First opened in 2013, The POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews is an award-winning attraction housed in one of Warsaw’s most fantastic buildings. Here’s everything you need to know.
The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
Warsaw’s POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews recently celebrated its 10th birthday and was having a new glass exterior fitted when I visited. It remains, however, a stunning piece of architecture inside and out. Rather than focus on the atrocities of the Second World War and the extermination camps in Poland, the POLIN Museum ambitiously tackles the entire millennium of the Jewish experience in the country.
This is a fascinating museum with a great deal to say about the history of Poland as a whole, and the complexities of history are well dramatised through the very design of the galleries. The curvy, open spaces of the earliest galleries, with their storybook illustrations, for example, give way to the more angular and claustrophobic spaces of the Second World War.
This is definitely a museum that rewards multiple visits.
Entry comes with a good audioguide. However, nothing beats taking part in a professional tour. These will often include hotel pickup and take you around the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto. The advantage of these over the many in-house tours is that they are often combined with related themes and museums.
What To See In The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
Entrance to the POLIN Museum
The POLIN Museum itself is now a Warsaw landmark. You can enter the building without a ticket if you just want to have a look around. The grounds also have a number of sculptures, including the Monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes and a statue of resistance fighter Jan Karski, one of the first to provide accurate information on the Nazi Holocaust.
The museum itself spans the basement of the building and tells the thousand-year story of Jewish life in Poland across 8 different galleries. It starts with a kind of art installation called The Forest and moves through the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, then into the modern age with all the tensions and innovations it brought. The lengthiest gallery covers the Warsaw Ghetto, the Holocaust, and resistance during the Second World War.
Though the galleries are engaging and thoughtfully designed, there is a lot of information to take on board. Thankfully, the museum has been designed so you can take a break at various points before returning once you’ve had a rest and something to eat. We have a full walkthrough of the exhibition in the next section.
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What To Expect When Visiting The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
The museum is set in a park with a handful of poignant monuments and plenty of places to sit. The statue of resistance fighter Jan Karski recalls the one in Kraków’s Kazimierz district.
Jan Karski statue
The museum also faces the Monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes. Warsaw’s prewar Jewish quarter was in this district of Muranów and it was also the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto.
Monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes
When you enter the gallery, you will need to pass through a body scanner and your bags will be X-rayed. There is a small locker room immediately to the left. Some of these are free and some require a coin.
Continue up the ramp and you will see the desk ahead with a cloakroom. You can show your ticket here and pick up a free audioguide.
There are toilets on this floor, as well as a restaurant and shop, and a fantastic seating area with huge windows. Have a look around and admire the architecture.
Once you are ready to start the exhibition, you can take the staircase down.
Ticket office, cloakroom, and stairs to exhibition
The POLIN Museum of the History of the Polish Jews is spread across 8 galleries, each covering a different span of time and introducing different themes.
After depositing coats and bags, and picking up a free audioguide, there is an impressive flight of stairs to the basement where the exhibition begins.
It starts with a small, rather poetic space named The Forest, based around a legend of how Jews came to settle in Poland after hearing the birds sing in Hebrew. This gallery explains the name of the museum.
The museum proper begins with the early history of Jewish Poland, from 960 to the early 16th century, as merchants travelled across the country. There is a mix of historical artefacts, multimedia displays, and some really nice graphic representations. These early stages feel a little like being inside the pages of a children’s book.
One of the nicest things about the museum is how it gently manages your time and energy, often prompting you to rest and take a break. The flow of the gallery feels free and organic and the audioguide is automatically triggered as you enter new spaces.
The start of the museum
Although the museum is dense with information, everything has a strong visual representation to help you understand it.
Map of Europe
The next gallery covers the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of 1569-1648, which became home to the largest Jewish community in the world.
Relief map of Kraków
The gallery helps contextualise this period of Polish history and growth through the lens of its Jewish community.
Representation of a Jewish town
The museum is generally very spacious and designed so that no area gets bottlenecked with people.
