Top events in Poland

April
05

Easter is a huge celebration in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic country and is celebrated all over Poland. In Warsaw, the day is marked by...

April
22

One of Poland’s favourite running events, the Cracovia Marathon has become increasingly popular with international participants in recent years...

May
01

Juwenalia is a go-for-broke carnival in Cracow when students take over the city for four days and three nights, with street dancing, fancy-dress...

Old town, Warsaw, Poland
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Old town, Warsaw, Poland

© www.123rf.com / Artur Bogacki

Poland Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

312,685 sq km (120,728 sq miles).

Population

38.2 million (2014).

Population density

122.8 per sq km.

Capital

Warsaw.

Government

Republic since 1918 (democracy since 1989).

Head of state

President Bronisław Komorowski since 2010.

Head of government

Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz since 2014.

Electricity

230 volts AC, 50Hz; continental plugs with two round pins.

One of Europe's most underrated countries, Poland offers a huge amount for travellers of all stripes - from the wild scenery of its mountainous south, with its great skiing and hiking, to the stunning Old Towns of Cracow, Zamość and Gdańsk and the wilderness of the Białowieża National Park and the Great Masurian Lakes in the country's north.

Modernising and changing fast, the Polish capital, Warsaw, was almost totally destroyed during WWII, when it was home to Europe's most notorious ghetto. Today the city is a combination of Soviet and contemporary, with a painstakingly recreated Old Town and an upbeat, progressive population. Yet most tourists head straight for the country's biggest draw, Cracow, the country's royal capital and a stunningly preserved architectural marvel that has somehow managed to survive the many wars that have seen Poland used as a battleground. Its scores of notable churches, monasteries and abbeys make it a jewellery box of Gothic and Renaissance, and a walk through Cracow’s Old Town, included on UNESCO's World Heritage List since 1978, is like a walk back in time.

Poland is a nation with a proud cultural heritage, in all spheres. The former textile city of Łódź has its famous film school, alma mater to directors Roman Polański and Krzysztof Kieślowski. Toruń boasts of being the hometown of astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, and Warsaw claims Marie Curie and Frederick Chopin as natives. The country's biggest port and northern boomtown, Gdańsk, is best known as the birthplace of Lech Wałęsa's Solidarity movement, which was founded in 1980 and eventually lead the country out of communism and into democracy in 1989.

Poland's scenic beauty is as varied as it is extraordinary. The Baltic coast has some excellent sandy beaches, as well as the Słowiński National Park with its ethereal forests, bogs and sand dunes. In the country's northeast are the Great Masurian Lakes, a playground for boat enthusiasts of all kinds with its hundreds of pristine lakes broken up by dense forest. The Cracow-Wielun Upland with its limestone areas, caves and medieval castles is another highlight, while perhaps most beautiful area of all is around the Carpathian Mountains in the far south. They make up the highest and largest mountain range in central Europe and form Poland's most scenic and rugged region. Their forests and snowy mountains are a magnet for hikers, skiers and cyclists. And because of its remoteness and relative inaccessibility over the centuries, this `forgotten corner' has been able to preserve its strong regional culture – as well as a growing population of 120 or so brown bears.

Polish cuisine may not compete on the world stage with the likes of, say, French or Chinese, but it does have its moments. Polish food is hearty and filling, rich in meat and game. Thick soups and sauces proliferate, and potatoes and dumplings are abundant accompaniments; favourite seasonings include marjoram, dill and caraway seeds. As for drink, Poland produces no wine but many decent beers. It truly comes to the fore, however, in the ubiquitous wódka (vodka).

Travel Advice

Last updated: 01 March 2015

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.


Crime

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.

Local Travel

Public transport tickets must be validated at the start of a journey. You will be fined on the spot if you are travelling with an invalid ticket, usually 180zl (around £36). You can buy tickets at most newspaper stands and kiosks with a sign reading ‘Bilety’ or ticket machines distributed in cities.

Road Travel

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 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 fines 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.

In 2013 there were 3,357 road deaths in Poland (source: DfT). This equates to 8.7 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares to the UK average of 2.7 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2013.

Driving on Polish roads can be hazardous. Be prepared for diversions due to numerous roadworks.

Poland is a major east-west transit route for heavy vehicles. There are few dual carriageways and even main roads between major towns and cities can be narrow and poorly surfaced. Streetlights, even in major cities, are weak. Local driving standards are poor: speed limits, traffic lights and road signs are often ignored and drivers rarely indicate before manoeuvring.

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.

See the European Commission,AA and RAC guides to driving in Poland.

Dual nationals

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).

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