Warsaw is fascinating because nearly everything is new. During World War II the Nazis completely demolished Warsaw, destroying approximately 85% of the city. Yet today the city has been restored to its prewar glory, with each section of the city maintaining its uniqueness. I enjoyed the differences between each area of Warsaw, and loved exploring the city. There are many fun places and attractions to visit in Warsaw, my nine favorite listed below.
Palace of Culture and Science
Next to a major train station in Warsaw is one of the most impressive buildings in Warsaw: The Palace of Culture and Science. This building is also one of the most controversial buildings in Warsaw, as it was initially a gift from the Soviet Union, with the name ‘the Joseph Stalin Palace of Culture and Science.’ The ‘Joseph Stalin’ part of the name was later removed during destalinization. While there were protests to the name and how the building represented Soviet domination, there were also protests over the building itself, as people claimed it ruined the aesthetics of Warsaw. In recent years more and more skyscrapers have been built around the Palace of Culture and Science, which makes it less offensive to the skyline.
Disregarding the controversies, one thing is for certain: the Palace of Culture and Science is stunning. For 22 zloty you can go to the top of the building at night (during the day for less, even less if you have a student ID card). At night the view is incredible. Something amazing about the building is that some nights it lights up – and not just a single color, but switching all throughout the rainbow. While it looks spectacular from the outside, being inside the tower is just as extraordinary. The observation section is where some of the lights are, so you are bathed in the colors seen by onlookers below.
The view is also absolutely incredible. I prefer views that are high while still being able to distinguish individual buildings, and the Palace of Culture and Science was just that. Every direction provided an amazing look into Warsaw, and it was here I first realized how beautiful the city of Warsaw is. Viewing the Palace of Culture and Science is impossible to miss while in Warsaw, but going up to the top to check out the city is an extra trip that is an absolute necessity.
Church of the Holy Cross
One of the first places I visited in Warsaw was the Church of the Holy Cross. The church was absolutely beautiful, giving me a fantastic first impression of Warsaw. To make it even more magnificent, a choral group was practicing for a World Youth Day performance, making the entire visit even more magical.
The church is famous for hosting something particularly unique: Chopin’s heart. Literally. When Chopin died he wanted part of him to remain in Warsaw, the city he loved. Upon his death an urn was filled with cognac, preserving his heart, and was featured at the Church of the Holy Cross. April 2014 his heart was exhumed and examined, and the church to this day has a section dedicated to Chopin and his remains.
In front of the church is a sculpture I took particular interest in. Pius Weloński created Christ Bearing His Cross, a sculpture that miraculously survived the destruction of the city of Warsaw. While the church itself was ruined, the sculpture remains as it was, located in front of the church.
University of Warsaw
A stunning place worth exploring is the University of Warsaw’s library. While the library itself is cool (because libraries and book in general are amazing) what is spectacular about this library is the exterior. If you exit the library, you walk into a grassy area, much like a park or garden. What’s really amazing is that the library itself is almost enclosed within the garden.
To the side of the library is a staircase, which leads to the garden above the library. The side of the library is covered with ivy, so it seems as though nature is consuming the library. The garden at the top is spectacular, with archways, bridges, observation areas, and a fantastic view of the city. It is a beautiful area to spend time in, especially if the hustle of the city makes you want to take a break and relax. The only way my afternoon could have been better spent at the garden would have been if I had a book to read and relax with.
Taras Widokowy at St. Anne’s Church
One of the best views in Warsaw is at the top of St. Anne’s Church towers. The church itself is absolutely gorgeous, with its baroque interior and daily organ concerts. Thanks in part to this beauty, there is a two year long waiting list to get married here.
While I did not have much time to explore the church itself while in Warsaw, I did have the opportunity to climb 150 stairs to the top of the tower that gives a stunning view of Old Town. While Old Town from the street is gorgeous, from above, where there are less people and the ability to see it in its entity, it’s simply breathtaking.
Old Town is the oldest and one of the most beautiful places in Warsaw. Although it was completely demolished during the Second World War, in the years following the war it was meticulously rebuilt to resemble how it looked pre-war, even using original bricks whenever possible.
There are a variety of squares within Old Town that make it so beautiful. The most popular one is Castle Square, which can been seen by a tower at St. Anne’s Church. This square is in front of the Royal Castle, where old Polish monarchs used to live.
My favorite square in Old Town is Old Town Market Place. This square is the oldest part of Old Town, and was destroyed during World War II. This square is my favorite because of the building facades and the mermaid statue. The buildings were primarily owned by merchants, and to help advertise each merchant had the facade of his home show off what trade the family was in. This resulted in beautiful designs on the exterior of the homes throughout the square.
The square also features a statue of the Warsaw Mermaid in the center of the square. The mermaid is tied to the legend of Warsaw. The legend states that a mermaid once washed up on the shore of a river near Old Town, where after examining the town she decided she liked it too much to leave. She and a fisherman ended up falling in love, and when a merchant attempted to capture her the fisherman came to her rescue, saving her. From then on she has been ready with sword and shield to protect Warsaw. I find it interesting how each city I’ve been to has its own story relating to mythical beasts: Wroclaw with gnomes, Krakow with dragons, and Warsaw with mermaids.
Warsaw Uprising Museum
The Warsaw Uprising Museum was one of the more interesting museums in Warsaw. Depicting the uprising that aimed to liberate Warsaw from the German forces, this museum is extremely well designed, and completely immersive. As someone with an interest in history I found the museum interesting, and I think it gives a good look into the struggles the people of Warsaw had during World War II. Read about my experience here.
Wilanów Palace is not only a beautiful building to visit, but historically significant – it survived not only Poland’s partitions, but both of the World Wars. Considering more than 85% of Warsaw was leveled during World War II, it’s amazing a building this large survived.
While visiting I did not have the opportunity to explore the interior, which I hear is just as beautiful as the exterior (which I imagine is difficult to do). Inside there is a large collection of artwork, including the beautiful architecture of the palace. The palace as a whole is a repository of the country’s royal and artistic heritage, a large expectation to live up to that I have no doubt the Wilanów Palace meets.
What I enjoyed most while visiting was the garden. Greenery is seen all around Wilanów Palace. The front of the building has a spacious lawn, while the back has an ornate flower garden. There is even more beyond the flower garden however. Walking behind the palace leads to a wooded area with a lake.
This is what I found most serene. I absolutely love lakes and this area of Wilanów Palace was picturesque. There is an option to rent rowboats, discover the vastness of the grounds, and even explore a Chinese gazebo. For a break from the busy city of Warsaw, Wilanów Palace is a fantastic stop.
POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews
If you are interested in Polish history, Jewish history, or history in general, the POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews is the museum for you. Jewish history is particularly interesting in Poland thanks to World War II, but this museum expands the narrative beyond a handful of years. The museum examines over 1,000 years of history of the Polish Jews. The museum is also extremely interactive, which helps to enhance the experience of visiting. To read more about the museum, check out my experience here.
In typical European fashion, the Poles love their football. When I was in Warsaw I had the opportunity to attend a Legia Warsaw game, where they played Piast Gliwice at the Polish Army Stadium. While the game itself was interesting, what I enjoyed most was the energy in the stadium. Football fans are intense. For the entirety of the game the Legia fans chanted, cheered, booed and hollered, having the time of their lives. I’ve been to multiple professional sporting games in the United States, but no game I’ve attended has ever come close to matching the energy of a European game. Even if football isn’t your sport of choosing, it’s a game the Poles are passionate about, and worth watching.