Off Duty: Warsaw

David Orkin suggests an extended stay in Poland’s most spirited city

Monday 16 July 2007 00:00 BST


This is a city of admirable reinvention. Warsaw hasn't had it easy. More than 80 per cent of it was destroyed by the Nazis and it was then colonised by the Soviet Union.

Warsaw's Old Town has been painstakingly reconstructed brick by brick since the War. The New Town to the north, beyond the medieval city walls, is also worth visiting but attracts far less tourists. The city's buildings are a mix of the beautiful (rebuilt) old, cheap and ugly Communist-era drabness, and fine new buildings designed by some of the world's top architects. Yet for all that, probably the biggest impression that one takes away is that of the warmth, energy and exuberance of the Varsovians.


The superb Warsaw Uprising Museum ( is a must if you want to try to understand the city's spirit. If you're compiling a list of worldwide 'love them or hate them edifices', add Warsaw's Palace of Culture and Science - PKN for short ( This landmark was built under Stalin's instructions as a symbol of Soviet domination. There are good views from the 30th-floor balcony, but for really impressive city vistas go to the St Anna Church View Tower on Krakowskie Przedmieœcie.

On the roof of the impressive Warsaw University Library (, an excellent example of modern Polish architecture, is one of Europe's best roof gardens. For something more sombre, on Umschlagplatz see the memorial to the 300,000 Jews sent to the Treblinka death camp.

Meantime there are no prizes for guessing whose life and works are celebrated at the Frederick Chopin Museum ( The composer's heart, incidentally, is buried in a pillar of Warsaw's Church of the Holy Cross.


The good news is that these days there's more choice than just pork, cabbage and dumplings. If you crave pierogi or stuffed cabbage leaves, go to the basement of the Europejski Hotel where you'll find u Kucharzy (00 48 22 213 3393; the menu also includes steak tartare and wild mushroom soup.

Housed in a building where Lenin, Brezhnev and Fidel Castro all dined, is Czerwony Wieprz (also known as the 'Red Pig') (00 48 22 850 31 44;, a Communist-themed restaurant. The food on offer is based on that enjoyed by the privileged few rather than the impoverished masses. Light eaters beware - some portions are the size of the former Soviet Union.

An old castle on a hill houses the Centre for Contemporary Art, and here you'll find Qchnia Artystyczna (00 48 22 625 7627;, offering a limited - but imaginative - menu of modern Polish-Mediterranean cuisine. Meanwhile Asian-European fusion food - and hanging out with the trendy crowd - are the draws at Sense (00 48 22 826 65 70; There are plenty of ethnic choices, too - dependable Lebanese food, for example, at Le Cedre (00 48 22 670 1166;

When night falls, why not cool off in the city's new Ice Club (00 48 22 654 56 34; ). This is by no means the world's only frozen venue, but Poland is renowned for its vodka, and what could be cooler than downing a shot or two from an ice glass. One of the current hot nightclubs is Platinium Club (00 48 22 596 46 66;, complete with beautiful people and high ceilings. More formal - and a great place for a martini - is the art-deco Column Bar (00 48 22 551 1000; at the Royal Meridien Hotel Bristol.


Delightful Lazienki Park was established in the 17th century. The highlight of its 80 hectares of landscaped gardens is the lakeside Palace on the Water (, one of the finest examples of Neo-Classical architecture in Poland. You'll also find other palaces and pavilions, temples, peacocks, Orangeries and an amphitheatre. On Sundays in particular, the park is very popular with promenading Varsovians.

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