When to fly
The summer months, where temperatures rise to the 20s and sometimes higher, are the busiest. If you would like to visit the city during this time, it would be advised to book flights in advance. Slaska Noc Swietojanska or Midsummer’s Eve is the longest day of the year, which is celebrated in June. Visit the Midsummer Market to enjoy delicious hot drinks and food, free concerts, period-costume contests and fireworks. This is a wonderful time to travel to Warsaw, when the atmosphere is full of merriment.
Spring and autumn are somewhat less crowded and although temperatures dip slightly, this can still be a good time to book flights to Warsaw. In addition, these seasons play host to a number of events which should not be missed. If you’re visiting around Easter, be sure to celebrate one of Warsaw’s most famous sons during Chopiniana – Chopin Days in Warsaw Festival. This grand musical event showcases music, theatre and ballet productions performed around the city in places tied to the composer.
Winters are very cold, with temperatures regularly below 0 degrees. As a result there are fewer crowds and it is the best time to find cheap flights and accommodation.
In some ways, the city of Warsaw reflects the spirit of its people. Razed during the Second World War and rebuilt, in large part, in utilitarian Soviet style, the capital of Poland might not have the uniform beauty of Krakow, but it's a lively, forward-looking city.
The Old Town's history spans the 13th to the 20th centuries. It is postcard pretty, but what makes it remarkable is that as the area was bombed and blown up during the war, it is almost completely reconstructed. After the war, volunteers armed with old maps and paintings sifted through the rubble for reusable bricks and decorative features. Other sights include the Royal Castle, King Sigismund's Column, the Market Square, and the Barbican.
One of the defining landmarks in Warsaw is the Palace of Culture and Science, which was "gifted" to the Polish nation by Stalin. Many locals consider it Warsaw at its worst. As for memorials to the fallen, these include the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Saxon Garden, the Warsaw Uprising Monument, and the poignant Maly Powstaniec (Little partisan) which commemorates the children who fought in the Warsaw Uprising.
There are many excellent museums throughout the city with insights into Warsaw’s dramatic past, including the National Museum, the Warsaw Uprising Museum and the Museum of Independence.
Head to Nowy Swiat, the picturesque main boulevard where you’ll find lots of shops and restaurants, as well as the seat of Polish government. Some eateries can be expensive here and if you’re looking for cheap meals, then try a “milk bar” which offers hearty simple food in a stripped-down bistro environment. If you’re looking for trendier modern spots, head to Praga on the east side of the Vistula river where you’ll find factories converted into art and restaurant spaces.
Warsaw’s busy Old Town was rebuilt after the city’s near destruction in World War II. To keep the city’s history alive, the buildings were rebuilt in their original 17th- and 18th- century style. Restored buildings, Baroque and Renaissance merchant houses, open-air restaurants and the Historical Museum of Warsaw all surround the lovely Old Market Square (Rynek), one of the area’s focal points. Buskers, painters and musicians constantly entertain spectators and traditional horse-drawn carriages clatter down the roads. If you take one of the cobbled streets leading away from the square, you’ll run into Gothic churches and former aristocratic palaces, and eventually the medieval walls that surround the city. Also worth a stop is the Royal Castle. Once home to Polish Kings, the palace is now a museum displaying tapestries, furniture and decorative collections.
Warsaw has four distinct seasons. Spring starts out cold and ends with warm and sunny days. Summer is warm with lots of rain. July is the hottest month with temperatures reaching the mid-20s. Autumn (September – October) is the reverse of spring, and ends with cold foggy days. There can be lots of snow from December through February, and January and February temperatures can drop to minus figures. The peak tourist season is late-April through October.
Getting around Warsaw
Within the city it’s very easy to get around between the trams, buses and the Metro. And you can always set out on your own two feet.
After catching a flight to Warsaw Frederic Chopin Airport (WAW), the easiest way to get to the centre is to catch a cab, bus or shuttle bus. Since the airport is so close to the city (6 miles/10km south west of Warsaw), rates are all affordable.
Warsaw insider information
- The statue of King Sigismund III looks over Castle Square (Plac Zamkowy). The Royal Castle (Zamek Krolewski) itself was built in the early 1400s, but as 85 per cent of the city was razed by the Nazis in 1944, what stands today is a reconstruction, rebuilt between 1971 and 1984 from maps and paintings that had been hidden by residents during the war and from bits of rubble that had been saved by survivors of the war.
- Also in the rebuilt Old Town (which is on the Unesco World Cultural Heritage list) are St. John’s Cathedral, Warsaw’s most important Catholic shrine, the Jesuit Church, and the Square with its beautiful Mermaid Statue. The Warsaw Historical Museum is here too.
- Staying with Warsaw’s often turbulent but defiant history, there are a number of monuments to the fallen. The Jewish Ghetto no longer exists, but Umschlagplatz marks the spot from where residents were sent by train to Treblinka concentration camp. Between Karmelicka and Zamenhofa streets is the Ghetto Heroes Monument, which pays tribute to those who fought in the Warsaw Uprising. An exact copy of the monument is in Yad Vashem in Israel. The Warsaw Rising Museum tells the story of that time through photographs, interviews, film footage and dioramas.
- Lazienki Park is Warsaw’s largest park. The Palace on the Water is beautiful. It was commissioned by King Stanislaw August Poniatowski, the last King of Poland, as his summer residence.
- Look out for the Fryderyk Chopin monument in the park, and later, the Chopin museum. During the summer months, Chopin concerts take place by the monument in Lazienki Park.
- The Palace of Culture and Science is 754 feet (230 metres) high and has a viewing deck on the 30th floor. It is Poland's tallest building.