As we learned in our last 24 hours in Warsaw, Polish history can get very serious. But Warsaw also has a fun and frivolous side! Today we’re going to dive headfirst into the more glamorous part of Warsaw with a trip to the gorgeous Royal Castle. Then we’ll take a walk on Warsaw’s wilder side with a trip to the bohemian Praga neighborhood. Finally, we’ll learn why Warsaw has become one of the most popular vegan dining destinations in Europe. Even non-vegans like yours truly are sure to enjoy!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Warsaw.
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24 Hours in Warsaw
Where to Stay
Warsaw is a fairly spread-out city with many different neighborhoods. It can take longer to get from place to place than in smaller Eastern European cities like Tallinn or Krakow. So I suggest picking a hotel with a central location. The tongue-twistingly named Mish Mash Nowogrodska couldn’t have been better situated. The private room was very affordable, and it was easy to get from the hotel to anywhere I wanted to go, like the Royal Castle!
24 Hours in Warsaw
Morning: Royal Castle
Like many things in Poland’s capital, the Royal Castle is a reconstruction. The original Royal Castle dates back to the 14th century. Then, under KING STANISLAW AUGUST, the Royal Castle was renovated and beautified to show that Poland was a power that could stand with the other great European countries. (STANISLAW AUGUST gets all caps for reasons that will become clear shortly.)
The Royal Castle stood as one of Poland’s great landmarks…until the Nazis. (The phrase “until the Nazis” is often needed when discussing Polish history.) The Nazis blew up the Royal Castle, but the Poles decided to rebuild it in the 1970s. And here it stands today, a monument to the fact that Warsaw is still standing and the Nazis aren’t.
24 hour tip
Large bags aren’t allowed in the Royal Castle. If you’re like me and get nervous about checking valuables, bring a clutch inside your larger bag. You can put your credit cards, hotel key, and cell phone in it, no problem.
You can find all the relevant information about the Royal Castle’s hours and admission fee on their website. I recommend getting the audioguide as you peruse the Royal Castle. It will fill you up with way more than…
three fun facts: royal castle edition
1) so who is this stanislaw august guy?
STANISLAW AUGUST is a really big deal in the Royal Castle. If you take the audioguide, get used to hearing his name a whole bunch. STANISLAW AUGUST was the King of Poland in the mid to late 18th century. For my fellow Americans, that means he was King while our Revolution was going on.
STANISLAW AUGUST was also Grand Duke of Lithuania because at the time Poland and Lithuania were united in a Commonwealth. I guess because STANISLAW AUGUST wasn’t just a duke, he was a GRAND DUKE, he felt like he needed to have the world’s fanciest palace. So he upgraded the Royal Castle as much as he possibly could.
He added fancy ceiling paintings.
We have lots of statues of Greek gods like Apollo and Minerva to show STANISLAW AUGUST cared about learning. These are the classy kind of Greek god, and you can tell because of the strategically placed modesty leaf.
There were elaborate clocks all over the Royal Castle, and there was even a clockmaker on retainer. Do you have your own clockmaker on retainer? Probably not because you are not STANISLAW AUGUST.
Finally, STANISLAW AUGUST added portraits and statues of Polish nobles and heroes. Poland was ready for anything!
2) so this story has a happy ending?
Well, this is Polish history we’re talking about, so the odds are against that. STANISLAW AUGUST might have been good at a lot of things like hosting great parties and redecorating palaces, but what he wasn’t good at was maintaining Polish sovereignty. He had a romantic relationship with Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. He seems to have thought that this would give him an upper hand over her. STANISLAW AUGUST was sorely mistaken on this front.
Under STANISLAW AUGUST, Poland-Lithuania got weaker and developed more and more problems which are way too complicated to get into on this blog, especially as I was not a Polish History major. But it all ended with Poland being partitioned among three nations: Prussia, Russia, and Austria.
I want to know why no one has made a period drama in English about the relationship between STANISLAW AUGUST and Catherine the Great. Get on it, Netflix! It would have a lot of great clothes, face slapping, and maniacal laughter.
3) is there anything else to see at the royal castle?
Absolutely! The Royal Castle isn’t just a reconstructed dream of a disastrous monarch! It’s also a museum. The ground level is full of stunning works of art. But my favorite is this Rembrandt above, called “The Girl in a Picture Frame”. STANISLAW AUGUST bought her for his collection, and I guess if you’re going to ignore the fact that your country is on the road to partition, buying Rembrandts is a good distraction.
My photo really doesn’t do this painting justice. When you see her up close, it actually looks like she is leaning out of the picture frame. I’ve always admired the realism of Rembrandt’s paintings, but I never knew he could master trompe l’oeil like this. She truly deserves her title, “The Mona Lisa of Warsaw”.
24 Hours in Warsaw
Afternoon: Warsaw’s Wild Side Tour
Now that we’ve seen Warsaw’s fancy side, it’s time to step away from STANISLAW AUGUST and see a very different, more modern side of Warsaw. Just hop on the Tram 26 and you are a short distance from where the tour will start.
In our last 24 hours in Warsaw, we explored the historic neighborhoods with an Urban Adventures tour. But the Warsaw’s Wild Side Urban Adventures tour takes us to Praga, which is Warsaw’s bohemian neighborhood. In many ways it is more modern than the old town. However, there are also some historic buildings in this neighborhood because it was not bombed as much by the Nazis. But whether you like old buildings or new, you’ll surely enjoy the…
approximately top 5: praga, etc.
