The Old Town, rebuilt from scratch after the Germans famously visited as more than just tourists, is the first stop for all. For a taste of Poland’s Imperial Age, then Łazienki Park is a magical flashback. Gritty reality awaits wandering the pre-war streets of Old Praga, while for something less raw then a stroll around the modernist interwar constructions of Saska Kępa is always quite pleasant. Above all, never forget to pay tribute to Chopin: the museum dedicated to his memory is stunning.
A raw wound that continues to fester, the war is never far away here: reminders come on nearly every corner by way of discreet memorials to those massacred by the Nazis. Learn more by visiting The Rising Museum, or pop by the Old Town’s ‘Heritage Centre’ to find out about the destruction of the city. Three separate museums, Pawiak, Szucha and Katyń, cover particularly distressing moments in this town’s traumatic history. From a Jewish aspect, Muranów was the heart of the Ghetto: many memorials exist, though visit the Polin Museum for a more in-depth explanation as to the horrors of the Holocaust.
A top-to-bottom tour of Stalin’s Palace of Culture is recommended: the basements are thrilling and best viewed under the guidance of CREATours (creatours.pl). Other architectural landmarks include the ‘My God It’s Hideous’ Pl. Konstytucji. Marvel at a more ambient side to Communism in the Neon Museum and then visit The Museum of Life Under Communism: it’s tiny, thoughtful but also good fun. While you’re there, jump into a busted militia wagon and take one of their commie-themed tours.
Wonder amid romping kids and whirring machines in the Copernicus Science Centre, and after take in the glorious dusk views on the rooftop garden of the University Library. Across the river, the state-of-the-art National Stadium conducts regular tours. Whilst Polin – the Museum of the History of Polish Jews – covers a subject that is almost ancient in scope, it does so in a manner that’s astonishingly innovative: no wonder it was voted Europe’s Best Museum earlier this year.
Serious art lovers gravitate to the National Museum for its determined presentation of art through the ages. The Zachęta and CSW are more alternative with captivating exhibitions that leave you confused. But Warsaw’s best art is found on the streets: search out the massive wall murals of Praga or puzzle over installations such as the city’s giant palm, floating paper boat or the itsy little gallery of Mirella Von Chrupek.