The city of Warsaw is full of interesting facts. Located on the banks of the Vistula river, it is the biggest city in Poland.
Warsaw’s Old Town and the rest of the entire city were almost entirely levelled during WW2. Rebuilt from the ashes, Warsaw is one of the most fertile grounds for business entrepreneurship in Poland and certainly within the EU.
So what’s Warsaw most known for?
Let’s dive into these interesting facts about Warsaw and find out!!
1 – It has the first and sixth tallest building in the European Union
Warsaw isn’t known for its skyline.
But Warsaw’s skyline is one of the highest in Europe.
The Palace of Science and Culture (PKiN) is that giant, communist-looking tower in the middle of the city. It looks communist because it is.
It was a ‘gift’ from Stalin while Warsaw was rebuilding after the war (more on that later).
Older generations aren’t fans of it, as it reminds them of oppression and Soviet rule, which is understandable. However, the younger generations of Varsavians have made the tower their own.
In the mid-2000s, a phone tower was attached to the top of the building, making it the tallest building in Poland and today the 6th tallest in the EU.
But Warsaw can now also boast the tallest building in the EU.
Standing at 310m tall and consisting of 53 floors, Varso tower is an office tower in Centrum.
Warsaw Spire is the 3rd tallest building in Poland at 220m (and equal-11th in the EU) and Warsaw Trade Centre is 5th tallest in Polska (equal-19th in the EU), at 220m.
The Sky Tower in Wrocław is the tallest building in Poland, outside Warsaw.
Warsaw or Krakow? Which is better for your next visit?
2 – Warsaw was not Poland’s first (or only) capital.
The capital of Poland has changed a lot. With so many occupations, absorptions, abolitions and occupations, Poland’s capital has changed many, many times over the years.
These are just a handful of other Polish cities that have been the capital or seat of the government for some time.
3 – Warsaw’s symbol is a mermaid or siren
If you’re familiar with Slavic legends, you’ll know the story of Rus, Lech and Czech. The story goes that two buddies of Lech, the founder of Poland, decided to continue east after Lech saw that White Eagle near Gniezno.
These two guys stopped for a drink on the banks of the Wisła, where they saw a beautiful creature lying in the sun on the other side of the river.
Both falling instantly in love with the beauty of this creature, they decided to set up a camp to find the mermaid.
That camp turned into Warsaw
Today, the Mermaid has become Warsaw’s symbol and is a gentle nod to folklore in Poland.
4 – It’s quite congested, but getting much better
Driving in Warsaw is best avoided for two reasons
- Warsaw is very congested
- Drivers in Warsaw are known for their aggression
That’s not to say that they’re violent or suffer from road rage, but if you’re not comfortable driving at 180 on a motorway and having a BMW flashing you from behind because you’re going too slow, then it’s best not to drive in Warsaw.
The city of Warsaw is fighting congestion by putting more into public transport by expanding the metro line.
It’s also trying to take more cars off the road by making more on-street areas subject to paid parking.
5 – Warsaw hosted the world’s second-largest Jewish population
In the late 30s, about 30% of the city was Jewish. There were more Jews in Warsaw than in any other city in the world except New York. It was also one of the few Jewish communities that preferred to speak the local tongue, Polish, over Yiddish.
This obviously has a massive impact on the demographics and culture of Warsaw. Several synagogues were erected in Warsaw, and the districts of Muranow and Praga had a sizeable Jewish population.
Many Jews worked as shoemakers and tailors.
At this time, Jews made up 56% of doctors in Poland, 43% of teachers, 22% of journalists and 33% of lawyers.
Surprisingly, a lot of pre-war Jewish culture and buildings still exist to this day. The Synagogue on Grzybowska wasn’t destroyed in the Uprising, as the Nazis used it as a horse stable.
Many districts of Praga still have Jewish stores, with the shopfronts not changing since the pre-war period.
A fascinating urban legend is the story of the Intraco building in Muranow.
It was built on top of the remains of a Synagogue, much to the displeasure of the Jewish population.
During construction, several builders were killed in freak accidents and injuries were happening at an alarming rate.
A rabbi went to pay his respects to the ruins of the synagogue that were building built over when he decided to give the new building ‘the blessing of god’.
For the rest of the construction period, there were no injuries and the building was completed on time.
6 – Warsaw’s biggest Football team has a ‘reputation’.
Polish Football hooligans need no introduction.
Polish football fans are some of the most hooligan-y hooligans, but it’s unquestionably Legia Warsaw, the biggest (but not oldest!) team in Warsaw, that takes the cake for the most insane hooligans.
A simple search can show you a range of the things that the żalety (hardcore fans) have a reputation for, but pictures also speak louder than words:
With that being said, going to a football match here, regardless of whos playing, is a safe and fun experience.
The atmosphere that these fans create is really exciting. Just don’t expect to see too much sport!
7 – Population Facts about Warsaw: it grew by 134% in 32 years
Between 1850 and 1883, Warsaw’s population more than doubled thanks to the industrial revolution.
