Wandering in Warsaw: a Refined View from Pączki to Rooftop Gardens

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With its wide boulevards and geometric buildings, Warsaw—almost entirely reconstructed after World War II—can feel like an impenetrable concrete jungle to the first-time visitor. Picturesque pockets of pre-war buildings, like the historic Old Town with its Market Place and Royal Palace crowned with onion-shaped domes, remain. But they take on a particular sentimentality after so much destruction.

While much of the city seemingly heaves under the weight of unwieldy Soviet-era architecture, the Polish capital makes it clear that the Cold War ended decades ago. No one knows this better than the Varsovians who sip coffee at cafe tables that line the sidewalks and party all night in the raucous nightclubs and refined cocktail bars. There’s also a wealth of ultra-modern architecture, trendy restaurants, designer shops, top-notch museums, and other treasures ripe for discovery.

The Authentic

Warsaw is a modern and thriving European capital, but genuine symbols of Polish history and culture, particularly those linked to the city’s 19th-century heyday, are still alive and well. Here’s where to find them:

The old-fashioned A. Blikle bakery and cafe on historic Nowy Swiat boulevard is practically synonymous with pączki, Poland’s famous rose jam-filled doughnuts. With its gold finishes, mirrored walls, and marble counter, its interiors have changed little since it opened in 1869. Besides the plump pastries glazed with crackly icing and sprinkled with candied orange peels, you’ll also find savoury snacks and a few other classic Polish desserts like sernik krakowski (a creamy cheesecake from Krakow).

Traditional pączki by A.Bikle

Occupying the 17th-century Ostrogski Palace, the Chopin Museum invites you into the world of Warsaw’s most famous composer, who found much of his inspiration in Poland’s folk music traditions. The facility underwent a complete overhaul in 2010 and added interactive exhibitions that make it one of the most modern museums in Poland. Its collection covers 15 rooms of exhibition space arranged on four levels, including the last piano that Chopin ever played. Piano recitals and other events take place here throughout the year.

Colourful bottles of infused vodkas line the walls of the stylish Klar Cocktail Bar, which attracts both locals and visitors alike. The spirit has been a vital part of Polish culture since the Middle Ages, here expressed in creative drinks like the Popcorny Vodka Beetroot made with beet-infused vodka, popcorn syrup, Creole bitters, and lemon juice. The decor, arranged around the vibrant in-house made infusions, leans minimal and reflects the purity of the cocktail ingredients that are often seasonal.

Passion Julep bourbon: Refreshing fruity twist on classic julep.The Designed

Major international fashion houses opened up shop in Warsaw long ago, but today the Polish capital is home to a burgeoning creative scene that is completely its own. The Polish fashion house La Mania is currently the country’s top womenswear label, founded by designer, entrepreneur, and creative impresario Joanna Przetakiewicz in 2010.

The brand casts luxurious, high quality fabrics in a monochromatic palette with architectural lines and impeccable tailoring to create classic and sophisticated pieces for both the office and the ballroom. The garments are all manufactured in Warsaw.

La mania spring/summer 2017 dress

It doesn’t get more central than N31 Restaurant & Bar, with an exquisite view of the Palace of Culture and Science, the city’s most recognisable building. Artworks from pre-war Warsaw, offset by contemporary furnishings, adorn the meticulously decorated dining space to create a chic ambience. Watch as chef Robert Sowa’s staff in the open kitchen prepare dishes based on classic Polish flavours enhanced by international influences and techniques, including dumplings filled with wild game and mushrooms and beef tenderloin with foie gras in a Madeira sauce.

The iconic and popular -steak tartare with oil powder, Pickled Boletus and pickled fat

This Paper Shop and Tearoom, a sleek and bright shop housed inside a former Soviet-era dental clinic with whitewashed walls, is the brainchild of Thisispaper, a Warsaw-based multidisciplinary design studio founded in 2011 by interior designer Zuzanna Gasior and graphic designer Alexander Zaharov. What began as an online magazine flourished into a print version, then an online store, and finally this brick and mortar store. Browse handmade products and books all arranged all on minimal, floor-to-ceiling furnishings by Polish company Tylko.

Furnishing design by Thisispaper for A-PLACE a collaboration

Just around the corner from trendy Poznańska street, you’ll find Raster Gallery, Warsaw’s premier modern art gallery. Art critics Łukasz Gor­czyca and Michał Kaczyński co-foun­ded it over ten years ago in an old tenement house with the goal of promoting independent young artists. The gallery has relocated since those early days, and is now a leader in the world of the Central European contemporary art scene. Look out for film screenings, concerts, and other events. Its publishing arm, Raster Editions, distributes art books, as well as music and literary works.

Pranayama, D, 2017, CNC routed solid walnut, stainless steel, 66 x 30,5 x 30,5 cm

The Discovery

Warsaw will continuously surprise you— behind towering grey buildings lie hidden gems. Make some time to visit the Warsaw University Library and Garden. Located just south of Old Town, this ultra-modern library building is home to one of the largest roof gardens in Europe, spanning over 10,000 square meters. It’s open to the public and offers one of the best views of the skyline, as well as the Świętokrzyski Bridge and Vistula River, making it a popular destination for locals seeking refuge from the concrete-heavy city. A fountain of cascading water links the upper garden with the lower garden’s small stream and fish pond.

Warsaw University Library and Garden

Chef Wojciech Modest Amaro was awarded the first Michelin star in the history of Poland back in 2013. At Atelier Amaro, his intimate restaurant tucked way on the edge of Łazienki Park, Amaro fuses his Polish background with years of training under culinary maestros like Ferran Adrià at El Bulli and Rene Redzepi at Noma. Indulge in a 6 or 9-course menu paired with a flight of Polish drinks like vodka, liqueurs, and meads to match each course.

Also known as Lindley’s Filters in honour of its designers William Lindley and his son William Lindley Heerlein, Warsaw Water Filters is a historic complex of buildings considered a pearl of 19th-century industrial architecture. The facility, built between 1883 and 1886, provided Warsaw with water for over 130 years and is currently the only filtering station of its kind in the world. The main buildings sustained massive damage during World War II, but the technology still works today (after years of repairs) in conjunction with more modern means of water filtration. It’s open for pre-scheduled visits in July and August, but be sure to schedule your appointment in advance.

Become inspired by Polish design and people by starting at InterContinental Warsaw, our concierge team have plenty of hidden wanders waiting to be discovered.

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