Warsaw is an extraordinary city where western and eastern cultures meet. Historic buildings, palaces and churches destroyed during the War have been reconstructed with great care, but traces of its heroic past can still be seen. Warsaw features a splendid Old Town, with Market Square, St. John’s Cathedral, the Barbican and Castle Square. Take a taxi along the Royal Route with its numerous churches, monuments, historic buildings and palaces, past the Parliament. Stroll through the grand Lazienki Park with its “Palace on the Water” and Chopin’s monument. On the way back, pause to pay respects at the former Jewish Ghetto monument, followed by a drive past the imposing building of the Grand Theatre and the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.
Old city and Royal Castle
When taking a tour of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, be mindful that this structure is a reproduction of the original, just like the Chopin Monument. And, like the composer’s monument, the original Royal Castle was destroyed by Nazis during WWII. While the exterior has been recreated, the interior of the Royal Castle is surprisingly authentic. Furniture that was saved from destruction, or replacements from the same period, serve to illustrate the uses of the castle’s rooms.
The Royal Castle overlooks Castle Square in Warsaw. This grand square is used for speeches, gatherings, and entertainment. Warsaw also has other squares of note, like the Old Town Market Square and the New Town Market Square. Warsaw’s squares are great places to have a snack or a drink and experience the city.
The Warsaw Barbican was a defensive structure that was initially built to replace one of the gates of the walled city of Warsaw. Like many of Warsaw’s buildings, the Barbican has been reconstructed, but this doesn’t make the structure any less impressive.
The Palace of culture
The Palace of Science and Culture was Stalin’s gift to Poland. Its monstrous form and looming silhouette are characteristic of the architectural style favored by the Soviets. The Palace of Science and Culture is a multi-purpose building that now rents commercial space to businesses. Today, it is famous mostly for its impressive size and even more impressive ugliness.
Jewish heritage and Monument to the Heroes of the Ghetto and the Jewish History museum
Near the Palace of Science and Culture is the location of the former Warsaw Ghetto. The sight of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Warsaw Ghetto was destroyed in the 1940’s and its inhabitants murdered or sent to concentration camps. This memorial, as well as the nearby Umschlagplatz Memorial, remember the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto as well as those who tried to fight back against the Nazis’ actions.
Lazienki Park and the palace on the water
Lazienki Park and Palace are both beautiful and relaxing sights to see. The palace, known as “The Palace on the Isle” is built on a lake and is accessible by foot bridges. Wander the park or enter the palace depending upon your mood and the weather. The park offers pathways and shady benches, while the palace allows visitors a glimpse into the life of its previous inhabitants.
One of the most popular streets in Warsaw for shopping, eating out and enjoying a few drinks is Ulica Nowy Świat (Polish for “New World Street”) which forms part of the Royal Route running from the Royal Castle and Old Town to King Jan III Sobieski’s 17th-century royal residence at Wilanów.
The Wilanow Palace
The history of the Wilanow Palace, a wonderful Baroque royal residence, began on April 23, 1677, when a village became the property of King John Sobieski III. At the beginning, the residence built there was small. Augustyn Locci, the king’s court architect, received the task of creating only a ground floor residence of a layout typical for the buildings of the Republic of Poland. However, military successes and an increase of the importance of royalty in the coming years had a huge influence on expanding the initial project. Huge construction works were conducted in the years 1677-1696. After completion, the building comprised of elements of a nobility house, an Italian garden villa and a French palace in the style of Louis XIV. After the death of the King, the Palace became the property of his sons, and in 1720, a run down property was purchased by one of the wealthiest women in Poland of those days – Elizabeth Sieniawska. In 1730, the Palace, for three years, was owned by king August II the Strong, who made considerable changes in the residence, particularly as far as the internal décor is concerned.
Warsaw developed later than other Polish towns. By the 10th century there was a small settlement on the River Wisla. However it didn't really grow into a town until the 14th century. In 1413 Warsaw became the capital of the Duchy of Mazovia. Then in 1526 Mazovia became an integral part of the kingdom of Poland. Warsaw Barbican was built in 1548. Then in 1569 Poland united with Lithuania and the Sejm (parliament) voted to meet in Warsaw.
Then in 1596 Warsaw was made the capital of Poland making it far more important. King Sigismund's Column was erected in 1644. Warsaw suffered in the war with Sweden in 1655-1660. However Wilanow Palace was built at the end of the 17th century and the 18th century was a great age for the city. The population of Warsaw rose and architecture flourished. Saxon Gardens were laid out in the early 18th century. The National Theater was founded in 1765.
However in 1795 Warsaw was taken by Prussia. In 1806 Napoleon made Warsaw the capital of the Duchy of Warsaw. However in 1815 the Congress of Vienna handed Warsaw to Russia.
Warsaw's nightlife is one of the best in Eastern Europe, with a multitude of bars and clubs scattered across the city. The 'hipper' places are either truly worth visiting or too full of bravado, velvet ropes and bouncers. Posing comes in high doses in many places, so be prepared to see lots of well- (and/or barely) dressed women, with men in shirts and shoes. Big name DJs do make their way to Warsaw, and in the summer, many nightspots offer outdoor drinking areas. A good source of information on cafés, pubs and clubs in Warsaw is the monthly Warsaw Insider (www.warsawinsider.pl).
Warsaw is paradise for culture vultures. In terms of classical music, the National Philharmonic and National Opera, both based here, are the country's most celebrated. And several of the best known theatres in the country are in Warsaw.