Warsaw is generally known for being a historic city. The capital of Poland, (although frequently confused with Krakow) it’s filled with faux old buildings, steeped in history and you’ll never fall short of learning a new fact. The thing about Warsaw is that it’s actually almost entirely brand new.
It fell to the ground during the bombings of World War 2 but, desperate to restore the colourful buildings of the past, locals staged a five-year campaign in order to put it back together.
However, there is one district that remains in its pre-war entirety, and managed to avoid the bombs. Praga, Warsaw’s ‘edgy’ district (think Shoreditch in London, or Kreuzberg in Berlin) was left alone in historic times and, as such, actually has a few authentic buildings. Sadly, because they are genuinely old instead of replicated to look old, they’re pretty damaged and are not half as aesthetically pleasing as the faux old town.
But some elements remain – including the vast array of neon signs created by Polish workers and companies in the 1960s and 70s. And luckily, rather than traipsing all around the city to catch a glimpse, you can see a huge variety of these signs in Warsaw’s Neon Muzeum.
The Neon Muzeum is undeniably hard to find – despite, of course, the colourful signs. It’s tucked away inside a building called the Soho Factory, which looks less like the fun, artsy place you’d imagine it to be, and more like any old abandoned building. After struggling with both Polish signs and a general directional incompetence, I got a 15 minute Uber there, which cost me just over £3.
It’s owned by London-based photographer Ilona Karwińska and graphic designer David S. Hill. They collected more than 200 artefacts to put together inside the building, but it can still be completed in around 10 or 15 minutes.
As someone who generally is a big fan of bright colours and flashing lights, I found the museum fascinating. Wandering around in what should be pitch black, you’re captivated by brightly lit signs advertising everything from a cinema to toilets or cartoon characters.
Many of the signs were designed by Poland’s top architects, once they realised the effect that neon lights could have on advertising.
The Neon Muzeum is thought to be the only one of its kind in Europe (although a trip to God’s Own Junkyard in London yeilds a similar reaction) but, because it’s in Poland, is incredibly cheap to visit. A trip there costs between 10-12 zlotys (£2-3), meaning you’ve got enough spare cash to pay for an Uber back home again afterwards.
Aside staring at all of the artwork in the museum, there’s also the chance to read up on the history of neon and how it became such a prominent feature in Polish advertising. Signs on the wall next to some of the larger fixtures, and information points dotted around all work together to give you the full picture behind the incredible lights.
The museum is open five days a week – Monday, and Wednesday through to Saturday. It might be a cheap trip overall, but don’t make the mistake of turning up on a Tuesday, because there won’t be any lights to see – and the rest of the area isn’t particularly flavoursome in tourist-y highlights either.
But it’s definitely somewhere worth a trip. An off the beaten track adventure, it’s a great way to venture out of the typically busy parts of Warsaw – and of course, you can get a whole host of great insta snaps at the same time.
You can find out more about the Neon Muzeum by clicking here.
Have you visited the Neon Muzeum before? Would you like to? Let me know in the comments!