Grey. That’s how I always thought of Warsaw when, as a child, I visited family here each summer. The Polish capital seemed to be dominated by graffiti-covered communist-era concrete that begged to be cleaned.
Yet, even then there were pockets of beauty in this city, which was almost entirely destroyed during the Second World War. Stare Miasto (the Old Town) is like Krakow in miniature. Bombed to pieces, its colourful buildings were rebuilt using many of the original bricks, and it’s now a Unesco World Heritage Site.
From here, Trakt Krolewski (the Royal Route) takes you past the Presidential Palace, down well-to-do Nowy Swiat, to Lazienki Krolewskie, Warsaw’s 76-hectare royal park.
This isn’t a city stuck in the past, however. Recent years have seen run-down areas being revived, old buildings repurposed, and the arrival of Poland’s first Michelin- starred restaurant. There’s still plenty of concrete, but even that is being spruced up.
This year the city’s second Metro line opened – a mere two decades after the launch of the first – connecting central Warsaw with the neighbourhoods on the east side of the Vistula river, such as Praga. Once a seriously sketchy place to be after dark, Praga has become a haven for young creatives, its disused industrial spaces being reborn as galleries, bars and cafes.
An old tram power station in the west of the city now houses the Warsaw Uprising Museum, where you can explore the story of the city’s rebellion against Nazi occupation, through film footage, personal histories and historic artefacts. In 2014, a striking new angular building on the site of the former Warsaw Ghetto opened its doors as the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Its eight galleries now document 1,000 years of that community’s history.
If you prefer your entertainment a little lighter, this summer heralded the opening of Hangar 646, a former airline hangar that has become the the city’s first 'trampoline park'.
While you're in Europe: The Best Of 2016
History and art: Top 10 Tips For Tackling Europe's Museums
Fairytale experience: Top 5 Enchanting Castles In Europe
Soho Factory is perhaps the clearest example of Praga’s rebirth, a collection of old industrial buildings converted into flats, galleries, studios, shops and dining. The highlight is the Neon Muzeum. It houses more than 100 vintage signs, from railway stations to restaurants.
Stick around Soho Factory and dine at Warszawa Wschodnia. Headed up by Mateusz Gessler, a well-known name in Poland, the 24-hour restaurant centres on an open kitchen, so perch at the bar to watch the masters at work. The menu is a mix of French and Polish with a modern twist; try goat’s cheese-stuffed cream puff with watermelon followed by roast duck with apples.
Smart Saska Kepa is home to some beautiful pre-war architecture, and a clutch of lovely bars and restaurants. Among these, Francuska Trzydziesci is easy to spot, thanks to the canopy of multi-coloured umbrellas over its patio tables. If it’s too chilly to sit outside, hunker down inside with a bottle of regional beer.
Over in central Warsaw, Polonez describes itself as a klubokawiarnia, a 'club-cafe', which after dark becomes a hipster hangout with a long list of spirits.
Bazar na Kole, in Kolo, is Poland’s largest flea market. Operating all year round, even in the depths of winter (these traders are a hardy bunch), the market sells everything from books and records to military paraphernalia.
National chain Boleslawiec has a branch in central Warsaw, where you can pick up traditional blue-and-white Polish ceramics. A tea set might set you back 500 zlotys ($A180), but you can find single plates for around 16 zlotys ($A6).
Take a stroll amid the manicured gardens, classical statues and wandering peacocks of Lazienki Krolewskie, the royal park. A lengthy renovation of the Palace on the Isle, a baroque former bathhouse sitting on the lake, was completed this year, and its wonderfully over-the-top interiors are open to the public.
The Palace of Culture and Science, Poland’s tallest building, was a controversial gift from Stalin, and stands as a striking example of socialist realist design. Among its more than 3,000 rooms are a cinema, theatres and museums, but head up to the 30th-floor terrace for a view over the city.
For the latest deals on travel, browse our great range of offers online, visit your local Escape Travel or call 1300 556 855.
This article was written by Nicola Trup from The Independent and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.