Poland Information

Poland, the largest of the former Eastern European states, has become one of the major destinations for travellers. Its beauty can be admired in both its old cities and in the wild scenery of its national parks and nature reserves. The country's regions are largely divided into horizontal bands: the Baltic Coast and the hilly post-glacial lake district. Central Poland is split into northern lowlands and southern uplands, including the Kraków-Wielun Upland with its limestone areas, caves and medieval castles. The Carpathian Mountains, including the Tatras, lie in the extreme south; their mountain scenery, folklore and sports facilities contributing to their charm.

Poland is a nation with a proud cultural heritage, and theatre, music and opera companies abound. It is the native soil for composer, Frederick Chopin, scientist Marie Curie (neé Skladowska) and astronomer Nicholas Copernicus. The former textile city of Lodz is proud of its film school, alma mater to directors Roman Polanski and Krzysztof Kieslowski. There is also a strong tradition of graphic design and glassware. 

Poland shares borders to the east with the Russian Federation, Belarus, Ukraine and Lithuania, to the south with the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic and to the west with Germany. To the north lies the Baltic Sea. The Baltic coast provides over 500km (300 miles) of sandy beaches, bays, steep cliffs and dunes. Northern Poland is dominated by lakes, islands and wooded hills joined by many rivers and canals. The Mazurian Lake District to the northeast is particularly beautiful. Lake Hancza, the deepest lake in Poland, is located in this district. The River Vistula (Wisła) has cut a wide valley from Gdansk on the Baltic coast to Warsaw in the heart of the country. The rest of the country rises slowly to the Sudety Mountains, which run along the border with the Czech Republic, and the Tatra mountains, which separate Poland from the Slovak Republic. To the west, the River Oder, with Szczecin at its mouth, forms the northwest border with Germany.
Elections in summer 1989 ushered in eastern Europe's first post-Communist government. Poland is a member of the European Union and has achieved success in creating a market economy and attracting foreign investment. Growth is slow-moving and growing pains are apparent in the high unemployment rate and mass exodus of qualified people to other countries in search of a decent wage, but the potential exists for a healthier economy.

PolandKEY FACTS

Location: Central Europe
Population: 38.1 million
Capital: Warsaw
Language Spoken: Polish is the official language. There are a few small German-speaking communities primarily in the southwest. English and Russian are also spoken.
Country Dialling Code: +48
Currency & Money: Zloty (PLN; symbol zl)
Foreign currency can be exchanged at all border crossing points, hotels and bureaux de change, some of which are open 24 hours. Hotel rates and goods in large stores may also be listed in Euros. American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are accepted in larger establishments. Cash can be obtained from Visa credit cards at banks. Travellers cheques are readily exchanged. To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take traveller's cheques in Pounds Sterling
Weather: Temperate with warm summers, crisp, sunny autumns and cold winters. Snow covers the mountainous area in the south of Poland (mid December to April). Rain falls throughout the year.The Polish winter is reasonably harsh, particularly towards the east of the country, with January days in most places around 0°C (32°F) and a bit lower at night. Summers are mildly warm, with average July highs of 24°C (75°F) for most of the country, although it can be wet. Poland's Baltic coast trades in milder winters for cooler summers.

WHEN TO GO

A country this size has enough to make it a year-round destination, however most people visit when the weather is warmer, namely 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 the tourist hot spots such as the Baltic beaches, Masurian Lakes, and Carpathian Mountains. The likes of Kraków and Warsaw can also seem overrun with visitors then. Naturally during 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.

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 underway 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 camp sites and youth hostels lock 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.

TOP THINGS TO DO

• Go to the theatre in any of the major cities where there will be local or national companies in residence.

Hike in some of Poland's national parks and nature reserves. Nature enthusiasts can visit the Kampinos National Park, near Warsaw. Further afield, Bieszczady National Park, part of the Carpathian mountain range, contains the surviving fragments of the Great Bieszczady Forest, home to the brown bear, lynx, wolf and wildcat. 

• Discover the Bialowieza National Park (website: www.bpn.com.pl); it is the last major refuge of the European bison as well as being home to many other rare forest-dwelling species and trees over 400 years old. Nature trails, cycling and exploring with a ranger are on offer.

• Jump on a horse. Horses have traditionally been popular in Poland and horse riding enthusiasts have a large choice of riding schools to choose from. Polish stud farms are internationally renowned and welcome guests. Inexperienced riders may prefer riding a Hucul - a very rare Polish mountain pony.

