Warsaw (Warszawa), as you can read in our history section, became a capital of Poland in 1596. Start your virtual tour by exploring Warsaw’s sights which include the Royal Route, city’s palaces and most important monuments. Decide which museums you want to visit or search among many events that continuously take place in the capital. Or perhaps a visit to the Opera or Philharmonic strikes a cord with your tastes. Speaking of tastes, don’t forget to choose among many traditional restaurants, pubs, and cafes.


Warsaw is older than it looks: the first settlements in the area stretch back to the 10th century and the first records back to the 11th. Around the middle of the 11th, someone thought it noteworthy to report an ominous event for a city later razed again and again: a wooden fort belonging to the Mazowiecki Princes was burned in Jazdow during a Lithuanian-Russian raid. The fort was burned again in 1281 and most likely never rebuilt.

But north of Jazdow, they built a better replacement at the end of the 13th century on the site where today stands the Royal Castle of Warsaw. Enclosed in protective walls, the Mazovian Princes claimed this area as their seat of power in 1413, and what is now known as Warsaw began to grow.

But the neutral Mazovian princedom did not remain so for long. In 1526, when the Mazowiecki line failed to produce heirs, the entire Mazowsze region, including Warsaw, was incorporated into the Polish crown. Still, Warsaw remained a political backwater until Poland and Lithuanian unified in 1569. It was an issue of geographical convenience: Warsaw was closer to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Only 4 short years later, the kings were being elected here, and 27 years after the unification King Zygmunt III Waza moved the capital from Krakow to Warsaw. Some claim he moved due to the burning of Wawel Castle in Krakow, but others note how much closer Warsaw was to Zygmunt’s home country of Sweden.

Despite this royal closeness, Warsaw was soon to suffer terribly from the Swedes. Between 1655 and 1658, Warsaw was thrice besieged and entirely plundered by the Swedish and Siedmiogrodzkie forces. Years later Henryk Sienkiewicz eloquently described these years, known as “The Deluge”, in his Trilogy. Warsaw rallied following the election of King Jan III Sobieski, but continued internal ferment and yet another invasion by the Swedish King Charles XII kept Warsaw destabilized for most of the 18th century as well. But before the century ended, the rule of the Saski Family stabilized the political situation and Warsaw again became an important center of culture, education, and enlightenment.

This period, led by King Stanislaw August Poniatowski, was later coined as Warsaw’s second “golden era” when it was transformed into a modern city. Crowning these architectural achievements, the first European, democratic constitution (second only to that of the US) was declared on May 3, 1791.

Ironically, at this same time, Poland’s ongoing partitions limited the freedom of the city. In 1794, Varsovians joined the heroic, albeit unsuccessful, Kosciuszko Uprising by attacking Russian troops stationed in the capital. While initially a success, the uprising was eventually squashed and Warsaw along with a large part of Mazowsze region was incorporated into Prussia in 1795. Warsaw had a brief respite in 1807 when Napoleon established a Duchy of Warsaw, but this ended in 1830 when the Russians took control until WWI began.

When Poland regained its independence in 1918, Varsovians worked energetically to revamp and expand the city and its infrastructure. But war put an end to that. Germany invaded Poland on the 1st of September, 1939 and for 28 days the Poles resisted, but Warsaw fell despite their heroic efforts. Such resistance continued throughout the war, marked notably by two uprisings in 1943 and 1944.

In April of 1943, the Jewish Ghetto Uprising erupted and lasted for one month of intense fighting before the German army managed to overcome the area and liquidate the ghetto, and along with it the centuries old population. The following year, the Warsaw Uprising began in the hopes of liberating the city from the Germans, but the Soviet army – camped across the Vistula – did not help and after 63 days of bitter house-to-house fighting the attempt to liberate the city failed. Following the Uprising, Hitler ordered Warsaw destroyed; consequently 85% of the city was reduced to rubble over the following 3 months. Only in January of the next year did the Soviet army finally cross the river to enter the decimated city.

After WWII ended, Warsaw was rebuilt. The Royal Castle and the surrounding Old Town were painstakingly reconstructed from pictures rendered in the 17th and 18th centuries. Unfortunately, construction in the rest of the city was not based on the past, and ‘real socialism’ survives today in the myriad blocks and bunkers of modern day Warsaw. In 1989, Poland again became a democracy and today thrives as never before. One hopes it has entered its third ‘golden age’.

Sights: Royal Route

The Royal Castle
Begin your trip, as the royals did so long ago, at the Royal Castle which as a phoenix from ashes now stands again after being completely leveled in WWII.
Old Town Square
Like the Royal Castle, the Old Town Square was also reconstructed after the war. Its 17th and 18th century architecture sets the tone for a lovely day spent in the myriad cafes, restaurants, wine-vaults and shops within the Square.
The Barbican
Venturing north of the Old Town Square, you’ll come upon the 16th century Barbican which today peacefully hosts artists and musicians.
Hotel Bristol
Heading back south past the Royal Castle, you’ll come upon another of the reconstructed architectural splendours of Warsaw: the Hotel Bristol.
Continuing south, Krakowskie Przedmiescie gives way to one of the most beautiful streets in Warsaw: Nowy Swiat. Its traditional role as a north to south route continues today as Varsovians and visitors alike enjoy its many shops and restaurants.
The Belweder
Nowy Swiat conveyed travellers south to the palaces of kings and presidents. The Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, resided in the Belweder (1918-22) named for its excellent view of the river Vistula. Now, the President of Poland resides here.
Your southern journey will end at Wilanow. This palace was enlarged and improved by King Jan III Sobieski – the famous leader who triumphed against the Turks in Vienna.

