Poland

Travel Guide Europe Poland

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Introduction

Krakow 359

Krakow 359

© david.byne

The 20th century was a destructive one for Poland, as World War II saw it being overrun by Germans and the Soviets. It wasn't until 1989 that Poland gained independence from the Soviet Union and began the arduous task of picking up the pieces. For this reason modern Poland's tourist destinations can, at times, be deeply disturbing. Oswiecim (better known for its German name, Auschwitz) was home to the Nazi's largest concentration camp; approximately four million people were killed there. Poland's capital, Warsaw, was subject to a terrible battering in the war; it has been rebuilt from ground level since, but the memory of the war's savage destruction lives on.

Thankfully, however, there is some joy to be had in Poland. The Tatras in the south are a tourist-magnet because of their excellent opportunities for skiing, hiking and spelunking, as well as the collection of quiet villages and towns where old traditions are kept alive. There is a list of nature areas and cities worth to visit as Bialowieza National Park, Słowiński National Park, Szczecin Lagoon and among cities Krakow, Poznan, Lublin, Wroclaw and many more listed below.

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Brief History

For most of the prehistoric era, Poland was home to several various Slavic peoples. The earliest settled archeological site in Poland is the Biskupin settlement (near Gniezno), which was inhabited around 700 BC. Poland emerged as a kingdom after 966 AD when Mieszko I of Poland was baptized a Catholic and made it the new nation's national religion. Over the next couple of centuries the majority of the population converted to Catholicism. Successive rulers, especially king Boleslaw I the Brave, contributed to the development of the new administration and army and to the defense of the country's borders (e.g. in Cedynia near Szczecin in 972, in Bytom Odrzanski in 1109 and in Legnica in 1241). The kingdom of the Piast dynasty experienced feudal breakup from the end of the king's Bolesław III Wrymouth rule in 1138 to the year 1320 when Władysław I the Elbow-high, the prince of Kuyavia who united the districts, was crowned in Krakow. His son Casimir III the Great strengthened Poland in relation to the Teutonic State (who were previously allowed to move to the northern part of Poland near Torun). In the internal policy he codified the law (Wislica-Piotrkow Statutes), expanded the state defense system (e.g. the castles in Bedzin, Olkusz, Niepołomice, Czorsztyn, Sandomierz, Wielun, Bolesławiec, Piotrkow, Przemysl, Sanok) and developed towns (Kazimierz - currently district of Krakow, Wislica, Radom, Lublin, Lviv, Halych, Łęczyca, Kalisz, Konin, Plock, Bydgoszcz, Zlotoryja). In 1364 he founded the Krakow Academy, later renamed to the Jagiellonian University. To this day, it is said that he found Poland wooden and left it made with brick when he died. Casimir III the Great also confirmed protections granted to Jewish people and let them to settle in Poland in great numbers. At the same time, Poland was lucky to avoid the horrors of the black death, which was raging elsewhere in Europe at the time.

On 15 July 1410 near village Grunwald (Olsztyn area), under the leadership of king Władysław II Jagiełło and Grand Duke Vytautas, one of the largest battles of medieval Europe was fought - victorious for united army of Poland, Lithuania and Tatars, it ended a long-lasting war with the Teutonic Knights, who tried to deepen their expansion at the expense of Poland and Lithuania. At that time, Malbork Castle passed into the hands of Poland.

During the Jagiellonian dynasty, from 1385 to 1569, Poland formed an alliance with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. This led to many great leaps in science and the arts because of a liberal attitude towards religious tolerance. It also allowed people like Nicholas Copernicus flourish. Culture developed, as can be seen from the example of historic written documents and buildings in Krakow (embellishment of Wawel and Sukiennice), Tarnow, Sandomierz, Zamosc, Lublin, Kazimierz Dolny, Poznan and Gdansk. In 1569 the Union of Lublin approval document was signed and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was created. This alliance made Poland the largest country in Europe and very powerful. Sadly, towards its end it started to rot from the inside. In the period 1648–1667 the country was destroyed by Swedish Deluge in a high degree. Partitions of the country of united nations occurred in 1772, 1793 and 1795. Particular parts of the country were divided among its neighbors and from then these partitions were called Austrian, Prussian and Russian. Under the partitions, development was very limited. The nations that made up the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth were subjected to Russianisation and Germanization, mainly by destroying their culture by Russian and German rulers, e.g. Alexander III of Russia and Otto von Bismarck, and administration of occupying countries. Despite this, in some places culture and industry were nurtured, often with the risk of loss of life (e.g. in Poznan, Wrzesnia, Warsaw, Bialystok, Vilnius, Krakow, Lviv, Pulawy and Bóbrka near Krosno where Ignacy Łukasiewicz built the world's first modern oil refinery - now a museum).

