Beautiful, old buildings with rusting iron bars sticking out; wounded walls still bearing bullets from the Second World War. Virgin Mary statuettes in every courtyard, old factories and warehouses, shops and markets, and last but not least, cobbled back alleys pitted with bars, clubs, restaurants and galleries that attract musicians and artists. Praga. The fascinating, wild side of Warsaw.
First mentioned in the 15th century, Praga used to be a settlement on the right bank of the Vistula river, opposite the Old Town of Warsaw. In February 1648, that is to say 370 years ago, it received its municipal rights. Almost one and a half century later it was incorporated into Warsaw and has been a part of the Polish capital city ever since.
Unlike the left-bank Warsaw, which was severely damaged during World War II and had to be rebuilt from scratch, most of the buildings in Praga survived, only 25% were destroyed. And those surviving streets and buildings are where the soul of authentic, old Warsaw is still to be found.
Paradoxically, it is a place that has been undergoing rapid changes, developing fast and winning the hearts of both the inhabitants of Warsaw and the visiting tourists. Many people still remember Praga as the ”Bermuda Triangle” of Warsaw, under-financed, home of the poor, with a high crime rate. And suddenly, overnight, it becomes a place that attracts people from every corner of Warsaw. Bursting with life. A shining pearl on the nightlife map, where you can feel the pulse of the city. It is genuinely old and artists have moved to its abandoned warehouses and factories.
Nowadays the district abounds in alternative theaters and art galleries. With its breathtaking Skaryszewski park, the National Stadium, the charming Francuska street full of cosy cafes, pastry and ice cream shops, as well as the famous Warsaw Zoo (we’ve written about “The Zookeeper’s Wife” here), Praga has a lot to offer to families and to people who want to relax and take it easy. As more and more people want to live here, modern housing estates are popping up like mushrooms in between the antique and decrepit. Although it has lost its bad reputation, it is still a place of contrasts. Still a little rough around the edges. And still a bit wild. Welcome to the wild, wild eastern side of Warsaw.