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A Warsaw city guide – restoration, re-invention and a creative culture

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Emerging from World War Two with almost 80% of the city destroyed, Warsaw has arisen like a phoenix; first from the ruins and then from the clutches of the Soviet Union. Poland’s capital has rapidly transformed into a vibrant Eastern European hub, flush with musical festivals, street art and cutting-edge museums documenting an unsettled past. From the cobbled alleys of the Old Town to the city center skyscrapers, Warsaw is still evolving and there’s a young, positive spirit in the air. If you’ve been before, go again – it won’t be the same.

Pawel Sacha

My Destination local expert on

Warsaw

Landmark buildings

 

Despite the utter destruction of Warsaw during the war, many beautiful buildings remain – either painstakingly rebuilt or untouched in their suburban grounds. There are striking palaces: the tranquil ‘Palace on the Water’ in Lazienki Park; the baroque residence of Wilanow Palace, one of the most exquisite buildings in Europe; and the Stalinist skyscraper that is the Palace of Culture and Science – hated by Poles but a distinctive landmark all the same. Also worth a look is the restored Royal Castle in the Old Town and the lesser-known gothic spires of St Florian’s Cathedral across the river.

 

Creative revival

 

It’s not just the cityscape that has been rebuilt over the years. Warsaw’s phoenix-like image has swelled to envelope all areas of the city; from the culture to the cuisine. The once decrepit neighborhood of Praga is an important part of this revival - now a trendy cultural hub where spaces like the Cane Factory and the Wroblewski Warehouse host cultural events and exhibits in old industrial buildings. The city also hosts a summer Street Art Festival bursting with theatre and artworks. For the foodies, Warsaw is a burgeoning culinary destination, with the cutting-edge restaurant Atelier Amaro awarded Poland’s first Michelin star in 2013.

 

World-class museums

 

With such a turbulent history, it’s no wonder Warsaw has grown to include several world-class museums. The Warsaw Uprising Museum is one of the best, with interactive exhibits focusing on the heroic events and ultimate tragedy of the 1944 uprising against the Germans. Understanding the war’s effect on the city is the key to understanding Warsaw – but also check out other eras at the Historical Museum of Warsaw. Not a fan of history? Head to the Museum of Modern Art, with a new super-venue planned to open in 2015, or the Copernicus Science Center – an incredibly popular venue brimming with fascinating science mysteries.

 

Thriving music scene

 

Warsaw was the birthplace of Chopin, and the heritage of this famous composer blooms in the city every year, with a barrage of musical events. Summer sees the beautiful Lazienki Park host Sunday Chopin Concerts, with piano melodies drifting out across the lush grounds. Later on in the year, Warsaw Autumn is a contemporary music festival in the city that celebrates new sounds, both Polish and international. Warsaw is also turning into a go-to music destination, with events such as Orange Warsaw Festival held in the National Stadium, and a revived club scene featuring streets such as ul Dobra. Find squat-style clubs here like Aurora, playing everything from retro rock to Argentinian punk.