A Hipster Guide To Warsaw - Summer Edition
If you've read Culture.pl’s previous article titled A Hipster Guide To Warsaw, and you think you know where to go now that summer has come, then we have bad news. Hipsters, as well as almost everybody else, change their habits when it is getting hot, and instead of hanging around in the city centre or Praga, they go to the riverside to party in one of many temporary venues and relax in the ultimately casual atmosphere.
Bit of History
Warsaw is a city split in two by the biggest Polish river – the Vistula. Throughout the ages, the river has been a life-giving vein for the city. It was the path for the export of grains and herrings, for the import of wines and spices and a source of the finest sturgeon and salmon. There were numerous ports and harbours, ships and rafts scudding in both directions, and sandpits full of overworked labourers. Vistula was the true heart of the city.
Even when its economic role decreased, it remained a centre for leisure with lots of beaches and places for dancing to live music. Those venues were called ‘tanc budy’ and consisted of a stage for the band and wooden dance floor only. Those who wanted to dance on the parquet had to pay a bit while others danced on the sand free of charge.
Unfortunately, the 20th century wasn’t good for the relationship between the river and the city; two wars, the heavy-industry-minded policies of the post-war communist governments and, the worst of all, the 1990s – the first years after political transformation when everybody was so preoccupied with earning money and transforming the country that there was no will to take care of Vistula’s banks. This is why the riverside area entered the 21st century in pitiful condition: muck, rubbish and lowest quality dive bars with horrific reputations. Warsaw had turned its back on the river.
Yet, when the dusts of permanent economic hustle settled and city activists were given a chance to act, the process of revitalising the Vistula's banks started. At that time, no one really expected that in just a few years, it would rapidly change from an abandoned “no man's land” into the most frequented area during the summer heat. Since 2010, the number of venues on the banks has increased exponentially and the masses started to throng to the river. The success of the first clubs encouraged many adventurous businessmen to start their own venues, and the presence of thousands of people who wanted to have some fun revived the culture of water sports and encouraged the city to restore its water taxis, not seen for many years. The need to spend ones free time in a nice atmosphere, closer to nature, yet still just a few minutes from the city centre, was so immense that what was projected as a long process of painstaking revitalisation happened in the blink of an eye.
Today, going to the Vistula is a regular part of Varsovians’ summer lifestyle. Thousands of people spend weekend nights on the steps alongside the shore or visit one of the more than twenty clubs in the river area. Wait! More than twenty? Yes, even the most experienced of Warsaw's party warriors has probably lost count of the exact number, because every year some of those venues die and many more are opened. Because of this joyful abundance, Culture.pl offers you a summer (hipster) guide to Warsaw, aka ‘how to have a good night in Warsaw and not get lost or carried away by the river’.
Getting To The River
Getting to the river is easier than ever, as in 2015 the second metro line was finished and by getting off at Centrum Nauki Kopernik you’ll find yourself right in the middle of a summer hipster paradise. You can also take a city bike or hire one in one of numerous rental places. Once you have chosen your means of transport, go to Most Świętokrzyski and decide what to do next:
Choose your path
There are far too many places to visit during one night. Life is full of choices they say, so pick one of the following opportunities:
Party warriors usually go south. From Most Świętokrzyski (and the nearby Copernicus Science Centre) you can take an hour-long walk up the river and come across numerous clubs. Copernicus Science Centre area is the cradle of fashion on the Wisła, the place where the first clubs were opened and then expanded up and down the river. The closest is BarKa (run by the owners of the legendary PlanB). BarKa (in English, boat or bar ‘K’) is, as its names suggests, placed on a boat and stands out with its charming character and beautiful sails that serve as sun umbrellas. BarKa is also known for having the best selection of DJs including frequent visits by all-star guests from all over Europe.
Going further up the river is a great idea. Don’t get discouraged by some of the strange, avoidable places you might pass, like the Aldona, a boat that looks as if nobody has been there since the 1980s. A food truck spot that you’ll encounter around 1km south of your departure point will compensate you for your efforts and finally, you’ll reach the party basin – Boulevard Flotylli Wiślanej. You can’t have more possibilities than here: Hocki Klocki, Grunt i Woda, Beach Bar, Pomost 511 and finally one of the biggest and most venerable clubs – Cud nad Wisłą (English: Miracle at the Vistula). The only way to see them all and check what's going on where is to walk to the very end of Boulevard Flotylli Wiślanej and check the ‘party-ometer’ on your own. The only hint we can give you is that Grunt i Woda is an ultimately likeable place, with its own vegetable garden, lots of space, organic breakfasts and brunches, while Cud nad Wisłą, Pomost 511 and Hocki Klocki have more of a ‘party hard’ feel. If you want to take a break from dancing and chill out for while, check out Miami Wars – the southernmost tiny spot with its lovely little peninsula and ultra comfortable hammocks.
