Hi Frugalistas! This edition of my insider guide series is special. We’re off to Warsaw, Poland, a place I’ve been interested in, but like most travellers, have not had the opportunity to visit. Being part of the “new Europe” it’s a perfect destination for frugalfirstclasstravellers (you don’t need to look any further than Kami’s restaurant suggestions to prove that!). Our Insider Guide is Kami of Kami And The Rest of The World, one of many great Polish travel bloggers I know. Kami has lived in Warsaw for a number of years now, and has come to love her adopted city and its funky vibe, so I’m sure you’ll love her take on the modern Warsaw:
Many people consider Eastern Europe and in particular old Soviet bloc countries as one dull mass that is all alike. What makes Warsaw so different and so special for you?
First of all Eastern Europe is nothing like that! True, the Soviet rule left a significant mark in the cities but still each city is unique, with long and rich history. Warsaw is even more special – it’s often called “the phoenix city” as 90% of it was destroyed during II World War. What we can see now, even if it looks like an old architecture, was actually rebuilt after the War. The work was based on the old Bellotto’s paintings from XVIIIth century. The Old Town is incredibly beautiful, one of the most picturesque places you’ll see in this part of Europe but when you think how new everything is changed the perspective a little bit. Warsaw had to struggle a lot over the centuries and is still trying to find its vibe and identity. Being a witness of this process if a truly fascinating thing for me and I guess this might be the reason why I enjoy living here so much. It’s sometimes a difficult city to love, we’ve had our issues too but for past few years me and Warsaw been really good friends!
What is your favorite place in Warsaw to take out of town visitors, and what makes it so special?
I’m a huge fan of Praga district – located on the right bank of the Vistula river, across the Old Town and downtown it used to be a separate city until 1791. The district is still considered as a dangerous one as it used to be a very poor area with many social issues. These days however it’s more of a bohemian neighborhood, with art galleries, funky bars, design shops and the quirkiest museum ever – the Neon Museum. This part of Warsaw wasn’t much destroyed during the War so you can still see bullet holes in the houses or the best examples of the modern architecture from the 1920s. Another unique thing in Praga are St. Mary’s shrines located in the courtyards of old tenement houses – I haven’t seen so many of them in any other place! The right bank of the river is considered the most real part of Warsaw, still having the pre-war charm that made this city so special (Warsaw used to be called “the Paris of the East”) and well, I couldn’t agree more!
Tell me about your favorite place in Warsaw that I wouldn’t find in a guidebook.
Saska Kępa! The cozy neighborhood located just across the river from the downtown, next to the national stadium. It’s the newest hip place of Warsaw and Francuska Street is the fanciest street of that side of the city, with lots of small boutiques and upscale restaurants. The life goes slowly here, people walk around enjoying the day, life is good here. The other great place, not far from Saska Kępa, is the beach at the right bank of the Vistula river, next to the national stadium. That’s where people hang out in the summer time as, even if you’re in the middle of the busy capital, it feels so relaxing, almost like you’re on the holidays. And the view of downtown is pretty good from there too.
What is your perfect day out and about in Warsaw and why?
I love wandering around the neighborhoods on the right bank of the Vistula river (Praga, Saska Kępa) – I always find something new there – a new quirky shop, new street art, a new art gallery, or cafe. Being in these places makes me truly happy. Warsaw is one of the greenest cities in Europe, there are numerous parks here and hanging out in one of them is always a pleasure. My favorite one is Park Skaryszewski, with a big pond in the middle. In the summer time you can rent paddle boats there or just sit on the grass and read a book.
There are many great day trips from Warsaw. Could you share some of your favorite day trip destinations?
I really love Lublin – the biggest city in eastern part of Poland located around 3 hours away from Warsaw. It’s one of the oldest cities in the country and has a rich multicultural history. The Old Town there is just the prettiest, with narrow cobbled streets and colorful houses. But Lublin has some dark history too – one of the biggest Nazi camps during the II World War was located there – it is possible to visit it now and I think it’s a must for everyone who comes to Lublin.
Another great destination is Łódź – another big city, two hours away from Warsaw. It’s known for its industrial spaces turned into museums, shopping centers or hip restaurants. There’s also a big street art scene there – check Urban Forms Foundation for more details.
If you’re interested in nature then just outside of the city is Kampinoski National Park. It’s connected with Warsaw by the public transport and it’s a perfect place to do some hiking in the beautiful, peaceful forests.
What is the best way for English speakers to find out about concerts, exhibitions and other special events in Warsaw?
There’s a really big expat community living in Warsaw so numerous English sources are available. Just google “Warsaw events” and you will find all your options!
Some quick fire favorites now:
Favorite garden(s)/outdoor space(s): Park Skaryszewski or the beach at Vistula River, next to the national stadium. There’s also a really great walking path, 10 kms long, along the river, on the right bank.
Favorite window shopping street: All the people go to Nowy Świat for its fancy shops but I like Francuska (Saska Kępa) or Ząbkowska (Stara Praga)
Favorite market(s): sadly there are not too many traditional markets anymore but Hala Mirowska is pretty good!
Favorite spot for a tea or coffee: Wrzenie Świata! It’s hidden in the back of Nowy Świat street and it’s a paradise for all the book lovers. This café was founded by the best non-fiction writers in Poland and the choice of the books available is really impressive (some English titles can be found there too). The coffee, drinks and food are really good too and together with books they create a really wonderful atmosphere. Usually you can meet some of the writers there too.
Favorite value for money restaurant(s): definitely milk bars (“bar mleczny” in Polish). Don’t get fooled with the name, they don’t offer only dairy products! You can get a proper meal there, cooked just like at home, and the prices are crazily cheap: tomato soup for 0,50$ or pierogis for 2$! These places were typical for Soviet times and now they’re extremely popular again. Some of them have a new, funky look, others look like the time has stopped there back in 80s but all of them offer delicious and cheap food!
Kami is a Polish solo traveler and blogger who shows that it is possible to balance full time job with extensive travelling. So far she’s been to 50 countries but new adventures are waiting ahead. She’s especially interested in off the beaten path places and difficult histories but don’t mind visiting main tourist attractions too!
You can find Kami at Kami And The Rest Of The World
All photos author’s own