A city that has been under siege for almost its entire existence, but, in common with the people of Poland, it has shown the resilience to keep bouncing back. By the end of the second world war, 95 percent of the city lay in ruins. It was rebuilt over the following 40 years during Soviet rule and since the early 2000s has thrived, becoming one of the most interesting and diverse cities in Europe. Unlike most cities, Warsaw doesn’t centre around one area, but is spread out with neighbourhoods offering different sights and experiences.
Old Town Square
This beautiful square dates back to the 13th century and could be described as “picture perfect”. It would be an accurate description as after being destroyed in the second world war, it was reconstructed partly by using a Bernado Bellotto painting. Around the square of different coloured houses there are narrow cobbled streets housing restaurants, pubs and museums. In the centre stands Warsaw's symbol – a mermaid armed with a sword and a shield, which is said to protect the city from invaders. You can find mermaid statues across the city.
Palace of Culture and Science
People of Warsaw have a love-hate relationship with this huge structure – for a long time it was by far the tallest building in Poland and dwarfed everything around it. The imposing building was a “gift” from the Soviet Union in the 1950s and is a symbol of the time under its rule. The view from the observation deck is unrivalled. It also is home to a cinema, theatre, bars and restaurants. Gradually, locals are coming to terms with it.
This 58,000-seat football stadium was completed in 2011 and staged its first match the following year. Lit up at night, its colours reflect that of the national flag. It is also home to concerts, with artists as diverse as AD/DC, Madonna and Depeche Mode previously playing.
Taking up one side of the Castle Square, this is another reconstruction of a building blown up in the second world war. Previously one of Europe's most extravagant royal residences, you can now take a tour and enjoy the recreation of the Great Assembly Hall, complete with golden columns and a huge ceiling painting. There’s also the Throne Room and the National Hall, which all have great artworks and period furniture.
Where to stay
H15 Boutique Hotel
This luxury hotel in a 19th century building combines Warsaw's past with its exciting future. Over the years it has been home to meetings by the city’s independence campaigners, the Soviet Union, the Third Reich and the People's Republic. Features from throughout its past are still present in the hotel today. In contrast to the austere outside, the rooms and furnishing indoors are bright, modern and arty. Situated in the centre of the city, it's a great location from which to explore.
Hilton Warsaw Hotel and Convention Centre
This time you’ll be situated close to the Old Town and in a more bohemian area of the city. It’s a great choice for nearby parks and museums, and for discovering independent restaurants and bars. It’s close to the tram and metro, too, meaning the whole city is yours to explore.
Emirates flies daily direct to Warsaw from Dubai. The trip lasts around six hours and the time difference is two hours during summer. Leaving the UAE at 8am will get you to the Polish capital at around noon. From Doha, you can fly direct with Qatar Airways. Flights from Abu Dhabi tend to have long layovers so it may be best
leaving from Dubai.
Public transport is very reliable in Warsaw and there are various ways to get around the city. Trams go overground and can get you almost everywhere, though it’s not the fastest form of transport. An underground metro service has two lines, one running north to south and a more recently opened east to west line.
There are also buses to complement the two. The same tickets can be used on all three, and machines are fairly easy to understand. Between public transport and official taxis (see Travel Tip) you can reach everywhere in Warsaw. And as this is a classic European city, walking is also possible and is a great way of uncovering some otherwise hidden gems.
Make sure you get in an official taxi. Look out for the city's mermaid symbol on both front doors, yellow or red stripes along the front windows, a number stuck to the side of the vehicle, the licence and registration number on the windscreen and price information on the back windows. Unofficial taxis will undoubtedly cost more and can take you on an extra-long route to get to your destination.
Music lovers should check out the Orange Warsaw Festival 2016, which takes place from June 12 to 14. Artists due to play at this year's event include indie bands Blossoms, Daughter and Editors, veterans Skunk Anansie and chanteuse Lana Del Ray. Later in June, you can celebrate the Slavic tradition of Kupula (midsummer night) at the “Garlands over Vistula” event. The family picnic takes place on June 25 and 26 and celebrates Polish traditional dancing, folk art and cuisine. Burning wreaths will float across the Vistula river and a stunning fireworks display will be visible across the whole city.