The opening game of Euro 2012 kicks off in Warsaw a week today. Here is the first of five fans' guides to Poland's host cities, starting with the Polish capital, compiled by east Europe travel guide specialists inyourpocket.com
For fans visiting Poland during Euro 2012 there's more than just the football to look forward to. The best weather typically comes at this time of year; prices for food and beer are competitive compared with western Europe; and the hospitable locals are keen to show that they are more than ready and capable of hosting the tournament. Here's our fans' guide to the Polish capital.
Where to stay
Warsaw's position as Poland's business hub means you will have no problem finding an international brand hotel such as the Marriott, Intercontinental or Hilton. Finding a room in one though will be a problem as they have been booked out by officials, which means you'll have to delve deeper to find accommodation. Try to book a room at Castle Inn (+48 22 425 01 00, doubles standard rates from 305 PLN, around €69 though prices will be higher during the tournament), a welcoming boutique, mid-range hotel in Warsaw's picturesque old town from where you can look out across the river at the National Stadium where Poland will play in the tournament's opening game.
Depending on whether you have more or less to spend we'd also recommend the independent Art Deco Rialto (€110 a night without breakfast) or the charismatic Oki Doki hostel (+48 228280122, doubles from €34 B&B with shared bath, dorms from €9), both of which are a short walk from the main Fan Zone. The closest hotel to the Fan Zone and a five-minute tram ride from the stadium is the historic Polonia Palace (+48 22 31 82 800, doubles from €65).
Where to eat
Think Poland – think cold war, Warsaw Pact and communism right? Well, while the city has lots of "classic" brutalist, socialist-era architecture left, the city is more London than Minsk on the dining scene these days. There is one culinary relic left over from the old days however, and that is the milk bar (bar mleczny). These steamy cafeterias are more foreigner friendly than in the past but it is still likely that you'll have to decode the Polish-only menu. Our favourite for the full pre-capitalist experience is Mleczarnia Jerozolimska where the food is reasonable and the service authentic. For value-for-money Polish food in a great location try Pierrogeria on Pl. Konstytucji. Here you'll be able to sample pierogi, one of Poland's signature dishes, for a handful of zlotys while taking in a view of some of the best examples of socialist architecture in the city. Oberza Pod Czerwonym Wieprzem (The Inn Under the Red Pig) features staff in communist-era dress who serve excellent, trouser-busting portions of traditional Polish food such as sour rye soup and pork knuckle, under the painted gaze of some of the period's political leaders such as Brezhnev and Gierekgaze. Restauracja Polska Rozana, with its wonderful country manor house setting, proves Polish food isn't just huge portions at wallet-friendly prices. This place gives Polish cuisine a whole new look and will make you feel like an Uefa executive committee member.
Where to drink
The Warsaw stadium sits proudly on the east bank of the Wisla, directly across from the city, so it will be possible to relax in any city-centre bar before nipping across the river by train, tram, taxi or even on foot. A couple of places worth mentioning are the fan-friendly Warsaw Tortilla Factory or the Bierhalle restaurant and bar, which brews its own beers on-site. An outdoor option is the rotund bar Lolek in Pole Mokotowskie Park, which has a Munich beer-hall atmosphere with sausages and the like cooking on the grill around the clock.
The Warsaw Fan Zone
Located where once the tanks rolled, the armies marched and the commie leaders waved, up to 100,000 football fans will be accommodated with huge screens, food and drink and live music. Pl Defilad (Parade Square) sits in the shadow of the city's signature building – the Ghostbusters-like Palace of Culture and Science.
What to see and do
Warsaw is in the midst of a revival, and to truly appreciate why being chosen to host Euro 2012 was so important to the city it is worth spending a couple of hours learning about the city's traumatic history at the excellent Warsaw Uprising Museum. That Warsaw is even here today to host this tournament is a testament to the indestructible nature of its people – and the fact the national stadium couldn't be built until hundreds of 45m support pillars had been driven into the rubble of pre-1944 Warsaw on which it was to be built is a powerful illustration of what these championships mean to Warsaw and Poland as a whole.
Accommodation in Poland
Every city in the tournament has seen an increase in the number and quality of hotel rooms available since 2007 when Poland won the right to host Euro 2012. However many rooms, entire hotels even, have already been booked out by Uefa. While prices of accommodation are typically competitive compared with western Europe, it seems clear that the lack of availability has seen prices rise particularly around match days. In addition to the thousands of new hotel rooms which have been built, temporary accommodation such as the Carlsberg Fan Camps in the four Polish host cities has been added while in Gdansk the Polferries ferry which normally crosses between Poland and Sweden is to be moored around matchdays and become effectively a floating hotel.
Getting around Poland
The Polish stadia are all very impressive – Gdansk's PGE Arena, designed to look like a glowing piece of Baltic amber at night. However, if you are planning on watching a game in more than one city during your stay, getting between cities may cause some problems. Major road and rail building continues and the ambitious program will not be complete ahead of the Euros. Poznan airport's new terminal opened on 28 May, Poznan's new train station on 29 May. Wroclaw's main train station and the railway connection between Warsaw airport and the city centre will both open today (1 June).
Rather surprisingly, the composition of the groups has baffled some watchers with Wroclaw/Poznan and Warsaw/Gdansk far more natural partners in terms of infrastructure available and distances that will have to be covered. Driving in Poland, while not discouraged, is not as straightforward as in most western European countries; travel times can be long and journeys tiring. There is no direct motorway between Poznan and Gdansk for instance and the 300km journey will take at least four hours despite a stretch of 100km on the new A1 dual carriageway. Meanwhile, the Intercity train between Warsaw and Wroclaw is scheduled to take five hours during the tournament (and that has been speeded up).
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