Warsaw is a bustling, revitalized city that has cast off the long shadow of communism. While a lot of grim, grey architecture remains, I found Warsaw to be a lively place with plenty to keep you busy. There’s a growing culinary scene, a wild nightlife, and lots of budget-friendly activities in (and around) the city.
Stroll down the boulevards, explore the wealth of Chopin’s music, admire traditional art pieces, and soak up this modern city — all for a fraction of what you’d pay in Western Europe!
While Krakow gets all the attention, I really enjoyed my time in Warsaw.
This travel guide to Warsaw will show you the tips and tricks you need to have fun on a budget.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Warsaw
1. Wander the Old Town
2. Explore the Chopin Museum
3. See the Royal Castle
4. Learn about the Warsaw Uprising
5. Wander around the Lazienki Park
Other Things to See and Do in Warsaw
1. 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. Orange Umbrella offers daily free tours that provide much more insight than any guidebook. Plus, you can connect with an expert local guide who can answer all your questions. Just be sure to tip your guide at the end!
2. 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 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 Wladyslaw 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 stroll.
3. 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 building has survived several wars (the roof was destroyed a few times but the rest has remained intact). The neo-classical facade dates 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. Admission is free but dress respectfully as it is a place of worship.
4. Tour the Gestapo Headquarters Museum
Officially known as the Mausoleum of Struggle and Martyrdom, this museum focuses on the conflict between the Polish resistance and the Gestapo. It has a profound exhibit that takes 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 but one that shouldn’t be missed. Admission is free.
5. 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 just 5 PLN and they are regular guided tours in English. Check the website for more details, including what temporary exhibits are available.
6. Check out the National Museum
This museum is one of the largest in the country. It boasts a substantial collection of ancient art (including 11,000 pieces of Greek, Egyptian, and Roman works), Medieval art, Polish paintings, sculptures, works from international artists, and a collection of Chinese art with over 5,000 pieces. They also have some paintings from Adolf Hitler’s private collection. Admission to both the permanent and temporary galleries is 20 PLN and guided tours are 180 PLN.
7. Relax in 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 crowds.
8. The Copernicus Science Center
The Copernicus Science Center, named after the famous Polish astronomer and polymath, 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, electricity, and more. It’s a great place to visit with kids. There’s a planetarium here as well. Admission is 31 PLN.
9. 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 Middle 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 30 PLN.
10. Visit the Palace of Culture and Science
This is the most iconic building in the city, dominating the city skyline and looming over the city. It’s the tallest building in Poland, home to 42 floors, theaters, a multi-screen cinema, museums, and much more. The building was a “gift” to Poland from the Soviet Union in 1955 and many people want to demolish it for that reason (Poland suffered heavily under Stalin). 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; it’s 20 PLN without it). Access to the building is free.
Warsaw Travel Costs
Hostel prices – A bed in a dorm with 8-10 beds costs 55-95 PLN per night. Private rooms cost 120 PLN. Free Wi-Fi is standard and most hostels also have kitchens if you want to cook your own food.
Campgrounds can be found outside the city (and there are plenty of campgrounds throughout the country as well). Expect to pay at least 40 PLN per night for a basic tent plot for two people without electricity.
Budget hotel prices – A double bed in a budget two-star hotel with free Wi-Fi costs around 110 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 150 PLN per night.
Airbnb is available in Warsaw with private rooms starting at 75 PLN per night (though usually average double that). Entire homes/apartments start at 180 PLN.
Food – Polish meals are quite hearty, usually containing potatoes, meat (pork and chicken), and seasonal produce like beets or cabbage. Stews and soups (like borscht, a beet soup) are popular and can be found at most local restaurants. Pierogis are also a common staple and can be found everywhere for cheap. For some traditional Polish food, 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 of traditional cuisine (served at local restaurants called “milk bars”) cost around 30 PLN. For a three-course meal with a drink and table service, expect to pay 80 PLN. Fast food (think McDonald’s) costs 22 PLN for a combo meal.
A large pizza costs around 25-30 PLN while Chinese food costs around 15 PLN.
