The highlights of Warsaw and a selfie with Frederic Chopin

What are the highlights of Warsaw? Well, the absolute must see in the historic area of Warsaw include: the Old Town (UNESCO World Heritage site), glimpses on Wisła (our river), the elegant Krakowskie Przedmieście, the modern University of Warsaw Library and its roof garden, the Chopin’s heart and… a personal selfie photo session with the composer.

First of all – don’t worry about the Chopin’s heart. Actually, you can’t see it as it is hidden in a niche and covered with a proper stone plaque. Then, be prepared for the story of the afterwar reconstruction. Historically speaking, the Old Town heritage covers almost 7 centuries of architecture, but most of it was recreated after WWII.

Next, visiting the St. John the Baptist Cathedral (Roman Catholic) or the Market Sq. provides you with a unique opportunity to feel the inner strength of the Polish nation. The people’s will brought about the reconstruction of the entire district on a unique scale in the history of the world. It’s not an exaggeration: the reconstruction was the reason why the Old Town in Warsaw was listed as the part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

Then, the Warsaw University Campus with its duality: the grand and noble buildings of the old section in Krakowskie Przedmieście and quite unique modern architecture in the Powiśle area, such as one of the Warsaw icons: the New University Library Building with its remarkable roof garden and a panoramic view on the Wisła river and the city centre.

In November 2016 we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the University as it was established in 1816. The Krakowskie Przedmieście Campus is worth visiting also as a place closely associated with biographies of its alumni, such as Frederic Chopin. This is where you will find one of the playing musical benches. And you can take a selfie with the composer right at the entrance to his home – all you have to do is download the free app called selfie with Chopin from the official tourist site of the city or ask your guide!

For more city walks in winter and in summer click our Warsaw section.

Our service:

This is our most popular 3 -4-hour walking tour. However, there is a possibility to use very convenient public transport or a private car – if needed. There are daily or longer period tickets for the city’s trams and buses available in kiosks or ticket machines located at the major stops.

This itinerary offers you a very convenient start for further exploration. In the Old Town area you will find the Royal Castle with its art collection. But if you are more interested in the reconstruction – then go to the Muzeum Warszawy (the Warsaw City Museum) and see the exhibition located on Brzozowa St. in the Old Town.

We provide guiding services. There are entrance fees to both museums. Tickets for individual visitors must be bought at the museums ticket office. Group visits must be booked via the official website or the booking offices (no more than 25 pax in a group). On request, we can assist you with the booking.

War/saw: Warsaw and WWII

Are you interested in the city’s complex and heroic past? Would you like to find some traces of the WWII in Warsaw? It is possible even if you have just 3-4 hours to spare for a city walk and you prefer to stay in the city centre.

 

 

You can start your walk in the historic and well-known areas such as the Old Town, but you will need to focus on curiosities and details that are hidden in plain sight. For instance, let’s take the Column in the Castle Sq., the one erected in the memory of Sigismund III Vasa and the main meeting point in that part of Warsaw. Originally it was built in 1644, but, after almost 220 years, the old marble column was replaced with a granite one. Then, the whole monument was destroyed during the Warsaw Rising 1944, the column was shattered into pieces and the bronze statue of the king was lying on the ground. That view was shown on one of the photos of the ruined city after the war.

Subsequently, it was rebuilt but the old columns are still on the square, next to the entrance to the Castle. You will be able to tell which is the oldest one and which was a war casualty even if you have no idea how to distinguish marble form granite. My advice: look for bullet holes.

As far as the Royal Castle is concerned, there is a special music event commemorating the WWII destruction of the building. Every day at 11.15 you will hear a trumpet player who appears on the Castles’s main tower (the one under the clock). It is a bugle call created especially for commemorating the damage done by German bombings from the beginning of the WWII. On the 17th of September 1939 the clock on the Castle Tower stopped precisely at 11.15 am and that is why we have the music played shortly before noon.

There are other memorials in the Old Town as well. As you walk in the vicinity of the St. John the Baptist Cathedral you will find small plaques commemorating barricades created by the Polish insurgents during the WWII. Last, but not least, the majestic 1944 Warsaw Rising Memorial will give a unique visual comment to the stories of bravery you may know from history books.

