Cool Things about Wintertime in Warsaw
If you’re in Warsaw during winter, but can’t find a fireplace to read a good book in front of, you’ll probably want to consider going outside. Despite the low temperatures, or sometimes even thanks to them, there’s a lot of, yes, ‘cool’ stuff to do in Poland’s capital, including ice skating, seeing outdoor illuminations, and going to a concert.
This wintertime classic is no stranger to the city – there are plenty of ice rinks in Warsaw and you’re likely to find one near you if you look around, for example in the Old Town Square and even the National Stadium. Among those that are exceptionally amusing there’s the outdoor one in downtown’s newly built European Square, an elegant public square neighbouring skyscrapers and restaurants. Accessing this distinctly metropolitan, and picturesque rink is free of charge and to make things even more convenient it’s roofed and has a skate rental alongside.
If you’d like the exact opposite experience, try Lake Łacha just outside southern Warsaw, in the suburban town of Józefów. Surrounded by trees and fields, this nearly 2 kilometre-long lake freezes solid when it gets really cold resulting in an all-natural, fairy-tale ice rink.
Speaking of fairy tales, there are many places in wintry Warsaw that look as if they’ve come straight out of one. Among them is the baroque Wilanów Palace in the city’s south, built in the 17th century as the residence of King Jan III Sobieski. Until 25th February, the palace’s garden features a stunning outdoor illumination called The Royal Garden of Light, sporting ornate gates, light corridors as well as beautifully lit up trees. On weekends, the palace’s façade also joins in on the fun and becomes the setting for light and sound shows.
More centrally, the picturesque route of historical streets and squares leading from the Royal Castle all the way to Belvedere Palace shines with light decorations until the first days of February. Take a walk through these places after dusk and your face is bound to light up.
Museums & concerts
If you don’t want to be exposed to the cold for too long but still want to go out check out one of Warsaw’s museums or concert venues. People say that winter is the best time to admire indoor museum collections because… you don’t miss out on the nice weather that occurs during spring and summer!
One collection definitely worth seeing can be found at the Museum of Warsaw, lately re-opened after two years of renovation. This institution, beautifully located in a complex of historical tenement houses in Warsaw’s Old Town Market Square, tells of the city, its history and citizens, through a variety of often peculiar objects. Among the approximately 300,000 items in the museum’s collection you can encounter antique porcelain teapots, old postcards and archaeological finds, all somehow linked to the capital.
On the other hand if you’d like to enjoy some live music on a chilly night, consider visiting one of the city’s laid-back clubs like Chłodna 25 or LOCAL na Mokotowie, that animate the Warsaw jazz scene.
If you’d like to spend some time indoors but would prefer to devote it to the body rather than the mind, check out the indoor swimming pool complex Wodny Park in the south-central area of the city. Aside from a high-quality Olympic pool, it also has a recreational one that includes an artificial river, slides and waterfalls. The recreational pool is also connected to an all-year outdoor pool with heated water that lets you enjoy a perfectly pleasant dip amidst the cold temperatures of Poland’s wintertime.
Then again if you’d like to go for the real deal, you can always try to hook up with one of the capital’s winter swimming groups and have a more bracingly-refreshing swim outdoors, say in Czerniakowskie Lake in the nature reserve in the Mokotów district. To find these groups, just type morsy into a search engine (it’s Polish for ‘walruses’, the name winter swimmers title themselves in Poland) and some community pages should pop up. Do be careful though and don’t forget to protect your hands, feet and head from the cold water and bring some warm clothes to put on right after the brief swim.
Walking on water
When it gets really, really cold the River Wisła freezes to the point that you can actually walk over it. There’s nothing quite like strolling over the capital’s most noticeable natural landmark – you can view the city’s skyline from a very special Vistulan perspective and even come up close to the pillars of bridges and see how they’re made for yourself. If you do want to experience the sheer joy of walking on a mighty river, make sure you check (e.g. in the media) whether the ice is thick enough for one to walk over it safely – 10cm should do the trick.
Being a mighty force of nature, the River Wisła has had a tremendous impact on the land where Warsaw lies. Among one of its key influences is the Warsaw escarpment, a form of terrain created by the erosion of the river which used to flow along it long ago. The river bed has moved to the east since, leaving behind the magnificent escarpment that goes through the whole city and reaches from ten to thirty metres high. When there’s snow, its slopes, many of which are in beautiful parks, are just perfect for sledding – a favourite winter pastime for children.
Even though Warsaw lies well within the North European Plain, you can still ski here, although we wouldn’t suggest riding down the escarpment (of course, you can do but it doesn’t really come about as a sensible choice). Warsaw’s skiing haven is the Górka Szczęśliwicka artificial hill located in a park not far west from downtown. Here you’ll find the full package: a ski lift, gear rental, snow cannons and, of course, a slope. The latter might not be of alpine proportions, but at almost 250 metres in length, its gentle inclination lets you enjoy a fun and relaxed ride.
If you’d rather go with cross-country skiing, check out the Mazowiecki Park Krajobrazowy nature reserve on the south-eastern outskirts of town. This vast, wooded area is ideally suited for the pastime in question, offering beautiful and quiet routes (skis can be rented locally). That being said, hardcore cross-country skiers can often be found right in the city centre by Saska Kępa on the river’s wild eastern side, doggedly weaving between the trees.
Author: Marek Kępa, Dec 2017