Although not full-time travellers, we do our best to achieve slow travel. Also, we are renowned for our love of spring and summer. So what were we thinking when we decided to plan a super short city break to Warsaw right in the heart of winter? Honestly, not much. We had recently won a couple of Ryanair tickets at a giveaway and travel dates had to be between 14 to 16 February. So we thought we’d give Warsaw a shot. Knowing that winter in Warsaw can be harsh though, we didn’t expect to see and do much. Oh boy, were we wrong! Our Warsaw city break proved to be one of our favourite short trips to date and we fell in love with the Polish capital the second we laid eyes on its magnificent skyline.
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Table of contents
- What is winter in Warsaw like
- Top 11 things to do in Warsaw Poland
- 1. Visit some of the best museums in Warsaw
- 2. Drink a cup or five of the best hot chocolate ever
- 3. Warm your body and soul with Polish vodka shots
- 4. Wander around the festive Warsaw Old Town
- 5. Have some fun inside the Palace of Culture and Science
- 6. Join an Adventure Warsaw tour
- 7. Discover Chopin in Warsaw
- 8. Meet locals at Praga district
- 9. Stroll around Warsaw New Town
- 10. Catch breathtaking views from the bell tower of St. Anne’s Church
- 11. Walk along the enchanting Royal Route
- Warsaw Travel Guide
- Till we meet again, Warsaw
What is winter in Warsaw like
Warsaw weather in winter can get really cold and snowy. Coming across sub-zero temperatures is common when visiting Poland in winter. At the other end of the scale though, the interiors of buildings in general are unbelievably warm. January and February see the lowest Warsaw winter temperatures. The good part is that this is the most off-season time to visit the city which means that you get to experience the real Warsaw. Regarding ourselves, we travelled to Warsaw in February. However, we got extremely lucky to be graced with sunny, no-rain, no-snow weather. We hit the weather jackpot, to be frank. But even if it weren’t so, we’d still be able to make the most of our winter escape to Warsaw. Come join us and find out what to do in Warsaw and what makes it one of the best places to visit in Poland in winter!
Top 11 things to do in Warsaw Poland
When we visit a new destination, we try to see and do as many things as possible there regardless of the season. So everything you see on our list of top things to do in Warsaw below should not be missed at any time of year. That said, we did our best to list sights and activities starting from the most winter-friendly attractions going all the way down to the most outdoorsy ones.
1. Visit some of the best museums in Warsaw
Warsaw museums are plentiful, diverse and remarkable. On a cold day, there’s no better way to get to know with a city than visiting a museum or two.
Winner of the European Museum of the Year Award in 2016, POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews is one of the most impressive museums we’ve seen. It is super modern and interactive and manages to offer its visitors an extraordinary experience. Instead of just focusing on the events of the Holocaust, as one might presume, POLIN Museum narrates the entire history of Polish Jews. From how they first settled to the country to current events in the lives of prominent Polish Jews.
Nothing about POLIN Museum is random. Even its very location carries the strongest symbolic meaning. It stands right in the heart of the former Jewish Ghetto. Furthermore, the building itself is quite remarkable. Austere on the outside but incredibly welcoming inside, it contributes in its own way to the contrasting emotions its exhibits evoke. Speaking of those, apart from the Core Exhibition, which is the permanent one, there is always a themed temporary one too. A regular ticket for the Core Exhibition costs 25 PLN (less than 6€). For other ticket types and opening hours visit the official POLIN Museum website.
Within short walking distance from POLIN Museum there are two more points of interest related to the past of the city’s Jewish community. The Warsaw Ghetto boundary marker on Świętojerska Street is a strip on the sidewalk showing the exact location of the former Ghetto wall. This is just one of quite a few of such markers placed in Warsaw in order to commemorate the Polish Jews’ tragic fate. The striking Umschlagplatz Monument, on the other hand, stands at the very spot where Polish Jews used to gather in order to be transferred to Treblinka and other Nazi death camps.
The Polish Vodka Museum
Who says that a museum can’t be informative AND great fun at the same time? The Polish Vodka Museum is living proof that you can learn a lot about a place’s history even when you approach the latter from a very specific and unorthodox perspective. In that case, vodka. The interactive and entertaining Polish Vodka Museum is housed in the former Koneser vodka factory and distillery. Outside the museum there are food trucks and the whole area is being restored. Soon it will become an important cultural hub in Warsaw’s Praga district.
