Party… On A Rooftop
Did someone say party? Join the glitterati to boogie under (and with) the stars at The View, a 30th floor club filled with champagne swilling hotshots and pneumatically enhanced beauties. Closer to ground level, the 4th floor Sen (shown above) has maneuvered itself to the top of Warsaw’s club rankings with its riverfront views and gorgeous clientele.
Plot An Urban Safari
For evidence of Warsaw’s creative streak look no further than its walls. Funneling the voice of the wider community through the medium of art, supersize murals have transformed the city lending giant pops of color to previously unappreciated buildings. For a tour with a twist, plan out your own personalized urban art trail this summer: for an interactive map detailing Warsaw’s public art, point your mouse towards puszka.waw.pl.
No, not like that you dirty so-and-so. Educate yourself about the city you find yourself in by boarding one of the open-top tourist buses that zip around town moving from one landmark to the next. Warsaw City Sightseeing (warsaw.city-sightseeing.pl) and Warsaw City Tour (city-tour.com.pl) operate on a hop on / hop off principle with routes taking in all the A-list sights. Multi-lingual audio guides complete the experience.
Light Up Your Night
Now reactivated after its annual winter hibernation, the Multimedia Fountain Park (park-fontann.pl) between the Old Town and river has entertained millions since launching eight years back. Fitted with 367 jets capable of firing 30,000 liters of water per minute, the carefully choreographed displays are paired with synchronized audio and visual displays to stunning effect. This year, organizers have opted to tell the city’s founders, Wars and Sawa, with over 35,000 people attending the official inauguration of ‘fountain season’ at the start of May. If you missed it, then the same show is repeated every Friday and Saturday at 9 p.m. It’s awesome!
Walk On The WildSide
While it’s the revamped left side of the Wisła that gets the publicity, head to the right bank to explore the river’s wilder side. Of the city’s more enduring urban myths is the tale of a Japanese delegation asking the Mayor how much the city had spent creating the effect of an untamed riverbank in its full natural glory. “What amazing landscaping,” one delegate is said to have added. Though no more than an apocryphal tale, it says much about the uncultivated nature of this environmental wonder. Submerged in the tangled undergrowth, you feel truly cut off from the city beyond.
Full of charred, smoky, meaty, manly goodness, no true summer is complete without a beery weekend barbecue. Should you choose to take your BBQ set down the local park, then bear in mind penalties of up to zł. 500 are dished out for sparking up in places where they’re forbidden. Of the places where you’re fine to do so, Park Skaryszewski, Pole Mokotowskie and Kępa Potocka are tried and tested favorites. Nowhere, mind you, is more popular than the sandy beach on the Saska side of Poniatowski Bridge.
See A Film Outdoors
Summer heralds the appearance of numerous open-air cinemas, all costing zilch and offering a quirky program a zillion times more experimental than the blockbusters showing at the nearest multiplex. Pl. Europejski, Łazienki Park and the area around Ujazdowski Castle are all expected to once more offer such cinematic pleasures, but for the pick of the bunch google about to see what Filmowa Stolica have in the pipeline. Last year saw them operate at 27 locations, among them POLIN, Royal Wilanow and Saski Park.
Get It Licked
As temperatures rise, so does Warsaw’s appetite for a cool-me-down. Engage in your own Game Of Cones by hitting up the dozens of artisanal ice cream vendors that spring up each summer. From the Insider’s own experience, Limoni’s various branches are a benchmark in experimentation (salmon sorbet, anyone?), whilst Sucre, Melody and Lody Prawdizwe are also quite often outstanding. Vegans, too, can get in on the act by tracking Vegestacja. But for our top scoop, head to Ice Pot in Hala Gwardii – on a highly competitive field, it rises above all with the best ice cream in the nation!
Watch Skies Go Red
So vivid are they, Warsaw’s summer sunsets have you double-checking you haven’t fallen into a hallucinatory dream. Vantage points are many, but few compete with the cosmic rooftop garden on top of the BUW Library. If you’re in the Old Town, then puff your way up the 150 stairs leading to the viewing platform on top of St. Anne’s Church: your reward comes in the form of grandstand views of the historic center.
Sip A Crazy Cocktail
Go tiki at Kiti Bar or head to Bar Max for elaborate concoctions that bring to mind a tropical jungle. For something more sophisticated, then the Raffles Europejski Hotel brings to mind the days of the British Empire with its signature Singapore Sling.