Beer costs at least 10 PLN. A latte or cappuccino is around 12 PLN. Bottled water is 5 PLN.
If you buy your own groceries and cook your meals, expect to pay around 175 PLN per week for basic staples like pasta, rice, seasonal vegetables, and some meat.
Backpacking Warsaw Suggested Budgets
On a backpacker budget of 160 PLN per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, cook all your meals, limit your drinking, take public transportation to get around, and do some cheap activities like free walking tours and visiting the free museums. If you plan on drinking, add 10-20 PLN to your budget per day.
On a mid-range budget of 280 PLN per day, you can stay in a private Airbnb, eat out for all your meals at cheap milk bars, have a couple of drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around, and do more paid activities like visiting the Uprising Museum.
On a “luxury” budget of 550 PLN or more per day, you can stay in a hotel, eat out anywhere you want, drink more, take more taxis, and do whatever guided tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. 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 PLN.
Warsaw Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
Warsaw is an affordable city so there aren’t too many tips out there to help you save money. You kind of have to go out of your way to spend a lot here! That said, here are a few ways you can save money while you visit Warsaw:
- Eat at Milk Bars – If you’re eating out, stick to the mleczny (milk bar). These are 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. Expect plates of hearty pierogis, homemade soups, plenty of meat, and a local beer for around 30 PLN.
- Get the Warsaw Pass – For 119 PLN, the single-day Warsaw Pass provides 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 159 PLN and a three-day pass for 189 PLN.
- Watch your drinking – Warsaw is known for its partying and pub crawls and long nights out. While booze is cheap here, nights out can add up quickly. Start off by grabbing your favorite drinks from a grocery store first whenever possible. You’ll save 50% compared to the bar.
- Take a free walking tour – Free tours from companies like Orange Umbrella 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 if you’re leaving the city to explore.
- Stay with a local – While accommodation is not expensive in Warsaw, 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 with the bike-share company Vetrulio. 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, it’s just 1 PLN for the first hour and 3 PLN for the next hour.
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water in Warsaw is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
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 – Buses and trams are the most common way to get around and run from 5am-11pm. Buses and trams cost 3-5 PLN 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 pass starts at 36 PLN.
From the Warsaw Chopin Airport to the city you can take the public bus for 5 PLN or an airport shuttle for 23 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 3 PLN per kilometer. Just make sure you use official taxis as there are often illegal taxis that try to take fares (and who overcharge). Official taxis have the company logo and phone number on the car. They 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.
Ridesharing – Uber is available in Warsaw and is cheaper than using taxis. Stick to Uber if you need a private ride.
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.
Car rental – You don’t need a car to get around Warsaw, however, if you plan on exploring the region you can find rentals for under 75 PLN per day for a multi-day rental. Drivers must have had their license for at least one year and an International Driving Permit (IDP) is required for citizens of certain countries.
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 daily highs around 25°C (77°F). There are crowds, but they aren’t nearly as sizeable as what you find in Western Europe. Just be sure to book ahead so you don’t miss out on the cheapest accommodation.
The shoulder seasons (April-May and September-October) are great times to visit as well. You’ll beat the crowd and have much milder temperatures, with temperatures ranging from 14-19°C (57-67°F) in the spring and 3-12°C (39-54°F) in the fall. You’ll get more rain but you’ll get the stunning autumn colors in the fall and lots of blooming flowers in the spring which make for a stunning backdrop to your trip.
Winter in Warsaw is cold, with temperatures dropping below 0°C (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
Poland is consistently ranked one of the safest countries in the world (it ranks higher than both Italy and Spain in terms of safety). Of course, you should still take some precautions while you’re here. Keep your valuables secure and out of sight when riding public transportation and while you’re in popular tourist areas.
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.
Warsaw is safe for solo travelers (including solo female travelers). Of course, you should still take the standard precautions when you’re out exploring (don’t accept drinks from strangers, don’t walk home alone at night 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).
If you rent a car, don’t leave any valuables in it overnight. Break-ins are rare but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
If you experience an emergency, dial 112.
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.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- 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 in their 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 Poland, 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!
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and 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 that 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: