Łazienki Park, the Royal Castle and the Old Town have always been on the must-see list for foreigners and first-time visitors to Warsaw. But where do you go if you have been to Warsaw before and don’t want to run into tourists? We put together a list of places where you’ll avoid the crowds and truly get a feel of Warsaw’s soul.
Pani Hania’s Garden
This locale is in Warsaw’s region of Saska Kępa, which since olden times has been considered a Mecca for creatives. An interesting feature of Saska Kępa are the many streets with ’geographical‘ names. Here you can walk along the noisy Francuska Street (French Street), where many new restaurants and cafes have sprung up in recent years, and learn the Polish names for cities and countries while walking along Litewska (Lithuanian), Łotewska (Latvian), Brukselska (Brussels), Brazylijska (Brazilian) or Paryska (Parisian) Street. We highly recommend finding Zakopiańska street (from the Tatra resort town of Zakopane) and spending some time in Pani Hania’s garden. A city legend states that the garden’s caretaker grew tired of her solitary life. The woman decided to actively pursue her hobby and go into business. Pani Hania loves to cook and grow flowers in pots, so she transformed her garden into an open-air café and flower shop. Kwiatkarnia, as this place is called, is a gorgeous place to hang out in during the summer, sitting beneath Pani Hania’s cherry trees and eating tasty food. The establishment used to close when it rained, but a year ago a small awning was set up, under which you can sit out the rain. Every day the owner cooks one kind of soup and one main dish. We highly advise trying Pani Hania’s signature strawberry roll (rolada truskawkowa). Trust us, you will never forget the taste of this dessert!
Address: Kwiatkarnia, ul. Zakopiańska 24, tel. 692-838-661
The Koszykowa Street Library
Definitely stop by this quiet oasis in the centre of Warsaw. The library on Koszykowa Street is one of the largest and oldest in Poland. It was established in 1907 and underwent major renovations a few years ago. Today there are around 1.5 million books in its collection. Entrance to the public library on Koszykowa is free and a permanent library card and connection to free internet is available to anyone who applies for it. The glass ceiling, tables with lamps, tendrils of green ivy, comfortable couches to lie on – drop by here to read, think about the meaning of life or just check your email.
Address: Biblioteka Publiczna m.st. Warszawy, ul. Koszykowa 26/28, www.koszykowa.pl
City explorers, we invite you to stroll over to Świętokrzyski Bridge (Most Świętokrzyski). If you happen to be on Nowy Świat, one of Warsaw’s main streets, turn onto Tamka Street. It will lead you straight down to the Powiśle district and to the newest bridge in Warsaw – Świętokrzyski. In the evening and at night, this structure is beautifully illuminated and there is a walkway for pedestrians and bicyclists. While on the bridge, you can take stunning photos of the Old Town or the National Stadium on the right bank of the Wisła river. The Copernicus Science Centre is walking distance from here. At the Centre, every adult will feel like a kid again, experimenting and discovering the amazing properties of science. See how a tornado forms, be transported to a distant galaxy or admire the starry sky in the planetarium. Return from childhood to adult life with the help of the many cafés, clubs and restaurants that have popped up all over Powiśle. In the summer, it is also worth a stroll down the river bank, where great spots all along the river bank let you enjoy a cold beer in deck chairs.
The shrines of Praga
Back to the right bank and the Praga district. Until recently, Praga was considered to be kind of shady and a bit dangerous. Now, it is becoming ‘the place to be.’ Warsaw’s Praga district is chock full of new galleries, museums and studios opened the most famous designers in Poland. Something is always being renovated or built in Praga, yet tourists who have some time on their hands can easily find some lovely forgotten, old, somewhat dilapidated yet endearing side streets to wander. While travelling around this gloomy yet attractive district, keep a look out. In many courtyards you will discover small colourful shrines with statues of the Virgin Mary and crosses. The local residents take care of these islands of religion – they bring flowers, light candles and decorate the halos of saints with electric lights. More than seventy of these little chapels, statues and crosses can be still found in the courtyards of Praga, mostly on Targowa, Grochowska and Białostocka streets. You can find a detailed list of religious artefacts in Praga here.
While walking around, be sure to duck into some of Praga’s restaurants and cafés. Here everyone can find something to their liking. While strolling you may come across ‘the longest house in Warsaw.’ This architectural monstrosity was built on Kijowska street in 1973 to cover up the destroyed neighbourhood of Szmulowizna. The hideous 508-metre house, located across from Eastern railway station (Warszawa Wschodnia), is sarcastically called the ‘tape worm’ by locals.
A picnic blanket, sunglasses, a tasty kanapka (a sandwich in Polish), water and a good book. If you decide to spend a few hours of summer in the amazing Skaryszewski Park, this is all you need to be happy. There are no crowds of tourists here, unlike at Łazienki Park in the city centre. This place is for natives. In 2009, ‘Skaryszak,’ as Warsovians call it, was named the most beautiful park in Poland. In that same year, it received third place in a contest for the best park in Europe. ‘Skaryszewski Park awaited this decision for 104 years’ – one of the jury members jokingly said.
Here you can lie on the grass, ride your bicycle, go jogging, do yoga, play sports with friends, sit on a bench, take beautiful pictures, drink coffee at one of the many cafés. You can also study Polish art in the park. On the grounds of the park, which made the list of natural monuments of Poland forty years ago, you can find many sculptures and even some of the ‘courtyard shrines.’
