1. Where to Stay
Request a north-facing room at the Le Royal Méridien Bristol (from $113) for a view of the Royal Route, Warsaw’s main promenade, which extends from Castle Square to the Versailles-like Wilanów Castle. The ground-floor coffee shop, Café Bristol, is known for its decadent Viennese coffee.
Walk to the ornate St. John’s Cathedral from Mamaison Le Regina Hotel (from $140), set in an eighteenth-century palace. This is the only hotel in Old Town—the oldest district in the city—an area filled with Renaissance-style homes and cobblestone market squares.
Lounge among antique furniture from the twenties at the Hotel Rialto (from $99), an Art Deco–themed boutique hotel. After a night of partying, relax in the mosaic-tiled, complimentary steam room on the sixth floor.
2. Where to Eat
Request a prime table on the mezzanine at Przegryź (Mokotowska 52; +48 22 621 7177), a Polish restaurant owned by celebrity journalist Piotr Najsztub. The seasonal menu offers fresh pastas, stews, and pierogis, along with a range of beers from Lithuania and Ukraine.
Watch chefs dress decadent duck and rabbit dishes in the open kitchen at U Kucharzy. The restaurant’s renowned steak tartare is prepared tableside with egg yolk, anchovy, onion, capers, and a sharp knife. Arrive after 7 p.m. to hear a live pianist.
Fill up before a night out at Fabryka Trzciny Restauracja, a Polish-Italian restaurant in the bar-packed Praga neighborhood. The sprawling space—formerly a food-processing plant—now also houses a modern art gallery and concert hall. The giant cheese, meat, and grilled vegetable-heaped appetizer plate for two is a bargain at $14.50.
3. What to Do
Wander among the labyrinthine bazaar of Nowy Świat Pavilions, a hidden complex of pubs behind Nowy Świat 26. Formerly a cluster of small artisan workshops, the area now houses around a dozen identically sized bars. Get to local favorite Pewex before 10 p.m. to snag one of the plush banquettes beneath old Communist posters.
Step into a surreal clubland at Sen Pszczoly, a multi-room complex with eccentric décor: a red bathtub in the center of the patio, beds affixed to the ceiling, and bathrooms resembling elevator cars. Each of the rooms houses a different form of entertainment, from a movie theater to a live jazz performance to a kielbasa stand ($1.65 cover).
Sip a Warszawiak microbrew under rumbling train tracks at Warszawa Powiśle, a café and bar set in the glass-walled waiting area of an active rail station. The spot is known for its mix of high- and lowbrow pursuits, alternating between raucous D.J. parties and arty film screenings throughout the week.
Stay out until dawn at 1500m2, a warehouse club that’s a favored stopping-off point for some of the most respected electronic music acts in the world, like French electro D.J. Kavinsky ($3.30 to $5 cover).
4. Insider’s Tip
Though Poland is known for its handmade pottery, avoid the overpriced tourist shops near Central Station. Instead, head away from the city center to Ceramika Boleslawiecka, a little-known factory outlet on an obscure corner of Jana Pawła and Prosta. Here, the one-of-a-kind dishes are hand-painted using a stamping technique that dates back to the fourteenth century. Each piece takes up to 90 minutes to complete, from a retro handmade rolling pin ($13.70) to an elaborate serving tray ($60).
5. Oddball Day
After reveling in Warsaw’s boozy nightclubs, spend a day exploring the cultural gems on the side streets of Nowy Świat. Start with a breakfast at Bar Bambino, a Communist-era relic decked with paintings of eighteenth-century Warsaw, where nothing on the menu costs more than $2.30. Next, walk to 5-10-15 (Mokotowska 73; +48 69 448 7554), a contemporary art space housed in a crumbling prewar building. Here, the holes and rubble are incorporated into murals, and absurdist poetry is written in beautiful calligraphy. Then head to Brzozowskich (Bracka 20a), an aristocratic Baroque palace that now houses bar-café Huśtawka (the oldest gay club in Warsaw resides downstairs). Take a coffee break among ornate chandeliers and gray velvet banquettes in the parlor room. Afterward, pause at the intersection of Górskiego and Złota, where you’ll get an unobstructed view of the Palace of Culture and Science, a towering, controversial building complex commissioned by Stalin in 1952. Hook a right on Chmielna—a former high-fashion street—and stop at the 127-year-old leather shop of Jan Kielman, who still stitches custom-made shoes and bags by hand. Then walk across the street for an enormous bowl of Vietnamese pho ($6.30) at market favorite Toan Pho (Chmielna 5/7). After lunch, continue east to the renovated Chopin Museum, which reopened in April. Play among the interactive exhibits, like music sampling stations ($7 admission). End your day at the ivy-laden botanical garden atop the University of Warsaw Library, one of the largest roof gardens in Europe, with sweeping views across the Vistula River (open until 8 p.m., April to November).
Another Travel Guide: Warsaw is an online city mag.
Spotted by Locals: Warsaw includes great by-area mapping capabilities.
English-language newspaper the Warsaw Voice covers museum exhibitions and musical events.