The Best Things to do in Warsaw, Poland

The 15 Best Things to do in Warsaw, Poland

Take a stroll through historic sites in the Old Town or walk beneath the modern skyscrapers and brutalist buildings in central Warsaw. Then try to imagine the Polish capital as a tiny fishing village on the banks of the River Vistula. It’s impossible to see it so today, but until Warsaw’s big break came in 1596, it was little more than an insignificant mark on the map.

Things changed when King Sigismund III, who ruled over much of present-day Poland, Lithuania, Sweden, and Finland, transferred his seat of power from Krakow to Warsaw, transforming a trading outpost into a royal capital in an instant. The king began building the palaces, churches, and fortifications you’ll see today in Warsaw’s restored Old Town, and Warsaw quickly became a center for religion, culture, and the arts in eastern Europe.

Fast forward to 1944, and it’s equally difficult to imagine how Warsaw was almost erased from the map entirely. Prolonged years of German occupation, followed by the Warsaw Uprising toward the end of World War II, led to the systematic destruction of the city. 

You can learn more about this harrowing era at the Warsaw Uprising Museum or POLIN: Museum of the History of Polish Jews. But from the ashes, Warsaw rose again, and the Polish capital was rebuilt through the communist decades that followed.

Today, Warsaw is one of Europe’s largest and most exciting destinations. Discover Polish history, explore the legacy of famous Poles like Copernicus and Chopin, and explore alternative districts like Praga, where beer and vodka flow freely until the early hours of the weekday mornings. 

With so many things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Warsaw for you. Stick to these fun and unique Warsaw bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring the gorgeous Polish capital!

15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Warsaw

1. Start with a Walking Tour of Warsaw’s Old Town

Cool Things to do in Warsaw, Poland: Old Town

Warsaw’s Old Town is a testament to the city’s past and present. This is the oldest part of Warsaw, and the history has been recognized not only by the vast number of tourists you’ll see here but also by the area’s listing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Many of the oldest parts of the city wall date back to the 13th century when Warsaw was just a little fishing and trading community. The Royal Palace was added later and became the home of King Sigismund III when he made Warsaw his capital in 1596. The best way to explore the cobblestone streets is on a walking tour, and you can meet your guide by Sigismund’s Column right in the middle of Castle Square.

The real heart of the Old Town is Market Place, where you’ll see the 15th-century town hall. It’s here where you’ll learn how Warsaw’s Old Town was completely razed during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. Angered by the Polish resistance, the German occupiers set about destroying the cultural legacy of Warsaw, and they started with Market Place. 

On your walking tour, though, you’ll also learn how the Old Town was painstakingly rebuilt from the rubble. Original plans were followed as bricks were salvaged from the destruction, and today, the Old Town is as much a signifier of the city’s resolute will to survive as it is a historical attraction. 

There are multiple walking tour companies offering tours of the Old Town, with daily departures all throughout the year. We recommend joining a “Free Walking Tour” if you’re in any doubt since you only pay what you feel the experience was worth at the end of the tour. 

Book an Old Town Walking Tour


2. Reach into Regal History at the Royal Castle 

Must do things in Warsaw, Poland: Royal Castle

A visit to the Royal Castle is one of the best things to do in Warsaw. While you’ll see the castle’s fabulous exterior on your walking tour of the Old Town, come back later to see the inside. 

The Royal Castle is one of Warsaw’s oldest sights, with parts of the towers and walls dating back to the 14th century. Take a tour of the castle or stroll around its ramparts, and you’ll learn that the stately rooms and grand regal chambers were built by none other than Sigismund III from 1596 onwards (who else?). The king needed a new royal castle worthy of his ambitions, and the Royal Castle in Warsaw became the seat of Poland’s monarchy for centuries to come. 

Successive rulers added their mark, with the distinctive Baroque elements being added in the 1700s. The German army blew the palace up in 1944, and everything was rebuilt brick by brick from the pile of rubble left behind. Today, you can explore the rebuilt royal apartments, stroll through the landscaped royal gardens, and visit the Lanckoroński Collection, a donated art collection that includes a Rembrandt. 

