Poland is a big country, and domestic flights can be time-saving if you have to get from one end to the other.
Airlines in Poland
LOT Operates a comprehensive network of domestic routes. There are regular flights between Warsaw and Gdańsk, Katowice, Kraków, Poznań, Rzeszów, Szczecin and Wrocław. Many flights between regional cities travel via Warsaw and connections aren’t always convenient.
Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) Operates direct flights between Warsaw and Szczecin, and from Gdansk to Wrocław and Kraków.
There’s no departure tax on domestic flights.
Poland has great potential as a place to tour by bicycle – most of the country is flat and you can throw your bike on a train to cover long distances quickly. Camping equipment isn’t essential, as hotels and hostels are usually no more than a day’s ride apart, although carrying your own camping gear will give you more flexibility. Check out www.poland.travel/en/experience/cycling.
There are cycling shops and repair centres in large cities and major tourist resorts, and you’ll be able to hire a bike in most cities. The going rate for rentals is about 10/40zł per hour/day.
- Major roads carry heavy traffic and are best avoided. Instead, plan your route along minor roads, which are usually much less crowded and in reasonable shape.
- Stock up on detailed hiking maps, which normally show bike trails as well as walking trails.
- Some drivers hug the side of the road to give cars and trucks more room to overtake, passing perilously close to cyclists. Note that in Poland cyclists are not allowed to ride two abreast.
- Cities are often not the most pleasant places to cycle, though many now have dedicated cycle paths and more are planned. The main problem is drivers who often don’t have much regard for two-wheeled travellers.
Taking Your Bike on the Train
Many – but not all – trains allow you to transport bikes.
- When buying your ticket at the station, inform the ticket seller you have a bike and they will let you know whether it’s allowed on board. Online timetables usually note whether bikes are permitted.
- Bikes require a separate ticket costing 9.10zł (flat fee regardless of distance).
- Many trains have special carriages equipped to carry bicycles and these will be marked. Other times you’ll have to stow the bike in a baggage car. If the train has no baggage car, bikes are only permitted in the first and last carriages of the train. If you have to stow your bike there, try to sit near it and keep it out of the way of other passengers.
- Bikes cannot be taken on sleeping cars.
- Poland is famous for bike theft. Always firmly lock your bike to a stationary object and try not to leave the bike unattended for too long.
- Many hotels have secure luggage rooms, which are normally fine for overnight storage; if in doubt, take your bike with you into your room.
- Trains pose particular risk of theft. If you have to leave your bike in a baggage car, try to sit near the car and check on your bike periodically. Lock your bike to a fixed part of the rail car if possible.
Poland has a long coastline and lots of rivers and canals, but passenger-boat services are limited and operate only in summer. There are no regular boats running along the main rivers or along the coast.
- Several cities, including Szczecin, Gdańsk, Toruń, Poznań, Wrocław and Kraków, have local river cruises in summer, and a few coastal ports (Kołobrzeg and Gdańsk) offer sea excursions. There are also trips out of Elbląg to Frombork and Krynica Morska.
- Tourist boats are available in the Augustów area where they ply part of the Augustów Canal.
Poland has a comprehensive bus network (far greater than the rail network) covering nearly every town and village accessible by road. Buses are often more convenient than trains over short distances, and occasionally over longer ones, when, for instance, the train route involves a long detour.
The frequency of service varies greatly: on the main routes there may be a bus leaving every 15 minutes or so, whereas some small remote villages may get only one bus a day. Ticket prices also vary due to fierce competition between bus companies, so shop around.
The breakup and privatisation of the former state bus company, Państwowa Komunikacja Samochodowa (PKS) in the 1990s saw the domestic bus network divided up among hundreds of regional and private operators.
Most cities have a main bus station (dworzec autobusowy), that's often located close to the train station. Bus stations usually have only basic facilities (no left-luggage service or even a place for coffee), but most do have some sort of information counter or at least a posted timetable.
Shorter local routes, especially in rural areas, are served by privately owned minibuses. Minibus stops are usually in the vicinity of the main bus station; there is rarely any sort of information counter, but destinations are displayed on the vehicles. Buy tickets from the driver.
FlixBus/Polski Bus (https://global.flixbus.com) The main nationwide coach operator runs services between major cities and towns using modern coaches with free wi-fi. You can buy tickets online using the company's smartphone app; real-world ticket outlets are listed on the website.
PKS Polonus (www.pkspolonus.pl) Warsaw-based company, with bus services mostly to northern Poland, but also to Silesia, Czestochowa, Opole and Tarnów in the south.
