Warsaw might just be the most underrated city in Europe. Though not having the pure beauty of a Krakow, it does have an exciting mix of different architectural styles, loads of bars and restaurants, modern shopping centres, and classic parks.

Its landmark feature is undoubtedly the magnificent Palace of Culture and Science, a gift from Stalin and almost look-a-like of the Moscow State University building. It is visible from everywhere in the city and serves as a great orientation point. It also where Warsaw’s Fan Zone, which can hold 100,000 fans, will be located.

Warsaw’s city centre got almost entirely destroyed in the Second World War, and many of the buildings therefore have a distinct post-war look, which is particularly visible around the Palace of Culture (the “new” city centre). The area has however recently undergone a massive regeneration, with many tall shiny office buildings rising up, and new bars and restaurants opening every day.

The old town, on the other hand, got completely rebuilt as an exact copy of its previous form, and, though technically not that old and also rather small, is hardly inferior in beauty to a Prague or Krakow. It is located in the north of the city centre along the Vistula river.

The Vistula river divides the city in a western and eastern side. The eastern side – Praga – used to have a rather negative reputation in terms of crime, but has recently seen a revival with many hipsters moving in.

The suburbs have the typical communist style that many people associate with Eastern-European cities, and offer little more than large blocks of apartment buildings.

Warsaw is a spacious city though, never feels too cramped or chaotic, and is also very green with lots of trees and some very fine parks to relax.

The Stadium

Stadion Narodowy w Warszawie – 58,145 seats

Stadion Narowody w Warszawie is the second largest stadium of the Euro 2012 tournament, and the largest in Poland. It was the last stadium to be completed with its construction plagued by multiple delays.

It is however also a stadium of great beauty, especially its exterior covered with red and white tiles. The interior of the stadium consists of two tiers of seating, and it has a retractable roof in the style of Frankfurt’s Commerzbank Arena.

The stadium sits on the eastern bank of the Vistula river. From the slightly elevated old town once can see it majestically rising up from the other side.

The stadium is still a reasonable walk away from the old town though, likely more than half an hour, however everything between the old town and stadium is basically Warsaw city centre and as a result filled with bars, restaurants, parks, university buildings, and other interesting architecture. It is therefore likely that you’ll spend most of your time in these parts anyway.

Who’s coming?

Stadion Narodowy will most of all be the home of the Poles, with Poland’s first two matches played at the stadium (including the opening match). Greece and Russia will be the guests, and both teams will then pit up against each other for the last group match.

The winner of the group can stay in Warsaw to play against the number two of group B. Which in turn will be the end of Warsaw for these teams as the winner will move to the Ukraine, and Warsaw will receive the two semi-finalists from the other side of the tournament.

How to get in and around

If you don’t arrive by car, which is rather probable considering the distance, you’ll likely arrive by either train or airplane.

The airport is located on the southern edge of the city, though not far from central Warsaw – about 7 kilometres. Bus 175 brings you in less than half an hour to the centre.

LOT is the main airline at the airport, with low-cost airline Wizz Air also serving a decent selection of destinations. Ryanair will only arrive after the tournament.

The train station lies in the middle of the new city centre. As you walk out of the building you’ll bump straight into the Palace of Culture and surrounding office buildings.

Most of central Warsaw is easily walkable, but you may at times want or need to use public transport. The good thing is, there are plenty of options, as the city has an extensive network of buses and trams, and even one metro line.

Buy a ticket (bilet) at one of the vending machines at a train or metro station, or at one of the many kiosks in the city, and hop on a bus or tram (but don’t forget to stamp – there are regular ticket checks!).

To find your way around town, the journey planner jakdojade.pl will be of invaluable help. It is an amazing website, exactly how you would like your public transport website at home to be. In English, with click-on-the-map features, and many, many options.

To get from the train station or city centre to the stadium is easy. Get on a tram or bus that runs east on Aleje Jerozolimskie (e.g. tram 7, 8, 9, 22, 24 and 25, and bus 158, 507 and 517) and crosses the bridge to the other side of the river. The stadium lies right on the other side of the bridge.

Where to eat and drink

Warsaw has everything to offer that you expect of a city its size. Most eating and drinking happens in central Warsaw. The old town is great for a stroll, but you pay inflated prices so you probably don’t want to spend too much time there drinking.

Two streets are essential: Krakowskie Przedmieście and Nowy Świat. Krakowskie Przedmieście starts at the southern tip of the old town and runs south until it automatically turns into Nowy Świat.

Both streets and the surrounding areas are filled with bars and restaurants. From upper-end posh places to hidden hole-in-the-wall student bars, form tourist restaurants to smudgy Polish cafés, and from the obligatory chain restaurants and Irish pubs to modern nightclubs.

Especially the area between Nowy Świat and the Palace of Culture houses many bars and clubs, but there are also plenty of smaller bars going towards the river (and even a few boats turned into bars).

The great thing is that from the southern end of Nowy Świat (where you can see a prominent palm tree) it is only 15 minutes walking to the stadium.

The eastern side of the river has more of an artistic feel, with new trendy bars and coffee shops popping up every week. If that’s your thing, you might want to check out the area around train station Wileński. The north bank used to have a very negative reputation in terms of crime, and many Varsovians will still not set foot there at night, but the area has improved greatly in recent years.

And finally, in the late night and early morning hours you will find plenty of kebab stands that cater for any emergency food.

What else to see and do

If you like nice views, let a lift take you up the Palace of Culture. The area around the Palace is also full of shops, with luxurious shopping centre Złote Tarasy right next to the central train station.

Diving into Warsaw’s tragic past can be done at the Warsaw Uprising Museum, which is really nicely done. Warsaw’s most famous son, composer Chopin, has a complete museum dedicated to him, though technology lets it down at times.

As a football fan, why not check out Legia’s brand new Pepsi Arena? It is located right next to Łazienki Park, where you can find several palaces and which is great for a stroll.

If you prefer sitting down and relaxing in the grass, Pole Mokotowskie park is probably the best option. It is located slightly outside central Warsaw, but it also has some nice bars to watch the other football matches.

The area around the river is also good for a quiet time, especially the newly built Warsaw University Library with its rooftop gardens.

There is not much to do or see directly outside of Warsaw, though quite a few Varsovians go to the Zegrze lakes on the weekend to relax. Smaller historical cities such as Lublin and Torun can also be visited on a day trip, as can Krakow, though you may want to spend more time there.