churches and palaces, including the Radziwill, Potocki, Tyszkiewicz, and Uruski palaces, Saint Anne’s Church, and the Church of St Cross, where Chopin’s heart is kept. The Chopin Museum is 35 kilometers from Warsaw in the composer birthplace, Zelazowa Wola, where Chopin fans should not miss the piano recitals held every Sunday.
In front of the 19th century Staszic Palace is a statue of Nicolaus Copernicus by the famous sculptor Thorvaldsen. One of the city’s loveliest streets is Nowy Swiat, the continuation of Krakowskie Przedmiescie. The buildings here have also been reconstructed precisely like their 19th-century originals.
From Nowy Swiat, you pass onto Ujazdowskie Boulevard, lined by small palaces and embassy buildings, and at the end of the boulevard, you come to a large park, the Lazienki. Initially established in the 17th century, this park is more like an open-air museum of exquisite architecture and works of art. One of the buildings here is the Island Palace built in the 18th century for the last Polish king Stanislaw August Poniatowski by the famous architects Merlini and Kamsetzer.
There are also two theatres in the park, one for winter and one for summer, and two monuments, one celebrating Chopin and King Jan Sobieski III. They played a significant role in defense of Vienna against the Turks in the late 17th century. In OK weather, concerts of Chopin’s music take place in the park every Sunday. Warsaw is a place where you have no trouble finding a good selection of food. A favorite snack is zapiekanka, sold on street corners and in snack bars all over the city.
It is a kind of Polish pizza consisting of a long half roll spread with tomato sauce, mushrooms, and onion and baked in the oven. Restaurants serve superb Polish dishes as well as international cuisine. Then it would be best if you try the famous Polish vodkas, particularly the delicious Zubrowka, which is flavored with buffalo grass.