• Pick mushrooms in the early autumn in any unprotected forested regions. Mushroom picking has been a Polish tradition for centuries and several delicious varieties exist.  

Climb or ski in the Tatras. Zakopane is a centre for climbing and winter sports where a fairytale atmosphere pervades with its ‘gingerbread' wooden cottages; some inhabitants still wear traditional Goralskie dress. Visit the beautiful Koscieliska Valley, the mountain of Kasprowy Wierch and the glacial lake Morskie Oko.

• Ride in a horse-drawn sleigh and be sure to have either warmed beer or heated honey vodka afterwards. Snow falls throughout Poland so these types of rides are on offer throughout the country.

• Escape to the beach resorts of the Pomeranian coast, such as Kolobrzeg (large and fashionable) or Leba (with a beach of fabulous white sand). The beach connects to the Slowinski National Park (website: www.slowinskipn.pl), known for its giant ‘wandering sand dunes' which can shift several metres each year. 

• Head further east to the Hel Peninsula, which also has some good beaches and camp sites.

Sail a boat in the Mazurian Lake District (consisting of over 1,000 lakes), also a favourite angling destination. A popular lake-trail can take you through several lakes and canals. Local towns such as Mikolajki and Gizycko host sea shanty festivals and other lively events. 

• Slip into the water in a canoe in the Brodnica or Mysliborz lakelands, or the rivers Brda, Czarna Hancza and Obra.

• Pay tribute to the victims of the holocaust at Oswiecim-Birkenau (Auschwitz-Birkenau) concentration camp, 70km (43 miles) from Cracow. It's a sobering experience, but helps give you perspective on a grave and sensitive historical time (website: www.auschwitz.org.pl).  

TOP THINGS TO SEE

• Visit Warsaw, where the Old Town was reconstructed from original plans and paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries, after being decimated during WWII. Spend time in the Old Town square (rynek) by visiting an outdoor cafe, checking out the Historical Museum (website: www.mhw.pl) or perusing the antiques shops.

• Take an elevator to the 30th floor observation deck of the Palace of Culture and Science for a great view of Warsaw. This edifice was gifted to Poland in 1953 from Stalin as a symbol of 'Polish-Soviet friendship' (website: www.pkin.pl). 

• Soak up history via a walk through the Warsaw Rising Museum; it's an educational and interactive experience. The museum features films, testimonials, slides and artefacts from the time when Warsaw residents were active in the resistance (website: www.1944.pl).

• See the manor house where Frederick Chopin was born in Zelazowa Wola, 53km (32 miles) west of Warsaw. Attractions include an attractive park, summertime recitals and 19th-century instruments and furniture (website: www.infochopin.pl).
 
• Visit the Renaissance-style market square in Zamosc, which is one of the many designated UNESCO sites in Poland.

• Walk through the Cracow Gate, built in the late 14th century and remodeled in 1782. It is considered to be an architectural symbol of Lublin and is the primary entrance into the Old Town; it also houses a historical museum (website: www.zamek.lublin.pl).

• Immerse yourself in Cracow's charming medieval atmosphere; it is one of UNESCO's 12 most significant historical sites. In the middle of the central Market Square (the largest in Europe) is the Cloth Hall, which was reconstructed in the 19th century from 14th-century merchants' stalls. 
• Still in Cracow, see the Jagiellonian University, founded in 1364, and one of the oldest in Europe. Cracow's former Jewish quarter, Kazimierz, houses the Remuh Synagogue (1553). Overlooking the city is Wawel Castle, with the world's largest collection of 16th-century tapestries and, beside it, the gothic cathedral (website: www.krakow.pl/en).

• Discover the Wieliczka Salt Mine. Of the 350km (217 miles) of corridors, 2km (1.2 miles) are accessible to visitors. The tourist route is 64 to 135m (209 to 443ft) underground and passes through impressive chambers, bas-reliefs, chandeliers and a chapel sculpted in the salt (website: www.kopalnia.pl).

• See the Icon of the Black Madonna, also known as the miraculous painting of Our Lady, in the huge Jasna Góra monastery complex at Czestochowa, 100km (60 miles) north of Kraków (reputed to have been painted by St Luke) (website: www.jasnagora.pl).
• Locate Wroclaw (Breslau)'s 100 bridges, many of which cross canals or connect 12 of the cities islands. Important sights include the 15th-century Town Hall, now the Historical Museum; the Ethnographic Museum in the Royal Palace; and the Cathedral on Ostrow Tumski (Cathedral Island) (website: www.wroclaw.pl).