Buses are generally cheaper than trains, but slower. For example, a coach from Warsaw to Kraków can cost as little as 20zł and takes five hours, while an express train takes 2¼ hours but costs 150zł.
- For comprehensive timetable information, use the online journey planner at www.en.e-podroznik.pl.
- Printed timetables are posted on boards at bus terminals. The list of odjazdy (departures) includes kierunek (destinations), przez (the places passed en route) and departure times.
- Check any symbols that accompany the departure time. These symbols can mean that the bus runs only on certain days or in certain seasons. They’re explained in the key at the end of the timetable but can be difficult to decipher.
- The only place to buy local bus tickets is at the bus station itself, either from the ticket counter or the bus driver. If you get on the bus somewhere along the route, you buy the ticket directly from the driver.
- Tickets for FlixBus and other intercity bus companies can be bought online. In this case, simply print out the ticket, or save the online ticket to your smartphone or tablet and show the driver when you board the bus.
Car & Motorcycle
While driving in Poland is mostly trouble-free, and having a car makes exploring rural areas more spontaneous, there are some drawbacks. The highway network is still in the process of being upgraded, and there will be long stretches of construction works, detours and delays for several years to come.
Poland straddles major east–west and north–south transit routes, and long lines of heavy trucks are the norm on many highways. Also, despite some improvement in recent years, the country has one of the poorest road-safety records in Europe – speeding and dangerous overtaking are commonplace.
Bringing Your Own Car
Many tourists bring their own vehicles into Poland. There are no special formalities: all you need is your passport (with a valid visa if necessary), driving licence, vehicle registration document and proof of third-party insurance (called a Green Card). Fines are severe if you’re caught without insurance. A nationality plate or sticker must be displayed on the back of the car.
All EU driving licences are valid in Poland; non-EU licences can be used for up to six months.
Benzyna (petrol) is readily available at petrol stations (stacja benzynowa or stacja paliw) throughout the country. There are several different kinds and grades available, including 95- and 98-octane unleaded and diesel. The price of fuel can differ from petrol station to petrol station, with the highest prices typically found on major highways. Nearly all petrol stations are self-serve and accept cash, debit and credit cards.
Car-hire agencies require a passport, valid driving licence and credit card. You need to be at least 21 or 23 years of age (depending on the company).
One-way hire within Poland is possible with most companies (usually for a fee), but most will insist on keeping the car within Poland. No company is likely to allow you to take its car beyond the eastern border.
As a rough guide, economy models offered by reputable local companies cost from 100/450zł per day/week (including insurance and unlimited mileage). Rates at the big international agencies are higher. It’s usually cheapest to book your car online before you travel.
- Driving for long distances in Poland is no fun. Roads are often crowded, and a massive effort in road building and repair in recent years has led to many detours and delays.
- Poland has an abundance of two-lane (ie single carriageway) national highways. These vary greatly as to condition. Main roads often pass directly through the centres of towns and villages.
- Drive carefully on country roads, particularly at night; there are still horse-drawn carts on Polish roads. The further off the main routes you wander, the more elderly cyclists and carts, tractors and other agricultural machinery you’ll encounter.
Poland's motorways (called autostrady) are so far limited to one north–south route (A1 Gdańsk–Łódź–Katowice) and two west–east routes (A2 Poznań–Łódź–Warsaw and A4 Wrocław–Kraków–Rzeszów). They are mostly only four-lane highways (ie two lanes in each direction).
Parts of these are toll roads, where you either collect a ticket at the beginning of the toll section and pay at the end, or just pay the cashier as you pass through (cash and bank cards accepted). As an example of costs, the section of the A4 from Kraków to Wrocław costs 36.20zł in total for a car. For more info see www.tolls.eu/poland.
Road rules are similar to much of the rest of Europe. A vehicle must be equipped with a first-aid kit, a red-and-white warning triangle and a nationality sticker on the rear; the use of seat belts is compulsory.
Police can hit you with on-the-spot fines for speeding and other traffic offences (be sure to insist on a receipt).
- Drinking and driving is strictly forbidden – the legal blood-alcohol level is 0.02% (one drink will put you over the limit!).
- Use of handheld mobile phones while driving is prohibited.
- Speed limits are 30km/h to 50km/h in built-up areas, 90km/h on open roads, 120km/h on dual carriageways and 140km/h on motorways.
- Headlights must be on at all times, even on a sunny day.
