Poland, officially the Republic of Poland, is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west;the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north. The establishment of a Polish state is often identified with the adoption of Christianity by its ruler Mieszko I in 966, over the territory similar to that of present-day Poland. The Kingdom of Poland was formed in 1025, and in 1569 it cemented a long association with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by signing the Union of Lublin, forming the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The Commonwealth ceased to exist in 1795 as the Polish lands were partitioned among the Kingdom of Prussia, the Russian Empire, and Austria. Poland regained its independence as the Second Polish Republic in 1918. Two decades later, in September 1939, it was invaded by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, triggering World War II. Over six million Polish citizens died in the war. Poland re-emerged several years later within the Soviet sphere of influence as the People's Republic in existence until 1989. During the Revolutions of 1989, communist rule was overthrown and soon after, Poland became what is constitutionally known as the "Third Polish Republic". Despite the vast destruction the country experienced in World War II, Poland managed to preserve much of its cultural wealth. Since the end of the communist period, Poland has achieved a "very high" ranking in terms of human development and standard of living.
The capital of Poland was practically rebuilt from scratch after World War II. Warsaw's vibrant business downtown takes pride in its many skyscrapers and ambitious plans to build more. The catchy skyline is still dominated by the enormous Palace of Culture and Science – Stalin's donation to the nation. Warsaw is a world in itself, with an eastern European flavour. Do not miss the beautiful Old Town, the Royal Route, the Chopin museum, several magnificent palaces and the former Jewish ghetto.
Poznań is a town steeped in history, as it was the first capital (with Gniezno) of Poland and seen by many as the birthplace of the Polish nation. Today it is a diverse and vibrant town, with much to divert the traveller. It has a stunningly rejuvenated central square, thriving night-life, fascinating museums and many attractions in the surrounding area. For train buffs, Poznań is the home of Europe's last surviving steam-hauled passenger service.
Kraków, which celebrated its 750th birthday in 2007, is by far Poland’s biggest drawcard, and it’s immediately apparent why. As the royal capital for 500 years, the city was able to absorb much history and talent over the centuries and is today a treasure trove of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Miraculously, this jewellery box emerged largely intact after WWII. As a result, no other city in Poland can boast so many historic buildings and monuments or such a vast collection of artworks, with some 2.3 million registered.