Discovering Romantic Warsaw
The architecture and old-style street lighting give a nostalgic glow, reminiscent of a bygone era.
Warsaw may be the country’s administrative and business capital, but there’s a whole host of charming attractions here to divert the romantic visitor.
Starting with the Old Town at night is as good a place as any. Several decades have passed since the extensive post-war reconstruction, allowing a more lived-in appearance. The architecture and old-style street lighting give a nostalgic glow more reminiscent of a bygone era. The Royal Castle offers a lovely view of the Vistula River and from there you can walk to the Old Town Market Square. Sights to check on your travels include Barbican House, Castle Square, Zygmunt’s Column, St John’s Cathedral and the view tower adjacent to St Anna’s Church.
From the Old Town you can head down the famous and glamorous Krakowskie Przedmiescie Street towards the equally elegant Nowy Swiat. Lined with pavement terraces in the summer months, for the winter visitor there is the irresistible allure of hot mulled wine from one of the many cafés and bars. Continuing further and you find the grand Lazienki Gardens, 76 hectares of beautifully landscaped formal gardens and one of the favourite walking spots for Varsovians. At the foot of the Frederic Chopin monument on Saturdays and Sundays one can enjoy free piano concerts in recognition of Warsaw’s favourite sons (incidentally, for serious fans of Chopin a trip out to his birthplace at Zelazowa Wola, some 50km from Warsaw and now a beautifully restored museum must be worthy of serious consideration). After feeding the squirrels one can then retire to the beautiful Belvedere Restaurant for a bite to eat.
A walk along the Vistula – particularly at sunset – is highly recommended, and don’t forget to check out the Warsaw Mermaid, one of the city’s symbols. Crossing the river from the Old Town to the newly hip Praga district is Most Swietokrzyski (Holy Cross Bridge) which, since its opening in 2000 has become one of the most famous bridges in Poland and a symbol for modern Warsaw. Dominating the other side of the river is the brand new National Stadium, built for the 2012 European Championships; next to that is the Orange Balloon Station, where you can ascend 130 metres into the air and be rewarded with a panoramic view of the Old Town, along with the rest of the capital.
Another option is to take advantage of Venturilo cycle rental service, which has dozens of bike stations dotted around the city where one can pick or drop off a bike. Cycle paths along the Vistula act as the spine for a number of more extended excursions – useful you’ve got a limited amount of time and a lot you want to see.
Among other romantic spots we can recommend the University Library Roof Garden – one of Europe’s largest roof gardens – which covers more than a hectare of lavish greenery above the stunning new University Library building (worthy of a visit in itself). In the very centre of Warsaw is the famous Saxon Garden, one of the city’s oldest parks and modelled on the famous gardens at Versailles. A little further out and you find Wilanow Park and Palace, end of the ‘Royal Route’. This 17th century baroque masterpiece was home to King Jan III Sobieski and survived World War 2 virtually unscathed. The elegant gardens are the perfect place for a contemplative stroll.
For some bohemian ‘village’ atmosphere, take a walk along Francuska Street on Warsaw’s trendy right bank, where restaurants and boutiques rub shoulders with poets and painters, where the pre-war low-elevation houses give a more neighbourly and timeless feel.
Finally, a must-see for the night-time visitor has to be the view from the 30th floor of the Palace of Culture and Science, Stalin’s grandiose gift to the grateful people of Poland. Whatever its provenance, this monumental building still manages to dominate the Warsaw skyline.