Hey there! Alexx here from Finding Alexx, I visit a new country every week for a year, with my route based on the cheapest flight every Tuesday. Insane? Yes. Epos? Also yes. You can read more about my trip here and week 4 took me to Warsaw, Poland. Here's everything you need to know about this incredible city in my full Warsaw guide!
Warsaw, known as Poland's Phoenix City because it emerged from the ashes of World War II, is the perfect haven in Europe for so many reasons. It's cheap to visit, it has so much history to discover, the food is hearty and tasty, and nightlife is the next level. Tries? You should be!
Where to stay in Warsaw
Accommodation in Warsaw is cheap … and I'm talking about less than £ 10 a night!
My first choice for accommodation in Warsaw is DREAM Hostel, an award-winning youth home with fantastic reviews. DREAM's location is perfect, just a minute's walk from Palace Square, and wallet-friendly food everywhere. I spent my whole week in Warsaw at DREAM and met some amazing fellow travelers there.
In terms of amenities, DREAM has a full kitchen, on-site bar, washing machines, and super clean shared bathrooms. The rooms themselves are one of the best hostel rooms I've ever stayed in, with privacy curtains, comfortable mattresses, lockers, their own plug and a light. Oh, and the best part is that you can book a bed for £ 9. Bargain.
If you want to have your own space, you can find high-quality apartments or hotel rooms in Warsaw for only GBP 30 to 35 per night.
How to get around in Warsaw
The capital of Warsaw is closed to vehicles, so you have to walk around. This is the best way to explore them anyway. If you are traveling outside of the old town, you can ride on foot, by bus, tram, scooter, bike or Uber. So many possibilities!
Warsaw is a pretty, walking-friendly city. From the old town, it's just a 30-minute walk to the Palace of Culture and Science, which are two of the main tourist attractions. There is also a decent public transportation system consisting of bus, tram, train, and subway lines that all take the same tickets. Public transport tickets can be purchased from vending machines in the underground and train stations, at some tram stops, and in some trams and buses (only with a card or exact change). Tickets cost 4.40 PLN (less than £ 1) for 20 minutes or 15 PLN (approx. £ 3) for a day ticket.
There are also a number of different bike and scooter rental companies in Warsaw, and I used to ride lime scooters to and from the city center most days. There are different apps, but Lime was the easiest because the default language was English.
For longer distances or in a hurry, Uber is really cheap!
How much budget for Warsaw
Usually this is the most depressing part of the guide, but I'm thrilled to say that Warsaw is the perfect place for those on a budget!
For ultra-economical backpackers, you can visit Warsaw from as little as £ 20 a day (£ 8 to £ 10 for accommodation, £ 10 for food) provided you don't drink, don't use public transport, or don't pay to enter the museum. If you want to indulge in local nightlife, check off some of the top sights and eat in nicer places, I would say GBP 40 is enough.
Breakfast in Warsaw is cheap, with many places offering breakfast and coffee deals for around PLN 10 (£ 2). You can take away street food like waffles, crepes, fries, and sausages for the same thing, so a cheap lunch or dinner is easy. One of my favorite dishes is a zapiekanka, a long baguette cut in half and topped with pizza toppings such as mushrooms, cheese, peppers, onions and meat and then grilled perfectly, for 11 PLN (just over £ 2)). YUM.
For dinner, meals can be found in seated restaurants from 20 to 40 PLN (4 to 8 GBP) or a little more if you are particularly hungry or have a fancy meal. Half a liter of local beer with your meal will bring you back PLN 8-12 (£ 1.60 – £ 2.40).
The best things to do in Warsaw
Aside from how far your money goes, here are some of my favorite things to do in the Polish capital.
1. Take a city tour
One of the best ways to get a feel for a city is on a city tour, and Warsaw has a lot to choose from.
The free hike is always a good starting point, where English-speaking local guides take you to the main sights and tourist areas and give you a quick overview of the history behind the city. Keep in mind that these tours are tip-based, so you pay what you think the tour is worth. In European cities, I usually tip € 10.
To learn more about Warsaw's gloomy past, you can book a Jewish city tour that will take you to the main sights of World War II and inform you about the city's Jewish history and culture, or a communism tour to learn all about the city to experience communist rule.
2. Eat your way around in Warsaw
Another great way to get to a new place is to dive head first into the culinary scene. In Warsaw you can easily do this on a budget.
The traditional Polish cuisine is hearty and meaty, with strong spices and lots of butter and cream. The country is particularly known for its pierogis (sweet and savory dumplings), bigos (cabbage and meat stew), Kotlet Schabowy (pork chop) and a large selection of soups from different parts of the country.