• Head to Gdansk to see the largest gothic church in Poland: St Mary's Basilica. The beach resort at nearby Sopot has Europe's longest pier (500m/1,640ft). Within easy reach are the forested Hel Peninsula, the Kashubian Lakeland, and the Teutonic castles at Malbork and Gniew.

• Experience the medieval walled town of Torun by walking through the gothic Old Town (website: www.torun.pl).

TRAVEL TO POLAND

Flying
Poland’s national airline is LOT Polish Airlines (LO) (website: www.lot.com). From London to Warsaw is 2 hours 25 minutes; from New York is 8 hours 35 minutes.
Main Airports
Warsaw Fryderyka Chopina Airport (WAW) (website: www.polish-airports.com) is 10km (6 miles) southwest of the city. To/from the airport: Buses and taxis are available (journey time - 20 to 40 minutes by bus; 20 to 30 minutes by taxi). Facilities: Post office, banks, bureaux de change, bars, restaurants, left luggage, tourist information services, car hire and duty-free shops.

Kraków (KRK) (Balice John Paul II) (website: www.lotnisko-balice.pl) is 14km (9 miles) west of the city centre. To/from the airport: Buses, trains and taxis are available (journey time - 15 minutes by train; 35 minutes by bus; 20 minutes by taxi). Facilities: Bar, restaurant, bureau de change, car hire and duty-free shops.

Wroclaw (WRO) (Strachowice/Copernicus) (website: www.airport.wroclaw.pl) is 8km (5 miles) from the city centre. To/from the airport: Buses and taxis are available (journey time - 30 minutes by bus; 20 minutes by taxi). Facilities: Duty-free shops, bar, restaurant, car hire.

Katowice (KTW) (website: www.gtl.com.pl) is 34km (21 miles) from the city. To/from the airport: Buses and taxis are available (journey time - 40 minutes by shuttle bus or taxi to city centre; 2 hours 10 minutes by road to Cracow). Facilities: Bank, bureaux de change, duty-free shops, restaurants and car hire.

Gdansk (GDN) (Lech Walesa Airport) (website: www.airport.gdansk.pl) is  10 km (6 miles) southwest of Gdansk. To/from the airport: Buses and taxis are available (journey time - 25 to 40 minutes by road to Gdansk city centre). Facilities: Bureau de change, duty-free shops, post office, tourist information, restaurant and car hire.
Ferry
Main ports: The Port of Gdansk (website: www.portgdansk.pl) is not only a major Baltic Sea port to enter Poland, but is also where Lech Walesa started the Solidarity movement with the ship workers. The Port of Gdynia (website: www.port.gdynia.pl), just north of the Port of Gdansk, also welcomes ships, containers and cruiseliners.  

Polferries; website: www.polferries.com) operates between Poland and Sweden, Denmark and Finland. Tickets can also be purchased from travel agents or at the ferry terminal.
Rail
Polskie Koleje Państwowe (Polish State Railways), in Poland only;website: www.pkp.pl) operates EuroCity trains between Poland and a number of major European cities. All services from Western Europe to Poland pass through the Czech Republic, Germany or the Slovak Republic. The main routes link Warsaw with Berlin and Cologne, Budapest, Prague and Vienna. There is a car-sleeper service from the Hook of Holland to Poznan/Warsaw. There are also rail services to Moscow, Kiev and St Petersburg.
Rail Passes
InterRail: offers unlimited first- or second-class travel in up to 30 European countries for European residents of over six months with two pass options. The Global Pass allows travel for 22 days, one month, five days in 10 days or 10 days in 22 days across all countries. The One-Country Pass offers travel for three, four, six or eight days in one month in any of the countries except Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro. Travel is not allowed in the passenger's country of residence. Travellers under 26 years receive a reduction. Children's tickets are reduced by about 50%. Supplements are required for some high-speed services, seat reservations and couchettes. Discounts are offered on Eurostar and some ferry routes. Available from Rail Europe (website: www.raileurope.co.uk/inter-rail).

Eurail: for those travelling from outside Europe and North Africa the Eurail pass (website: www.eurail.com) offers similar discounts.
Road
Poland is best reached from the Czech Republic and Germany. The E30 connects Warsaw to Berlin.

The main coach service connecting dozens of European cities to Poland is Eurolines (tel: 0870 580 8080, in the UK; website: www.eurolines.com). Eurolines offers travel passes lasting 15 or 30 days.

