It might come as a surprise to some, but the UNESCO-listed town of Warsaw has excellent museum. Some are them are very new, POLIN won as best European museum in 2016 and several have interactive exhibitions.
This fall, it’s the 100th year anniversary for Polish independence, and all the museums will (read: have to) mark the anniversary. So you’ll find special exhibitions, if you visit Warsaw soon. Here’s my recommendations for the top 6 museums.
BEST MUSEUMS IN WARSAW
I visited Warsaw with my museum group. It was my 4th trip with the group and the first one I organized. We met with a museum professional at each place, and this of course affected my views of the different museums, but this is what I recommend:
Lazienki, Neon Muzeum, Warsaw Rising, POLIN, Chopin Museum & Copernicus.
1 ROYAL LAZIENKI
Lazienki was my favourite museum alongside the Neon Muzeum. Here we met with the head of Education and she and her team made the visit way better. The museums is actually several former royal buildings in a park.
The main building is called the Palace on the Isle – even though it’s a Bathhouse. It’s a neoclassical building from the 17th century and built for Prince Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski, a very important man at the time. It’s suppose to look like Villa Borghese, Villa Medici and so on, and I see the resemblance: the kind of grotto, natural spring and ancient sculptures look – like the muscular naked guy with a lion skin…
The Nazis stayed here (understandably) but tried to burn it and blow it when they realized they were losing. Fortunately (?), they only burned the roof and the frescoes and stole a lot of art. Some have been replaced by projections. The palace is surrounded by the most wonderful baroque garden and if the weather is great make sure you have time to relax and watch the peacocks strolling around.
I’m not sure if you can just visit the theatre without a guide. But you can rent it for a private arrangement…
2 NEON MUZEUM
The Neon Muzeum was recommended by fellow Danish travel bloggers from Ontrip.dk. If you want to find a place for Instagram shots, this is it. This is actually so much it, that our guide told us they have to drag Instagrammers away from the neon signs, because they go to close. The signs are electrical, and the electricity makes the gas neon light up. So don’t go to close for a close-up.
Book a tour if you want to know how the signs tell the story of Warsaw. They have a small shop, but with some pretty cool cups – great for souvenirs.
The museum is on the other side of the river, but well worth the trip, although it is a small museum. A taxi is so cheap, so no excuse. The neighbourhood SOHO is also cool with an excellent restaurant Warszawa Wschodnia by Mateusz Gessler. We had it recommended by the museum, and it sure was good.
3 WARSAW RISING MUSEUM
Warsaw Rising Museum or the Uprising Museums is very impressive and maybe the the first museum you hear about. The Rising in 1944 is a crucial event in the history of Warsaw and its citizens (like the siege in Sarajevo, which you can read more about in Trace the grim past in today’s Sarajevo). It opened in 2004, and it’s a huge museum, maybe too huge, but we all liked it and would have stayed longer.
If you can figure out the right way, you are guided through the stages of the Rising until the time when the Insurgents left Warsaw. And what with the sewers? The underground sewer system functioned as a lifeline for the citizens and some lived there for several weeks waiting for rescue. You can try going in there and see if you like it…The coolest thing however is a replica of a Liberator B-24J bomber hanging from the ceiling.
We didn’t meet any of the staff here, but that might have helped. Some took the audioguide and recommended it as a trail for the large building. Make sure you watch the 3D movie of the city after the bombings. Nothing happens, but seeing how little was left was actually very moving. About a 1000(!) people remained.
They try to push the tower and the view as something, but that’s not worth it. But the museum definitely is.
4 POLIN MUSEUM
POLIN is the museum for the history of the Polish Jews. In 2016, it won as best museum in Europe and the building is spectacular. But my entire group agreed that this was not deserved. But it is none the less an interesting museum.
The museum shows a 1000 years of the history of Polish Jews and is located in the old Jewish ghetto. The core exhibition opened only 4 years ago, and didn’t have any collection to build on. That’s why there are so few artifacts, they are all from private donors, which is quite remarkable. The museum has won an award as a platform for dialogue, but I don’t think it is. But you learn something about the history of Judaism, Poland, handicrafts, and I learned that it is forbidden to brush your teeth with toothpaste on Shabbat.
Free entrance on Thursdays.
5 FRYDERYK CHOPIN MUSEUM
The Chopin Museum is dedicated to the Polish composer Chopin and belongs to the Chopin Institute. You can hear a recording of Chopin’s music made in the museum here. He’s definitely not my favourite composer, but I understand why Poland is making a big deal out of him. Just the fact that the Russian tsar censured performances of Chopin and the Nazi’s banned his music, makes it interesting.
This opened in 2010 and I was expecting quite a lot from this place, since they have a interactive exhibition feature. You get a plastic card and everywhere you see a red dot dot the card activates a video, music or something else. But unfortunately the staff we met didn’t really let us try it, and the things we saw when I insisted wasn’t that impressive. But this is a way more engaging museum than you might think. Just don’t get a guide, who’s in love with Chopin.
His body is buried in Pere Lachaise in Paris (where I have seen it) and his heart in a crystal urn in Warsaw (which I haven’t seen). All around the city, you also find piano benches playing the music of Chopin. And lots of souvenirs.
6 COPERNICUS SCIENCE CENTRE
My museum group always include a science center or a museum of natural history in our tours. But the science centres in Europe all look the same. Copernicus is very similar to NEMO in Amsterdam, which we saw last year, and Experimentarium in Copenhagen. But it’s always fun to learn more about your brain, how tornadoes or solar power work and how much air weighs. They have a robot you can activate, but apparently he’s being replaced by a younger model…
Oh, and by the way, the new robot is currently writing a blog, so I guess I’m next…
Makes sure you have plenty of time to try as much as possible. Although after an hour in science centres my brain is very tired, and I need an ice cream…