The rebuilding of Warsaw's historic Old Town, situated on an escarpment on the left bank of the Vistula, is a real resurrection story. Postwar architects, who were determined to get it absolutely as it was before, turned to old prints, photographs in family albums, and paintings, in particular the detailed 18th-century views of Bernardo Bellotto (the nephew of Canaletto). Curiously, they discovered that some of Bellotto's views were painted not from real life but from sketches of projects that were never realized. Whatever your feelings about reproduction architecture—and there's a lot of it in Warsaw—it seems to have worked. The Old Town is closed to traffic, and in its narrow streets you can leave the 21st century behind and relax for a while. Everything here is within easy walking distance. Just a short stroll beyond the Barbakan gate is technically the New Town, which also has sights well worth seeing.
All towns with kings had their "royal routes," and the one in Warsaw in mostly encompassed by the Stare Miasto, traveling south from Castle Square for 4 km (2½ miles), running through busy Krakowskie Przedmieście, along Nowy Świat, and on to the Park Łazienkowski (Łazienki Park). The route is lined with some of Warsaw's finest churches and palaces, but there are also landmarks of some of the city's most famous folk, including Frédéric Chopin. As a child Chopin played in the Casimir Palace gardens, gave his first concert in the Radziwiłł Palace (now the Pałac Namiestnikowski [Presidential Palace]), then moved with his family to the building that now houses the city's Academy of Fine Arts. Today, the Chopin Society is headquartered in the Pałac Ostrogskich (Ostrogski Palace).