Essential for any trip to Warsaw, the UNESCO-listed Old Town is a beautiful reconstruction of a history the Nazis tried to erase. Here is a guide to the highlights.
Warsaw Old Town Market Square at night
Systematically destroyed towards the end of the Second World War, Warsaw’s Old Town (or Stare Miasto) was rebuilt in what can only be described as an awe-inspiring act of communal spirit. The initial stage took a mere five years, with as much original material retrieved from the rubble as possible. As such, it is a powerful symbol of rebirth and resistence. More work was done into the 1960s and the Royal Castle was finished in the mid-1980s. The whole of the Old Town was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1980.
Less than a kilometer from top to bottom, the Old Town is packed with historical buildings and things to see. In addition to being an excellent place to walk, due to the beautiful town houses and decorative details, there are also a number of museums and churches, as well as restaurants and bars. Furthermore, it changes character at different times of the day and night.
We’ve listed the highlights below but there are other things to discover, especially down some of the side streets. Similarly, a good guided tour of the Old Town will give you the history of this remarkable place, and reveal a few secrets not mentioned in the guide books.
What To See In Warsaw Old Town
The Old Town should be one of the things everybody does on their first visit to Warsaw. The beauty and density of this small area means it’s also good for many return visits.
Roughly speaking, the Old Town consists of two main squares and the Barbican, linked by two arteries and enclosed by the city walls. There are, however, many side streets and the things to see extend outside the core. You’ll definitely want to visit the Royal Castle and possibly the Museum of Warsaw, but it’s worth exploring some of the monuments around the city walls and other points of interest, such as the terrific views down to the river from just behind the Market Square.
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What To Expect When Visiting Warsaw Old Town
Warsaw Old Town at night
St Anne’s Church
St. Anne’s Church and Viewing Terrace
The bell tower of St Anne’s Church provides one of the best views in Warsaw – see our separate page on St Anne’s for details.
Castle Square at night
The large open square is the mouth to the Old Town itself, with the commanding figure of King Sigismund III Vasa protecting the place from the top of his column. We have a separate page about Castle Square with more information.
View of the Royal Castle from St. Anne’s Church
The star of the square and one of the main attractions in the city is the lavish Royal Castle. With exquisite state rooms and regal apartments, as well as gardens, and an important art collection, the Royal Castle is a masterpiece of historical reconstruction. Our guide to the Royal Castle tells you exactly what to expect.
St. John’s Archcathedral
St. John’s Archcathedral
Leaving Castle Square and walking up Świętojańska, there are two imposing churches. The first is the striking gothic Archcathedral St. John’s. With its origins in the 14th century, it has seen the coronation of a king as well as royal weddings and funerals.
Warsaw Old Town Market Square
Another highlight of the Old Town is the beautiful Market Square. We have written up the main features of the Market Square in a separate guide.
The focal centre of the Market Square is the Syrenka – or little mermaid – statue by Konstanty Hegel, based on the Warsaw coat of arms. Although, yet again, this is a 2008 reconstruction. The original was relocated to the Museum of Warsaw.
Museum of Warsaw
The Museum Of Warsaw
Sat at the head of the Square is the mammoth Museum of Warsaw, which occupies multiple townhouses. It tells the story of the city through an innovative use of everyday objects, as well as a huge collection of artworks. We have a separate guide to visiting the Museum of Warsaw.
Heritage Interpretation Centre
Museum of Warsaw Heritage Interpretation Centre
Just behind the Market Square is the Heritage Interpretation Centre on ul. Brzozowa. This fascinating branch of the Museum of Warsaw tells the story of the destruction of the city and goes behind the scenes on the post-war reconstruction. It gives a great deal of context to the very streets you have just been walking around. There is also a great view of the river from close to the museum.
Museum of Pharmacy
Museum of Pharmacy
On Piwna, a street over from Market Square, is the Antonina Leśniewska Museum of Pharmacy. This branch of the Museum of Warsaw opened in 1985 and covers the history of Pharmacy, from its earliest origins. The museum contains over 2,500 items.
Come back to the Market Square and walk along Nowomiejska, which like all these streets is very pretty in its own right. Soon, you’ll reach the outer fortifications of the Old Town and the Barbican. We have a separate section on the Barbican and City Walls.
