Situated in the Mazowieckie province, in east-central Poland, the city spans the Wisla (Vistula River) and all the main tourist sites are on the left bank, while the right bank contains the increasingly fashionable Praga district. The tourist epicentre of Warsaw is the Royal Route, which runs north-south from the New and Old Towns, past the fashionable shops of Nowy Swiat, the palaces that survived the war and the royal gardens of Lazienki Park, before reaching Wilanow Palace to the south of the city centre. The city also boasts many green spaces, with leafy parks where rowing boats cruise past outdoor cafés, during the summer, and free classical concerts attract crowds in a scene far removed from the Communist-era images of Warsaw. The nightlife scene today is equally surprising, with the city's clued-up and increasingly well dressed youth flocking to the countless bars and clubs of a city that now buzzes after dark.
Warsaw is still very much Poland's largest city and the nation's economic, cultural and educational hub, specially since Poland has joined the European Union. The peak tourist season is from May to October, when the weather is most pleasant, although there will be some odd days when the temperature rises above 30°C (86°F). January and February are the coldest months and temperatures can drop as low as -30°C (-22°F).
By the end of World War II, roughly 85% of the city laid in ruins and most of the population had been killed, deported or sent to concentration camps. Almost a third of Warsaw's pre-war population was Jewish, although there are hardly any traces of this heritage remaining, as the city's prosperous Jewish community was decimated by the end of the war. Much of Warsaw's historic centre was painstakingly recreated in the years after World War II. Some churlish critics have dismissed the "new" Old Town as being nothing but an unconvincing fake, although the loss of the original was hardly Warsaw's fault and many of Europe's old towns have undergone similar refurbishment and rebuilding. Somewhat ironically, many of today's Old Town buildings are closer to the original architecture than they were before destruction, as the alterations of the intervening centuries were not incorporated in the reconstruction. The strikingly successful rebuilding of the Old Town was finally rewarded in 1980, when the entire complex earned its place on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Many people still have an image of Warsaw as a dull concrete jungle, a wasteland of Soviet-era housing with little appeal. But there is far more to one of Europe's most underrated cities, with a string of things to see, an impressive cultural scene and an increasingly lively nightlife. Warsaw is a real survivor. The city's current day existence is impressive in itself.
Visit and see by yourself.
GETTING TO WARSAW
Frederick Chopin Warsaw-Okecie International Airport (WAW)
Tel: +48 22 650 42 20
Poland's main airport, located 10 km south of the city centre, annually serves 10 million passengers. The domestic airport, next to the international terminal, connects to the largest cities in Poland: Gdansk, Krakow, Poznan, Szczecin, Wroclaw and Katowice.
Approximate flight times to Warsaw: London - 2 h 25 min.
Airport facilities: transit hotel, tourist information centre, post office, bank/bureaux de change, duty-free shops, ATMs, bars, restaurants and car hire from Avis, Budget, Europcar and Hertz.
Poland uses standard international traffic signs. Major routes have the prefix "
Information about road travel can be obtained at border crossings and from the Polish Motoring Association (PZM), 66 Kazimierzowska street, tel: + 48 22 849 9361
Most international services arrive at Warszawa Centralna (Warsaw Central), 54 Jerozolimskie Ave. tel: +48 22 524 4320, adjacent to the Centrum Metro station. This station attracts the dirty underbelly of Warsaw society and tourists should take care of their belongings at all times. Station facilities include tourist information, 24-hour left-luggage, post office, bureaux de change, ATMs, shops and snack bars. The other main stations are Warszawa Wschodnia (Warsaw East), Warszawa Zachodnia (Warsaw West) and Warszawa Gdanska, which receives trains from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.
Rail services: EuroCity and InterCity trains from Krakow (journey time 2 h 40 min.), Berlin (journey time 6 h 20 min.) and Prague (journey time 8 h 50 min.) arrive at Warsaw Central station.