War almost completely destroyed Warsaw Old Town, one of Europe’s most beautiful corners. It was hard to believe that the charming old world city before me was rebuilt from the ground up, a successful reconstruction that brought historic beauty back to its buildings, squares, historic forts and thick defensive walls.
Warsaw Old Town is New
As I walked through Warsaw Old Town, known in Polish as Stare Miasto, it was hard to imagine that it had all crumbled down decades ago. The city was a casualty during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. That year, Nazi troops destroyed more than 90 percent of the historic area. What stood before me was a near total reconstruction, an excellent and meticulous restoration that brought its churches, palaces, walls and squares back to life.
In 1980, UNESCO placed Warsaw old town on its list of World Heritage Sites as “an outstanding example of a near-total reconstruction of a span of history covering the 13th to the 20th century.”
Even on those freezing cold grey days I visited, I loved walking among the town’s lanes, lined with structures reflecting a grand blend of Renaissance, Baroque, Gothic and neoclassical elements. It was fascinating to think it was all built again after the immense destruction of World War II.
You don’t need a map, you just need to get “lost.” Here is what you’ll find:
Warsaw Old Town Highlights
We walked up to the town from the tram stop on a main road. The square was impressive at face level but we got the great views of Plac Zamkowy and the royal castle from a viewing deck right next to the square called Taras Widowkowy. It cost two euro per person or so to gain access.
Castle Square was appropriately named since it was located in front of the royal castle, the former home of Polish royalty.
From the tower, I snapped a chilly view of the frozen Vistula River.
Zamek Królewski / www.zamek-krolewski.pl
Built in the 15th century, the castle served as residence of Mazovian princes. In the centuries that followed it was considered one of the finest royal residences in Europe. Sadly, it was blown up by the Germans in World War II, another historic old town structure that was completely restored.
King Zygmunt III Waza Column
Kolumna króla Zygmunta III Wazy
The huge statue in Zamakowy Square happens to be the oldest and tallest non-church monument in Warsaw. King Wladyslaw IV built it in 1644 to honor his father Zygmunt III Waza, the Polish king responsible for moving the capital from Krakow to Warsaw.
Old Town Market Square
Rynek Starego Miasta
At the core of Warsaw Old Town is the Old Town Market Square, one of the most picturesque areas of the city. Built in the late 13th century, it was the place to go for everything: to celebrate holidays, go to the market and attend public condemnations.
Monument of the Warsaw Mermaid
Pomnik Warszawskiej Syrenki
The Syrenka Mermaid Statue stands in the heart of the Old Town Square. Due to vandalism, the original was moved to the Historical Museum of Warsaw. While I was there, the famous replica was surrounded by a temporary ice skating rink.
Why a mermaid statue? You can find the whole story… about how once upon a time, a beautiful mermaid swum in from the Vistula river to become to be a symbol of the city… Visit the site Polish 4 Kids.com for more.
Barbican and the City’s Defensive Walls
Barbakan i mury obronne
Warsaw’s red brick defensive walls came up in the 16th century, including a large semicircular defensive tower. The amazing protective walls were almost completely destroyed during World War II by the Nazis. The walls were restored after the war ended.
Little Insurgent Monument
Pomnik Małego Powstańca
This little sculpture reminds the world of Poland’s heroic children who fought against the Germans during the Warsaw Uprising. Located just outside the walls, the statue depicts a boy with a helmet much too large for him, a touching monument to those unfortunate children of war.
Cathedral Basilica of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist
Bazylika Archikatedralna pw. Męczeństwa św. Jana Chrzciciela
ulica Swietojanska 8 / www.katedra.mkw.pl
The cathedral, which back to the 14th century, was the scene of many historic events, weddings, coronations and funerals.
Warsaw Old Town at Night
Exploring Warsaw in winter time means you pretty much freeze walking around. However, you also get to see how the capital decorates its most picturesque streets for the season. A big plus! I was really impressed with the lovely winter holiday decorations.
In the Old Town Market Square, all kinds of folks and children skated in the temporary ice skating rink while other lined up for mulled hot wine at little kiosks nearby.
From Athens, there are several direct flights starting at 100 Euro (including return and taxes, fees). I flew Aegean Air.
Where to Stay in Warsaw
Read my review on this Art Deco luxury boutique hotel here. A 15-minute tram ride away in the new town.
Where to Eat in Warsaw
A gourmet experience of European and Polish flavors — not to be missed — in the old town. Here’s the link to my review of La Rotisserie called Gourmet Dining in Warsaw.
What to Do in Warsaw
Future posts on the following experiences soon…
Adventure Warsaw Tours – Tour around in a vintage Communist era van and see the city from a local’s perspective.
Warsaw Uprising Museum – A fantastic history museum that thoroughly delves into the Warsaw Uprising, the heroic but doomed resistance against German occupation in 1944.
Have you ever been to Old Town Warsaw? What were your special highlights?