When I first started planning my trip to Warsaw, Poland, I figured my time would be spent marveling at the restored medieval center and delving into the city’s extremely troubled WWII history. Little did I know that the best attractions in Warsaw would be ornately decorated palaces! While the Warsaw Royal Castle was rebuilt from the ground up in the 1970s to complete the restoration of the Old Town, many others managed to survive unscathed. Here are the Warsaw palaces that you simply shouldn’t miss!
Wilanow Palace was built for King John Sobieski III at the end of the 17th century. The royal residence changed hands many times after the monarch’s death. It eventually winded up with Elizabeth Sieniawsk, a high-ranking member of the nobility and one of the wealthiest women in Poland. Despite a brief interlude where the palace was loaned out to a Polish king, Wilanow belonged to Elizabeth and her descendants for nearly a century. In 1805, the family opened part of the palace as a public museum. Although looted by German forces, the grand building was not destroyed like much of Warsaw, and many of the original artifacts were recovered after the War. Walking through the rooms today, you’d never know anything had ever been out of place if it weren’t for the placards detailing when and where important pieces were reclaimed. I was amazed to read that some of the velvet wall coverings are original and date to the 1700s.
The sunshine yellow palace is surrounded by gardens spread over two tiers. Many different garden styles are represented, from Italian Baroque to English Landscape, and one could easily get lost in the vast park. Statues and fountains complete the enchanting tableau. During my April visit, the flowers and trees were bursting with life!
Also known as the “Palace on the Isle,” Lazienki Palace began as a “humble” bathhouse in Warsaw’s Royal Baths Park. King Stanislaw August took a fancy to the property in 1764 and had it transformed into his summer residence. The king displayed many valuable paintings and sculptures, and eventually opened his villa museum to the public. Although the palace was burned (but not demolished) by the Nazis, the king’s vast art collection was saved. 140 royal pieces are currently on view in Lazienki Palace, but unfortunately at the time of my visit, it was closed for a private event and I was unable to see inside.
Warsaw Royal Castle
The story of Warsaw Royal Castle is one of devastation and salvation. It was first destroyed in the 17th century during a war with Sweden and then rebuilt. Many of the artworks were confiscated by the Russian Empire in the 19th century, though later returned. The Germans bombed and looted the castle after their initial invasion of Poland in 1939, but specialists were able to salvage some of the interior pieces. The Germans finished the job in 1944 by planting dynamite in the walls and blowing the place to smithereens. After the war, Poland raised the funds to recreate the castle in all its gilded splendor. As with the Old Town reconstruction, the attention to detail was extraordinary! Ceiling frescoes, parquet floors, marble columns, and enough gold paint to impress King Midas demonstrate the power and wealth of the Polish Monarchy of yesteryear. I greatly admire the determination of the Polish people to preserve their cultural heritage, especially considering the hardships they faced.
Krasinski Palace was originally constructed in the late 1600s for Jan Krasinski, a Polish nobleman and high-ranking government official. The State purchased the property in 1765 and used it to house the Treasury, and later, the Supreme Court. Twice burned down and rebuilt according to Krasinski’s detailed specifications, the palace now houses a branch of the National Library.
Which Warsaw palace is your favorite?