Poland is enjoying a moment as one of the few countries we can visit without having to self-isolate on our return to the UK – and it’s a place for a wonderful autumn or winter break.
Warsaw, the capital, is a delight, often overlooked in favour of Krakow, with its lively nightlife, and Gdansk, home of the Solidarity docks.
Explore Warsaw’s beautifully restored old town, which stages a lovely Christmas market; visit top-class museums (including the world’s best vodka museum, naturally); wander along the pretty River Vistula; and round off the day with a tipple of the nation’s favourite drink in a candle-lit bar somewhere off Old Town Market Place.
Glorious revival: Distinctive pastel-coloured buildings in the centre of Warsaw, rebuilt after being destroyed during the Nazi occupation
Wizz Air, Ryanair, British Airways and LOT, Poland’s national airline, keep fares to Warsaw competitive – another great reason to go.
A taxi from Warsaw-Chopin airport to the city centre costs about £8. Head straight for Old Square, which was flattened during the Warsaw Uprising against Nazi occupation in 1944 but has been painstakingly rebuilt – a process that took until 1962. Its distinctive mustard-yellow, pink and pale-blue buildings are back to their former finery, with spidery lanes running off the square where you’ll find art galleries and cafes.
For lunch, try Restauracja Portretowa, which serves traditional Polish food, including venison stew, pickled herring and pancakes with caviar. Then visit the splendid hilltop Royal Castle, former home of Polish monarchs, which took until 1984 to be restored (zamek-krolewski.pl/en).
It may be a long way from its HQ in Singapore, but Raffles decided to try its luck in Warsaw in 2018, opening the Raffles Europejski hotel (raffles.com/warsaw) in a 19th Century building that had been badly damaged in 1944.
Nowhere in the city is more glamorous than its Long Bar. Join the cocktail-sipping crowd with a Warsaw Sling with gin and quince. Then live it up even more in the restaurant: zurek soup with pork and marjoram, seabass with horseradish, and a top-notch cheesecake. Three courses with wine costs about £40.
First, visit the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, a 20-minute walk from the old town. This is in a strikingly stark metal-and-glass building in which the ‘core exhibition’ recounts the 1,000-year history of Polish Jews, including harrowing documentation of the Second World War (polin.pl/en).
Then take the metro beneath the River Vistula to the Praga district and a completely different museum.
The Polish Vodka Museum is on the site of a former distillery, now home to bars, restaurants, fashion boutiques and Warsaw’s Google Campus. Check the website to see when the hour-long tours in English run (muzeumpolskiejwodki.pl/en/).
British Airways (ba.com) flies from Gatwick to Warsaw from £66 return. Rooms at Raffles Europejski Warsaw cost from £200 B&B. Hotel Indigo (hotelindigo.com) has rooms from £85. For more about Warsaw, go to warsawtour.pl.
You’ll learn the difference between rye, barley, wheat, oat and potato-based vodkas – and the tour culminates in a tasting, naturally.
Skamiejka is a Russian restaurant close to the vodka museum (call 00 48 512 123 967 to book a table). The solanka soup with beef, pork, pickles, capers and olives is spicy and rather delicious. Follow this with melt-in-your-mouth beef stroganoff with wild mushrooms and onions. It’ll cost about £10 for two courses with a drink.
Close by is the delightfully named, eclectically decorated bar W Oparach Absurdu (The Vapours of the Absurd), which was playing old Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix songs when I visited.
Then cross the river again to visit the Palace of Culture and Science, the extraordinary, rocket-like tower which was completed in 1955 on the orders of Stalin.
From the top of the 778ft building you can enjoy a superb view of the capital in its entirety: suburbs with tower blocks and factories framing the horizon – reminders of Communist days gone by.
On the ground floor, there’s an atmospheric cinema showing films in English with Polish subtitles.
Take a stroll along the promenade beside the River Vistula and try one of the many cafes and restaurants.
Musical genius: Multimedia displays at Warsaw’s Chopin Museum where you can learn about the tragically short life of 19th Century composer Frederic Chopin
Before you fly home, visit the Church of the Holy Cross, the glittery gold, ornate church near Old Town Market Square where the heart of 19th Century composer Frederic Chopin is buried in one of the pillars.
Afterwards, make your way to the excellent Chopin Museum, not far down a hill, to learn about the tragically short life of the musical genius (muzeum.nifc.pl/en).