During our 1-hour guided tour, we learnt a lot about one of Poland’s flagship products and the ways in which vodka is forever intertwined with Warsaw’s history. At the end of the tour we tasted three different kinds of vodka. Let me rephrase. We took three vodka shots in less than 5′. Best antidote for cold weather ever. Visit to the Polish Vodka Museum is by guided tour only so make sure to book your places in advance.
One of the most unusual and fascinating museums in Warsaw is Neon Museum. Its exhibits are actual neon signs that used to brighten Poland’s cities in the past. Alongside those, the museum’s informative boards explain how neon signs evolved into both a form of art and a political statement for Poland. Sadly, most of those neon signs were destroyed because they were closely associated to the country’s communist past. The museum’s mission is to discover, restore and showcase as many remnants of Poland’s neon era as possible. Neon Museum Warsaw is in Praga district. A regular ticket costs 13 PLN (3€) and the museum is open every day except Wednesday.
The Warsaw Rising Museum
One of the most important chapters in Warsaw’s history revolves around the Polish uprising against German occupation that started on the 1st of August, 1944. The entire Warsaw Rising Museum focuses on this event and on the efforts of the Polish people to liberate Warsaw from the Germans. The uprising lasted for 63 days and it was one of the most significant military acts of any resistance movement during World War II. Tickets cost 25 PLN (less than 6€) and the museum is closed on Tuesdays. The impressive Warsaw Uprising Monument near Warsaw Old Town also commemorates the same events.
2. Drink a cup or five of the best hot chocolate ever
Few things can beat the warmth of a nice cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter day. Especially when said hot chocolate tastes as if it was made in heaven. E. Wedel is often referred to as the Polish national chocolate brand, regardless of the fact that it is no longer a company of Polish interests. There are E. Wedel stores and cafés in many locations across Warsaw. You can enjoy a cup of their divine hot chocolate either in one of the stylish cafés or takeaway. It’s quite expensive for Polish standards (3,5€/takeaway cup) but it’s worth every cent.
Throughout Warsaw’s history, the E. Wedel chocolate factory remained one of the city’s most important industries. You can still visit the original building with the iconic neon sign at 8, Szpitalna Street which housed the main chocolate factory back in 1894. Nowadays it is home to a fancy café where you can also buy all kinds of chocolate products, such as the brand’s signature product, the unmissable Ptasie Mleczko.
3. Warm your body and soul with Polish vodka shots
Another fantastic way to keep warm during cold winter days and nights is seeking refuge in the warm embrace of vodka. The Poles know how to drink their vodka: in shots. So don’t you get any crazy ideas about fancy vodka-based cocktails, vodka on the rocks and the likes. Vodka comes in shots and this is the Polish and the only way to go.
4. Wander around the festive Warsaw Old Town
Strolling around the fairy tale that is Warsaw Old Town is a must all year round. Reduced to ruins by German forces following the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the historic centre of Warsaw was completely restored after the war. Its centerpiece, the Old Town Market Place, is the heart of Warsaw Old Town and perhaps the most famous of all Warsaw attractions. The Old Town Market Square is at its best during winter when less crowds fight over a precious spot at its quaint cafés. Although we visited as late as mid-February rather than December, the square was still clad in festive goodness with Christmas kiosks serving hot food and beverages and one of the city’s many ice rinks dominating the square. Can you think of anything better than ice skating while 80s pop tunes fill the air? We can’t.
5. Have some fun inside the Palace of Culture and Science
The Palace of Culture and Science is Warsaw’s most iconic landmark. Built between 1952 and 1955, it was a gift from the Soviet Union to the people of Poland. This is why people also call it Stalin’s gift. It’s a controversial construction. Most Poles hate it because it reminds them of times they’d wish to forget altogether. Yet, from an architectural point of view, it is magnificent. It soars 237m above the city of Warsaw, thus earning first place in the list of tall buildings in Poland.
Nowadays, the building is a cultural hub with theatres, cinemas, museums, conference halls and many more. If these primarily winter attractions are not enough to keep you busy on a cold day, you should know that the Palace of Culture and Science is also home to its very own ice rink during winter. However, the most fascinating way to spend your time in Stalin’s gift is taking the super-fast elevator all the way up to the 30th floor and admire breathtaking panoramic views of Warsaw from the building’s stunning viewing terrace. While there, don’t miss the chance to spend some time at the warm and cosy rooftop café as well. Click here to plan your visit to the Palace of Culture and Science.
