Warsaw

Łazienki Park

03 Oct 2018
Anyone who still thinks that Warsaw is a city of concrete and cement has clearly never been to the city’s lung, the incomparable Łazienki Park. Quite simply, this glorious, 17th century park, spread over 74 hectares, is one of the jewels in Poland’s crown, which might explain why half of Warsaw chooses to spend its summer Sundays here. Fear not though, for so big is Łazienki that it never gives the impression of being crowded, and even on the busiest of days you will always be able to find a quiet, shady corner somewhere.

If you enter the park via any of the entrances on Al. Ujazdowskie, chances are you will end up, willingly or not, via some surprisingly hilly paths set with tall trees, at the vast artificial lake in the park’s centre, straddled by the magnificent Palace on the Island. In doing so however, you risk missing out on a few treasures, so try to circumnavigate the park instead.

Make your first port of call the Chopin Monument, a Secessionist monument sculpted in 1908 and set at the side of a small pond. Chopin is depicted right here in Łazienki, sheltering from the sun under the branches of a tree. Almost hidden in the trees a few metres from Chopin is the astonishing Temple of the Sibyl (currently closed to the public) an 1820s replica Greek Temple, built entirely in wood. Look out too for a gaggle of other little buildings around here, such as the Hermitage, the Egyptian Temple and the Water Tower. Alas, none are presently open to the public.

Head next for the Belvedere Palace, traditionally the residence of the Polish President during the 20th century, and now used to host visiting heads of state. Built in 1694, but thoroughly remodelled in 1818, for the best views of the palace and some outstanding photo opportunities, you should look at it face on from Al. Ujazdowskie: it is a wonder of Neo-Classical design, complete with tympanum and oversized Corinthian columns. As you might expect given its function, most of the building is off limits.

Less grand but equally impressive is the little White House, a gorgeous summer house built in 1774 for the king’s sisters, and now open to the public, displaying a fine collection of period furniture and decorations. A few steps away is the impressive Old Orangery, one of very few surviving court theatres in the world. It dates from 1774 and is still used today to host chamber concerts, as well as being a popular wedding venue for Warsaw’s wealthy. Part of the building houses a museum of sculpture. From here head back past the White House, resist the temptation to head straight for the Palace on the Island and instead head south, towards the New Orangery. Built in cast iron and glass it was designed by Józef Orłowski and opened in 1861. It is home to the upmarket Belvedere restaurant.

Crossing the tail of the serpentine lake, follow the path that leads along the embankment until you hit the Amphitheatre, also known as the Theatre on the Island. Built to resemble the amphitheatre at Herculaneum, the theatre hosts productions throughout the summer, though unless you fancy seeing Henry V in Polish these will hold little interest for foreign visitors. It is enough just to admire the setting before heading for one of the kitsch (one features an enormous swan) but irresistible gondolas which ferry up and down the lake. A short trip costs 7/5 zł per person, and trips depart throughout the day – you may have to wait for the boat to fill up before the gondolier sets off however.

Dropping you off exactly where you departed, your next stop should be the Palace on the Island, Łazienki’s raison d’etre. Today a museum almost all of the palace can be visited, including the main reception room, Solomon’s Hall, decorated in the most extravagant of Baroque styles. Many of the king’s personal rooms are also open to the public, set in their original context. To get the best out of the palace we recommend taking one of the excellent (though pricey) guided tours (usually available in English).

North of the Palace on the Island, the Museum of Hunting & Horsemanship is worth a quick visit, though make sure you have time too for a guided tour of the magnificent, semi-circular and recently restored Myśliwiecki Palace. The residence of the king’s nephew, Józef Poniatowski, the palace is very much ‘as was’ complete with original murals, furniture and art.
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