 


Warsaw is also one the most important Holocaust sites in Europe and some of the most significant memorials are located within a walking distance from the reconstructed walls of the Old Town. In 1940 the Jewish Ghetto was established in the Northern District of the city. Although the ghetto itself was razed to the ground after the Ghetto Rising in 1943, the traces of its existence are still to be found. For example, just outside of the Krasiński Garden you will see one of the Ghetto Wall Markers to show you the boundaries of the district.

Then, a few minutes away, you will be able to pay your respects to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto at the stairs of the famous memorial. If you decide to walk along the Ghetto Memory Trail, then you will get to the Umschlagplatz area, the very place from where the Jews were deported to the Treblinka II death camp during WWII. The urbanscape of that part of the city is modern, but even a short walk in a comunist-style housing estate will provide architectural and spatial context to the tragic history of the Warsaw Jews.

For more city walks in winter and in summer click our Warsaw section.

Our service:

This is a 3 -4-hour walking tour. However, there is a possibility to use very convenient public transport or a private car – if needed. There are daily or longer period tickets for the city’s trams and buses available in kiosks or ticket machines located at the major stops.

This itinerary offers you a very convenient start for further exploration. In the Old Town area you will find the Royal Castle with its art collection and a special exhibition on its WWII destruction and the subsequent reconstruction. But if you are more interested in the reconstruction of the Old Town district as a whole– then go to the Muzeum Warszawy (the Warsaw City Museum) and see the exhibition located on Brzozowa St. in the Old Town. As far as the history of the Warsaw’s Ghetto is concerned, we strongly recommend a visit to the Holocaust Gallery in the Polin Museum

We provide guiding services in the city and in the museums. There are entrance fees to museums. Tickets for individual visitors must be bought at the museums’ ticket offices. Group visits must be booked via the official website or the booking offices (no more than 25 pax in a group). On request, we can assist you with the booking.

To the Heroes of the Ghetto

 

When you are at the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial just look around you. You will find many interesting memorials as the world famous memorial created by Nathan Rapaport and Leon Suzin is just one way we pay our respect to the heroes of the Ghetto. For example, every year, around 19th of April you are going to see a lot of daffodils in the area of the former ghetto. We decorate the city with the yellow flowers to show that we remember about the Jewish fighters from WWII.

Let’s begin with the name of the famous memorial. It is called To the Heroes of the Ghetto or the Rapaport Memorial – as Nathan Rapaport (or Rappaport) was the author of the sculptures. It was created in 1948 and since then has witnessed many important events: this is the very spot where Willy Brandt (Chancellor of Federeral Republic of Germany) knelt down in 1970 in a gesture of penance and humility. BTW, there is a memorial to that event and it is located at the other end of the square.

What’s interesting, there is another memorial built next to the famous one. In fact, the decision to build a monument to the Ghetto fighters was taken in 1944. As a consequence, the first small memorial, designed by Leon Suzin, was unveiled in April 1946. You can see it today, it is located a few meters from the Rapaport Memorial, but it is much less impressive. Look for a simple piece of red limestone in the shape of a circle, with a palm leaf, the Hebrew letter bet and an inscription written in Hebrew, Polish and Yiddish.

 

There are some interesting photos from the unveiling ceremonies at the core exhibition of the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The museum itself was opened in 2014 and since then has been considered one of the best of its kind. For example, in 2016 it was rewarded with European Museum Academy Award, but it’s best if you see it for yourself. The building was designed by Rainer Mahlamäki, an architect from Finland.

In spring, in the vicinity of the memorials, you can find flowers with a special meaning. For example the Irena Sendler red tulips named after a nurse and a social worker who saved 2500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. Then, there are a lot of yellow daffodils: some planted and some just laid in the memory of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters and their last commander – Marek Edelman. He used to leave a bunch of the spring flowers on the Rappaport Memorial every April, on the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1943 Ghetto Rising. This is why daffodils have become symbolic flowers for the Jewish fighters from WWII; just look at the temporary mural by Andrzej Wieteszka created in spring 2017 in the city centre.

