Warsaw Poland Travel Guide and Photo Gallery

  Warsaw Travel Guide: Attractions and Sights

Although many of the buildings in central Warsaw were built in an austere, quasi-Gothic, Stalinist style, a large number of pre-war buildings were carefully restored or, in many cases, completely reconstructed following clues in old prints and paintings. A case in point is the beautiful Rynek Starego Miasta (Old Town Square). The Zamek Królewski (Royal Castle), which houses a museum, is the greatest of the rebuilt monuments. Apart from the embankment carved out by the Wisla (Vistula) River, which runs through the city south to north, Warsaw is entirely flat. Most sights, attractions, and hotels lie to the west of the river. Major thoroughfares include Aleje Jerozolimskie, which runs east-west, and ulica Nowy Swiat, which runs south-north through a main shopping district, passes the university, and ends at the entrance to the Stare Miasto (Old Town). Be careful about Nowy Swiat: its name changes six times between its starting point in Wilanów (called aleja Wilanowska) and its terminus (called Krakowskie Przedmiescie). 

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ARCHIKATEDRALNA BAZYLIKA SWIETEGO JANA. Ulica Swietojanska, leading from the Rynek Starego Miasta to the Zamek Królewski, takes its name from the Cathedral of St. John, which was built at the turn of the 14th century; coronations of the Polish kings took place here from the 16th to 18th centuries. The crypts contain the tombs of the last two princes of Mazovia, the archbishops of Warsaw, and such famous Poles as the 19th-century novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz, the Nobel Prize-winning author of Quo Vadis? Ul. Swietojanska 8. 

CHOPIN AND RADZIWILL ESTATES. About an hour west of the city is Kampinoski National Park, famous for being the birthplace of Chopin and home to the stunning Radziwill country estate. Both can be reached by bus from Warsaw's main bus station Dworzec PKS (Al. Jerozolimskie 144, PHONE: 022/94-33, 046/863-33-00, or 046/838-56-20). 

Zelazowa Wola (PHONE: 022/94-33, 046/863-33-00, or 046/838-56-20), Chopin's birthplace, is a small 19th-century manor house, filled with original furnishings and devoted to Chopin's life. Admission is zl 6, and it's open Tuesday to Sunday from 9 to 4; on summer Sundays, concerts are held on the terrace at 11 AM and 3 PM. If driving, go 30 km (18˝ mi) west of Warsaw on the 2(E30), and at Sochaczew turn north on Route 580. 

Nieborów (PHONE: 022/94-33, 046/863-33-00, or 046/838-56-20), the country estate of the Radziwill family. The National Museum of Warsaw now runs the estate, centered around a late 17th century Baroque palace. Admission is zl 6, and it's open Tuesday to Friday from 10 to 4. The palace contains a small hotel (book ahead; no children allowed). To get here from Zelazowa Wola, return to the 2(E30) and drive west to Lowicz, then take Route 70 southeast about 10 km. 

FEMINA CINEMA. Before the war this area was the heart of Warsaw's Jewish quarter, which was walled off by the Nazis in November 1940 to isolate the Jewish community from "Aryan" Warsaw. The cinema is one of the few buildings in this district that survived the war. It was here that the ghetto orchestra organized concerts in 1941 and 1942. Many outstanding musicians found themselves behind the ghetto walls and continued to make music despite the dangers. Al. Solidarnosci 115. 

GALERIA ZACHETA. Built at the end of the 19th century by the Society for the Encouragement of the Fine Arts, the Zacheta Gallery has no permanent collection but organizes thought-provoking special exhibitions (primarily modern art) in high-ceilinged, well-lit halls. It was in this building in 1922 that the first president of the post-World War I Polish Republic, Gabriel Narutowicz, was assassinated by a right-wing fanatic. Admission costs to the exhibits vary. Pl. Malachowskiego 3, PHONE: 022/827-69-09. Tues.-Sun. 10-6. 

KAZIMIERZ DOLNY. It's worth a day trip to this thriving artists' colony and vacation spot 130 km (80 mi) southeast of Warsaw. The town crowns a steep bank of the Vistula River; its Renaissance architecture, dusty cobblestone streets, and steeply pitched red-tile roofs are why people call it the Pearl of the Polish Renaissance. From the main market square (known in Polish as Rynek), you can take a marked trail to explore the landscape around Kazimierz - the southern route runs along the Vitsula River, across streets and cart paths, and through orchards and quarries. Also worthwhile for the spectacular views is a hike up the southern hill to the Church and Monastery of the Reformati Order or northeast to the ruins of 14th-century Kazimierz Castle. 

KOSCIÓL SWIETEJ ANNY. Built in 1454 by Anne, princess of Mazovia, St. Anne's Church stands on the south corner of Castle Square. It was rebuilt in high-Baroque style after being destroyed during the Swedish invasions of the 17th century, and thanks to 1990s redecoration and regilding it glows once again. A plaque on the wall outside marks the spot where Pope John Paul II celebrated mass in 1979, during his first visit to Poland after his election to the papacy. Krakowskie Przedmiescie 68. 

