17 Facts About Poland You Should Know

Looking to learn more about Poland? Poland is a country with a long history, rich culture, and lots to see and do for visitors.

Use these facts about Poland to help you understand this fascinating country better.

Aerial view of Wawel Castle in Krakow, Poland
Photo 252440983 / Poland © Emicristea | Dreamstime.com

1. Poland ceased to exist for 123 years.

One of the saddest – and yet most triumphant – facts about Poland is that it ceased to exist for a country for 123 years.

The Partitions of Poland, which happened in 1792, 1793, and 1795, is a series of events that drastically affected Polish territory and sovereignty.

Austria, Russia, and Prussia, significant powers at that time, took advantage of a weak Poland to divide its territory amongst themselves. The final partition was the ultimate blow – the three powers had succeeded in swallowing up all of Polish land, and the country ceased to exist for 123 years.

WWI was the catalyst for Poland to regain its status – the Polish republic was reestablished in 1918, the year when other countries under the yoke of other powers also gained their independence. For example, Latvia and Lithuania declared independence, and Estonia established its independence at this time – these nations had been a part of the Russian Empire before the first world war.

2. Poland and Lithuania were once one country.

It’s a fact about Poland that Poland and neighboring Lithuania were once one country. They had been joined in the 14th century by the marriage of Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila and Polish Queen Jadwiga. But it the union was given more official status in 1569 in the Union of Lublin.

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was one of religious and ethnic diversity, though freedom to practice religions besides the dominant religion of Catholicism varied over time and from region to region. For example, the freedom to practice Judaism was often laxer in the Lithuanian part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (see The Jews of Lithuania by Masha Greenbaum).

The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth remained a force until it was partitioned shortly after the creation of the 1791 constitution.

Stone coat of arms on a building
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3. You can visit two of Europe’s oldest restaurants in Poland.

Though often overlooked on “oldest restaurants in Europe” lists, it’s a fact about Poland that it has some very old restaurants that date from medieval times.

Piwnica Świdnicka is located on Wroclaw’s main square and was first opened as early as 1273 – records attest to it. Unfortunately, Piwnica Świdnicka hasn’t been a continuously operated restaurant. Its over 700 years of service was interrupted briefly when it shut its doors in 2017. However, in 2022 it reopened them to much fanfare. It serves both traditional Polish dishes and modern cuisine in its medieval cellars.

Wierzynek, located in the center of Krakow, has a slightly younger inaugural date of 1364. Legend has it that a feast of powerful people was hosted by one Wierzynek, who owned his own inn, that year. Since then, the restaurant has seen the likes of presidents and celebrities dine at its tables.

Facade of Wierzynek Restaurant in Krakow, Poland
Photo 83602267 / Poland © Sebastian Czapnik | Dreamstime.com

4. Poland established the first constitution in Europe.

Did you know that Poland was groundbreaking in its approach to governmental policy and political structure? It’s one of the facts about Poland that it had the first constitution in Europe – and the second in the world after the US.

Though Poland had long been innovative, with an elected monarch (the nobility could vote on who they wanted to lead) and a parliament with origins dating back to the 12th century, the constitution of Poland was a landmark in Polish government.

The first Polish constitution dates from May 3, 1791 – just a few years after the US Constitution was signed in 1787.

The Polish constitution determined a division of powers and a system of checks and balances. It also implemented more equality between the classes and gave protections to serfs. Pretty interesting stuff!

Constitution Day is celebrated on May 3 in Poland.

Red and white cookies celebrating holidays in Poland
Photo 246597097 / Poland © Monika Tomaszek | Dreamstime.com

5. Polish is a Slavic language.

A fact about Poland is that Poles speak a Slavic language. Polish, though written in Latin script, is a West Slavic language, and so it has some similarities with other languages in the region, such as Slovak and Czech, with some slight mutual intelligibility. Of course, you may also hear some similarities between Polish and the Ukrainian or Russian languages.

Polish is also one of the languages spoken in the Baltic countries. Due to their shared history and proximity, Lithuania has a large Polish population that continues to speak Polish. However, note that Lithuanian derives from another branch of the language tree and is not Slavic, so it does not bear a resemblance to Polish.  Belarus and Ukraine also have Polish-speaking minorities.