In between flowers and stones and in front of the entrance to the Polin Museum, you can find medium-sized, dark blocks of stone. They are part of the Memorial Route of Jewish Martyrdom and Struggle in Warsaw 1940 – 1943. The stones, placed there in 1988, will lead you towards the Umschlagplatz Memorial. It’s not easy to read what was written on them, but if you focus, you will be able to discover names and events important for the history of Jews in Warsaw.

Our service:

We provide guiding services in the Polin Museum. Tickets for individual visitors can be bought both on line and in the Museum. Group visits must be booked via the Polin Museum official website (no more than 25 pax in a group). On request, we can assist you with the booking.

#selfiewithchopin, multimedia and national pride

Let’s start from the beginning – there is a photo competition in Warsaw organised by the Bureau of the city’s promotion. It is simple: take a selfie with Chopin, hashtag it: #selfiewithchopin #contest and wait for the results. It lasts until May 14th (2017), but there are Chopin themed multimedia that you can enjoy all the time. As you can see on my Facebook fun page, I do it quite often. But then, why do we like the Chopin’s music so much? And was he French or Polish? These are genuine questions some tourists asked me at the playing musical benches.

First of all, the multimedia. Downloading app Selfie with Chopin will give you access to some info on his bio and music. Then, there is another app called Chopin in Warsaw. It will provide you with some old views of Warsaw, so you could really see Frederic Chopin’s Warsaw. What is more, you can access not just some old photos, but there are a few Augmented Reality stops. For example, at the Czapski/Krasiński Palace on Krakowskie Przedmieście St. you will find a view of the composer’s drawing room. BTW, that was his last address in Warsaw before he left the city in 1830, and he created there both of his piano concertos.

The apps will guide you along Frederic Chopin itinerary marked by playing musical benches. They were installed in 2010 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the pianist’s birth. For instance, there is one in the Royal Łazienki Park and it plays a piece of the famous Polonaise in A Major (op. 40 no 1). Or you can listen to the part of the Sonata in B flat minor (op.35) renowned for so-called Funeral March at the entrance to the Holy Cross Church where Chopin’s heart is buried. The list and the locations of all playing musical benches is published on the city’s website called Chopin’s Warsaw. There is a printed version of it available in the tourist information points.

Planning a visit to Żelazowa Wola, the Chopin’s Birthplace Museum? There is a selfie stop there as well. You can take a photo of an AR Chopin just next to the bushes of Chopin’s Roses, the Polish variety created to honour the musician. Additionally, you can download an audioguide with some extra content, such as a short documentary on the Mazovia region and other places visited by the young composer in our region. It is available on the official site of the Museum.

Last, but not least, why do we have such an obsession with Frederic Chopin? After all, his father was French and he lived in France half of his life. Well, Chopin considered himself a Polish citizen and was very proud of it. Then, we consider him the most important and the most famous Polish composer. What is more, his music became one of the national symbols and was seen as such by the occupants of our country. To begin with, there was a ban on playing Chopin’s music in public in Warsaw in the XIX century. This regulation was applied on the territories that, like Warszawa, had belonged to our, Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom, but were under the Russian occupation since 1795. That was a personal decision of the Russian Tsar taken after crushing the Polish Insurrection in 1830 and 1831. The similar, anti-Chopin law was introduced by the Nazis after seizing Poland in 1939. The Polish people were not allowed to play it in public or listen to it’s recordings and the monument from the Royal Łazienki Park was destroyed. This is why, playing Chopin in public has become a political statement after WWII and the open air concerts started.

The best way to understand our feelings and emotions about Chopin is by watching Roman Polanski film on Władysław Szpilman called the Pianist or joining one of the open air summer concerts in Warsaw or Żelazowa Wola. All in all, it is a very nice way to get to know our capital city.

Praga and its Jewish heritage

The original hideout where a Righteous Among the Nations family was hiding Jews during WWII, two prayer halls and a glimpse of a pre-war city. The stories and architecture of the eastern part of Warsaw inspired Hollywood directors and local street art artists.

For years Praga in Warsaw (the district on the eastern bank of the Wisła river and not the capital city of the Czech Republic) has been considered an area off the beaten track and a place known only to the locals. And yet, there is a lot to discover. What should you expect?