- Trams must be overtaken on the right. At tram stops where there are no pedestrian islands, drivers should stop to allow passengers to walk safely between the tram and the pavement.
- Motorcyclists should remember that both rider and passenger must wear helmets.
- Autostop (hitching) is never entirely safe anywhere in the world. Travellers who decide to hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. Those who choose to hitch will be safer travelling in pairs, and letting someone know where they are planning to go.
- That said, hitching does take place in Poland; locals can often be seen thumbing a ride from one small village to the next. Car drivers rarely stop though, and large commercial vehicles (which are easier to wave down) expect to be paid the equivalent of a bus fare.
Bus, Tram & Trolleybus
Polish cities offer excellent public transport. Every large and medium-sized city will have a comprehensive autobus (bus) network, while some cities will also have tramwaj (tram) and trolejbus (trolleybus) systems. Warsaw is the only city with a metro.
- Public transport normally operates daily from around 5am to 11pm. Service is less frequent on weekends.
- Trams and buses are likely to be crowded during rush hour (7am to 9am and 4.30pm to 6.30pm Monday to Friday).
- Timetables are usually posted at stops, but don’t rely too much on their accuracy.
Tickets & Fares
Each city has a slightly different system of ticketing and fares, so be prepared to watch what the locals do and do likewise.
Most cities have a fare system based on the duration of the ride, with a standard 60-minute ticket costing around 3zł. There may be slightly cheaper tickets available for shorter rides (20 or 30 minutes) and more expensive tickets for longer ones (90 minutes).
There are many common features across Polish buses and trams.
- In most cities you can buy tickets from machines inside buses and trams (automat biletów) using a contactless card payment. You don't get a paper ticket; if an inspector asks, allow them to scan the card you used for payment.
- There are also ticket machines on the street at major bus and tram stops. These accept cash (coins and notes) as well as cards, and issue paper tickets.
- You can also buy paper tickets from newspaper kiosks like Ruch or Relay or from street stalls around the central stops.
- Paper tickets should be validated in one of the little machines installed near the doors when you enter the bus or tram.
- Plain-clothed ticket inspectors are always on the prowl and foreigners are not exempt.
Taxis are widely available and not too expensive. Daytime fares are generally based on 6zł flagfall and 2.20zł per km. Prices are higher at night (10pm to 6am), on Sunday and outside the city limits. The number of passengers (usually up to four) and the amount of luggage doesn’t affect the fare.
- Avoid unmarked pirate taxis (called ‘mafia’ taxis by Poles), which usually have just a small ‘taxi’ sign on the roof with no name or phone number.
- You can flag down cabs on the street or order them by phone. It's best to order by phone if possible, as it cuts down the chance you'll get a rogue driver.
- Remember to carry small denomination banknotes, so you’ll be able to pay the exact fare. If you don’t, it’s hard to get change from a driver who’s intent on charging you more.
Poland’s train network is extensive and reasonably priced. It’s likely to be your main means of transport for covering long distances.
That said, service to many smaller cities is poor or nonexistent, which means you may find yourself relying more on buses or a combination of bus and train.
Types of Trains
Poland’s rail network has several different types of train that differ primarily by speed, cost and level of comfort. Identify the train type by the initials on station and online timetables.
ExpressInterCity Premium (EIP) High-speed 'Pendolino' trains that travel between major cities, such as Warsaw, Kraków, Katowice, Wrocław and Gdańsk. Both 1st- and 2nd-class seats are available, and reservations are mandatory for both.
ExpressInterCity (EIC) One step down from EIP trains, the modern, comfortable EIC trains also run between major cities, like Warsaw–Kraków and Warsaw–Gdańsk, but are slightly less expensive. There's seating in both 1st and 2nd class, and reservations are compulsory in both.
InterCity (IC) As with EIC, but generally offer a slightly slower service with more stops than EIC trains.
EuroCity (EC) International express trains linking Polish cities with cities in other European countries.
TLK (Pociąg Twoje Linie Kolejowe; TLK) Low-cost express trains that run between major cities at speeds approaching EIP trains, but at fares that are around 40% cheaper. TLK trains are a step down in comfort and can be crowded. There's seating in both 1st and 2nd class; both classes require reservations. Bicycle carriage on TLK trains may be limited.
InterRegio (Pociąg InterRegio; IR) These are the standard Polish ‘fast’ trains running between regions, with stops at most medium-sized cities along the route. IR trains normally don’t offer 1st-class seating, and no seat reservations are required.
