Warsaw is a bustling, revitalized city that is casting off the long shadow of Communism. I loved visiting this city. Stroll down the boulevards, explore the wealth of Chopin music, admire traditional art pieces, and soak up this modern city. All around you see these grim Communist buildings giving way to a city filled with optimism, history, public gardens, and modernity.
I thought the city had more charm, fewer tourists, and a much more visible cross-section of Polish history.
This travel guide to the city of Warsaw can help you plan your epic trip there by giving you all the tips and tricks you need to know!
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Warsaw
1. Wander the Old Town
2. Explore the Chopin Museum
3. The Royal Castle
4. Learn about the Warsaw Uprising
5. Wander around the Lazienki Park
Other Things to See and Do in Warsaw
1. Visit the Powazki Cemetery
Established in 1790, this cemetery is the final resting place of many important figures in Polish history, including the family of Frederic Chopin (he is buried in Paris, though his literal heart was brought back to Poland when he died in 1849), some of Chopin’s early teachers, Krzysztof Komeda (a famous jazz composer), and Nobel Prize winner W?adys?aw Reymont. It’s the city’s oldest cemetery and the sculptures and architecture surrounding the tombs are both serene and eerie. It makes for a quiet place for a walk.
2. Admire St. Anne’s Church
St. Anne’s Church (Kosciol Swietej Anny) is one of Warsaw’s oldest buildings. Construction started in 1454 and the original building has survived several wars over the. The neo-classical facade dates back to the 1780s and the interior is lavishly designed in the high-baroque style. There are also some stunning hand-painted frescoes inside as well. Just be sure to dress accordingly as it is a place of worship.
3. Tour the Gestapo Headquarters Museum
Officially known as the Mausoleum of Struggle and Martyrdom, its focus is on the conflict between the Polish resistance and the Gestapo, with a profound exhibit taking you through the old detention cells which were used to hold and torture prisoners. Prisoners were subjected to beatings, attacked with dogs, and even electrocuted. And if they didn’t co-operate, their family would be brought in and tortured before their very eyes. It’s a sobering place. Admission is 10 PLN (free on Thursdays).
4. Visit the Museum of Modern Art
Established in 2005 and located only a few minutes’ walk from the Central Railway Station, this small museum features contemporary art by Polish and international artists. I’m not much of a modern art fan, but there are some cool exhibitions here as well as some thought-provoking art. Admission is 5 PLN and they are regular guided tours in English of the exhibitions. Check the website for more details, including what temporary exhibits are available.
5. Check out the National Museum
This modern museum is a cultural institute with a substantial collection of ancient art (11,000 pieces of Greek, Egyptian, and Roman works), Polish paintings, works from international artists, and home to a collection of Chinese art with over 5,000 pieces. Admission to both the permanent and temporary galleries is 20 PLN. Guided tours are 180 PLN.
6. See the Multimedia Fountain Park
The Multimedia Fountain Park is comprised of two fountains that spray water in choreographed patterns to music. One fountain is a massive 2,200 square meters, and the other is 120 meters in length. Kids can play in a nearby water playground and watch the water shoot into the air to music, which varies from Chopin to Lady Gaga. Each Friday and Saturday night in the summer, there is a light show to accompany the waterworks (in the winter it’s just a light show since the water is frozen). It’s a popular spot in the summer so expect lots of crowds and activity.
7. The Copernicus Science Center
The Copernicus Science Center is one of the most modern science centers in Europe. Located on the bank of the Vistula River, it has over 450 interactive exhibits, allowing visitors to take part in all sorts of experiments involving light, sounds, and electricity. There’s a planetarium here as well. Admission is 31 PLN.
8. Visit the POLIN
The Museum of the History of Polish Jews is a new museum with both permanent and temporary exhibitions as well as performances and workshops about Jewish history and culture. The museum documents the history of the Jews in Poland from the Middles Ages to the present. Over 90% of the Jewish population in Poland was killed by the Nazis in WWII, and the museum was built on the spot where the Warsaw Ghetto was located (be sure to take a walking tour of the area to learn more about the Warsaw Ghetto and the fate of Jews in Poland during the WWII). Admission is 27 PLN.
9. Take a free walking tour
One of the best things you can do when you arrive in a new city is to take a walking tour. It’s a great way to get the lay of the land and learn about the culture, people, and history of the destination. Walkative and Orange Umbrella both offer free tours in English with a variety of different focuses (such as the Old Town, street art, WWII, and the Communist Era). These tours provide much more insight than any guidebook. Just be sure to tip your guides at the end.
10. Visit the Palace of Culture and Science
This building dominates the city skyline and looms ever-present in the city. It’s the tallest building in the country, home to 42 floors, theatres, a multi-screen cinema, museums, and much more. The building was a “gift” to Poland from the Soviet Union in 1955. It offers a great view of the city from the 30th floor (there is an observation deck there which is free to access with the Warsaw Pass).
