Poland’s climate is influenced by a continental climate from the east and a maritime climate from the west. As a result, the weather is changeable, with significant differences from day to day and from year to year. Winter one year can be almost without snow, whereas another year very heavy snows can paralyse transport for days. Summer can occasionally be cold, wet and disappointing.
The seasons are clearly differentiated. Spring starts in March and is initially cold and windy, later becoming pleasantly warm and often sunny. Summer, which begins in June, is predominantly warm but hot at times, with plenty of sunshine interlaced with heavy rains. July is the hottest month. Autumn comes in September and is at first warm and usually sunny, turning cold, damp and foggy in November. Winter lasts from December to March and includes short or long periods of snow. High up in the mountains, snow stays well into May. January and February are the coldest months. The temperature sometimes drops below -15°C, or even -20°C.
When to go
A country this size has enough going on to make it a year-round destination, but most people visit when the weather is warmer, from May to October. The tourist season peaks in July and August, when schools and universities are on holiday and most Polish workers and employees take their annual leave. It’s a time when things can get very crowded, particularly in tourist hot spots such as the Baltic beaches, Great Masurian Lakes and Carpathian Mountains. The likes of Kraków and Warsaw can also seem overrun with visitors during the peak.
Naturally, in July and August transport becomes more crowded too, and can get booked out in advance. Accommodation may be harder to find, and sometimes more expensive. Fortunately, a lot of schools, which are empty during the holidays, double as youth hostels, as do student dormitories in major cities. This roughly meets the demand for budget accommodation. Most theatres are closed in July and August.
If you want to avoid the masses, the best time to come is either late spring/early summer (mid-May to June) or the turn of summer and autumn (September to October), when tourism is under way but not in full flood. These are pleasantly warm periods, ideal for general sightseeing and outdoor activities such as walking, biking, horse riding and canoeing. Many cultural events take place in both these periods.
The rest of the year, from mid-autumn to mid-spring, is colder and darker. This doesn’t mean that it’s a bad time for visiting city sights and enjoying the cultural life as it’s no less active than during the tourist season. Understandably, hiking and other outdoor activities – aside from skiing – are less prominent in this period. Most camping grounds and youth hostels shut up shop at this time.
The ski season runs from December to March. The Polish mountains are spectacular, but the infrastructure (hotels and chalets, lifts and tows, cable cars, transport etc) is still not well developed. Zakopane, Poland’s winter capital, and the nearby Tatra Mountains have the best ski facilities.