The Little Mermaid (Mała Syrenka)
..." I had always wanted to visit Poland but didn’t know where to begin. When I eventually managed to get there, I was completely amazed by the country’s energy and beauty. The capital, Warsaw, has a truly European feel about it. In a city where the rich history is intertwined with its dynamic modernity, I had so much fun! Every day I met new people, checked out new clubs and visited new places. Being from Dublin, I was pleased to find that city life and entertainment in Warsaw was much cheaper! "
The capital of Poland is a meeting place for politicians, economists and artists of all nationalities.
Warsaw’s 1.7 million inhabitants are known for their sense of humour and hard-working tradition. It took them 15 years, with the help of the entire nation, to rebuild their beloved city — 84% of which was razed to the ground during World War II.
The scenic Old Town and its Market Square, with its mansard-roofed houses, attract artists and tourists. Here, the wine cellars and elegant restaurants are buzzing, and there is always a table waiting for new guests. Warsaw’s St John’s Cathedral is the national Pantheon and not far from it is the King’s Castle, which was the residence of the last Polish king. The most elegant houses in Warsaw line the Royal Route, which links the three royal residences: the King’s Castle, Łazienki Palace and Park and Wilanów Palace. Among the numerous neo-classical buildings in Royal Łazienki
Park, the most impressive is the Palace on the Water, which is on a picturesque island. A particularly beautiful landmark is the Frederic Chopin Monument. The music of Frederic Chopin is played here by celebrated pianists every Sunday in summer.
Wilanów Palace is an outstanding example of the Baroque style in Pola
nd. It belonged to King Jan III Sobieski, who is remembered for his victory over the Turks at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Like other major cities in Europe, Warsaw offers a great variety of entertainment, including theatre, cabaret shows, film festivals and concerts by famous opera soloists, pop stars and classical music performers. Warsaw hosts one of the world’s most prestigious cultural events: the Chopin International Piano Competition, which is organised every five years. The city also hosts the International Festival of Contemporary Music, Warsaw Autumn, and the Mozart Festival.
Today Warsaw is a city with many faces where tradition mingles with modernity.
From the terrace on Zamkowy Square, where the Royal Castle and St. Anne’s Church are located, there is an excellent view of the brand new Świętokrzyski Bridge. The familiar, dominant silhouette of the Palace of Culture and Science in the city centre now shares the city’s skyline with numerous modern office towers. You can feel the breath of history in the Old Town, on Nowy Świat Street and everywhere where the city’s roots have been preserved.
Your trip step by step.
Old Town (Stare Miasto) + Royal Route (Trakt Królewski)
Most of the significant sites worth visiting in Warsaw are in the city centre. The first proposed route begins at St. Anne’s Church, on Krakowskie Przedmieście Street.
St. Anne’s Academic Church — a unique monument that has preserved the majority of its original character. The first two churches built in this spot burned down in the 15th and 17th centuries. When the next one was built, the walls and foundations of the previous structures were used, maintaining a large part of the furnishings. Following its destruction during World War II, the church was rebuilt in a project that continued until 1962, bringing it back to its original splendour. In addition to visiting the interior of the church, it is also worth the climb to enjoy the view from its tower.
Old Town — the city was founded at a spot on the river that was conducive to trade — on the main route between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. Wealthy tradesmen and craftsmen took up residence here, which supported the rapid growth of the settlement. The face of the city changed over the centuries: wooden structures destroyed in fires were replaced by masonry tenement houses and earthen ramparts were replaced by stone walls. A town hall was built in 1429 (which no longer exists), along with a parish church (currently the Cathedral of St. John), defensive towers and a barbican. But 1944 brought near total destruction as 90 percent of the Old Town area was razed to the ground. The reconstruction took many years, and ended with a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
The Zygmunt Column is the oldest public memorial in Warsaw, but it is not in its original location. It was moved when the axis of Krakowskie Przedmieście Street was changed in the 19th century and again after World War II during the development of the WZ route. On September 2, 1944, the column was brought down by German troops. The reconstruction of the statue and the column itself was completed in 1949. Earlier columns are exhibited next to the walls of the King’s Castle (as seen from the direction of the WZ route). The column is one of the city’s key symbols, yielding only to the Mermaid, which is the most recognizable symbol of Poland’s capital city.
