As written for Hip & Healthy
The sprawling capital of Poland is often overlooked as a travel destination of choice. Many opt instead for the southern city of Krakow, well known for its preserved medieval core, impressive market square and proximity to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp. But I have the inside scoop on what could be the new go-to health hub of Eastern Europe – Warsaw! Vibrant, vegan friendly and full of life despite a difficult history, this cheap as chips holiday destination is one to add to the list for 2017.
Where to eat
Poland’s cuisine is not usually its biggest drawcard, but with traditional dishes like beetroot soup, potato pancakes and sauerkraut dumplings – it definitely sparked my interest. Visiting a traditional milk bar is the done thing for experiencing the ‘real’ Poland, and should be high on your food to do list. I can recommend a trip to Bar mleczny. This is as local as they come, so don’t expect the staff to speak English. The food is cheap, traditional and will give you a feel for communist Poland, with a modern touch. If you’d prefer to dabble in polish cuisine in a more restaurant setting, look no further than Qchnia artystyczna. Michelin recommended, the mouth-watering menu will allow you to sample all the traditional dishes, with a touch of luxury. The restaurant has a spectacular setting with a view over Warsaw, in summer there is a terrace to spill onto. Better still, the food is delicious and once again, very cheap. A set three course lunch, is no more than an English fiver.
Much to my delight, Warsaw has embraced vegan cuisine and healthy alternatives with a vengeance. Its never been cheaper to eat real, natural, quality ingredients free of preservatives and hidden nasties. An absolute favourite (and daily staple while in Warsaw) is Krowarzywa burger bar – aka foodie heaven. The ambiance is oh so cool, with a touch of hipster and the food is to die for. Patties range from millet pumpkin and sunflower seed to breaded wheat meat and chickpea with parsley. They even make their own sauce; the BBQ made of plums is our recommendation. The best part? The equivalent of £2.35, for a huge, delicious made to order vegan burger. Do they do life membership? Sign me up!
Sushi seems to be the other staple cuisine being embraced by the Polish, and boy – do they do it well. You’ll find a Japanese restaurant at every turn in Warsaw, but I have a special preference for the strawberry and salmon rolls wrapped in Japanese omelette at Oto Sushi. This restaurant is quite small, but beautifully decorated, and the food is made right in front of your eyes in an open plan kitchen. The udon noodles, seaweed rolls, edamame – it’s all out of this world.
Where to stay
While doing your research on Warsaw, you might be inclined to head for the Old Town, but I recommend sticking to Centrum for accommodation. It’s the thriving hub of modern Warsaw and home to all the cool and trendy bars and restaurants frequented by locals. Accommodation is cheap cheap cheap in Poland, making it a great budget getaway. You can stay in name brand hotels with city views for motor inn prices. In winter, a standard double room at the Novotel, which is in a stellar location overlooking the Palace of Science and Culture – will cost you no more than £50.
What to do
Without a doubt this beautiful sprawling park is a must see in Warsaw. Stretching across 80 hectares it’s full to the brim with stunning greenery and architecture, the perfect place for a leisurely stroll. Lazienki Palace, one of the symbols of Warsaw, sits smack bang in the middle and is surrounded by a pretty as a picture lake. There are also numerous pavilions, amphitheatres, orangeries and barracks to stumble upon. But the big attraction is the wildlife, the park is teeming with the cutest (and tamest) red squirrels and peacocks all more than willing to creep up and eat nuts and seeds right out of your hand. Old Town
Built during the 12th century, Old Town is the most prominent tourist attraction in Warsaw. It’s actually a lot prettier to visit by day, so as not to miss all the beautiful pastel colours on the ancient building facades. With a mixture of Renaissance, Baroque, Gothic and neo-classical design – it’s an interesting and beautiful centre.
Ulica Nowy Swiat is one of the main historic thoroughfares of Warsaw, and runs right through to Warsaw’s Royal Castle and into Old Town. Nowadays the street is lined with all of the mod cons in fashion and food, and is a great area to explore.
There are more than a dozen museums in Warsaw. Poland is a country steeped in history, much of it harrowing. A visit to the Jewish museum takes you on a path from the 12th century all the way to present day giving insight into what the Jewish community experienced from medieval persecution to the darkest chapter in their history, WWII and the horror of the Nazi extermination regimes. The building in itself is worth a peek, a very impressive structural feat. The Warsaw Uprising Museum is another good one to add to your list.