Rose Dykins explores Warsaw’s gleaming new attractions and looks at the Polish capital’s plans to become an aviation ‘superhub’
Warsaw shouldn’t be taken at face value. While you could happily saunter around the cobbled squares and charming ice-cream-hued Baroque terraces of its Old Town – a restoration funded by the city’s citizens after 85 per cent of the capital was obliterated in the Second World War – a knowledgeable guide is needed to avoid missing out on clues about the city’s complex past, to share some incredible stories of local resilience and to lift the lid on the intriguing cultural quirks that linger today. For corporate groups, a great option is to hire a fleet of Nysa 522 vans with Adventure Warsaw (adventurewarsaw.pl) and whisk them around in the rumbling retro vehicles, stopping off for pierogi (dumplings) at government-subsidised ‘milk cafés’ and at lesser-known attractions such as the utterly unique Neon Museum (neonmuzeum.org) and the Museum of Life Under Communism (mzprl.pl), which recently relocated to an intimate first-floor apartment in the heart of the city.
At the same time, since Poland co-hosted the 2012 UEFA European Football Championships, a mammoth investment in Warsaw’s public spaces has created a tangible visitor-friendly vibe (the government spent almost £3.5 billion on improvements throughout the country, not to mention the EU funding). The capital is dotted with benches that play sonatas by Chopin (a proud Varsovian) at the touch of a button. On the west bank of the Vistula river are the Vistula Boulevards, which were fully completed in March, offering inviting, water-facing seating steps, open-air trampolines and a strip of restaurants.
Across the river, past the untamed east bank of the Vistula, lies the gritty former manufacturing hub of Praga. As tends to happen with industrial districts, it has been given the hipster treatment, and Google built a campus here in 2015. Moments from the peeling neoclassical buildings and apartment blocks coated with thick layers of graffiti are the redbrick buildings of Praga Koneser Centre development (koneser.eu), home to 8,500sqm of exhibition space, a Moxy hotel and the fantastic Polish Vodka Museum (muzeumpolskiejwodki.pl). Launched last summer, housed in a former vodka factory, its high-tech, interactive exhibits and sleek design are really impressive. It’s possible to arrange vodka tastings or hire the posh loft-style bar for events (there’s space for 80 people).
The UK is Warsaw’s third-biggest tourism market, accounting for 7.8 per cent of total foreign arrivals each year (beyond Germany and USA), while international business travellers represent 8 per cent of the city’s annual visitors. Aside from the city centre, investment is being ploughed into business infrastructure around the Polish capital, particularly in the districts of Mokotów – a 15-minute taxi ride from Chopin Airport – and Wola, to the west of the city.
“Mokotów is now one of the fastest-growing business centres in the city, and [is where you’ll find] Warsaw’s largest office hub,” says Dorota Krolikowska from the Warsaw Tourism Office. “Business travellers benefit from the proximity to Chopin international airport, dining facilities and attractions provided by Galeria Mokotów shopping centre.”
By far the capital’s most ambitious plan for the future is to build the biggest airport in Europe. Slated to be 40km southwest of Warsaw, 15 minutes from the capital by train, the facility will initially serve 40 million passengers per year with two runways, with a view to add two more runways and increase annual capacity to 100 million (without a third runway, Heathrow tops out at around 80 million). A consultation about the masterplan for this ‘superhub’ will take place this month. In the meantime, Warsaw’s two airports (Chopin and Modlin) are well-connected and modern (particularly Chopin, which was built for UEFA 2012).
In terms of hotels, the Polish capital recently gained some major openings for business travellers, including the five-star Raffles Europejski and Hotel Warszawa, and the four-star Puro Hotel. A Four Points by Sheraton will launch in Mokotów imminently. Next year, Crowne Plaza and Holiday Inn properties will open up in Warsaw and a Marriott hotel is on the way for 2021. “One reopening we are particularly excited about is Robert De Niro’s boutique-chain property Nobu, with an exquisite Japanese-fusion restaurant, scheduled for the start of next year,” says Krolikowska.
And there are further grand plans for meeting and event space, including a new exhibition complex directly next to the PGE National Stadium (pgenarodowy.pl), also built for the 2012 tournament. The stadium has since hosted the UN Climate Change Conference in 2014 and the NATO Summit in 2016, and has a regular programme of concerts, festivals and shows. “We are also looking forward to the grand reopening of the famous Congress Hall of the Palace of Culture and Science following a thorough renovation,” says Krolikowska.
Polish Tourism Organisation
The objective of the Polish Tourism Organisation is to promote Poland as a modern, accessible and affordable country offering tourists a high standard of services, expertly run tours and unique destinations. The Polish Tourism Organisation carries out work focused on the promotion and development of Polish tourism both at home and abroad. See and poland.travel/en and warsawtour.pl/en/