Difference between revisions of "Warsaw"
Revision as of 18:30, 14 August 2006
Warsaw  (Polish: Warszawa) is the capital of Poland and, with 1.7 million inhabitants, its largest city. It is located on the River Vistula (Polish: Wisła) roughly at the same distance of 350 km (217 mi) from both the Baltic Sea (Bałtyk) and the Carpathian Mountains (Karpaty).
Although not particularly well known among mainstream tourists, Warsaw has a picturesque Old Town that tells a story, some remarkable landmarks from the Communist era and a skyline full of skyscrapers, which were developed during the last few years.
For more information about the districts, see Orientate Yourself.
It is often said that Warsaw bears some resemblance to the mythical Phoenix. Having been completely destroyed, the city somehow managed to lift itself from the ashes. In the aftermath of the 1944 Uprising against the Nazis , Warsaw was obliterated with 9 out of every 10 buildings crumbled in ruins. At the end of World War II (1939-45) was virtually uninhabited, yet with a tremendous reconstruction effort, most of the city was rebuilt as early as the 1950s.
The Communist era (1945-1989) has significantly contributed to the city architecture, with the most noticeable landmark, the Palace of Culture and Science (Polish: Pałac Kultury i Nauki, PKiN) , a "personal gift" from Joseph Stalin, dominating the Warsaw landscape.
Since the fall of Communism, Warsaw has been developing rapidly, even chaotically at times. Certainly, the harmonisation of urban landscape was of little importance to the country's first entrepreneurs, as they were busy plugging gaps in supply by selling various items on a provisional basis.
Warsaw's all about change now. You wouldn't recognize the city if you last saw it ten years ago or so. In the next ten years, it'll be a completely different place again. Off the beaten path, now's the time to see some of the Warsaw's peculiarities before they disappear forever.
The Warsaw Tourist Information  will answer your questions about the city and other regions of Poland, tell you what's happening in the city at the time of your stay, book a hotel room for you and sell you a map of the city (or even give you one for free). They can be reached by e-mail [email protected] and by phone at +48 22 9431.
Also, they have four offices around the city where you can meet them face to face:
The Warsaw Frederic Chopin Airport (WAW) is located in the area of Okęcie, some 10 km south of the centre point of the city. In fact, for many years the airport used to be called just Okęcie, but this reportedly caused confusion and it was renamed.
The airport is quite small by Western European standards, which can be an advantage, because it is less of a mess (although not always). It has direct connections with some 70 destinations, mostly in Europe and in the eastern US. In 2005, some 7 million passengers were served.
The Chopin Airport is home to LOT Polish Airlines - one of the oldest (est. 1929) existing air carriers (but not necessarily the best).
A new terminal is currently being built, Because of this some streets leading to the airport are closed or narrowed. The situation is best depicted by the map here.
Arriving at the airport
The procedure is the same as everywhere, but prepare to actually wait for your baggage (to be fair it's not the only airport where gross delays happen).
Departing from the Airport
Getting to and from the Airport
This is the cheapest way. The ticket costs 2.40 zł . Buy a ticket before boarding and validate it as you enter the bus.
There are three bus routes running from the airport .
The 175 bus will take you to the northern city centre, passing near some of the most popular hotels on its way. This is the bus you will probably want to take but watch out as it is notorious for pickpockets operating on it. The 188 bus goes to deep Praga Południe on the right bank, passing through the southern city centre. It is also a better choice if you just want to get to the metro.
Avoid the taxi drivers soliciting for customers. They are severely overcharging. Go for one of the companies recommended by the airport authorities (Merc Taxi, MPT Radio Taxi or Sawa Taxi - they are slightly above market average in terms of prices) or you can order a taxi from another corporation by phone (there is no surcharge).
In any case, the most you should pay is 3.00 zł (up to 4.50 zł on Sundays; but typically no more than 2.00 zł) per kilometre in the daytime plus an initial fee of no more than 6 zł. You are entitled to be given the bill on request. The bill must specify what was the route used. There is no obligation or custom of tipping the taxi drivers.
Unless you really know what you are doing, get out at the Dworzec Centralny (Warszawa Centralna) station, as it has best connections with all the places in the city. All long-distance trains pass through this station and all stop there. It is the only long-distance station underground, so you will know when to get out. It isn't the last station on the route!
