Both Poland’s capital and largest city, Warsaw has many faces. Sure, you’ll find the Old Town there, with its narrow cobblestone alleys, colorful burgher houses, and medieval buildings. However, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is nearly a complete reconstruction built after the war.
But perhaps this is the best symbol for the spirit of Warsaw, a modern city where the turbulent past is still visible, a city made up of a juxtaposition of architecture, from Soviet-era monoliths and rebuilt Gothic treasures to modern skyscrapers of glass and steel. Warsaw is certainly never boring.
It’s a city that keeps you on your toes and is a wonderfully cheap travel destination where your dollars will go a long way.
• More travel tips for Poland
• A Budget guide to Krakow, Poland
To help you get the most of your stay in Warsaw, as well as find even more ways to save, we’ve gathered together the following collection of budget tips.
Warsaw’s main airport, Warszawa Lotnisko Chopina (Chopin Airport), is located about 16 miles south of the city center. From Chopin Airport, you can either take the subway system Szybka Kolej Miejska (SKM) into town or ride on a regular train (Koleje Mazowieckie) to Warszawa Centralna, Warsaw’s main train station.
You can also hop a bus into the city, but this sometimes takes longer, especially during rush hour. Bus 175 will take you directly to the center of the city and Bus 148 and 188 go across the river to the neighborhoods of Praga, Grochów, and Goclaw. Some bus lines, particularly the 175, are known for pickpocketing, so keep a close eye on your belongings.
Savings tip: Although both train tickets are cheap (under $2), the red SKM ticket is slightly cheaper. A 20-minute ticket from Chopin Airport to Warszawa Centralna will put you back only 3.40 zloty, which is less than a dollar. Purchase tickets at the ZTM counter in the arrivals hall or onboard.
In 2013, Warsaw opened Modlin Airport to service budget airlines, which is farther away from the city. Although you can take an express bus into the city for 33 zloty/(about $9), a train ride is the cheaper option. But please note this will take you twice as long (around two hours as opposed to 45 minutes by bus.)
Arriving by train or bus
Although you can take the train to Warsaw from many locations within Europe, you’ll likely get the best bang for your buck by taking the bus. The best two companies to check out are PolskiBus, a Polish express coach operator, which also offers service from Modlin Airport, or Flixbus. Rates can vary and are usually cheapest if you book at least several weeks in advance.
Another cheap, as well as social option, is car sharing. Check out BlaBlaCar and hitch a ride at a nice price with someone who’s headed for Warsaw.
To find the cheapest travel options to Warsaw, check out the website omio.com, where you can compare prices for trains, buses, and flights to any destination within Europe.
Getting around Warsaw
Warsaw can be explored easily by foot, but if you need a rest or plan to cover more ground than you feel like walking, the city luckily also has an extensive public transportation network, with trams, buses, a metro system, and trains which will get you basically any place you need to go.
Subway fare & fines
A single fare transfer ticket costs 3.40 zloty/1.70 zloty (for 20 minutes after validation), 4.40/2.20 zloty (for 75 minutes) or 7 zloty/3.50 zloty (for 90 minutes after validation). You can check the Warsaw subway website for more information (in English).
Be sure to validate your ticket immediately after (bus and tram) or before (metro) boarding the vehicle because ticket inspection happens often, and Polish ticket inspectors are known to delight in handing out hefty fines to clueless tourists who didn’t follow the procedure quite right. The same goes for time limits. Fines are high, even if you’re only a minute or two over, so make sure and keep an eye on the time!
Things to do in Warsaw
Warsaw has a lot to offer when it comes to sightseeing, and luckily a lot of it is free.
Take a stroll through Warsaw’s Old Town and check out the colorful, painstakingly restored burgher houses around the Old Town Square (Rynek Starego Miasta).
Old Town is also home to many churches and cathedrals, including St. John the Baptist Cathedral ( ul. Swietojanska 8). Hailing from the 14th century, this cathedral was reduced to a pile of rubble during the 1944 Warsaw Uprising and was later rebuilt in a pseudo-gothic style. Be sure to check out the crypts of several Mazovian knights and famous Poles as well as the fragments of Goliath, a German remote-controlled tank used during the war.