6. Poland’s holidays are a cross between Christian and pagan belief systems.

It’s a fact about Poland that many Poles identify as Catholics, so of course many Polish holidays follow the Catholic church calendar.

Days such as Midsummer, are almost purely pagan. These days focus on a celebration of nature, the seasons, and fertility.

But most Polish holidays have pagan undertones, even if they look purely Christian from the outside. For example, Christmas in Poland and Easter in Poland both have recognizable Christian and pagan components, with superstitions and beliefs about magic and fortune-telling accompanying traditional Christian practices. Indeed, Easter eggs are a type of Polish folk art that date back to pagan times but are still an essential part of this spring holiday!

A bowl of decorated Polish Easter eggs
Photo 247259614 / Poland © Piotrmilewski | Dreamstime.com

7. Poland was not a part of the Soviet Union.

One fact about Poland that some people don’t immediately grasp is that it was not a part of the Soviet Union.

Behind the Iron Curtain? Yes. In the Soviet sphere of influence? Yes.

Immediately after WWII, Stalin implemented a communist government in Poland through rigged elections run by Soviet authorities, who occupied Poland at the time. The government eventually established the Polish People’s Republic, which existed from 1947 to 1989.

While it was never a part of the Soviet Union, Poland was considered one of its satellite states, which bowed to pressure from the USSR and whose leadership was greatly influenced by Moscow.

The Solidarity movement, which began in Gdansk’s shipyard, gained steam as a political force in the 1980s. Eventually, free elections were held again in 1989 to usher in a new era for Poland.

One emblem of Poland’s relationship with the Soviet Union is the Palace of Culture and Science, a Stalinist-style skyscraper “gifted” to the people of Poland by Stalin himself.

Warsaw skyline at night
Photo 251821204 / Poland © 9parusnikov | Dreamstime.com

8. Poland’s currency is the zloty

Poland, though a part of the European Union, is not a part of the eurozone single-currency area. Poland has its own currency, the złoty, or zloty.

The zloty, the name of which is derived from the Polish word for gold, originated in the 15th century as a local unit of currency.

Though one of the conditions of membership in the European Union requires states to eventually adopt the euro, Poland is not slated to do so yet, in part due to issues with the Polish constitution allowing such a change and the unpopularity of switchover from the zloty to the euro.

Closeup of 1 zloty coin - facts about Poland
Photo 252298114 / Poland © Deaconsdocs | Dreamstime.com

9. Poland may have invented vodka.

Russia and Poland have a rivalry about who invented vodka. However, written evidence seems to point to vodka, or wodka, as it is known in Poland, being used for medicinal purposes first. The murkiness of the story is down in part due to the prevalence of primitive distillation processes and the evolution of alcoholic beverages, both in their content and use. It can also be attributed to how borders have shifted in the region over the centuries.

The fact of the matter is that Poland does vodka production well, with famous brands having their origins in the 16th century. You’ll be able to try many vodkas when you visit Poland, whether at a restaurant or bar, and take home a bottle as a Polish souvenir.

You can also easily learn about vodka in Poland by enjoying a tasting or visiting a museum. In fact, visiting the Vodka Museum is one of the top things to do in Warsaw.

Vodka is just one of those inescapable facts about Poland that help making it an enjoyable place to visit!

Bottles of zubrowka voka on a shelf
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10. Poland’s capital, Warsaw, was almost completely destroyed during WWII.

Though many people like Krakow because it is it its original, pre-WWII state, Warsaw has a charm specifically because it was rebuilt – in fact, 85-90% of it was.

With significant landmarks destroyed, including Old Town Warsaw, Varsovians rebuilt their hometown using historical documents, paintings, and photographs preserving how it looked before the bombs fell. In some cases, they carted in loads of bricks from other Polish cities to complete the historic look.

Old Town Warsaw square on a sunny day
Photo 251965748 / Poland © MNStudio | Dreamstime.com

11. Poland had one of the world’s largest Jewish communities pre-WWII.

It’s a fact about Poland that it had the largest pre-WWII Jewish population in Europe. Poland maintains both the reminder of the Holocaust in such sites as the Auschwitz death camp as well as city ghetto areas and memorials.