Gallery 3: Paradisus Iudaeorum
The Jewish Town
This gallery dramatises daily everyday life in a Polish-Jewish community in the mid-17th century through to the late-18th century. It includes a market place, tavern, and inside the home.
Jewish home life
This gallery also contains one of the museum’s standout items, the gorgeously colourful bimah from a wooden synagogue.
Encounters With Modernity
This gallery covers the seismic historical changes from the late 18th century to the early 20th, with the partitioning of the Commonwealth, and the impact of industrialisation.
Recreation of the throne in Warsaw’s Royal Castle
The gallery explores every aspect of life at this time, including education, society and business, and the growth of Yiddish culture.
Jewish factory ownership and the development of the railways are also explored.
The development of the railways
We also begin to see questions of national loyalty and belonging.
Questions of national belonging
On The Jewish Street
Gallery 6 is the most entertaining in the museum, a recreation of a street in the Second Polish Republic between the two world wars.
Polish street between the wars
You can dip into the shop, a cinema, and learn about the culture and politics of this energetic and febrile period. There is a lot of fascinating information and archive material here and the museum takes a brief detour on the mezzanine to deeply explore local life in the era across different parts of the country, nicely personalising transnational conflicts and questions, particular the experience of children and the young.
This section documents the factions pulling Europe into different directions.
Politics between the wars
But cinema, newspapers, music, art, and even dance crazes are given space.
And looming at the end of the street is the premonition of something awful.
The oncoming atrocity
By far the largest section of the museum covers the events of the Second World War and the Holocaust, largely through the perspective of the Warsaw Ghetto.
Invasion of Poland
This section could be a museum of its own but, by contrasting with the preceding centuries – we started in a poetic forest, remember – this section feels even more shocking.
This gallery is rich with information, compellingly told. For me, the most effective story in the whole museum tells of the bridge over Chłodna Street, where the small and large ghettos were connected.
“And from the top of the bridge a view into the Aryan side – for us a glimpse of free Warsaw. Yet we are not allowed even this small treat. Policemen on the bridge politely but firmly tell us not to gape, and move us on”, wrote Dr. Henryk Makower.
This experience is dramatised, as we too get to go up the 50 steps and glimpse the life below.
The bridge over Chłodna
Once you have crossed the bridge and looked down, you see the view from the ground.
Chłodna bridge from below
The gallery also explores the Ghetto Uprising of 1943 and it’s role in the Warsaw Uprising the following year, Jan Karski’s Story of a Secret State, and the terrible facts of the Holocaust.
The brutal facts of the Holocaust
The final gallery looks at life during the Communist era and beyond. Here, the question of where to live has become urgent and the rest of the museum delves into the stories of those who left, often to Israel, and those who chose to stay and help renew Jewish life in Poland.
Hopes for Israel
The gallery explores mass media, its role in democracy, and tensions with authoritarian power.
How To Visit The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
Signs for the POLIN Museum
Finding the POLIN Museum is easy. The Nalewki-Muzeum bus stop is directly next to the site and the Muranów trams stops about 5 minutes away on foot. The building itself is large and unmistakable, and located within a park that has signs to help you find it. The image above is directly behind the bus stop.
The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews address: ul. Mordechaja Anielewicza 6, Warsaw 00-157 Poland
The POLIN Museum is open as follows:
- Sun-Mon / Wed-Fri 10am-6pm. Last entry to the core exhibition is 4pm and last entry to the temporary exhibition is 5.30pm
- Sat 10am-8pm. Last entry to the core exhibition is 6pm and last entry to the temporary exhibition is 7.30pm
The museum is closed on Tuesdays and over Christmas and New Year.
Entry times and prices are subject to change, so check details before visiting the museum.
Entry tickets for the POLIN Museum cost 45zł (concessions 35zł). Children 7-16 and students under 26 only pay 1zł, and children under 7 get free entry. Groups of more than 10 people pay 30zł each.
Tickets can be bought in advance at the official POLIN Museum website. They will be emailed to you as a PDF to either print or show on your smartphone.
