Poland’s capital has been through a lot. However, it has never let its past define its present and modern-day Warsaw is an exciting and lively place to visit. Home to the Polish royal family for many centuries, the city has plenty of open green spaces that were once dedicated to the ruling class and are now bustling areas of activity.
Warsaw has been at the centre of some of history’s darkest moments, and during the Second World War was almost destroyed. What was damaged during the war has either been rebuilt or preserved in one of the many museums and cultural locations dedicated to showcasing the city’s troubled past. From the deeply moving experience of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews to exploring the legendary Chopin, there is something to discover for any inquisitive gay traveler.
Still reminiscent of the Soviet stronghold that Warsaw once was, LGBT+ rights in the city and Poland generally are still lacking, and those who identify outside of the cisgender, heterosexual boxes often face persecution and oppression. In 2021, a third of Poland declared itself “LGBT free”. However, out of persecution rises pride, and the city’s gay scene is one of community and resilience, and, recent years have seen a number of new gay bars and clubs pop up around the city.
One of the first targets of the German bombing campaigns of the Second World War, on September 17th 1939 the Warsaw Royal Castle was engulfed in flames. Staff and curators scrambled to salvage the most valuable pieces of art from the walls of the palace, and thanks to their bravery many of the original treasures can still be viewed today. Following further damage in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, the building was fully reconstructed by 1971.
Today, the imposing clock tower that rises from the Royal Palace marks the entrance to the city’s historic old town. Inside the palace exists one of Poland’s finest museums which boasts an impressive collection of salvaged and bought artworks by the likes of Rembrandt and Bernard Bellotto.
Warsaw may be Poland’s most liberal city but gay culture and community tend to be kept behind the closed doors of the city’s gay bars and clubs. The scene in Warsaw is discreet and whilst gay clubs may not obviously advertise themselves, once inside the pride and joy of the local LGBT+ community is palpable. Gay parties and pop up events are just as popular as fixed venue clubs so be sure to check out what’s happening before visiting the city.
Club Galeria is Warsaw’s most popular gay club and is the ideal place to catch a drag show and mingle with gay locals. The club is home to an expansive dance floor, multiple bars and VIP spaces, playing host to the country’s biggest names in drag. Often featuring topless dancers and cabaret acts, which routinely draw in large crowds. Club Galeria is open every night of the week except Mondays and is a great place to jump into Warsaw’s gay scene.
The Museum of the History of Polish Jews is one of the most sobering and moving experiences to be had in Warsaw and was the first public-private partnership dedicated to the history of Jewish people in Poland. Located in the centre of the city, POLIN documents over 1000 years of history and the large crack on the outside of the building is symbolic of the history of Polish Jews lost during the holocaust.
Once inside you can tour the museum on your own or with a guide, the latter is preferred by guests wishing to take a deeper dive into the history or for guests whom English or Polish are not their first language. A range of exhibitions, interactive displays and films chronicle the culture, history and ultimately the persecution of the Jewish community in Poland. Close by you will find a monument to Jan Karski, a leader of the Polish resistance during the Second World War.
The Wedel chocolate company first opened its factory doors in 1851 and now its cosy and characterful chocolate cafes can be found in most major cities across Poland. There are 7 Wedel cafes in Warsaw but the most popular is at the site of the original Wedel factory. Here, visitors can tour the old premises and discover the history of the company and polands unique relationship to chocolate.
The cafe that adjoins the factory is a classy and opulent venue, with high ceilings, dark wooden pillars and authentic serving etiquette. The menu at Wedel is very impressive and you can tuck into a range of chocolate treats from alcohol-infused truffles to rich drinking chocolate and every imaginable ice cream flavour. For travelers with a sweet tooth, the Wedel Factory and Cafe is an unmissable attraction.
Palace of Culture and Science
Towering above the streets of Warsaw and resembling the ornate and decorative sibling of any of Manhattans skyscrapers, the Palace of Culture and Science is the tallest building in Warsaw and an iconic and symbolic cultural institution. It was opened in 1955 under Stalin’s direction as “a gift to Poland from the Polish people”. The interior of the building is vast and features many elaborate rooms and event spaces. Numerous art shows, concerts and memorials are held here every year.
Climb the towering structure to reach the 30th-floor observation deck, where you’ll be treated to unrivalled panoramic views across Warsaw’s varied and unique skyline. Visitors can also observe the sculptures of socialist leaders from the soviet era that occupy the arches of the building’s exterior.