Polish road infrastructure is extensive but generally poorly maintained, and high speed motorways currently in place are insufficient. However, public transport is quite plentiful and inexpensive: buses and trams in cities, and charter buses and trains for long distance travel.
Polish national carrier LOT has daily connections between the biggest cities with a hub in Warsaw. Other option is Eurolot which connects other bigger cities directly.
In Poland, the national railway carriers are PKP InterCity (Polskie Koleje Państwowe) and Przewozy Regionalne. There are few local carriers that belongs to voivodships or major cities.
Train tickets are quite economical, but travel conditions reflect the fact that much of the infrastructure is rather old.
However, you can expect a fast, clean and modern connection on the new IC (InterCity) routes, such as Warsaw - Katowice, Warsaw - Kraków, Warsaw - Poznań and Poznań - Szczecin or RE (RegioEkspress). Consider first class tickets, because the price difference between the second and first class is not so big. The jump in comfort may be substantial but then it is also common to see trains where 2nd class carriages are recently renovated and 1st class carriages are old and correspondingly low quality.
It's probably easiest to buy InterCity tickets online (see links below). You can also buy tickets online for Regio, RE, IR and TLK.
Tickets for any route can generally be purchased at any station. For a foreigner buying tickets, this can prove to be a frustrating experience, since only cashiers at international ticket offices (in major cities) can be expected to speak multiple languages. It is recommended that you buy your train tickets at a travel agency or online to avoid communication difficulties and long queues.
It may be easier to buy in advance during peak seasons (eg. end of holiday period, New Year, etc.) for trains that require reserved seating.
Please note, that tickets bought for E-IC/EC/EXpress/etc. trains are not valid for local/regional trains on the same routes. If you change trains between InterCity and Regional you have to buy a second ticket.
If you travel in a group with the Regional, you should get a 33% discount for the 2nd, 3rd and 4th person (offer Ty i 1,2,3).
If you are a weekend traveller think about the weekend offers, which are valid from Friday 6* or 7 p.m. till Monday 6 a.m.:
Please note that, if a weekend is extended for some national holiday, the ticket will also extend.
An early booking (7 days before departure) will be rewarded with additional discounts.
For some TLK trains you can travel with the offer Bilet Rewelacyjny - you will get an automatic discount (cca 20%) on chosen routes.
Poland has a very well developed network of private charter bus companies, which tend to be cheaper, faster, and more comfortable than travel by rail. For trips under 100 km, charter buses are far more popular than trains. However, they are more difficult to use for foreigners, because of language barrier.
There is an on-line timetable available. It available in English and includes bus and train options so you can compare: Online timetables are useful for planning, however, there are multiple carriers at each bus station and departure times for major cities and popular destinations are typically no longer then thirty minutes in-between.
Each city and town has a central bus station (formerly known as PKS), where the various bus routes pick up passengers; you can find their schedules there. Bus routes can also be recognized by signs on the front of the bus that typically state the terminating stop. This is easier if picking up a bus from a roadside stop, rather than the central depot. Tickets are usually purchased directly from the driver, but sometimes it's also possible to buy them at the station. If purchasing from the driver, simply board the bus, tell the driver your destination and he will inform you of the price. Drivers rarely speak English, so often he will print a receipt showing the amount. Buses are also a viable choice for long-distance and international travel; however, be aware that long-distance schedules are usually more limited than for trains.
In 2011 a new bus company called Polski Bus appeared in Poland with more 'western' approach - you can only buy tickets through the internet and the prices vary depending on the number of seats already sold. They have bus links between Warsaw and most of bigger Polish cities (as well as few neighboring capitals).
Driving in Poland may be stressful, frustrating and time-consuming, due to the poor quality of roads, lack of motorways and the driving style of the locals. Polish road network contains fewer highways and more ordinary two-lane roads than is common in western countries. A lot of these roads are far below capacity for the volume of traffic they are carrying and the average quality of the road surface is poor. Motorways are being constructed but Poland is towards the bottom of motorway kilometre rankings in Europe.