A reunified Poland would not appear again until after World War I. The Second Polish Republic was established and existed from 1918 to 1939. It was a time of integration of people of Polish nation living in former Polish territories from partitions (Prussian, Austrian and Russian) and a period of development of culture and economy (harbour in Gdynia and many industry centers, for example in Katowice and Krosno). The Second Polish Republic was destroyed by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union by their Invasion of Poland at the beginning of World War II. Millions of Polish citizens perished in the course of the Nazi occupation. The Polish government in exile kept functioning and through the many Polish military formations on the western and eastern fronts the Poles contributed to the Allied victory. Poland suffered greatly during World War II, losing more then 6 million people, half of whom were Jews.

After the war the Soviet Union quickly moved in and made Poland into a puppet state. For several decades, the economy was developing in the socialist system. Urbanization was intensified - large factories and coal mines were created among others in Krakow, Warsaw, Lublin, Szczecin, Sosnowiec, Bytom, Chorzów, Rybnik, Gliwice and Walbrzych. In many industrial Polish cities, especially in Poznan, Radom, Warsaw, Szczecin, Gdansk, Gdynia and Upper Silesia, students, factory workers and then the movement of Solidarity recorded in the history of Poland, which resulted in political changes in many other countries of the Warsaw Pact, including in Hungary and Germany (the fall of Berlin Wall and German reunification in 1990) and obtaining independence by Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia), Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Poland very quickly started to rebuild itself. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and then the European Union in June of 2003. The country is quickly becoming one of the major economic centers of Eastern Europe with constantly improved tourist base and expanded tourist offer.

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Geography

Poland covers about 313,000 square kilometres and over 38 million people live in the country. The country shares international borders with Germany, Denmark (by sea), Sweden (by sea), Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. It also has a long coastline: in the northwest is the Baltic seacoast, which extends from the Bay of Pomerania to the Gulf of Gdansk. This coast has many coastal lakes (former bays that have been cut off from the sea), and dunes (Slowinski National Park). The largely straight coastline is the one covered by the eastern part of Uznam / Usedom island (Swinoujscie), Wolin island, the eastern part of Szczecin Lagoon, Hel Peninsula, the Bay of Puck, and the Vistula Lagoon. Large parts of the northern half of the country are part of the North European Plain. Then there is a geographical region comprising four hilly districts with many lakes. These lake districts are the Pomeranian Lake District, the Greater Poland Lake District, the Kashubian Lake District, and the Masurian Lake District. The Masurian Lake District is the largest of the four and covers much of northeastern Poland. South of the Northern European Lowlands lie the regions of Silesia and Masovia, and even further south lies the Polish mountainous region, including the Sudetes, the Krakow-Czestochowa Upland, Kielce Upland with the Swietokrzyskie Mountains, and the Carpathian Mountains, containing the Beskids. The highest part of the Carpathians are the Tatra Mountains, along Poland's southern border with Slovakia.

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Regions (historical)

