Poland’s most famous classical composer, Frederick Chopin, is celebrated in this beautiful palace on the Vistula escarpment. The collection features Chopin’s manuscripts, correspondence, piano and personal items, as well as casts of his post-mortem face and hand.
The 19th-Century Cytadela was obsolete almost immediately after it was built, thanks to advances in military artillery, but the impressive fortifications still stand, and is worth a visit for military buffs.
One of the few working Fotoplastikons remaining in the world, the Warsaw Fotoplastikon is one of the city’s kookier attractions. Popular in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, a photoplastikon was a device that created moving three-dimensional images. The impressive collection of photographs spans the globe and the last century’s worth of history. During the communist years, it was one of the few places where residents could see Western cities and listen to illegally imported jazz music.
The sad history of Warsaw’s Jewish community, once nearly 400,000 people strong and 40 percent of the city’s population, is still traceable on the streets. The Jewish Ghetto, where the Nazis forced the city’s Jews to live, was completely destroyed as punishment for an unsuccessful 1943 uprising. The Memorial of the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto was erected on the site of one of the main bunkers of the Jewish Combat Organization using granite and bronze originally purchased by Hitler to build a monument to the German Third Reich. A monument commemorating the Jews who were deported to Treblinka concentration camp exists on the site of the collection point where Jews were leaded onto railroad trains. Some portions of the original 10-foot-high brick walls that encircled the ghetto still stand.
The Nozyk Synagogue is the only remaining pre-war synagogue in Warsaw – it escaped the fate of other synagogues because the Nazis used it as a stable. It hosts daily religious services and its religious music attracts visitors from around the world.
The Jewish Historical Institute stands on the grounds where the original Great Synagogue of Warsaw once stood, and houses a large collection of Jewish artifacts, artwork, and religious objects.
With permanent galleries in the main building: the Ancient Art Gallery, art from cultures of the Mediterranean region; the Faras Gallery with Christian art; and the Medieval Art Gallery, with sculptures, panel paintings and gold smithery from regions historically connected with Poland, and other important European centers. The Polish and European Painting Galleries and the Decorative Arts Gallery, have paintings, sculptures and craftsmanship created between the Middle Ages and the beginning of the 20th century.
The 800-year-old Old Town of Warsaw is where you’ll find most of the city’s historic and architectural treasures, and the entire district is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 16th-Century Royal Castle was the residence of the Polish monarchs and the site of the signing of Poland’s first constitution. The castle’s sumptuous interiors and collection of exquisite art – including two Rembrandts and large collections of coins and oriental carpets – is on display for the public.
Other sites of interest in the old town are the 16th-Century Barbican (a defensive military wall), Sigismund’s Column (a memorial to the King), and the old Market Square. Further south is the Royal Route, a strip with many beautiful classicist buildings, including the Presidential Palace.
The sprawling Royal Baths Park is a charming bucolic getaway from the bustle of the city center. The park was designed in the 17th Century and expanded in the 18th Century under King Stanisław August Poniatowski, who built his famous Palace on the Water on the park’s lake. While many of the buildings suffered fire damage during World War II, they’re remarkably well preserved compared to the sites in the old town. Other places of interest in the park are the Roman-style Amphitheatre, the White House, where King Stanisław kept his mistress, the Temple of Diana, and the New Orangery, which houses a modern greenhouse full of tropical plants.
The July 2010 events were an incredible week of consciousness raising and parties for gay people in Warsaw. For many years people had a feeling of distance from the major gay centers of Europe, even years after the end of the Cold War. Top DJs and performers came from all over Poland, Europe and the USA to join in the party and the hostility of right-wing anti-gay political and religious groups began to have a little less influence in the opinion of the average Pole in the street. See their website for an idea of what took place at the time, and in the time since.
The Warsaw Rising Museum opened in 2004 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising against the occupying Nazi forces. The museum tells the story of the Polish Underground through artifacts as diverse as weapons and love letters. As a bonus, the 100-foot-high tower offers a beautiful panoramic view of the city.