There's a lot more to Warsaw than the Royal Way. Warsaw is a very big city and there is a lot of activity throughout. While you will certainly be drawn to the Stare Miasto, you should not confine yourself there. With Warsaw's robust and efficient public transportation system, all of her attractions are well within reach. This chapter covers some of these attractions, but is by no means a complete listing.
Undeniably, the most impressive structure (if you can consider it "impressive") in the city is the Palace of Culture, shown in the first photo. It may be impressive in size, but it certainly looks more like an imposing government building than a haven for the arts. Well, blame Stalin, he built it -- as a gift to the people of Poland in 1956.
The Poles may denigrate its appearance (their love loss to the Soviets having something to do with it), but they make great use of it. The Palace hosts a multiplex moviehouse, several theaters, and the Poland National Technical Museum. It's surrounding parks and lots are used for markets and festivals during the summer, and some of Warsaw's classier restaurants occupy the adjacent rotundas. The Palace is conveniently located next to the city's Central Train Station, which makes it a common first stop for visitors.
Warsaw is also loaded with parks, many of which are heavily decorated with flowers and monuments such as Lazienski Park in the Royal Way chapter. But there are others that you should seek out such as Saski Park, shown in the second photo. The huge yellow fountain you see is the largest I saw in Warsaw, and it is surrounded by a dozen Baroque statues and beautiful flower beds. Behind where I stood is a massive marble parade field and the Polish Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, ably guarded by two of Poland's finest soldiers. You will want to also check out Krasinskich Park behind Krasinskich Palace near Nove Miasto, which is also a pleasant and scenic walk.
Another Warsaw trademark is its Jewish quarter, much like the Kazimierz region in Krakow. The difference between the two is that Warsaw's is more subdued, due to its utter destruction during World War II, while Krakow's has survived and maintained its distinct identity.
That said, the Warsaw Jewish community is said to be the second largest in the world behind New York City, and there are a significant number of monuments to the horrific events of the Holocaust -- but most of these are tucked away and small, not ostensibly in public view. The Warsaw Tourist Information Bureau has maps of the original Jewish ghetto plus a walking route that takes you to all the monuments. The third photo shows the only one that's on a major roadway -- this is the Umschlagplatz that commemorates the site of one particular massacre of 3,000 Jews in 1939. There is only one surviving (but beautiful) synagogue, and a visit to the Zydowski Cemetary is worthwhile, if chilling.
Warsaw also boasts over fifty museums. Some of these are covered in the other chapters, but some of the more obscure ones are located off the beaten path. The Polish National Museum of Independence, for example, is on Solidarnosci Street and celebrates the rebirth of Poland after the fall of Communism. Chopin has a museum dedicated to him in the University area near the banks of the Vistula. The Warsaw Architectural Museum is on the banks toward Lazienski Park. One art museum I visited that I highly recommend is the "Museum Named in Honor of John Paul II", whose rotunda is shown in the fourth photo. Located next door to the Warsaw City Hall, this museum's name belies its real purpose -- it is a simple art museum that has some ecclesiastic art but much more. For example, the rotunda has over eighty portraits of Polish figures.
The one attraction I didn't get to, sadly, was Wilanow Castle, located to the south of the city. Everyone I had spoken to about Warsaw highly recommended it, and the pictures I saw of it in the Tourist bureau were impressive, but I just never made it there. Another attraction that I just missed was the Russian market held in the dilapidated Stadion Dziesieciolecia (no, I have no clue how to pronounce that). This stadium is on the east bank of Vistula, and is probably the only reason you would want to go across the river -- there really isn't much else there.
As I said at the top, Warsaw is a big city, loaded with places to go and things to do -- if you don't confine yourself to the touristic areas. When you go, be sure to reserve yourself an afternoon or so to get out and see the rest of the city.
Trip taken 4-5 July 2002 -- Page last updated 01 September 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin