Poland travel guide
Travellers to Poland will be captivated and moved by its remarkable history of heroic resilience and tragedy, and delight in the charming character of its cities and in the natural beauty of the countryside. From romantic tales of medieval knights, battles, kings and splendid castles, to the horrors and destruction of World War II, from its determined stand against communism to today's modern outlook and booming economy, Poland abounds with evidence of both historical turbulence and a bright future to come.
Poland was the country most devastated by World War II in Eastern Europe, losing about a quarter of its population and almost its entire Jewish community. The aftermath of the war greatly influenced the character of the country. Former Jewish centres in the cities and the stark concentration camps where the Nazis carried out their extermination atrocities remain as the most stirring reminders of the nation's tragedies. Cities destroyed by the war had to be rebuilt from scratch and the many meticulously restored buildings and historic old towns are testimony to the pride and determination of a strong and durable nation.
Warsaw, the capital, was almost totally destroyed by the war and now presents an unusual mix of beautifully restored historic buildings, communist-era concrete structures, and modern fashion and consumerism. The maritime city of Gdañsk, home to the historic garrison at Westerplatte and the legendary Lenin shipyards, was the stage for both the beginning of the Second World War and the disintegration of Eastern European communism. But it is Krakow, the ancient royal capital, that draws the crowds, rivalling the elegance of cities like Prague and Vienna. Having largely escaped the destruction of the war it retains its charming medieval character: the Royal Castle, the grand Market Square, the old Jewish quarter and the nearby Nazi death camps of Auschwitz are all steeped in historical importance.
The unspoilt Baltic coastline and the splendour of the rugged mountain ranges of the Tatras will impress outdoor enthusiasts, with a variety of activities and scenery to provide a peaceful and relaxing break from the intensity of the country's history. Along with the legendary hospitality of Polish people, a sense of nationhood to which the Catholic Church is fundamental, and a strong musical and cultural sense of identity, its tourist infrastructure is flourishing and the country is experiencing a remarkable increase in the number of visitors to its shores.
The official currency is Zloty (PLN), divided into 100 groszy. Poland is essentially a cash country, and it is sometimes difficult to use credit cards in the cities, and almost impossible in rural areas. Credit cards are, however, accepted in places frequented by tourists. ATMs are available in major towns and cities. Money (preferably US Dollars or Euros) can be exchanged in the cities and larger towns at banks, hotels or bureaux called 'kantors', which offer the best rates. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 3pm and some are open on Saturday till 1pm.
Language : The national language is Polish. English is widely understood in tourist areas.
Electricity : Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. The standard two-pin European style plugs are used.
Entry Requirements :
US nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days. Passports must be valid for three months beyond period of intended stay.
British passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject', 'British Overseas Territories Citizen', and Identity Cards issued by Gibraltar must be valid for the duration of intended stay. British passports with any other endorsement must be valid for three months beyond period of intended stay. Visas are not required for British Citizens, British Overseas Territories Citizens, British Subjects, and those with Identity Cards issued by Gibraltar. Those with any other endorsement in their passports can stay in the country visa-free for up to 90 days.
Canadian nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days. Passports must be valid for three months beyond period of intended stay.
Australians require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
South African passport holders require a visa for travel to Poland. Passports must be valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay.
Irish nationals require a passport valid on arrival, but no visa is necessary.
New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay. A visa is not needed for up to 90 days.
Passport/Visa Note :
A passport valid for at least three months after period of intended stay is needed for those who require a visa. Generally, visa exempt nationals must have a passport valid for period of intended stay (other than EEA nationals). The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all.
Travel Health :
There are few health risks associated with travel to Poland. Those visiting forested areas are advised to seek medical advice about inoculations for tick borne encephalitis, and take tick bite prevention measures due to the presence of Lyme disease. Vaccinations may be recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid, although those eating only in restaurants and hotels can safely disregard the typhoid vaccination.
Poland has a reciprocal health agreement with the UK and most EU countries, whose citizens are entitled to low-cost emergency medical treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), but full health insurance cover is still advised. Medical facilities and standards of health care are good, but not many nurses or doctors speak English. If you take prescription medication along, be sure to bring a signed and dated letter from a doctor detailing what it is and why it is needed.
Tipping is not customary in Poland, but small gratuities of 10 percent or so can be offered for excellent service. In restaurants, when your bill is collected, saying 'thank you' signals to the waiter/waitress that they can keep the change.
Safety Information :
Tourists should be alert to the risk of robbery in tourist areas in large cities in Poland, particularly in the vicinity of hotels, markets and banks. Vigilance against theft should also be exercised at central railway stations, as well as on overnight long distance trains, and when travelling on public transport between Warsaw's Frederic Chopin Airport and central Warsaw. Avoid walking alone at night. Tourist sites, areas near big hotels, money exchange facilities and ATMs are popular with thieves. Having said that, visits to Poland are usually trouble free, and the precautions travellers should take are merely the safety measures advised for cities all over the world.
Local Customs :
Jay walking is an offence in Poland, and is punishable with a fine. Public drunkenness is severely viewed; police will take drunk people to drying out clinics until sober and the person will be charged for the stay, and driving after drinking alcohol is punishable by law.
Poland has an interesting mix of the old and the new, and this is apparent in the business world too. Women can expect a kiss on the hand rather than a handshake from the older generation and one can expect to be warmly offered drinks during meetings; it is impolite to refuse. Although the Polish are hospitable and friendly, business is still conducted formally. Punctuality is important, dress should be formal and conservative (a suit and tie the norm) and business cards are exchanged. Use titles and first names unless otherwise indicated. English is widely spoken, though attempting some basic Polish phrases will be appreciated. Business hours in Poland are traditionally 7am to 3pm Monday to Friday, with a long lunch taken after 3pm. Western influence, however, means that hours are starting to shift to the more common 9am to 5pm.
The international access code for Poland is +48. Mobile phones work throughout the country; local operators use GSM and 3G networks. Internet cafes are available in most towns.
Duty Free :
Travellers to Poland over 17 years arriving from non-EU countries do not have to pay duty on 250 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 1 litre wine and 1 litre spirits; cosmetics and medicines for personal use; gifts up to the value of €175. Travellers to Poland arriving from within the EU do not have to pay duty on 800 cigarettes or 200 cigars or 1kg smoking tobacco; 10 litres spirits, 90 litres wine and 110 litres beer. Prohibited items include birds and poultry arriving from countries infected with Avian influenza. The export of all articles of artistic, historic or cultural value are subject to special regulations.
John Paul II International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 7 miles (11km) west of Krakow.
Time: Local time is GMT +1 (GMT + 2 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
Contacts: Tel: +48 (0) 12 639 33 01; or +48 (0) 12 639 33 22.
Getting to the city: City bus services 208 and 192 leave from the roundabout in front of the passenger terminal and leave regularly to the city centre. Taxis are also available outside the arrivals hall and take 20 minutes to get to the city centre.
A shuttle train operates between the airport and the city centre. The Kraków-Balice train station is located 200m from the passenger terminal and operated a daytime service every 30 minutes.
Car rental: Car rental companies include Avis, Budget, Europcar and Hertz.
Facilities: There are banks, bureaux de change and ATMs at the airport. Other facilities include restaurants, bars, and shops, duty-free, child facilities, tourist information and hotel reservations desk, WiFi and a post office. A business lounge and VIP lounge is also available. Disabled facilities are good; those with special needs should contact their airline in advance.
Parking: Parking at John Paul II International Airport starts at PLN 5 every 15 minutes for short-term parking, and PLN 7 per hour for long-term parking. Economy parking is also available at PLN 10 per day.
Departure tax: None.
Warsaw Chopin Airport
Location: The airport is situated six miles (10km) southwest of Warsaw.
Time: Local time is GMT +1 (GMT +2 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
Contacts: Tel: +48 (22) 650 4220.
Transfer between terminals: Terminals are within walking distance of each other.
Getting to the city: Municipal buses 175, 148, 188 and 331 operate daily from 4.35am to around 11pm ferrying commuters to Warsaw city centre and the right riverbank. Some hotels provide a shuttle bus service to and from the hotel on request. The Polski Express bus provides connections to the biggest polish towns. The bus stop is on the Arrivals Hall level of Terminal 2.
Car rental: Avis, Budget, and Hertz, along with a number of other companies, operate from the airport outside arrivals in Terminal 1.
Airport Taxis: A taxi stand is located in front of the Arrivals Hall.
Facilities: There are shops, bars and restaurants at the airport. Other facilities include banks, bureaux de change, ATMs, a post office, and tourist information and hotel reservations kiosks.
Parking: Short-stay parking at P1 and P3 parking lots starts at PLN 10 per hour for the first three hours. P1 level 0 and P4 is the long-stay lot and charges a daily rate of PLN 100 and PLN 60 respectively, which decreases the longer you stay.
Departure tax: None.
Poland's climate is moderate and temperate, characterised by cold winters and warm summers, with continental influences from the east and maritime influences from the west. The weather in Poland is highly changeable, with great inconsistency from year to year (and even from day to day in some seasons). There are, however, four distinct seasons, and spring and summer are usually lovely in Poland. Winters become increasingly severe inland from the Baltic coast, with January temperatures in Warsaw averaging 23°F (-5°C). In summer it is hotter inland, with July temperatures in Warsaw averaging 66°F (19°C).
Rain can be expected throughout the year, particularly in the southern mountains and Poland is frequently cloudy and foggy. The best time to visit Poland is during the warmer months of spring and summer, between May and August. Early autumn, in September and October, is also a pleasant and mild time of year to visit. The peak tourist season is in July and August but travellers should note that many Poles take their annual leave at this time, making the tourist hotspots in Krakow and Sopot overcrowded in the height of summer. Budget travellers should consider travelling outside of the peak season as everything tends to be cheaper.
Polish National Tourist Office, Warsaw: +48 (0)22 536 7070 or
United States Embassy, Warsaw: +48 (0)22 504 2000.
British Embassy, Warsaw: +48 (0)22 311 0000.
Canadian Embassy, Warsaw: +48 (0)22 584 3100.
Australian Embassy, Warsaw: +48 (0)22 521 3444.
South African Embassy, Warsaw: +48 (0)22 622 1031.
Irish Embassy, Warsaw: +48 (0)22 849 6633.
New Zealand Embassy, Warsaw: +48 (0)22 521 0500.
Polish Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 234
Foreign Embassies in Poland
Polish Embassy, London, United Kingdom: + 44 (0)207 291 3520.
Polish Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 0468.
Polish Embassy, Sydney, Australia: +61 (0)2 9363 9816.
Polish Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 430 2631.
Polish Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 283 0855.
Polish Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 499 7844.
Poland Emergency Numbers
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