Book a Royal Castle Guided Tour


3. Escape to the Palace on the Isle in Warsaw’s Łazienki Park

What to do in Warsaw, Poland: Lazienki Park

Although the Polish monarchy was abolished in 1795, Warsaw has preserved a surprisingly large number of royal relics. If you’re into your regal history, then make your way to Łazienki Park, where you can escape to the Palace on the Isle.

Łazienki Park is Warsaw’s largest public park, with 76 hectares of greenery, trees, and historic monuments and palaces for you to explore. The park is located right in the center of Warsaw, because, originally, it was set aside as a private park for the Polish monarchy. 

Also known as Royal Baths Park, Polish kings had elaborate bathhouses and palaces built here for their personal enjoyment. The largest bathhouse was extended into a regal palace, which you can visit today. The original marble bathhouse was constructed in the 17th century, and the baroque palace was built around this a century later. 

Surprisingly, the Palace on the Isle survived World War II intact, although the interiors were looted and burned by the retreating Germans. Take a tour of the palace, enjoy magnificent views from its waterfront location, then visit sights like the Chopin Monument in the surrounding park. 

Lazienki Park & Palace Tour and Cruise


4. Take the Elevator to the 30th Floor of the Palace of Culture and Science

Cool Things to do in Warsaw, Poland: Palace of Culture and Science

Visit Warsaw’s modern city center, and you can’t miss the brutalist skyscraper rising high above the city. This distinctive building, with its tall and rectangular shape, is the Palace of Culture and Science, and it was built in 1955 to emulate the style of socialist realism inspired by Stalin.

The Palace of Culture and Science stands 237 meters tall, and it’s currently the second-tallest building in Poland. It’s a stark reminder of the country’s communist era and is often described as an “unwanted gift” from the USSR. Regardless, the tower is here to stay, and visiting the 30th-floor observation deck for sweeping views is one of the best things to do in Warsaw. 

Best Things to do in Warsaw, Poland: Palace of Culture and Science

True to its name, the Palace of Culture and Science continues to be an important cultural attraction. Inside the brutalist skyscraper, you’ll find cinemas, conference halls, and even a swimming pool. 

Book a Palace of Culture and Science Tour


5. Jump in a Retro Van for a Communist Tour of Warsaw 

Unique Things to do in Warsaw, Poland: Retro Van

Want to learn more about Poland’s communist past? Then jump in a retro van for a communist tour of the city. 

Adventure Warsaw operates unique tours in the back of a communist-era Nysa 522, a classic minivan that once plied the streets of Poland. This is one of the top things to do in Warsaw, and you’ll be whisked around the city’s major communist sights as you learn about the country’s 20th-century history. 

The tour ends at the Museum of Life Under Communism, where you’ll chat with locals who lived under communism. You’ll also get to try some Polish vodka – because this is Poland, of course. 

If you don’t like the idea of a retro van tour, then you can also consider joining communist walking tours. These take you to many of the major sights and provide an insight into what life was like behind the Iron Curtain until the fall of communism in Poland in 1989.

Experience a Private Tour by Communist Van


6. Explore Art and History at the National Museum in Warsaw

The National Museum in Warsaw is home to some of Poland’s greatest historical and cultural treasures, and it’s a must-see attraction when you’re exploring the nation’s capital. This is the largest museum in Warsaw, in fact, and you can easily spend hours delving into the extensive art history collections arrayed across its multiple floors and galleries.

The National Museum in Warsaw was originally founded in 1862 as a fine art museum, but its remit has expanded greatly since then. Today, you can see a famous collection of art created by early Nubian Christians almost 2,000 years ago. Ancient Greek and Roman sculptures are even older, while the medieval and modern galleries are not to be missed.


7. Find Chopin’s Heart in Warsaw 

Fun Things to do in Warsaw, Poland: Chopin Heart

Frederic Chopin is one of Poland’s most famous sons. The 19th-century musician was one of the finest composers and pianists of his age, but he was forced to spend much of his life in exile.

Although he was born and raised in Warsaw, Polish nationalist uprisings against the Russian Empire saw Chopin moving to Paris when he was 20. He died young of tuberculosis, although you’ll hear in Warsaw that he died of a broken heart, longing to see his beloved Poland once more. 

