Warsaw is overlooked by American tourists, in part due to the antiquated belief that Eastern Europe is somehow behind the times. Buying into this trope means missing the opportunity to explore a city that, 30 years out of Communism, is still continuing to forge a new identity. Wander through streets of Soviet-era buildings, repurposed to house forward-thinking boutiques. Grab a bite at decommissioned train stations and former boxing rings turned food halls, and sip on vodka, the city’s favorite high-proof social glue.
Generally, visitors are met with surprise rather than the exhaustion you’ll experience from locals at more highly trafficked locations—but English is widely spoken. Overall, Varsovians (those who live in Warsaw) don’t go out of their way to cater to outsiders, creating a level of authenticity that’s part of the appeal.
- VISA REQUIRED: No
- MINIMUM CONNECTION TIME, INTERNATIONAL TO DOMESTIC: 35 MINS
- MINIMUM CONNECTION TIME, INTERNATIONAL TO INTERNATIONAL: 2 HRS
- MINIMUM CONNECTION TIME TO LEAVE THE AIRPORT: 6 HRS
Poland is part of the Schengen area, which means that US citizens can stay for up to 90 days without a visa.
Minimum layover times
To make an international to domestic connection: 35 minutes
Chopin is one of the smaller international hubs in Europe. When flying between two Schengen countries, connections can be made in 35 minutes. (LOT, Poland’s flag carrying airline, is notorious for holding flights for late arrivals.) Just keep in mind that the building is one long rectangle, so a fair amount of walking might be required.
Heading to Warsaw’s other airport, Modlin (a hub for low-cost carriers), will take 43 minutes—or up to two hours in traffic. For door-to-door transfer, check Modlin Bus and OK Bus. (Subject to return post-COVID.)
To make an international to international connection: 2 hours
While passport control is fairly well-managed, be sure to give yourself extra time for potentially delayed arrivals, rechecking bags (if needed), and heading back through security.
To leave the airport and explore for part of the day: 6 hours
Warsaw Chopin is located six miles outside the city center, making it very easy to slip in to explore for a bit between flights. Just keep in mind that the closeness can be deceiving—during the morning and afternoon prime commute hours, your drive time will double, and in some cases triple.
- 30 minutes to deplane and go through immigration and customs
- 25 mins to transit to downtown, depending on traffic
- 4 hours to explore
- 30 minutes to return to airport
- 1.5 hours to go back through security, get to your gate, and board the plane
Getting from the airport to the city center
- BUS: 25 MINS
- TAXI: 15-20 MINS
- TRAIN: 20 MINS
One-way bus tickets cost 4.40 pln (a little over $1 US) and can be purchased from kiosks next to the bus station. Line 188 will take you directly from the airport to Metro station Politechnika in the center of the city.
Taxis and rideshare services take about 20 minutes. Average price to the city center is 40pln. Be sure to only take a taxi from the authorized taxi stand, or double-check licence plates if you use a rideshare service like Uber. There have been reports of taxi scams, with drives charting ten times the average price.
The train station is located under terminal A. A 20-minute ticket is 3.40 pln, and route S3 will take you to Warsaw central station. (As with all public transit, check for updates as the routing is subject to change.)
How to spend a short layover at the airport
Warsaw Chopin is fairly small for an international hub, so don’t expect much outside the duty-free/McDonald’s greatest hits. (Although if you’re spending the night, it’s worth noting that Costa Coffee on both landside and departures is open 24 hours a day.)
If you’re not a frequent flier, you can buy your way into one of the airport’s five lounges for 130pln (about $35). For just a shower, head to the hub behind gates 24-25 or 32-36 to make use of free facilities. Also blessedly free is the WiFi, which only requires reconnecting every two hours. For cheap entertainment and local flavor, head landside, where you can watch planes land from the observation deck next to the train station, and eat traditional dishes at Bijanka Restauracja Polska.
How to spend a short layover outside the airport
Head to Pałac Kultury i Nauki, or Palace of Culture, a castle-like building located at the exact center of the city. Originally a gift to the city from Stalin, the Soviet-era monument has been heavily repurposed as a creative and business hub.
For a taste of Poland’s favorite beverage (yes, that would be vodka), head to Bar Studio and Kulturalna, two waterholes/creative gathering hubs located at the entrance of the building facing Marszałkowska Street. Then visit their top floor viewing platform for a bird’s-eye view of the city’s crazy quilt of twisting streets and architectural styles.
If you’ve got time for a meal afterwards, head to the nearby Poznańska street, for a quick snack at Beirut beer and hummus bar, or Kraken sea food and rum bar, or one of the street’s other numerous eateries.
