WARSAW: HOW THE CAPITAL OF POLAND SURVIVED COMMUNISM

It is no secret that Poland has some very tragic history. Even though I learned about the World War and how it destroyed my motherland in history classes, I felt I learned so much more about this country while being here and visiting the museums/doing tours. It is amazing to see a country that was ripped apart, put back together, ripped apart again, and put back together once more, survive and turn out strong and unified.

As I’ve grown into an adult, I’ve been more intrigued by my past and my own history. There is only so much you can learn from history books. I’ve gone back to Poland several times as a kid but have never had my interest piqued with “war stuff”. My most recent trip to Poland was different. I felt it was time to learn more about my roots, and what better place to do so than the capital of Poland, the city that was literally destroyed to the ground during World War II. So I decided to do two separate tours that concentrated on history, communism, and fun. These are my experiences:

lazienki-park

Off the Beaten Path with Adventure Warsaw

Tour length: 4 hours
Tour cost: 183PLN / 52 USD / 43 EU
Includes: Detail guided tour with Adventure Warsaw, traditional Polish lunch in a milk bar, Museum of Life Under Communist entrance, minibus from communist era transportation, hotel pick up and drop off at the meeting point.

This was the first tour that I did in the capital of Poland. I was picked up in a Pink Nysa van with a huge Adventure Warsaw sticker placed on it. I didn’t know what much to expect when I had to literally hop into the back of this car and sit on a small bench in the back seat that faced a family that was doing the tour as well.

The tour started driving around the remains of the Communism at Constitution Square then headed to pre-war Warsaw streets that survived World War II and headed to the Jewish Ghetto. Próżna ’empty’ Street is known to be the miracle street of Warsaw. Most of Warsaw was completely demolished in WWII. Próżna street is unique though, it is the only street in the historic Jewish part of Warsaw where the buildings have been preserved on both sides. It is the only street that fully survived and locals cherish it very much. You can still see some of the bullet holes from the uprising that give you a sense and feeling as if you were still there.

ulica-prozna

We continued our tour in the Nysa van while or lovely tour guide drove and explained the history of Poland thoroughly. He was extremely knowledgeable and answered all of the questions we had. He touched on the cultural diversity of Warsaw back then vs. what it is now, pointed out the old and new architecture and how it affects the people living there today, and we talked about how communists rebuilt the city with propaganda. We continued our stories and journey and stopped at the Warsaw University of Technology where we talked more about how communism affected the Institute as well as a bit more broad history of Poland. The university is truly remarkable and worth visiting even if it isn’t on a tour.

We finished off our tour in the Praga district. This is a district that survived the war but was known to be a place that was dangerous and forgotten until a few years ago, today it is up and coming and transformed. Many artists live here and it has a bohemian feel to it. Many modern restaurants and housing have been added to this district that adds a good feel to the area. This district also houses the Museum of Life Under Communism. A museum owned by Adventure Warsaw, it is a collection of old communism memorabilia that include an apartment with toys, propaganda music and movies, sporting equipment, communist party member’s office, and old polish money (which I personally found the most fascinating seeing the evolution of).

After exploring all day we headed to a milk bar that is a Polish form of cafeteria-like restaurant that was very common in the communist times. We tried various Polish dishes and chatted amongst ourselves one last time.

Overall this was a fantastic tour. It gave me a lot of insight into the history of my country, and the capital of Poland. I grew up in a city fairly far in proximity of Warsaw so it was nice to see and hear about the country from a city that suffered severely.

warsaw-university-library

Evening Warsaw Tour with Warsaw Behind the Scenes

Tour length: 3 hours
Tour cost: 157PLN / 44 USD / 37 EU
Includes: Warsaw Behind the Scenes guide, one beer, two vodka shots, minibus from communist era transportation, hotel pick up and drop off.

The second tour I did was slightly different than the first. It was an evening tour that included history but we also talked a lot about what is going on in modern Poland. Since the tour, I have been living in Poland for a few months so it was nice to be fully aware of what is going on in this country with some lighthearted cocktails to brighten the mood of the past and present. The tour was much smaller as it was just one couple and me but it was still very thorough and entertaining.

palace-of-culture-and-science

This time around I knew what to expect when I was picked up in a communism van (which also played communist propaganda music throughout the ride). The tour started off at the Palace of Culture and Science where we admired the architecture of the building and talked about the communist neighborhoods. Our tour guide had a great ability of not only describe the events that happened in the past but also put them into perspective for us. He really helped us to understand the severity of the history with analogies, perspective, and photos. We also talked about modern architecture and the buildings around the Palace and how they affect the current residence.

lazienki-krolewskie

After the Palace of Culture, we walked over to a nearby pub where we sat on the patio and chatted about the current situations of Poland. It was nice to get insight into this country from a local and not the media. Our guide was very open and provided awesome perspective to my native country and also the country I would be living in for a few months.

