Warsaw: things to know before you go

Don’t go to Warsaw, it’s all grey and concrete, not too charming“.
With these words, 10 years ago, a fellow traveller in a hostel in Vilnius convinced me to skip the Polish capital and take instead a night bus straight from Gdansk to Krakow. Not only I contracted chicken pox on that bloody bus, but also missed a city to which that bland description doesn’t make any justice.

We summarised our weekend in Warsaw outlining the best activities for your first visit there, but first here is some precious advice.

Public Transport

Public TransportTransport in Warsaw is efficient and always on time (at least for our experience), however the city centre is small enough to be visited by foot and all the main spots are within walking distance.
Daily passes are quite cheap but, if you decide for single trip tickets as we did, we recommend to ask for the “20 minutes” tickets, for just 3.40 zloty. Those are sold at the underground station (not many of them to be honest), at the newsagents called “Ruch” (not many of those either, not when we needed them), and at the ticket machines that can be found at some stops (they mostly take only coins or cards, no notes). It would have saved us lots of time to buy a bunch of tickets as soon as we got to the station.

All you need to know about the pubblic transport network in Warsaw can be found on the ZTM website

To work out a route the best website is jakdojade.pl that also provides a cool mobile app.

Bike SharingBike Sharing Warsaw

When we were in Warsaw the weather was not ideal, snowy and freezing, but if you happen to be there on a milder time of the year you might try the city bike rental scheme: Veturilo.
The subscription costs just 10zloty (about £1.80 / $2.80) and the first 20 minutes on each bike is free!
Check out the detailed info and rates on their official website.

Airport

If you fly to Chopin airport you’re basically already in Warsaw, from there there are 5 bus lines (one of which is a night bus) going to town: bus 148, 175, 188, 331 and night bus N32. The train is also serving the Chopin airport: lines S2, S3 and S30 will all take you around the city centre.Use the websites above to find out which is the one more suitable to your needs.

If you fly low cost, instead, you will be probably landing in Modlin, a town 25 miles from Warsaw. From/to there you can take a coach service based in Dw. Centralna (which is not the train station but a big parking area facing the Museum of Culture and Science entrance of the Palace of Culture and Science), or a train connecting Warsaw central station with Modlin train station. There is then a shuttle bus service between there and the airport. The coach is 33zloty and takes 1 hour, while the train+shuttle is 15 and it’s just 45 minutes.

Currency

If you don’t come prepared with your own zloty and you’re not happy with the charges applied by your bank for withdrawals and card payments, you can change your money to the local currency at one of the many exchange offices. We found two with good rates and no charges, both easy to find: one in the big shopping centre next to the station and one in the labyrinthine corridors under the station. Anyway you’d better double check as those things change quite quickly.

Accommodation

When we checked there was plenty of affordable accommodation in hostels and hotels in Warsaw, most of which conveniently located in the Old Town. We chose instead to stay in an apartment in a less touristic part of town: Praga. Rich of cool bars and old building is a short walk from the city centre and well connected by public transport. We stayed at Pawel’s apartment on AirBnB, highly recommended both for the quality and for the stunning view on the city skyline.

View from Pawel flat

the view from Pawel’s apartment…not too bad huh?

Museums

There are many museums in Warsaw, some unmissable, some good for a rainy day. Make sure you check an updated guide (site) or with the tourist office as many are closed on Mondays and free on Sundays.

Food and drinks

PieroghiPierogi is something like a national pride. I don’t know if we’ve been particularly lucky or that’s just the standard but we managed to find a couple of places offering an amazing homemade version of this national delicacy.
Less than impressed by the warm beer though, which tasted to me like a beer accidentally left in the car on a warm day in august with spices dropped into it. You’ll also find mulled wine, both called grzianec.

The beetroot soup, which is somewhat traditional too, has quite an intense taste: the first two sips went down well but we gave up at the end of the mug.

Sausages Zapiecek and beetroot soup

a hearty meal at Zapiecek

People

I’ve been told that Varsovians speak good English but are a bit rude. By our experience it was exactly the opposite, in fact we found the people in Warsaw generally friendly and welcoming. Even though we met very few English speakers, we never had problems getting around, asking for directions and buying stuff. Their helpfulness overcame the language barriers.

Our First Day in Warsaw
Our Second Day in Warsaw

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After being in Rome a few times without even looking at the Coliseum I realised that there's more to travel than sightseeing: meeting the local culture is what, 10 years later, determined the birth of this blog.

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