Abbey and I arrived in Warsaw in the late afternoon, just as it was getting dark. We had to scramble at the train station because our AirBnB host needed us to arrive at the apartment ASAP as he needed to leave for work after checking us in. We couldn’t figure out where to buy bus tickets and Lyft doesn’t operate in Poland (we don’t use Uber), so we had to bite the bullet and get a taxi. I can’t even remember the last time I had been in a traditional taxi before this, but it turned out okay as it doesn’t seem that he scammed us and we arrived relatively quickly.
We arrived at our AirBnB and had an easy check in. This was our first completely private AirBnB so we were pretty excited about having an entire apartment to ourselves. It was small flat, but perfect for a couple to share. Having the luxury of your own apartment is a great help while traveling, and we decided we will continue to book entire apartments as long as our budget allows for it. Our first night was pretty quiet, which has become standard for us. We only took a short walk to get some “ruskie” pirogies (stuffed with potatoes and cheese) and grabbed an espresso each. It was nice jumping right into the Polish culture on our first day and eating some authentic food.
Usually on our first full day during an extended stay in a city we do a free walking tour. It is a cheap and easy way to get to know the important parts of the city so you can know which sights you would like to explore more in depth later on. However, the weather was less than ideal during our first day, so we decided to forgo the walking tour and figure things out ourselves instead. We opted for the “Warsaw Rising” museum which tells the story of the Nazi occupation of Warsaw during WWII and the locals who resisted it. The museum was very large and interesting. Luckily there was a cafe halfway through he museum so we were able to grab some more pirogies for lunch that day (Abbey had forgotten how much she enjoyed the Polish dumplings). While we did enjoy most of the museum, we ended up rushing through the end of it. In all honesty, it was a lot of reading and after a few hours it began to drag on (especially after being surrounded by WWII history in Berlin). Still, for the price, the museum was well worth the visit and I understand why it is the top attraction in Warsaw.
After leaving the museum we took a tram towards Old Town. Up until this point, Warsaw had probably been the “ugliest” city we had visited in Europe. Thats not to say we didn’t enjoy Warsaw, but it wasn’t the nicest to look at while walking around. However, Old Town took us both by surprise. Small cobblestone streets ran along beautiful buildings containing many cafes and restaurants. Although the architecture wasn’t original (it had to be rebuilt following WWII), it was still beautiful to walk among. We didn’t really “do” much in Old Town that day aside from wandering the streets while sipping hot wine. Old Town has instantly become my favorite part of Warsaw.
Before heading back to the AirBnB we journeyed to a vegan grocery store to pick up a few items. The store was a little out of the way, but it was nice walking through a snow covered park on the way. That night, Abbey cooked a delicious vegan dinner. We had decided to cook that night so that we would have enough money to get a taste of the Warsaw night life after dinner. We walked about a mile to a hip part of town where we grabbed a few drinks. Surprisingly enough, Warsaw has a booming craft beer scene, so our first stop was at a local brewery where I got a little taste of home and ordered a hop-heavy IPA. We then ventured to a small, standing only bar with vodka shots so cheap it was a joke ($0.60!). You would expect liquor that cheap to taste like straight nail polish remover, but it was surprisingly smooth. It was at this point that Abbey and I were truly appreciating how cheap things are in Eastern Europe. Following the shots bar we decided to call it a night and picked up a bottle of cheap (yet smooth) vodka and orange juice on the way home.
The next day we also didn’t do a walking tour because we decided instead to take advantage of free admission to the Warsaw history museum located in Old Town. The museum was very interesting as it had many models of important buildings in Warsaw and pictures of what the city looked like throughout its history. The museum was five stories high and had a confusing layout, but luckily we were provided with a map so we didn’t get lost. The final floor didn’t have any exhibits but was simply full of windows that gave you a view of Old Town from above (which I loved looking at). Unfortunately for us many of the exhibits were either closed for season or not quite ready, but we were fine with that because we still spent over two hours there.
Following the museum we grabbed some warm ramen for lunch and walked the streets of Old Town once more. There was an ice skating rink in the main square of Old Town. We strongly considered giving it a try, but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth the time or money. Instead we decided to have an early and relaxing end to the day and headed back to the AirBnB. However, that night I picked up an amazing vegan pizza for us to devour at the apartment.
The following day we finally decided to take a walking tour in Warsaw. Instead of taking the traditional historic tour (like we usually do), we instead opted for the “alternative” tour of Warsaw. It took in place in a neighborhood called “Praga”. It was across the river in an area less visited by tourists. The area did feel more authentic than Old Town, but I can’t say I enjoyed it more. I would love to say that I learned a lot on the walking tour, but in all honesty it was freezing the whole time and I was just waiting for it to end. I think our guide spent half the tour talking about how Roman Polanski once filmed a movie int he neighborhood, which was uninteresting information for both of us.
After the walking tour we grabbed a sampling platter of middle-eastern vegan food for lunch. We then intended to head back to the AirBnB, but we inadvertently boarded a bus going the opposite direction. We didn’t realize it for a few stops and ended up out side of Warsaw on a highway. We were less than thrilled with this development as the weather was dreadful and we had to figure out how to cross the highway in order to get on the correct bus. To make matters worse, we had to wait over 30 minutes to get on a bus because the first one didn’t stop for us (apparently you have to stand directly next to the sign in order to get the driver to stop).
Regardless of all the setbacks, we eventually made it back to our AirBnB. We had enjoyed last nights dinner so much, we decided to actually go to the restaurant we had gotten take-away from the previous night. We again enjoyed another amazing vegan pizza, but this time we added some delicious vegan lasagna to our meal. I ordered a mulled beer with my meal. While I enjoyed the food, I cannot say the same for my choice of drink (although I’m glad I tried something new). After dinner, we attempted to go out for a few drinks. Unfortunately, we had forgotten it was a Friday night and everywhere was packed. It didn’t take us long to get fed up with the crowds and call it a night.
During our last full day in Warsaw, we took things slow and easy. The only attraction we went to see was the enormous Museum of Culture and Science in a different part of town. We were able to go to the top terrace of the building for a small fee. From the top you were well above any other structure in Warsaw and could see the whole city. However, as I stated before, Warsaw is not the most beautiful city, so the height didn’t make for amazing views or pictures. The museum had an ice skating rink out front which we once again considered but decided against. Instead we decided to head back to the apartment to pack up and get ready to leave the next morning for our next destination.
Warsaw is not perhaps the most glorious of cities in Europe, but our trip isn’t just for the grandeur and sparkly lights. We are traveling so we can experience as many different cities and cultures as we can, if that leads us to cities that aren’t as picturesque, so be it.
There was a bit more animosity with the locals in Warsaw than we had experienced in Iceland, Denmark, or Germany. We don’t let our interactions with people spoil our time in a city, but it is worth noting at times. We enjoyed the museums and the prices, but it isn’t a city either of us are rushing to go back to. All this winter travel, however, does make me wonder if we should try to go back to some of our less favorite places in warmer months – more greenery and people on the streets may change our minds, who knows? Overall, we enjoyed our time in Krakow much more.