Visitors to Warsaw’s Old Town concentrate their sightseeing efforts on the Museum of Warsaw – but beyond this excellent institution lurk a host of other unique museums that sit under the radar…
Rynek Starego Miasta 20, website
Regarded as the nation’s greatest writer, the Museum of Literature presents a unique collection of artefacts related to this romantic hero, including preserved manuscripts and 19th century portraits of ‘the Slavic Byron’. Other pieces that may arouse interest include his travel trunk, first editions of his works and furniture that once belonged to him. Heavy in its subject matter, its content will please Mickiewicz’s more committed fans but may challenge others.
Piwna 31/33, website
Presenting 2,500 antiquities, including inter-war lab equipment, 19th century porcelain jars and cobalt cylinders for the storage of cognacs and aromatic waters. This unique museum in Warsaw’s Old Town delivers more than you can expect. Of the star attractions, look out for a 16th century botanical atlas by Simon Syrnius, glow-in-the-dark uranium jars, and a hidden cabinet filled with narcotics. With all the bottled potions knocking around, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine yourself in Dumbledore’s workshop!
Barbakan (ul. Nowomiejska), website
Open only during summer, the museum inside the Barbican – the crowning jewel of the Old Town’s defensive walls – limits itself to old photographs and displays. Completed after the advent of artillery, in practical terms it’s always been largely obsolete in its use but the tales behind both it and the walls around might be of interest to your inner nerd. Ultimately, the biggest appeal lies in creaking over the floorboards, peering from the slit windows, squeezing up narrow stairwells and following the narrow corridors – walking inside the bowels of this unique fortification is the biggest thrill of all, and in itself worth the meagre PLN 6 fee.
Podwale 15, website
Despite its premise, you don’t need to be a child to enjoy the Dollhouse Museum – gathering 150 such exhibits from around the world (the oldest being 200-years-old), these miniature worlds are more than a paean to craftsmanship. Described by the museum’s founder as “historical freezeframes”, the houses and their habitants are a microscopic insight into everything from the culture and customs of yore to architecture and fashion. Often enchanting, each house has its own story making this unique museum in Warsaw’s Old Town a true gem. Of note, the museum has a separate branch for temporary exhibits on Krzywe Koło 2/4 – currently, that means a display of wacky toys from the Communist period.
Kanonia 20/22, website
Of all of Old Town’s museums, perhaps this is the easiest to miss – but then and again, it’s secretive nature suits the subject. A double agent and defector, Ryszard Kukliński was a high ranking Polish officer in the employ of the CIA at the height of the Cold War. This unique museum pieces together his life story, including his daring escape and huge contribution to the avoidance of WWIII. The personal keepsakes though are the most touching; overseen by the son of a former high-profile dissident, these items include a letter from the then five-year-old child to his jailed father.
Brzozowa 11/13, website
This unsung gem is one of Old Town’s true highlights – telling the story behind the area’s wartime destruction, and subsequent rebuilding, it handles the subject with care, detail and attention. Presenting shattered bits of masonry recovered from the rubble, as well as post-war plans and renderings, it’s a beautiful places that also slays plenty of oft-repeated myths – e.g., that Canaletto’s 18th century paintings of Warsaw were essential to architects looking to recreate the Warsaw that was. Finish by watching a slideshow featuring Old Town images shot in the groovy 60s.
Rynek Starego Miasto 21, website
The name is an illusion in itself – it would be more accurate to call this The Small World of Illusion. Tinier than expected, there’s nonetheless much fun to be had here for both kids and those looking for quirky selfie opportunities. One of the most unique museums in Warsaw’s Old Town, though not quite as sophisticated as those found abroad, will still mess with your eyes and bamboozle the mind. Along the way, you’ll walk into Chopin, see a shark bursting from a wall and have your brain flipped by a series of 3D ‘magic eyes’.
Insider’s review of the fashion exhibition at the Museum of Warsaw in Warsaw’s Old Town, HERE.
A look at the annual Museum Night event, where visitors can access every museum in Warsaw for free! HERE