We continued out journey into the Praga district, which was much more alive and hip in the evening hours than during the day tour. We had difficulties getting into the actual district because there were protests going on in the capital of Poland and roads were closed. It was actually a really amazing experience to be driving in a communism van playing propaganda music and there being protests on the street. Seemed a little surreal and an unforgettable experience for me. When we finally made it to the district we stopped at two local bars where we had a shot of polish cytrynowka (lemon vodka) and a shot of homemade moonshine at the other.

nysa-van

Overall this tour was very enjoyable. I loved that we talked about what modern Poland as well as some history. I really enjoyed that it was a small tour and the tour guide was curious to ask what we’ve already seen and learned. The uniqueness of the tour was also very special, it took us to sites that I wouldn’t have gone to outside of a tour.

The two tours were very different and they didn’t seem repetitive. The first tour was very into the history of Poland whereas the second was more lighthearted and we talked about culture and current affairs. I would recommend both tours depending on your personal preference, budget, and time.

Is there a moment in history you learned about in school but didn’t fully understanding it until you went to see for yourself?

Traveling to Poland? Book a package with Expedia and save.

xoxo Ania Travels 💜


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  • I visited Poland, Czechia and Hungary and was touched on how those countries (and others) have withstand so many brutal regimes including communism. I have not been to Warsaw but would like to learn more about its history. You post is great! #feetdotravel

  • Jennifer Pepple

    What a great job showcasing this country and everything they’ve been through. We are heading this way within the next year, so will save your post for later!

  • Homemade moonshine Ania. Sounds like powerful stuff LOL! Poland fascinates me. We saw a house sit for Krakow pop up a few days ago. We have to pass because we are in the US thru New Year’s but your country sits up there on our list for interesting places to see.

    Ryan

  • I know people who have visited Poland many times and they say the people are so friendly and welcoming, this is so lovely to hear considering the past they have endured. Great that you were able to do tours that balanced out the history with the present. Pinned for when I visit! #feetdotravel

  • Shona Grant

    Both tours sound fascinating. I’ll definitely keep this post handy for when I make it to Poland.

  • well, the big question should be “how did Warsaw NOT survive to nazi german fascists” – much more appropriate i would say…- since they are the ones destroying and bombing the city in the first place. funny you don’t mention them, only WWII and communists… you should add “nazi german fascists” to the WWII mention. keep up the good work. lovely post. happy travels

  • Familyearthtrek

    The first tour sound very intressting! Something I would definetly do if I was in Warzaw! Must be very touching going through all these places with so much pain people had to go through!

  • Adrianna Vogel

    I was the same way, I didn’t have too much interest in history while I was little girl and I am from Poland . But then older Ive got everything became more interesting! I bet the polish history you learn in USA is not as great so I am really glad you can take those tours in Warsaw! They seems to be very interesting and I might take one too when I am there!

  • The city looks absolutely gorgeous. I want to go just so I can photograph the architecture

  • Hang Around The World

    I have a passion for history and everything related to it! Warsaw it’s the perfect city that has traditions but it is also very modern!
    I’d like to try both the tours…
    I can imagine myself around all these beauties 🙂

  • Natalie Walsh

    Poland has alot of history both good and bad. Its good to see you have covered some postives aswell. I have aways wanted to visit and pay my respects to many of thoose lives sadly lost. I dont think we will ever forget what happened and plays huge part in history

  • Maria Aardal

    Amazing, Poland is such a fascinating country with so much history. It is so interesting to travel to places where you can actually learn something. The tours seemed great and educational.

  • I’ve never been here before. I would love to go because I’m intrigued by history. Poland is a lovely place.

  • I am glad that you were able to discover more about Polands communist roots and learn about its involvement in the war. I love that the tours were not repetitive. I agree that going and experiencing something in person can help you truly appreciate the history.

  • I would certainly love to travel more in the next few years and Poland is near the top of my list. My husband is a history buff and i know he would love to explore these areas.

  • I was not aware about the history of Poland. But the city pictures seems very strange and different. Your tour seems like you got to know many things about the city. Thanks for sharing some history of Poland. Even i want to know more.

  • Poor old Poland – like the meat in between the sandwich between the East and West. The civilian population took a beating.

  • Mayuri Saxena

    Poland is such a beautiful place. I never knew about the history and heritage it proudly claims but I would love to go on such tours to learn more about the place. Great post!

  • Chelf Chelfdom

    Never heard of a milk bar before! Sounds so interesting! I have never been to poland, a lovely place with a tragic history indeed! I hope I’ll be able too visit soon!

  • What an informative blog post. I definitely learnt a lot. I didn’t know the city could be so beautiful as well. I’d love to go there someday.