The King’s Castle gained royal-residence status in the 16th century, when the Masovia region joined the Crown. Destroyed multiple times (during the Deluge, and the annexation of Poland), it was repeatedly rebuilt and stood until the beginning of World War II, when it was bombed in the first days of the conflict and almost completely destroyed by fire. Some of its priceless works of art were, luckily, carried out of the building in time, and subsequently hidden. However, the remaining works were plundered and, in 1944, the castle was blown up in retaliation for the Warsaw Uprising. The decision to reconstruct the castle was made much later, in 1971. Work was financed in most part thanks to the generosity of the community. The site was opened to visitors in 1984. It was later placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, as an example of a successful, faithful reconstruction of an historic structure.
St. John’s Cathedral is one of Warsaw’s oldest churches. Every Sunday at 4 PM, from July to September, concerts take place here as part of the International Organ Music Festival. Multiple historic events took place in this church, including the Constitution of May 3 oath — the first of its kind in Europe. The crypt holds the tombs of many historical figures. Of these, the Chapel-Mausoleum of the Primate of the Millennium is of special interest.
The Old Town Marketplace is surrounded by tenement buildings housing exquisite restaurants, cafes and clubs, as well as galleries and museums. The central square has recently been adorned with a statue of the city’s symbol — the Warsaw Mermaid. The marketplace was subdivided into four sections, in recognition of Warsaw’s enlightenment activists: Kołłątaj, Dekert, Barss, and Zakrzewski. One of the key tourist attractions of the Old Town is, unfortunately, not yet available to the general public. The renovation of museum rooms and historical cellars is not yet complete, but they are due to be opened during the summer months of 2011.
The Barbican, previously a strategic part of the city’s defensive walls, today attracts painters exhibiting their work and musicians helping visitors enjoy their walks around the Old Town. It was built in 1548, as part of approximately 4,000 feet of defensive ramparts. From May to October there is an interesting exhibition inside the Barbican’s walls with historical photos of Warsaw and models of the defensive lines and towers (no longer in existence). By comparing the photos and old plans with the Old Town’s current shape, you can easily imagine what the Barbican looked like in the past, and what the heart of Warsaw would be like had it not been for the destruction of the war.
The Church of St. Mary’s Haunting is the New Town’s parish church. Its shape was changed multiple times. Today’s style, featuring a soaring, unique bell tower, represents the Gothic style. The picturesque location of the church begs for a moment’s relaxation on the benches provided, from which there is an excellent view of the Vistula and the Kościuszko Bank, where outdoor events and concerts take place every summer.
The Monument of the Warsaw Uprising depicts groups of insurgents during battle. The Warsaw Uprising, which ended in defeat and the death of 200,000 Poles, was one of the bloodiest and most painful moments in the modern history of Poland and Warsaw.
Krasiński Palace (Palace of the Republic) was initially a residence of Jan Krasiński, the Prefect of Warsaw. It currently hosts special collections for the National Library. The palace is regarded as Warsaw’s most enchanting Baroque structure. Its many reliefs are inspired by antique works. The park behind the palace is an excellent place for a walk and a bit of relaxation. This was initially one of the first such sites available to all of the city’s residents, regardless of their social status. The green building next to the palace and across the street is the recently-built seat of the Supreme Court.
Miodowa Street is a narrow street, full of life and lined with ancient, luxurious residences. Number 24 (on the left of the street) used to host the Collegium Nobilium — the first school for the young of the ruling elite. It currently houses the Academy of Theatre. Number 17 (on the left) is the residence of the Primate of Poland — the Palace of Warsaw’s Archbishops, erected in the 18th century. Number 16 (on the right) is Warsaw’s only Eastern Catholic Church. Pac Palace, housing the Ministry of Health, is next to the Primate’s residence. Another building worth taking a peek at is the Church of the Capuchins. The right side of its altar features the heart of Jan III Sobieski (its founder). Further on, you can enjoy a view of the Monument of Warsaw’s Heroes, commonly called the Monument of Nike.