6. Join an Adventure Warsaw tour
It’s no secret that we absolutely adore guided city tours. We believe that joining a walking tour is one of the best ways to get to know with a city, especially if visiting on a short trip. However, we shivered (pun intended) at the thought of having to endure the cold for the entire length of a walking tour around the city. Then Adventure Warsaw came to the rescue. This company operates themed tours of Warsaw which combine a bit of walking with van transfer, thus reducing significantly the time you have to spend outdoors in the cold. The best part is that those transfers are carried out in retro vehicles, the nostalgic Polish Nysa vans, which date back to Poland’s communist era.
We joined the Off the Beaten Path Trip, one of Adventure Warsaw’s most popular tours. Riding a super cute van across Warsaw was a unique experience in its own right. Yet there was a lot more to enjoy and learn during this 4-hour tour. We started off near Próżna Street, a historical street in Warsaw. We wandered around Warsaw’s Little Paris where we saw the interior of a bullet-hole-filled building. Our guide took us on a trip back to the city’s past and helped us understand how the latter forged and determined Warsaw’s present as well.
Apart from the numerous points of interest we visited in various parts of the city, the trip also included a guided tour of the Museum of Life under Communism before concluding with a proper lunch at one of Warsaw’s best milk bars (more on those further down) in Praga district. Seriously, we can’t recommend this tour enough.
So apart from all the winter-friendly things to do in Warsaw we’ve listed above, we have also handpicked a few more Warsaw highlights which involve staying outdoors a bit longer.
7. Discover Chopin in Warsaw
Frédéric Chopin is perhaps Warsaw’s most famous child. The Polish composer and pianist is a true symbol of the Romantic era. Warsaw honours Chopin in countless ways with statues, works of art and museums scattered across the city. Chopin enthusiasts can stroll around Warsaw and visit each and every one of those memorials dedicated to their favourite composer. We loved the musical benches located in various spots across the city as well as the piano zebra crossing at Emilii Plater Street.
The Chopin Museum displays a collection of personal objects which used to belong to the composer and his family and represents yet another great way to spend a winter day in Warsaw.
Last but not least, attending a Chopin’s music concert in the composer’s own hometown is among the most unique things to do in Warsaw as well.
Regardless of Chopin’s omnipresence in the city, we failed to associate our Warsaw city break with any of his masterpieces. Instead, this is what got stuck inside our heads during the entire time we spent in Warsaw.
8. Meet locals at Praga district
Praga district is on the east bank of the river Vistula and it was a separate city until 1791. After the end of the communist era in 1989, Praga district became popular with young artists and it soon became the centre of Warsaw’s alternative culture. However, the most precious aspect of Praga district is that it maintains its authentic ambience and it offers some insight into the Polish local life.
Contrary to the picture-perfect Old Town, Praga still bears scars from Warsaw’s troubled past but this can only add to the district’s overall charm. Wander around the streets of this former industrial area and shop next to locals in Bazar Różyckiego, Warsaw’s oldest market. In the evening, step inside any packed with locals bar and get ready to make some new friends over a vodka shot or three.
9. Stroll around Warsaw New Town
Contrary to what its name suggests, Warsaw New Town is a part of the city which dates back to the 15th century. Its history is similar to that of Warsaw Old Town as Germans almost completely blew it up after the Warsaw Uprising. It is situated just north of Warsaw Old Town with the Barbican serving as a border between the two. The Barbican is part of the city’s old fortified walls. Of course what we see today is not the original construction. Like everything else in the historic centre of Warsaw it was destroyed by German forces and later rebuilt.
One of the prettiest streets in Warsaw, Freta Street, runs along the entire Warsaw New Town. It starts from the Barbican and goes all the way to the New Town Market Square.
10. Catch breathtaking views from the bell tower of St. Anne’s Church
Warsaw is a flat city which is super comfortable if you love walking as much as we do. However, lack of naturally raised areas of land, such as hills, means that one needs to look for man-made constructions so as to enjoy spectacular views. The bell tower of St. Anne’s Church offers stunning views to Warsaw Old Town, particularly to Castle Square and the Royal Castle. The latter is perhaps Warsaw’s most recognisable landmark. A former royal residence, the Castle now operates as a museum.
From the top of the bell tower one can also marvel at the beautiful buildings lining the magnificent Krakowskie Przedmiescie boulevard and at how the latter contrast with the jaw-dropping Manhattan-like skyline in the distance. Entrance to the bell tower costs 6 PLN (less than 1,5€) and you need to climb 145 steps to get to the top.