If you are looking for a proper Polish meal, you should visit a bar mleczny (a milk bar in English). These milk bars were common during the communist era to offer hearty but cheap meals, and are the perfect place to try traditional dishes. One of the best milk bars in Warsaw is the Zabkowski Bar, just a short walk across the river from the Old Town, where you can get a decent pork chop and a side dish of mashed potatoes or other vegetables for less than £ 2.
For Pierogis you have hundreds of places to choose from, each with different flavors and many with long-standing family recipes. I would definitely recommend trying a few different Pierogi locations, and your hostel can help you with recommendations, but one must not be missing: Zapiecek, a chain restaurant with some locations in the city. You have a large selection of savory and sweet pierogis to choose from, and you can combine your selection! You have to order at least 9 Pierogis and it's a little more expensive in Warsaw restaurants, but by expensive I mean a maximum of £ 6 for 9 dumplings, so it probably won't break the bank.
Despite the importance of meat in Polish cuisine, Warsaw is also known for some incredible vegetarian and vegan places for every plant-based diet. Edamame Vegan Sushi is one of the best in town, and it's also worth trying Chwast Food's cheap vegan burgers and Momencik's burrito soup lunch special.
3. Go out with a pub crawl
The legendary Warsaw nightlife is one of the reasons backpackers love it so much, and there's no better way to see it than on a pub crawl. Warsaw Pub Crawl is for you. They have hosted over 30,000 parties and are by far the best in town.
It's PLN 55 for girls and PLN 60 for men (so boys, it's a tough life, huh), which is about £ 7 and £ 8, respectively, and that gives you an hour of open bar at the first stop, then three bars and a club with one free kick each. Put on your party shirt, take off your dance shoes, and get ready to cut shapes with other young travelers from around the world.
Disclaimer: Polish alcohol can be stronger than expected. Yes, that speaks from experience and yes, my stomach turned a little when I tried to write this part of the blog.
4. Explore the old town
Warsaw's old town was first founded in the 13th century, but many buildings and houses were destroyed during the invasion of Poland at the beginning of the Second World War. In the following years, attempts were made to rebuild some parts of the old town until shortly after the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, the German army blew up the parts remaining in the district. By early 1945, over 85% of the city had been destroyed.
Despite this dark and terrible past, the beautiful old town is now a place of color, entertainment, traditional meals and cultural museums. The buildings were reconstructed as close as possible to their original styles based on the paintings and drawings they had, and they even searched the rubble to find original tiles that could be reused in the reconstruction.
The market square in the old town used to be the most important meeting point for the community and was used for events, celebrations and executions. Now it's a must for the pastel yellow, orange, and red buildings that surround it, resulting in a stunning photo against a backdrop of blue skies. There are many restaurants and souvenir shops in the main square, and unlike many large European cities, they are actually not too expensive.
Among the beautiful buildings there is also a 17th century royal palace, a number of museums and fortifications from the 14th century. At sunset, the best place to be is the Old Town Observation Tower in Castle Square. Entry is only 5 PLN (about £ 1). At golden hour you have a beautiful view of the houses in the old town.
5. Get a history lesson in the museums
This is one of those cities where you really have to learn something about history to really experience and understand it. Walking tours are great for getting an overview, but Warsaw's tragic past and miraculous recovery are well documented in the 70 different museums in the city.
The Warsaw Uprising Museum is an absolute must to learn more about the terrible nine-week period of World War II in 1944, in which up to 200,000 Polish civilians were killed in mass executions of German forces after the Polish army tried (and not) had managed to retake the country from German occupation. My trip coincided with the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944 and it was incredible to see the city's monuments and celebrations. Entry is PLN 20 (£ 4), but is free on Sundays.
The POLIN Museum is fairly new and was only opened in 2014. It shows the ups and downs of Poland's Jewish history over the past thousand years. Classics and art freaks might want to visit the National Museum, which houses a huge collection of ancient artifacts and Polish medieval art, or for something completely different, visit the Museum of Caricature and Cartoons near the Palace Square.
Poland's capital is the ideal destination for a cheap short break in Europe with so many incredible restaurants and beautiful sights. Whether you're a history nerd, a foodie, an art lover, or just looking for a budget-friendly weekend, Warsaw is perfect.
Are you excited to discover Warsaw after reading our guide? Book cheap flights to Warsaw now. If you want to follow more of my adventures, you can find me here on Instagram or read my blog here.