advertisement

Poland's capital city, not often included on tourist itineraries, deserves a fresh look. While it may not be a place you'll fall in love with instantly, there's an energetic spirit of rebirth here that's immediately contagious. Get to know the city, and you could very well develop a soft spot for it. Visiting Warsaw is about seeing a capital city getting back on its feet time and time again after military and ideological occupations. With some 85% of the city demolished in World War II, nearly everything you see, including the charming and very "old" looking Old Town (Stare Miasto), has been around only for a few decades. The Old Town was so faithfully rebuilt that it earned a place on the UNESCO list of World Cultural Heritage Sites. Much of the city center was propped up by the workers' power philosophy of Communism, creating the Eastern Bloc look of imposing Socialist Realism structures and sculptures, as well as dreary and drab housing blocks. In the post-Communism years, modern skyscrapers -- both beautiful and ugly -- jostle for space in the city's skyline. The riverfront is also being developed. The changes are every bit as dramatic on the cultural front. New clubs, theaters, museums, performance spaces, and restaurants have opened their doors, and Warsaw feels like it's in a hurry to make up for time lost in the Communist years.

To understand this city, a visit to the Warsaw Uprising Museum is a must. The museum gives a full-blown account of the single event in World War II that was largely accountable for the scarred cityscape. And as you trace the former Jewish quarter, you'll sense the void left by a community that made up one-third of the city's population before the war. Top on most sightseeing agendas are the Old Town, the Royal Route, and the sprawling Lazienki Park. While these enclaves of beauty and history are well deserving of your time, recently, more attention has been shifting to the leftover relics of Communism as the younger generation comes to accept the quirks of that era as part of the city's heritage. Also gaining limelight is the rundown district of Praga -- relatively undamaged during the war, it has some of the oldest original buildings in the city. It is also the site of one of the most modern stadiums in the country: the National Stadium is currently being constructed to host the opening match of the Euro Cup Football Championship in 2012.

You'll want to budget at least 2 days to get the most out of Warsaw's diverse daytime and after-dark activities.