Join us for a deep dive into Warsaw’s summer playground...
Glimpse… The Future
Seen as a shiny, strange orb, find a time capsule sitting on the river’s boulevards until the end of this month. Scheduled to be opened in ten years’ time – and thereafter at 25-year intervals – possibly the bigger point of interest are the wacky historic predictions that flank the object. Taken from some of the biggest names in science and literature, these depict all manner of funky flying contraptions and oddball inventions that never made it past the imaginary stage.
Shoot… A Sea Monster
Seemingly a cross between a serpent and the Loch Ness Monster, the mysterious wriggly creature peering out from the dense vegetation just north of Most Gdański is, actually, something called Ślizg. Unveiled in 2015 by artist Maurycy Gomulicki, it’s one of Warsaw’s weirder oddities.
“Eerie yet sensual,” explains the artist, “the dynamics of Ślizg are set to the rhythm of the water flowing north… I hope Ślizg will be scaring and seducing pedestrians long after my soul is roaming the Elysian Fields.”
Soak… Up The Neon
Ceremonially lit in front of a crowd of 100,000 people on June 21, 2014, the neon sign attached to Most Gdański won a competition to ‘find a new neon for Warsaw’. Not without controversy (the original winner was disqualified for cheating), the contest was organized by Praga’s Neon Muzeum with the eventual winner (artist Mariusz Lewczyk) earning praise for his positive message – today, it’s one of the city’s best-loved neons.
But is it the only one on the Wisła? Of course it bloody well isn’t. For more, check out the trio of paper boats hung from underneath Świętokrzyski Bridge, the iconic Muzeum sign that crowns the Museum of Modern Art or any number of the food and drink points that line the riverside.
For the biggest light extravaganza of them all, however, point your camera towards the National Stadium. Lit up in the colors of the Polish flag, it’s an awesome sight come darkness.
Take… The Stairs
Completed in 1959, the two-level Most Gdański is looked upon by critics as one of the unsung engineering triumphs of Warsaw. Largely, that’s thanks to an entrancing spiral staircase that’s become a favored photographic backdrop for ‘Just Married’ couples returning from church.
And if you’ve got a thing for stairwells (hell, who doesn’t!?), then the extravagant stone stairwells that run beneath Most Poniatowskiego are absolutely imperious. Final word, though, goes to the terraced steps that line much of the left side of the river – on these, a sneaky beer with friends has become a local rite of passage.
Pose… For A Selfie
Attention all Instagrammers! If you’re searching for something punchy to wow your followers with, then look no further than Most Gdański.
Stunning to cross, the lower-level features tram tracks embedded into weathered wooden boards. Scissored in shadows cast from criss-crossing steel support pillars, the pedestrian walkways running each side promise a walk to remember – even more so come dusk when the Wisła basks in the dusky half-light of sweaty, summer sunset.
Professionals, mind you, won’t head anywhere but Siekierkowski Bridge. Here, the river’s natural bend and the distant glinting skyline make it a favorite for high-impact shots that contrast the futuristic horizon against the river’s natural glory.
Cross… The River
Pootle across to the other side of the Wisła by bouncing across the gangplank and boarding a vessel called the Wilga. Running until September, this ‘water tram’ is one of many that criss-cross the river in summer. Find yourself dispatched 600 meters or so from the zoo.
Take… In The View
Scale to the top of the observation terrace for grandstand views of the Wisła. The shallow staircase makes it an easy ascent that even those who usually wobble with vertigo are able to manage.
Photographers hoping to capture the city’s scarlet sunsets flock here come twilight. Do so yourself, and afterwards, check out the historic depictions of the river that have been cast in the paving slabs right by it.
Hunt… A Gnome
Added four years back, scour the left bank to spot Życzliwek, a jolly-looking gnome carrying a suitcase and sunflower. Gifted to Warsaw by the city of Wrocław, you’ll find him hiding out on Bulwar Jana Karskiego.
But what have gnomes got to do with Wrocław? Often mistakenly attributed as a homage to the surrealist anti-Communist protests of the Orange Alternative (in actuality, only one gnome pays reverence to the group’s actions), they first appeared in the city in 2005 and have since swept the town like a ransacking horde.
According to the artist originally behind them, Tomasz Moczek, they were simply intended to become a touristic symbol of the city. “I just wanted to create something that hadn’t come before, something that was universal,” he says. “They’re not political and they’re nothing to do with anti-Communist protests.”
Romance… Your Love
Suspended via 48 ropes from a pair of 90-meter pylons, Świętokrzyski became the capital’s first suspension bridge when it was completed in 2000 and today can reflect on a reputation as the city’s most romantic bridge – that’s born from its heavy uses in cheesy rom coms such as Tylko Mnie Kochaj and Nigdy w Życiu.
The lovelocks may have been removed the railings, but that doesn’t stop canoodling couples from walking its 479-meter length to catch the sunset. Slender in its silhouette, and opening out into the very heart of the Powisle district, it’s a real beauty to behold!
Bring… Your Grill
There’s nothing that screams summer louder than the sight of dozens of bonfires flickering on the sandy beach just south of Most Poniatowskiego.