There is free entry to the museum on Thursdays.
Muranów, Mirów, and Powązki Districts: To the north and to the west, these districts include two powerhouse Warsaw museums: The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and The Warsaw Rising Museum – both are exceptional and highly recommended. There are new restaurants popping up in these areas all the time, including SZUM, and you’ll find some budget hotels, such as the ibis Warszawa Centrum.
Tips For Visiting The POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
Roof of the bimah
- To enter the building, you must pass through a security barrier. This means walking through a body scanner and passing any bags through the X-ray machine.
- Tickets are not restricted to a specific entry time and are valid for the entire day. However, if visitor numbers get too high, then entry may be temporarily suspended. This is unlikely to happen as the amount of daily tickets sold is capped.
- The official guide suggests between 15 and 20 minutes in each room, so that you can cover the whole in 2 hours. I would suggest 3 hours or more, especially if you split the museum up with breaks. It’s also very dense with information and rewards return visits.
- A free audioguide is available which automatically activates as you move through the museum. It is generally very good at helping you navigate and pace your journey round the galleries, although I did lose track of where I was a couple of times. You can pick these up at the main desk, just before you descend the stairs into the gallery space. There is a 10zł hire charge, if you visit with a free ticket on a Thursday.
- The museum is excellent in terms of visitor comfort. It has been designed so that you can take a break at several junctures – either go for a sit down or even have a meal in the restaurant. Then, once you’ve got your energy back, you can dive back in where you left off. There is plenty of seating on the ground floor with a huge wall of windows to look out on. Even the audioguide encourages you to pace yourself. Furthermore, you can also borrow light, folding chairs from the main desk and rest as you need to within the exhibition. The design of the museum space is also thought through and generous, so that bottlenecks don’t occur.
- There are toilets on the ground floor and also about a third of the way through the main exhibition.
- There is a small locker room close to the main entrance. Bizarrely, some of these were free and others required a coin. Not to worry, though, as there is a full cloakroom next to the main desk in the lobby of the museum. Just continue up the ramp once you enter the building.
- As with most museums, photography and filming are allowed without the use of flash or tripods.
- Children should enjoy parts of the museum. There are lots of colourful illustrations and the recreations of the train station and interwar street are fun. There is also a dedicated educational centre for children on the ground floor. The museum website provides a guide for visiting with children. Finally, the museum provides a quiet space for feeding babies, close to the entrance.
- The building is reasonably good for accessibility, although the spaces around the building may be a little problematic to those with limited mobility. Access between floors is possible via lift and the galleries are spacious with flat floors. Also see our notes about comfort above. The POLIN website has a page on accessibility facilities.
- There is a restaurant on the ground floor of the museum and spaces both inside and outside the building to eat packed lunches.
- There is also a giftshop selling lots of books and some rather lovely Judaica.
- The museum encourages cashless payments with cards or contactless means.
- In addition to the core exhibition, the museum has temporary shows and a range of educational functions, as well as performances and lectures.
Where Is This Place Located?Find this location on the Warsaw Visit Google map:
- Open the Warsaw Visit map
- Click on a marker and it will give you the name of the landmark, with a brief description and links for more information and directions. You can pan, scroll, and zoom around the map, or use the + or – buttons in the bottom left of the map to zoom in and out
- You will see the list of places on the left hand side, sorted by category. Scroll down or use the map search (the magnifying glass icon) to find the place you want
- Click the name of the place in the list. Its location pin will be highlighted on the map.
- Each category is on a different layer, which can be switched on and off. So you can just see the Hotel or Restaurant pins, for example
- If you are using the map on your phone, open the map and then search for the name of the place. The map will then zoom in on its location
Map pins are color coded:
- YELLOW: Warsaw Sightseeing
- BLUE: Warsaw Hotels
- RED: Warsaw Places To Eat – Michelin restaurants are DARK RED
- ORANGE: Warsaw Nightlife
- PURPLE: Shopping In Warsaw
- GREEN: Warsaw Transportation