After you arrive, you can take a bus to get wherever you want to.
See also: Getting out from Warsaw by train.
Read about driving in Poland first.
Unlike most European capitals, Warsaw has no bypass. All transit traffic is routed through the city streets. The following E-roads lead to Warsaw: 2|E30, 7|E77, 8|E67, 17|E372. The E-numbers are usually displayed on signs but it is best to know the national numbers, too (these are the ones given before the | here).
What follows is a list of streets you will find yourself on when approaching the city from different directions:
The cities listed above are the ones displayed on signs in the city. The abbreviations in (parentheses) show you which neighbouring countries can be reached with a road.
Road Distances to Other Cities
Cities in Poland
Białystok 190 km (118 mi) Gdańsk 390 km (242 mi) Kielce 180 km (112 mi) Kraków 290 km (180 mi) Olsztyn 210 km (130 mi) Poznań 310 km (193 mi) Siedlce 100 km (62 mi) Toruń 210 km (130 mi) Poznań 310 km (193 mi)
Cities in Other Countries
Most buses arrive at Dworzec PKS Warszawa Zachodnia (Al. Jerozolimskie near Rondo Zesłańców Syberyjskich, also a railway station). Walk to the other side of Al. Jerozolimskie and take a bus:
The other buses are not for you unless you know what you are doing.
As is the case with most cities, Warsaw is situated on a river. The river's name is Vistula (Polish: Wisła) and it crosses the city vertically, dividing it into two parts, usually referred to as 'the left bank' (Polish: lewy brzeg adj. lewobrzeżna [Warszawa]) and 'the right bank' (Polish: prawy brzeg adj. prawobrzeżna [Warszawa]).
The Inner City
Historically, the right bank was the first one to become populated, somewhere in the 9th or 10th century. However, the present city's central district, called Śródmieście (the Inner City) lies on the left bank. The Old Town is fully contained within the borders of the Inner City.
The central point of the city is located at the intersection of al. Jerozolimskie and ul. Marszałkowska, near the entrance to the Metro Centrum  underground station. This is indicated by a signpost showing distances to other European capitals.
In the quarter delimited by al. Jerozolimskie, ul. Marszałkowska, al. Jana Pawła II and ul. Świętokrzyska, you will also find the main railway station Dworzec Centralny and the Palace of Culture and Science .
It is good to know that the Palace of Culture is a landmark visible from almost any location in Warsaw. Should you ever get lost in the city, this will be your beacon.
The Centre of Warsaw
Warsaw is divided into 18 districts (dzielnica pl. dzielnice), 6 of which border the Inner City. These are:
Śródmieście and all the districts that border it are often collectively referred to as Centrum (the Centre). They were a single borough under the previous administrative division.
The remaining 11 peripheral districts are:
Street Numbering Schemes
The correct addressing scheme is:
Although there is a rule that no two streets within the city may bear the same name:
In some suburban residential districts built in the 1970s and 80s, the addressing schemes may be completely unintelligible. Either ask the locals or buy a plan of the city that has all the numbers printed on the map.
Considering that the strict city centre is a flat area whose sides measure only some 2 kilometres, it is a good idea to take a stroll through it. There are two streets that serve the purpose of a promenade:
Let's suppose you start your walk from Metro Centrum (this is a popular place where people arrange to meet one another). Get to the other side of ul. Marszałkowska through the underpass. The round building adjacent to the intersection is called the Rotunda. It is a bank branch and the pavement in front of it is another popular meeting place. Going along the ul. Marszałkowska you pass some department stores and after 500 m or so, turn right into ul. Chmielna. At the end of it, turn left into ul. Nowy Świat and go straight ahead. This street, which then changes into Krakowskie Przedmieście, will lead you to Castle Square and Old Town.
Use Public Transport
The public transport system in Warsaw is generally well-developed. The route descriptions are easy to follow and the tickets are cheap. It can be painfully slow, however, to travel between destinations far from the city centre.
Although there are many carrier companies, tickets are issued and controlled by the single Warsaw Transport Authority (Polish: Zarząd Transportu Miejskiego or ZTM) and they are valid for all means of transport except the trains.
All prices given below were valid as of August 2006.