As Warsaw’s most popular spot for an open-air grill-up, it’s a seasonal must no matter how many times you’ve done it – but whatever you do, bring the insect repellent. And don’t be a jerk: for Pete’s sake, tidy up after yourself!
Contrasted against the energy of the left bank, the right side of the river is Warsaw’s secret little garden: a wild mass of tangled vegetation and natural life. 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.
“What amazing landscaping,” one delegate is said to have proclaimed. Though purely apocryphal, it’s a story that says much: both about the increased efforts to protect the right bank, and the full extent of the Wisła’s environmental power.
Key to bringing ‘life’ (i.e. people) back to the river have been two world class institutions: The Museum on the Vistula (a branch of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw) and the Copernicus Center.
In the latter, engage in fun science experiments before taking a rooftop walk or perusing the sculptures and gardens outside.
In the former, meanwhile, find a regular roster of intelligent exhibitions inside a white cube building that was transported from Germany.
Hail… The Mermaid
Monuments dot the riverside, but none are more famous than the mermaid that sits a stone’s throw from Świętokrzyski Bridge. Cast in bronze, it’s alleged to be the last monument to be unveiled in Warsaw before the Nazi occupation.
The sculptor, Ludwik Nitschow, used a 23-year old poetess, Krystyna Krahelska, as his model, though it’s been suggested he used considerable artistic license to beautify the work.
Serving as a medic in the Home Army, Krahelska was shot on the first day of the Warsaw Uprising and died the next day. The statue, meanwhile, just about survived though 34 bullet holes can still be noted.
Party… Till You Drop
Back in the old days drinking by the Wisła meant necking plastic glasses of flat lager in the company of He-Man yobs. Today, mind you, it’s the realm of everyone and anyone, something underlined by the diversity of the people you’ll find. Budget stops blasting out Ibiza dance tracks are still a common sight, but so too are a rich range of other bars and seasonal clubs.
Of the ones found on water, check Barka Wynurzenie, a craft beer barge that gently rocks on the waves, or head to the slick, upmarket confines of Przystań Nowa Fala. Moored next to the white cube that is the Museum on the Vistula, it’s a zone that feels pristine and perfect in more ways than one.
Then, having passed numerous bridges lit in glowing colors, no excursion in this direction is complete without a stop at Barka. With stars glinting above the white sails strung across the deck, it’s a destination of near mythical standing.
Party people won’t want to miss Pomost 511, while those dressed to impress can drink with Warsaw’s celebs from the rooftop of the luxury Sen nightclub.
Enjoy… The Food
It’s not just drink that the Wisła does well, but also food. Grunt i Woda have a solid reputation that includes an offer crafted by the boys at Warburger, whilst more upmarket meals can be enjoyed on the terraces of venues such as Zachodni Brzeg.
Occupying a prime piece of terracing outside the Museum on the Vistula, Paloma nad Wisłą have become a summer must for their hip street food bites, and you’re also not going to regret checking out the buzzing street food stalls and shipping containers of Plac Zabaw as well the cabins and floating vessels of WIR. Where the latter is concerned, find an outpost of Vegan Ramen Shop as well as The Cool Cat – their K-Fries are absolutely banging!
Check… The Street Art
Street art is most definitely Warsaw’s “thing” and there’s no shortage on the Wisła. Of particular note are the two murals that decorate the left rump of Śląsko-Dąbrowski – on one side find Józef Piłsudski riding a horse that appears made from origami, while on the other stacks of screaming human heads that commemorate the human sacrifice associated with the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.
Neither will you miss the swirly graphics adorning the Museum on the Vistula – they’re particularly stunning at dusk when set against a crimson sky.
It’s not Florida, but that doesn’t stop the natives going wild for watersports each and every summer – central to this are Miami Wars whose flotilla of boats and equipment includes speedboats, jet skis and more sedate forms of transport.
Blast… To The Past
Head to the mouth of Czerniakowski Port and you’ll view one of the stranger blasts to the past – a monument to sappers charged with clearing the river of mines in the post-war years. Unveiled on the 30th anniversary of the end of World War II on May 8, 1975, it was authored by Stanisław Kulon and depicts a group of Polish soldiers disarming a Nazi booby trap. Rising tides immerse the figures to various depths.
Found within a whistle of the Gdański Bridge, the Kamień Educational Pavilion has thrilled the public ever since it was officially unveiled last July. Surrounded by nature of the rawest form, and inspired by the rocky boulders so prevalent on this side of the river, the structure was created by the acclaimed architectural studio eM4 Pracownia Architektury Brataniec.
Stunning in its simplicity, and costing a modest PLN 5 million, the pavilion has proved a hand’s down hit for not just its striking aesthetics, but also in the way it has reconciled architecture with the environment and culture with nature.
Touting two levels and a glazed north-western façade, features of the object include surrounding educational paths, multi-functional meeting spaces, a mezzanine reserved for exhibitions, and even binoculars and magnifying glasses to aid any nature lessons.
Get… With The Moment
For all our pointers, it’s the spontaneity of the riverside that is its biggest boon – arrive with no plans and let the energy swirl around.
Chill out in the hammocks or read a book on the deckchairs, or go with the flow and partake in impromptu tango classes, open-air chess tournaments, or unannounced gigs. It’s this ‘anything goes’ mood that the Wisła should be celebrated for.