Warsaw, the unexpected

Eclectic and welcoming, the Polish capital contains surprises on every corner for first-time visitors. Avant-garde in nature, Warsaw is seething with incredibly intense life.

Warsaw is full of paradoxes. You imagine it draped in a blanket of snow, yet it offers verdant parks and wild beaches along the Vistula. There is a garden planted on the roof of the university library and musical benches throughout the city... Since opening up to the market economy in 1989, Warsaw has set its own pace, driven by an irrepressible thirst for change.

New life has come to its converted factories, as it has in Berlin and Moscow and throughout the world. At the heart of the Praga district, at once working class and bohemian, creatives have come to set up their offices in the Soho Factory near the Neon Museum, surrounded by cafés and restaurants. Hipsters are at home here, and also on nearby Mokotowska street, which is overflowing with fashion boutiques and bookstores, right near the circular Zbawiciela Square.

The younger generation is reshaping the city, bringing life to forgotten buildings, riding a retro-futuristic fashion wave that is making communist symbols of yesterday into today's vintage art, and revamping popular canteens and mleczny ('milk bars'). Here more than anywhere else young people have fun in a pot-pourri of nationalities, thanks to the many foreign students. Long live the friendships of the people!

Music is, of course, everywhere, and Chopin, embodying the soul of Warsaw, is never far away. This music resonates beneath the cobblestones, reflecting history. More than 85% destroyed at the end of World War II, Warsaw was left with a dirt field and many tears. However, its historical centre was reconstructed as closely as possible to the original and was classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. Since then, time has made its mark, aging the candy-coloured houses with care.

Elsewhere, the Soviet legacy can be seen in the wide avenues lined with concrete. The socialist-realism style culminates with the Palace of Culture and Science. Imposing at the time of its construction, it now blends into the landscape of newly built skyscrapers nearby, including one by the Polish-American architect Daniel Libeskind. In Warsaw, the present is often catching up with the past!

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