A small village called Młynów (which translates to ‘Windmill) went from farmland to textile factories. Młynów is now part of the district of Wola, full of residential apartments and now boasting its own metro station.
The industrial revolution really brought Warsaw into modern times, with the western side of the river having factories and power plants pop up while the western side was more commercial and residential.
This also helped the gentrification of Warsaw. As a lot of the unskilled labour happened on the eastern shore of the Wisła, that part of the town was less developed. A pattern that’s arguably still visible today.
8 – Warsaw was almost completely destroyed during WWII
Unfortunately, a lot of Poland’s history is subject to WW2. That fact is incredibly evident when looking at Warsaw’s history.
During the war, the local resistance coordinated an uprising against Nazi occupiers.
In response, Hitler ordered ‘Warsaw to be razed to the ground’.
About 85% of the city was destroyed. Important Polish artifacts were quickly destroyed, with anything valuable taken to Germany.
9 – Warsaw has a museum dedicated to the Polish Resistance & Liberation of Warsaw
That previously mentioned resistance was unsuccessful in liberating the capital and largest city of Poland, but it did last longer than expected.
As a result, the people of Warsaw are incredibly proudt of the resistance and the uprising.
You’ll see the resistance and uprising symbolised by this:
The P and W is an acronym for ‘Powstanie Warszawskie’, or Warsaw Uprising. Also, keep an eye out for the red and white armband.
Looking like the Polish flag, it was used by the home army to identify themselves during the uprising.
There is an entire museum dedicated to the uprising that’s a fantastic visit. It showcases what life was like for people from Warsaw under Nazi occupation, but also how the resistance was planned, executed and managed.
It’s a common misconception that Poles gave up quickly when the Nazis invaded. Do yourself a favour and visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum and see how grossly incorrect that statement is.
10 – A giant palace is being rebuilt
Saxon Palace was arguably the centrepiece of prewar Warsaw. A Baroque palace that housed schools and prestige residences and was the seat of the Polish General Staff.
The Nazis destroyed it during WW2.
What little remained became the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and is now the divider between Plac Piłsudski and the Saxon Gardens.
And it’s controversially being rebuilt.
Why is it so controversial?
Well, the argument of why. There’s no one clear reason as to why it’s being rebuilt. It was decided to rebuild the palace in the early 2000s, but then the recession hit, and budgets dried up.
On November 11, 2018, in celebrating 100 years of Polish Independence, Polish President Andrzej Duda announced that the Palace was to be rebuilt – at the cost of 2.45 billion PLN or 515 million Euro.
But still no mention of why.
11 – It’s the vegan capital of Central & Eastern Europe
Warsaw has, time and time again, obliterated the expectations of even the most hardcore vegans. That’s a big deal considering how much meat is usually in Polish food.
What’s seen as a ‘fashion’ by many other Polish people, Veganism is now common in Poland. Many Polish restauranteurs, not wanting to miss out on business, are now tailored to the needs of their veggie-only patrons.
Need some recommendations?
Tel Aviv Urban Food
Don’t be fooled though – just about any place can tailor to any dietary requirements.
12 – Green space covers over 25% of the city.
There are officially 82 parks in the capital city of Poland.
2 forests, Łomanki and Kabaty, straddle the outskirts.
Other huge areas like Lasek na Kole, Laś Bemowie and Pole Mokotowskie are huge parks and reserves that are green and absolutely breathtaking in the springtime.
These reserves are so large and common that they’re why deer, wild boars and even moose can sometimes be seen in Warsaw’s outer suburbs.
13 – The highest point in Warsaw is a ski slope
Warsaw is geographically pretty flat. There’s a steep road heading from the Old Town down to the river-side district of Powlisle, but generally, you’ll find that there won’t be much uphill or downhill walking around the city.
The highest point (that’s not a building) in the city is a ski slope.
Park Szczęśliwice (sh-chens-lee-vits-eh) has a giant hill (with ski lifts!) built from rubble after WW2. Whether you’re there in summer or winter, it’s a beautiful place to walk around.
14 – Facts about Warsaw’s parks: Deer live in Łazienki park
Keeping in trend with parks, Łazenki (Wah-zen-key) park, that’s just south of the city centre, spans a colossal 76 hectares. It’s home to the Royal Castle, King’s Palace and many other monuments, including a stunning statue of Chopin.
But more than that, it’s incredibly green and beautifully maintained. It’s home to squirrels, birds, and, if you believe some urban legends, a family of deer!
15 – Warsaw is among the wealthiest regions in the European Union
According to a 2018 survey, Warsaw has some of the highest GDP per capita in the EU – The highest of the entire zone east of Vienna.
If you’re thinking of travelling to Warsaw and are worried that it’s some post-Soviet wasteland, let that statistic change your mind!
Warsaw is a beautiful city to visit. Compared to Krakow, there’s not as much history, but there’s still a lot here.
If you’re considering coming to explore, it’s certainly worth it for a few days!
Enjoy all the best that the capital of Poland has and you’ll be glad you did.