Welcome to my mini Warsaw series, which was first created for the MRG newsletter prior to the media conference in the capital of Poland in November 2016.
I've decided to slighly amend some of the wording in order to include any new places you might want to hear more about. Hope you'll enjoy the series.
Let's start with my recommendations for those who love history and sight-seeing.
The Palace of Culture and Science
The capital city is changing so much, but one of the most iconic, and the highest (231m) buildings still stands out in the city’s landscape.
Ironically, the Palace was commissioned by Stalin as a ‘gift from the Soviet people’ (no, thanks) to the communist Poland (The People’s Republic of Poland=PRL 1952-1989).
The structure, however, was inspired by the Empire State Building (some spying was involved), but also incorporated the elements of different Polish architectural and design styles incl. art deco.
The building remains controversial as for many, it signifies the communism and the oppression associated with the Soviet domination, but, on the other hand, its magnificent structure and décor are worth preserving. It hosts an array of attractions such as four theatres, a cinema (totally recommend going), a concert venue, a swimming pool, a few bars and two museums.
Top tip: take a lift to the 30th floor for an excellent photo opportunity of the whole city.
The Old Town Market Square
One of the most colourful and vibrant market squares in Europe. It was recognised by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site back in the 80s.
Interestingly, most of the buildings are fairly new, as over 85% of Warsaw’ historic centre was destroyed by Nazi troops during the Warsaw Uprising in August 1944. After the war, the whole country contributed to outstanding restoration of this part based on the 18th century paintings of Canaletto and the old photographs. Great place for walking around, buying souvenirs and enjoying Polish beer. Try to locate a sculpture of a mermaid (‘Syrenka) symbolising Warsaw, and try not to laugh at Sigismund’s column at pl.Zamkowy.
Top tip: Worth watching Dan Cruickshank’s documentary ‘Resurrecting History: Warsaw’ on BBC iplayer.
The Royal Baths
The Royal Park and Palace ‘Łazienki’ date back to the 18th century. Previously a summer residence of the last King of Poland, Stanisław August Poniatowski, a massive lover of art and women’s beauty (that’s what got him into trouble and the whole country, by the way). In the Royal Bath gardens are picturesque and worth exploring if the weather permits. Also, check The Old Orangery with its sculpture gallery as well as an original European 18th century court theatre.
Top tip: You can travel from The Old Town Market Square to The Royal Baths on a straight line. It’s one of the most elegant parts of Warsaw, also called The Royal Way. You will pass plenty of monuments and beautiful churches as well as University of Warsaw, which I have only fond memories.
Warsaw Uprising Museum
A must see museum for all those who want to understand the Polish soul (we are quite complicated nation) and find out more about what happened in the last year of WW2. It’s a fairly new museum located in a former tram power station. Expect very interactive and engaging content in a form of video footage, photographs and everything in between. If you are not moved by this experience, there is something wrong with you.
Top tip: Follow the chronological order of the exhibits (sometimes it’s worth following the arrows haha).
The Museum of the History of Polish Jews
And another museum for history enthusiasts. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews opened its doors to the public in April 2013. The Core exhibition will take your through the journey of Polish Jews since their arrival in medieval times, through horrendous times of Nazi prosecution until now.
The carefully selected architects succeeded in creating an incredible building paying homage to its significant location (the former heart of Jewish Warsaw, which was turned into the Warsaw Ghetto by Nazi occupants).
Top tip: Make sure you’ve got a shoulder to cry on.
Photography: Monika Pick.