11. Walk along the enchanting Royal Route
We saved the best for last. The Royal Route connects Warsaw Old Town to Wilanów Palace in the southern part of the city. The route begins at the Royal Castle and runs along Krakowskie Przedmieście Street, Nowy Świat Street, Ujazdowskie Avenue, Belwederska Street and Sobieskiego Street to conclude at Wilanów Palace. All along its length, marvellous buildings line the Royal Route, turning it into a walking lover’s heaven. We only walked the part between the Royal Castle and the beginning of Ujazdowskie Avenue and we absolutely loved it. In winter, strolling along this part of the Royal Route in the evening is among the best things to do in Warsaw at night as the streets are full of light and buzzing with local vibe.
Warsaw Travel Guide
Before starting to plan your Warsaw trip, check out the official Polish Tourism Organisation website, an invaluable source of information about Warsaw as well as all other major cities in Poland.
How many days in Warsaw
We spent 2 days in Warsaw. Although we managed to check everything off our sightseeing list as well as catch a tiny glimpse of local life, our trip felt rushed and, as a consequence, exhausting. We firmly believe that a minimum of 3 days is necessary to fully appreciate Warsaw and its charms at a comfortable pace.
How to get to Warsaw
Warsaw has two major airports. Chopin Airport is only 10km south from the city centre to which it connects by bus, train and taxi. Check out the Chopin Airport website for detailed information on how to reach Warsaw from the airport. Ryanair uses Modlin Airport as a base for its low-fare flights to and from Warsaw and that’s where we landed as well. Modlin Airport is located about 40km north of Warsaw. By far the most convenient and hassle-free way to get from Modlin Airport to the city is the ModlinBus with direct transfers from Modlin Airport to the heart of Warsaw. The bus terminal is located right outside the Palace of Culture and Science. A standard one-way ticket costs 33 PLN (about 8€) but you can purchase in advance at a much lower price through the official ModlinBus website.
Warsaw connects by train to the rest of Poland as well as to international destinations, such as Berlin, Vilnius and many more. Plan your train trip here. Bus is yet another way to travel across Poland. Moreover, there are bus routes which connect Warsaw to other European cities as well. Click here for more information.
Where to stay in Warsaw
Warsaw city centre, Śródmieście, is pretty compact and totally walkable. Especially if you’re planning to visit Warsaw in winter, like we did, staying outside the city centre shouldn’t be an option. It is possible to find a beautiful and centrally located room for as low as 30€/night. That said, if there’s one thing you could (or should) splurge on while in Warsaw, this is accommodation. Warsaw is a seriously affordable city. Therefore, spending a bit more to stay in a fabulous room that in other European capitals would cost 3 to 5 times more is an unmissable opportunity to make your stay in Warsaw even more memorable. We chose Autor Rooms and we certainly consider this stay one of our Warsaw city break highlights.
Autor Rooms is a boutique hotel which comprises four elegantly decorated rooms. Housed in a wonderful 1915 building that miraculously survived WW II, it is a member of Design Hotels for good reason. Far from being just another pretty B&B, Autor Rooms along with the brilliant young generation of Poles behind it represent a new philosophy and want to show people who seek beauty and an authentic touch in their stay the real Warsaw. It feels as if the entire hotel is a piece of art. And it actually is. The soul of Autor Rooms, Magdalena, together with a team of designers, architects, illustrators and many other professionals have filled the rooms with collections of unique artistic objects. From bathrobes and blankets to furniture and architectural elements, everything is designed specifically for Autor Rooms.
Our room was very spacious and incredibly warm. We had a balcony overlooking the city and an amazing bathroom built right in the centre of the room. Every evening, after our non-stop Warsaw sightseeing, we couldn’t wait to get back home and relax in our gorgeous room or have a nightcap in the welcoming common area. The latter is where we had our freshly made breakfast as well.
The location of Autor Rooms in the heart of Śródmieście Południowe is prime. Every point of interest in the city is either within walking distance from the hotel or very well connected to it by public transport. Prices at Autor Rooms start from about 90€, which is totally reasonable considering the hotel’s high standards.
If you want to take a small piece of Warsaw back home with you or if you are looking for some out-of-the-ordinary gifts to buy your loved ones, Autor Rooms have got you covered. Many of the unique objects that adorn the rooms, such as blankets or shot glasses, are also available for purchase. Alongside those design items, the team of Autor Rooms have also compiled Warszawa Warsaw 2, a special guidebook to Warsaw. It contains all the information one needs to plan the perfect Warsaw city break. We used it and we loved it. It’s not the typical guidebook. It primarily uses images to showcase the city and it focuses on giving some insight into local Warsaw. We can’t recommend it enough. You can buy your own copy in advance so as to plan the perfect Warsaw city break here!
