Walk around Bielany district
Bielany is the northernmost district of the left bank Warsaw. Its name comes from the white colour of the habits worn by the Camaldolese monks, whose monastery was founded in what is now Bielański Forest in 1639. Before the Second World War, the area of Bielany included an unfinished estate called Zdobycz Robotnicza (Workers’ Capture), several villages and a patchwork of fields, meadows, sands, and forests. Because of the beauty of the Bielański Forest and its proximity to the Vistula, it was a place to go on Sundays for excursions and outdoor games.
After the Second World War, the Zdobycz Robotnicza estate, which consisted mostly of low, detached houses, was supplemented by taller multi-family buildings. In the 1970s, blocks of flats were built in the former villages of Wawrzyszew and Chomiczówka.
Today, Bielany is a district full of greenery. Go to Bielański, Lindego and Młociński Forests and Olszyna Park. You are also only a step away from the ancient Kampinos Forest that borders the city. Why don’t you go for a walk?
The sandy part of today’s Bielany was a tsarist training ground until the outbreak of the First World War. After Poland regained its independence, tsarist orders designed to restrict the development of Warsaw were lifted and new neighbourhoods could be built on the outskirts of the city. One of these was the current Zdobycz Robotnicza estate, which is situated within the triangle of Żeromskiego, Kasprowicza and Reymonta Streets. The construction of houses intended for workers began in 1926. In the early 1930s, as a result of the economic crisis, working families were no longer able to make ends meet, so many of the still unfinished houses were taken over by higher-income groups. After the Second World War, the housing estate was completed; however, blocks of flats several storeys high were built next to the original detached houses built in a manor style with red pitched roofs. Thanks to their design, they have fitted neatly into the character of the estate.
If you want to get to know this unique neighbourhood, get off at the Stare Bielany metro station and walk along Płatnicza Street to Konfederacji Square, and then along Schroegera, Kleczewska, Lipińska and Przybyszewskiego Streets.
Płatnicza Street and Konfederacji Square
Płatnicza Street (formerly Chełmżyńska Street), which intersects Zdobycz Robotnicza, is a landmark of the estate. This is where the first buildings for working families were built. Characterful houses with sloping roofs sit next to one another on either side of the street. Some of the buildings are built in the style of Polish manor houses with wide porches and columns at the entrance. The cobbled street is illuminated by unique gas lanterns that were moved here from the centre of Warsaw between 1935 and 1936. With its charm and interesting history, the street is attracting new residents who are renovating the historic houses. Several celebrities have also lived here: the actress Krystyna Sienkiewicz, whose house hosted one of the first restaurants on the estate, and Kora, the singer of the band Maanam. On her house near Konfederacji Square, you will see a neon sign with the words from the song called Angel ¬– “Love is an eternal longing”. Two ladies look out at passers-by from murals on houses at the intersections of Płatnicza and Kleczewska Streets and Żeromskiego Street.
The central part of the Zdobycz Robotnicza estate is Konfederacji Square. On one side of it are single-storey houses, and on the north side are curved semi-circular apartment buildings. They have something of the feel of Parisian buildings, and it is probably no coincidence that one of them houses a café with a French flair – Café de la Poste. The neighbourhood has become the gastronomic hub of Bielany in recent years, with numerous options along the whole of Schroegera Street. Have a coffee or a cake in peace and quiet, so different from the centre of Warsaw.
If you want to see what a natural old-growth forest in central Europe looks like, you don’t have to go all the way to Białowieża Forest. Visit Bielański Forest, once part of the great, now-cut-down Mazovian Forest, the hunting ground of Polish kings. This forest was saved in its natural state as it offered silence and seclusion for the Camaldolese monks at the monastery on Polkowska Hill.
The forest is very diverse, with the most valuable areas in the southern part. There you will find magnificent oak trees several hundred years old, which probably remember the time when the Camaldolese monastery was founded. Old and fallen trees are not removed, so they provide a habitat for many insects, fungi, and lichens. Towards the Vistula, where the terrain descends, and near one of Warsaw’s last rivers, the Rudawka, there are wet riparian forests that are rare in Europe. In the forest, you can see many animal species characteristic of Polish forests. Sometimes, even elks from Kampinos Forest pay a visit.
