Living in Warsaw: A guide

Known for its cosmopolitan centre and abundant green spaces, the Polish capital of Warsaw really blossoms in the summer. This sprawling city also offers a mind-boggling selection of culinary delights, vibrant nightlife and low living costs

Feature by Marta Tycinska | 08 Jan 2018

If you’ve ever visited other Polish cities, you’ll quickly realise that Warsaw has a different feel to it. It’s not centred around an old market square; rather, it’s sprawled across a large area where diverse architectural styles mix – brutalist concrete, pre-war modernism, restored Gothic, and modern skyscrapers. Marking the centre of the Polish capital is the unmissable Palace of Culture and Science (PKiN): a ‘gift’ from Stalin, built in 1955 in a mixture of Socialist realism and Polish historicism. Standing at nearly 800 feet, it’s the tallest building in Poland and a symbol of the country’s complex past.

Another thing that’s very noticeable about Warsaw is that it’s always changing. If you go away for a couple of months, you’re likely to notice that new buildings, roads, shopping centres and even bridges have popped up around the city.

The Polish language

Lots of Polish people speak English well, which makes communicating and socialising relatively easy. It’s also convenient as Polish is quite difficult to learn and speak, although Poles do enjoy it when foreigners try to pronounce some of the words. It’s useful to note that there’s a generational divide when it comes to speaking English, so communicating with older people might be more difficult.

Finding work

European Economic Area citizens can work in Poland without a permit, so finding a job is a fairly straightforward process, especially as there's a high demand for native English speakers in most big industries. There are lots of opportunities in information technology, finance and business services, and English-speaking expats tend to get paid well if they have experience and qualifications.

It’s worth keeping in mind that salaries are relatively low in comparison to neighbouring EU countries. As a result, cost of living is also relatively low, which means that you can get a lot for your money. Opening a bank account is pretty easy since most banks in Poland are happy to accommodate foreigners providing they show a valid passport. Conditions might be different depending on which bank you go for, but they tend to be fairly similar across the board.

Renting a flat

Renting is relatively simple. Most people rent through agencies or classifieds sites like Gumtree, OLX or Oto Dom. A lot of locals get flats through word of mouth so it’s worth asking any Warsaw-based friends if they know of any rooms going before you move over. A room in central Warsaw costs around 1000zł (£210), while a one bedroom flat will set you back around 2500zł (£525). When flat-hunting, bear in mind that living rooms are included in the room count in ads, so a two-room place will usually mean a flat with one bedroom and a living room.

Where to live?

Śródmieście is Warsaw’s busiest and most vibrant district, taking up a huge part of the city centre. It covers the Old Town in the north, the riverside Powiśle and South Śródmieście – a lively area that’s full of boutiques, bars and restaurants. Mokotowska Street is great for shopping, while Poznańska is brimming with cool eateries. Plac Zbawiciela is where the hipsters go for drinks and where the cult Klub Plan B can be found.

Mokotów is a sprawling district located south of the city centre and split into two sections – Górny (upper) and Dolny (lower) Mokotów. This popular area is very well connected to the rest of the city by bus, tram and the metro. With its elegant tenements and foreign embassies, it’s also home to a lot of green spaces, atmospheric cafés (such as Relaks on Puławska Street) and arthouse cinemas (Iluzjon and Wisła).

The charming Żoliborz (from the French joli bord, meaning ‘beautiful bank/embankment’) in the northwest is a favourite among locals. Traditionally an intelligentsia district, it’s full of lovely cafés and restaurants nestled among modernist tenements. Check out Porananas, Fawory, Jaskolka and DOM and the Breakfast Market (Targ Śniadaniowy) that takes place at weekends during the warmer months at Aleja Wojska Polskiego.

To the east of the city, the district of Praga remains a terra incognita of sorts for a lot of Varsovians. Atmospheric and scruffy, this part of town has been undergoing intense gentrification for years, and while it definitely has a bohemian edge, it’s still generally perceived as a fairly unsafe area. It’s a good place to live for cheaper rent, proximity of arts complexes and cool, lowkey bars (including Łysy Pingwin and W Oparach Absurdu on Ząbkowska Street). It’s also really interesting from an architectural perspective, having remained intact while the rest of the city was heavily bombed and largely destroyed during WW2.

South of Praga and the National Stadium, there’s also the lovely, leafy Saska Kępa. Centred around the bustling Francuska Street, this small district offers a mix of laid back cafés, restaurants and shops. It also features some of the city’s best examples of modernist architecture from the pre-WW2 period – a style of architecture Warsaw is renowned for.

Green spaces

Warsaw is a very green city, with almost 20,000 acres of parks and other green spaces. Around 15% of the city’s urban area is covered by woodland – more than any other European city. Some of Warsaw’s parks date back several hundred years, like the historical Łazienki Królewskie (‘Royal Baths’) which offers a picturesque glimpse into the past, with its Baroque palaces and classicist follies. Other green spaces are great for cycling, jogging and relaxing in.  

The city is split in half by the largest river in Poland, the Vistula. Over the last decade or so, the left bank of the Vistula has transformed from a no man's land into a hugely popular area to hang out during the summer. Hundreds of people flock here at weekends, chilling in deck chairs and on the steps along the shore, which is dotted with countless bars, clubs and food trucks.

Eating in Warsaw

The Polish capital has transformed massively over the last 20 years and its culinary scene is a strong reflection of this. Poznańska Street is where you’ll find an abundance of great, affordably priced restaurants, including Leniviec, Tel Aviv and Kraken & Beirut. The latter consists of two separate restaurants: Kraken specialises in seafood and rum, while Beirut offers delicious Middle Eastern dishes. For veggies and vegans, the place to go is Krowarzywa, which offers an excellent selection of tasty and reasonably priced vegan burgers (there are two branches located on Marszałkowska and Hoża).

If you’re in the mood for a cheap and cheerful option, check out the many milk bars (bary mleczne) dotted around the city centre. Harking back to the Communist era and serving traditional Polish food for very affordable prices, Bambino on Krucza and Prasowy on Marszalkowska are favourites among locals.

Drinking, gigs and dancing

Warsaw has a great bar and club scene, fast gaining a reputation to rival its western neighbours. In the city centre, there’s Pawilony, a complex of bars tucked away behind the touristy Nowy Świat (part of the Royal Route). The little bars look similar from the outside, but each has its own distinct character once you’re in the door. It’s a great place to catch up with friends over a quiet beer in the week or for pre-drinks at the weekend.

Located on the left bank of the Vistula, the seasonal, al fresco Plac Zabaw is a popular hotspot for all sorts of cultural activities, including gigs, film screenings, comedy shows and foodie events. Tucked away behind Park Ujazdowski, there’s also Ladom – a small Finnish house where offbeat label Lado ABC puts on regular gigs, workshops and exhibitions.  

When it comes to clubbing, 1500m2 do wynajęcia, Luzztro and Jasna 1 offer reliable, regular nights that usually keep going until the small hours of the morning. There are more clubs over the river in Praga at 11 Listopada Street – at number 22, you’ll find a courtyard with three decent nightspots: Hydrozagadka, Skład Butelek and Chmury.

LGBTQ+ in Warsaw

Being the largest city in Poland, Warsaw is the most open and tolerant place in the country. It’s the city that young people move to in search of a better and fuller life, and this is reflected in the city’s LGBTQ+ scene. Popular spots include Club Galeria at Plac Mirowski, Glam Club on Żurawia Street, Ramona Bar on Widok Street and the gay-friendly Plan B. Other venues, including clubs and cocktail bars, tend to show themselves to be gay-friendly by displaying rainbow flag stickers on their doors.