KOSCIÓL SWIETEGO KRZYZA. The heart of Poland's most famous composer, Frédéric Chopin, is immured in a pillar inside Holy Cross Church. Atop the steps of this Baroque church is a massive sculpted crucifix. Across from the church is the statue of Nicolaus Copernicus, standing in front of the neoclassical Staszic Palace, the headquarters of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Like many other notable Warsaw monuments, this statue is the work of the 19th-century Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen. Krakowskie Przedmiescie 3. 

MUZEUM HISTORYCZNA WARSZAWY. Four fine examples of Renaissance mansions can be found on the northern side of the Old Town Square (note the sculpture of a black slave on the facade of No. 34, the Negro House). These historical homes, some of which contain Renaissance ceiling paintings, now house the Warsaw Historical Museum. The museum screens a short documentary film on the history of Warsaw daily at noon in English. Rynek Starego Miasta 28-42, PHONE: 022/635-16-25. Tues. and Thurs. 11-6, Wed. and Fri. 11-3, weekends 10:30-4:30. 

MUZEUM LITERATURY IM. ADAMA MICKIEWICZA. Mickiewicz was Poland's greatest Romantic poet. He and other Polish writers are the focus of the Adam Mickiewicz Museum of Literature, which houses manuscripts, mementos, and portraits. Rynek Starego Miasta 20, PHONE: 022/831-40-61.  Mon., Tues., and Fri. 10-3, Wed., Thurs., and Sat. 11-6, Sun. 11-5. Closed 1st Sun. of month. 

MUZEUM NARODOWE. In a functional 1930s building, the National Museum of Warsaw has an impressive collection of contemporary Polish and European paintings, Gothic icons, and works from antiquity. Al. Jerozolimskie 3, PHONE: 022/629-30-39. Wed. free. Tues., Wed., and Fri 10-4, Thurs. noon-5, weekends 10-5. Closed day after holidays. 

OLD TOWN. The historic Old Town, on an escarpment on the left bank of the Vistula, was meticulously reconstructed, using old prints, plans, and paintings, by postwar architects. Some of the original Gothic buildings still surround the Old Town Square - the hub of life in Old Town. In its central fountain is the Warszawska Syrenka, or Warsaw Mermaid - the symbol on the crest of the city of Warsaw. The appearance of today's square, however, largely dates from the 16th and early 17th centuries. Artists and craftspeople of all kinds still sell their wares here in the summer, musical performances are often held here on weekends, and horse-drawn cabs await visitors. (The area is closed to traffic.) Just a short stroll beyond the Barbakan gate is the New Town, rebuilt after the war in 18th- and 19th-century styles. 

PALAC BELWEDER. Built in the early 18th century, the Belvedere Palace was reconstructed in 1818 in neoclassical style by the Russian governor of Poland, the grand duke Constantine. Until 1994 it was the official residence of Poland's president. Belvedere Palace stands just south of the main gates to Lazienki Park. Ul. Belwederska 2. 

PALAC CZAPSKICH. Now the home of the Academy of Fine Arts, the Czapski Palace dates from the late 17th century but was rebuilt in 1740 in the rococo style. Zygmunt Krasinski, the Polish romantic poet, was born here in 1812, and Chopin once lived in the palace mews. Krakowskie Przedmiescie 5. 

PALAC KAZANOWSKICH. The 17th-century Kazanowski Palace was given a neoclassical front elevation in the 19th century. The courtyard at the rear still contains massive late-Renaissance buttresses and is worth a visit because of its plaque commemorating Zagloba's fight with the monkeys, from Sienkiewicz's historical novel The Deluge. In a small garden in front of the palace stands a monument to Adam Mickiewicz, the great Polish Romantic poet. It was here that Warsaw University students gathered in March 1968, after a performance of Mickiewicz's hitherto banned play Forefathers' Eve, which set in motion the events that led to the fall of Poland's Communist leader Wladyslaw Gomulka, a wave of student protests, and a regime-sponsored anti-Semitic campaign. Krakowskie Przedmiescie 62. 

PALAC KULTURY I NAUKI. The massive Stalinist-Gothic Palace of Culture and Science, which looks like a wedding cake, is the city's main landmark. From the 30th floor you can get a panoramic view. (The old joke runs that this is Warsaw's best view because it is the only place where you can't see the palace.) To view all of urban Warsaw from 700 ft up, buy tickets at the booth near the east entrance. The building houses a number of facilities, including a swimming pool and the Museum of Science and Technology. Also in the palace is the Teatr Lalek, a good puppet theater (the entrance is on the north side). Pl. Defilad 1, PHONE: 022/620-02-11; 022/620-49-50 (theater). Daily 9-6. 

