Warsaw is Poland’s largest city and capital and is located on the Vistula River. The city has the unfavorable reputation of being a dull, gloomy city with unappealing architecture, and to some extent this reputation is deserved. Unfortunately, Warsaw was completely destroyed in WWII and the rows of monotonous buildings that line parts of the city today were designed by unimaginative communist-era architects. It is a shame that such a pejorative reputation remains now attached to a city that was once seen as one of the most vibrant and cosmopolitan cities in Europe prior to the war. However, the communist authorities post-WWII did make an effort to recreate Warsaw’s historic center with relative success, and the Old Town has been designated a World Heritage site. Tourists today are attracted to Warsaw for its cultural scene, lively nightlife, free classical music concerts, quaint outdoor cafes overlooking the Vistula, its charmingly-restored Old Town, and the city’s historic landmarks from the communist era.
Considered the cultural and educational center of Poland, Warsaw boasts the nation’s largest university, Uniwersytet Warszawski. The city is also home to the National Museum, which houses close to 800,000 items, mainly a collection of the finest Polish ancient and modern art. Other museums include the Centre for Contemporary Art, the Zacheta National Gallery of Art, and the Warsaw Uprising Museum, a museum memorializing the Polish Home Army’s attempt to liberate Poland from the Nazis. Many cultural events also take place in Warsaw. The International Chopin Piano Competition is held every five years in Warsaw. Other cultural events include the Warsaw International Book Fair in May, the annual Warsaw Autumn Modern Music Festival in September, and the International Jazz Festival in October.
The nightlife in Warsaw is also another attractive aspect of the city. There are numerous bars and clubs, most of them located in Śródmieście, that jam all night long. There are a good mixture of bars and clubs, including jazz clubs, student clubs, and modern music clubs that attract a mixture of people from their 20’s through to their 60’s.
One site that is important to hit up while in Warsaw is its Old Town. This is a district of the city that was restored after it was destroyed in WWII. The “Royal Road” begins in Old Town and leads visitors to fashionable shops in Nowy Swiat, the royal gardens in Lazienki Park, and the Wilanow Palace in the city centre. The Old Praga area is also worth visiting, as much of its architecture has remained preserved in its pre-war state.