The “Paris of the north” may have been razed during the Second World War but it has since risen like a phoenix from the ashes and become a hot spot for modern art, innovative food, vodka-fueled bars and a fruitful arts and nightlife scene. Warsaw, Poland, has been the unofficial mecca of European counterculture from the Warsaw Uprising—an underground movement dedicated to liberating the city during the Second World War—all the way to the fall of communism in 1989 under Lech Walesa’s Solidarity movement. Even though the city was heavily bombed during both world wars, it has since been lovingly restored, becoming the beating heart of Central Europe.
Warsaw has hosted famous interior design fairs, expanded its riverbank as a party venue and holds outdoor classical music concerts in the parks in the summer. It has also developed a strong culinary scene, with both five-star restaurants and Post-War “milk bars” serving hearty home-cooked meals.
Not traditionally thought of as a foodie destination, the Polish capital is quickly gaining a reputation as a culinary mecca, thanks to its Michelin-starred restaurants and vegan eateries—the latter serves healthy versions of traditional pierogies.
Workers often head to Krowarzywa, a vegan burger joint just off Centrum Square. Get the Beyond Burger, arguably the best vegan patty in the country. For more information about Krowarzywa, check out our guide to vegan restaurants in non-vegan cities.
If you want something more traditional, head to Bar Mleczny Prasowy, a Post-War relic just 10 minutes away by tram from the city center. Since 1954, this affordable milk bar serves typical dishes such as hearty polish tomato soup, meat pierogies, bigos stew and baked cheesecake. Three courses will only set you back 10 euros.
If you’d rather have something a bit more chichi, Romantyczna in the old town square offers traditional and delicious Polish fare such as grilled venison, dumplings and honey cake. Grab a seat inside the cozy space and admire the exposed brick and the overflowing flowers and candles. During the summer, you might be jockeying for space on the outdoor terrace so get there early to get a coveted seat.
When it comes to bars, Warsaw runs the gamut from ruin bars to swanky water holes. Hip locals in the know head to Woda Ognista, a Prohibition Era–themed bar with a tin ceiling that serves modern small plates and experimental craft cocktails based around traditional Polish spirits such as vodka and mead. Opt for the smoked catfish topped with a creamy egg and wash it down with a Bobby Burns, a historic cocktail that’s made up of 12-year-old Scotch, Benedictine and sweet Vermouth. For a younger crowd, head to the left bank of the Vistula River where you’ll find Warsaw’s thriving student population drinking freely at beachside bars such as Cud nad Wisła.
Warsaw offers many things to see and do. So where to start? The Royal Route is a stretch of road leading from the painted Old Town and Royal Castle—a wooden structure built in the 12th century that’s now a museum—all the way to the Wilanow Palace, dubbed the Polish “Versailles” thanks to its expansive rooms and Classical architecture.
After the royal tour, head to the 30th floor of the Soviet-era Palace of Culture and Science, where you’ll get the best panoramic view of the city. The Warsaw Night Market at Dworzec Główny is beloved by locals and tourists alike for its dynamic street food. For a taste of old Warsaw, peer through the viewports of the oldest stereoscopic theater in Europe at the Fotoplastikon Warszawski.
Just 20 minutes from the city center lies the Polin Museum. Jews were part of the fabric of Poland for many centuries so it’s only natural to come to this expansive and modern gallery to learn about their history in the Eastern European nation. The National Museum boasts Jan Matejko’s “Battle of Grunwald,” a 33-foot-long masterpiece depicting the epic defeat of the Teutonic forces in 1410.
For a dip into the city’s musical past, the Fryderyk Chopin Museum takes you through the pianist’s life and work. After a tour of the gallery, sit down and enjoy the live performances, which transport you back in time to when the composer created his famous impromptus. You can listen indoors but the benches outside offer the best places to breathe in the music.
For something a bit more alternative, head to the Neon Museum, an industrial space showcasing more than 100 Cold War–era neon signs. After a day of sightseeing it’s time for some traditional Polish treats. The Wedel Chocolate Factory is a city landmark and children of all ages visit the café and shop in front of it to nibble on some delicious treats. End your day at the Polish Vodka Museum, where guests can try a variety of potato-based spirits and even take some home with them as a souvenir.
If you aren’t claustrophobic and like to meet fellow travelers, a stay in the Kapsula Hotel Warszawa can’t be beat. A concept first introduced by the Japanese more than three decades ago, guests stay in tiny pods stacked on top of one another. It certainly makes your dorm feel like a palatial mansion! The novel design includes privacy bars and lockers for essentials.
Fans of the late composer will delight in the Art Deco stylings of the Motel One Warsaw Chopin. Located next to the museum bearing his name, the Motel One features a lavish lobby with bright blue chairs, a gilded bar with musical notes on display and modern neutral rooms with bright paintings, pops of color and rainforest showers.
Design and art meet at the decadent Puro Warszawa Centrum, a boutique hotel with a Mid-Century modern aesthetic. Expect sleek interiors, ribbed velvet sofas and minimalist rooms featuring custom-designed Hildig mattresses soft enough to sink into after a long day of sightseeing. Guests have access to high-tech tablets and the hotel hosts vinyl nights and Pilates classes. Savor a classic vodka-based cocktail at Loreta, the hotel’s lush rooftop terrace boasting views of the modern skyline.