The Royal Castle looks out over broad boulevards (photo: Cornucopia 2018)
The greenest capital in Europe, with at least 80 parks and a lovely old town, which has risen Phoenix-like from the ashes of the Second World War. Museums range from the Royal Castle to the National Museum and the King Jan III Sobieski's playful Palace of Wilanow, and can be found in the geographical heart of the city standing on a long escarpment along the western bank of the Wisła (Vistular) River, from the New Town in the north to Jan III Sobieski's Wilanow in the south.
Warsaw is a lovely city to spend time in, happily lacking the tourist surge that makes rival Krakow the Florence of the north. Canaletto would have enjoyed painting Warsaw today just as he did in the 18th century.
Three areas to explore:
The Old and New Towns both astonishingly restored. For an idea of before and after be sure, see the superb video displays at the Royal Palace before you start your tour. At the heart of the old walled town is the Old Town Square (Rynek Starego Miasta), which leads out into the Zamoyki Square and the Royal Castle. The New Town to the north combines smart neoclassical streets with villagy lanes sprinkled with inviting restaurants (as well as the very good Le Regina Hotel). It ends in the north with the oldest surviving church, the Church of the Visitation of St Mary, founded in the early 15th century, and magnificent views from a neighbouring terrace over the Vistula River.
The Royal Route is a series of broad boulevards that lead via the Łazienki Park all the way to the Wilanow Palace in the southern suburbs of the city. The first, most impressive and walkable stretch is the Krakowskie Przedmiescie between the Royal Castle to the National Museum, home to the Bristol Hotel, where the poet Nazım Hikmet found himself installed, the Presidential Palace, and an iconic statue of Adam Mickiewicz. For the city's strongest chocolate hit, step into Emil Wedel's at No 45.
Further afield, and quite unmissable, is Wilanow, the palace used by Jan III Sobieski, victor of the Ottomans at the siege of Vienna in 1683, perhaps one of Europe's most glorious catastrophes since the Ottoman economy was far in advance of the West at this time.
What you will see
A city that seems to have shrugged off the grim decades of Cold War, yet conceals one that conceals a tragic heart. The past is always present in Poland.
The airport is a dream 25-min taxi hop from the centre of town. Turkish Airlines fly daily from Istanbul (2hrs 25 mins), and thanks to high-speed trains and affordable car hire (you have to hunt, though), the city is an good base to explore the country as a whole.
The Old and New Towns are pedestrianised, and bus stops and buses seem a little sporadic, with frequent roadworks creating diversions. Taxis are cheap, but ask the hotel for a reliable taxi firm so that you can summon one.