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Walk around North Praga district

North Praga is located on the site of the historic settlement of Praga, whose name derives from a roasted, or burnt forest. The settlement, and later town, on the right bank of the river, remained separate from Warsaw until 1791. From the very beginning, Praga was a commercial district that supplied the left bank of the city with everything it needed. The district was given this character by its large Jewish merchant minority.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the once-wooden Praga began to transform into a brick-built district. The tenement houses built at the time were largely owned by Jews who took care of their properties. However, economic development was much slower here than on the left side of the Vistula, and crime, linked among other things to poverty, contributed to the bad reputation of this part of the city. In 1940, after the Jews were resettled in the ghetto, their abandoned houses were occupied by the poor residents of Warsaw and the surrounding area. Unlike the left bank of Warsaw, the district almost escaped destruction during the Second World War and has therefore retained its pre-war buildings and character. After the war, Warsaw’s inhabitants from the lower social classes and from more prestigious districts were resettled there. Praga quickly became neglected with a high crime rate and for many years it had a reputation for being worse than the other side of the river.

Fortunately, the district’s bad reputation is now a thing of the past, and today Praga attracts tourists with its picturesque, time-honoured townhouses, original eateries, urban folklore and a completely different pace of life than Warsaw’s left bank. The British newspaper The Independent even ranked it as one of the ten ‘coolest and most promising neighbourhoods in Europe’. Take a walk along the cobbled streets and discover the amazing backstreets of this original district.

In addition to Old Praga and the slightly later established New Praga, the district also includes the areas of Szmulowizna to the east of these and Pelcowizna to the north.
It is not unlikely that when asking older locals for directions, you will hear the local Warsaw dialect, which is best preserved in this part of the city.

Old Praga, as the name suggests, is the oldest part of North Praga. It is located within the boundaries of Radzymińska, Markowska, Sokola, Zamoście Streets and the banks of the Vistula. Start your walk from Wileński Square, located at the junction of Targowa Street and Solidarności Avenue. The fastest way to get there is on line II of the metro, getting out at Dworzec Wileński station, or by tram from Metro Ratusz Arsenał station on line I of the metro.

If you look around you will see a large Orthodox church towering over the square. This is the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Holy and Equal-to-the-Apostles Mary Magdalene – one of several Orthodox churches in Warsaw. It was built between 1867 and 1869 and alludes in its design to churches in Kyiv. It served the Russian community that inhabited Praga in large numbers in the 19th century. However, after Poland regained its independence it passed to the Polish Autocephalous Orthodox Church.

If you are there before noon, cross to the other side of Solidarności Avenue. At the junction with Jagiellońska Street stands the historic building of the renowned Władysław IV High School. Every day, at noon, you can hear the pre-war Praga song ‘Chodź na Pragie’ [Come to Praga]. 

And if you want to see what a Praga street band that played such songs looked like, walk down Jagiellońska Street and then turn right onto Kłopotowskiego Street, where you reach the Monument to the Praga Backyard Band.

To feel the atmosphere of communist times, walk a few hundred metres to 14 Floriańska Street, which houses the ‘Rusałka’ milk bar. Its service and décor have not changed in years, with wood panelling on the walls, yellow and white chequered oilcloths on the tables and a menu laid out in small tiles.

Right next door is the neo-Gothic cathedral of St Michael the Archangel and St Florian the Martyr, built at the turn of the 20th century.

To continue the walk, return to the backyard band monument. Standing by it, you will definitely notice the building with a rainbow façade. This is a former department store and now the headquarters of the Tax Office. On the opposite side of Jagiellońska Street, you will see the Kino Praha building. Its façade is decorated with 12 bas-reliefs depicting the most recognisable Polish actors whose careers were linked to Warsaw. The beautiful Art Nouveau townhouse you see on the other side of the junction of Jagiellońska and Okrzei Streets is the recently renovated Dom pod Sowami, or the House of Owls.

Now walk along Okrzei Street towards the Vistula and then turn north towards Kłopotowskiego Street. At number 1/3 is an interesting classicist building, built in 1824 to a design by Antonio Corazzi. This is the former water chamber where tolls were collected for the bridge connecting Praga and the Old Town. Note the bas-relief of Neptune on the façade.