The Old Town is also home to the Royal Castle, where you can see artworks, paintings, and period furniture.
Museums and parks
Two great museums focusing on Warsaw’s (sometimes very grim history) are The Museum of the History of Polish Jews (admission: 25/15 zloty (around $4-7) and the Museum of Neon Lights (admission: 10/8 zloty, around $2-3) which exhibits Soviet-era signs.
Pack a picnic and get a bit of fresh air with locals and tourists alike at Lazienki Park, Warsaw’s largest park.
Palace of Culture and Science
Last but not least, no visit to Warsaw is complete without a visit to the Palace of Culture and Science, Poland’s tallest building and one of the tallest skyscrapers in Europe. At 778 feet tall, the building looks a bit like a stunted Empire State Building with a touch of Big Ben added in. Originally dedicated to Josef Stalin, many Poles resented the building, which they saw as a symbol of Soviet domination. However, the skyscraper has since become a symbol for Warsaw.
The best views
Although you’ll get a great view over the city from the viewing deck at the Palace of Culture and Science, it will cost you 20 zloty/$5.25, and will likely be crowded with tourists. Head instead to the Tower of St. Anne’s Church, which is a steal at 6/5 zloty, or Gdanski Bridge, a charming double-decker bridge with a (free view) of Warsaw’s skyline.
Don’t shell out the bucks for a bus tour, opt for a free walking tour instead. The free tours available include Communist Warsaw, Jewish Warsaw, Alternative Warsaw and Warsaw Street Art. Be sure to tip well!
Cheap eats and drink in Warsaw
Warsaw has a thriving culinary scene and a vibrant nightlife, and many bargains are to be had. If you want to save on dining in Warsaw, avoid most restaurants around Old Town, as they tend to be overpriced and touristy. For lunch, pick up something small at a bakery or a kielbasa from a street vendor.
Here are a couple of our favorites places to eat and drink for less in Warsaw:
Classic pierogies and hearty Polish fare at a good price await at these restaurants where the staff dresses in traditional folk attire.
Nowy Swiat 36
This popular food truck serves up burgers, fries, and beer.
ul. Nowomiejska 10
The bar in Old Town is great for sipping Polish craft beers. They also have good pizza, burgers and some vegetarian options.
ul. Marszalkowska 140
Trendy but still nicely priced, Manekin serves up Polish specialties as well as crepes and pancakes. This restaurant is popular, so you may have to wait for a table — but it’s worth it!
al. Solidarnosc 60A
Although traditional Polish food is definitely heavy on the meat, Warsaw also has many great offers for vegans and vegetarians, including this gem.
ul. Zelazna 58/62
If you need a break from pierogi and bigos and like spicy Asian food, Miss Kimchi is the place for you.
Cheap hotels in Warsaw
You won’t have to worry about spending a fortune to sleep well in Warsaw. That said, as a more modern city with a number of business travelers (thanks to a booming economy), you do have to be careful about choosing the right place to stay. If you don’t mind sharing a bathroom, hostels are an excellent option in the center of the city.
Search all hotels in Warsaw or check out a few of our favorite budget hotels in Warsaw:
Oki Doki Old Town Hostel
Private rooms from $44
Smack dab in the center of Old Town, Oki Doki is a fun place to relax after a busy day of sightseeing. Take a seat in the outdoor beer garden or make dinner in the fully-equipped communal kitchen.
Mish Mash Nowogrodzka
Private rooms from $40
We like the very un-hostel modern perks of Mish Mash like flat-screen TVs and free Wi-Fi in all rooms. Every room comes with a private bathroom, although some are located in the hallway.
Rooms from $33
Guests love the friendly staff at this hostel with old-world charm. Rooms are set in a historic residential building that has been a film location for several movies including “The Pianist.” Free parking is another highlight
Affordable hotel “splurges”!
For a bit of splurge, you can stay in the center of the city at the 4-star Mercure Warszawa Grand (around $95 per night) with perks like free breakfast and sauna or the 3-star Hotel Metropol (around $80 per night), where all rooms have private bathrooms and flat-screen TVs.
Your Warsaw tips
Have you been to Warsaw? Tell us your best tips for visiting in the comments section below.