1) neon museum
Our first stop on the tour was the Neon Museum. I was so excited because neon signs are one of my favorite things in this world. When I was a little girl, I used to beg my mother for a neon martini glass sign for the wall of my room, but she told me that “was ridiculous”. Now I take my revenge by seeking out the neon signs of the world. I had already visited the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, but I had no idea there was a similar museum in Warsaw.
One reason the Neon Museum in Warsaw is special is that the signs date back to the Cold War. Since Poland was a communist country at the time, advertising was considered to be capitalist, and so it was discouraged. But the Polish people were not as ardently communist as some others in Eastern Europe, so they figured out ways around this. For example, we have the Puss in Boots above advertising footwear. As long as he isn’t actually using the name of the store in his sign, it’s okay!
You can even show your Polish pride in neon! (The mermaid is one of the symbols of the city of Warsaw.)
2) praga street art
After the Neon Museum, it’s time to explore the Praga neighborhood. And what is any up-and-coming hipster nabe without some fine street art! You can see everything here from giant, melting black birds to graffiti saying, “I Miss You Jew!” (This sign was outside a former Jewish bakery.) One of the reasons it’s great to have a local guide is that he can translate Polish graffiti for you. But Poland has a very complex history with antisemitism, so as a Jewish person, I wasn’t sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that people were writing “I Miss You Jew!” on buildings.
Some of the street art is more political. My guide, whom I shall call Stanislaw, said that people in Warsaw have a reputation of making fun of Polish people from small villages, especially those who come to the big city to find jobs. So this sign says, “From the point of view of the Milky Way, we are all villagers”.
In my hometown of New York City, we also make fun of villagers who come looking for work, but only if they are from New Jersey. But I don’t think the phrase, “From the point of view of the Milky Way we are all from New Jersey” makes as much sense.
3) old buildings of praga
I promised you some old buildings, didn’t I, Internet Stranger? Well, here you go! These buildings weren’t bombed by the Nazis, so they aren’t reconstructions. You can still go inside and hang out in the lovely courtyards.
Just be mindful when you are walking into the courtyards. Unlike say, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Praga still has some edgy realness. In our case, that meant Stanislaw and I had to slowly back out of one courtyard when it was obvious a drug deal was taking place.
On a more wholesome note, Stanislaw told me that people of different faiths used to live together in Praga. (Until the Nazis…) You could see Catholic shrines to the Virgin Mary in the same courtyard with mezuzahs on the door of Jewish homes. (A mezuzah is a little box with a parchment inside that has lines from the Torah written on it.) But people would sometimes touch the symbols of the other faiths for good luck. I think this is a tradition that should catch on in all cities!
You might have noticed that we haven’t eaten lunch yet, Internet Stranger! But that will soon get fixed. Once again, I was glad that I’d signed up for this tour because we stopped for lunch in a restaurant where the owners didn’t speak English. So it would have been hard for me to eat here if Stanislaw hadn’t been with me. We began with a shot of refreshing, strawberry-infused vodka.
The lady of the house told Stanislaw that I was a good girl because I could drink my vodka in one shot. I think the phrase “good girl” must mean something slightly different in Praga because when I do shots back home in New York, that’s not what they call me.
Now we need something to soak up all that vodka, so enter the pyzy. These were giant potato dumplings topped with bacon. What Polish peasant food lacks in glamour, it makes up for in deliciousness. Maybe if STANISLAW AUGUST had eaten more pyzy and spent less time romancing Russian empresses and overseeing fancy clockmaking, he would have been able to prevent the partition of Poland.
Also, you can tell that Praga is a hipster neighborhood because the pyzy are served in a Mason jar.
It’s not a proper hipster neighborhood unless there are stores where you can buy art directly from the artists. So we stopped at a little cafe/photography studio/art store called Klitka. I collect earrings in every city I visit, so I purchased some small, handmade Polish birds. Like me, they are good girls because they can drink their vodka in one shot.
The photographer who was in charge of the store was working on a project called “I Want to Be From Praga”. This meant she would take customers’ pictures while they were holding a sign that said “I Want to be From Praga”. There’s no charge to have your photo taken, but you pay a small fee if you want to have a nice copy of one of the pictures. You can see how my photo came out here!
I like how it looks like there’s a wind machine going behind me. It makes me feel like Tawny Kitaen in a Whitesnake video.
If you don’t want to buy anything, there’s no pressure. You can just admire the art while snacking on a pastry stuffed with berry jam that Stanislaw will bring you. Nothing goes better after eating a bunch of potato dumplings than a ball of fried dough. That’s just science.
24 Hours in Warsaw
Evening: Dinner at Momencik
One of the fun facts Stanislaw mentioned on the tour is that Warsaw has tons of vegan restaurants. He claimed that only Berlin has more in Europe. I’m not 100 percent sure that’s true, as those kinds of statistics are changing all the time. But I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to make a recommendation for my vegan readers out there. I’m not a vegan, or even a vegetarian, but I love good food whether or not it has meat in it.
I was lucky because my hotel was right near Momencik, which is one of the best reviewed vegan restaurants in Warsaw. Ordinarily a vegan Mexican restaurant in Warsaw would sound like a No Thank You to me. But my jackfruit burrito with pineapple was delicious! It was light and authentically spicy. In fact, it was so good, that I did that thing where I started eating it before I took my picture. But food photos with only one bite taken out of the food are kind of cute. So let’s just say I meant to do that.
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours with the Royal Castle!
What would you do at the Royal Castle? Does STANISLAW AUGUST deserve to be in all caps or not? And do you think the Polish government will try to make me testify against those drug dealers if they read this blog post? Please leave your thoughts below!