Feel The Music
First organized in 1959, the Sunday piano concerts (held at noon and 4 p.m.) that occur under the shadow of the Chopin monument in Łazienki Park have become one of the city’s proudest calling cards. Listen to musicians both established and upcoming recite works from Chopin’s oeuvre in a pristine, rose-fringed setting that the composer himself would surely approve of. With each performance drawing an estimated 3,000 people, get there early to swag the best seats.
Check In At Nocny Market
Returning unexpectedly for one last summer before builders move in to remodel Warszawa Główna, find the weekend Nocny Market set on a battered old platform of this knackered-out station. Here, ethnic food outlets stand next to DJ booths, tented tattoo parlors and temporary stalls selling silly socks and vintage posters. Raw and unfailingly hip, it remains one of the edgiest check-ins of the summer.
Shrink The City
Offering visitors a chance to travel back in time and feel the atmosphere of the city as it was in 18th and 19th centuries, the outdoor Park Miniatur (miniaturymazowieckie.com) features fifteen 1:25 scale models of both lost and surviving landmarks such as Saski Palace and the wooden summer theater that once stood in Saski Gardens. The detail is incredible and the final effect utterly enchanting.
Hit The Street
Though details remained sketchy at press time, each summer for the past few years has seen Praga’s spiritual gateway – ul. Ząbkowska – closed to traffic at weekends and transformed into a street party featuring outbreaks of yoga, an antiques market trading vintage books and vinyl, traditional folk bands parping into dented brass instruments and eccentric events that have, in the past, included silent discos, dog parades and a ‘mannequin march’. Audaciously eccentric, fingers are crossed that the Otwarta Ząbkowska festival will return once again.
With a population that’s high on weird characters and head-turning stunners, people watching becomes an almost compulsory sport once the café terraces open. Though Pl. Zbawiciela is no longer the crucible of hip that it once was, afternoon coffee under the colonnades of Charlotte remains a rite of passage. More current, Hala Koszyki and Poznańska street offer delicious viewing opportunities for eager social observers.
When the summer storms hit the city shakes to thunder. Keep dry by sitting it out in one of the city’s stranger café gardens: at Francuska 30, find tables protected by dozens of colored brollies dangling overhead.
Join A Parade
Impromptu political manifestations aside, the sunny months mean an outbreak of parades and marches to suit every taste. In June, the biggie is the Equality Parade (paradarownosci.eu), but do also look out for weirdness such as the 6th Annual Fur Suit Walk and a zombie parade. In essence, expect the unexpected.
Laze In A Hammock
Shoes off, cap down, phone off, book out. Enjoy some ‘me time’ by climbing into one of the hammocks lining the riverfront boulevards on the west side of the Wisła, or else head up to the Park Ujazdowski to swing in the breeze in the shadow of the Zamek.
Crash A Wedding
Well, why not? With the majority of Poland’s churches representing extravagant exercises in Catholic excess, soak in stunning ecclesiastical interiors whilst also enjoying the vicarious, voyeuristic pleasure of watching strangers getting hitched. Photobomb opportunities await!
You wouldn’t necessarily guess it given the dearth of decent jazz clubs, but here’s a city that loves it jazz. For proof, see the success of the Warsaw Summer Jazz Festival (adamiakjazz.pl) and Jazz In The Old Town (jazznastarowce.pl). Attracting huge international names, as well as showcasing Poland’s own copious domestic talent, both events have become entrenched in local culture.
Cool and creamy, chłodnik is the traditional taste of the Polish summer. Announcing itself in a shock of pink color, this cold beet soup is as essential to the country’s cuisine as gazpacho is to Spain’s. Many restaurants get it brilliantly right, but few nail it in the same way as either Stary Dom or Schabowy.
Consider Poland’s tallest building – the Stalinist era Palace of Culture & Science (pkin.pl) – as the prime perch in town. Open till 11:30 p.m. each Friday and Saturday through summer, the 30th floor observation deck offers peerless views of the toy town glinting down below. Watching the city’s nocturnal illuminations flicker on is an experience well deserving of the
zł. 22 admission.