Sights: Palaces & Parks

Ujazdowski Palace
In addition to the palaces along the Royal Route, Warsaw offers other grand buildings of the past. One of the last Polish kings converted a bath house in Lazienki Park into a beautiful architectural watermark with the aid of D. Merlini.
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While in Lazienki Park, wander over to the Theater on an Island designed by J.C. Kamsetzer and based on a Herculanum theater.
Krolikarnia Palace
Merlini also had his hand in designing the Krolikarnia Palace, now the X. Dunikowski Museum which houses examples of this eminent sculptor’s work.
Ostrogski Palace
Another museum devoted to another talented Polish artist (in this case, Chopin) is also housed in a 17th century palace on Tamka St.
Braniski Palace
But not all Polish palaces are for the tourist: the 18th century Braniski Palace on Miodowa St. serves as the seat of the municipal government departments.

Sights: Religious Sites

Metropolitan Orthodox Church
According to rumour, Poland is almost 100% Roman Catholic, but that is an historical anomaly. Traditionally of many beliefs, Poland still houses examples from other denominations. On the eastern side of the Vistula River stands the Metropolitan Orthodox Church (designed by N.A. Syczew in 1867-69).
Orthodox Cemetary
More examples of orthodoxy can be found in the Wola District.
The Last
And from another quarter, discover the one remaining synagogue in Warsaw along Twarda Street. It stands reminder of one of the largest Jewish populations in Europe before WWII.
Powazki Cemetary
Here you will find Warsaw’s oldest cemetary, the Roman-Catholic Powazki Cemetary, established in 1790.
Holy Cross Church
The Holy Cross Church is the most popular church among Varsovians. Located on Krakowskie Przedmiescie, it also gains renown as the final resting place of Chopin’s heart.

Sights: Polish Martrys

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Poland was subjugated by a number of nations whose leaders kept Warsaw in check by a variety of violent means. One such example is the Execution Gate of the Citadel (Brama Stracen) built by the Russian tsar in the 19th century.
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WWII left its mark on Warsaw in more ways than one: sights of public execution are today signified by stones bearing witness to the blood which then ran in the streets.
Warsaw’s most infamous attempt to resist Nazi occupation is tellingly memorialized with the Warsaw Uprising monument at Krasinskich Square designed by W. Kucma and J. Budyn and unveiled in 1989.
Even the children of Warsaw joined the resistance, noted in the 1944 Little Insurgent Monument on Podwale St.
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A second, earlier and also unsuccessful uprising against the Nazis is marked by the Monument of the Ghetto Heroes which commemorates the month-long attempt by the Varsovian Jews to prevent liquidation.
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Killed and
in the East
Poles not only died in Warsaw, but were also deported to the East. This fact is commemorated by the aptly-named Monument of the Killed and Murdered in the East.

Sights: Polish Heroes

Zygmunt III
Warsaw memorializes its history with a number of worth-seeing monuments. The tallest, and oldest, monument stands guard over the Royal Castle. The column is topped with King Zygmunt III Waza who moved the capitol of Poland to Warsaw in the 17th century.
Fryderyk Chopin
For a more modern Pole, see the sculpture of Chopin – “native of Warsaw, whole-heartedly a Pole, and a world citizen by talent” – standing in the Lazienki Park.
Nicolaus Copernicus
From the artist to the scientist, view the Nicolaus Copernicus – “he stopped the sun and moved the earth” – Monument on Krakowskie Przedmiescie (designed by B. Thorvaldsen).
Jozef Poniatowski
Thorvaldsen also designed a monument to Polish heroism, embodied in Prince Jozef Poniatowski, which stands before the President’s residence (once the palace of the great Koniecpolski, Lubomirski, and Radziwill families).
Polish literature is thick with talent, and one outstanding example is memorialized in the monument to the greatest Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz (by C. Godebski).
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Unknown Soldier
Poland has its own Unknown Soldier, whose guarded tomb can be seen in the center of Marshall Jozef Pilsudski Square which fronts the elegant Saxon Gardens.

Warsaw: Then and Now

Looking out of the Palace of Culture, you’ll see the east side of Marszalkowska street, the Vistula Valley, and the Praga district just over the river.
Just a bit south of that view stands the landmark PKO Rotunda – a popular meeting place among the young – which anchors the junction of Marszalkowska and Al. Jerozolimski.
Heading south on Marszalkowska, you’ll come to Constitution Square…
Train Station
…or heading west on Al. Jerozolimskie, you’ll come to the central train station. Note the traffic-clogged streets and take a train instead.
a Tram!
Or, take a tram. Trams have traversed Warsaw’s streets for almost a century, but don’t expect to see any that look like this today.
Ride the
Another option is the new metro system, but it runs only one line, so don’t expect the convenience of the Paris counterpart.
If the public transportation didn’t excite you enough, visit the public servants at the Polish Parliament (Sejm) on Wiejska St.
For something musical, visit Europe’s largest stage housed in the National Theater built by Carazzin in the 19th century.
Warsaw Technical University
And yet another sight is inside the main building of the Warsaw Technical University; its assembly hall is breath-taking.
If you want to see a little racing while in Warsaw, visit the Sluzewiec Racetrack.