Rather strangely, Chopin asked that his heart be cut from his dead body, as he feared being buried alive. Eventually, his pickled heart found its way back to Poland, where it now rests in the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. You can go and find it, if you’re feeling macabre. 

Alternatively, you can visit the Museum of Frederic Chopin to learn more about the life of Poland’s famed composer. The museum is located in the house where Chopin was born, and it’s one of the must-do things in Warsaw for music lovers. 


8. Get Interactive at the Copernicus Science Center

Warsaw, Poland Things to do: Copernicus Science Center

For kids, families, and lovers of science, one of the best places to visit in Warsaw is the Copernicus Science Center.

The center is, of course, named for Nicolaus Copernicus, another of Poland’s most famous sons. Copernicus was a renaissance era astronomer, and he famously developed a theory that the earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around.

What to do in Warsaw, Poland: Copernicus Science Center

Inside the Copernicus Science Center, you’ll find an entire floor dedicated to the stars and astronomy. But the Planetarium is just one of the exhibitions you can get interactive with at this huge science museum. 

The permanent exhibitions include over 400 interactive exhibits, which explore everything from the beginnings of human civilization to science experiments, robotics, and much, much more. 


9. Delve into World War II History at the Warsaw Uprising Museum 

For history lovers, one of the best sights in Warsaw is the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Warsaw spent long years under German occupation during the Second World War, but as the Soviets advanced across eastern Europe in 1944, the time finally came for the city to rebel.

Visit the excellent Warsaw Uprising Museum, and you’ll learn how the city fought back for 63 days. The Warsaw Uprising began on August 1, 1944, and bloody fighting rocked the city until the rebel army surrendered on October 2, 1944, before the Soviets reached them.

After the defeat, Warsaw was systematically destroyed, and little remained once the Germans eventually retreated. The event scarred Warsaw forevermore, and inside the museum, you can delve deeper into the individual human stories of those who fought in the battle and the Allied leaders who strategized and argued as Warsaw burned. 

After your trip to the museum, make sure to visit the moving Warsaw Uprising Monument, which is a lasting tribute to those who lost their lives in the fight. 


10. Uncover the Origins of Vodka at the Polish Vodka Museum 

Best Things to do in Warsaw, Poland: Polish Vodka Museum

If you’re looking to enjoy a few lighthearted hours in the city, then one of the best places to visit in Warsaw is the Polish Vodka Museum.

Vodka is Poland’s national drink, and the humble spirit distilled from grains is said to date back to at least the 14th century. The origins are disputed, with many surrounding nations claiming vodka to be theirs, but you can see the Polish side of the story at the museum.

The Polish Vodka Museum is located in an old red brick factory that used to distill vodka. You’ll learn the centuries-old history of this fiery alcoholic tipple, see the different ways it can be distilled, and explore the different ingredients that can be used to make it.

You can then try your hand at preparing your own vodka recipes before enjoying a tasting session in the bar. There is even an on-site restaurant where you can try local Polish dishes while sampling more vodkas from around the country. 

Book a Polish Vodka Museum Tour


11. Learn about Poland’s Neon Love Affair at the Neon Museum

Unique Things to do in Warsaw, Poland: Neon Museum

Visiting the unusual Neon Museum is one of the coolest things to do in Warsaw. Located in the city’s alternative Praga District, the Neon Museum has been wowing visitors with its garish collection of neon artworks and advertising signs since it first opened in 2012.

Yes, the concept does seem highly irregular, but you’ll be instantly drawn to the fascinating story of Poland’s love affair with neon lighting the moment you walk through the doors.

Neon signs were popular during the communist era, and while they didn’t necessarily advertise products as you’d expect them to in capitalist countries, they were a fixture of streets across Warsaw. Their role was often to inform rather than sell products to potential customers. 

The Neon Museum saved many from being lost when the country transitioned to capitalism, and it now holds 200 nostalgic neon signs on display in an old factory in Praga. It’s a fascinating look at communist history through a unique lens and easily one of the best things to do in Warsaw. 