How to spend an overnight layover in Warsaw
To understand the history of the city, start by visiting the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Opened in 2004, on the famous uprising’s 60th anniversary, the exhibition covers all aspects of the World War II operation, including aerial footage of the Nazi-led citywide destruction. Then, appreciate modern Warsaw by heading to the viewing platform at the Palace of Culture, where from 374 feet in the air you can see the modern reconstruction, and the twisted streets leading from the city center to the wicker basket-like PGE National Stadium sitting near the banks of the Vistula River.
Next up, spend some time window-shopping on Nowy Swiat, in addition to numerous boutiques, souvenir shops, and ice cream parlors (seemingly the national food of Poland in the summer), you’ll come across a number of local landmarks, including the Charles de Gaulle roundabout featuring a palm tree sculpture by artist Joanna Rajkowska, and the University of Warsaw with its stunning rooftop gardens (free entry).
When the sun starts to set, head to an evening people watching at Plac Zbawiciela (aka “hipster square”), grab a beer at the floating bar BarKa, or check out a show at Klub Pogłos, a venue that pushes back against the country’s inherit conservatism by presenting punk shows, hosting vegan dinners, and sponsoring drag queen bingo nights.
Finish your night by cuddling up at the H15 Boutique Hotel, or splash out in city-center luxury Hotel Polonia Palace. Bonus, both hotels offer a near straight shot back to the airport by either bus or taxi, and are close to numerous bakeries, which will allow you to grab a paczki (Polish donut), before catching your flight.
Need to Know
- CURRENCY: Zloty
- LANGUAGE: Polish
- SAFETY: A-
- COST: $$ (out of $$$$$)
- BEST TIME TO GO: Spring and summer
Poland uses the Złoty. One dollar equals roughly 3.75 Złoty. Cards are almost universally accepted, and you will have the option to pay in your home currency or Złoty.
Five star hotels like Sofitel Warsaw Victoria Hotel or InterContinental Warsaw can be booked for under $115 per night, while four-star hotels like Hotel Mercure Warszawa Centrum can be booked for as low as $63 per night. A standard dinner and high-end cocktails will be under ten dollars each.
Weather & Best Time to Go
Due to icy temperatures and regular snowfall, Warsaw becomes very quiet in the winter. However, the city comes alive in the summer. With temperatures in the low 80s Fahrenheit, much of the action takes place outdoors, including people watching at Plac Zbawiciela, pop-up bars and concert venues along the Vistula river, and weekly Chopin concerts in Łazienki Park.
Poland ranks 29th on the Global Peace index, and Warsaw is generally considered safe. However, as with any big city, be sure to keep an eye on your belongings in public transit as pickpocketing is common enough to be a concern, and consider taking a taxi if you’ve been drinking.
Warsaw’s public transit system includes multiple tramlines, a subway, and buses—and thanks to clearly marked signs, it’s easy for foreigners to navigate. Most operate on the honor system, with steep fines for being caught riding without a ticket, so be sure to purchase either a day pass or a single ride fare on the platform, or in the car after boarding. Since routes aren’t always updated in Google maps, avoid getting stranded during holidays or service interruptions by downloading Jakdojade or E-podróżnik for advanced planning tools.
Food & Drink
Polish food trends towards heavy and very filling. To taste the authentic version of the pierogi and potato pancakes you already love, or sample new dishes like gołąbki (meat-filled cabbage rolls), żurek (traditional sour Polish soup), or schabowy (pork cutlets), skip the old town tourist restaurants, and hit up a milk bar instead. These low cost, often government-funded cafeterias, specialize in traditional Polish dishes with diner-like environments that often feel frozen in time. Because they’re aimed at the locals, come armed with Google Translate for menus, and be prepared to bus your own dishes after you eat. Local favorites include Bar Mleczny Sady, Prasowy, and Bambino.
Vegetarians and vegans can rejoice—Happy Cow has consistently named Warsaw one of the best cities in the world for non-meat eaters. For the most options, head downtown where you’ll find imaginative veggie burgers at Krowarzywa, Israeli eats at Tel Aviv by Malka, vegan cakes and ice cream at Slodki Bez, and (for vegetarians) the full, meat-free milk bar experience at Wegetariański Bar Mleczny.
Polish is the most spoken language of Warsaw, however most areas of the city have plenty of English translations.
While the architecture of Old Town is an interesting look at what the city looked like pre-World War Two, it’s an empty Disney-like reconstruction beyond its initial Instagram appeal.