Last updated: 01:00 PM ET, Thu March 14 2019
Warsaw downtown sunrise aerial view, Poland (photo via marchello74 / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Warsaw

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Poland's capital city, Warsaw, lies in the center of the country, occupying both banks of the Vistula River.  The most striking thing about Warsaw is its regeneration following the devastation of World War II. Razed as a result of Hitler's orders in 1945, most of Warsaw was rebuilt within a dozen years. The meticulous restoration of Warsaw’s historic buildings, palaces, churches and architectural complexes, destroyed during the War, earned its position on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

Literally hundreds of historical monuments are located in Warsaw. Chief among them is the Royal Castle, the Palace on the Island in Lazienki Park, the Belvedere Palace and Wilanow Palace. Tours of these and 19 other museums, galleries and exhibitions draw most visitors to the city - not to mention the restored churches and the memorial to the heroes of the Jewish Ghetto Uprising of 1943 and Warsaw Uprising of 1944, the only such efforts in Nazi-occupied Europe during WWII.

The capital also houses great collections of Polish and foreign art. Historic works can be admired at the National Museum, at the Royal Castle in Wilanów and at the Palace on the Water in Lazienki, while contemporary art is exhibited in the Zacheta Gallery and the Centre of Contemporary Art in Ujazdów Castle.

In addition, Warsaw is a major center for cultural entertainment and boasts numerous theatrical and musical venues, including the prestigious National Opera, the Chamber Opera, the National Philharmonic Hall and the National Theatre. Visitors will also enjoy the music theatres Roma and Buffo, the Jewish Theatre and puppet theaters, such as Baj, Guliwer and Lalka. Warsaw is also host to many world-renowned events and festivals. Among these are The F. Chopin International Piano Competition, the International Contemporary Music Festival "Warszawska Jesien", the Jazz Jamboree, Warsaw Summer Jazz Days, the Stanislaw Moniuszko International Vocal Competition, the Mozart Festival, the Festival of Old Music, the International Theatrical Meetings, and the International Poster Biennial.

Throughout the summer, a historic tramway runs along a set tourist route (starting and stopping at Narutowicza Square). There are also two tourist bus lines (100 and 180) with routes stopping at major sites. Warsaw remains the major air gateway to Poland, with extensive connections throughout Europe, and some nonstop flights to North America. Kraków's Jan Pavel II Airport is also easy to reach from nearly any large airport in Europe. The advent of low-cost budget carriers in Europe in recent years has opened up several other cities to regular and convenient air travel, including Lódz, Poznan, Wroclaw and Gdansk.

The national rail network, PKP, is well integrated into the Europe-wide rail system. Warsaw lies on the main east-west line running from Berlin to Moscow. Kraków is accessible from Prague, Vienna, and points south, though some connections may require a change of trains at Katowice. Poland is easily accessible by car and Polish highways are integrated into the larger E.U. highway grid. All major car rental companies, such as Avis, Hertz and Budget, have offices in all major cities and airports. An International Driver Permit is required to drive in Poland.