Why go now?
"Golden Autumn" brings respite from the stormy heat of summer, turning Warsaw's many parks and tree-lined avenues into every tone of orange, and offers mild days before the inevitable winter whiteness.
The Polish capital is also looking better than ever. The flourishing economy has helped create designer shops, new restaurants, a plethora of recent museum openings and striking modern architecture – Daniel Libeskind's newly finished, eye-catching Zlota 44 (1) is the city's tallest residential building.
Warsaw's main airport, Frederic Chopin, is 10km south of the centre. British Airways (0870 850 9850; ba.com) and Lot Polish Airlines (0845 601 0949; lot.com) fly from Heathrow, while Wizz Air (0906 9595 0002; wizzair.com) flies from Doncaster, Glasgow, Liverpool and Luton.
Bus 175 takes around 45 minutes to reach Central Railway station (2), leaving every 15 minutes between 5am and 11pm. A night bus, N32, also runs. Tickets (4.40 zloty, written 4.40 PLN/90p) are available from kiosks with the RUCH logo; validate your ticket in the machine as you enter. Taxis take around 20 minutes and cost 35 to 40 PLN (£7-8); choose registered taxis such as Super Taxi, Sawa Taxi or Ele. Trains also run into the city centre every 15 minutes, taking around 20 minutes to Central station (2) (bit.ly/WarsawTrains, singles 4.40PLN (90p).
Some no-frills flights serve Modlin, 35km north-west. Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com) flies from Stansted, Manchester, Glasgow Prestwick, Bristol, East Midlands and Liverpool. The Modlin Bus (00 48 801 801 081; see modlinbus.com for timetables) takes anything from an hour to an hour and-a-half to reach the Palace of Culture and Science (3); one-way fares start at 9 PLN (£1.80).
Get your bearings
The Soviets' present to the Poles, the hideous and dominating Palace of Culture and Science (3) is the inevitable landmark in Central Warsaw, standing near Central station (2) and between several main arteries. It houses the Tourist Office (00 48 22 194 31; warsawtour.pl; 8am to 6pm daily, until 8pm from April to September).
Warsaw is easy to navigate, with an excellent system of trams, metro and buses. Most of the historic sites lie along the Royal Route, which leads from the Royal Castle (4) in the old Town – the whole of which was beautifully rebuilt in the decades after its destruction in the Second World War – south to Wilanow Palace (5), and runs parallel, but on higher ground, to the Vistula river. Commercial and Business districts spread out west of the Royal Route with the leafy residential district of Zoliborz marking Warsaw's north.
The deluxe Hotel Bristol (6), a recent addition to Starwood's Luxury Collection, brims with history, with Art Deco interiors and the best location in town on the Royal Route at 42/44 Krakowskie Przedmiescie (00 48 22 55 11 00; luxurycollection.com/bristolwarsaw). Doubles start at 439 PLN (£89) room only.
Newly renovated and nicely central, the comfortable four-star Hotel Mercure Warszawa Grand (7) offers value at 28 Krucza Street (00 48 22 583 2100; mercure.com). Doubles start at 217 PLN (£43) room only.
With a reputation as Warsaw's best budget option, the Hotel Campanile (8) has free Wi-Fi, a good buffet breakfast and a relatively central location at 2 Towarowa (00 48 22 582 7200; campanile.com). Doubles from 153 PLN (£30) room only.
Take a view
Warsaw wags claim the city's best view is from the top of the 230-metre high Palace of Culture & Science (3) because you can't see it. It does, however, give you an overview of the city. Open 9am to 6pm; tickets 20 PLN/£4 (00 48 22 656 76 00).
Take a hike
Start in the old town market square (9) and walk along the cobbled streets, dipping in and out of the amber shops until you reach the Royal Castle (4).
From here, head down the main thoroughfare of Krakowskie Przedmiescie, past the Neoclassical Presidential Palace (10) and swerving off to the right for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier (11) where an eternal flame burns, soldiers stand guard and dignitaries come to lay wreaths.