What and where to eat in Warsaw
Polish cuisine is all about warm, hearty meals based on simple yet delicious ingredients. Most popular traditional dishes include pyzy and pierogi. To cut a long story short, pyzy resemble gnocchi and they are either plain or filled with minced meat and served with various toppings. On the other hand, pierogi remind of ravioli, they are either boiled or fried and they come with a variety of fillings, both savoury and sweet. This diversity in toppings and fillings makes both pyzy and pierogi a vegetarian’s dish of choice too. Undoubtedly, winter in Warsaw calls for soul warming soups as well, with zurek being the typical Polish one. Its main ingredients are potatoes, sausages and boiled eggs.
We tried some of the best pyzy in Warsaw at Pyzy Flaki Gorące, a super warm and cute place with exceptional tastes and the sweetest staff. Pyzy are served in jars and washed down with shots of some kind of homemade spirit that comes in many tastes, such as strawberry, orange etc. We never caught the spirit’s name but it is divine. Just ask for a couple of homemade shots. Prices are crazy low too. For two huge jars of pyzy and two shots we paid a total of 8€!
If you are in a mood for something fancy, all roads lead to Hala Koszyki. This is a food hall housed in a fabulous old market building. Not popular with tourists, Hala Koszyki is the top place for locals to see and be seen as well as to taste ethnic cuisines from all over the world. The obvious choice for us was Kiełba w Gębie, a Polish grill which serves really big portions at reasonable prices. We paid about 20€ for a burger, fries, pierogi and two large glasses of beer. Since it was our first meal in Warsaw, or even Poland for that matter, we thought it was really cheap. It turns out it was quite expensive for Polish standards.
Speaking of cheap eats, we should share a few words about milk bars here. Milk bars are a significant part of Polish culture and they have been present throughout the country’s long history. As their name suggests, milk bars serve mostly dairy-based food. These self-service restaurants are renowned for their low prices. A three-course meal can cost as low as 4-5€! The Polish state subsidizes milk bars and that’s how they manage to keep prices low. Grannies and students alike frequent their no-frill interiors and they are by far the best places to taste real Polish food.
Alongside those, however, Warsaw is full of smart and cosy bars and restaurants, all reflecting the Poles’ good taste and unique style.
Warsaw travel tips
Currency: The zloty is the currency of Poland. The written forms zł and PLN are used interchangeably on price tags etc.
Language: Polish is the official language but the Poles speak very good to excellent English. Even if they can’t speak English, they certainly understand it when spoken to and do their best to help out.
Public Transport: Warsaw boasts a very modern and reliable public transport network which comprises trams, buses and metro lines. We never used the latter by the way. Ticket prices are low. There are 20-minute tickets which cost 3,40 PLN (less than 0,80€) while a 24h ticket for the city centre costs 15 PLN (3,5€). To see all ticket types, click here.
Female travel: The city centre of Warsaw felt perfectly safe at all times. Actually, we’d list Warsaw among the safest destinations we’ve visited to date.
Till we meet again, Warsaw
Now that you’ve learnt everything there is to know about planning the best trip to Warsaw, it’s time we revealed what was it that actually made us love the Polish capital so much. It was its people. It was they who warmed our hearts more than anything else during our Warsaw city break.
It was the smiling girl who saw us struggling with the ticket machine on board a tram and, without thinking twice about it, bought us tickets and refused to accept our money regardless of our protests. It was the adorable girl sitting next to us at a bar whose face brightened up when she found out we were Greek and her eyes glistened as she recounted stories from a summer holiday she had spent on a Greek beach. And yet another girl who jumped into our conversation to also share her precious memories from her own Greek Island holidays. It is those people we can’t wait to go back to, this time in spring or summer so as to enjoy Warsaw’s lush parks and walk along the fascinating Vistula boulevards with them.
Pożegnanie dear friends. We’ll meet again before long.
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Disclosure: We would like to wholeheartedly thank Autor Rooms, the Polish Tourism Organisation, POLIN Museum, the Polish Vodka Museum and the Palace of Culture and Science for their hospitality. Although their guests, we express nothing but our honest opinions about the experiences we had and the services we tried. And this is something that you should never ever forget.