Why you should visit Poland's Warsaw in winter

2019-04-18 17:06 - Gabi Zietsman
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While South Africans are lucky to have a sunnier Christmas than the Northern Hemisphere folks, we sometimes miss out a bit on the Christmas cheer that's so prevalent in European countries during this time.

For some, a colder holiday could be more appealing than the heat of our summer sun, and if you want a festive time without spending your life savings on an unfavourable exchange rate, Poland's capital Warsaw is a place that goes all out for its Christmas holidays.

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With a population that's almost a 100% Catholic, the city gets lit up during December with vibrancy and seasonal markets that are just as good as any other European city. And it also helps that Poland's a non-Euro country with a less abysmal exchange rate with the rand.

Here's why you should consider a visit to Warsaw in winter.

Ice rinks

Ice skating is very popular with the Poles, and from November they start popping up in most districts of Warsaw. 

The most popular ones are in front of the Palace of Culture and Science and in the Old Town Square. It's mostly free, but you'll have to pay for ski rentals.

Vibrant Old Town

The main tourist hub of Warsaw, Old Town is filled with cobblestone alleys and medieval architecture, and in winter it gets lit up with thousands of bulbs for the festive season.

It's also the spot where the annual 30-metre Christmas tree gets put up to delight revellers.

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Christmas Markets

Handcrafted gifts, Christmas ornaments, wood carvings and delicious Polish cuisine - all these abound at Warsaw's variety of festive markets.

Old Town has one of the best ones in Castle Square in front of the Royal Castle, and there's another big one in front of the Palace of Science and Culture. 

The Royal Route

Originally an old communication route, this 11-kilometre trail is the best way to see the heart of Warsaw and the city's royal history through its heritage buildings - and in winter it's the best way to keep warm and see all the lights.

It starts at the Royal Castle, through Ujazdowski Castle and Lazienki Park up to the Wilanów Palace - where another amazing winter feature awaits.

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The Royal Garden of Lights

In autumn and winter, the Wilanów Palace's gardens turn into an ethereal wonderland of light and music, similar to London's Kew Gardens during Christmas.

Besides the giant neon flowers, there are also Baroque light shows every day set to the compositions of famous classical artists.

Crowds at museums

The best part of winter in Warsaw? Smaller crowds, and on a continent where overtourism has become a serious problem, opting for these less congested cities makes you more of a sustainable tourist. 

Besides for temporarily escaping the cold, some amazing museums to check out include the Museum of Warsaw, the Chopin Museum, the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews and, if you're feeling a little nerdy, check out the Copernicus Science Centre.

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Food and drink

The Poles love their tea - or herbatka - and hot chocolate, and there are a variety of tea houses and chocolatiers to that will warm up your cold hands. If you're feeling brave, you can try out herbata z pradem - tea with a kick of rum or vodka.

For the foodies, why not try out a traditional milk bar where you get to taste traditional Polish cuisine for cheap as well as discover the city's Soviet history - these used to be subsidised by the communist regime as work canteens.

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