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Cities

  • Bialystok - city in the northeast of the country, regional cultural centre located near Bialowieza National Park;
  • Bydgoszcz - city and cultural centre of Kuyavia;
  • Czestochowa - city and cultural centre in southern Poland;
  • Gdansk - historical city along the northern coast, cultural and scientific centre, a member of the Hanseatic League;
  • Gdynia - seaport city on the Baltic Sea coast, cultural centre of Kashubia;
  • Lodz - city in central part of Poland, cultural and scientific centre, industry center in the 19th and 20th centuries;
  • Lublin - the largest city in the southeast of Poland, cultural and scientific centre;
  • Katowice - industrial city in southern Poland, cultural and scientific centre;
  • Kielce - city in central part of Poland, cultural centre of northern part of historic Lesser Poland;
  • Krakow - most popular city as a tourist destination, important cultural and scientific centre in southern Poland, the former capital of Poland {with the airport};
  • Olsztyn - small city in the central north, regional cultural centre;
  • Plock - historical town right in the centre of the country;
  • Poznan - one of the bigger cities, in the central west of the country, cultural and scientific centre, the former capital of Poland;
  • Rzeszow - city in the southeast of the country, cultural and scientific centre;
  • Szczecin - in the northwest, the capital of medieval land Pomerania, cultural and scientific centre and seaport, near the border with Germany {with the airport};
  • Torun - medieval city, cultural and scientific centre, UNESCO World Heritage Site;
  • Warsaw - capital and the largest city of Poland, located in the central east of the country, cultural and scientific centre;
  • Wroclaw - city in the southwest of Poland, cultural and scientific centre, UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Towns:

  • Augustow - town in the northeast of the country, near the border with Belarus, Lithuania and Russia, with a famous Augustow Canal in its area;
  • Gniezno - town in central-western Poland, the former capital of Poland not far away from Poznan;
  • Kolobrzeg - spa town and seaport on the coast of Baltic Sea, near Szczecin and Koszalin;
  • Malbork - town with a great UNESCO listed castle and Elblag, a town near the sea and the Polish-Russian border, with the famous Elblag Canal in its area;
  • Sandomierz - medieval town and Kazimierz Dolny called 'the pearl of Renaissance architecture', both situated by the Vistula river between Krakow and Pulawy;
  • Szczawnica - spa town in the south near the border with Slovakia;
  • Swinoujscie - spa town and seaport on the coast of Baltic Sea, located near Szczecin and Wolin National Park and bordering with Germany;
  • Wadowice - town in Lesser Poland, near Krakow, the birthplace of Karol Wojtyła (Pope John Paul II);
  • Zakopane - activity mecca in the Tatra Mountains, not far away from Krakow;
  • Zamosc - historical town in southeastern Poland, UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Sights and Activities

Krakow

Krakow is a former capital city of Poland an it was a home for Polish kings for centuries. Krakow is the so called Polish Cultural capital city and it is said to be one of the most interesting cities for travellers to visit in Poland. Krakow was hardly destroyed during the wartime and now everyone can admire huge numbers of old buildings in various styles. Some of the most interesting buildings are:

  • Royal Castle with the cathedral on Wawel Hill;
  • Market Square (the biggest in Europe), with the Clothhall and the Mariacki Church;
  • Jewish Quater Kazimierz.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka salt mine, which is the oldest Salt Mine in Europe is located to the south from Krakow. It was exploited for Hundreds of years but nowadays it is a place of cultural events as there are great halls deep under the ground. Rooms, sculptures, chapels made from salt attracts thousands of tourists every year. The Wieliczka Salt Mine is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site together with nearby Bochnia Salt Mine.

Auschwitz-Birkenau

Train line with a chilling end - Berkenau

Train line with a chilling end - Berkenau

© carosterns

Auschwitz is one of the country's major sights. Even today it is not hard to imagine what this place must have looked like in the 1940-1945 period. The fortified walls, barbed wire, barracks, gas chambers and cremation ovens show the conditions within which the Nazi genocide took place in the former concentration and extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was the largest concentration camp. It is believed that as many as 1.5 million people were systematically starved, tortured and murdered in this camp. These days, it stands as a symbol of humanity's cruelty to its fellow human beings in the 20th century. It is not far from Krakow or Katowice and can be visited on a day trip.

Other well-known German concentration camps from the period of the Second World War are:

Currently there are museums in these places.

Masuria

Masuria is one of the most famous lake districts in Central Europe and there are over 3,000 lakes to choose from. Masuria is located in the northeast of Poland and is a very popular tourist spot, both for foreigners as well as Polish tourists. Especially the biggest lakes in the Great Masurian Lakes area are popular and there are many activities you can choose from. Either relaxing and swimming, or kayaking and walking, and lots more. Many of the lakes are connected by channels and rivers, so it is possible to take your boat and cover tens of kilometers or even more between several of the main towns along the lakes (e.g. Gizycko and Mikolajki). The biggest urban center of the region is Olsztyn.

