Everything about Old Town Warsaw is picture perfect. When we arrived at the main train terminal we were hot and tired and really not impressed with the city at that point. But when our cabbie (take a cab, it’s ridiculously cheap) dropped us at our apartment, we got out and our jaws dropped. Literally. If there ever was a storybook town, this is one of them (amongst several others we encountered on the trip) (looking at you, Cesky Krumlov!). The part of the city worth exploring isn’t all that big, so you don’t need a lot of time in Warsaw. We recommend hitting up a few of the sites and then wandering aimlessly; no itinerary, no set of places to go – just explore.
The Warsaw Uprising Museum is across town but is an absolute must see. It’s rather long and requires some participation on your part, but it’s insanely interactive and insightful. You may not be able to catch everything, as it can get busy (especially on weekends), but make sure you check out the day-to-day interaction of the war. Oh, and don’t miss the top floor cafe – they’ve got fresh fruit and dessert and caffeinated beverages galore.
Speaking of food, the grub didn’t really wow us in Warsaw (which, I guess, is to be expected). But we did stumble upon a few gems which made for happy bellies. My’O’My is a must for brunch and Delikatest Esencja for drinks. If weather permits, seat yourself outdoors. Always.
Oto!Sushi – Delicious sushi on the cheap.
My’O’My – Great spot for brunch. Go for one of the bagel burgers (not the mushroom variety) or a scramble.
Gospoda Kwiaty Polskie – Inviting atmosphere and just off the main square. They serve up huge bowls of delicious cabbage and fry a mean chop.
Green Coffee – Smooth coffee and a cozy atmosphere. If you’re into flaky pastries loaded with sweet stuff, this is your place to get them.
Relaks Kawiarnia – Supposedly the best coffee in Warsaw. It was good, but best is certainly subjective.
Snok Na Sok – We popped in for a post brunch juice fix and were not disappointed. Uses mostly fresh produce; a few things are frozen. Highly recommend for hot days, or if your body’s just craving something healthy.
Warsaw Uprising Museum – Be sure not to miss the hangar or the videos.
Lokal_30 – This place is free and straight up weird. If you’re in the area and have a spare five minutes, go. And leave bewildered.
Old Town Market Place – Go for a drink, a bite to eat, or just to look at the pretty buildings
We rented the most beautiful apartment in Old Town. The area, surprisingly, wasn’t the least bit busy or touristy, despite being just one street over from the most happenin’ square in town. We highly recommend staying there, as the shower was excellent and the bed was almost as comfy as ours back home.
Ashlae likes to run
Old Town makes for a decent run, but since it’s small you won’t be able to clock more than 4 miles without a lot of repetition. If you feel like wandering, bring your phone as it’s easy to get lost and not many people speak English.
Like Berlin, our time in Krakow was emotionally challenging and moved us in ways we didn’t think were possible. From Oskar Schindler’s Factory and visiting the concentration camps, to staying in the Jewish Quarter and witnessing their struggles over 70 years after the war, it took an intense toll on us. But it was an experience we’ll never forget. We opted to stay in the Jewish Quarter so we could get a better feel for the city. For the locals and their culture. And although it’s a bit run down than other (more touristy) parts of the city, there’s a hidden elegance buried beneath the facade of the old neighborhood. Which is why we recommend you stay there if you’re up for something a little bit different; something that is sure to present an emotional challenge each time you step out the door.
If you visit Krakow, a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau is an absolute must. However, if you arrive between 10AM and 3PM, you’ll be forced to take a three and a half hour group tour which is a total snoozefest. We arrived just after 10 and got stuck on a tour, but after five minutes we both looked at each other, stuffed our headsets in our backpacks, removed our group stickers, and walked around without a guide – just like we were two people who arrived before 10. I imagine going rogue is only doable until about noon, as it only takes 2 hours to get through the camp on your own (1.5 for us because a lot of it was repeat) (and then there was the whole hiding from our group thing). Also, the Birkenau Camp is a must. The capicaty of that place is mind boggling and absolutely horrifying and is something you really shouldn’t miss considering it’s just a few minutes from Auschwitz. Just make sure you bring your walking shoes and a bottle of water. And maybe a sandwich in case you get lost. Oh, and tissues. Lots of fucking tissues.
If you plan on visiting the Salt Mine, don’t put it off until the day your train leaves town (like us). It’s a good 2 1/2 hours from the time you enter the mine until you exit (although some trustworthy internet sites say otherwise). The bus from Krakow (304) takes about an hour and 15 minutes and costs 4 zlty per person. In a taxi it’s about 65 zlty, but only 20 minutes. We took a bus out and the taxi back into town because we were crunched for time and wanted to squeeze in one last meal at MoMo Vegetarian and do a bit of wandering.
One last thing: Poland, Krakow especially, is extremely (extreeemely) affordable. Most days we had to try hard to spend more than €50, and that was after we’d eaten three meals, bought trinkets, had a few beers, ice cream, chocolate, etc. Main Square Market is painfully touristy, but a must see as it’s the largest town square in Europe. Make a quick stop, get some photos, then navigate the back streets because that’s where all the good stuff hides. So many great shops and cafes; a perfect place to spend all the money you’re saving.
Bal – Breakfast in an open and airy space near the Contemporary Art Museum and Schindler’s Factory. Thumbs up to the quiche!
MoMo Vegetarian – Delicious Indian food served up deli style with hearty portions. We both went for the Thali and it did not disappoint. Get a ginger lemonade.
Love Krove – Gourmet burgers with the works. Award for best potato wedges. Man got the onion monster and the lady chowed down on bowl of wedges and a big ass (Charlotte) salad.
Glonojad – Vegetarian cafe with incredible food that is insanely cheap. We shared three meals (we were hungry), salads, an order of samosas, AND TWO BEERS for less than 60 zlty. Or €15.
Lody na Starowislnej – Thom took a bite of the wild strawberry ice cream and exclaimed OH MY GOD! This is the best ice cream I’ve ever had. We went every day until we left.
Go! – This tiny shop packs quite the punch with their coffee. I figured it’d be watered down but it turned out to be a favorite.
Massolit Books and Cafe – Grab a good book and enjoy your coffee. Or tea.
Esze – Funky cafe with swings at the bar and quirky objects all around. Highly recommend, especially late afternoon before it gets too busy.
Mleczarnia – Outdoor beer garden with ample tree coverage and local vibes. One of our favorite places to wind down and grab a drink.
Karma – We went for the fair trade coffee but they also had delicious looking desserts and healthy-ish eats.
Wieliczka Salt Mine – Super touristy, but impressive nonetheless.
Day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau – Not optional. An absolute must see.
Main Square – Crowded, but entertaining. Steer clear of the underground market – it’s pretty cheesy.
Museum of Contemporary Art – One of the better contemporary art museums we’ve seen. Free every Tuesday!
Oskar Schindler Factory – Tour the factory owned by a member of the Nazi Party who saved the lives of over 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust.
One of the downsides to planning everything on the fly is that sometimes you get stuck with the leftovers on AirBnb. We went with a place that had a serious interior design conflict happening (and some weird things going on with the faucet) but other than that, it served its purpose and had a great view of the buildings across the street.
Ashlae likes to run
There’s a path along the river that makes for a breezy long run. You could run and run and run for miles, but make sure you get there early because it gets packed with bikers and dog walkers and other runners (this may only apply during the summer months).