First of all, if you know the Warsaw city centre – be prepared for a total change in urbanscape. Even a short walk in the Praga district will give you an opportunity to enjoy Warsaw from the pre-war times. This part of the city wasn’t as destroyed as the western bank of the river. Some areas are truly neglected, some has been given a total makeover, but it is a district almost without the communist imprint.

Secondly, the Jewish heritage sites are mostly linked with every day life of the pre-war Jewish Community in Warsaw. There are two small Jewish prayer halls you can visit (today a part of the Praga Museum) and the oldest market place in Warsaw called Bazar Różyckiego. We will show you the Auxilium Academicum Judaicum student house where Menachem Begin, and other Jewish students, lived while studying at Warsaw University. There is a majestic complex of the Michał Bergson Jewish orphanage and dormitory. Both buildings were designed by Henryk Stifelman, an eminent Polish Jewish architect active in Warsaw in 1920s.

Last but not least, visiting the Warsaw Zoo can be an absolute highlight of your stay in Warsaw. You will find there the original, pre-war villa and home of Antonina and Jan Żabinski, the director of the Zoo. Their biographies have inspired writers and film-makers. During WWII, the whole family, the young son Ryś included, was involved in the resistance. They decided to use empty cages and enclosures for hiding people, arms and ammunition. This is how they helped many Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. In the villa you will see the original hideouts prepared by Mr and Mrs Żabiński and you will be able to learn more about this amazing gentile family of the Righteous Among the Nations. 

What happened in the Warsaw’s zoo is the actual true story behind The Zookeeper’s wife: a novel by Diane Ackerman and a movie by Niki Caro. By the way, the film’s location was Praha, the capital city of the Czech Republic, not Warsaw… But some streets of the central Praga were used as a location in other films. For example, Roman Polański shot there some scenes of The Pianist –  another real WWII story about Władysław Szpilman, an extremely talented Jewish musician, who stayed and survived in Warsaw during the German occupation.

Our service:

We prepared 3 hours walking itinerary in the central part of Praga. There is an entrance fee to the Praga Museum – a local historical museum of the district, and the prayer house entrance is included in the Praga Museum ticket.

There is an entrance fee to the Zoo and the Żabińskis villa. The visit may be arranged in the mornings and early afternoons. It takes approximately 1 hour.

Spring in Warsaw: flowers and their secrets 

There are more than 67 city parks and gardens in Warsaw. However, they are not the only place to look for signs of spring. There are spring flowers and vegetables on the markets while the city gardeners are busy with new plants on the streets. And some of the flower beds have a special meaning!

Magnolias are the first ones: in the yard of the University of Warsaw or at the old entrance to the Wilanów Palace. You can find them blossoming in March and April. In May, all the horse-chestnut trees are in bloom! They are not edible, but fun in autumn when you can make a toy figurine out of their nut-like seeds and a few matches. In spring the trees are a nice view for adults and visitors, but an omen of uncertain future for high school students – the final exams are scheduled for the first weeks of May.

During a city walk, you can find Irena Sendler red tulips named after a nurse and a social worker, who saved 2500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. That variety was created by Jan Ligthart, a bulbgrower from Breezand in the Netherlands. He has been growing and creating new flower bulbs all his life since he was 13 years old. There are other Jan Ligthart tulips bearing Polish names, such as violet the Chopin’s Prelude, which can be found in the Royal Łazienki.

In April, you are going to see a lot of yellow daffodils. They are very popular spring flowers, but some of them are planted in memory of the Warsaw ghetto fighters and their commander – Marek Edelman. He used to leave a bunch of the spring flowers on the Rapaport Memorial to the Heroes of the Ghetto every April, on the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1943 Ghetto Rising.

Last but not least, there are some more flowers named after Frederic Chopin. There are at least two kinds of tulips: the violet one created by Jan Ligthart and the another lemon-yellow, lily-shaped variety called simply the Chopin tulip. What is more, there is a rose named after the pianist as well. The nicest flower bed with the Chopin roses is located at the back entrance to the composer’s birth place in Żelazowa Wola. The rose was created in 1980 by an important Polish breeder Stanisław Żyła and it is quite a tall bush. Actually, the mature Chopin rose is taller than the composer himself, as he was 170 cm while the flower can grow up to 2 meters. It starts blossoming in June.