Now, walk along Kłopotowskiego Street towards Targowa Street. Along the way, you will find three interesting buildings connected to the large Jewish community living in Praga before Second World War. At the junction of Kłopotowskiego and Jagiellońska Streets, on the site of the present kindergarten, was the site of the circular Praga Synagogue until the 1960s. The hill that you can see is all that remains of the demolished building.

Next door, at 31 Kłopotowskiego Street, the building that housed the mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath, is still standing today. A little further on is the building of the current Baj Theatre at 28 Jagiellońska Street. Between the wars, it was a Jewish Educational Home.

Cross Targowa Street and follow it to the right. At number 50/52 there are three townhouses. The small one-storey house closest to the gate of the Różyckiego Market is the oldest residential building in Praga that still exists. It was built between 1818 and 1819. The two neighbouring townhouses are younger and were built in the 1860s.

The renovated buildings now house the Museum of Warsaw Praga, where you can learn more about the history of the district. The museum’s buildings feature an original Jewish prayer room with preserved polychromes.

Now enter for a moment the famous Różyckiego open-air market, which opened in 1882. Some of the stalls are still operating. In the post-war years, when many goods were unavailable in shops, literally anything could be bought here. After the fall of communism, market trade moved to the former 10th-Anniversary Stadium, but the legend of the market remains alive to this day and there are ongoing discussions about its future.

Start the culinary part of the walk by turning from Targowa onto Ząbkowska Street. In the old townhouses there are many cult pubs, including the famous W Oparach Absurdu and Łysy Pingwin, or the Bald Penguin. For starters, though, try a classic milk bar dish at Bar Ząbkowski on the corner of Ząbkowska and Targowa Streets. The Różyckiego Market used to be famous for its dumplings and tripe sold straight from the pot. Today you can taste them at Pyzy Flaki Gorące at 29/30 Brzeska Street. Served from a jar, they taste just like they did years ago.

Nourished by Praga delicacies, take a peek inside the gates of the tenement houses on Ząbkowska and Brzeska Streets. In almost every courtyard you will find shrines that have been cared for by locals for generations. They were built during the German occupation as places of prayer and consolation in difficult times. To this day, around 100 of them survive in Praga.

Old, neglected courtyards and townhouse facades are a never-ending inspiration for photography. A great spot for a photo is the courtyard at 13 Ząbkowska Street built around 1870, which features a unique wooden gallery leading to apartments on the first floor.

Walk eastwards along Ząbkowska Street. When you pass Markowska Street you will find yourself in Szmulowizna, commonly known as Szmulki. The area owes its name to the owner of the land, the wealthy Jewish merchant Szmul Zbytkower, who was a protégé of Poland’s last king, Stanisław August Poniatowski.

At the end of the 19th century, industry developed in the area and one of the most important factories was the Koneser Vodka Factory, which opened in 1897 on Ząbkowska Street. Well-known brands including ‘Żytnia’, ‘Luksusowa’, ‘Siwucha’ and ‘Żubrówka’ were produced there. Enter the Koneser site to see a wonderful example of post-industrial revitalisation. Be sure to visit the Museum of Polish Vodka in the former distillery, where you will learn about the history of our national drink and taste various types of vodka.

Beyond Koneser, Ząbkowska changes into Kawęczyńska Street. As you walk along it you will come across what is called the Burke annexe at 26 Kawęczyńska Street, one of the last two wooden houses in Praga. Adjacent to the brick building, the inconspicuous building from 1900 was in use until 2016, when its renovation began. Continuing along Kawęczyńska Street you will reach the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was inspired by the Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. You won’t miss it, as it dominates over the whole of Szmulki.

Now walk towards Kijowska Street, turn right onto it, towards Targowa Street. About a kilometre away, at number 11, you will see Praga’s longest building. The half-mile-long housing block is known as the Dachshund, the Plank or the Ant Hill. When it was built in 1972, it was meant to shield the most neglected part of Szmulki from the eyes of travellers leaving the nearby East Railway Station.