The Theatre Square is bordered on its right by the Late Baroque Blank Palace. Behind this is Jabłonowski Palace, which used to function as the city hall before World War II. The building was razed to the ground during the war, and rebuilt in the 1990s. However, only the façade and the clock tower remain from its original design. Don’t forget to walk through the gate under the tower to see the foundations lain in the 19th century. The Grand Theatre is a huge, Classicist building facing Jabłonowski Palace. It is the seat of the National Opera and the National Theatre. Its opera stage is one of the largest in Europe. Enchanting interiors, featuring cut glass chandeliers, a spacious foyer with columns and impressive floor tiling can all be seen if you attend a performance. Theatre Square ends with the Petrykus Tenement House, erected in 1821, which houses multiple restaurants and clubs, highly valued by Warsaw citizens.
Tracing the history of the People’s Republic of Poland (Palace of Culture and Science, House of the Party, Różycki Market
The Palace of Culture and Science is the tallest building in Warsaw and all of Poland, at 769 feet. It was erected as a "gift from the USSR" and is a typical example of Social Realist architecture. Some regard it as a masterpiece, but others see it as symbol of kitsch. For visitors, the Palace is an excellent landmark for orientation, being visible from almost every part of the city. It has approximately 3,200 rooms, including the renowned theatres: Dramatyczny, Lalka, and Studio. It also features a huge Congress Hall and multiple recreational attractions including a modern cinema, a disco, a swimming pool and a casino. The Palace hosts world-class events, including the Jazz Jamboree Festival, the Warsaw International Book Fair and the International TT Warszawa Tourist Fair.
The House of the Party, currently a financial centre, it was originally built in the 1960s as the seat of the United People’s Party Central Committee. This is where Party First Secretaries viewed Labour Day celebrations. The exit from the building’s underground passage to the central tribune has been preserved to the present day. Underground corridors form a mysterious maze that stretches as far as the Palace of Culture and Science.
Różycki Market is a fair and market area in the Praga district that was founded in the 17th century. In the 19th century it was used for the transhipment of goods from Eastern and Western Europe. The market itself was founded in 1874 and kept on developing. After a difficult time during World War I and World War II, it came to host 200 shops, 500 stands and lots of pavement traders. The era of the market’s most vivid development, however, was the 1990s. This was the time when, due to the activities of local criminal gangs, it was seen as part of the so-called "Bermuda Triangle" of crime that also included the Stadium of the Decade trade area and the Eastern train station.
Following in the Footsteps of War (Pawiak, Ghetto, Museum of the Uprising, Museum of the Warsaw Uprising, Monument of the Little Insurgent)
Museum of the Warsaw Uprising — this museum was officially opened on August 1, 2004, on the 60th anniversary of the Uprising itself. It is unique in Poland, merging multimedia elements with traditional expositions, everyday mementos from the time of the Uprising and audio and video presentations.
The Monument of the Warsaw Uprising — the monument was officially unveiled on August 1, 1989. A group of veterans struggled for many years with officials and politicians, who hindered the decision to erect it. Right next to the monument, on the corner of Długa St. and Miodowa St., there is a memorial plaque and a map of the city sewers that sheltered Warsaw’s citizens during the fighting. These sewers were used on August 30th by the "North" unit as they attempted to seize Bank Square from the Germans. It was also the way that more than 5,000 insurgents escaped from the Old Town to the Żoliborz district just a couple of days later.
The Monument of the Little Insurgent (Podwale Street, approximately 320 feet from the Barbican) commemorates the youngest participants of the August uprising. It was unveiled on October 1, 1983, and dedicated to Warsaw’s Scouts.
Pawiak — a prison, originally built in the 19th century, that became the largest Gestapo political prison in Poland during the Nazi occupation. Between 1939 and 1944, out of the approximately 100,000 individuals held in Pawiak, approximately 37,000 died in their cells, in the prison hospital or were executed or killed during interrogation (in the prison on Szucha street). Approximately 60,000 prisoners were transferred to concentration camps. The site currently houses the Museum of Pawiak Prison.
