WARSAW, POLAND –Warsaw has long been seen as the ugly stepsister of Krakow. While Krakow gets all the invites and accolades—pretty, special, sweet—the Polish capital is forgotten, seen as nondescript and cold. But scratch beneath the surface and Warsaw is a dynamic and lovely old gal.
The city’s attractions aren’t initially obvious, so you have to tease them out—some of the best bars, for example, are hidden behind unassuming courtyards. Warsaw was largely destroyed during World War II and while the Old Town (Stare Miasto) was lovingly reconstructed brick-by-brick by Varsovians, the rest of the city was largely built up quickly in a gray Modernist style.
Praga, long seen as the “wrong side” of the river, is becoming gentrified by attractions like the Soho Factory complex, located at Minska 25, one of the coolest addresses in the entire capital thanks to its art galleries, design firms, theater, shops and a swanky 24-hour restaurant.
The city also boasts some fantastic eateries—including Poland’s first Michelin-starred restaurant, Atelier Amaro—as well as high-end boutique shopping at Vitkac. Art venues and museums are plentiful, and will be added to next week with the opening of the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews’ permanent collection.
Like a pearl, the grit of Warsaw’s past and the power of its modern innovation have created something truly worth seeking out.
THE CHEF: WOJCIECH AMARO
Owner and head chef of Michelin-starred restaurant Atelier Amaro
TO MARKET // My favorite market is Hala Mirowska. I buy all my fruits, vegetables, seeds, wheat and nuts from there. I can also order unusual ingredients like herbs, wildflowers and berries. Plac Mirowski 1
WINE OF THE GODS // Winosfera is a very nice place to go for a great glass of wine. You can also buy some wine to take home with you. Chłodna 31, Winosfera; winosfera.pl
GREEN SPACES // I love to go to Powsin Park, a little bit outside the center. It is a great place for all the family—you can walk your dog and even have your own barbecue. Maslaków 1, parkpowsin.pl
SOUTH OF THE BORDER // At Salto, in Hotel Rialto, you can find the winner of the first Polish edition of “Top Chef” cooking. Martin Gimenez Castro creates fantastic seafood and has some great culinary skills. Wilcza 73; saltorestauracja.pl
Guilty Treat // We make our smalec [spreadable lard] infused with juniper, prunes, apple and marjoram, then pacotize [Pacojet] it to achieve the white snow and airy consistency that will blow you away. We serve it with burnt hay bread. Atelier Amaro, Agrykola 1; atelieramaro.pl
THE DESIGNER: TOMEK RYGALIK
Designer and architect who runs Studio Rygalik
SIT DOWN // Comforty is one of the best furniture showrooms in Warsaw. It’s a loft space filled with some of the best contemporary design made in Poland. B4 Design Corner, Burakowska 4; comforty.pl
LONG HISTORY // The Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews is one of the most important cultural centers in the city. It is a stunning piece of architecture by Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamäki. Anielewicza 6; jewishmuseum.org.pl
SLEEPAWAY // Between Us is an ideal hideaway in the center of Warsaw, catering to admirers of fine design and discreet luxury. I find it a captivating blend of classic 19th-century architecture with contemporary interiors. Bracka 20; between-us.eu
FOOD AND WINE // A great place to watch the world go by is Charlotte Chleb i Wino. The concept of the place includes an everyday ritual: The tabletop is lifted and the chairs are replaced with tall stools to change the atmosphere of the space in the evening. Great tartines on the delicious bread—we like the chèvre chaud. Plac Zbawiciela; bistrocharlotte.com
THE FILMMAKER: KATARZYNA (KASIA) ADAMIK
Film director and storyboard artist; daughter of filmmaker Agnieszka Holland
LOST IN FILM // My favorite cinema is Kino Muranów, where there are two theaters and they have a great film selection. Generała Władysława Andersa 5; muranow.gutekfilm.pl
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD // Butchery and Wine is a great meat place, with a great wine selection (Zurawia 22; butcheryandwine.pl ). And Papu is a Polish fusion restaurant. With a warm interior, it makes you feel a little bit like Christmas every time. Aleje Niepodległości 132/136; restauracjapapu.pl
ART AND SOUL // I like the Museum of Modern Art. It is in an old furniture store from the 1960s and I love the building. Panska 3; artmuseum.pl
DRINK UP // There are hundreds of cool places to drink in Warsaw but one of my favorites is Regeneracja, which is a laid back bar on the grungy side. Puławska 61; regeneracja.waw.pl
ACTING OUT // Teatr Nowy is one of the best places to go to see a play (Madalińskiego 10/16; nowyteatr.org ). The National Opera is worth going to—great productions, great performers (Plac Teatralny 1; teatrwielki.pl ).
THE CURATOR: BARBARA KIRSHENBLATT-GIMBLETT
Program director at the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews
OlD-SCHOOL 3-D // Warsaw was mostly destroyed in the war…. One of the things that did survive is Fotoplastikon. It is a precinematic show, featuring stereoscopic slides. And during the German occupation this is where the underground [movement] would exchange messages, because it was dark. Aleje Jerozolimskie 51; fotoplastikonwarszawski.pl
VARSOVIAN VIETNAM // It is amazing to me that in this expensive part of the city, a hole in the wall like Toan Pho could survive. It is North Vietnamese…. I like that it is so no-frills. Chmielna 5/7; +48 888 147 307
BLAST OF THE PAST // The Okopowa Street Jewish Cemetery is the closest you can get to the historic Jewish community of Warsaw. I am responsible for this exhibition of 1,000 years of the history of Polish Jews and I walk into that cemetery and there is my 19th-century gallery, there is my interwar year gallery. For me, it is a living place. Okopowa 49/51; +48 22 838 26 22
SECRET PARK // Jazdów, behind embassy row on Ujazdowska, is a hidden oasis, a dense idyllic village of Finnish houses…. Wandering the paths of this silent little forest is just bliss.