Return along Targowa Street to Wileński Square, where you will see a monumental building from the 1930s belonging to Polish State Railways. You are in Nowa Praga. Its origins date back to 1860, when the entrepreneur Ksawery Konopacki bought the wasteland bordering Old Praga for investment purposes. Over the years it grew, attracting new residents and industries.

Walk along Wileńska Street and turn onto Inżynierska Street. On the left, at number 3, stands a large brick building with the inscription TOW.AKC.A WRÓBLEWSKI I SKA. Go through the gate to see the picturesque warehouses of the former haulage company. On the opposite side of the street, at number 6, is the building of a pre-war tram depot. Previously there was a wooden building in its place, from which the first horse-drawn tram in the capital started in 1866.

From Inżynierska Street you will reach Stalowa Street, which still looks almost the same as it did before the war. Look out for the townhouse at number 1 and the plaque dedicated to its resident, Stefan Wiechecki. The author became famous for his columns written in the characteristic Warsaw dialect, which can still only be heard in Praga. Stalowa Street has been a backdrop for many film productions. In particular, Roman Polanski’s famous ‘The Pianist’ was shot here. Parallel to Stalowa is the narrow and atmospheric Mała Street. It was the set for several Polish post-war films, including The ‘Girls of Nowolipki’, ‘Kolumbowie’, and ‘Korczak’.

Continue along Stalowa Street to the corner with Środkowa Street, turn left and stop at number 9. It is the second surviving wooden house in Praga. Built in 1879, it has recently undergone a major refurbishment. Initially, it housed the Municipal Court and later an orphanage. Also on Środkowa Street, you will find Ksawery Konopacki’s Palace from the 1860s. The house of the founder of Old Praga has recently been extensively renovated and converted into a community centre. Cross to the other side of Środkowa Street and you will see one of the capital’s most interesting murals, ‘Fight Club’ by Conor Harrington, on the wall of the building at number 17.

What next? Why not discover on your own the secrets of Nowa Praga, its old buildings, factories and murals… You might see the cross on Wileńska Street, commemorating the murder of the noblewoman Rozalia Zamoyska in 1795. After all of that, you might need to pop into one of the bars and clubs in the courtyard at number 22 on 11 Listopada Street. Cold drinks and lots of music are on the menu at venues such as Hostel Fabryka, Chmury, Hydrozagadka and Skład Butelek.

To the west of 11 Listopada Street, new housing estates were built after the Second World War. They feature a well-thought-out concept and resident-friendly architecture. Start your walk in this area in the square of the streets: Targowa, Cyryla i Metodego, Jagiellońska and Ratuszowa, where the Praga I Housing Estate was built just after the war, between 1948 and 1952. Listed in the register of historical monuments, its design harks to the times of pre-war modernism and functionalism. The most interesting building is the ‘wavy house’ at 83 Targowa Street.

Delving further into this corner of Praga, you will probably end up at Hallera Square – this part of the Praga II Housing Estate was built between 1952 and 1956. The elongated, well-kept central square is surrounded by 7-storey buildings in the Socialist Realist style. However, the buildings here, unlike others built in this style, lack decorative reliefs. During the communist era, the estate was highly regarded and featured well-stocked shops, restaurants and cinemas. Nowadays, it is also a very popular place to live, and a salt graduation tower brought to the square from Ciechocinek adds to its interest.

It’s now time to end our long walk around North Praga. You probably noticed that this is a compact neighbourhood, where greenery can be found in small squares and lawns. The exception to this is the Zoological Garden, Praga Park next to it and the wooded area along the Vistula. As you leave Hallera Square, cross Jagiellońska Street and walk towards Ratuszowa Street. On the way, enter the 17th-century Baroque Church of Our Lady of Loretto. Inside, you can see the oldest Gothic sculpture in Warsaw, depicting the Virgin Mary.

Then turn onto Ratuszowa Street and walk towards the Vistula. If you would like to visit the nearby zoo, reserve a few hours at least as there are countless attractions. If you fancy relaxing in Praga Park, turn left. We recommend, however, that you head straight for the Vistula, where you can relax in one of the beach clubs, stroll along paths among the wild riverside forests or sit on the beach and admire the panorama of the Old Town across the river.