TRAVEL AROUND POLAND

Flying
Domestic flights are operated by LOT Polish Airlines (website: www.lot.com) and Centralwings (website: www.centralwings.com). There is a comprehensive network linking all major cities.
Rail
Cheap and efficient InterCity trains are operated by Polskie Koleje Państwowe (Polish State Railways), in Poland only; website: www.pkp.pl) and link all parts of the country in a network radiating from Warsaw. There are two classes of travel and trains are often classified as Inter-City, Express or Local; for comfort and speed stay on Inter-City (IC) or Express (Ex) routes.
Rail Passes
InterRail One-Country Pass: offers travel for three, four, six or eight days in one month within Poland. Travel is not allowed in the passenger's country of residence. Travellers under 26 years receive a reduction. Children's tickets are reduced by about 50%. Supplements are required for some high-speed services, seat reservations and couchettes. Discounts are offered on Eurostar and some ferry routes. Available from Rail Europe (website: www.raileurope.co.uk/inter-rail).

Eurail Poland Pass: available to visitors travelling from outside of Europe. Offers unlimited rail travel within the country for five, eight, 10 or 15 days' travel within a one-month period.
Road
Traffic drives on the right, and standard international traffic signs are used. Major inter-city routes use the prefix ‘E' and motorways use ‘A'. Most petrol stations located along international routes are open 24 hours a day. Road quality ranges from smooth brand new motorways to narrow, pot-holed single lanes.

Bus: There are good regional bus and coach services operated by Polish Motor Communications (PPKS), in Poland only;website: www.pks.warszawa.pl).

Car hire: Self-drive cars are available at the airport or through various car hire offices in town centres. All major firms are available. The minimum age for hiring a car is 21.

Regulations:
The minimum driving age is 17. Speed limits are 50kph (31mph) in built-up areas, 90km (55mph) on other roads, 100kph (62mph) on major roads and 130kph (81mph) on motorways. Seat belts and warning triangles are compulsory. Trams have the right of way. From 1 October to 1 March, all vehicles should have their lights switched on at all times.

Emergency breakdown service: For roadside assistance, contact the Polish Automobile and Motorway Federation, Polski Zwiazek Motorowy (PZM), in Poland only; website: www.pzmtravel.com.pl).

Documentation: Tourists travelling in their own cars should have vehicle registration cards, their national driving licence (driving licences of EU nationals are accepted) and third party insurance documents. Green Card motor insurance is necessary for vehicles coming from outside the EU and Switzerland. An International Driving Permit is required for those from outwith the European Union.
Town and City Transport
Warsaw: In Warsaw, the Municipal Transport Board (ZTM) is responsible for the bus, metro and tram services. ZTM tickets are valid for all services and can be purchased as a single ride or as a day, week or monthly pass. Some buses allow the purchase of tickets on board, but it is best to buy before you use any transport. 

Cracow: The MPK is the transport board responsible for public buses and trams in Cracow and the system works similarly to the one in Warsaw, except there is no metro. Public transport tickets are available in all towns at green Ruch kiosks, hotels and post offices. 

Most public transport operates from 0530-2300; night buses, in the major cities, run from 2300-0500. 

Taxis are available in all main towns. They are usually found at ranks or can be ordered by phone. There is a surcharge from 2300-0500 and for journeys out of town, as well as at weekends. Taxi drivers may insist on payment in hard currency. Tipping is welcomed.

POPULAR PLACES TO VISIT

Krakow: came through WWII unscathed; the 20th century's impact having been confined to acid rain. It has retained a wealth of old architecture from different periods; the tallest structures dominating Kraków's skyline are the spires of old churches. It's a city alive with character and soul. Ringed by parkland, the Old Town is both charming and compact. The Main Market Sq is flanked by historic buildings, museums and churches. St Adalbert's Church is one of the oldest, dating back to the 10th century. And the museum of museums, Czartoryski Museum, exhibits a fascinating and impressive collection of European art.
Warsaw: is essentially a post-war city. Its handful of historic precincts have been meticulously reconstructed, but most of its urban landscape is modern, from the dull products of the Stalin era to the more creative efforts of recent years. A decade after the fall of communism, Warsaw has turned into a thrilling, busy city swiftly catching up with the West. It's Poland's most cosmopolitan, dynamic and progressive urban centre, dotted with luxury hotels, elegant shops and a diverse range of services.
Torun: is rich with history and Gothic architecture, and has one of the best-preserved old towns in Pomerania, packed with monumental red-brick edifices, baroque facades and vaulted roofs. And while the Old Town has a sleepy country-town feel, the central square district buzzes with night life.


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