Warsaw Travel Costs
Hostel prices – Dorms cost 45-55 PLN per night. A private room in a hostel costs at least 150 PLN per night for a double bed. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels also have kitchens if you want to cook your own food. Free breakfast is quite rare (only a couple hostels in the city offer it) so be sure to book accordingly if that’s a priority.
Campgrounds can be found just 5-10km outside the city center (and there are plenty of campgrounds throughout the country as well). Expect to pay around 40 PLN per night for a basic tent plot (space for a tent, usually without electricity).
Budget hotel prices – A double bed in a budget hotel with free Wi-Fi costs around 100 PLN per night. Many budget hotels also include a simple free breakfast as well. For a nicer three-star hotel, expect to pay closer to 165 PLN per night.
Airbnb is also available in Warsaw with rooms starting around 45 PLN per night. For a private room, expect to pay at least 75 PLN per night while entire homes/apartments cost around 185 PLN.
Food – Polish meals are quite hearty, usually containing potatoes, meats, and cabbage. Stews and soups (like borscht, a beet soup) are popular and can be found at most local restaurants. For something more specific to Poland, try beef tongue or pork knuckles. The country also has lots of traditional desserts too, like Paczki (a Polish donut) and makowiec (poppy-seed cake).
Most cheap meals cost around 25 PLN while a meal at a mid-range restaurant costs closer to 60 PLN for a three-course meal. For fast food (think McDonald’s), expect to pay around 20 PLN. A beer out at a restaurant or bar costs at least 10 PLN, while you can get it for less than half that price if you buy it in a store.
If you buy your own groceries and cook your meals, expect to pay around 140 PLN per week for groceries that include pasta, vegetables, chicken, and other basic staples.
Backpacking Warsaw Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget, you can visit Warsaw for 115-190 PLN ($30-40 USD) per day. This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a cheap hostel or camping, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. On this budget, you’ll have to stick to mostly free activities (like free walking tours) while occasionally paying to visit a museum or attraction.
To lower your expenses, try Couchsurfing, limiting your drinking, and cutting out all restaurants.
On a mid-range budget of about 230-290 PLN ($60-75 USD), you’ll be able to stay in a budget hotel, take a few taxis, eat out at more often, take paid tours, and visit more attractions per day. You’ll be able to enjoy your time here without worry too much about your spending.
On a luxury budget of 540+ PLN ($140+ USD), you can stay in a nice hotel, eat out for every meal, take taxis, drink as often as you’d like, and visit as many museums and attractions as you want. You can live large on this budget and, after that, the sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages — some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in USD.
Warsaw Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Warsaw is an affordable city so there aren’t too many tips out there to help you save. You can easily just spend a normal amount of money on day-to-day stuff without ever really bursting your budget. You kind of have to go out of your way to spend a lot! That said, here are a few ways you can save money while you visit Warsaw:
- Eat at Milk Bars – You’ll get a taste of Warsaw at a Bar Mleczny (Milk Bar) hearty pierogis, homemade soups, plenty of meat, and a local beer makes a great meal for under 30 PLN. Expect no-frills and cafeteria-style where you order from a counter, but it’s a great way to save money and take in the scene.
- Get the Warsaw Pass – For 139 PLN, the single-day Warsaw Pass provides you with free public transportation and access to all of the city’s main attractions. It’s a great deal if you plan on seeing a lot. There is also a two-day pass for 189 PLN and a three-day pass for 229 PLN (you can also get a cheaper version without public transportation included as well).
- Watch your drinking – Poland is one of the cheapest destinations in Europe, especially if you stick to an everyday routine. Warsaw is known for its partying and pub crawls and long nights out. These can add up quickly, so watch how much you drink. Start off by grabbing your favorites from a grocery store first whenever possible. You’ll save more than 50% of the price that way.
- Take a free walking tour – Free tours from companies like Free Walking Tours can be found in some of Poland’s larger cities, like Krakow, Gdansk, and Warsaw. They are a great way to explore the city while learning about the history, culture, and architecture. Just be sure to tip!
- Use ridesharing apps – Ridesharing apps like BlaBlaCar are a great way to get around the country for cheap. You simply download the app, find someone looking for passengers, and go! Everyone is rated and verified, and it’s usually more convenient (and cheaper) than other forms of transportation. For travel within the city, use Uber. It is cheaper than the local taxis.
- Stay with a local – While accommodation is not expensive in Poland, Couchsurfing is a great way to lower your accommodation costs. Not only will you save some money by getting a free place to stay, but you’ll also be able to make a local friend and get insider knowledge about where you are!
- Bike share – For 10 PLN, you can register for Vetrulio, a bike-rental company in Warsaw. After you sign up, bike use is free for 20 minutes, making it essentially free to bounce around the city during your visit. After 20 minutes (and up to an hour) it’s just 1 PLN and then 3 PLN for the next hour.
Where To Stay in Warsaw
Warsaw has a handful of hostels in town and they’re all comfortable, safe, and sociable (there are a lot of party hostels here too). Here are my suggested and recommended places to stay in Warsaw:
How to Get Around Warsaw
Bus – Public buses and trams cost around 3-5 PLN for one-way ride, depending on how far you go. These tickets last 75 minutes. 90 minute tickets are available for around 7 PLN.
