- Since Poland joined the European Union in 2004, Warsaw’s economy has boomed
- It has made major infrastructure investments, aiming to make the city more inviting for residents, tourists and investors
- Increasing cultural participation and social trust is a key goal for the city
City data: Key facts
- Geographical area: 517 sq. km
- Total population: 1,735,400
- Percentage of total national population living in the city: 4.5%
- Education level – percentage with degree level or higher: 25.30%
- Percentage creative industries employment: 1.60%
Warsaw is an old city, dating back to the 12th century. Due to its central position in Eastern Europe, it has spent centuries under the rule of foreign governments, including Prussia, France, Russia and Germany. Sometimes called the ‘Phoenix City,’ Warsaw has had to rebuild itself time and again, most recently after the devastation of World War II. In 1989, when Poland’s democratic movement shook off Soviet dominance, Warsaw entered a new chapter in its history.
Warsaw is now a city of 1.7 million people, of whom over 97% (in 2011) were born in Poland. Dominating many aspects of Polish life, it is a centre of government, finance, tourism, business, media and culture. Since Poland’s accession to the European Union in 2004, its economy has boomed. It is now seen as a competitive market for foreign investors and is home to one of the most important Stock Exchanges in Central Europe. This economic development has transformed Warsaw’s skyline with a number of new skyscrapers – although its iconic Palace of Culture and Science, built by the Soviet Union in the 1950s, is still the eighth tallest building in the EU.
Improvement of infrastructure is now a major priority for Warsaw. New motorways have been built linking the city with its European neighbours, and a ring road is under construction. Warsaw’s second Metro line opened in 2015, crossing the Vistula river. As well as improving transport, this second line will have important social consequences. For decades Warsaw has been divided by the river, with the eastern side of the city suffering from economic underdevelopment and lacking public and cultural institutions. It is hoped that new infrastructure will help to draw the city closer together.
The city’s Integrated Revitalisation Programme (2014-2022) aims to make the city more inviting for residents, tourists and investors. Focusing in particular on eastern Warsaw, it will include renovation of historic buildings, housing projects, improvement of green spaces, and new bicycle paths. Some concerns have been raised about the impact of gentrification, particularly in the newly trendy Praga district.
Cultural infrastructure has also seen major investment in recent years. In 2020 a new cultural complex will open on Defilad Square in the heart of Warsaw. This will house both the TR Warszawa Theatre and the Warsaw Museum of Modern Art, which was established in 2005.
Culture is a key part of Warsaw’s Development Strategy. It is one of the few cities in Poland with a full cultural strategy, the ‘Development of culture Warsaw 2020,’ which includes financial support for cultural institutions; investment, modernisation and renovation; and long-term cooperation and stakeholder development programmes. Also important is the Cultural Education Programme, a multi-year cooperation programme with local NGOs, cultural organisations and the private sector.
A key aim for the city of Warsaw is increasing cultural participation among its residents, moving from passive consumption of formal cultural offerings to higher levels of engagement. After Communist rule the city still suffers from low levels of social trust. Culture will be a way of building social capital and creating community, particularly when it comes to integrating migrants from other parts of Poland and abroad.
Warsaw is the most popular tourist destination in Poland, drawing nearly three million tourists in 2014. Its Royal Route, linking former royal residences in the city, is now a major tourist attraction. It runs from the Royal Palace in the Old Town (now a UNESCO World Heritage Site), passing a number of churches, monuments and palaces as well as the eighteenth-century Royal Baths park.
Before World War II, over one-third of the city’s residents were Jewish, giving Warsaw one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe. Although the vast majority of Warsaw’s Jews were killed in the Holocaust, efforts are being made to preserve its Jewish culture. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews opened in the former Warsaw Ghetto in 2013, and a number of Jewish cultural festivals take place in the city, including the Warsaw Jewish Film Festival.
Warsaw is an extraordinarily resilient city, having repeatedly survived occupation and war. Its accession to the EU in 2004, following the end of Communist rule, has marked a new chapter for the city. Increasingly prosperous and confident in its European identity, Warsaw is now working to improve its infrastructure and using culture to catalyse the next phase of its development.