Sometimes, we make mistakes. Sometimes, we have a little too much fun in a city, let’s say London, and we don’t fully research the trains to and from the airports. Sometimes we accidentally take the slower multi-stop train instead of the fast non-stop train, arrive late, miss our flight, and by default miss our connecting flight. And, sometimes, after you rebook one flight, you realize you can only get a connecting flight to your original destination two days from now, so you now have a two day layover in a city you’ve never been to or prepared for.
So here’s a guide on how to spend an unplanned 48 hours in Warsaw, Poland.
Get an Affordable Accommodation
Despite being a notable European capital, Warsaw is a really affordable city. While waiting for my bags at the airport, I booked an airbnb last minute for $22 a night that was a spacious studio with a king bed, a fold out couch, and a kitchenette. Did I mention it was only a block away from a main metro hub? It easily and comfortably could have fit four people (assuming two people per bed, naturally) and was a short walking distance from a small bodega style grocery store, coffee shops, and a bookshop. I didn’t look at any hotel prices, but I’m sure they’d be much more reasonable than the likes of Paris or London, and staying in a hostel would probably be a steal.
Take Public Transit from the Airport
While it may be tempting to take a private taxi or an Uber in this city you have never been to before, the public transit is good and easy to comprehend. If you’re lucky enough to land in the Chopin airport, Warsaw’s “main” airport, you can either take one of five different bus routes or one of two train lines leading into the city. But if you’re like me and managed to land in the secondary Modlin airport which is way farther away, then the only public transport is the Modlin Bus, which is a long but comfortable bus ride that comes every hour or so, running from the Modlin airport to the Palace of Culture. Speaking of which…
See the Palace of Culture Up Close
The Palace of Culture and Science is a massive soviet era skyscraper built in the 1950s that, for better or worse, has become a modern symbol of Warsaw. Aesthetically, it’s like if you merged a classic New York City style skyscraper and a neoclassical church. A little overcompensating, but impressive none the less. It’s still the tallest building in Poland so you can see it from a lot of areas of the city, especially when it’s illuminated at night, but you should look at it from the base at least once. There are a couple of museums in the base and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants in the blocks surrounding it, so it’s easy to work into your day.
Learn Some Basic Polish
Being in Poland was the first time I had ever been in a country where I didn’t speak a local language. My travels have always landed me in places that either speak English or French, so it did feel a little intimidating being somewhere that I knew nothing. Most people in Poland do speak English, especially anyone working in the service industry, but it’s always polite to learn at least something in the local tongue.
Dzień dobry – Good day
Proszę – Please
Dziękuję – Thank You
Przepraszam – Sorry
Kocham cię – I love you (hey, you never know when you’ll need it)
Enjoy the Parks and Tree-Lined Streets
I was somewhat surprised at the amount of trees there were in the city. As I was there in early March at the tail end of winter, the trees were still bare, but I’m sure the city looks beautiful in summer when they’re all full and green. There are numerous parks in the city, but my favorite that I explored was definitely Ogród Saski, as it had a lot of sculpture and public artworks and wasn’t far from the old town. Again, speaking of which…
Explore Warsaw’s Historic District
Yes it’s cliché, yes it’s where most of the tourists will be, and yes it will be in every guidebook about the city, but you should still see Warsaw’s historic city center. Because Poland was so heavily ravaged during World War II, the country got the unique opportunity to thoroughly retouch its historic architecture, and as a result a lot of the traditional areas look almost new. In all of the historic European city centers I’ve been in, Warsaw’s is one of the cleanest and best kept, and honestly, does anyone really get tired of quaint and traditional European architecture? I prefer it over modern or contemporary architecture any day. I also personally recommend walking up the Krakowskie Przedmieście (it’s a street), which has a ton of historic architecture, churches, bars, and restaurants, where you will be led straight to the old city.
Try Some Traditional Polish Food
After walking around aimlessly for a few hours admiring the sights, you may realize that the sun is setting and you definitely haven’t eaten since noon. Conveniently, many if not the majority of the restaurants are serving some sort of Polish food, whether it be traditional or modernized. I love trying different European cuisines other than the arguably overused French or Italian, and Poland has a lot to offer. Nearly all of the produce is regionally grown, there are many dishes that are unique to the country, and the Poles are big on nose-to-tail eating, which I always appreciate. Jewish culture has also left its mark on the food scene, and one of my favorite restaurants I went to in the city was a modern and trendy Jewish cafe-bakery, with a great assortment of Jewish breads and brunch fare.
Grab a Drink (or Multiple)
As any respectable European city would, Warsaw has a respectable collection of bars to choose from. Because this is technically a hearty, meat-and-potatoes country of central Europe, beer houses are the more traditional way to get imbibed, and you can find plenty of them, particularly in the historic areas of the city. But I hate beer, so I took a more modern route with a trendy bar on Krakowskie Przedmieście where I had some mulled wine, which was perfect for that crisp winter night. For any LGBTQs* reading, there are gay bars, but they’re dotted throughout the city and there’s no established gay district, so you more or less have to pick a bar and stick with it unless you want to do a lot of traveling that night.
*Also, as an aside, there’s been some problems with LGBTQ rights within the current Polish government and there is some anti-gay sentiment present in the country. I wouldn’t say you all should completely avoid the country, and of all its cities Warsaw is probably the safest and has the largest community, but be aware and do your research beforehand. For you solo travelers, your best bet might be to meet a local via Tinder as soon as you get there so you have a local guide you can trust.
Don’t Be Afraid to Explore
Let yourself just wander the city, take a different train on a whim, and find your own hidden gems. And whether you end up stuck in Warsaw or any other city by accident, don’t let it bring you down and ruin your trip. Travel rarely goes exactly as planned, and no matter what happens, what’s really important is that you make the best of every moment, whether you had expected it or not. I have no idea when I would have even gone to Poland had it not been for that accidental layover, and now it’s yet another great experience under my belt in my travels of Europe.
Sometimes, we make mistakes. But many of those times, we can make them into something better than we had even expected, as long as we give them the chance.
Meet Austin: a 25 year old from California chasing the dream of living in Europe. Keep up with his writing and adventures on IG.