Mostowa Street Murals
Mostowa street mural
If you take a quick detour right after the Barbican, you’ll find yourself in ul. Mostowa. There are a handful of nice murals on the buildings at the bottom of the hill. The last house on the right (number 9) has some pretty 1960 Communist murals on three of its walls, by the artist Zofia Czarnocka-Kowalska, but there are also other decorated houses a little further on the left.
The Little Insurgent
Mały Powstaniec – The Little Insurgent
Come back up the hill, you can walk along the grass behind Mostowa, and follow the fortifications around the outside of the Old Town. Soon you’ll come to the statue known as ‘Mały Powstaniec’, or ‘The Little Insurgent’. Unveiled in 1983, it commemorates the child soldiers who fought in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The boy wears an German soldier’s helmet and carries a submachine gun, both captured from the occupiers and used against them.
Jan Kiliński Monument
Jan Kiliński Monument
Continue around the fortifications to the Jan Kiliński Monument. This is another monument to a very different Warsaw Uprising and commemorates the shoemaker and commanding soldier who led the fight against a Russian garrison stationed in the city in 1794.
Just behind the Jan Kiliński Monument, on the wall of a restaurant, is this clock with the signs of the zodiac around the dial. It plays a jolly tune when it chimes.
Warsaw Uprising Monument
Warsaw Uprising Monument
Though not in the Old Town itself, you are within walking distance of the large Warsaw Uprising Monument. There are memorials to those who fought in the 1944 Uprising all over the city, including the excellent 1944 Warsaw Rising Museum. This large installation to the heroic resistance was first unveiled in 1989. Visit at night for the most dramatic atmosphere.
The areas north of the Old Town, known as ‘Nowe Miasto’ (or New Town) are also worth exploring while you are in the area.
How To Visit Warsaw Old Town
Warsaw Old Town is simple to find. The Castle Square end is served by either of the plac Zamkowy bus stops or the Stare Miasto bus and tram stops, and you can reach the Warsaw Uprising Monument on the Barbican side by getting a bus to the plac Krasińskich 02 stop.
However, walk along the Royal Route via Nowy Świat and Krakowskie Przedmiescie is very worth while.
Old and New Town Districts: Meticulously reconstructed after WWII, Warsaw’s historical Old Town contains many of the city’s key landmarks, including the must-see Royal Castle, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The New Town is quieter and home to excellent boutique hotels, such as the Mamaison Le Regina. The district is full of great restaurants, but try traditional U Barssa on the Market Square, if you can’t decide.
Tips For Visiting Warsaw Old Town
Mostowa street mural
- Whilst you can walk the entire length of the Old Town in less than half an hour, it rewards a whole morning or afternoon, especially if you are also visiting one of the museums. It also pays to make more than one visit, especially at different times of day. The Old Town is very romantic at night. On the other hand, the buildings glitter in the early morning sun.
- Consider taking part in a guided tour of the Old Town to get the most out of it.
- Even though you’ll be outdoors for much of the time, there are plenty of places to escape if it starts to rain. All the same, wear comfortable footwear and be prepared for different weather conditions.
- Even though the museums have cloakrooms and lockers, it’s still a good idea to pack as lightly as you can. You’ll enjoy the Old Town more if you don’t have heavy bags to carry around.
- The Old Town is endlessly photogenic and full of details that change with the light.
- Children should enjoy the Old Town, especially as they can run around the City Walls and there are lots of places to buy lovely Polish ice cream.
- The Old Town is cobbled and sometimes overcrowded. The pavements aren’t very wide and despite very little traffic, it still might be a challenge for those with mobility issues.
- There are several public toilets within the Old Town – close to the Castle and the Barbican, and just off the Market Square. These are signed, although somewhat discretely. If you can’t find them, you can always stop off in a cafe for a drink and to use their facilities.
- There are lots of places to eat and drink in the Old Town. From the craft ale bars in side streets, to the fancy restaurants right on the Market Square, you’ll have no problem finding what you’re looking for. Brand chains like Costa are clustered around Castle Square, if you feel more comfortable there. There are also places to sit in the Market Square and around the City Walls.
- There are also lots of little gift shops scattered through the Old Town. Some sell silly souvenirs, but you’ll find some quality items, like amber and jewellery. Artists also sell their works just inside the Barbican.
- Most places will accept card and contactless payments but carrying a bit of cash wouldn’t hurt in this part of town.
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