Our service:

The city’s parks and gardens like the Royal Łazienki, squares with the Warsaw Ghetto monuments or Frederic Chopin and his Warsaw – these are some of our city walks itineraries where you can find spring flowers. Go to Warsaw section for more sightseeing ideas.

Jewish heritage in the city centre

Before the WWII Warsaw was practically a bicultural city, as the Jewish community was so large and active, both culturally and socially. The war changed the city on an unprecedented and drastic scale, but there are still some traces of the pre-war heritage you can visit.

In the city centre of Warsaw, an itinerary for half a day or a day long visit includes for instance: the Nożyk Synagogue, the Jewish cemetery and the monuments commemorating the Ghetto such as the Umschlagplatz, Mila St. and the Memorial to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto. After the sightseeing, we recommend a visit in the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

Having more time for sightseeing you can go to the Warsaw University Campus, as it is the place where many Jewish political leaders have studied such as David Ben-Gurion (the first Prime Minister of Israel) and Yitzhak Gruenbaum (the first Israeli Internal Minister in Ben-Gurion’s cabinet). The Old Town is a Jewish heritage site as well; it was home to the oldest, medieval, Jewish community in Warsaw. Today, it is the touristic centre of Warsaw, so you will find a lot of souvenir shops there. After a day long exploration of the Jewish past and present, you can also consider having some rest in one of the city’s parks like the Royal Łazienki with the scenic Frederic Chopin Monument.

Our service

We can provide guiding services in all the above mentioned places.

The sightseeing of the Jewish historic sites located in the city centre takes time due to the distances. It requires a private transport or taxis to save time. It is possible to use public transport but the tour will be longer due to the city traffic.

tickets and bookings:

  • There is an entrance fee to the Nożyk Synagogue and the Jewish Cemetery.
  • For a larger group it is obligatory to book entrance to the Nożyk Synagogue in advance. On request, we can assist you with the booking.
  • The visit to the POLIN Museum is not included. An average visit takes 2-3 hours and we recommend visiting it before or after the sightseeing tour. Tickets to the POLIN Museum must be booked and bought at the Museum ticket office or official website. On request, we can assist you with the booking.

 

Treblinka

Treblinka II was a Nazi German extermination camp established in summer of 1942. It existed for over a year – in late summer of 1943 the camp buildings were completely destroyed and the ground was turned into a farmland.  Planning your trip there? This is what you should expect.

Firstly, during WWII there were two camps located in close proximity, this is why the Treblinka Holocaust site is known as the camp number 2. Today in both sites you can see memorials and information boards with necessary explanation and photos from WWII.

As for the Treblinka II Memorial, it was designed by three artists: Adam Haupt, Franciszek Duszenko and Franciszek Strynkiewicz and was built in 1959 – 1963. The boundaries of the camp are marked by pillars of granite, and there is a symbolic “camp ramp” with “rail tracks”. The tall Memorial shows the location of the new gas chambers and behind it, there is a rectangular hole filled with black basalt to indicate the place where the corpses were cremated. The camp was built on an area of 17 hectares and, as far the size is concerned, it can be compared with the Auschwitz I (20 ha), while the Auschwitz II – Birkenu Museum grounds cover 171 hectares.

What is more, it seems impossible to estimate the exact number of people killed in the Treblinka II death camp. However, it is believed that probably between 700,000 and 925,000 Jews were deported there. Undoubtedly, regarding the number of victims, Treblinka II was the second largest extermination camp – after Auschwitz I and II. Today, around the big, matzevah-like Memorial, there are 17 000 granite stones with 221 names of different towns engraved, as the Jews murdered in Treblinka were deported from many ghettos, for example Warsaw, Radom or Białystok. The only exception was made for doctor Janusz Korczak.

The Memorial to the victims of Treblinka extermination camp is one of the most important sites for the history of Holocaust in Mazovia region. There is also a small museum where you can see a reconstruction of the Treblinka II camp, maps, photos and some artefacts found during excavations.