Visitors don’t tend to adore the Polish capital – but they almost universally admire it. Warsaw is one gutsy city, which has bounced back remarkably from almost total destruction in the Second World War and decades of neglect under communist rule.
It’s also a city that doesn’t quite fit the images people have of it. Yes, there’s plenty of concrete and it does get cold in winter, but Warsaw is surprisingly leafy – bleak is a word you never reach for while visiting.
European Union membership, an upturn in financial fortunes and hosting the Euro 2012 football tournament seem to have imbued Warsaw with a confidence to go with its long-standing gritty determination. Head out at night, and there’s a sleeves-rolled-up embrace of having a good time.
The go-getting energy is very hard not to respect and enjoy.
A comfortable bed
For palatial-style glamour – something Warsaw doesn't really specialise in – the Hotel Bristol (www.hotelbristolwarsaw.pl, 0048 225 511 000) is the best bet, with enormous suites and no expense spared on the marble-drenched bathrooms. Rooms cost from 549 złoty (Dh603).
For something a whole lot more fun, the Castle Inn (www.castleinn.pl, 0048 224 250 100) offers theatrically designed decor and fittings in individual artist-designed rooms, with the added bonus of an Old Town location. Doubles cost from 250 złoty (Dh275).
For luxurious charm, the Rialto (www.rialto.pl, 0048 22 584 8700) goes all out on the art-deco front, and it works deliciously well. The management have scoured auctions across Europe to find original 1920s furniture. Doubles cost from 503 złoty (Dh552).
Find your feet
A stroll down the major street Nowy Swiat leads towards the delightfully pretty Old Town, but it’s worth taking the time to duck through a few archways. Many lead to courtyards and maze-like alleys full of buzzy cafes.
Once in the Old Town, there’s a certain pristine factor to its good looks that gives the backstory away. It was destroyed in the Second World War, then painstakingly rebuilt afterwards. Photos on displays in the squares show just how big a rubble pile it once was.
The Royal Castle (www.zamek-krolewski.pl, 0048 223 555 170) is the best example of this restoration. Reduced to little more than a single wall, it's now back to its full glory. A remarkable percentage of the furnishings, paintings, tapestries and interiors were saved by staff who smuggled them out of Warsaw.
Pass through the handsome architectural pick-and-mix of the Old Town Square to the photogenic Barbican, a remnant of the medieval fortification network that once surrounded the city.
Meet the locals
Łazienki Park, to the south-east of the city centre, is an idyllic hangout in summer and snowily atmospheric in winter.
Book a table
U Fukiera (www.ufukiera.pl, 0048 228 311 013) perhaps relies on its atmospherics too much, but the traditionally heavy Polish food – big on game, dumplings and mushrooms – is served in a dreamworld of vaulted ceilings, tapestries and a blooming courtyard. Mains cost about 50 złoty (Dh55).
Restaurant Michel Moran (www.restaurantbistrodeparis.com, 0048 228 260 107) is a long-standing special-occasion favourite, and offers arguably the finest French food in the country. Dishes include the 110-złoty (Dh121) tournedos Rossini and 119-złoty (Dh131) French pigeon with royale mushrooms.
The area between Nowy Swiat and the Palace of Culture and Science, a hilariously ugly communist landmark, is where most of the boutiques and mini-malls are congregated.
The Old Town, meanwhile, has a few knowingly old-world shops flogging souvenirs of variable quality. Of these, the Lapidarium (15 Nowomiejska) is the most delightfully shambolic. It’s a thoroughly disorganised jumble of lockets, Plasticine models, bizarre amulets and pretty much everything else you can imagine sifting through in the hunt for something special.
What to avoid
The taxi drivers outside the main station have, to put it mildly, a strong aversion to putting on their meter. If you can, walk a few blocks and find one who’s prepared to play fair.
The Warsaw Rising Museum (www.1944.pl, 0048 225 397 905) stays with you a long time after you leave. Telling the tragic story of Warsaw during the Second World War, it covers the horrors of Nazi rule, the courage of the local people in their attempts to overthrow it and the destruction of the city. The story would be gripping regardless, but the displays are consistently inventive and well-considered.
Emirates (www.emirates.com; 600 555 555) flies direct from Dubai to Warsaw. Return flights cost from Dh3,385.