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Warsaw History

Warsaw started life as a small riverside fishing village called Warszowa, part of the Duchy of Mazovia. When the last duke died without an heir in 1526, the town was incorporated into Poland.

It wasn’t until 1569 that Warsaw became a real powerhouse, mainly thanks to the unification of Poland and Lithuania, and the relocation of the Sejm (lower house of Parliament) to the city. A quarter of a century later, King Zygmunt III Waza moved the capital from Cracow to Warsaw.

Apart from being seized in the mid-17th century by the Swedes, Warsaw continued to prosper at a time when the rest of the Poland was in decline. Through much of the 18th century, a palaces and churches were erected, and cultural and artistic life flourished, particularly under King Stanisław August Poniatowski.

Poland was carved up in 1795 as a result of three partition treaties signed by the kingdoms of Austria, Prussia and Russia. When Napoleon stormed through Poland in 1806, on his way to defeat in Russia, he created the Duchy of Warsaw and the city became a capital once again. But under the terms of the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Poland was made a province of imperial Russia.

At the end of WWI in 1918, Warsaw was reinstated as the capital of newly independent Poland. In 1926, a military regime ousted the civilian administration and governed Poland until the country was dismembered by its powerful neighbours, Germany and the Soviet Union. Commitments by Britain to defend Polish sovereignty were ignored when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, effectively starting WWII.

Warsaw’s suffering during WWII was immeasurable. Citizens experienced unimaginable privations, while a ghetto was erected for Jews. By the end of the war, 85% of the city was ruined, while most of its population had been killed or fled.

Communist rule followed and they new leaders painstaking recreated the historic centre. Like the rest of the Soviet Union, Poland (and Warsaw) didn’t become independent until 1991, when the city once again became the capital.

Did you know?
• During the Great Northern War, the Royal Castle was occupied by the Swedes who kept their horses in the opera hall.
• The city’s nickname is the ‘Phoenix City’ thanks to its astoundingly rapid recovery following the destruction of WWII.
• Palma il Giovane’s Virgin and Child with St John the Baptist and St Stanisław painting in St John's Archcathedral was confiscated by Napoleon and taken to Paris.

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Featured Hotels


Radissson Blu Centrum Hotel Warsaw

The rooms at this top-class hotel offer a choice of three styles of décor ranging from 'Maritime’ and 'Scandinavian’ to 'Italian’. Each style differs through its colour scheme, furniture and layout. The Italian style is most whimsical. Staff are accommodating, and there's a first-rate fitness centre in the basement, featuring a pool, fitness machines plus massage and beauty services.

Mamaison Hotel Le Regina Warsaw

Mamaison Hotel Le Regina Warsaw is a cut above the competition. Located just north of the Old Town in a quiet neighbourhood, it’s housed in a gorgeous 18th-century palace and filled with period furniture. But the hotel is modern where it counts, with sparkling new bathrooms and Wi-Fi connection throughout. Rooms are bright, breezy and decorated in eye-catching chocolate and beige.

Hotel Bristol

Looming over the river, this stately property preserves the feel of a classic 19th-century hotel. First built in 1619, it opened for guests in the late 1800s, and was the first hotel to have electricity in the city – earning it the name 'Electric Hotel'. It has hosted everyone from monarchs to Sigmund Freud. Today, expect a blend of traditional atmosphere with contemporary service.

Premiere Classe Varsovie

It lives up to its name in cleanliness and prime location (very close to Warsaw's main train station) but this is a straightforward 'tourist class/budget' hotel with few frills beyond rather cramped en-suite facilities and a colour TV with a satellite connection. Wi-Fi access is available. What you lose in character, you'll gain in saving zloty for more interesting pursuits.

Castle Inn

Castle Inn Oki Doki has plenty going for it. It's the only hotel within the limits of Warsaw's Old Town, is stumbling distance from the Royal Castle, and is housed in a 17th-century tenement house that miraculously survived WWII. Rooms (most of which are 3-star, a handful 4) are colourful ensembles, each sporting a unique and playful theme, such as 'Alice in Wonderland' or 'Oriental Express'. 'Viktor’ is named after a reclusive street artist, complete with artsy graffiti.

Harenda Hotel

A well-priced accommodation in the heart of Warsaw, Harenda offers simple rooms equipped with a TV and safe. The lobby is welcoming and once you’ve checked in, you can climb the large wide staircase to find your room. Note that some of the rooms/suites have been rented out for business purposes (eg doctors' offices) and that some singles are on the small size. The hotel entrance is off Krakowskie-Przedmiescie to the left; you’re really paying for the location here.