On New Year’s Eve, when browsing last minute flights to Amsterdam to get to an important family occasion, Skyscanner gave one of the cheapest options as a 28.5 hour journey, with a 20 hour stopover in Warsaw.
We laughed, saying, “We can drive directly in less time!“
However, it triggered our curiosity. So much so that after talking it over, we booked. 79 Euros each, with hand luggage only, flying LOT, the Polish carrier, a member of Star Alliance.
2 days later we were packed with a rucksack each and heading to the airport at 7 in the morning.
On the coach to the airport I browsed accommodation possibilities, looking at AirBnB and directly at the airport hotels’ sites. I checked prices on a hotel booking site and found a hotel, the Sangate Airport Hotel, not far from the airport for 60 Euros for a family room. A 3 star hotel, near enough to the airport; I booked it.
Our flight was at 10:30am. All went smoothly, though our flight was slightly delayed… that’s Murphy’s Law, isn’t it?…making our Warsaw stopover just a little shorter still- 18 hours.
On arrival at Warsaw Airport, at 12;20 pm, we walked out of the terminal very quickly with hand luggage only. We went straight to the tourist office in the arrivals area. (With such little time to prepare, we hadn’t really done much research about what to do and where.) The lady at the counter was only moderately helpful about the “Must do things in Warsaw” in such a short time, arming us with a map and 2 leaflets. (We gave her the benefit of doubt that she probably hadn’t fully recovered from New Year’s celebrations.) She did, however, help with the bus we needed to take and how bus fares worked.
Taking the bus into Warsaw from the airport
There’s a transport office right next to the Tourist Information Office at the terminal, but their systems were down, so we were directed to buy the tickets from a ticket machine by the bus stop. (They forgot to mention that buses have ticket machines on them as well- located at the 2nd door)
The bus stop for bus 175 is just right at the terminal: come out, cross the road and there it is.
The boys played rock, paper, scissors while we waited for the bus.
The ticket options- 75 minute transit ticket or 20 minute ticket for adults and children are half price (under 5 is free). The ticket machine accepted cards, but was slightly malfunctioning at the time, so we had to buy one ticket at a time. The 75 minute tickets were cheap however; about 4 Euros for an adult ticket.
Our bus tickets allowed for us to step off the bus at our hotel – 3 stops from the airport- check in, leave 4 of the 5 backpacks and hop onto the next bus into town.
The bus ride into town was fascinating: wide roads indicating more a planned city instead of one that evolved over centuries, even though Warsaw is a very old city. The roads are lined with lots of industrial, communist style buildings.
The bus was modern with digital displays indicating where we were. Some of the layout and design aspects, especially at the the rear of the bus were shocking, such as uneven and steep steps on which we saw 2 people trip.
There wasn’t much traffic, this being the first workday of the year, so the trip into the city was 30 minutes.
Walking around in Warsaw
We only had the afternoon and a short evening in Warsaw (with the winter sun setting around 4pm), so were more keen on getting a vibe of Warsaw than tick lots of sights off. The plan: simply wander around with the kids.
We knew the 175 bus took us right into the centre of town, but as we recognised the big soviet era block of the Palace of Culture and Science we hopped off the bus. It was 2:30 pm.
Incredibly eerie building in the low clouds
We walked around the building, which is impressive, as intended by the Russians, who had gifted the building to Poland to symbolise the nations’ “friendship” and power. Our limited research told us we could go to the top floor and get awesome views of the city, but not on this day as there were fascinating low hanging clouds that blocked views that day. The clouds did, however, give the building an even more eerie look.
Here we also glimpsed some of the real rough edges of Warsaw: camped under one of the pretty arches were a group of rough-sleeping, loud, drunk men.
This part of town was still filled with boxy concrete blocks, but as we walked towards the Old Town, a circa 2 km walk, the buildings gradually changed character, to more historic styles of the beginning of the 20th century and older.
A Polish-made Fiat 126- my first car was just like this one and I used loved it! The kids were fascinated how small and cute it was. I tried to explain to them how I once travelled 200 km with 4 adults and 3 dogs (a great Dane, a bulldog and an Alsasian). 😀
There were great juxtapositions of modern, well-kept – as the shopping complex just out of shot- and disorganised- as this square was. (Hugo had the big camera and was practising photography, hence I am in more pictures than most blog posts. )
As we neared the Old Town, the true city centre, we found older and more colourful buildings.
I’d prepared sandwiches and snacks at home, since we knew time was going to be short and we’d not really have the spare time to sit into a cafe or restaurant before dinner. We enjoyed those during our walk and stopping off here and there.
The city was still dressed for the Christmas holidays with lights and decorations out, making the cold, misty evening very atmospheric.
We had a slightly embarrassing incident with Santa, who got a little outraged when I said Max, my 5 year old, doesn’t sit on strange men’s laps. He was offended, but couldn’t find the English word for it, till he came walking after us with the word “unacceptable” for me to say that about him. He was sort of angry, but in a very amenable way, so I apologised and said not just men’s but strange women’s laps either. It made him feel better, that I wasn’t singling him out as a boogie man.