The ticket system is quite complicated but as a tourist you shouldn't need to trouble yourself about knowing all the details. What you need to know, however, is that:
All the travelcards above are transferable and are valid for night buses too (but not for the suburban ones unless you stay within the city boundary).
Remember to Validate
Validate your ticket immediately after entering the bus or tram. Travelcards only need to be activated on your first journey, except in the underground where touching in and touching out (or inserting a ticket) is required to open the gate.
Where to Buy
Tickets can be bought in kiosks and in other places with the Sprzedaż biletów ZTM ("WTA tickets sold here") stickers. For buses and trams, the tickets can also be bought onboard from the driver, but:
Means of transport
Warsaw is served by some 200 bus routes and some 30 tram lines. There is also an underground line going from south to north on the left bank and a recently-introduced Rapid Urban Railway (Polish: Szybka Kolej Miejska or SKM) which has proved to be a big disappointment.
Buses operate usually from 5AM to 11PM, but you should always check the schedule. The intervals can be anything from as little as 5 minutes (crowded routes during peak hours) to nearly 2 hours (certain suburban routes). Usually, you will wait 20 minutes at most.
Bus route numbers consist of three digits. Only the first digit has any meaning, the latter being merely ordinal. Here's the key to understanding Warsaw bus route numbers:
Other than that:
There are a few routes that will be of certain interest to you as a tourist:
A map of the tourist routes is available.
Requesting a stop. Certain bus stops are request-only (Polish: na żądanie):
Sometimes, the door will not open automatically. To open it, locate the button drzwi (blue) and press it. Then you have 15 seconds until the door closes back.
There are 14 night bus routes (601-614). All parts of the city are covered, but travelling to distant locations is particularly time-consuming. All buses operate at 30-minute intervals and depart from their central stop at Dw. Centralny 15 and 45 minutes after the hour, which facilitates changing.
When travelling on a night bus, it is essential to know the location of your bus stop at Dw. Centralny. Bear in mind that every route operates in two directions, so you must also look up what is displayed next to the number. There is a map that will help you.
All night bus stops except Dw. Centralny and Centrum are request stops. Signal well in advance as some night bus drivers may be too busy accelerating to notice.
There is also a map of all the night bus routes (in PDF).
Although trams are not faster than buses unless there is a heavy traffic jam, they may have some appeal for a tourist as it is easier to predict where they are going - they usually go straight ahead and only rarely turn.
Trams have two-digit numbers below 50 (for the curious, the 50+ numbers were used by the long-lost trolley buses). Trams with numbers above 40 operate during peak hours only. A map of tram routes is available to assist you in planning your journey.
The tram services can end as early as at 10PM. There used to be a night tram 640 route but it has been suspended.
Metro (the Underground)
The Warsaw underground, called Metro (from Russian from French) opened in 1995 and is one of the newest underground railway systems in Europe. It is clean, neat, well-signed and... useless, from a tourist's point of view, though some stations, especially the northern ones, are still worth visiting if you admire modern architecture.
The underground is operated by Metro Warszawskie sp. z o.o.. The trains run daily from early morning until midnight at the interval of 5-10 minutes.
Obtaining More Information
The timetables are available at every stop. It is however more convenient to look them up on the Internet:
ZTM also operates a 24/7 hotline at +48 22 94 84.
How Much Is It
The maximum base fare (taryfa 1) is 3.00 zł/km (although no corporation charges more than 2.00 zł/km). The base fare applies to journeys within the city (zone 1) on weekdays.
Taxi drivers can charge:
Also, they can also charge you:
They cannot charge you for anything else. There is no obligation or custom of tipping the drivers. The driver is required to give you a receipt on request. The full route must be written on the receipt. If the route was suboptimal, the fare can then be challenged. Call City Guard (Polish: Straż Miejska) at 986 (+48 22 986 from a mobile phone) should there be any problems.
The pricelist above applies only to officially registered taxis. Others (non-taxi carriers) may charge you whatever they feel like, so they are best avoided.
A legal taxi has:
Best practices are as follows:
There is no practice of any surcharges on additional person (normally up to 4 should fit), or luggage.
List of taxi companies (corporations) in Warsaw (with phone numbers and fares but in Polish).