Bialowieza Forest

The Bialowieza Forest, which is shared with Belarus is one of Poland's natural highlights. It is one of the last remaining true wilderness areas anywhere in Europe and consists of an immense forest range with evergreens and broad-leaved trees. On top of that, it is also home to some rare and endangered animal including mammals like the wolf, the lynx and the otter. But the creature that is really special is the European Bison, of which there are several hundreds reintroduced into the park. Therefore, the park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. You can easily get there from the city of Bialystok.

Niemodlin Castle

The Castle in Niemodlin is one of the most interesting monuments of Silesia. The castle is a late-Renaissance building. To get there you have to go through the gate built in the second half of the eighteenth century and farm courtyard, from which a bridge decorated with stone statues of saints John of Nepomuk, John the Baptist, Anthony and Florian leads to the castle. Four-winged castle with a Renaissance courtyard in the middle and arcaded galleries impresses everyone.

Różanka Rose Garden in Szczecin

The garden was established in 1928 in Szczecin, to commemorate the World Gardening Exhibition. In 1935 it was decorated with the sculptures of flying geese by Kurt Schwerdtfeger. Różanka is a public recreational place with over nine thousand roses of 99 varieties. Apart from the flowers, the garden contains exotic trees and shrubs. This is situated closed to the center of the city, near Kasprowicz Park, which can also be a tourist attraction for culture experts and lovers of greenery.

Other sights and activities

Gdansk

Gdansk

© martenia

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Events and Festivals

Midsummer Night

Midsummer Night in Krakow - Wianki - is one of the greatest festivities in Poland. It is organized at the Vistula River banks and starts with a spectacle on the ground and water. The play usually tells the story of Poland's history or the legend. After the performance there are concerts (staged on one bank, while the audience takes place on the other). Finally, at about 10:00pm there is a fireworks display that seems bigger and more exciting every year!

Christmas Market

Christmas Markt at the Market Square in Krakow includes traditional handcrafts, ginger bread, hot wine, Christmas tree decorations and many other things can be bought in little wooden shops created for this occassion annually on the Market Square. Smaller Christmas markets are held among others in Warsaw, Lodz, Wroclaw, Poznan, Gdansk, Szczecin, Bydgoszcz, Lublin, Bialystok, Katowice, Czestochowa, Radom, Torun, Kalisz, Zamosc, Sandomierz and Kazimierz Dolny.

Cracovia Marathon

During the springtime month of April, Krakow hosts the continental Cracovia Marathon. There is the full marathon for hardcore runners, and shorter distances for others to participate in.

Constitution Day

In 1791, Poland's second constitution was drawn up and implemented. Celebrated on May 3, the day includes a variety of interesting festivities and is commonly joined with Labor Day on May 1.

International Street Art Festival

July’s International Street Art Festival is a magnificent way to experience local culture in Warsaw. It is one of the most unique celebrations in Europe, with the streets of the capital the backdrop of many displays and performances happening right before your eyes.

Crossroads Festival

The Crossroads Festival is held in the city of Krakow every year in July. The event is famous for bringing a range of music from around the world, including the unique likes of Mongolia, Israel, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East.

Jazz at the Old Town

Jazz at the Old Town Festival is a striking live musical event that brings thousands of art lovers from across Poland and Europe. It is held on Saturday evenings in July and August, so visitors are guaranteed warm weather for the event. The festival is held at Warsaw’s Old Town, and is free to attend.

Warsaw International Film Festival

Thousands flock to the Warsaw Film Festival every year in October, a great way to extend the boundaries and reach movie lovers and genres across the globe. The films and showings are offered in a number of different venues, and plenty of parties are held on the weekends for visitors to the event.

Independence Day

Arguably the biggest and most important celebrations on the Polish calendar, Independence Day in November is the memorial of Poland’s emancipation from Russian occupation. Since the early 1990's, this marvelous festival has seen the major cities and towns celebrate in their own way. Warsaw is the place to be though for fireworks, performances, food and rides throughout the capital.

All Souls Jazz Festival

Located in the city of Krakow each November, the All Souls Jazz Festival pulls in large crowd throughout its operation. The event has grown into one of the country’s largest and most famous musical events.

Festival of Slavs and Wikings

An outdoor event in the form of historical reconstruction held annually on the first weekend of August on an island in the town of Wolin near Szczecin (jomsborg-vineta.com/en).

