As a solo traveller I passed some time in the evening by writing a diary of the day and thought it might be interesting to some people planning a trip to share my reflections. Sorry it's so long.
Day 1: After feeling quite pleased with myself for successfully catching the bus from the airport (175) and having checked in and drank some lovely hot chocolate in my room I thought it would be nice to explore the old town. The walk from the hotel to the royal way was boring but once on the royal way there were lots of interesting things to see - the poet's statue around which students hop for good luck, the palace where the Warsaw Pact was signed, and an open air exhibition of 1947 Warsaw in ruins. This was very moving but I was becoming increasingly aware that I was freezing. I followed the crowd to the old town and then started to look for the polish restaurant the guide book recommended. It was shut so, freezing by that point, I went to the Thai instead (Maharaja-Thai). It was ok but not brilliant
Day 2 - I went for a morning stroll to the park to see the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and some statues and ended up having to run a bit on the way back to be in time for the bus for the Off the Beaten Path tour. This was stupid really as they drove round a load of hotels and then by 10.30 we were only round the corner from my hotel (at Plac Gryzbowski). The tour was well worth doing though. I was very moved by Prozna Street – the only street from the former Jewish district that remains as it was before the war is covered with photos through a crack in the courtyard gate there is a figure that you can only see from the back praying. It is Hitler I found it very powerful, the idea that he would be forced to kneel surrounded by all the suffering he caused, finally feeling remorse but too late but I imagine many don’t feel the same way. The guide said that if the courtyard wasn’t locked it would be set on fire in an instant, though it didn’t seem to me that it would be too hard to break in if you were determined to destroy it. As well as seeing the monument to the ghetto heroes, the remains of the ghetto wall and the Umschlagplatz monument, we saw Constitution Square - an impressive example of socialist realism. Here the fascinating thing was the way they built seemingly decorative structures in order to conceal the church just beyond the square so communist parades would not be in its shadow. The milk bar was an interesting experience but probably won't eat in another and definitely not a fan of beetroot juice. I wasn’t impressed with Praga – it seemed pretty miserable to me. However, we didn’t see an awful lot of it to be fair and I did really like the bar where we stopped at the end of the tour. After the tour I was dropped off at the uprising museum. This was definitely worth a visit and the audio tour was useful for extra information (though very lengthy.) One confusing bit of the museum is that after doing the ground floor you need to go all the way up to the top floor and then back down again to finish. As I was following the audio guide I got a bit stressed that I couldn’t find number 15! The City of Ruins film was also good to appreciate the scale of the destruction of the city. I walked back to the hotel and after a break went out again for a walk around the Palace of Culture (there is an ice rink in front of it which looked like fun) and I ate in the Hard Rock Café as I really fancied burger and chips.
Day 3 - After all the depression of the war, communist era and uprising museum yesterday, I decided to have a look at life in Warsaw in the good old days pre partition. I really liked Wilanow palace and glad I made the journey (buses 116 and 180 stop right near Wilanow Palace and go down the royal way). On the way back I stopped off at Lazienki park to see another palace, a real disappointment after Wilanow. The park itself is probably beautiful in the summer and the palace on the water a special sight but once it was covered in snow I felt it lost its uniqueness but perhaps I just take a dim view of it because I kept getting lost and walking round in circles! After that I needed a break and had a late lunch in a cafe nearby. It was really nice traditional polish food. Whilst there I eventually managed to work out where the gestapo museum was, I couldn’t find it in either of the guides I bought but it was in the free pdf I'd downloaded (Warsaw in your pocket). Unfortunately it was 10 mins after last entrance when I got there so I headed back towards the centre. On the way back to the hotel I stopped at Nozyk Synagogue, the only surviving warsaw synagogue which is completely surrounded by buildings and hidden from view so quite difficult to find. After that I went back to the hotel to swim and relax in the room. In the evening I went to look at the Chlodna Street bridge lit up but didn’t have much success finding places to eat around there so ended up eating at an Italian on Marshal Street.
Day 4 - I decided to get a tram from Marshal Street to the Tragutta park and to work back from there to castle square for the 11 o clock free tour. Tram delays left me slightly short of time but it was a nice walk and I saw the impressive uprising monument which is what I was most concerned about. The free Orange Umbrella tour of the Old Town was excellent (it’s not exactly free – you decide how much you give in tips and it’s so good that you’d be extremely hard hearted to take it for ‘free’) After that I wondered round the shops for a bit and then made my way down royal way sampling beer at Browarmia, cake at Blikle café, and real drinking chocolate in Wedel.
Tips/What I’d have done differently – I stayed in Radisson Blu which was a great hotel with an excellent breakfast and I got a really good price. However, it is in a fairly dull area of town. As a tourist you’ll probably want to spend a lot of time on or around the royal way and 15 minutes’ boring and cold walk to get there is frustrating. I wished I had spent a little extra on the Sofitel but I think this was partially because I was alone and also because I hadn’t packed my thermals! Buses are regular and cheap. You can get tickets from the driver if you have change but it’s better to get them in advance and the problem with that that the kiosks are shut on weekends. If I was to repeat my weekend I’d have probably opted for a travel card as I could then have hopped on and off for the sake of getting out of the cold for a few stops and not had the hassle of keep buying tickets. In general I was quite happy with how I’d planned my days except for missing out on the Gestapo Museum (I also missed out on the Royal Castle and Pawiak prison which I wanted to see but I struggled to fit them in as a lot of places close early on Saturday and Sunday and are shut on Mondays.) I could have got the uprising museum free on Monday but it was snowing on Saturday afternoon and I fancied being inside! If you’re looking to save money most museums do have a free day so this is worth looking out for, although most museums are fairly reasonably priced anyway.