Cross The Water
For a different view of Warsaw, board one of the water trams (ztm.waw.pl) that crisscross the Wisła and pootle about the river. For something more personalized – and beery – give Przystań Nowa Fala a shout to arrange a journey in one of their vessels. Seen from the water, the city feels distinctly different and oddly unrecognizable.
Sashay Through A Fountain
Spurting to a height of 15-meters, head to the center of Norman Foster’s donut-shaped Metropolitan building to run through what’s thought to be the first ‘intelligent’ fountain in the country. Costing over half a million zees, the Canadian-designed system responsively reacts to wind conditions to ensure no accidental soakings. But usurping it in popularity, make a beeline to Pl. Europejski to find an array of water jets hemmed in by carefully poised shrubbery and winding pathways. With the Warsaw Spire lit up at night, and so too the square’s iconic I Heart Warsaw neon, it’s pretty dazzling at night.
Hobnob With The Elite
To feel like you’ve intruded onto the set of a Tommy Hilfiger shoot, rub shoulders with the city’s decision makers at the Warsaw Polo Club (warsawpoloclub.pl), or thwack golf balls around the scenic surrounds of the 18-hole First Warsaw Golf Club (firstwarsaw.pl). After, watch swans glide around whilst enjoying drinks on the wooden, lakeside terrace.
Discover An Urban Oasis
Penned in by an ever-growing forest of skyscrapers, Pl. Grzybowski feels architecturally eclectic, socially diverse and just primed for summer. Revived in 2010, what had hitherto been an overgrown park has been reinvented as a shining new plaza filled with water features, benches, granite and greenery. A serene alcove in the center of the city, the feeling of being in a small micro-world is underlined by the proximity of cobbled, pre-war Próżna and its lively bistro scene.
Ride On Wheels
Beginning with the Veturilo bike share scheme a few years back, the capital has fallen hook, line and sinker for shared modes of transport. Currently, electric scooters as provided by operators such as Lime and Hive have proved all the rage. A fab way to get out and about, sign-up / download the relevant apps before you too become mobile. Insider tip: don’t be an idiot. If you’re on a scooter, look out for pedestrians and park it up properly. Thanks.
Catch The Shade
Aside from their unusual aromas, the courtyards of Old Praga are known for their religious shrines. The majority of these Mary’s appeared during the war, bringing with them a much-needed sense of “security, solidarity and even freedom” to the residents that gathered around them. To this day, they remain carefully tended and intricately decorated, lending a brilliant color to the battered backyards of this gritty suburb. Buried in permanent shadow, entering these darkened recesses is a riveting glimpse into the Warsaw of old.
Immerse Yourself In Green
Constructed in 1945 as emergency housing for architects given the task of rebuilding Warsaw, the Finnish Houses (so-called because they were built using materials requisitioned from Finland) rank as one of the Seven Wonders of Warsaw. Set in the city center, right behind the French Embassy, this neighborhood (jazdow.pl) of timber chalets and flourishing greenery feels like a secretive, fairy tale world. Not dissimilar to entering a lost, rural village, the area is at its best in summer when the resident NGOs ramp up their community activities.
Power To The Flower
An extraordinary bolt hole of horticultural treasure, visit the University of Warsaw’s Botanical Garden (ogrod.uw.edu.pl). Although just five hectares in size, looping pathways take day trippers through a thrilling cacophony of color that presents in excess of 6,000 species. Amid them, find historic bits and pieces such as a 19th century Astronomical Observatory, a hothouse once used to cultivate figs and pineapples for Poland’s nobility and a small brick chapel that was to form part of a giant Temple of Divine Providence.
Eat At A Food Truck
The economic annihilation brought about by the ‘credit crunch’ did have a silver lining: from these financial dire straits, the food truck thrived courtesy of offering artisanal food at recession-proof price points. And people loved them so much that they stuck around. Now a Warsaw summer fixture, the regular food truck meets organized by Żarcie Na Kółkach (fb.com/zarcienakolkach) bring together the best of the best.
Pick Your Own Fruit
Take the farm-to-fork philosophy to the next level by picking your own fruit and veg at the Majlert farm (majlert.pl). Celebrated by chefs and restaurateurs, this family-run enterprise on the outskirts of Warsaw has long enjoyed a cracking reputation for its eco-minded produce. If you’re visiting at the weekend, keep in mind that in June they also offer group dinners held outdoors in the middle of their fields. It’s positively life affirming!
