Gritty. Boho. There are a lot of terms being tossed around to describe Praga, the eastern district of Warsaw that hugs the Vistula River, and they’re all fairly apt. Praga was once regarded as off-limits to Western visitors thanks to its criminal underclass and imposing tower blocks, but a revival of sorts now makes this section of town worthy of emphasising – especially if you prefer to see the city’s artsy underbelly and get away from the well-trodden tourist path in the Old Town from where you see the towers of Sts. Michael & Florian Cathedral and the rounded dome of the Orthodox Cathedral of St. Mary Magdalene. The area is still years away from being hipster-soaked Brooklyn or boho Montmartre, but that’s exactly why now is the time to go: a visit will mean you can say you saw the evolution in progress, before gentrification engulfs the area.
In practice, and geographically, Praga has always been set apart from Warsaw proper. Until 1791 the district was its own separate town and the inability to build a permanent bridge between Praga and Warsaw until the mid-18th century surely proved a factor in the separatism (ferries in the summer and a stroll across the iced-over Vistula in the winter were the main option for transit in the pre-bridge days). Finally in 1791 King Stanislaw August Poniatowski attached the district officially to Warsaw, dissolving it of its independence (at least on paper).
Praga wasn’t given much time to enjoy its new status as part of Warsaw thanks to the The Battle of Praga in 1794, which saw an aggressive invasion by the Russian army. Following the quick but devastating battle the Russians burned the entire district and massacred 20,000 Poles. During World War II Praga wasn’t quite as devastated as left-bank Warsaw (which isn’t really saying much if you’ve seen the condition Warsaw was left in). The Russians, again, arrived in Praga in July 1944 and stopped at the Vistula, famously leaving the Polish Home Army dangling during the Warsaw Uprising.
By far the easiest way to get to Praga is to take the M2 Metro to 'Dworzec Wileński' (eastbound to 'Trocka'), and you'll be in the heart of the district. From Warszawa Centralna train station, the 160 bus will take you across the river and drop you at the 'Park Praski' stop - also a great place to begin your tour of Praga. If you’re in the Old Town, simply walk down the steps near the Royal Castle to Al. Solidarności and the 'Stare Miasto' stop, taking buses 160 and 190 or trams 4, 13, 20, 23 and 26 to 'Park Praski.' These same buses/trams will return you to 'Stare Miasto'/Old Town.
You can also take a taxi which should cost around 20-30zł, and get you from the City Centre to ul. Ząbkowska in less than 20 minutes. Please remember that the price and time depends on traffic, so your journey may be longer during rush hours.