PALAC NAMIESTNIKOWSKI. The Presidential Palace was built in the 17th century by the Radziwill family (into which Jackie Kennedy's sister Lee later married). In the 19th century it functioned as the administrative office of the czarist occupiers - hence its present name. In 1955 the Warsaw Pact was signed here; later the palace served as the headquarters for the Presidium of the Council of Ministers, and since 1995 it has been the official residence of Poland's president. In the forecourt is an equestrian statue of Prince Józef Poniatowski, a nephew of the last king of Poland and one of Napoléon's marshals. He was wounded and drowned in the Elster River during the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, following the disastrous retreat of Napoléon's Grande Armée from Russia. Krakowskie Przedmiescie 46-48. 

PALAC OSTROGSKICH. The Chopin Society has its headquarters in the 17th-century Ostrogski Palace, which towers above ulica Tamka. The best approach is via the steps from ulica Tamka. In the 19th century the Warsaw Conservatory was housed here. Now a venue for Chopin concerts, it is also home to the Muzeum Fryderyka Chopina (Frédéric Chopin Museum), a small collection of mementos, including the last piano played by the composer. The works of Chopin (1810-1849) took their cues from folk rhythms and melodies of exclusively Polish invention. Thanks to Chopin, Poland could fairly claim to have been the fountainhead of popular music in Europe, and the composer's polonaises and mazurkas whirled their way around the continent in the mid-19th century. Ul. Okólnik 1, PHONE: 022/827-54-71. COST: Free. Mon.-Sat. 10-2, Thurs. noon-6. 

PALAC LAZIENKOWSKI. The magnificent Lazienki Palace is the focal point of the Park Lazienkowski. This neoclassical summer residence was so faithfully reconstructed after the war that there is still no electricity - be sure to visit when it's sunny, or you won't see any part of the interior. The palace has some splendid 18th-century furniture, and part of the art collection of King Slanislaw August Poniatowski. Ul. Agrykola 1, PHONE: 022/621-62-41. Tues.-Sun. 10-3:15. 

PALAC WILANÓW. A Baroque gateway and false moat lead to the wide courtyard that stretches along the front of Wilanów Palace, built between 1681 and 1696 by King Jan III Sobieski. The palace interiors still hold much of the original furniture; there's also a striking display of 16th- to 18th-century Polish portraits on the first floor. English-speaking guides are available. Outside, to the left of the main entrance, is a romantic park; behind the palace is a formal Italian garden. There's also a gallery of contemporary Polish art on the grounds. Stables to the right of the entrance now house a poster gallery, the Muzeum Plakatu. The latter is well worth visiting - it's a branch of art in which Poles have historically excelled. Ul. Wiertnicza 1, PHONE: 022/842-81-01. Thurs. free. Tues.-Sun. 9:30-2:30. 

POMNIK BOHATERÓW GETTA. This Monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto commemorates the April 19, 1943, uprising by the Jewish Fighting Organization. In a desperate attempt to resist the mass transports to Treblinka that had been taking place since the beginning of that year, the brave ghetto fighters managed to keep up their struggle for a whole month. But by May 16, General Jürgen Stroop could report to his superior officer that "the former Jewish district in Warsaw had ceased to exist." The ghetto had become a smoldering ruin, razed by Nazi flamethrowers. A monument marks the location of the house at nearby ulica Mila 18, the site of the uprising's command bunker and where its leader, Mordechai Anielewicz, was killed. Ul. Zamenhofa between ul. M. Anielewicza and ul. Lewartowskiego. 

ULICA PRÓZNA. This is the only street in Jewish Warsaw where tenement buildings have been preserved on both sides of the street. The Lauder Foundation has instigated a plan to restore the street to its original state. No. 9 belonged to Zelman Nozyk, founder of the ghetto synagogue. 

ZAMEK KRÓLEWSKI. Warsaw's Royal Castle stands on the east side of Castle Square, a plaza on the southern border of Old Town. The princes of Mazovia first built a residence on this spot overlooking the Vistula in the 14th century. Its present Renaissance form dates from the reign of King Zygmunt III Waza, who needed a magnificent palace for his new capital. Reconstructed in the 1970s, it now gleams as it did in its earliest years, with gilt, marble, and wall paintings. It also houses impressive collections of art - including the famous views of Warsaw by Canaletto's nephew Bernardo Bellotto (also known as Canaletto), which were used to rebuild the city after the war. Tours in English are available. Pl. Zamkowy 4, PHONE: 022/657-21-70. Daily 10-4. 

ZAMEK UJAZDOWSKI. If you are interested in modern art, you will find it in the somewhat unlikely setting of the 18th-century Ujazdowski Castle. Now the home of the Center for Contemporary Art, the castle hosts a variety of exhibitions by Polish, European, and North American artists. Al. Ujazdowskie 6, PHONE: 022/628-12-71. Tues.-Thurs. and weekends 11-5, Fri. 11-9. 

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