The northern part of the forest is less spectacular since until the First World War it was close to a tsarist fort, the earthen structures of which are still visible today.
And one more curiosity: as you wander through the woods you may find a strange stone tower. This is ventilation for the sewerage network, built in the late 19th century by William Lindley.
The Camaldolese Monastery
The focal point of Bielański Forest is the historic monastery, of which the Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a part. It is here that the heart of one of Poland’s kings, Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki, rests. The church, built in the late Baroque style, can even be reached by car, turning onto Dewajtis Street from Marymoncka Street. However, it is better to go there by bike and enjoy the beauty of the forest on your way. Before seeing the interior of the white church and the artefacts inside, stop for a moment at the enclosure with the mule Franciszek and the donkey Klara. The two lovable animals spend the whole year there and are part of the Christmas nativity scene. If you walk around the church, you’re sure to come across a merry-go-round with animals carved into trunks and suspended tin fish. Children will have loads of fun.
Why is there a carousel? Probably in memory of the famous merry-go-round, which in the 1950s was a permanent feature of the Culture Park, built on the Vistula River at the foot of Polkowska Hill. However, the tradition of entertainment here is much longer and dates back to monastic times and the indulgences organised by the monks. Today, family picnics are also held here on Whitsun, the local parish priest enacts a scene from Henryk Sienkiewicz’s novel Sir Michael that is supposed to have happened in this monastery, and the day is considered an official district festival. In the basement of the church, there is a cellar, a well-known jazz venue in Poland.
Academy of Physical Education
On the edge of Bielański Forest, between Marymoncka and Podleśna Streets, is the Campus of the Józef Piłsudski Academy of Physical Education. Visit it to see a magnificent example of the modernist architecture that was prevalent between the wars. Enter the grounds of the academy, which was built between 1928 and 1930, through the main gate from Zjednoczenia Avenue and follow the street leading to an impressive courtyard with a large poplar tree in the middle. First, you will see the swimming pool building with its distinctive water tower on the left, followed by buildings arranged in a circle with a simple functional form. In the square in the middle, you will find commemorative plaques with the names of outstanding Polish athletes, and between the buildings, there are many memorials and monuments.
Tip: Walk further between the columns towards Bielański Forest. Go through the old gate and walk further down. There, in the forest, you will find the most picturesque, centuries-old oak trees in Bielański Forest.
Młociński Park and Forest
Młociński Park is a continuation of Bielański Forest to the north. The best way to get there is by bicycle. On the way, you will see the palace built between 1752 and 1758 for the royal minister Henry von Brühl (1 Muzealna Street). The place used to be famous for its sumptuous balls attended by the Polish kings August III Sas and Stanisław August Poniatowski. It is currently private property that is fenced off, so access to the site is not possible.
Młociński Park itself is a great place for family walks. In winter, the park’s oval main path becomes a track for cross-country skiers, who come here from all over the city. At the southern end of the woods, next to the picnic area, there is a large stretch of fenced-off, picturesque meadow. Entrance to it is prohibited due to the presence of an endangered butterfly species, but you can admire the site from the observation deck. To the west of the park, on the other side of Pułkowa Street, is Młociński Forest, with Kampinos National Park beyond it.
Now let’s go to the former villages where high-rise housing estates such as Wawrzyszew, Chomiczówka and Wrzeciono were built in the 1970s. Traces of the area’s interesting history can still be found between the blocks. These include fragments of rural orchards, isolated farm buildings and wayside shrines. The latter can be found at the Wolumen outdoor market and on Wólczyńska Street between its junctions with Aspekt and Reymonta Streets. On Horacego Street there is the historic Church of St Mary Magdalene with an original 16th century baptismal font. It was founded in 1542 and is one of the oldest parishes in what is now Warsaw. Rebuilt many times, it has retained traces of different styles, including Gothic, Baroque and Classicism. If you manage to get inside, look out for the main altar and two side altars from the 18th century. After viewing the church, head between the blocks towards the nearby Brustman ponds. They were established by the Agronomic Institute in 1820 on the site of former village meadows and clay pits. They are now part of a small park with a playground. After such a long walk, you deserve a rest. Sit down on one of the benches by the pond and watch the fountain. Children with energy to spare can play on the elephant slide – a symbol of the district since the post-war years.