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Warsaw Travel Guide

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Old Market Square, Warsaw © Polish Tourist Board

As the capital of Poland, Warsaw was one of the most beautiful and sophisticated cities in central Europe until it was almost totally destroyed during the Nazi occupation of World War II. The end of the war saw most of the city reduced to rubble and ruins, and large swathes of the population killed or interred in Nazi concentration camps. The city underwent a major rejuvenation project following this havoc, and the buildings in the heart of the old city were meticulously restored. Most of the historic Old Town was painstakingly rebuilt from a pile of debris, restoring it to its original 17th and 18th-century grandeur. The charming Old Market Square, the centre of the rebuilding process, is now a major, UNESCO-listed attraction.

Warsaw is divided into two distinct halves by the Vistula River, with the Old Town, the modern city centre and most of the tourist attractions on the western side. The eastern side of the river is comprised mostly of uninteresting residential suburbs and business districts. Today Warsaw presents a modern urban landscape of high-rise buildings, and the years of communist rule have left an uninspiring architectural legacy of drab concrete structures and uniform prefab-style housing. Dominating the skyline is the city's major eyesore: the massive shape of the Palace of Science and Culture, Stalin's bequest to Polish citizens. Lying in determined contrast to this concrete greyness are traces of Poland's grand past, including castles and palaces, open parklands, impressive churches, and the restored streets of the historic Old Town. Signs of former political austerity have been replaced by modern progression, with dreary state shops turned into fashionable boutiques, and consumerism a growing hunger.

Although many people give scant regard to Warsaw as an appealing tourist destination, it is still Poland's largest city and the political, economic, scientific and cultural hub of the country. It has many museums and historical monuments, galleries and historic attractions, a variety of restaurants and open-air cafes, and an energetic nightlife. With green open spaces and classical music concerts, this modern, bustling city is a far cry from the severe communist-era images of post-war Warsaw, which still dominate the global imagination. Visitors to Warsaw will find a resilient and captivating city with lots to offer.

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