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Last summer Prince William and Kate threw a spotlight on Poland’s biggest city with a royal visit. But while they indulged us all in the requisite waving, they also spent a lot of time indoors.
As in most northern cities, Warsaw’s most rewarding moments come behind closed doors, burrowed in a wood-panelled cafe, gawping at royal treasures, dining by the fire, getting merry. So why not go in winter, when return flights are under £100 and the heat is on?
Once your stomach has woken up, mosey through the historic Nowy Swiat quarter to Vincent’s, a seven-minute walk from Hotel Indigo Warsaw—Nowy Swiat, where bakers will be pulling hearty breads and cinnamon rolls from the oven. Join crowds of regulars in the upper dining room for a Polish breakfast of eggs, sausage and shredded-potato pancakes. Or share a cheeky slice of cheesecake with raisins, the local speciality. Then carry on westward along medieval-era streets to the homely Relax Cafe for a strong shot of coffee culture. Perch on a stool in the red-curtained window, sip a cappuccino and drink in the vintage vibe.
Built by the Soviets six decades ago in a square behind the cafe, the Palace of Culture and Science was a monument to Stalin’s superiority, with 3,000 ornate rooms and a 30th-floor lookout. But Warsaw has made it her own. Two high-tech concert halls show top European musicians, some of them free. Book ahead, or pop into museums of science and history, quaff in a hip bar, swim at the state-of-the-art indoor swimming pool, or have a flutter in the casino.
From here it’s a 10-minute ride on the M2 bus to the Warsaw Rising Museum, dedicated to the 1944 uprising that saw Polish resistance soldiers fight the occupying Germans for liberation. It was doomed to bloody failure, but after 63 days of fighting, it emerged as the largest military effort by any resistance movement during the Second World War. A moving exhibition of photos and artefacts depict the city before the war, its destruction and rebirth. Come on Sunday and entry is free.
The 22 or 24 tram will scoot you back to the Indigo Hotel for a nap in your blue velvet-swathed room or an Old Fashioned in the Bourbon Lounge. Dinner is around the block at Opsaly Tom, which serves some of the best Polish-fusion cuisine in town (nab a plate of buckwheat and bryndza cheese pierogis while you’re here).
Make it an early dinner, or book in fashionably late to squeeze in one of the nightly 7.30pm piano concerts at the modest Chopin Salon, just a few moments away. Sip wine and sit back while Polish prodigies tinkle the Steinway to Fryderyk Chopin’s romantic back catalogue. The composer lived and played nearby in the 1800s, before he fled Warsaw as a young man at the dawn of the 1830 uprising.
At Pijalnia Wodki i Piwa, a few doors down from the hotel, every shot of flavourful bison-grass vodka is one euro, and every bowl of borscht is two. Order a couple of each and watch the tiny bar, wallpapered with old newspaper clippings, fill up as midnight comes and goes. A couple of hours here and you won’t need your coat for the walk home.