Warsaw, A Low-Cost Getaway

The Washington Post
Warsaw has set itself up nicely as a well-established, reliable and reasonably cheap business destination where conferences and exhibitions can be held close to Central Europe. As a country on Europe's border with the CIS, it has proven to be an ideal meeting ground to do business.

When the hotels are emptied by departing businessmen at the end of the work week, however, what is left for the hotels to live on? Tempting offers of cheap accommodation in top hotels is a fine way of beckoning the tourists to a city that is misunderstood.

Therefore, despite a new influx of rowdy weekend revelers from the West, a weekend away in this city of many contrasts can be both highly relaxing and extremely informative. Four- and five-star hotels offering the best of everything in their class lower their rates quite significantly over the weekends, offering value that is unimaginable in Moscow's overpriced market.

The buffet breakfasts, in particular, of many of the top-range hotels seem to compete for the title of 'King of the Buffet' and are extremely generous in their selection. Not to mention that many include a variety of chilled vodkas, including local varieties, in the beverage section -- maybe for those recovering from a hefty night out on the town.

Thus sated, the tourist is ready to sightsee, and there is no better place than Warsaw to bear witness to the vast changes a city can go through over a six-decade period. Described before World War II as the Paris of the East, today's Warsaw is a quasi-European city with Eastern-bloc remains. Unlike most of her Eastern sisters, the city has a center filled almost exclusively with post-war architecture and an Old Town that is located outside what is Eastern Europe's only real downtown area.

It's not New York, but the ubiquitous skyscrapers in the center of town are something that you won't see in any other former socialist state. Actually, the number of modern skyscrapers seems to signify a yearning to show a bright new face to a world that imagines Warsaw in the dull, gray tones of an earlier era.

The Palace of Culture and Science still dominates the skyline and occupies a full city block, but this present from Stalin, completed in 1955, has been joined by an impressive number of recently built giants that vie for space in the downtown area.


Alexei Gorshkov / Itar-Tass
A trip to Warsaw's Old Town will reveal a substantial postwar architectural achievement -- an area that has been meticulously renovated, restoring it to its former charm.
Seasoned travelers may bemoan the existence of the analogous old town in every European city, but Warsaw's is definitely worth seeing if only to witness what is one of Europe's greatest postwar architectural achievements. After the destruction of World War II, the Old Town was meticulously restored over several decades to its former state and rivals many of Eastern Europe's capitals for the title of most quaint. The Historical Museum of Warsaw contains not only fascinating proof of the reconstruction process but more than 60 rooms documenting Warsaw's overall history. The Royal Castle is a wonderful example of what the reconstruction work achieved -- lasting from 1971 to 1984 and funded mostly by exiled Poles. The beautiful little baroque Church of St. Hyacinth, built between 1603 and 1639, was restored as closely as possible to its original appearance by 1959.

Reminders of Warsaw's painful 20th-century history are visible throughout the city, especially in Praga -- Warsaw's eastern suburb across the river Vistula. It has often been considered out of bounds for tourists because of a reputation for housing a criminal underclass, but it has many buildings that outlived the war and even now document repeated attacks. The buildings on the riverside offer especially good examples of the artillery fire the city endured.

Wherever the tourist may roam, it is useful to remember that Warsaw is a two-language city. For those with knowledge of both English and Russian, there should be no great language barrier. Given the similarities between many Polish and Russian words, anyone over 35 will be able to convey their ideas in some kind of Slavic mix, while those younger than 30, who did not receive the mandatory Soviet education, know at least some English.

How to Get There



By plane: Both Aeroflot and Lot Polish Airlines have daily flights with airfares approximately the same -- about 10,500 rubles roundtrip.

Where to Stay



Polonia Palace Hotel Warsaw
A double room on a weeknight is about 169 euros, the weekend rate is 89 euros. All rates include a buffet breakfast. Rates are for online booking only.
B-4, al. Jerozolimskie 45, (48-22) 318-28-01, www.poloniapalace.com

InterContinental Hotel Warsaw
A double room on a weeknight is about 199 euros, the weekend rate is 145 euros. Rates include a buffet breakfast and are for online booking only.
A-4, ul. Emili Plater 49, (48-22) 328-88-88, www.warsaw.intercontinental.com

Marriott Warsaw
A double room on a weeknight is about 160 euros, the weekend rate is 100 euros. Rates include a buffet breakfast. Rates are for online booking only.
B-4, al. Jerozolimskie 65/79, (48-22) 630-63-06, http://www.marriott.com/wawpl

Le Royal Meridien Bristol Hotel Warsaw
A double room on a weeknight is about 158 euros, the weekend rate is 114 euros. Rates include a buffet breakfast and are available for online booking only.
C-2, ul. Krakowskie Przedmiescie 42/44, (48-22) 551-10-00, www.warsaw.lemeridien.com

What to Do



Royal Castle, B-2, pl. Zamkowy 4, 657-21-70, Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sun 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Monday.

Historical Museum of Warsaw, B-1, Rynek Starego Miasta 42, 635-16-25 – Hours vary on each day, but closed Monday.

Palace of Culture and Science, B-4, pl. Defilad, 656-76-00, Open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily.