Across the river from the city centre, and in the shadow of the National Stadium lies the little-known neighbourhood of Saska Kępa. While the Praga side of the Vistula has a reputation for being a bit rough and ready, this area takes that stereotype and firmly dismisses it.
Saska Kępa oozes with charm, a touch of sophistication and an intriguing and varied history. It is where cafe-culture meets multi-culturalism, and if you search hard enough you will find oddities like an open-air theatre and even a waterfall in the heart of the city. Welcome to Warsaw’s international district, home to delicious food from around the globe.
The land on this side of the river has been inhabited for a long time, with the first people to call it home settlers from The Netherlands in the 17th century. There followed further waves of immigration from Scotland and Germany, and this international flavour lingers in the area, which is home to most of the city’s foreign embassies.
By the 1800s Saska Kępa was the city’s playground, full of inns and restaurants which the workers of Warsaw would visit on a Sunday morning. The area had a sordid reputation for “drunken revelry and orgies”, something that continues in spirit during the summer months amongst the beach bars and barbeques on the sandy banks of the Vistula.
Vistula Beach – drunken revelry and orgies?
In 1925 Ulica Francuska (French Street) was marked out, and in the following decade grand villas and art-deco mansions were built in the surrounding leafy streets. The area became the retreat of factory owners, financiers and professionals keen to escape the fast pace of life on the other side of the river. Today many of the grand buildings of this era remain, interspersed with 20th-century tower blocks.
Saska Kępa is home to a great mix of cafes, bars and restaurants that reflect the international make-up of the area. The choice of international food on offer is astonishing – on Ulica Francuska you can feast on spicy India curry, devour freshly baked Italian pizza or sample a delicious selection of Spanish tapas. In the surrounding streets, you will find hearty Hungarian dishes, a Greek taverna and Vietnamese street food.
The northern end of the neighbourhood is dominated by the imposing Stadion Narodowy (National Stadium) which was built in time to host the Euro 2012 football finals. Events are held here all year round – in the winter it becomes a huge public ice rink – but for a more authentic experience venture beyond the stadium and into Park Skaryszewski.
This large park has a reputation as somewhere to avoid at night – not so much for safety as for the shenanigans that go in in the bushes under the cover of darkness. Enter during the day and you will find a tranquil oasis that seems a million miles away from the city that surrounds it.
The park has a large lake – complete with lakeside bar – and hidden in its depths is an open-air theatre and a man-made waterfall that looks like it’s come straight out of Disney Land. Unlike some other parks in Warsaw, you can lounge on the grass and ride your bike without attracting the unwanted attention of an overzealous park keeper.
Saska Kępa offers a relaxed alternative to the hectic pace of life on the Warsaw side of the river. It’s a great place to explore on a lazy afternoon and offers the most diverse selection of internatinal food of any Warsaw neighbourhood, all in grand tree-lined boulevards.
Best for….. Lounging outside a cafe sipping a cappuccino, strolling along the boulevards for a chilled afternoon in the park and finishing the day with some international cuisine.
Nearest Tram Stop: Rondo Waszyngtona – head south down Ul Francuska