Warsaw City Hacks: Shortcuts to Making the Most of Poland's Capital
Want to get a nice cheap meal, visit a museum for free or avoid getting a parking ticket in the good city of Warsaw? In Warsaw, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Here are some quick-fix ideas to help you make the most of Poland's capital.
1. Find a free day
In the capital, many respected places of culture can be visited gratis on certain days. On Tuesdays for instance, you can visit the permanent exhibitions of the National Museum without having to pay. These exhibitions feature works of medieval, Nubian, and 19th century European art. On Thursdays you can go to Zachęta for free, the biggest contemporary art gallery in Poland. This gallery chiefly hosts exhibitions presenting the newest art from Poland and abroad. On Sundays you can check out the Royal Castle and its many spectacular rooms adorned with 16th century art. Some museums are always free of charge. The Xawery Dunikowski Museum of Sculpture is open from Sunday to Saturday. It is located in a very pleasant park where sculptures from its collection are on display. The exhibitions hosted by this museum show various works (not only sculptures) by contemporary Polish and foreign artists.
Here are a few other popular Warsaw highlights you can visit for free:
- Wilanow Palace – Free on Thursdays
- Warsaw Uprising Museum – Free on Sundays
- The Fryderyk Chopin Museum – Free on Sundays
- The Krolikarnia – Free on Thursdays
- Museum of Modern Art – Free all week
- POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews – Free all week
2. Know where to find your entertainment
Those who enjoy cultural entertainment will be happy to learn that it can be found for free in many forms. From May to September, on every Sunday two open-air concerts with music by Chopin can be enjoyed in the capital. Cinemas are also notably inexpensive. To start with, check out Iluzjon, a recently renovated cinema located in a pretty 1950s building. During the summer, Filmowa Stolica is an annual city-wide festival of free outdoor movie screenings across around ten Warsaw parks. There’s at least one screening every night for three months – perfect for Warsaw’s warm summer evenings.
If dancing is your thing, you might want to check out the Tango Café dance that is held every Tuesday. This weekly tango event is organized by a dance school named Steps4Salsa. Tango Café lasts from 22:00 until 24:00 and features an instructor who can show you some steps. In the winter, free ice skating rinks can be found all over Warsaw, and the one in the Old Town Market Place is especially enjoyable.
3. Look for Asian gems
It’s not hard to get cheap food in Warsaw. There are plenty of eateries with affordable prices. Like everywhere else, the challenge is about finding something tasty and healthy for a good price, and there are several Asian restaurants in Warsaw that fit this description. If you like Vietnamese cuisine you should definitely check out Co Tu, a legendary diner located in the back of Nowy Świat Street near Foksal Street. It has been operating for almost 20 years and has many faithful clients. Here you can get a lip-smacking Oriental main course for as little as 15 pln.
4. Try out milk bars
For typical Polish food go to Bambino, a milk bar in Krucza Street. You can’t get more Polish than a milk bar: these state-sponsored diners serve Polish dishes in truly traditional style. Many of their meals are based on dairy products, hence the name. In Bambino, you can order a proper meal for less than 15 pln, and choose from a wide range of vegetarian dishes such as crepes with white cheese or rice with cream and fruit.
5. Plan your eating issues ahead
The Warsaw restaurant scene offers enough variety to satisfy even the pickiest eaters, but since Warsaw’s such a large city, the type of food you’re looking for might not match the area you’re in. With a bit of planning though, you can make sure you’re in the right neighbourhood by the time you get hungry. Vegans should be happiest downtown, where the Krowarzywa joints specialize in vegan burgers starting from 12 pln (about 3 euros/dollars). If you tend to eat late at night Mamma Mia in 32 Świętokrzyska Street is the right spot to do that. This Italian restaurant is open 24/7 and currently has spaghetti for 15 pln and pizza for 18 pln.
6. Park smart
Covering 517 square kilometres, Warsaw is a big city. It covers nearly five times more space than Paris. Understandably, you may choose to drive in Warsaw, but this means risking finding a parking ticket behind your windscreen wiper if you miscalculate. A simple way to avoid getting those irritating tickets is to use the SkyCash smartphone application. The app enables you to start paying for your parking spot and it keeps buying you time until you tell it to stop. In order to start paying for parking with SkyCash, you need to create an account and put a special sticker on your windscreen.
7. Take a free ride
On European Car Free Day held on 22nd September, you can go on city buses, trams, tube trains etc. for free. From March to November, you can also ride a city bike without paying for it. During this part of the year Veturilo, the public bicycle system in Warsaw, rents out its two-wheelers. If you register with the system, which costs 10 pln, you can rent a city bike for 20 minutes free of charge. Once registered, you’re entitled to an unlimited amount of free 20-minute rides.
8. Ferry your way around town
If you feel like going on a ferry ride across the Vistula River in Warsaw, you can do so if your timing is right. From May to September four free ferries named Pliszka, Słonka, Wilga and Turkawka, sail across different parts of the Vistula and connecting the two banks of the river as it passes through Warsaw. The ferries travel as follows:
- Pliszka – between Poniatowski Bridge and National Stadium
- Słonka – between Czerniakowski Peninsula and the Saska Kępa district
- Wilga – between the foot of the Royal Castle and Warsaw Zoo
- Turkawka – between the Nowodwory district and the town of Łomianki
9. Ask around
There are simply too many good things to list here, and since Warsaw is a rapidly changing city, it’s always worth asking Varsovians what they recommend.
If you’re a Varsovian, let us know your Warsaw city hacks in the comments section.
Written by Marek Kępa, Sept 2015