If wild parties are not your first choice, or if you plan to spend some time with your kids – well, no worries, the Wisła has even more to offer. Outdoor leisure and recreation has become a trending fashion and club owners challenge one another in organising the most original and amusing ways of active relaxation. Before we start the tour from Copernicus Science Centre again we'll give you one extra option. Far north, around 3.5 km from the Copernicus Centre, there's a place that's just perfect for spending a whole day at, with nobody bothering you, far from the city’s turmoil in a perfectly laid back atmosphere. This place is the Boogaloo Beach Bar. The first thing you’ll notice when you approach it is the beautiful smell of the fresh wood used to build this venue. It is situated above a nice beach, with many seats and hammocks waiting for you to kick back and rest. With its pseudo-Caribbean design, funk, dub, reggae and Caribbean music, cold drinks, and nice playground for kids, it’s definitely a good choice for those tired of civilization.
If casting yourself away for a whole day doesn’t work for you, enjoy yourself on the central part of the Wisła's banks. First of all, this is where the Copernicus Science Centre is located, so in case of unbearable heat or heavy storms you can hide there until it cools off or stops raining whilst having a lot of fun. Even though it is primarily designed as an interactive education facility for children, believe us when we say that you won’t get bored. Next, on the other side of the river, you should visit Poniatówka beach, with clubs such as Plażowa and Temat Rzeka. The latter is probably the one most specialised in beach sports, offering courts for all kind of disciplines and organising tournaments for amateurs every week. Because Poniatówka Beach is very deep and long, and because the water level of the Wisła changes frequently, Temat Rzeka remains a go-to spot for skimboarding lovers. Finally, a pro tip for pro beach volleyball players. At the very end of the western bank trail, past Warsaw Rowing Club, you’ll find perfectly prepared courts for hire with all the necessary infrastructure you need for a serious game.
Temat Rzeka started up in the year 2013 and immediately became one of three most popular riverside venues. In 2014, however, a huge rival appeared in the neighbourhood – the aforementioned Plażowa. Its building, reminiscent of 1960s modernism, offers bars and restaurants on each of its three levels. Our special recommendation within this complex is Pantai Warsaw – a small, beautifully designed restaurant serving some of the best foods from south-east Asia. Culture-wise, Plażowa runs an all-summer concert series, which is definitely worth checking out if you want an overview of what's trending and worth listening to in Polish indie pop.
Sheesha Summer is a brand new club and restaurant, the successor of the defunct Saski Brzeg. Situated on the right side of the river approximately vis a vis Boulevard Flotylli Wiślanej, it not only has all possible kinds of relaxation equipment and a huge beach but also some open-air pools – it's really a holiday without leaving town!
For those who have a craving for a little bit of sailing, two recommendations are given. First of all, visit Pomost 511 and talk to its crew. They run a foundation that takes care of all kind of activities on the water; kayaks, stand up paddles (SUPs), motorboats, sculls, and so on. These guys know the river better than anyone else and will make your time extra interesting and safe! Secondly, you can take a ferry that goes all the way up north to the little town of Serock.
Whether it's hot or not, a true hipster will not be satisfied without some arty experiences before the end of the day. Fortunately, the riverside is full of art – live concerts, for example. Depending on your taste in music, BarKa is an option, where they present extraordinary alternative music concerts. Most often, it's musicians from the celebrated LADO ABC record label that perform here.
Piętnastka (Hubert Zemler, Piotr Kurek) Live at the boat club BarKa 08.2012 Warsaw
If you prefer the spoken word to singing, you may want to visit Boogaloo Beach Bar or Pomost 511, which offer very popular open-air theatrical performances (respectively: Improvised Theatre and Teatr Pijana Sypialnia / Drunken Bedroom Theatre – musical theatre). Last but not least, there are a couple of holiday cinemas. One of them can be found in Pomost 511, another at Copernicus Science Centre and another one at Temat Rzeka. Occasional projections are displayed in other clubs, so the best way to hunt down a film you want to see is to check clubs’ Facebook pages. The good news is that in Polish cinemas, films are not dubbed but are usually played in the original version with subtitles so you won’t have to endure Leonardo di Caprio or Penelope Cruz speaking Polish.
One thing we didn’t tell you at the beginning – in some periods of summer there are quite a lot of mosquitoes at the riverside, as the humidity and dense bushes give them perfect growing conditions to swarm en masse. You can easily deal with them using appropriate insect repellent, or you can go to one of the outdoor venues placed in more urban and less mosquito-friendly areas. Three of them can serve as a lifeline if you get bitten too much at the Boulevard Flotylli Wiślanej. PKP Powiśle, Stacja Mercedes, and Na Lato are located only a few minutes walk from the boulevard and offer pretty much the same as the riverside venues despite the fact that there’s neither sand nor water. Stacja Mercedes’ and PKP Powiśle’s architecture is worth having a look at. The first is an extra light, wooden and openwork construction, the other is a refurbished modernist railway station from the mid-20th century – very classy and hip. Other places worth mentioning are Plac Zabaw located under the Łazienkowski bridge, Prochownia Żoliborz, and Iskra with its small but popular open-air pool.
Final Advice: Take Your Time
Even though Warsaw is a big city, a few days spent here during summer can be an unforgettable experience. The only way to get the best of it, discover magical places and meet interesting people is not to hurry and let Warsaw's vibe take care of you. Good luck!
Author: Wojciech Oleksiak. Originally written in summer 2014, updated late June 2016.