Like any other European capital, Warsaw has its fair share of shopping malls. Steel and glass cathedrals to mass consumption, similar to any other shopping malls in any city – even if one does has a fancy glass bubble roof. For a taste of something unique and original, head underground to the labyrinth of subterranean walkways that run beneath the city’s roads and railways.
Many of Warsaw’s pedestrian subways contain rows of small kiosks, selling anything from baked goods to bongs. There are no MacDonald’s or Starbucks down here, just independent businesses making a living from the thousands of people passing by every day.
The maze of passages underneath Warszawa Centralna station is a good place to start exploring this underground network. From the Złote Tarasy Shopping Centre it is possible to pass underground to the other side of Ul Jerozolimskie.
Legend has it that this area used to be a sleazy mix of old school shops, but when Poland co-hosted the Euro 2014 football tournament the station area was cleaned up and lost much of its original atmosphere. Shops still remain and it’s possible to get a hair cut, lay on a sun bed or browse a selection of flick-knives in the maze of shops beneath the main station building.
Two more authentic examples can be found under the city’s roundabouts on either side of the Vistula river. Rondo Dmowskiego, next to Centrum Metro Station, has it’s very own underground circle of small shops, including a couple of great value bakeries, clothing shops and hole-in-the-wall coffee dispensaries.
For a real taste of original Warsaw underground shopping, head to Rondo Waszyngtona in Praga, next to the National Stadium. Here you will find a glorious row of tiny shops selling everything from alcohol to mobile phone accessories, all sheltered from whatever the weather is throwing at you above ground.
Warsaw’s underground kiosks are nothing extraordinary. But they are a reminder that before the big money arrived and built shiny malls, Warsaw had its own underground mini-malls. While shopping centres are becoming universal in this world, the humble underground kiosk has a unique style all of its own. For that reason, they are something worth celebrating.