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When you walk around Warsaw, you are walking through a city that has seen it all. Dominated by foreign powers, decimated by World War II, reshaped under Communism, then reborn as one of the powerhouses of modern Eastern Europe, the Polish capital has seen it all.
The city's eventful past also means that tourists will never be bored. You can tour the site of the infamous Warsaw Ghetto, trace the fortunes of the uprising, and visit the Museum of Communism to find out about everyday post-war life.
But there's a lighter side to Warsaw too. When you've had your fill of history, explore some of Europe's cheapest gourmet restaurants, take the Warsaw Craft Beer Tour, or enjoy a summer beer beside the lazy Wisla (Vistula) River. When you do, you'll realize that Warsaw is a city on the up, a welcoming city, and one that is easy to adore.
Warsaw's tempestuous history means that there is plenty to see and learn about, and the city has worked hard to create museums to tell its story. Head to the Warsaw Rising Museum, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and Pawiak Prison, which was used by the Gestapo as a torture facility.
It's fitting that the birthplace of Frederic Chopin should have become a center for classical music, and the Warsaw Philharmonic and the Polish National Opera do the city proud. But the musical events in Warsaw go further, with its Summer Jazz Days, Jewish Music Festival, and live rock venues like Stodola to enjoy.
Good food and drink is easy to find and affordable in Warsaw. Every summer weekend, you can find thousands of people relaxing at beer gardens by the Wisla, and restaurants like Dom Polski serve up superb pierogi and borscht every night of the year.
Warsaw's historical attractions go beyond the violence of World War II. For example, the Baroque Ostrogski Palace has been turned into a fabulous Chopin Museum, and the National Museum looks at thousands of years of Polish history. Then there's the 17th-century Wilanów Palace, a gorgeous portal into the splendor and ceremony of the Baroque era.
Warsaw is also reinventing itself as a dynamic artistic center, thanks to excellent collections at the Center for Contemporary Art and the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. Both have impressive and growing collections of Eastern European works, but what's more impressive is the explosion of smaller galleries in the city, with places like Galeria Program and Galeria aTak.
There isn't really a bad time to visit Warsaw. Even in winter, when you can expect a dusting of snow at all times, the city has a magic about it (and the Poles love to put on a festive show). If you want excellent sightseeing weather, thinner crowds of fellow tourists, and affordable room rates, give May or October a try.
Warsaw's Frederic Chopin Airport (WAW) is located in the southwest portion of the city, around five miles from the Old Town, so it's extremely accessible. The best route into town is via the S-Bahn train (SKM), which takes 15 minutes and costs zł4.40. Bus 175 offers an alternative (but costs the same amount), and you can expect a taxi from the airport to cost zł40.
Another popular way to get to Warsaw is by catching high-speed trains from Berlin or Moscow. All trains stop at the Central Station (Warszawa Centralna), but be aware that this isn't the last stop on the route. Trains will also stop at either Warsaw East or Warsaw West, depending on their direction. Centralna is very centrally located, within a couple of subway stops of the Old Town.
Those driving from Berlin need to take the A8 to the Polish border, then the E30 to Warsaw. The E77 runs from Krakow in the south, while the E30 runs eastwards to Minsk and then into Russia, so it's the road to take if you are driving from Moscow.
Plenty of international bus companies run services into Warsaw, including Eurolines, Flixbus, Polski Bus, and Simple Express. All of them stop at Dworzec PKS Warszawa Zachodnia, near Zachodnia station. From there, it's a 10-minute subway ride into town.
Modern Warsaw is full of exceptional hotels. Some of the finest upscale city center options include the Rialto, the InterContinental, and the Radisson Blu Centrum. The Hotel Hetman is a great option in Praga, and the H15 Boutique Hotel is a 5-star alternative in the south of the city.
The Old Town - as far as most tourists are concerned, the Old Town is where it's at. During the Ghetto and the 1944 Uprising, this beautiful neighborhood was torn apart, but the Poles rebuilt it almost brick for brick. They were so successful that this area of squares, churches, and palaces has been awarded UNESCO status for the quality of its restoration.
Praga - located across the Wisla from the Old Town, Praga is an up-and-coming neighborhood with a bohemian edge. Full of pop-up bars and street food vendors, Praga attracts a student crowd to its parties and cafes. If you want to chill out within easy reach of the center, it's a great place to stay.
Wola - you'll find prosperous, commercially oriented Wola to the west of the Old Town. It's the place to go for window shopping and relaxation, thanks to its huge parks, as well as being home to the superb Warsaw Rising Museum.
Warsaw has a recently opened, efficient subway that runs until midnight on weekdays and 3:00 on weekends. The two lines (M1 and M2) run every five minutes or so, but coverage isn't as extensive as it could be. However, buses and trams fill in the gaps more than adequately. Single fares are zł4.40 on all forms of transport and day tickets cost zł15.
Taxis in Warsaw have a meter drop of zł8, then a charge of zł3 for the first 0.62 miles, followed by between zł1.80 and zł2.40 per mile after that, with extra surcharges for nighttime journeys and weekends.
Warsaw sprawls, and not all of the attractions are in the Old Town or the wider Centrum district. For instance, the Wilanow Palace is a few miles to the south, and many people will find it hard to resist visiting Krakow when they visit Poland. This means that having your own vehicle makes a lot of sense. You can rent a car from branches of Hertz or Avis for around zł450 a day.
Most of the shopping scene in Warsaw revolves around indoor malls like Arkadia (the largest), where you'll come across big brand names. If you are looking for independent designer stores, head to streets like Bracka, which hosts the VITKAC design superstore. Zlote Tarasy is also worth checking out, with its selection of apparel and accessories boutiques (along with plenty of international brands).
When you need to stock up on groceries, Warsaw supermarkets like Carrefour, Piotr i Pawel, and Tesco are the place to go. Many of them are foreign owned, and stock a wide variety of American products. Expect low food prices, with a gallon of milk coming to about zł9.70.
Warsaw's dynamic social scene includes a growing foodie community, and you won't struggle to find excellent restaurants during your stay. If you want authentic Polish food try the Zapiecek chain, where the pierogi are legendary. The Restauracja Kameralna conjures up an early 20th-century ambiance, while Prasowy is an updated version of Poland's cherished "milk bars", serving great value diner-style meals. Expect excellent value, with three course meals coming to around zł25-40.