As you continue along Krakowskie Przedmiescie, stop at the Holy Cross Church (12) to see where Frédéric Chopin's heart is buried. Continue on to the beautiful Plac Trzech Krzyzy (13) with its neoclassical Saint Aleksander's Church (14). Go beyond to Aleje Ujazdowskie, where the wide avenue is lined on one side by embassies and on the other by a Park Ujazdowskie (15). Finish at Belvedere Palace (16), whose image is etched on vodka bottles and where President Komorowski resides.
Lunch on the run
Grab some potato pancakes or pierogi (dumplings with a variety of stuffings). Most Polish restaurants will have a variation on the theme but the new Dawne Smaki (17) at 49 Nowy Swiat (00 48 22 465 83 20; dawnesmaki.pl) specialises in these delicious traditional dishes – quick, filling and cheap, from 19 PLN (£3.80).
Mokotowksa Street (18) jostles with Polish designers' ateliers, such as Ania Kuczynska (00 48 22 622 0276; aniakuczynska.com) at No 61, jewellery opposite at Lilou (No 63; 00 48 22 403 19 19; lilou.pl) and fashion and homeware at Maciej Zien (00 48 519 000 049; zien.pl) at No 57. For homespun goods, try Cepelia handicraft store (00 48 22 621 26 18; cepelia.pl) at Plac Konstytucji 5 (19) where traditional cribs mix with painted wooden birds, hand embroidered linen and bold woven rugs.
The new Advinture Wine Bar (00 48 22 55 11 00; luxurycollection.com/bristolwarsaw) at the Hotel Bristol (6) is a must. Pavement tables allow you to watch the world go by in elegant surroundings; wine by the glass starts at 18 PLN (£3.50). For a more informal feel head to Beirut Hummus & Music Bar (20) at Poznanska 12. It's a humming, happening place where you can try a few Polish beers or vodkas along with the speciality olive oil-soaked hummus.
Dining with the locals
For a more traditional setting, try U Kucharzy (21) at Ujazdowskie 8 (00 48 22 826 79 36; gessler.pl) for the sour rye soup, chanterelle mushrooms in cream, or roast duck stuffed with apple; main dishes around 50 PLN (£10). A favourite with the "in crowd" is Zushi Sushi (22) at Zurawia 6/12 (00 48 22 420 33 73 74) which has an impressive range of sashimi, sushi, nigiri, maki (items from 20 PLN /£4) and sake.
Sunday morning: Go to church
Churches abound in this Catholic country and there are many masses throughout the morning. The Church of the Nuns of the Visitation (23) at Krakowskie Przedmiescie 34 is a little Baroque jewel where young Chopin often came to play the organ. There are six masses from 7.30am to 5pm, otherwise opening hours on Sunday are from 1pm to 4.30pm, weekdays from 9.30am, Saturday 9am to 2pm (00 48 22 826 65 85; wizytki.waw.pl).
Out to brunch
Try the newly opened Brasserie Warszawska (24) on a quiet side street, 24 Górnoslaska Street, near the Parliament (00 48 22 628 94 23; brasseriewarszaw ska.pl). It has a Sunday menu of fresh oysters, beef tartare and wild Baltic salmon; dishes from 25 PLN (£5).
A walk in the park
Adjacent is the leafy Ujazdowskie Park (15) which was first Laid out in 1896, the wide avenues lead to a lake, waterfall and bridges, delivering serenity in the heart of the city.
You can't come to Warsaw and escape its brutal Second World War history in which the city rose up as the Red Army neared and was then razed by the Nazis. The Museum of the Warsaw Uprising (25) at Ulica Grzybowska 79 (00 48 22 539 79 05; 1944.pl), which opened in 2004, uses video footage, photographs and various exhibits to explain how the tragic events of 1944 unfolded. It is open 10am to 6pm daily, until 8pm on Thursday and closed Tuesdays. Free entry on Sundays, otherwise 14 PLN (£2.80).
The icing on the cake
Take bus No 105 from outside the Museum (25) to Foksal and change on to the E-2 bus to head out to the magnificent Baroque palace and park of Wilanow (5) often called the Polish Versailles, about 10km south of the city centre. It opens 10.30am to 4pm Sunday, from 9.30am Wednesday to Saturday; closed Tuesdays; admission costs 20 PLN (£4).