Who is this Guide for?
If you're sort of arty-farty but not really, maybe left-leaning, and want to do some light stuff. And you trust me even though I didn't have time to visit most of these places I crowdsourced from close friends.
People here are generally incredibly gracious and generous. They gave me free transport tickets when I ran out of Zloty and had only Euro left in my pockets. They sent me halfway home when I got lost. They stuffed me with so much food I keeled over and rolled home on my stomach. However, quite a few have also complained to me about refugees. So, you'll probably enjoy Warsaw best if you're a heterosexual non-brown male foreigner with no distinct political leaning like me.
Also, it might pay to be a bit thick in the head. I think a couple of people tried to be racist with me but I simply didn't get it. Sigh. Same thing happens when girls hint at me. Look, I'm sorry I'm not getting offended by your racism but, you have to be more straightforward. You can't expect everyone to understand your very local hand signs and symbols.
Or maybe it's just me. Same thing happened in Copenhagen and I was like, what, oh, he was being racist? Meh. Didn't get it.
I hear from local Poles that other cities in Poland fare worse. But anyway, let's look at Warsaw first.
If you need to exchange money, there is a line of sex shops along Al. Jana Pawła amongst which you will find this little exchange. The bus stop is Kino Femina. Friend tells me it has the best rates in town. Tell me if there's a better one.
Once you get some Zloty you can pop into the next shop and indulge your sexual fantasies. Once your sexual desires are sated you can cross the road for affordable food in the cosy cafes. Pretty convenient area, huh?
Use Jakdojade to find public transport. There is an app too.
Here Maps is not as good as Google Maps here. But download both. I've found that sometimes a location isn't available in one, and other times one recognises English spelling better than the other.
Whichever app you use, whether Jakdojade, Here Maps, or Google Maps, sometimes it'll tell you to go to a particular bus or tram stop to find your particular vehicle. This has been slightly frustrating for me. Quite a number of times, I could not find those stops. Just last night I looked for Centrum 04. I found Centrum 05, Centrum 10, Centrum 08... I didn't find 04. They're within the same area, but spread out with no signs to them.
Once, I arrived at a stop to find that it had been cancelled. So I had to walk down to the next one. Another time, I arrived only to find the entire road under reconstruction, and the appropriate bus stop was nowhere in sight. Took me half an hour and lots of walking around and climbing up and down stairs on the underground to find it. So, plan ahead for a hot date.
There are no weekly tickets. So, best to purchase a handful of 20-minute and 75-minute tickets at a time. There is a weekend ticket that starts on Friday, I think in the evening.
This article is good. Wide range. Some still old-fashioned with grumpy service and querulous old customers complaining about prices and portions for that authentic Soviet era flavour. Others evolved into hipster joints for the contemporary homo sapiens with its curly moustache, top all business-like tidily pressed with long sleeves and buttons, but three-quarter pants.
Bar Gdanski is the old-fashioned type for the old-fashioned soul. It's close to the Polin Museum so you can do that first and then Gdanski for a bit of chronological parallelism. Bar Bambino is in the centre and not bad either. I haven't had time to hit up either one though.
This article gives a better idea of how important milk bars are. As a friend of mine put it, they should be UNESCO heritage sites.
The museums are invariably terrible at contextualising their exhibits. Nonetheless, a few are enjoyable.
Centre for Contemporary Art: Not so good, but maybe I didn't go at the best time, when they had but a meagre exhibition on. Free on Thursdays.
Zachenta: Good. More contemporary than the Centre for Contemporary Art. Enjoyed it. Free on Thursdays.
National Museum: Loaded with classical pieces. Not my cuppa. Descriptions are all about stylistic development rather than who the bad boy/girl rebel artists were. Absolutely dull way to tell a story, IMHO. Permanent exhibitions free on Tuesdays, although, I walked into what I think was a temporary exhibition and didn't know till I came out. Warsaw is confusing like that.
Muzeum Techniki: This one has loads and loads of old paraphernalia from at least the late 1800's. Cars, telephones, washing machines, aeroplanes, computers, etc. Tons of old tech. Even 1990's FPS games you can play. All the descriptions are in Polish. So, bring a Polish friend! I liked this one best but only because I'm into old tech. It does not have a day for free admission.
Chopin Museum: This one goes heavy on tech. Lots of screens. Half of them were out of order when I visited. Where it was not out of order, the UI was sometimes unresponsive, and generally not user-friendly. Not a great experience. The website is confusing with more than one address on it. It's at 1 Okólnik Street.
Uprising Museum: I've not been, but I hear it caters to the mainstream. So, decent education to be taken with a large grain of salt. Free on Sundays.
Polin Museum: I've not visited this one either but I hear it also caters to the mainstream. Despite that, a friend who's a native of Warsaw says it is a museum for those who feel Varsovian/Warsawian at heart. It's still a museum. Museums cannot be fully trusted with truth and history. Free on Thursdays.
Someone gave me this useful pamphlet with some but not all the museums in Warsaw on it:
It's like theatre. You can't rewind, forward, or pause it. The guy in front of you is too tall and has a big head. There's always some stupid kid nearby fussing and whining, his neck shoved through a tiny bow tie like a giraffe through a pipe and obviously he doesn't like it. There's always a group of teenagers in their cloud of indistinct perfume and cologne, finding their place in the world through awkward gropes in style and braggadocio, too old to be adorable, too young to hit on. And all you really want to do is shake your stifling clothes off and plunge your face into a large steaming bowl of noodles while complaining to your friend on Skype about what a dumbass the director is, but you can't. I don't get theatre and cinema.
Tourist guide books always leave these out because tourist guide books are generally ass. They give you dubiously respectable restaurants instead of socially conscious eateries that deserve generous patronage. I think it's insincere. So, here are the places where you should go eat your heart out.
Kuchnia Konfliktu: Someone told me this cafe is run by refugees and I so wanted to visit but as usual I ran out of time. Gosh darn it. Please visit and tell me about it.
Cafe Kryzys: Open on weekends. There is a bike kitchen around here somewhere. I went last night. It was closed. Sad. Supposedly pretty great.
Kuchnia Czerwony Rower: I'm not entirely sure what this is about but it was first described to me as a place where the disabled cook. Then I went and now I think it's about the homeless. Either way, it's a good social business that is super affordable, has decent food, and totally deserves support. There's a group called Open Door around here that works for the homeless too.
Ada Pulawska: A squat with a vegan kitchen, screen printing, bike kitchen, etc. Never been but it sounds awesome. Pulawska is one of the longest roads in Warsaw, which doesn't make any sense. Make sure to note where the squat really is before heading down otherwise you'll get to Pulawska street and lost.