12. Explore Warsaw’s Alternative Side in Praga 

Fun Things to do in Warsaw, Poland: Praga

Cross over the Vistula River from Warsaw’s Old Town, and you’ll find yourself in Praga. The eastern bank of the river is home to the city’s alternative district, where you can not only find the Neon Museum but the Museum of Praga, Warsaw Zoo, Praga Park, and many more top Warsaw attractions.

Take a walking tour, and you’ll learn how Praga was a separate city from Warsaw for much of its history. Divided by the river, Praga was an independent entity with its own character, government, and institutions. Praga survived World War II almost untouched because of this, and it’s fascinating to compare both sides of modern Warsaw during your stay.

Today, Praga is home to many of Warsaw’s best underground clubs, craft beer bars, and independent cinemas, making it an excellent alternative base in the city (it’s a great place for a night out!).


13. Learn How to Cook Pierogi in Warsaw 

What to do in Warsaw, Poland: Cook Pierogi in Warsaw

A cooking class is one of the most fun things to do in Warsaw, and nothing quite beats learning (or trying to learn) how to make pierogi when you’re in the Polish capital. 

Pierogi are dumpling-like parcels of delicious joy, and you’ll find them on menus all over Poland. They’re a national favorite, and they can be filled with sweet and savory delights ranging from sweet cheese to potatoes and sauerkraut.

Join a cooking class, and you’ll learn how to roll out the dough (prepared using flour, water, and possibly egg) before cutting it into dumpling-sized portions. You’ll then wrap up your fillings, crimp the edges, and then boil or pan-fry the pierogi to perfection. Add a dollop of sour cream, and you’ve got yourself a feast to enjoy! 


14. Visit POLIN, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews 

Warsaw, Poland Things to do: POLIN

One of the most important Warsaw attractions is POLIN, or the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This excellent and, at times, emotional museum takes a staggeringly deep dive into Jewish history, and it’s a must-visit when you’re in the city.

POLIN is an ambitious project that attempts to tell centuries of history as you walk through its informative yet moving exhibition floors. The museum itself is located on the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, where the city’s Jewish population was mercilessly quartered during the German occupation in World War II. 

As you arrive at the museum, you’ll see the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial, a lasting tribute to the Jewish fighters and civilians who died in an ill-fated rebellion launched in 1943. But the story begins long before this, as you start by learning the origin stories of Poland’s Jewish population, who are said to have migrated here from the 10th century onwards.

The museum explores the different eras that followed, showing how the Jewish population was continually persecuted throughout history, even as they rose to contribute greatly to Polish society. It culminates with an exhibition showing how Poland’s Jews were almost entirely wiped out during the Holocaust, and it was only in 2007 that a museum was founded to tell their story. 

If you’re interested in learning more after POLIN, then you may want to consider taking a Jewish Walking Tour of Warsaw or visiting the Jewish Cemetery. 

POLIN Museum Ticket


15. Take a Moving Tour of Treblinka

Unique Things to do in Warsaw, Poland: Treblinka

After even a few days in Warsaw, you’ll start to realize just how much Poland suffered during World War II. Just a 90-minute drive from the city, you can see where the Nazi’s brutal policies came to a nasty pinnacle with a trip to Treblinka.

Treblinka was a Nazi death camp, and hundreds of thousands of people (the vast majority of them Jewish) lost their lives here between 1942 and 1943. In the short span of time it was open, it’s estimated that as many as 700,000 people were killed here (second only to Auschwitz).

The Nazis tried to cover up their atrocities, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the first memorial was built here. Join a day tour from Warsaw, and you’ll learn more about the dark history of the camp and see the monuments that mark this dark era in European history.  

Treblinka Concentration Camp Tour

There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Warsaw. What’s your favorite thing to do in Warsaw?


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Author

  • Richard Collett

    Richard is an award-winning travel writer based in Southwest England who’s addicted to traveling off the beaten track. He’s traveled to 75 countries and counting in search of intriguing stories, unusual destinations, and cultural curiosities.

    Richard loves traveling the long way round over land and sea, and you’ll find him visiting quirky micronations and breakaway territories as often as he’s found lounging on a beach (which is a lot).

    When he’s not writing for BBC Travel, National Geographic, or Lonely Planet, you can find Richard writing for the Wandering Wheatleys or updating his off-beat travel blog, Travel Tramp.

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