As a rule of thumb, assume 2h for each 100km of travel (allowing for unexpected delays). If you're driving through large cities, you can safely double that. Due to lack of motorways you will be passing through lots of smaller and bigger towns and often big cities which will significantly slow you down. When travelling between smaller cities or towns you will also routinely encounter slow moving vehicles, such as farm vehicles and tractors, and sometimes bicycles. Drunks, on foot or on bicycles, are a common sight. This includes having them weave through fast moving traffic at night.
Polish road death statistics are high for European standards and driver behaviour is sometimes very poor in terms of impatience, rudeness and absence of ordinary common sense or foresight. "Dynamic driving style" is expected. In practice this means that Poles often drive aggressively and recklessly, push in, "meander" through surrounding cars, routinely disrespect speed limits (frequently by a large margin) and overtake at less-than-safe distances. Overtaking is a critical and potentially dangerous maneuver that is commonly done in a hazardous way in Poland. In heavier traffic it's common to overtake "like 3rd" meaning that at some point during the maneuver there will be three cars (the overtaken, the overtaking, and the vehicle approaching from the opposite direction) next to each other side to side (or close to that). An unwritten code is followed to make this possible and "safe". The driver that is driving behind a slower vehicle and preparing to overtake expects that the slower vehicle will move to the right as far as feels comfortable also using the half-lane if it is separated with a dashed line and completely sure to be free of bicycles or pedestrians. The vehicle approaching from the opposite direction is advised or sometimes forced to also slightly move to the side. Such style of overtaking is illegal and unsafe. The above information is intended to explain the reality on the ground and help understand the traffic. Don't do it. If you hit someone or something on the shoulder, you get penalised and the driver who caused you to do it has long since driven off. Particularly reckless drivers will attempt to overtake "on four", when overtaking in both directions is taking place in roughly the same space. Tailgating is routine. Aggressive driving up behind you and flashing of headlights means "get out of my way". If you're driving on a two-lane road, which will be most of the time, you are under no obligation to do so. Just be aware that the driver may throw something out of his window, or suddenly step on his brakes once he has passed you. This is done to "teach you a lesson."
If you leave a safety gap in front of your car, it will be filled by another driver as he is trying to push through the traffic.
Poles work long hours so peak time in major cities frequently last till after 8pm. Roadworks are common as many new road developments are under way and roads require frequent maintenance due to damage inflicted by winter conditions and as the roads are often built to subpar quality to start with. Drivers in Warsaw are particularly aggressive with taxi drivers setting the tone.
Parking in cities and towns is often allowed on sidewalks, unless of course there is a no-parking sign. There is usually no provision for parking on the tar-sealed part of the street so do not leave your car parked at the curb, unless it is clearly a parking bay. Parking meters in cities and even smaller towns are widely used.
Some peculiarities of driving in Poland include:
Roads marked droga szybkiego ruchu (rapid transit road) are frequently anything but that. The rule of roads going through towns and not around them still applies and speed limits change rapidly from the allowable 90 kmh to 70, down to 40 and then up again to 70 within only a few hundreds of metres. Speed cameras (in unmarked dark gray pole-mounted boxes) are common (and the income from those goes to the local council.) Radar-equipped traffic police are also frequent but that apparently does little to deter the speeding drivers. In recent years there has been a resurgence in CB radio popularity. The drivers use it to warn each other about the traffic police.
Some drivers flash their headlights to warn those approaching from the opposite direction of a police control nearby (you are likely to encounter this custom in many other countries). It may also mean that you need to turn your lights on since dipped headlights need to be on at all times while driving. A "thank you" between drivers can be expressed by waving your hand or, when the distance is too great, by turning on blinkers or hazard lights for one or two blinks.
Hazard lights can be used to indicate failures but also as a way of showing that the vehicle is rapidly slowing down, or already stopped in a traffic jam on a highway.
A recent plague of flashing LED advertising hoardings has been spreading along Polish roads. As well as adding to the already high level of visual pollution these have a more immediate effect of distracting drivers during the day and blinding them at night, as advertisers leave output levels set at "high". Poland has no legislation to prevent this from happening, and the hoardings are placed at or only slightly above the line of sight. This, added to the condition of the roads and the behaviour of the locals, makes driving on rainy nights additionally difficult.