Skaryszak covers an area of 58 hectares – there is more than enough space for everyone! One of the favourite activities of the Varsovians who come here is feeding the birds and squirrels. The pigeons and titmice are so used to people that they may even sit in the palm of your hand if you have a treat for them. Ducks roam the shores of the Skaryszak lake. Bring goodies! The squirrels not only hover in the distance, they are known to climb up your leg if you happen to have coveted walnut! Poles call out for the ginger animals by repeating the name Basia many times. Practice quickly pronouncing ‘Basia-Basia-Basia-Basia’ at home and come to Warsaw with walnuts to feel like a native in Skaryszak.
Targ Śniadaniowy is another favourite place of Varsovians. This celebration of food, entertainment, and good feelings begins in April and lasts until October. Every weekend at these open-air markets, the best producers of Polish food sell their wares. Fish, cheese, sausage, baked goods, refreshing drinks, sweets – everything. Children will also not be bored here. The organisers have prepared an entertainment programme just for them.
The organisers say that every weekend 22,400 guests eat 19,000 portions of food and drink 13,500 cups of coffee at the food market. Targ Śniadaniowy is also a great place for meeting new people. The founders estimate that on every Saturday and Sunday, 24 people find new friends at the market. Let’s improve this statistic!
Generally food markets have become very popular in Warsaw, so be on the lookout for yummy treats!
Web address: Targ Śniadaniowy, http://targsniadaniowy.pl, Facebook
Mirella von Chrupek’s display
At one time, a shoemaker showed off his shoes in this display case on Marszałkowska Street. It stood empty for a long time. In 2015, it was rented by artist and photographer Mirella von Chrupek. The artist made her own mini-gallery from this small window box. Toy animals, birds, dolls, sequins, flowers – Von Chrupek creates a microworld resembling a fairy tale in the heart of Warsaw. The fruits of the artist’s work look so innocent that the unsophisticated spectator might think that the exposition in the display case is the handiwork of some child. Mirella von Chrupek said one interview:
I wanted to create something that would lift the moods of the residents of Warsaw in winter or when it is raining. Now, when I get warm reviews from people of different ages, when I see that many people are taking photos near the display, I know that I have succeeded.
The exposition in the display case changes every two or three months. Keep an eye out when strolling around Plac Zbawiciela (Saviour Square) – it’s easy to miss!
Address: Gablotka, ul. Marszałkowska 41
The smallest coffee shop in Poland
Oleg and Inna Yarovyi moved from Kyiv to Warsaw in 2015. ‘We worked in the advertising business, everything was fine, but we wanted to change our lives, to test our abilities in a new place. We had friends in Warsaw and my wife’s ancestors were Polish. So we decided to go to the capital of Poland’, says Oleg. Once in Warsaw, the couple opened the establishment Dobro&Dobro, which was named ‘the smallest coffee shop in Poland.’ The certificate confirming this fact hangs on the wall of the espresso bar. Dobro&Dobro fits a small bar, a coffee machine and two seats for guests in a tiny 6 by 2 metre space. In the spring and summer, visitors can also sit on the terrace. Oleg and Irina treat their guests not only to coffee but also to zefir, halva and nuts with condensed milk. The signature drink of the establishment is their ‘Warsaw-style coffee’ with milk, vanilla syrup and cinnamon.
Even if you don’t have money with you, don’t be afraid to stop by the smallest coffee shop in Poland, because the young family popularised the idea of ‘suspended’ coffees. Generous visitors can buy cups of cappuccino, espresso or latte for those who can’t afford coffee. The small space helps people make eye contact and start conversations more quickly. ‘One minute to drink coffee, two for a warm conversation. Clients leave happy and willingly return. That is exactly what we were dreaming of when we opened our island of good’ – Oleg sums up.
Address: Dobro&Dobro, ul. Puławska 11
Places with inexpensive books
Biographies, albums, mysteries, travel guides, classics, children’s literature, cook books, etc. – we have good news for those who love to bring back something more from vacation than just magnets and keychains. In Poland’s capital there several places where great cheap books can be purchased. Yes, most likely, you won’t be able to buy the latest bestsellers there, however even without those there are many to choose from. In the stock the book stores Dedalus and Księgarnia na Pradze we can find the left overs of publications or books, which were bought on sale from publishers and wholesale depots. The prices will pleasantly surprise you since they are two to three times less than in normal bookstores.
Address: Księgarnia na Pradze, ul. Targowa 71; Dedalus, find the nearest location to you here
The largest painting
As of 2016, the largest painting in the world is considered to be the one created in 2013 in Pakistan during the ‘Punjab Youth Festival’. The dimensions of the painting, which was painted by 1557 volunteers, are 4572 x 8130 cm. The parameters of Warsaw’s largest artistic work are much smaller, yet it was painted by one of the top artists of Poland, Jan Matejko. This founder of the Polish school of historical painting created the ten-metre long Battle of Grunwald in a period of general gloom that covered Polish society after the failure of the January Uprising of 1863. Showing one of the greatest military victories of Poland – the total defeat of the war machine of the Teutonic Order – the artist wanted to boost the spirits of the Poles.
This painting has had a complicated history. During World War II, the head of the department of propaganda of Germany Joseph Goebbels gave an order to destroy the painting and even announced a reward of two million German marks for whoever would help find it. Luckily, the Poles were able to hide and protect the monumental canvas. Today you can see Battle of Grunwald in the National Museum. This is the only exception in our article – be ready for a crowd of tourists. However, for Matejko, for the stunning paintings of Wyspiański, Gierymski, Malczewski and the only in Europe exposition of Christian Nubian painting, it is worth spending an hour or two even in such a touristy place.
Address: National Museum in Warsaw, Aleje Jerozolimskie 3
Originally written in Russian, 4 Apr 2017; translated by KA, 24 Apr 2017