In the town centre the Christmas market stalls were still there, with merchants keen to sell. I have to say visiting in the first week of January was a great idea to expereince the pretty lights, decoration without the crowds that I can imagine were there before Christmas.
The Old Town was beautiful, even on a dark winter evening, or may be especially!
We weaved our way through the cobbled streets of the old town, watch the iceskaters circle around Warsaw’s mermaid in the Orld Market Square and would’ve enjoyed some mulled wine, hot chocolate and sausages had we had zlotys on us or found a cash machine. Instead we sat in a church service at for 15 minutes of quiet, warmth and contemplation.
We could’ve easily walked around from another couple of hours just taking in our surroundings, but, alas, the early morning start was catching up with us and we were all getting cranky. It was time to find some food.
Eating out in Warsaw Old Town
In Krakow, some years earlier, I was introduced to pierogi, a ravioli style pasta stuffed with different fillings. I knew I wanted us to have this, as I was sure it would go down well with the kids too. Finding a restaurant that served them as a main dish wasn’t so easy, however. A number of restaurants were out of the dish.
We stepped in to a high recommendation on Tripadvisor, Zapiecek Polskie Pierogarnie, right in the middle of the Old Town. It was small, more cafe style. The waitress seems frazzled and just turned us away, saying, apologetically, they can’t accommodate 5 at their tables. We were shocked but moved on.
10 minutes later we realised that Zapiecek Polskie Pierogarnie is actually a Polish chain. They had a bigger restaurant opposite the Cathedral. This had a queue of people waiting to be seated, but within 10 minutes we were taken down to our table the large basement area of the restaurant.
The restaurant has a kids’ menu, which includes all the standard, widely perceived kid-friendly
crap food, though they also had smaller portions of pierogi.
We ordered 4 different kinds of peirogi and a kids’ menu version too, the later came with french fries.
The food was good, but the service left lots to be desired: Drinks only arrived after a number of requests for them and after we’d got our main meal, which itself took half an hour to bring. They don’t serve tap water and the kids were really thirsty. (I didn’t want them getting “full” with juice.)
We tried the mulled draught beer with orange, clove, cinnamon and raspberry juice, Antoine hated it and I really liked it. Kids had a tiny sip and it was a mixed vote on whether it was any good. (They generally hate the taste of alcohol, but especially beer.)
Overall, despite our haphazardous service, I’d probably still recommend this restaurant if you are looking for a place that serves Polish cuisine and the kids will have decent options too.
Tummies full, my head slightly buzzing from the warm beer and the kids on a sugar high from the warm compote juice they had we braved the cold again. The bus stop was actually right outside the restaurant, with a properly functional ticket machine this time. We quickly bought the long transfer tickets to our hotel and 20 minute tickets for the following morning to get us to the airport.
Bus 175 came without having to wait long. It takes a very pretty route through the Old Town. A short 25 minute bus journey and we were at our hotel, the Sangate Hotel.
Accommodation in Warsaw
There were lots of accommodation options in Warsaw, both traditional hotels, serviced apartments and AirBnb, for us as a family of 5.
We wanted something close to the airport. The Sangate Hotel seemed to be the best value for the location. An old hotel, but staff were nice enough. We booked a room with a double and 2 extra beds. Instead we got two interconnecting rooms- one room with a king-sized bed and one room with 2 singles…That’s a win! The kids shared the massive double among the 3 of them and we took the singles. The beds were really comfy. Our only complaint about the rooms was that they were way too hot. The windows could just about be opened to let fresh air in.
We all had a very good, though short, night’s sleep.
The coffee and tea making facilities in the room came in very handy to get us in gear- dressed, repacked and out.
By 6 am we were on Bus 175 to the airport.
Warsaw Airport is modern, well-equipped. However, we found their security queues and handling very inefficient, so I’d probably leave plenty of time to get through the airport (which we had).
After a little delay, due to adverse weather conditions in the Netherlands, we were back on a LOT plan and flying to Amsterdam. I don’t remember much of the flight, as Max and I slept the whole 2 hours or so, Angelina read, Hugo played on the tablet and Antoine read and slept.
What was all concluded is that,
We really liked Warsaw and want to come back another time to explore it more.
Have you been to Warsaw? What was your favourite part?
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Is it easy to get to the city centre from Warsaw airport?
Yes, very simple by public transport. The bus leaves from right in front of the terminal.
How long does it take to get into Warsaw city centre from Warsaw airport?
It took us just over half an hour in total, but we were travelling on a very quiet day.
Is it worth having a stop-over in Warsaw?
Yes, absolutely! Any time to spare over 4-6 hours (on top of the 2 hours you need to be at the airport before departure), I, personally, would take the bus into town and have a wander around in the old town.