Warsaw Ghetto — an area that was sealed off from the rest of the city by the Nazis in 1940 in order to isolate the Jewish community. Approximately 400,000 Jews were forced to live in an area of just 2.6 square kilometres in appalling conditions. A quarter of the ghetto’s inhabitants died during the first two years. Liquidation activities began in 1942 — mass executions took place and transports from Umschlagplatz (a transfer square) moved approximately 300,000 ghetto residents to extermination camps. In April 1943, when Nazi forces entered the area of the ghetto to finish the liquidation, an uprising started, which lasted less than a month. After the uprising had been put down the ghetto area was completely destroyed.
Museum of the History of Polish Jews - The Museum of the History of Polish Jews will open in 2013 on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto. This multimedia narrative museum and cultural center will present the history of Polish Jews and the rich civilization they created over the course of almost 1000 years
The Old Town is the oldest part of Warsaw — the King’s Castle and its surrounding walls were built in the 13th century. Most of the area was destroyed by the Nazis during World War II but was meticulously rebuilt — a project that was finally completed in the 1980s and earned a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Today it is a lively place full of galleries, cafés and restaurants.
King’s Castle (Zamek Królewski)
Built in the 15th century, it initially served as a residence for Masovian princes. However, when the capital of Poland was moved from Krakow to Warsaw, the castle became the seat of the king and the government. The building was completely destroyed during World War II and rebuilt between 1971 and 1988. Today it houses a museum with multiple works of art.
The Vistula Bank, next to the Old Town, features the recently renovated Kubicki Arcades.
King Zygmunt III Waza Column (Kolumna króla Zygmunta III Wazy)
The column was raised in honour of King Zygmunt III Waza, who moved the capital from Krakow to Warsaw. The sword held in his right hand symbolises bravery, while the cross in his left hand shows his readiness to fight evil. A legend says that disaster is imminent if the King’s sword falls.
Church of St. Martin (Kościół św. Marcina)
This 14th century, partially Baroque church is located on Piwna St. (the longest street in the Old Town). This is where opponents of the Communist regime gathered in the 1970s and 80s.
Cathedral Basilica of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist (Bazylika Archikatedralna pw. Męczeństwa św. Jana Chrzciciela)
Built as a parish church in the 14th century, royal weddings, coronations and funerals have been held here. The crypts house the tombs of numerous notable figures: the dukes of Masovia, the archbishops of Warsaw, Primate S. Wyszyński, the last Polish king, S. A. Poniatowski, President of Poland G. Narutowicz and Nobel-Prize-winning-writer H. Sienkiewicz.
Shrine of Our Lady of Grace the Patron of Warsaw (Sanktuarium Matki Bożej Łaskawej Patronki Warszawy)
The early-Baroque altar built in the 17th century features a miraculous portrait of Our Lady of Grace, the Patroness of Warsaw.
There is a romantic legend connected with the stone in front of the church: a shy prince waits on this rock for the one woman whose love can restore him to life.
Old Town Market Square (Rynek Starego Miasta)
This is one of the most beautiful places in the city. Founded in the late 13th century, it used to be Warsaw’s main square: celebrations and markets were held here.
All of the Square’s buildings were reconstructed following complete destruction in World War II. Their current state is a perfect match for the Square’s original form in the 17th and 18th centuries.
There is a legend about a basilisk that is said to have lived somewhere in the area’s cellars, where it guarded hidden treasures. The gaze of the basilisk, which turned men to stone, killed everyone who attempted to reach the treasure. The basilisk was finally defeated when a wandering tailor showed it a mirror. There is a picture of the basilisk on the sign of a restaurant named after the monster.
Monument of the Warsaw Mermaid (Pomnik Warszawskiej Syrenki)
According to legend, a mermaid was resting on the riverbank near the Old Town when local fishermen heard her song and fell in love with the fabulous creature. When a rich merchant trapped and imprisoned the mermaid a young fisherman heard her cries for help and released her. By way of thanks, she promised to provide all fishermen with help if needed. Since then, the mermaid, armed with a sword and a shield, has been ready to protect the city and its residents.