For a day pass, prices start at 15 PLN per person while a 3-day public transportation pass starts at 36 PLN.
Buses and trams are the most common way to get around and run from 5am-11pm. After that, there are infrequent night buses should you still need a ride (most common twice per hour).
From the Warsaw Chopin Airport to the city you can take the public pus for 5 PLN or an airport shuttle for 21 PLN per person.
Subway – The subway in Warsaw is fast and reliable. Prices for the subway are the same as the bus/tram prices above. Validated tickets let you transfer between each mode of transportation (as long as your ticket time hasn’t expired).
Taxi – Taxis are common and safe, with prices starting at 8 PLN and going up 2.40 PLN per kilometer. Just make sure you use official taxis as there are often illegal taxis that will try to take fares (and who will also overcharge you). Official taxis will have the company logo and phone number on the car. They will also use a meter.
To ensure you get a reputable company, have your hotel/hostel call a taxi before you go just to be safe.
Bicycle – For 10 PLN, you can register for Vetrulio, a bike-rental company in Warsaw. After you sign up, bike use is free for 20 minutes, making it essentially free to bounce around the city during your visit. After 20 minutes (and up to an hour) it’s just 1 PLN and then 3 PLN for the next hour.
When to Go to Warsaw
The best (and most popular) time to visit Warsaw is during the summer, from June to August. Temperatures are hot and rain is infrequent. Expect temperatures around 25 C (77 F) during this time. These are also the busiest months of the year for tourism, though and you’ll only really notice it in the main tourist cities (such as Warsaw and Krakow).
The shoulder season on late April-May and September-October are great times to visit as well. You’ll beat the crowd and have much milder temperatures. You’ll get more rain in the spring, but you’ll get the stunning autumn colors in the fall which makes for a stunning backdrop to your trip.
Winter is Warsaw can be quite cold, with temperatures dropping to zero (32 F) during the day and down to -5 C (23 F) overnight. Snow is common, which can affect conditions if you’re traveling by car. In short, I wouldn’t recommend a winter visit unless you plan on leaving the city to go skiing or take part in other winter activities.
How to Stay Safe in Warsaw
While Poland is consistently ranked one of the safest countries in the world (it usually ranks in the top 20), you’ll still want to take some precautions while you’re here.
The risk of theft or getting pickpocketed is much lower here than it is in other parts of Europe, but you’ll want to make sure you keep your valuables secure and out of sight when riding public transportation around the city and while you’re in popular tourist areas (or any other places with a crowd).
Taxi scams in Warsaw are rare, but always make sure your driver is using the meter. If they aren’t ask them to stop and find a taxi that will.
Solo travelers (including solo female travelers) will find the city quite safe. However, you’ll still want to make sure you take the standard precautions when you’re out exploring (don’t accept drinks from strangers, don’t walk home alone at night while intoxicated, etc.).
ATM skimming can occur here, so always make sure you use verified ATMs. If you can, go into the bank to withdraw your money (as opposed to using outdoor ATMs that are easier to tamper with).
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Warsaw Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Warsaw. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Sweden, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Warsaw Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Warsaw Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising , by Miron Bialoszewski
This is a poetic first-hand account of the Warsaw Uprising. It’s gripping and eye-opening, told from the view of Miron when he was just a young man. The book encapsulates the city, its people, and the urgency of the time. It’s considered one of the best books ever written about the Uprising and makes for a great place to start for anyone looking to dive into modern Polish history.
The Doll, by Boleslaw Prus
The Doll is considered one of the best — if not the best — Polish novel. Published in 1890, the book is set in the 1870s and is a grand literary panorama of social conflict and political intrigue set in a Poland under Russian Rule. Originally, the book was censored before it was published, however, the original translation can now be read as the author intended.
Sobbing Superpower: Selected Poems of Tadeusz Rozewicz , by Tadeusz Rózewicz
Tadeusz Rozewicz is one of Poland’s most praised and important poets, part of the first-generation of artists born after Polish independence in 1918. He served in the resistance during World War II, where his brother (also a poet) was caught and executed by the Gestapo. His writing is sharp, reflective, and surprising. If you’re into poetry, this is a great book to read before your trip.
Medallions, by Zofia Nalkowska
Medallions is a short book — just 49 pages — but in those pages, are 8 powerful short stories from World War II that hit hard. Each story paints a vivid and sobering picture of what happens when we let brutality take the reins. It is a harrowing, gut-wrenching masterpiece that everyone visiting Poland needs to read.
The Tin Drum, by Günter Grass
Published in 1959, The Tin Drum is the first book in the Danzig Trilogy. Set in Gdansk (formerly Danzig), the story is narrated by a main character in an insane asylum, so his stories and thoughts are unreliable, making the reader always second guess each and every fact. In 1979, the book was adapted into a film which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes.
Warsaw Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Europe and continue planning your trip: