The capital of Poland is Warsaw. It is the largest and most populous city in Poland and is known for its difficult 20th-century history in addition to many architectural and cultural attractions. The Old Town of Warsaw was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.
Warsaw has had a difficult history, but it is a fascinating city full of captivating architecture, modern amenities, and rich cultural heritage. In this post, we’ll explore some of what makes the capital of Poland unique.
Where is Warsaw?
Warsaw is located near the center of Poland. It is marked with a star on the above political map of Poland, which also shows major Polish cities, borders with neighboring countries, and important bodies of water.
Warsaw lies along both sides of the Vistula River and is in the middle of the Masovian Plain. The total city area covers 517 km2 (200 mi2).
History of Warsaw
1300 – 1600
The history of Warsaw dates back to the beginning of the 1300s when the city was founded by Bolesław II of Masovia, the Prince of Płock. Warsaw then became one of the seats of the Dukes of Masovia in 1390 with the construction of St Jonh’s Cathedral and was later elevated to capital of the Masovian Duchy in 1413.
Throughout the 15th century, the population of Warsaw grew and expanded beyond the city’s walls, effectively creating a newly self-governed precinct called New Town. The division of New Town and Old Town was used to keep “undesirables” from settling in the older part of the city, and this contributed to social and economic disparities between the two precincts.
Warsaw was incorporated into the Kingdom of Poland in 1526 following the end of the local ducal line in Masovia. The city continued to gain importance during the middle of the 16th century and was eventually made the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Polish Crown in 1596.
1600 – 1918
During the 17th century, the city’s population continued to expand, and it was attacked and pillaged by three different armies in the years from 1655 to 1658. The city then suffered through the Great Northern War from 1700-1721 and was forced to pay heavy tributes.
Throughout the rest of the 1700s, Warsaw experienced substantial development and remained the capital of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth until it was annexed by the Kingdom of Prussia in 1795. Poland would be ruled by Prussia, Austria, Russia, and France for over 100 years before the country again had full independence as the Second Polish Republic in 1918.
1918 – Present
In the next twenty years, Warsaw was successfully defended from the Red Army in the Battle of Warsaw and saw major developments in infrastructure before the start of World War II. Germany invaded Poland in 1939, and the capital remained under Nazi occupation until 1945. 85% of the buildings in Warsaw were destroyed during the war.
In the years after the second world war, Warsaw has seen great improvements in its infrastructure and economy. Poland’s entry into the European Union in 2004 is partly responsible for a major economic boom in Warsaw. The city now boasts modern and contemporary architecture, and many of its historical buildings and sights have been restored to their pre-war form.
Is Warsaw safe?
Yes, Warsaw is a relatively safe city, especially for tourists. Normal precautions should be exercised when visiting Warsaw, but the city has a very low crime rate.
Is Warsaw worth visiting?
As a large capital city, Warsaw has something for just about anybody. The city is worth visiting for anyone interested in the culture or history of the region, the arts, shopping, Polish cuisine, music, science, nightlife, and much more.
Is Warsaw cheap?
Warsaw is a relatively affordable city compared to many other European capitals. Museum entry fees are quite low, and the fact that it is not Poland’s most popular tourist city means that prices can be lower than in other Polish cities.
Features of Warsaw
Geography and Climate
Warsaw is located on the Masovian Plain and is bisected by the Vistula River. The city covers roughly 29 km (18 mi) from north to south and 26 km (16 mi) from east to west. Warsaw has an oceanic, or marine, climate.
Temperatures are fairly cool and moderate, with annual average temperatures around 8 °C (46 °F). Most of Warsaw’s rain falls in the summer months, and the city experiences snow cover for 50 to 64 days of the year.
The population of the Warsaw metro area in 2022 is an estimated 1,795,000. Warsaw was a highly diverse city for many years, comprised of Russians, Germans, Poles, and a Yiddish-speaking Jewish community. Today, however, the majority of the city’s population is Polish, and the reduction in diversity is a result of World War II.
The city of Warsaw is among the wealthiest region of the European Union and is the largest economic and financial center in Central Europe. About 1/6 of Poland’s total GDP comes from Warsaw. Prominent economic activities in the center are related to banking, financial services, shopping, and a large local and international business community.
Things to do and places to see in Warsaw
The Royal Castle in Warsaw is located at the southern end of the city’s Old Town and is a popular tourist destination. It was the residence of Polish monarchs for many years and was reconstructed in the 1980s. visiting the castle offers chances to appreciate the Baroque architecture, visit the House of Parliament, and tour the apartments of King Sigismund II Augustus.
Palace of Culture and Science
The Palace of Culture and Science is hard to miss on a visit to Warsaw. It is the largest building in the city and was a gift to the people of Poland from the Soviet Union in 1955. The building is iconic in Warsaw, and its 42 floors host two museums, four theaters, a multi-screen cinema, government offices, and the Congress Hall.
It’s possible to appreciate the massive building from the outside and to visit the observation deck on the 30th floor for an impressive view of the city.
Castle Square was first built in 1821 and is located in the Old Town of Warsaw. At the center of the square is the well-known Warsaw landmark, Sigismund’s Column. It’s a monument built in 1644 to honor Kong Sigismund III. The square is just in front of Warsaw’s Royal Castle.
Castle Square is host to many events and concerts throughout the year, and several significant historical events have taken place here over the past two centuries.
The Okopawa Street Jewish Cemetery
One of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the world is located in Warsaw. It contains more than 250,000 marked graves in addition to several mass graves for people killed in the Warsaw Ghetto. The museum covers 33 hectares and was started in 1806.
Much of the museum is overgrown and not maintained, which makes it a beautiful and eerie place to visit. There are also many monuments scattered throughout the cemetery.
Warsaw Uprising Museum
This museum chronicles the events of the Warsaw Uprising that took place in 1944 in the Warsaw Ghetto toward the end of the German occupation of the city. More than 150,000 Poles died during the 63 days of fighting that took place.
The museum features exhibits where visitors can experience replicas of the sewers that the fighters used for navigation, audio recordings of memories from participants in the uprising, video footage, and more.
This is the largest park in Warsaw, and a visit here can make for a nice break from the city. It covers an impressive 76 hectares and was designed in the 17th century. It officially became a public park in 1918, and it’s now home to many monuments, sculptures, villas, and palaces. It also regularly serves as a venue for art and music events.
Copernicus Science Center
This is easily one of the top attractions in Warsaw for science enthusiasts. The first galleries opened to the public in 2010, and there are now 450 interactive exhibits in which visitors can carry out experiments to discover the laws of science firsthand.
The science center has also hosted the ECSITE conference (European Network of Science Centres and Museums), which is one of the most important events related to science centers and museums in the world.
Fryderyk Chopin Museum
The Fryderyk Chopin Museum in Warsaw is dedicated to the famous Polish composer of the same name. The museum was established in 1954 and is located in the Ostrogski Palace in Warsaw. It documents the history and work of Chopin, displaying manuscripts and letters written by the composer as well as photographs and sculptures. The museum provides a multimedia experience and also hosts piano recitals of the composer’s work.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
This monument was constructed to honor the lives of unknown soldiers that have died for Poland. It has housed the ashes of an unknown soldier who died fighting for Poland since 1925, and the monument is the only remaining part of the Saxon Palace that was destroyed during World War II.
The monument is one of many “tombs of unknowns” in nations all over the world; it is the most significant monument of such kind in Poland. Visitors will see that the tomb is continuously lit with an eternal flame and is assisted by a guard post.