Historical Museum of Warsaw (Muzeum Historyczne m. st. Warszawy)
The Museum is housed in a dozen buildings reconstructed after World War II. Its exposition presents the story of the capital since the dawn of its history to modern times. From Tuesday to Saturday at noon the Museum cinema screens a documentary about Warsaw between 1939 and 1945.
Stone Stairs (Kamienne Schodki)
This picturesque staircase has been here since the 15th century, leading out from the defensive walls. Initially they were made of wood, but were later were carved in stone, giving the street its current name.
Barbican and defensive walls (Barbakan i mury obronne)
The remains of Warsaw’s defensive walls, built in 1548. Inside there is an exhibition presenting the history of the fortifications (with models) and explaining why Warsaw’s Old Town is a UNESCO-recognised cultural heritage site.
Little Insurgent Monument (Pomnik Małego Powstańca)
A famous sculpture of a boy wearing a soldier’s helmet much too large for his head. It is here to commemorate the brave children who fought against the Nazis during the Warsaw Uprising.
Royal Łazienki Park
One of the most beautiful palace and garden complexes in Europe. It includes numerous historical monuments and a park in a formerly wild forest. Łazienki is a museum, a place for cultural, scientific and entertainment events and a great place for a walk. For 50 years, free piano concerts have been held here on summer weekends next to the famous monument of F. Chopin. Crowds of tourists and local classical music lovers gather here.
Wilanów Palace, built for King Jan III Sobieski, is one of Poland’s greatest Baroque monuments. Many different stylistic eras are represented in the Palace’s many parts. The two-level, mixed-style garden is the frame for Wilanów Palace. It is full of sculptures and fountains. Cascades of water, situated on the southern end of the park, fall into a lake that surrounds the eastern part of the grounds.
The former Royal Route stretches from Zamkowy Square to Trzech Krzyży Square. Must-see sights on the Route include: St. Anne’s Church (and the view from the church tower), the Polonia House (once the Museum of Industry and Trade, where Maria Skłodowska-Curie worked), the Radziwiłł Palace (the current residence of the President of Poland), the Warsaw University campus with Kazimierzowski Palace, Czapski Palace (Academy of Fine Arts) and elegant stores and restaurants on Nowy Świat Street — an extension of Krakowskie Przedmieście Street.
Palace of Culture and Sience
The Palace was built between 1952 and 1955 as a "gift from the Soviet people to the nation of Poland." At 230.5 m (42 floors), it is the tallest building in the country. Its key attraction is a large observation deck on the 30th floor, which provides great views of Warsaw. Its 3,000 rooms include business offices, the headquarters of various institutions and the Polish Academy of Sciences. The Palace also has a post office, a cinema, a swimming pool, museums, libraries, theatres, a café and two clubs.
Warsaw Uprising Museum
This is one of the most visited places in Warsaw. It was opened on the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. A multimedia exhibition, packed with images and sounds, presents the everyday struggles of Warsaw’s citizens before and during the Uprising, the horror of occupation and the post-war Communist terror.
One of the museum’s main attractions is a replica of a B-24J Liberator bomber.
The museum cinema plays a 3D movie entitled "The City of Ruins" — a simulation of a Liberator flying over the ruins of Warsaw in 1945.
Near the museum is the Freedom Park and its Memorial Wall, which features the names of more than 10,000 insurgents who lost their lives in the battle.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
This symbolic tomb commemorates the millions of soldiers who sacrificed their lives fighting for Poland’s freedom. Buried here are the ashes of a defender of Lvov and an urn with soil from the battlefields of World War I. Today, the tomb contains urns from every battlefield where Polish troops fell in the last century. An eternal flame is maintained next to the tomb. It is watched over by a military honour guard, which changes daily at noon.
The spot where Polish partisans and citizens entered the sewer system to escape from German troops surrounding the Old Town during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising - one of the most important chapters in Warsaw's history.The monument is dedicated to the thousands of heroes who gave their lives for their homeland during the Uprising.
Visitors are enchanted by hundreds of attractions, which include an earthquake simulator and a magic carpet.A garden on the Centre’s roof provides observation decks with beautiful panoramas. Next to the Centre there is also an art gallery, a climbing wall and a park with art exhibits.