The Mole Diaries: Warsaw
The idea of spending a year in Warsaw does not inspire the romantic vision that heading off to other European capitals does – why go there when you could spend your year abroad in Paris, Rome, Berlin, or even Krakow? Even if Socialist Realist architecture and long, cold winters don't sound like your thing, there are many, many good reasons to make Warsaw your destination of choice for your year abroad – even if you don't study Polish!
It has a fantastic arts scene, with lots of good galleries, cheap beer, great clubs and excellent universities (Uniwersytet Warszawski has the most amazing library EVER, left), as well as a fascinating history, with memorials dotted around the city to constantly remind you of its importance. All that and it still remains one of the cheapest European capitals to live in. If you're not a natural born city-slicker, don't worry; the metro line takes you directly to the beautiful woods at Kabaty and the city centre also has an abundance of parks and green spaces.
One of the major concerns for students heading for a year abroad is finding accommodation. In Warsaw, places in university dormitories are very limited, so most students are advised to look for private accommodation. The good news is that this is not likely to be a problem – (relatively) high property prices in Warsaw mean that flatshares are common and people are usually eager to have a foreign student live with them to liven things up a bit!
Whilst it is possible to rent directly from a landlord, it is generally easier (especially if you don't speak Polish) to move into a flat with some natives who can sort out things like bills, internet etc. Just be careful to make sure you're not paying more than your fair share, by asking what the total rent for the flat is! Look online at Warsaw Gumtree (Polish only) for an idea of what to look for.
Many students choose to live away from the city centre, where accommodation is cheaper. People may advise you to avoid certain areas (such as the notorious Praga district on the Eastern side of the Wisła) but don't let that put you off – Warsaw is very safe, on the whole, and as long as you don't go looking for trouble and take reasonable safety precautions wherever you go, you should be fine.
When looking for a place to live, make sure you are able to travel easily from your home to university. Fortunately, Warsaw public transport is excellent, and you can check your potential journey times online at Jakdojade, which is probably the most useful website for any Warsaw commuter! The cost of travel is low compared with most major cities, as you can buy a three month travel card (which is half price for students under 26) and it is valid on all of the metro, tram, and bus routes in the city.
Warsaw has all the big restaurant chains you would expect to find in a capital city, like Subway, McDonald's etc, plus a few which are specific to Poland, such as Sphinx (a good choice for meat eaters, with hefty portions) and Coffee Heaven (does exactly what it says on the tin). There are also some good veggie options such as Greenway's on Ulica Poznanska and Green on Ulica Szpitalna. Kebab stalls are ubiquitous and serve cheap, tasty food throughout the day (and night) and usually serve falafel as an excellent veggie late night snack. For a taste of traditional Polish cuisine, visit a Bar Mleczny for generous helpings of good old fashioned Polish fare. My favourite place for a nice evening meal (and for the best curry in Warsaw) was Przyprawiony świat, which can be found on Ul. Nowogrodzka.
Warsaw had no shortage of things to do if you keep your eyes peeled. The café and cultural centre Nowy Wspaniały Świat (Brave New World) on Nowy Świat, is a good place to check for events and pick up flyers. However, I think the most important purchase for any student arriving in Warsaw has to be a copy of Zrób to w Warsawie (Do It in Warsaw) – the excellent, bilingual alternative guide to the city published by the popular newspaper Gazetta Wyborcza. Buy it and do everything in it you have time for, you won't regret it!
There are also plenty of more traditional tourist attractions - I'm pretty sure you could visit a museum a day in Warsaw and not have seen them all within a month! A major plus is that all municipal museums have one free day a week, so it is worth checking out when these are and planning your trips accordingly. Here are my favourites:
There are so many more I never had the chance to visit - from the Chopin Museum to the new Copernicus Science Museum – that I think I need to make a return trip!
Like most other big cities, Warsaw has a pretty thriving pub/club scene, mainly centred around the universities UW and Politechnika. Well worth checking out are Plan B on Plac Zbawiciela and Powiększenia just off of Nowy Świat. Perhaps the most exciting (in every sense) night excursions can be found in Praga, especially around Ulica Ząbkowska, and Sen Pszczoły (The Bee's Dream) is a cracking club with lots of rooms, open spaces for dancing, comfy seats and a beer garden. At weekends most places stay open until the last punter leaves, so there is no need to stop before you're ready to! Although do make sure you stop when you ARE ready to – long, drunken nightbus rides are not fun...
Top 5 reasons to go to Warsaw
I could write a novel about the attractions of Warsaw and still not feel that I had done it justice, so I will leave off with a list of reasons that Warsaw should be on your list of possible year abroad destinations: