As the capital of Poland, Warsaw was one of the most beautiful and sophisticated cities in central Europe until it was almost totally destroyed during the Nazi occupation of World War II. The end of the war saw most of the city reduced to rubble and ruins.
The city underwent a major regeneration following the havoc of destruction, and the buildings in the heart of the old city were meticulously restored. Most of the historic Old Town was painstakingly rebuilt from a pile of debris, restoring it to its original 17th and 18th Century appearance. The charming Old Market Square, the centre of the rebuilding process, is now a major World Heritage Site attraction.
Warsaw is divided into two distinct halves by the Vistula River, with the Old Town, the modern city centre and most of the attractions on the western side. The eastern side of the river is comprised of uninteresting residential suburbs and business districts. The post-war appearance of Warsaw is a modern urban landscape of high-rise buildings, and the years of communist rule have left an uninspiring architectural legacy of drab concrete structures and uniform prefab-style housing.
Lying in determined contrast to the concrete greyness are traces of Poland’s grand past, including castles and palaces, open parklands, impressive churches and the restored streets of the historic old centre. Signs of former political austerity have been replaced by modern progression, with dreary state shops turned into fashionable boutiques, and consumerism a growing trend.
Although many people give scant regard to Warsaw as an appealing tourist destination, it is still Poland’s largest city and the political, economic, scientific and cultural hub of the country. It has many museums and historical monuments, galleries and historic attractions, a variety of restaurants and open-air cafes, and an energetic nightlife. With green open spaces and classical music concerts, this modern bustling city is a far cry from the severe communist-era images of post-war Warsaw.
Hotels and resorts
Mamaison Hotel le Regina
An elegant and sophisticated five star hotel, awarded in November 2006 by Forbes magazine as the most prestigious hotel in Poland, with sixty-one air-conditioned rooms on three levels of a historic building in Warsaw’s Old Town, which was faithfully restored to the style of an eighteenth century palace and outfitted with all the modern amenities. Centered around a lush courtyard garden, it is somewhat reminiscent of a peaceful monastery.
The five-star InterContinental Warsaw is an impressive addition to the ever-expanding skyline. Located in the financial district opposite the Palace of Culture and Science, the hotel is a short distance from the main railway station, charming Old Town and the Warsaw Philharmonic. Well worth a visit are the Frederic Chopin Museum and Lazienki Park.
Standard rooms are available with a choice of queen, king or twin beds. All rooms are spacious (min size 34 sq m). Bathrooms are equipped with bath and separate walk-in showers. The bedrooms provide complimentary tea and coffee making facilities, minibar and laptop safes.
Le Meridien Bristol
Breathe in history by booking a night in Warsaw’s most famous hotel. The plaque in the marble clad lobby lists dozens of stars and royalty who have chosen to lodge here, and to countdown the facilities on offer would require an hour of your time. Art nouveau is the theme and rooms feature the classy ambiance of yesteryear. But for all the five star perks and trimmings our favourite touch is the courtyard garden; an oasis of luxury perfect for evening drinks.
Furniture, lamps, home accessories, decorative glass.
A collection of some of the best in international design, with furniture, accessories and books.
Situated on the top two floors of the city’s most exclusive department store this eatery unquestionably represents a high watermark in terms of restaurant design in Warsaw. Downstairs tree stump tables and modern, minimalist furnishings are arranged close to the large floor-to-ceiling windows which run along one wall, while a black well-stocked bar sits opposite a unique spiral staircase leading to the centerpiece restaurant above.
It’s here that Concept 13 really come in to its own, with everything down to the light fittings and wooden floors working seamlessly to create the stylish venue you’d expect of a Likus Bros initiative. As for the space age metallic bathrooms, they’re worth the visit alone.
Atelier by Amaro
Nowhere has put the modern Polish movement on the map in quite the same way as Atelier. “Everything important here is Polish,” says Chef Wojciech Amaro, and by that he includes the interiors, the cutlery and a bespoke vodka menu designed exclusively for the restaurant. Then there’s the ingredients Amaro scoured the nation for. “99% of menus here are based around 10 to 15 products,” says the chef, “but there’s much more – Poland is famous for edible flowers, herbs, wild game and mushrooms, but most people don’t realize.” Having researched recipes from the 16th and 17th century, he’s married forgotten ideas to the latest food technology.
Piękna Bistro went through a major overhaul and reopened this classier spot in the fall. The look is sleek, modern and simple now, but what hasn’t changed is their very reliable mix of pastas, salads, grilled meat and fish dishes, whose preparation and presentation will delight hungry diners. A recommended venue if you like your meal served to the backdrop of live jazz.
Historical Museum of Warsaw
The History Museum is one of the best of Warsaw’s impressive array of museums. Its three storeys are crammed with fascinating exhibitions, covering every aspect of Warsaw’s history and life from its beginnings to the present day, and there are old photographs, clippings and articles on display from everyday pre-war city life. The museum’s special feature is a documentary film showing the destruction and reconstruction of the city, with footage shot by the Nazis during their calculated and systematic annihilation. The film is shown in English at 12pm, from Tuesday to Saturday. Please note that the Historical Museum of Warsaw is currently closed for renovations, but will be re-opening in 2012
Famous Polish composer Frederick Chopin lived just 32 miles (53km) outside of Warsaw, and his manor house has been converted into a lovely, relaxing tourist attraction. There is a leafy park surrounding the house, and an assortment of 19th-century furniture and instruments within. There are concerts hosted on Sundays in the summertime. A must-see tourist attraction in Poland for culture buffs.
Country club living
Panorama Country Club
Sobienie Krolewski Golf & Country Club
This is an authorized Guerlain beauty parlour. In addition to spa and beauty treatments they have emergency services: the ‘last minute’ treatment is a facial and make up job fixed within an hour, or you can top up your tan in less than an hour with the ‘before party’ package.
Sungate Beauty & Spa
The menu of services available at Sungate is staggering: from facials and every imaginable type of massage (shea butter to aromatherapy) to waxing and nailcare they have you covered from head to foot. Package for couples, women and just regular folks who like to indulge are also available.
Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra
The 20.000m² cultural centre is housed on the site of a former Veterinary Institute with existing – yet dormant – buildings and a fairy-tale like park. The area occupies a 1.800 seat symphonic hall with first class acoustic properties, large rehearsal areas, merchandise facilities, musical workshops and a small hotel for artists in residence and music lovers on vacation.
By Paula Carvalho