Rent a car
All major rental companies have branches in Warsaw, most notably at the airport. As everywhere, prices may vary significantly depending on several factors. See individual websites for details: Avis, Hertz, EuropCar, Budget, National Car. You can also rent a motorbike at Moto4Fun.
Bicycle paths in Warsaw leave much to be desired. Cyclists either need to use the sidewalks, which is illegal and inconvenient, or the streets, which can be dangerous (because of the reasons given above).
When leaving your bicycle, be sure to use a non-trivial lock.
There is a map available, but it is outdated. Some notable bicycle paths are:
The other attractions in the city centre are listed in the article for Śródmieście.
Most museums are closed on Mondays and they often have free admission once a week. Visitors must usually enter at least half an hour before the closing time.
Cinemas notable for an unorthodox repertoire are Rejs, Iluzjon and Muranów. For mainstream films, most shopping malls have cinemas. Most films are with subtitles (Polish: napisy) except those for kids. There're many websites with the current repertoire. FilmWeb is one of them.
Every October, there's a Warsaw Film Festival (Polish: Warszawski Festiwal Filmowy).
Polish: basen or pływanie
There are many swimming pools in the city. Look for OSiRs (Ośrodek Sportu i Rekreacji, Sport and Recreation Centres).
Polish: łyżwy or jazda na łyżwach
Polish: kręgle or gra w kręgle
Polish: ścianka or wspinaczka po ściance
Polish: rower or jazda na rowerze
See the Get around by bicycle section.
Items of specific interest include clothing (both foreign and local brands), which is cheaper than elsewhere in Western Europe.
Visa, MasterCard, Visa Electron and Maestro as well as some other obscure cards are widely accepted and if they're not then there's usually a plenty of cash dispensers around (Polish: bankomat). AmEx and Diners' Club are less popular. There may be a minimal purchase value for card payments, usually 10.00 zł or so in shops but can be 20.00 zł or even 50.00 zł in bars.
High Street Shopping
The traditional high streets for shopping are ul. Chmielna and ul. Nowy Świat (see the Walk section above).
Most people nowadays do their shopping in the malls (Polish: centrum handlowe pl. centra ~, often abbreviated CH). These are usually located in the suburbs (with some notable exceptions) and open until 10PM. Apart from shops, malls also have entertainment areas with cinemas, bars, etc. Some also have sports facilities.
Galeria Mokotów (Mokotów) was the most renowned mall for a long time, but it was superseded by Arkadia (Żoliborz), which is now also the biggest mall but is expected to lose its leading position when Złote Tarasy (Śródmieście) is opened in late 2006.
The most upmarket shopping centres are arguably CH Promenada (Praga Południe) and Blue City (Ochota). Other significant shopping destinatios are: CH Reduta (Ochota, adjacent to Blue City), CH Targówek, Wola Park and Fort Wola (both in Wola, but not close to each other), Klif, Sadyba Best Mall and Warszawa Wileńska (Praga Północ, also a railway station).
The name hypermarket, meaning something even more super than a supermarket, made a big career in Poland in the late 1990s. These are generally huge self-service shops, which attract customers by advertising low food prices and then try to flog them something more. Recently the quality of food in hypermarkets has decreased as the better off customers are moving to "delicatessen" shops such as Alma in Promenada.
Hypermarkets are usually open 8AM-10PM. If you want to avoid queues, the best time to visit is either early in the morning or just before the closing time.
Popular hypermarkets found in Warsaw include; Carrefour, Géant, TESCO and Real. There are also some slightly smaller chains like E.Leclerc, Hypernova and Żabka. Discount supermarkets like Biedronka and Leader Price offer only junk food and are best avoided.
Consumer electronics (Polish: RTV) and household appliances (Polish: AGD) are not particularly cheap in Poland, due to the high VAT and relatively small competition. There are four big consumer electronics chains: Media Markt, Euro RTV-AGD, Electroworld and Avans. The competition between them is purely for a show and consists in exchanging disparaging advertisements (in which the Media Markt is the leader).
Better prices can be achieved by shopping on-line or using any of the price comparison services, such as Ceneo and Skąpiec. For computer equipment, there is a quasi-mall in the underpasses at the intersection of al. Armii Ludowej and al. Niepodległości called WGE (Polish: Warszawska Giełda Elektroniczna)  and there is a computer bazaar every weekend nearby at ul. Batorego .