Regio (Pociąg Regio; Regio/Osob) These trains are much slower as they stop at all stations along the way. These may be 2nd-class only and reservations are not required.
Since the demise of the state monopoly Polskie Koleje Państwowe (PKP) the Polish rail network has been broken up into around 10 different operators that manage different routes and trains.
PKP InterCity runs all of Poland’s express trains, including ExpressInterCity Premium (EIP), ExpressInterCity (EIC), InterCity (IC), EuroCity (EC) and TLK trains.
A second main operator, PolRegio (www.polregio.pl), takes care of most other trains, including relatively fast InterRegio trains and slower Regio trains.
A handful of other private operators provide regional services.
You can buy international and domestic train tickets in advance from outside Poland through Polrail. Its website is a very useful source of information on Polish train travel.
Timetables & Information
Rozkład jazdy (train timetables) are posted on the walls of most stations, with odjazdy (departures) written on yellow boards and przyjazdy (arrivals) on white.
In addition to departure and arrival times, timetables also include initials beside the destinations to let you know what type of train is running: EIP, EIC, TLK, IR or Regio. Faster trains are marked in red and slower trains in black.
- The letter ‘R’ in a square indicates a train with compulsory seat reservations. There may also be some small letters and/or numbers following the departure time that show whether a train runs on holidays or weekends (there should be a key at the bottom of the timetable to help you figure it out).
There are several useful online timetables that show schedules between routes, and which usually display prices and allow you to purchase tickets online.
www.rozklad-pkp.pl Shows information for all Polish trains.
www.rozklad.sitkol.pl Another general timetable with easy-to-use instructions in English.
www.intercity.pl Displays information for high-speed express and TLK trains.
Timetables normally require Polish spellings for cities (diacritical marks are not necessary).
(There are several options for buying tickets. Most of the time you’ll purchase them at train-station ticket windows. Plan to be at the station at least half an hour before the departure time of your train.
- Most ticket windows, but not all, accept payment with a credit card (look for the credit-card symbol).
- Don't expect ticket sellers to speak English. Write down the relevant details on a piece of paper.
- Seat reservations (5zł) are compulsory on EIP, EIC, IC, EC and TLK trains; you’ll automatically be sold a miejscówka (reserved-seat ticket) on these services.
- Except on EIP trains, you can board a train without a ticket if the ticket line’s not moving and the departure is imminent. Buy from the conductor (there's a supplement of 10zł).
- Private travel companies can help organise travel times and book tickets online. One of the best of these is Polrail Service.
- Costs for Polish trains vary greatly depending on the type of train and the distance travelled. It pays to shop around online before buying. Generally, 1st class is around 50% more expensive than 2nd class.
- The most expensive trains are Intercity EIP/EIC trains. Prices for these include the basic ticket price, as well as a mandatory seat reservation.
- As a guideline, the approximate 2nd-class fare (including compulsory seat reservation) on an EIP train from Warsaw to Kraków is 150zł for the three-hour journey. The trip from Warsaw to Gdańsk also costs 150zł for around three hours.
- TLK trains are slower but usually cost much less. The journey from Warsaw to Kraków costs 62zł and takes three to five hours. The journey from Warsaw to Gdańsk costs 63zł and takes four to five hours.
- Children under four travel for free. Older children and students up to age 26 are usually entitled to some form of discount, but the system is complicated and seems to change year by year. Your best bet is to ask whether you qualify for a cheaper fare when you buy your ticket.
- If you're over 60 and planning to do a lot of travelling, ask about the Bilet dla Seniora (senior ticket) that provides a 30% discount on 1st- and 2nd-class seats. You'll need photo ID that confirms your age.
If you’re planning on travelling a lot, consider buying an InterRail pass. Passes are only available to those resident in Europe for at least six months and are priced in three bands: youth (under 26), adult 2nd class and adult 1st class. Tickets cover three/four/six/eight day’s travel within one month and range from €51 to €114 for 2nd-class travel. See www.interrail.net for more information.
Many Polish train stations have undergone major renovations since 2010, and those in Kraków, Poznań and Warsaw are now attached to gleaming shopping malls. Others, such as those in Wrocław or Tarnów, are historic buildings in their own right. Most larger stations have left-luggage desks and lockers (fees are around 12zł to 16zł per bag per 24 hours).
Station platforms (peron) are numbered, but there are usually also track (tor) numbers if there is a line on either side of the platform – check you have the right one. If there are no overhead signs displaying the destination of the next train, look for the signboards on the sides of the carriages.