Warsaw, the capital of Poland, is a charming city with centuries of history, hundreds of delectable dining establishments, and plenty of shops to explore. You can’t see it all in a week -- let alone a day -- but there are some splendid highlights you won’t want to miss.
During your time in the city, you can make some delicious food, shop in some bustling markets, or visit castles and palaces to your heart’s content.
Here’s how to spend a memorable day in this intriguing, resilient capital city.
Learn To Make Pierogi From Scratch
Pierogi, or potato dumplings, are an iconic Polish dish. These delicious dumplings can be stuffed with meat or made vegetarian -- meaning that just about anyone can enjoy them. The wrappers are made from unleavened dough, and then the pierogi are stuffed with mashed potatoes, cheese, cabbage, mushrooms, sauerkraut, ground beef, pork, or even lentils, buckwheat, and other healthy grains.
When you try them, you won’t want to leave Poland. Fortunately, you can learn to make these delicacies yourself while you’re in Warsaw.
To learn to make pierogi from scratch, sign up for the pierogi-making class offered by Odd Urban Things of Warsaw. You’ll learn how to make every element of this tasty food in the 2- to 3-hour lesson. Be sure to reserve your spot in advance -- this class fills up quickly.
Visit The Castles And Palaces
Practically every large city in Europe has its own castle or palace. But one thing that distinguishes Warsaw from many other European cities is the sheer number of palaces and castles within the town.
The Royal Castle is one of the most popular spots to visit. The castle was constructed in the 14th century but was destroyed by Nazi Germany during World War II. It was rebuilt after the war and has become a symbol of the city’s tenacity and resilience in the face of tragedy. Warsaw is called the Phoenix City because of its rise from the ashes of Nazism and Communism, and the Royal Castle symbolizes this resurrection beautifully. You’ll probably want to leave 1 to 2 hours for your visit.
The Royal Lazienki Museum is another beautiful palace you can visit. It is located on a man-made island on the lake in Lazienki Park and was built in the 18th century for King Stanislaw II Augustus. The property was developed from a baroque bathing pavilion that had been constructed for Prince Stanislaw Herakliusz Lubomirski a century earlier. The palace is surrounded by beautiful greenery and flower beds, and, of course, the lake. The interior and exterior are equally elaborate and well worth exploring.
Tour The Old Town On A Segway
One of the best ways to explore a new city is to take a walking, cycling, or Segway tour. Because Warsaw has so much to see, you’ll only be able to visit one section of the city per day. If you’ve only got one day in the city, we highly recommend that you spend it in the Old Town, where you’ll find older buildings rich in history and full of fascinating stories. On a guided Segway tour, you’ll see and learn a lot more than you would on your own.
You can choose from tours that last anywhere from 1 hour and 30 minutes to 3 hours. Your guide will take you through Canon Square and past Saint John’s Archcathedral, some of the castles and palaces, the Old Town Market Place, and several museums and parks.
After your tour, be sure to visit the viewing platform at Saint Anne’s Church in the stand-alone bell tower. You’ll get some of the best views of the city.
Learn About The Area’s Jewish History
World War II had a massive impact on the Jewish people of Warsaw and the rest of Poland. The city has taken care to bring their stories to light and to encourage understanding of the events of the past so as to avoid such atrocities in the future. There are various memorial and educational sites in the city that deal with this dark part of the past.
In the former Warsaw Ghetto, you can visit the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The museum features eight galleries with displays on the history of Polish Jews. The core exhibit includes artifacts, reconstructions, and interactive displays that explain how Poland became the home of the largest Jewish community in Europe. The Holocaust is, of course, discussed throughout, and artifacts and information collected by the Oyneg Shabes group that archived the truth about the Warsaw Ghetto feature prominently.
Near the Polin Museum is a monument commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943. The monument honors those who fell in the fight for the dignity of the Jewish people and for a free Poland. The Warsaw Uprising Museum tells the story of their monthlong rebellion during World War II.
You can also visit the Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery. The burial ground dates to 1806 and is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world, with more than 250,000 marked graves and mass graves from the Warsaw Ghetto on 80 acres of land. You’ll find other memorials and markers throughout the city that commemorate and mourn this part of world history.
Eating In Warsaw
Warsaw’s culinary scene features everything from Communist-era milk bars to haute cuisine to trendy cafés. You’ll love the local favorites, casual eats, and elegant gourmet meals with unique Polish flair.
The first milk bar, or bar mleczny, was opened by Polish dairy farmer Stanislaw Sluzewski in 1896. The name refers to the large number of dairy-centric menu items he served, such as kefir, milk, and cheese-stuffed pierogi. The milk bars resemble all-purpose cafeterias and feature local cuisine like traditional soups, sausages, and cakes. Two of the best milk bars in Warsaw are Bar Mleczny Pod Barbakanem, a budget-friendly place, and Bar Bambino, a holdover from Communist-era Poland.
When you visit a milk bar, you’ll want to try traditional favorites like pierogi, borscht (beet soup), golabki (meat-filled cabbage rolls), and kotlet schabowy (pork cutlets). For a drink with your meal, you’ll want to try to kompot -- an unsweetened mixture of fruit and berries served either hot or cold -- and kefir, both Polish staples.
If you’re seeking a vegan-friendly meal, visit Krowarzywa Vegan Burger -- many consider its vegan burgers the best in Warsaw. Everything’s made from fresh, quality products like tofu, buckwheat, and mushrooms. The restaurant offers new burgers every week alongside its standards.
For a fine dining experience, you’ll want to take a table at Qchnia Artystyczna in the contemporary art museum in Ujazdow Castle. The restaurant serves delicious fare like baked salmon with teriyaki and coconut milk and has a beautiful summer terrace that offers amazing views of the city. Try the sweet pierogi with blueberries, powdered sugar, and vanilla cream for dessert.
For a romantic evening, you’ll want to dine at Stary Dom, a restaurant with a long history of serving divine cuisine. The beautiful old home-turned-restaurant is decorated with lovely furniture, candles, lamps, and paintings you’ll remember for a lifetime, and the food itself is the best of traditional Polish cuisine. Try the zurek (fermented cereal soup), golonka (ham hock), lamb shank, or oven-roasted duck.
Shopping In Warsaw
Warsaw offers fantastic shopping opportunities for folks who love fashion, fragrance, jewelry, and more. You’ll want to start on Mokotowska Street, where you’ll find shops featuring lines by Polish fashion designers Robert Kupisz, Ania Kuczynska, and more lining the streets. At the Mo61 Perfume Lab, you can concoct your own fragrance or purchase pre-made scents. Then visit Lilou Custom Jewelry for some of the latest and most fashionable selections available.
There’s also great shopping in the Old Town, where you’ll find vintage items, Polish trinkets, and quirky souvenirs of all sorts. For jewelry, unique chess sets, pirate ships made of amber, and other unique gifts, visit World of Amber. Polish sketches and postcards, art, and traditional Boleslawiec pottery can be found in the district as well.
Nowy Swiat is another popular shopping street in Warsaw, not terribly far from the Old Town. It’s a mile-long stretch of the Royal Route that connects royal buildings throughout the city. The shopping options include luxury boutiques, souvenir shops, and the flagship Empik department store, where you can find toys, games, and other amusements for kids of all ages.
If you love flea markets, you’ll most certainly enjoy the Kolo Bazar, where you’ll find a variety of gifts, home decor, and other items you won’t find anywhere else. Prussian helmets, old postcards, prewar bathroom fixtures, LPs, antiques, and a range of other quirky souvenirs are on offer. Since it's a flea market, feel free to haggle -- it’s part of the experience and tradition.