Our first adventure as vegan travellers on a budget was a weekend in Warsaw, the Polish capital. We’d previously visited Wroclaw, in the west of the country, and were completely entranced by Poland so were incredibly excited to go back. A bit of pre-booking research revealed a fascinating city – all but completely destroyed during WW2 and under the strict rule of communism immediately after, it is literally a city reborn. As a modern city, it has a growing reputation for fantastic nightlife and craft beer and has some really great vegan restaurants and cafes for those on a budget, as well as boasting a spectacular number of impressive galleries and museums.
Cities like Warsaw, which are changing relatively rapidly but have yet to become full and proper tourist hotspots, are the places that I absolutely love to explore through aimless wandering. On a journey that took us away from the big sights and central downtown areas, we spent our days exploring the neighbourhoods of the city, stopping for a coffee or beer as we started to tire, or simply just because we found a spot that deserved a bit more of our attention. The city is pretty big and spread out, so we took our days one neighbourhood at a time. And in a city like Warsaw, where each has its own unique character and story to tell, this felt like the absolute best way to do it.
Old Town (Stare Miasto)
The picture perfect Old Town was pretty much destroyed during WW2, with only 15% of the original district left standing. Since then, it’s been immaculately restored and is currently an UNESCO World Heritage Site, a testament to the skill and dedication of the work that’s gone into its preservation.
And it’s beautiful, best explored early before the crowds arrive in search of a particular polish experience (apparently pierogi and beer) or in the evening as dusk approaches and buildings glow orange in the sun. This is how you avoid the hustle and see this part of the city at its best.
Stretching along the east bank of the Vistula River, just south of the Old Town, is Powisle. One of the historic working class districts of the city, it houses the university campus and has gained a reputation as a hub for creative types. We were attracted to this part of town by the incredibly well photographed Warszawa Powisle, a bar in the train station ticket office. With its soaring modernist concrete roof and neon signs, it represents everything about the Warsaw aesthetic that we had come to expect, and were absolutely delighted by the cafe that sat inside it; offering all day breakfasts, locally brewed beers and gin lemonade slushies, which we readily enjoyed whilst relaxing in deck chairs in the afternoon sun.
As we explored further we discovered artisan coffee at Stor and Kafka, exciting (and affordable) homewares at Uashmama and Product Placement and vintage finds at Vintage Store. The district also happily catered for us awkward vegans, with excellent burgers from Mango (which has a number of locations across the city) and freshly baked breads and salads at SAM.
Praga was the part of the city I’d been most excited to visit. Having read descriptions of it likening it to our native Shoreditch in London, I was expecting a buzz and hype that was particularly unique to the found spaces and industrial heritage of eastern central Warsaw. We caught the metro a couple of stops across the Vistula river to Zoo station and sought out the Zoo Flea Market.
A tiny yard opposite a large park, and incredibly easy to miss, the flea market is a small collection of tables selling homewares and clothes. Nothing too glamorous, but definitely worth a rummage, we left with a very cute West German plant pot (£8 ish) and a retro russian travel alarm clock (£6 ish). Both excellent souvenirs and unique reminders of what was turning out to be a fab visit.
The main crossroads around Zoo station has a few big shopping centres on it and didn’t feel too exciting, however we ducked down a side street and discovered a great selection of cute cafes and bars that we’d come to expect, such as the awesome Il Mijo ice cream bar (serving vegan chocolate halva ice cream!) and Lysy Pingwin and W Oparach Absurdu bars on Stara Praga. We, rather foolishly, visited Praga during on a saturday afternon, and though it was sunny and the terraces of bars were getting lively, we probably missed a trick here. The area has a bit of a reputation for lively nightlife and in general we would it a little lacking. Something for the next trip no doubt!
Next was Soho Factory, a further short tram ride away (NB – it’s located off the beaten track, and we had to navigate a relatively run down industrial part of town to find it). From what I’d read about the factory, it was a lively up and coming collection of design shops, bars, art spaces and restaurants, and I’m afraid it fell a little flat. Most of the shops were actually studios and design workshops, so all closed up for the weekend. Aside from the famous Warszawa Wschodnia restaurant (all booked up, very very posh!) there was very little going on here. The only exception was the Neon Muzeum, housing a fantastic collection of shop signs, displays and goodness knows what else. Half way between junk yard and social history exhibit, this was a great stop, giving us a priceless look at the history of 20th Century Warsaw through a unique medium, as well as an untold number of great photo opportunities.
We flew with RyanAir from London Stansted to Warsaw Modlin. At Modlin we caught the shuttle bus to Modlin station and took the Koleje Mazowiecke train into Warsaw. Total cost was £7.50 or so return, much cheaper than the tourist shuttle buses. The train also runs to a larger number of destinations in Warsaw, so if you’re staying a little out of the centre (as we were) then it takes you a little closer to your front door. A word of caution though – signage at the station is poor; timetables are available online so come prepared!
We booked into a very cute Airbnb at the northern edge of the Old Town. Cost was around £60 per night for a large 1 bedroom apartment that could easily accommodate 4 people.
We made a rookie mistake on day 1 of getting a taxi to our apartment. At over £8 this probably cost more than the rest of our city transport costs combined! Tram, bus and metro rides across the city centre are around 60p a go (3.4zl) so a great way to cover a lot of ground.
Vegan Restaurants & Cafes
As vegans we were unnecessarily wary. Warsaw has an excellent selection of cafes and restaurants offering delicious, good value grub. We particularly enjoyed Krowarzywa, Lokal (get there early for vegan ribs), Mango, Kafka and Vege Bistro.