Be A Tourist
And that means heading to the Old Town! Lacking the year-round vibrancy of, say, Kraków or Wrocław, Warsaw’s historic quarter only ever really hits its stride in summer; that’s when the area throbs with visitors both local and foreign. True, drinking and dining options remain something of a minefield, but the emergence of venues such as Same Krafty craft beer bar, the elegant Bar & Books cocktail den, and the ever reliable Warszawski Sznyt restaurant give reason to linger once the sightseeing is done. But before all that, make it your mission to first check the reenergized Museum of Warsaw, stroll the walls of the Barbikan, clamp a lovelock to the railings of Gnojna Góra and otherwise peer into unexplored courtyards and dusty antique stores.
Follow The Herd
To the Wisła you must go. The dramatic redevelopment of the left bank has left Warsaw with one of the most enviable river scenes in Central Europe, and that’s despite a recent clampdown on noise and carnage. Gentrifying it might be, but it remains culturally compelling and mined with attractions. From weekend breakfast markets to al fresco screenings, via outdoor concerts and random happenings, the Wisła Boulevards are where all life gathers when the mercury peaks.
Head Outta’ Town
Everyone else does at some stage, so do so as well. Classic weekend jaunts include the Gothic ruins of Czersk Castle some 60 minutes from Warsaw; Podkowa Leśna, Poland’s first garden city and a haven of sumptuous villas and wooded parks; and the romantic English-style park in Arkadia (shown above, as in the town not the shopping mall). Forty-five mins north of Warsaw, Lake Zegrze has long attracted water babies thanks to the sailing opportunities it affords, whilst landlubbers could do worse than boarding a train and heading to the charming but under-visited town of Piotrków Trybunalski. Like Piotrków, Łódź too is 90 minutes away and is now firmly ensconced as Poland’s capital of cool – for that, thank its design heritage, cool factory scene, mad wall art, and party vibe.
Forget rollerblading, yoga, frisbee and football. Instead, use Warsaw’s parks for something a little more cerebral. Usually the preserve of miserable old geezers, check out the outdoor chess boards on the left side of the Wisła, Park Praski, Bródno Park and a few other places besides. When you’re done with that, keep in mind that boules has enjoyed an unlikely renaissance in recent times. Over a dozen outdoor ‘bulodroms’ exist, among them in pretty little parks such as Krasińskich, Ujazdowski, Żeromskiego and Powsin.
Instagram The Palm
Fool your followers into thinking you’re in downtown Beirut by firing out a pic of the palm on Rondo de Gaulle’a. To really look the biz, shoot the tree as if it’s positioned between your thumb and your forefinger then sit back and watch the likes stack up. Unveiled in 2002 by artist Joanna Rajkowska, the 15-meter plastic palm scandalized Warsaw when it was originally revealed, but has since become a much-loved landmark.
Step Into The Unknown
It’s warm and dry, ergo, you’ve hit upon the best time to get on your hands and knees and sneak into the derelict hulks that pepper the city. Urban explorers have a comprehensive list of sites to bust their way into, and these include the abandoned carcass of Marymont’s football stadium, the SKRA sports complex and the graffiti strewn wreck that is Fort Bema. But for the undisputed champ, look to ‘the Wola Colosseum’. So named for their rotund shape and tall arcing windows, the two former gas tanks that constitute this amphitheater-style wonder are serene, surreal and a little unsettling. Just remember: be careful and don’t tell anyone we told you about it (yes, you are trespassing).
Drink Homemade Lemonade
Warsaw’s specialty coffee scene has erupted, but it’s not just new wave coffee that people are drinking. Many of these cult cafés have also proven dab hands at perfecting the art of mixing domowe lemoniady – and the locals just love it. There’s too many to pick, but Insider approved haunts include Stor, Filtry and Relaks.
Dress Your Best
Style mavens need not look beyond Mokotowska, an antique, Parisian-style street that’s commonly hailed as the heart of Polish fashion. All the domestic big guns are here, with a style and quality that’s fully in line with Western expectations. Away from the world of haute couture, join the cool kids by stocking up on labels like Pan Tu Nie Stał and Local Heroes (as sported by Bieber, Cyrus and Delevingne!) have exceled when it comes to wacky designs and / or snappy slogans.