Still broken and sooty in parts, the Praga district’s historic core never looks better than in the glow of early Autumn – and here’s a dozen reasons why you shouldn’t put off a visit…
The uniqueness of Praga’s personality can be recognized by the 120 shrines that await to be discovered in the battered backyards of the district. Offering a rare ray of light (often literally) in their gloomy surroundings, these kapliczki are often richly embellished with fresh floral arrangements, kitschy lights and assorted add-ons. Largely created during WWII when church gatherings were forbidden, there are several others around Warsaw, but it is Praga’s that are the most fanciful.
Praga’s diet is pleasingly varied – for an upmarket, meat-centric menu in sophisticated, post-industrial surrounds, look no further than the Koneser Grill. At the other end of the scale, the down-at-heel Pyzy Flaki Gorące (left) serves dumplings in little glass jars and has a legendary status in the neighborhood (and beyond!). Hip and retro in its look, but local and forward thinking in its menu, Źródło personifies Poland’s culinary (r)evolution, whilst the chic, intimate hub.praga is the area’s most creative experience.
Praga is known as ‘the heart of Warsaw’s street art scene’, and though it’s probably now lost the numbers game to Ursynów, it’ll forever be regarded as the birthplace of the city’s mural-osis. As an incubator for grassroots artistic expression, it was in Praga that the city first fell for the XL art splashed on the sides of disintegrating tenements. Many of these originals survive, albeit in increasingly peeling form, but their number has been bumped up by newer additions such as the surrealistic work of Tytus Brzozowski (left) and the cheerful image of ‘the Praga band’.
Once autumn slams down, Praga becomes a big delicious bang of caramel shades – that’s especially true of Park Praski, a place whose defining landmark is a 13-meter giraffe that’s a leftover from 80s Poland – and hang on, there’s also the commie era band shell. Seen from the right angle, it looks like a UFO that’s slammed into the bushes. For something wilder, head to the riverside. Contrasted against the revamped left bank, the right flank of the Wisła is a tangle of untamed nature.
The Vodka Museum is the one that gets the publicity, and its interactive, modern philosophy isn’t short of playfulness – using VR goggles, you’ll get to experience the effects of having a skinful without even getting plastered! We don’t really count the Neon Museum as falling inside our definition of Old Praga, but even so it would be remiss to overlook it given its fantastical collection of retro commie neon. Big shout also to The Praga Museum, among whose highlights include a ‘magic carpet’ of brilliantly naff street traders tat. And for the curiosity seeker, make time (ha!) for the Clock Museum – a tiny Aladdin’s Cave whose star piece is the ‘master clock’ that once controlled all the timepieces at Central Station.
Art in Praga means more than just murals. Weirdness can be found (providing they haven’t been stolen) in the form of colorful knitted ‘yarn bombs’ that often adorn the bollards on Kawęczyńska street, and then you’ve also got the localized outbreak of blue angels to consider. First debuting in 2010, these 40-kilo fiberglass figures are the creation of Marek Sułek though have often faced paint attacks, theft and even decapitation. A bit more standard, check the homage to the bands that once stalked the local courtyards in return for cash thrown down from the windows. Illuminated at night, the monument to ‘the Praga band’, is specially fitted to play classic local tunes on SMS demand.
Some know Praga as being ‘rough and ready’, others as the home of Warsaw’s alternative, artsy side. These worlds collide in its dive bars, the pick of which is Oprach W Absurdu; in daytime, it’s a place where dusty antiques are bathed in moody half-light. At night, it spins off its axis and disappears down a demented vortex of vodka, music and shouted babble. Then you’ve Chmury and Hydrozagadka. Set in a fleapit courtyard, its hard to tell where one begins and the other ends, but both are spiritually cojoined by a devotion to eclectic live music. Finally, in a new location, there’s Offside, the official home of Poland’s first ‘democratic’ football team – AKS Zly.
Brzeska still struggles to shake off its reputation as ‘the most dangerous street in Warsaw’. To this day, there are stretches of it that are uncomfortable to walk – even during daylight. Its grim, echoing courtyards are quite a place to be. Same goes for Mała, a street so authentic in its pre-war vibe that Roman Polanski shot many scenes for The Pianist here. Oh, if you see the letters LSR painted anywhere, they mark the way to the nearest wartime bomb shelter.
In keeping with its underlying air of vintage cool, Praga has no shortage of stores selling pre-loved goods. To root among eclectic vinyls visit Plyty Gramofonowe (Ząbkowska 11) before heading forth to Sklep Lata 60-te (11 Listopada 54) and Look Inside (Wileńska 21) to pick from their rich array of retro treasures. Finally, look out for the yard sale-style actions that are occasionally conducted at the revamped Bazar Różyckiego. Founded in 1882, the place was once synonymous with black market dealings, though now (largely) specializes in uber cool vintage.
Amid its blackened, bullet-marked pre-war architecture, Praga’s historic center has generous sprinkles of post-war oddities – these include the rainbow colored cinema building and, of course, the epic sausage dog building that snakes endlessly opposite Wschodnia train station on Kijowska. So named because of squat height and long length, this 1973 apartment block runs for over 508 meters. Also nicknamed ‘the tapeworm’, it featured as a backdrop for the Travis video Love Will Come Through.
Praga has more secrets than a pervy politician, you just need to know where to find them. Speaking for ourselves, we love the pre-war traders’ lettering found on Brzeska, not to mention the WWII bunker set into the ground on the corner of Panieńska and Jasińskiego. But more than anything else, it’s the spirally stairwell on Kłopotowskiego 38 that gets us the most. To view it, you’ll need to beat the buzzer to enter this apartment building, but your stealth will be rewarded by Warsaw’s most photogenic set of stairs. Looking like something from an M.C Escher painting, it’s even appeared in a Polish Academy Award winning film about a time traveling janitor!