Poland travel guide
Underrated but increasingly popular, Poland offers a huge amount for travellers of all stripes – from the stunning old towns of Krakow, Zamość, Gdańsk and Wroclaw to the wilderness of the Białowieża National Park with its ubiquitous buffalos and epic vistas.
Home to Europe’s most infamous ghetto, Warsaw was almost totally destroyed during WWII, but the Polish capital is modernising fast. Today the city blends Soviet architecture and contemporary styles, with a painstakingly recreated old town and an upbeat, progressive population.
Perhaps the country’s biggest draw, though, is Krakow. The country’s former royal capital is a wonderfully preserved architectural marvel that has somehow managed to survive Poland’s many wars. Even the Nazis thought it was too beautiful to bomb. Jam-packed with churches, monasteries and abbeys in Gothic and Renaissance styles, the city became the first ever UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978 (an honour it shared with Quito, Ecuador).
Beyond Krakow are numerous signs of Poland’s proud cultural heritage: Łódź and its famous film school, from which Roman Polański and Krzysztof Kieślowski graduated; Toruń, the hometown of astronomer Nicholas Copernicus; and Warsaw, which lays claim to Marie Curie and Frederick Chopin. The country’s biggest port and northern boomtown, Gdańsk, is best known as the birthplace of Lech Wałęsa’s Solidarity movement, which led the country into democracy in 1989.
Poland’s scenic beauty is as varied as it is extraordinary. The Baltic coast is pretty, while Słowiński National Park is all ethereal forests, bogs and sand dunes. The Great Masurian Lakes in the northeast are popular for kayakers, with hundreds of pristine lakes broken up by dense forest. The Krakow-Wielun Upland with its limestone caves and medieval castles is another highlight, while the Carpathian Mountains in the far south are unremittingly beautiful.
And the food? Polish cuisine is hearty and filling, rich in meat and game. Thick soups such as Zurek are delicious, as are pierogi, or Polish dumplings. And as for the Polish vodka, one of the finest types in the world, what better way to wash all that rich food down?
312,685 sq km (120,728 sq miles).
38,593,161 (UN estimate 2016).
123.3 per sq km.
President Andrzej Duda since 2015.
Prime Minister Beata Maria Szydło since 2015.
230 volts AC, 50Hz; European plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Most visitors to Poland experience no difficulties. But you should be alert to the possibility of street crime and petty theft, and that foreigners may appear to be lucrative targets. Keep valuables and cash out of sight, especially in crowded areas and tourist spots where pickpockets and bag snatchers operate.
There is a higher risk of robbery at main rail stations and on all train services, especially overnight sleeper trains. You are most at risk while boarding and leaving trains.
Unregulated taxi drivers operate at the Warsaw airports and elsewhere. They commonly overcharge. Only use official taxis, which have the name and telephone number of the taxi company on the side of the door and on the top of the taxi. They will also show a rate card on the window of the vehicle. Taxis with a crest but no company name are not officially registered taxis.
Don’t leave drinks or food unattended and beware of accepting drinks from casual acquaintances. There have been a small number of reports of drinks being spiked and visitors having their valuables stolen.
Check your bill carefully when buying drinks in bars and nightclubs. There have been some reports of overcharging and of large amounts of money being charged to debit or credit cards.
Public transport tickets must be validated at the start of a journey. You will be fined on the spot if you’re travelling with an invalid ticket, usually 196 Polish zloty (around £40). You can buy tickets at most newspaper stands and kiosks with a sign reading ‘Bilety’ or ticket machines distributed in cities.
If you think you may qualify for a discounted fare (eg student or older person) always double-check the rules as some cheaper fares may only be available to Polish nationals. You’ll be fined if you travel with a reduced fare ticket that you’re not entitled to.
If you drive and have been drinking (even a single unit of alcohol) you can be charged. If you break Polish driving laws you should be prepared to pay an on the spot fine of 100PLN (around £20) in cash in Polish currency to the police. Foreigners who are settled in Poland and have a permanent address may be fined with a credit ticket that can be paid later.
Pedestrians and cyclists must wear a reflective item between dusk and dawn when outside a built-up area, regardless of the weather. Anyone hit by a car or a bike when not wearing a reflective item is liable to be held responsible for the accident. Police may impose a 100PLN (around £20) fine on those not wearing reflective items.
A system of toll collection is in place on selected sections of motorways, expressways and national roads. Detailed information on the system is available on the toll operator website.
Poland ranks high among European Union countries for road fatalities. In 2015 there were 2,938 road deaths in Poland (source: Department for Transport).
This equates to 7.7 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in the same year.
Poland is a major east-west transit route for heavy vehicles. The road network is being constantly upgraded, and roadworks are frequent, particularly in summer. Even some main roads between major towns and cities can be narrow and poorly surfaced, making driving after dark particularly challenging.
Be aware when motorists are turning right on a green filter arrow, pedestrians on any pedestrian crossing will also have a green light, and have priority.
According to EU law, driving licences issued by any EU member state are mutually recognised in other EU member states. If you are moving abroad, you cannot register your new address on your British driving licence. See the DVLA website for more information.
It is a legal requirement to carry a driving licence, ID, original vehicle-registration papers, ownership documents and insurance papers at all times. You will need to present these documents if you are stopped by the police and when crossing non-Schengen borders. This also applies to rental vehicles. If you do not have these papers the police may impound your vehicle and charge you for this. All vehicles driven on public roads in Poland must meet local technical requirements.
Seat belts must be used in both front and back seats.
Using a mobile phone while driving (unless ‘hands free’) is banned.
If you are a dual Polish-British national and are arrested or detained in Poland, you will be deemed to be Polish by the Polish authorities. You will have the same rights as any other Polish citizen in these circumstances (including the right to legal representation).