Warsaw City Guide: A Day in Sródmiescie

Mary Lussiana, The Guardian, August 22, 2014

The fact that Poland is one of few European countries not to have suffered a major recession in recent decades is visible on Warsaw’s streets. Whole neighbourhoods have been revitalised, museums have opened and a flock of international designers have set up shop. Nowhere more so than in buzzing Sródmiescie, the heart of the capital, where cafe tables spill out on to the pavements and impromptu flower stalls are full of the scents and colours of the countryside – generous peonies and fragrant lilacs.

Breakfast is a serious meal in Poland and tackled with gusto. Eggs, ham and cheese are the norm, but increasingly offerings include a range of fancier French-style patisserie. There is a host of cafes to choose from on pedestrianised Nowy Swiat, but (1) Vincent’s (Nowy Swiat 64), with its crowded shelves and tiny upstairs, is where queues start forming soon after it opens at 6.30am. Try the sernik, Polish cheesecake – with its tart white curd cheese studded with plump raisins, it strikes just the right balance between sweet and sour.

Head to the (2) National Museum (Aleje Jerozolimskie 3, mnw.art.pl, Tues-Sun 10am-6pm, Thurs 10am-9pm, about 16 złoty, £3) for an understanding of Polish art (there’s a vast international collection too). All the great masters are represented, and there are regular guided tours in English.

Walk along (3) Aleje Ujazdowskie, part of the old Royal Route, through one of Warsaw’s prettiest squares, Plac Trzech Krzyzy, dominated by Saint Aleksander’s, the round church. On your left is majestically leafy Park Ujazdowski, with stone bridges crossing the lake and plenty of benches from which to watch the red squirrels at play.

For lunch, head to (4) Flaming & Co (Chopina 5, flaming-co.com) to tap into the current craze for burgers, which have replaced sushi as Warsaw’s must-have food and are far more in keeping with the indigenous carnivorous cuisine. White clapboard interiors give a cool, easy vibe and the restaurant spills out into the garden square, making it the perfect spot for a summer lunch. It’s popular not only for meaty house burgers but also for the huge range of pizzas (from £6), making reservations essential.

Wander up narrow (5) Mokotowska, where many new boutiques and niche design stores have opened in the past few years, in between the ornate 19th-century apartment buildings. Me’Amoore at no 26 was set up by two young sisters who preside over a treasure trove of good-value bejewelled delights, from tiny cup cake earrings (from £5) to beaded bracelets, sponge bags and laptop cases. Dip into Hefra at no 28 for wonderfully priced, chunky, handmade Krosno glass: a medium sized vase is around £13. Another important Polish handicraft is linen and across the road, at no 41, is Art Manus, which has embroidered and plain napkins in crisp linen from £2.50 as well as tablecloths and hand towels. The workshop of Ewa Lewanowicz is also on this street (no 48) with a wide collection of her typically colourful and exotic fashion jewellery, from £25.

After all that walking, take a rest and watch the world go by at (6) Beirut (Poznanska 12). It’s on a lively street with a string of new bars and cafes where locals while away summer evenings – such a joy after the long, freezing winters. Beirut is the best of the bunch, with its retro decor, cult album covers and graffiti. Those long decades behind the iron curtain, when travel was almost impossible, created a real fascination with the outside world – including its food. At Beirut, that means the best hummus in town topped with chicken liver (£3.20), speciality ales such as the Belgian Duchesse de Bourgogne (£2.20), as well as homemade lemonade or a Beirut iced tea. An alternative for pre-dinner drinks is Jedna Trzecia Craft Beer Bar (Wilcza 52) round the corner, where there is an even bigger choice of Belgian beer, whose popularity is sweeping Warsaw right now.

Just down the road, inside H15 (see below), is (7) Signature, (Poznanska 15), where chef Wojciech Kilian delivers modern Polish cuisine such as a memorably delicious starter of chopped sirloin with sun-dried tomatoes and truffle oil baked under a flaxseed crumble (£7). Black and white photographs by Milton Greene, many of Marilyn Monroe, grace the walls, lighting is from Serge Mouille lamps and the fascinating former life of this building as the Soviet Embassy is writ small, with a hammer and sickle carved into the top of each of the beautiful stucco columns.

“One for the road” is an English expression that all Poles understand. Finish the evening with a 10-minute walk to (8) Kita Koguta (Krucza 6/14), a new cocktail bar with attitude. Downstairs the industrial aesthetic is brightened up by loud murals of the staff, and a bike hangs from the antlers which adorn the walls; upstairs is more comfortable with kick-back armchairs. But you come here for the cocktails (from £3.50) – try Po Godzinach (“after hours”), a mix of gin, crème de cacao and absinth. What a note to end the day on.

Where to stay

Most of Warsaw’s hotels rise up into the sky, and you might be forgiven for walking right past (9) H15, whose elegant white 19th-century facade gives no indication of the hotel within. Step inside, though, and you get a real sense of place. History and heritage have been incorporated into 21st-century design, with glimpses of its past obvious in its parquet flooring and high ceilings. The whole feels small and private and its location, in a residential area, adds to the home-from-home atmosphere. In the 46 rooms and apartments, bold Polish graphic art is mixed with Italian contemporary furniture, while white linen and marble bathrooms remain classically conservative.
ul. Poznanska 15, +48 22 5538 700, h15boutiqueapartments.com. Doubles from £86, room only

Local’s tip

From Canadian Alexandra Richie, Warsaw resident and author of Warsaw 1944; The Fateful Uprising (Collins, £25)

Perched on the fourth floor, with views of the city’s rooftops, minimalist (10) Bar 13 (Bracka 9) has hardwood floors, glass walls and beautifully presented dishes from perfect pasta to octopus carpaccio.

This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk


This article was written by Mary Lussiana from The Guardian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.