Almost 25 years after the retreat of socialism and the centre of Warsaw is buzzing. Buzzing with bars. Buzzing with restaurants. Buzzing with people. It seems fitting to explore the city’s streets alongside Warsaw’s inhabitants as they delve into their past and celebrate the cultural identity of a city that’s undergoing a rapid change in personality.

Driving through the heart of Warsaw, I steer and observe with extra vigilance. Not because of the inky black light or crowds of museum-going night owls, but because of what I’m sharing the roads with. Tonight, temporarily resurrected vintage trams and buses and cavalcades of historic cars form a charming backdrop.

people sitting at restaurant

Polish Pride

It’s been over 20 years since my time as a student here in this formerly sleepy socialist city. It’s amazing how Warsaw has changed since then. Today, Poland’s capital city is vibrant and lively at any time, day or night. I’d never suspected that this could be the case.

Tonight I’m coming to realise that this once provincial city at the borders of the Eastern Bloc has come into bloom and is thriving. Where else in the world can you find such a mixture of styles, such architectural eclecticism as in the centre of Warsaw? Social realism mixes with art nouveau and real pearls of the baroque. The Palace of Culture and Science, though considered unremarkable or even disliked by some locals, is a standout example of Stalinist architecture, rare outside the former Soviet Union.

Along we glide, travelling down the royal route, cutting down into the Powiśle district, where the sounds of jazz, rock or blues emerge from the open doors of the bars, enticing passers-by inside. But it’s only when I drive through the old town (Stare Miastro) and the new town (Nowe Miasto) districts that I realise new york is not the only city that never sleeps. The only difference being that in new york the architecture’s nowhere near as contradictory as Warsaw’s.

Car on the street at midnight

Seeing Warsaw in a New Light

It seems odd to think, but street lighting is quite a novelty for a city where you once had to carry a flashlight at night – even non-smokers used to carry matches in their pockets so that they could find the bus stop in the total darkness. Today, Warsaw is well-lit and friendly at night; the warm light of the streetlamps illuminates every corner.

Though I’m still sharing the road with a few other cars – it only falls completely silent between four and five in the morning – I point the car across each of the bridges for a look at these magnificent structures. It’s just light enough to admire the views, the twinkling of the city lights shimmering on the river like stars in the sky.

Particularly charming are two pylon bridges: the Świętokrzyski and the Siekierkowski, though those with artistic souls will likely be excited by the Poniatowskiego bridge. The eerie steel structures under its trestles, which are quite rare, make an incredible impression.

By the time I conclude this secret circuit of Warsaw, the sun is beginning to warm the streets, reminding me I’ve missed a night’s sleep. I don’t feel too bad though. As I head for home, I’m invigorated by the knowledge that this city that was once a tourist wasteland now offers something for everyone. Try it for yourself sometime. You won’t be disappointed.

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