At the gas stations
PB means unleaded gasoline and ON means diesel. Petrol and diesel are roughly the same price. LPG is widely available, both at 'branded' gas stations and independent distributors and is labout half the price of petrol. Credit cards or debit cards can be used to pay almost at all stations so at independent distributors.
In Autumn or in Spring it is common for small traders to set up their stands with fruit or wild mushrooms along the roads. They don't always stay in places where it's safe for cars to stop and you should be careful of drivers stopping abruptly and be watchful if you want to stop yourself. Wild mushrooms are a speciality if you know how to cook them. A cautionary note: There is a slight possibility that the people who picked the mushrooms are not very good at telling the good ones from the poisonous, so eat at your own responsibility. Never feed wild mushrooms to small children as they are particularly vulnerable. Rely on the judgement of your Polish friends if you consider them reasonable people.
Use only those that are associated in a "corporation" (look for phone number and a logo on the side and on the top). There are no British style minicabs in Poland. Unaffiliated drivers are likely to cheat and charge you much more. Like everywhere, be especially wary of these taxis near international airports and train stations. They are called the "taxi mafia".
Because of travellers advice like this (and word of mouth), taxis with fake phone numbers can be seen on the streets, although recently this seems to have decreased - possibly the police have taken notice. Fake phone numbers are easily detected by locals and cater for the unsuspecting traveller. The best advice is to ask your Polish friends or your hotel concierge for the number of the taxi company they use and call them 10-15 minutes in advance (there's no additional cost). That's why locals will only hail taxis on the street in an emergency.
You can also find phone numbers for taxis in any city on the Internet, on municipal and newspaper websites. Some taxi companies, particularly in larger towns provide for a cab to be ordered online or with a text message. There are also stands, where you can call for their particular taxi for free, often found at train stations.
If you negotiate the fare with the driver you risk ending up paying more than you should. Better make sure that the driver turns the meter on and sets it to the appropriate fare (taryfa):
The prices would vary slightly between the taxi companies and between different cities, and there is a small fixed starting fee added on top of the mileage fare.
When crossing city limits (for example, when traveling to an airport located outside the city), the driver should change the tariff at the city limit.
Every taxi driver is obliged to issue a receipt when asked (at the end of the ride). You can inquire driver about a receipt (rachunek) before you get into cab, and resign if his reaction seems suspicious or if he refuses.
Bicycling is a good method to get a good impression of the scenery in Poland. The roads can sometimes be in quite a bad state and there is usually no hard shoulder or bicycle lane. Car drivers are careless but most do not necessarily want to kill cyclists on sight which seems to be the case in some other countries.
Rainwater drainage of both city streets is usually in dreadful condition and in the country it is simply non-existent. This means that puddles are huge and common, plus pot-holes make them doubly hazardous.
Especially in the south you can find some nice places for bicycling; e.g. along the rivers Dunajec (from Zakopane to Szczawnica) or Poprad (Krynica to Stary Sacz) or Lower Silesia (Zlotoryja - Swierzawa - Jawor). Specially mapped bike routes are starting to appear and there are specialised guide books available so ask a bicycle club for help and you should be just fine. Away from roads which join major cities and large towns you should be able to find some great riding and staying at agroturystyka (room with board at a farmer's house, for example) can be a great experience.
Hitchhiking in Poland is (on average) OK. Yes, it's slower than its Western (Germany) and Eastern (Lithuania) neighbors, but your waiting times will be quite acceptable! The best places to be picked up at are the main roads, mostly routes between Gdansk - Warsaw - Poznan and Krakow.
Use a cardboard sign and write the desired destination city name on it.
Do not try to catch a lift where it is forbidden to stop. Look on the verge of the road and there should be a dashed line painted there, not a solid one.
As in any country, you should be careful, there are several reports of Polish hitchhiking trips gone awry, so take basic precautions and you should be as right as rain.
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