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Weather

Poland has a continental climate with generally warm summers and cold winters. Most of the country has about the same weather, but there are some differences. The coastline in the north is somewhat cooler during summer and milder during winter. Also, the east and south is colder in winter compared to most other parts, including the inland areas.

Average summer temperatures are around 23 °C or 24 °C from June to August, around 21 °C along the coast. Nights are mostly around 15 °C during this time. Winters last from December to early March, with generally temperatures around zero during the day, and around -5 °C or -6 °C at night, slightly warmer at sea. Alltime highs and lows are around 40 °C in summer and -40 °C in winter.

Precipitation is quite evenly distributed througout the year, although summers does have some wetter weather. Usually there is about 10 to 15 days of some rain or snow during most months. In winter, it is mainly snow that falls.

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Getting There

By Plane

LOT Polish Airlines is the national airline of the country and is based at Warsaw Frédéric Chopin Airport (WAW), formally Okęcie International Airport, located in the Okęcie district of Warsaw and the main international and domestic airport in Poland. Several other airlines serve Warsaw and Norwegian Air Shuttle uses the city as a focus place throughout Europe. Other low cost airlines are SkyEurope (to Vienna) and Wizzair (about a dozen places in west of Europe).
The airport has connections to most European cities and few other cities outside of Europe with the most common international flights being London, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam. Some other main cities served include Moscow, Rome, Dublin, Brussels, Tel Aviv, Reykjavik, Barcelona, Chicago, Istanbul, Madrid, Milan, New York, Toronto and Lisbon. A few summer charter flights exist as well, mainly to destinations in southern Europe.

To/from the airport
Buses 175 and 188 run all day from the city centre while bus N32 runs during the night for a reasonable price. There is also a train station under Terminal 2 in the airport that has connections to the Warszawa Śródmieście Station. There is also an additional line 148 that provides access to Ursynów (a southern part of Warsaw) and Praga (an eastern part of Warsaw). The fare is PLN 2.8 one-way for all the lines (day and night). Taxis and rental cars are available at the airport as well.

Warsaw Modlin Airport is an airport which was transformed from disused militairy airport into an airport for budget airlines, especially aiming for the expected crowds at the UEFA 2012 European Championships. It opened in July 2012 and Ryanair flies to/from Barcelona, Bologna, Bristol, Brussels South Charleroi Airport, Budapest, Cork, Dublin, East Midlands, Eindhoven, Frankfurt-Hahn Airport, Glasgow-Prestwick, Liverpool, London Stansted Airport, Manchester, Milan-Bergamo, Oslo Rygge Airport, Paris Beauvais-Tillé Airport, Rome Ciampino Airport, Stockholm-Skavsta Airport and Airport Weeze.

Wizzair, flies to/from Barcelona, Brussels South-Charleroi, Budapest, Cork, Doncaster/Sheffield, Eindhoven, Glasgow-Prestwick, Gothenburg-City, Liverpool, London Luton Airport, Malmö, Milan-Bergamo, Rome-Fiumicino, Oslo-Torp, Paris-Beauvais, Stockholm-Skavsta and seasonal to/from Burgas, Grenoble and Madrid.

To/from the airport
A new 5-kilometre-long rail spur branching off from the existing Warsaw-Gdansk line will be built with an underground station at the airport, providing a 30-minute trip to Warsaw's centre.

Poznan, Katowice, Krakow, Wroclaw and Gdansk all have major airports with a number of cities throughout Europe served and there are several smaller cities like Bydgoszcz, Lodz, Rzeszow and Szczecin which have a few international flights as well. Many low-cost airlines serve Krakow particularly, like Easyjet, Ryanair, Jet2, Centralwings and Wizzair.

By Train

Trains go daily (night trains) to Minsk and Kiev and you can only get sleeper berths. Direct trains don't go to Vilnius, you need to switch trains at the border. Trains to Saint Petersburg and Moscow travel through Belarus, which means you need to arrange a transit visa before arrival. It's about 20 hours to Moscow, 30 to Saint Petersburg. Berlin has trains to Warsaw (via Poznan), Krakow and Szczecin, while there are also direct trains from Warsaw to Cologne, Leipzig and Dresden. To Paris requires a change in Cologne. London to Warsaw takes around 20 hours, but with a switch in Brussels and/or Cologne as well.

