What to Do in Central Europe's Best City for Frugal Travelers

With other Central European cities like Berlin, Krakow, and Prague often hogging the tourism limelight, Warsaw may not always receive the attention it deserves.

Over the decades, the city has lurched from one form of crisis to another, and only recently has Warsaw fully bounced back, earning it the nickname of Phoenix City.

Poland’s capital is also a smart choice for frugal travelers, with a slew of new cultural attractions opening in recent years, affordable hotels, and some of the best food in the region.

Yes, your dollar already goes far in Warsaw. Here’s how to make it go further.

Museums and Concerts

Poland has often been at the forefront of experimental film, music, and art, and you're bound to discover something new in Warsaw's many museums.

You’ll find admission to be extremely cheap, if not free. Check museum websites before planning your visit, as many don’t charge entry on certain days of the week.

Another recent addition, the Warsaw Uprising Museum documents the brave attempts of the Polish resistance to liberate Warsaw from German occupation in 1944. Considered one of Poland’s best museums since opening in 2004, the collection includes recorded accounts of those who were there, alongside artifacts and interactive displays. There’s a lot here to take in, so allow yourself at least a couple of hours. Admission is free on Sundays, and 25 PLN ($7) otherwise.

Warsaw is rightfully proud of its most famous composer, as evidenced by all the many things that bear his name, including the airport. Renovated in 2010, the Frederic Chopin Museum contains nearly 5,000 objects such as personal letters (including his very last), locks of hair, jewelry, you name it. Admission is free on Sundays, and 22 PLN ($6) Tuesdays through Sundays. Chopin superfans can also drop in on his birthplace, a separate house museum on the outskirts of town.

On Sunday afternoons from May through September, classical pianists perform in Lazienki Royal Park by the Chopin monument, and have been doing so for the past 50 years. It’s free to attend. Just bring a blanket and enjoy!

You’ll also find daily informal concerts at 5pm in the Warsaw House of Music, at 6pm in the Stara Galeria ZPAF, and at 7:30pm at the Chopin Salon.

Communist Architecture Tour

Warsaw’s skyline is crowded with splashy glass towers with one glaring exception: the Palace of Science and Culture, Stalin’s gift to the city, built in 1955. This endearingly drab tower now houses several bars, cafes, a cinema, and an observation deck. Admission to the top is about $5. This is one of many examples of communist architecture still hanging around town, and it’s totally free to hoof around town admiring them all. Take a walk down Marszalkowska Street for some prime examples of Socialist Classical apartment blocks.

Not everyone shares the opinion that these structures are worth preserving, and as Warsaw continues to reinvent itself, these buildings don’t always make the cut.

Many do find second or even fourth lives as hotels, bars, and cafes. One such example is Warszawa Powisle, a saucer shaped train ticket office, now a snazzy bar with cheap drinks and some of the city’s best people watching. Also of interest to budget travelers, rooms at the Stalinist MDM Hotel often go for under $50 a night. On the same square as both the Palace of Science and Culture and the Central Station (also worth peeking into), you couldn’t ask for a better location.

For a more in-depth overview of Warsaw’s communist architecture, free or donation based walking tours can be booked in advance via FreeWalkingTour.com.

A Cheap Night Out in Warsaw

Perogies! Stuffed cabbage! Borscht! The menu at Dawne Smaki reads like a greatest hits of Polish comfort food. Perogie plates average $11 at dinner with daily lunch specials costing about $7 for grilled pork loin with veggies, soup, and dessert included.

Similar fare is available at the student cafe hidden away in the basement of the Academy of Fine Arts. Here, sweet Polish grandmas serve up hearty staples like slaw, borscht, stuffed chicken, cabbages, and all the Club-Mate you can stand to drink.

Across the river from Old Town, a UNESCO site, is Praga, where gutted old warehouses have found new life as art galleries, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, unmarked and squirreled away in some alley you would never have considered looking for a nice night out. Whatever exciting new place you discover, you can be fairly confident it’s within your budget.

Where to Stay in Warsaw

When booked in advance, room rates in Warsaw are some of the lowest you’ll find in Central Europe. Boutique hotels and chains like Ibis, Best Western, and Novotel can go for under $50 a night.

More upscale hotels can be booked for very little. Beautifully Brutalist, the Sofitel Victoria overlooks the plaza of the Unknown Soldier’s Grave, where rooms can be had for around $100 a night.

There are a number of options within walking distance to Central Station, which is convenient for first time visitors or anyone without a sense of direction. Lose your way and all you have to do is look to the spire of the Palace of Science and Culture or, directly across the street, the InterContinental Warsaw skyscraper where rooms also tend to hover around $100. 

Low Fares to Warsaw

Within Europe, Poland is really just a hair east of center, and served by budget carrier WOW Air. Fares from the U.S. are typically inexpensive, sometimes below $400 round-trip. National flag carrier LOT Polish often has sales from New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Toronto.
For a look at current finds, visit our Warsaw (WAW) fare listings from all over the U.S. and Canada.

Above image by CL-Medien via Shutterstock

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