However, while some of Poland’s Jewish heritage was destroyed, pockets of it remain. For example, the Kazimierz district of Krakow, in addition to being the site of Jewish museums and synagogues, is host to Jewish cultural festivals and has a strong Jewish food scene.

The POLIN museum in Warsaw is dedicated to telling the history of Jews in Poland. This expansive, interactive, and informative museum is worth spending several hours in.

Directional signs for tourist in Krakow
Photo 169301366 / Poland © Sanga Park | Dreamstime.com

12. Many internationally famous people come from Poland

It’s not surprising that a country the size and age of Poland has given world culture and science many notable figures.

Of all of Poland’s famous people, Nicolaus Copernicus may be the best known. Copernicus, who put forth the idea that the Sun, rather than the Earth, was the center of the solar system, was born in Torun, Poland, in 1473.

Frederic Chopin, composer and pianist, grew up in Warsaw – that’s where visitors will find a museum dedicated to his life and work and where his heart has been buried (separate from his body, in Paris) in a church. Warsaw’s airport is also named after Chopin.

Marie Curie, who studied radioactivity and was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, was born in Warsaw.

Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in many centuries. He was born in Wadowice, Poland. Many sights related to Pope John Paul II can be found throughout Poland. His memory is alive and well there.

Chopin Monument in park in fall
Photo 232670221 / Poland © Piotrmilewski | Dreamstime.com

13. Poland and amber have a long history together.

Baltic amber – that is, amber from the Baltic Sea – has long been important to Poland. Today, you’ll see it worked into jewelry designs or as decorative elements to souvenirs.

However, in the ancient past, it was used for trade. And in Poland it was heavily regulated, so much so that individual collection of this natural product (which is fossilized tree resin) was forbidden by the Teutonic Knights, who swept through Northern Europe.

If you go to Malbork Castle, one of Europe’s largest castles and an impressive outpost of the Teutonic Knights, you’ll see the treasury room there heaped with chunks of amber as a representation of their stranglehold on this valuable natural product.

Amber pendants hanging in a shop
Photo 243643095 / Amber Poland © Michele Ursi | Dreamstime.com

14. Poland’s Seven Wonders are excellent sights for tourists.

Poland’s Seven Wonders are undoubtedly must-see sights for travelers. And if you’re looking for things to do in Krakow, two of them can be found here: Wawel Castle and Main Market Square.

Visitors often take a day trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine, another of Poland’s Seven Wonders, when they are in Krakow.

Malbork Castle, near Gdansk, is Poland’s well-known Teutonic Knights’ castle, known as one of Europe’s largest castles.

The old towns of Zamosc and Torun, as well as the Elblag Canal, round out this list.

Colorful historic buildings in a row in Zamosc, Poland
Photo 230130195 / Poland © Makasanaphoto | Dreamstime.com

15. Poland is a part of the EU and the Schengen zone.

Though, as indicated in one of the facts about Poland above, Poland is not a part of the eurozone, it is a part of the European Union. It’s been a part of the European Union since 2004.

Poland is also a part of the border-free Schengen zone. The Schengen zone is a group of 26 countries within Europe that allow the free and unrestricted movement of people – so residents and travelers don’t have to wait in line at borders when they travel within this zone.

16. Poland’s Christmas markets rival those in Western Europe.

Many travelers make a December pilgrimage to Europe to enjoy its Christmas markets, with Germany’s being some of the most popular. But Poland shouldn’t be overlooked in this area. Poland’s Christmas markets – including those in Warsaw and Krakow and in smaller historic cities – are not to be missed.

With live entertainment, picture-perfect decorations, plentiful Polish dishes to try, and souvenirs and gifts galore, some people even do a Polish Christmas market tour, hitting up various cities to squeeze the most enjoyment from the holiday season as possible.

17. Poland is becoming more popular by the year.

Tourism in Poland continues to increase. It’s not surprising, either. Poland is an affordable country with everything to offer, from cities steeped in history – put the top cities in Poland on your list to visit – to vast natural landscapes that will take the breath away.

Poland is also good for culture hounds and foodies. With holidays and festivals filling events calendars and a proud tradition of local cuisine, visitors will never go bored or hungry.

No list of facts about Poland could ever be long enough – they can only serve as a start for discovery.

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