In recent years eating out has become more and more frequent among Poles and the development of Warsaw restaurants, pubs, bars and other places offering something to eat (and drink) reflects that. Every year new interesting places open and now almost everyone will find something for his or hers tastes.
Although the prices of food are generally lower in Poland than in other EU countries, Warsaw is surely the most expensive place in the country. Despite that there are many ways to eat on a limited budget.
The best pierogi in town can be found in Srodmiescie.
One company offers meals from a number of the city's restaurnts, delivered to your door within one hour. You can order by phone or via the internet:
Usually 7-12 zł.
The most expensive hotels are located in Śródmieście. Hotel Bristol (now: Le Royal Meridien Bristol) is deemed the most prestigious one.
There many Internet cafés (Polish: kawiarnia or kawiarenka internetowa). In the very centre:
A list is available here
Male citizens of Warsaw call themselves warszawiak. The more regular form warszawianin is considered derogatory. Females have no such problem, the only form being warszawianka.
Places with Interesting Names
There is a shortage of public toilets in the city, although those that exist generally maintain a good standard. The cost is usually 1.00 zł or 2.00 zł. Sometimes there will be no toilet paper (Polish: papier toaletowy) in the cubicle and you will need to take it at the entrance from the "operator" (Polish: babcia klozetowa, "toilet granny" - yes, this is a feminine profession). This is a relic from the communist era where the toilet paper was a much sought-after commodity.
Most restaurants and bars have toilets on premises. Usually they are for customers only but you can always ask. Sometimes you may need to obtain a key first.
And if all else fails, there's always a McDonald's nearby.
Which Is the Right One?
Even if you have found a toilet (Polish: toaleta or WC) another problem may arise as before you are able to relieve yourself you will see two doors: one with a triangle and the other with a circle on it. Now, which door do you choose? The answer is written below, white on white. Select the text to reveal it:
The triangle is for gents and the circle is for ladies. An explanation of why it is like that is yet to be given.
Apart from the mentioned symbols you may also find:
Get out by train
Whichever way you are going, there is a PKP journey planner.
Warsaw has three stations for long-distance trains:
Trains running eastwards start at Warszawa Zachodnia, stop at Warszawa Centralna and then at Warszawa Wschodnia, while trains heading westwards make the same trip in the opposite direction (except that they not always stop at Warszawa Zachodnia). The same is true for arriving trains and tourists often find it confusing that the main train station (Warszawa Centralna) is not the last station on the route.
If your train is without reservation, you may get a better seat (or any seat at all in certain trains during peak season only) if you enter the train on its initial station.
There is no central station for suburban trains but the most important one is Warszawa Śródmieście (in close proximity of Warszawa Centralna and Metro Centrum). Some destinations you can reach from there are: Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Łowicz, Milanówek, Mińsk Mazowiecki, Otwock, Piława, Pruszków, Radom, Siedlce, Skierniewice, Sochaczew, Sulejówek, Terespol, Tłuszcz, Wołomin, Żyrardów.
Warsaw Commuter Railway
WKD  (Polish: Warszawska Kolej Dojazdowa) is separate, narrow-gauge train service that runs from a distinct platform at Warszawa Śródmieście to Grodzisk Mazowiecki, a city some 50 km west of Warsaw through Pruszków, Milanówek, and Podkowa Leśna.
Get out by bus
Regional and long-distance bus connections in Poland are traditionally called PKS. Once it was a legitimate abbreviation for the state-owned monopoly. Now, however, bus routes are operated by a bunch of completely independent companies, some of which had simply chosen to retain the old PKS as a part of their name. In Warsaw, there's PKS Warszawa  but PKSes from various other cities also operate. Most PKS buses depart from either of two major terminals:
Then, there's also a competitor to post-PKS companies, the Polski Express. It serves the most popular destinations, such as Białystok, Bydgoszcz, Częstochowa, Elbląg, Gdańsk, Gdynia, Gorzów Wielkopolski, Katowice, Kraków, Łódź, Lublin, Pabianice, Płock, Szczecin, Toruń along with some holiday resorts, such as Kudowa Zdrój and maritime Kołobrzeg, Krynica Morska and Ustka. The departure point is at al. Jana Pawła II near Dworzec Centralny (there are also shuttle services from and to the airport every half an hour)