By Car

You can cross into Poland by car from 7 neighbouring countries: Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany and Ukraine. Most of these border crossings are quite fast and straightforward, though note that crossing into Belarus can be quite a hassle. Be sure to have the proper documentation, international driving permit and all the right insurance (green card) and generally you will be fine, though again in Belarus they will ask for additional insurance.

By Bus

Eurolines offers buses between several Polish cities and many other countries/cities throughout Europe. Warsaw for example has daily connections to and from Vilnius and Minsk. Warsaw and Wroclaw have daily connections with Prague as well. Buses go all the way to London from both Warsaw (via Poznan) and Krakow (via Katowice and Wroclaw)

By Boat

There are quite a few connections to countries within the region.

Sweden

Denmark

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Getting Around

By Plane

Domestic airports within Poland are Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Poznań, Gdańsk, Szczecin, Lublin, Katowice, Rzeszow, Olsztyn-Mazury and Zielona Gora, all of them served by LOT or EuroLOT. Most flights leave from Warsaw. Central Wings and Wizzair operate on a number of routes as well.

By Train

The Polskie Koleje Państwowe (Polish State Railways) has an extensive network of comfortable trains to all parts of the country and most lines originate and terminate in the capital Warsaw. There are Inter-City, Express or local trains and there are two types of travel classes. Overnight trains have sleeper cars and some have restaurant cars as well.

By Car

Compared to most European countries, the Polish network of highways (motorways) is not very dense (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highways_in_Poland) and although there have been plans for expanding the network and works have already begun, it takes a relatively long time to complete even the more basic connections. The main traffic hubs are Warsaw, Lodz, Piotrkow Trybunalski, Wielun, Czestochowa, Dabrowa Gornicza, Katowice, Bytom, Gliwice, Kedzierzyn-Kozle, Bielsko-Biala, Rabka-Zdroj, Krakow, Brzesko, Tarnow, Sandomierz, Rzeszow, Lublin, Pulawy, Bialystok, Elk, Olsztyn, Ostroda, Kutno, Tomaszow Mazowiecki, Radom, Kielce, Radomsko, Sieradz, Konin, Kepno, Opole, Klodzko, Wroclaw, Legnica, Boleslawiec, Swiebodzin, Jarocin, Ostrow Wielkopolski, Poznan, Pila, Bydgoszcz, Torun, Grudziadz, Gdansk, Gdynia, Koszalin, Kolobrzeg, Stargard, Szczecin, Goleniow and Swinoujscie. You can access every part of Poland by car, but some local roads can be in weak condition with uneven surface. Many secondary roads require improvement of technical condition. Some highways are toll roads. For example the 70 kilometres stretch from Katowice to Krakow costs 16 zlotys (€4). That said, it is still enjoyable to travel around by rental car (international and local companies offer these on airports and major cities) or your own car. A national driver's license (or international permit if not from EU country) and sufficient third party insurance (green card) is required, as well as documentation regarding ownership of the car.

By Bus

Polish Motor Communications has good regional and long distance bus services throughout the country. Detailed information about bus transport to and from main Polish cities is available on the websites:

By Boat

Although Poland offers an extensive network of lakes, rivers and canals, there are few noteworthy regular passenger ferries. Most boats include leisurely trips on for example the Mazurian Lakes and only operate from May to September.

The most famous river ferries run regularly or on request in Szczecin, Swinoujscie, Wroclaw and Kazimierz Dolny. Rafting on the Dunajec River (in Polish: spływ Dunajcem) is one of the best attractions of Polish Mountains.

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Red Tape

If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, you may enter without any restriction as per your EU citizenship rights. If you are not an EU citizen, you will need to obtain a Schengen Visa. This visa is valid for any country in the Schengen zone.

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Money

See also: Money Matters

The zloty (PLN) is the official currency of Poland. The zloty is subdivided into 100 groszy. Banknotes come in denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 zloty. Coins come in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 groszy, and 1, 2, 5 zloty. Although Poland is not in the euro (€) zone, you can sometimes pay with euros especially in hotels and souvenir shops in big cities like Krakow. If this would not be possible, credit card payment is popular countrywide. You can withdraw the local currency from ATM's as well as exchange money in exchange officies (kantor) that can be found in the city centres.

