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This week’s travel dream: Bustling, resurgent Warsaw

Through the very heart of Poland’s capital runs a street that may be “the world’s most perfect avenue.”

Through the very heart of Poland’s capital runs a street that may be “the world’s most perfect avenue,” said Thomas Swick in National Geographic Traveler. “Infinitely cozier than New York’s Fifth Avenue and much more varied than Paris’s regimented Champs-Élysées, Krakowskie Przedmiescie goes beyond being a thoroughfare.” To me, the street is “Poland distilled”—a parade of history, life, and indefatigable spirit that captures why this once dreary city is attracting more residents and visitors every year. Warsaw was, after all, razed by the Nazis and rebuilt by a communist regime—“as tragic a fate as a city could have.” But that grim past is decades behind it now, and today’s Warsaw feels reborn.

Varsovians clearly excel at rebuilding. Two popular tourist destinations—Old Town and New Town—are both mid-20th-century facsimiles of former city centers, the first dating to the 1200s, the second “lovingly rebuilt” to look the way it did in its 18th-century prime. Both attract criticism for being Disney-esque, but on a recent return visit, “I marvel anew at how exquisitely detailed” the reproduction work is. These neighborhoods feel lived in, too: The owner of one art gallery tells me that many of her Old Town neighbors are artists, actors, or writers. A short stroll from her shop brings me to bustling Market Square and a folk art gallery displaying painted wood carvings of religious figures, each one expressing “a mixture of piety and humor that strikes me as particularly Polish.”

The city’s new Copernicus Science Centre, named after Poland’s great 16th-century astronomer, packs in so many hands-on displays that it “has the air of a funhouse.” But Warsaw is also “a city of remembrances,” so no visitor should miss the Warsaw Rising Museum, which vividly memorializes the citizens’ “valiant yet doomed” uprising against Nazi occupation. “One can’t begin to understand present-day Warsaw without an appreciation of this event,” which cost some 140,000 lives. The museum opened to much fanfare a decade ago, in part because it confirmed that “Poland had regained its freedom and, with it, possession of its national narrative.”At the historic Hotel Bristol Warsaw on Krakowskie Przedmiescie (hotelbristolwarsaw.com), doubles start at $132.

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