  • Claire Summers

    So glad you were able to take this trip and connect with your family history more. European history is so fascinating. So much war and destruction. So very sad. It’s still a beautiful city even though it was partially destroyed.

  • Kallia Manika

    It is always very important to connect with your heritage and i am very glad you got to experience that through your travels! Great article and it is such a beautiful place!

  • Eileen Mendoza Loya

    I was nice that you were able to connect with your heritage. Poland has so much history, most of them really sad ones but that is what makes a country. The people pulled together to survive.

  • My husband family is from Poland and he’s been to Warsaw a couple of times. I can’t wait to show him your post. I hope one day we’ll be able to go there together. I know we’d love having something traditional for lunch at a milk bar on the Adventure Warsaw tour (for her). And for him? The Warsaw Behind the Scenes tour. I can’t imagine him passing up a local beer and a couple shots of vodka! x

  • Shannon Bradley

    Sounds like a life-changing experience. I hope more people consider a tour like this to learn more about the tragic history of Poland.

  • Jessica French

    I really loved your post! I’ve just got back from Eastern Europe, I didn’t go to Poland, but went to Slovakia and Hungary and learnt a lot about communism and how it shaped Eastern European countries. Your post was very informative and the pictures you used were incredibly striking! 🙂 I look forward to reading more of your posts!

  • Lavanda Michelle

    I studied abroad in Poland once and i really enjoyed it. I loved this informative post and the picture are amazing.

  • Swayam

    I have grown up on a diet of stories of Lech Walesa, Solidarity and Gdansk..your country is inherently very strong…and beautiful too..

  • Warsaw is beautiful and we are in Vienna so not far away. I have been there twice and we had a nice time. So much to see and do. I think it is too underrated.

  • Calleigh -The Fork Bite

    We visited Warsaw couple of years ago, and I couldn’t get enough of their food. We had some delicious pierogi my first night in town, and then my older sister dragged me around to as many “milk bars” as possible. Though I was clueless what most of it was, for me everything we tried was yummy.
    From: Calleigh Keibler – http://www.theforkbite.com

  • Helen Clark

    I have to admit I didn’t know much about Poland before. It looks a gorgeous country with so much history. Both of the tours sound a great way to explore and learn about the history. I love that the second tour was so interactive.

  • Anna Katina

    I’ve never been in Poland.. People say that it’s very difficult to enjoy the city as you feel a lot of sadness which is totally understandable. Also because the architecture was rebuilt, so it’s not the same anymore even if it looks like it was once. I

    love how deeply you go into details

  • You had a nice tour of Warsaw with knowing all political historic things. Your red van looks so cute among those grand and magnificent buildings of warsaw. Stunning pictures of Behind the Scenes.

  • EG Green

    I can recall learning about the holocaust in history but not being able to relate to it or fully understand. That changed however after visiting a concentration camp memorial site in Germany.

  • Being from East Berlin, I guess I have a more intimate knowledge of life in communism. We had our won version of Praga in Berlin, Prenzlauer Berg – unrepaired after the war so no body but dissidents really wanted to live there.
    But I always find it fascinating to read how communist life in other East European countries (and now here in SEA) was/is. So thank you for finding these tours. I’ll be sure to look into doing at least the first one when I’m in Warsaw next.

    Happy continued trvaels!
    C

  • Brooke

    These tours sound great! I’ve been to Warsaw but only for a night at an end of trip so I didn’t get to see much-:(

  • Sindhu Murthy

    There is not much our academic books teach us when it comes to war and its effects. Only when you visit the locality and interact with the people do you understand the reality. I m really glad Warsaw has such organized tours which provide insights into the history and culture of the city.

  • Christina

    Poland has been on my list for a long time. The tours sound very insightful. I really enjoyed learning about World War Two but I was not able to appreciate it until I was actually in Normandy.

  • Johnny Davis

    Wow, this tour looks like a great way to explore the city, I need to try it next time:) I go to Warsaw quite often, because I have many friend who live there and it is such an amazing city.So far my friends have always organized some kind of attractions for us. Last time we went on a culinary trip around the city. I loved it! We went to few restaurants and bars, but the one that I enjoyed the most was the Akademia Restaurant – http://akademiarestaurant.com/. It was amazing place, with such a delicious Polish food.. It was one of the best dinners in my life! Next time I will take on the trip – in that amazing pink Nysa 😀

  • Warsaw is one of the best cities for offbeat walks, especially if you’re interested in WWII. The history of Poland is incredibly interesting and I loved the tours that I did there when I visited a couple of years ago. There’s so much history in every street and corner that you couldn’t figure out unless you’re with someone that explains what happened there.

  • So glad you were able to take this trip and tours, because they sound so interesting. It’s so important to be able to understand her hometown history because it defines us more than we would ever thought! It’s so sad, and I’ve been to Warsaw, and regarding my own personal story, it was very hard for me to enjoy it! xx