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Work

At the moment Poland is one of the best places around the world to find a job as an English teacher. TEFL courses (that's Teaching English as a Foreign Language) are run in many cities across Poland. The demand for TEFL teachers is enormous and teaching language is a brilliant way to fund your travel and earn as you go.

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Study

Studying in Poland can be an incredible experience for foreigners. Foreign students can finance a B.A. education for as low as 24,000 zł and a M.A. education for as low as 20,000 zł. There are many international schools and great universities in Poland and of them the Jagiellonian University in particular is renowned as member of the Coimbra Group and is also a core member of the Europaeum. The University of Warsaw is the top ranked public university in Poland. National Film School in Łódź is the most notable academy. Other major learning centers are Poznan, Wroclaw, Lublin, Szczecin, Katowice, Gdansk, Bialystok, Bydgoszcz, Torun and Rzeszow. Private universities are a recent invention, but have been successful enough where several private schools are competing with the major public universities in terms of quality. Private schools may actually be cheaper for foreign students, who are not entitled to a free education at one of Poland's public universities.

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Language

Polish is spoken nationwide but in some regions there are specific dialects (Silesia, Tatra Mountains, Kashubia). Most Polish people have difficulty with understanding the dialects in its clear form but all the people in the region can usually speak the official Polish. If you do not speak Polish you might have a problem with communication in small cities but in the bigger ones (Warsaw, Krakow, Poznan, Wroclaw, Szczecin) many people, especially young people and people working in the tourism industry, speak English and sometimes other languages like German or French. Most information websites, just like travel guides, is available in several languages, including English, German, Russian, Ukrainian, Czech, French and Spanish. Websites of cities and towns (for example Zakopane and Swinoujscie) include practical information with lists of hotels at least in Polish and English.

People usually are very helpful, so if you try to communicate with your dictionary they would help and be patient to understand. In the officies, shops, at the police stations - it might be hard, though. Polish language is difficult to learn. People from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Croatia and Slovenia can understand quite a lot as these all are Slavic languages.

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Eat

In the popular cities you can choose from a huge selection of restaurants serving international cuisine. Polish traditional food is, however, tasty and it is really worth trying. Polish food is tasty and quite inexpensive. There are many soups to try as well, and traditionally Polish dinner is eaten at lunchtime and consists of soup and the main course. Some of the Polish dishes are:

  • Dumplings (pierogi) with meat, mushrooms, quark, and many other;
  • Potato cakes with sauce (called Placki po wegiersku);
  • Pork chop with potatos and baked cabbage;
  • Bigos (cabbage with meat, saussage, mushrooms, etc.);
  • Borscht - a sour soup;
  • Oscypek - a smoked cheese made of salted sheep milk;
  • Szczecin-yeast dough (in Polish: pasztecik szczeciński) usually stuffed with a meat or vegetarian filling;
  • Pancake - a flat cake made of flour, eggs, milk and butter, cooked on a frying pan;
  • Piernik - gingerbread, especially in Torun, Lublin and Szczecin.

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Sleep

There are plenty of hotels, hostels and private apartments to stay in, when in Poland. When you go to Poland you can go even without reservations as there are tourist information officies usually at the airports and railway stations. There are campsites available as well but usually out of the city centre so if you have no car it would be more difficult to visit the city.

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Drink

When you are in Poland you need to try polish beer that is exceptionaly tasty. In the winter time the Polish people like warm ginger beer with juice and hot wine with spices! Hot wine is a must but if you do not like it for the first time try in another pub as sometimes they prepare it improperly. Talking about pubs - there are plenty in Krakow, Wroclaw and Warsaw and clubbing is popular. Be careful not to drink on the streets as it is forbidden.

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Health

See also: Travel Health

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Poland. It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to Poland. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended.

If you are staying longer than 3 months or have a particular risk (travelling by bike, handling of animals, visits to caves) you might consider a rabies vaccination. Vaccination against hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. It is also recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for 4 weeks or more in the period of March to November.

Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

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Safety

See also: Travel Safety

Even though Poland is quite safe to travel you need to be extra carefull in these situations:

  • when travelling with an expensive car you should leave it on guarded parking places only. The number of stolen cars decreases year by year and in 2010 there it was only 10% compared to the year 2000 but it is wise to protect your mode of transportation in order to not end your vacation earlier than you wanted to.
  • when yo take a taxi - do not take the ones that are available at the railway station or airport - these are the most expensive. Ask the local tourist information to advise!
  • pocket thiefs - like in many other crowded cities worldwide!
  • when you are accommodated in the districts out of the city centres you should ask the receptionist or some locals how to behave and where not to walk after sunset. There are some districts in Polish cities that might be more risky than others to walk at night.

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Keep Connected

Internet

In the cities there are more and more Wifi Hot Spots, so if you have your own mobile device, you can connect. Best chances of finding one are at airports, railway stations, in cafés, shopping malls and universities. Places like McDonald's and Starbucks usually have unlimited free wifi. In some hotels you can find free wifi, though you might have to pay as well or maybe just use it for a limited amount of time. Internet cafes become less popular recently as people prefer to use internet at homes.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

To call to Poland from abroad, dial the Polish country code,48, then the number without the leading 0, as if calling from a domestic mobile phone.
The general emergency number is 112. Police (997), Ambulance (999) and Fire (998) have phone numbers as well, and municipal police has 986 as a number.

Mobile phones work almost across the whole country. There are four mobile phone operators in Poland: Plus, T-Mobile, Orange and Play. About 98% of the country is covered by the standard European GSM 900/1800 MHz network, the remaining 2% are wildlife reserves or high mountains. 3G is available in almost every town.
Domestic call rates are roughly the same across all services. Prepaid starter kits with SIM card (called starter in Polish) are widely available in reasonable prices (PLN5-20, most of which is available for calls), in most of the shops, supermarkets and news agents.

Just about every shopping centre has at least one independent cellphone shop, the guys who run them are usually knowledgeable and have a range of cheap handsets which you can use as a local / travel phone. This may be a good option since juggling SIM cards is always a pain.

Post

Poczta Polska is the Polish public post service. Post offices are generally open from 8:00am to 6:00pm Monday to Friday. Some offices are open on Saturday until 2:00pm and the main post offices in major cities are open daily, 24 hours. Services are generally ok, but don't expact it to be fast and it is not always reliable, though most letters, postcards and parcels will arrive at its destinations after a week or two. You can find the red post boxes dotted throughout the country. You can check this postal website to see how much sending a letter, postcard or parcels costs, both domestically as well as internationally. For sending packages internationally, you can also check FedEx, TNT, DHL or UPS, as they have fast and reliable services and generally competitive prices as well.

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Quick Facts

Poland flag

Map of Poland

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Capital
Warsaw
Population
38,623,000
Government
Republic
Religions
Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox)
Languages
Polish
Calling Code
+48
Nationality
Polish
Local name
Polska

Contributors

as well as dr.pepper (3%), bulkatom (3%), Hien (2%), Herr Bert (2%), Eleritz (2%), Peter (1%), Lavafalls (1%)

Poland Travel Helpers

  • SZ

    I know many towns and cities in Poland from my travels across the country.

    Ask SZ a question about Poland
  • Tjahzi

    I am Polish.If you need any info regarding accomodation, travelling, etc.
    I live in Kraków, so can help especially people travelling to this city, and the region of Malopolska(Lesser Poland). Yet I have been to many places in the whole country - so just ask the questions, I will do my best to help.

    Ask Tjahzi a question about Poland
  • Alicja

    I live in Poland whole my life and I think that I know my country quite well,so write me your questions about Poland and I will try to answer you:).You can read a lot informations on my thread:forums-Europe-"What do you want know about Poland".

    Ask Alicja a question about Poland
  • WarsawTraveller

    I've been living in Poland since I was born, travelling a lot - especially in Polish mountains (I'm a passionate mountains wanderer, but also seaside and most major Polish cities. Currently I live in Warsaw and in my free time run a Warsaw dedicated blog.

    Ask WarsawTraveller a question about Poland
  • valpomike

    I will be in Poland for a month on April 15th. and want to make sure not to miss anything, what must I see and do?

    Ask valpomike a question about Poland

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This is version 249. Last edited at 22:13 on Dec 7, 19 by SZ. 126 articles link to this page.

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