Poland is easily one of Europe’s most underestimated countries. While it may have a somewhat tragic history, Poland has grown into a culturally rich and diverse travel destination!
Instead what you will find is a country well preserved from the effects of a challenging past, now standing tall and shining bright as an affordable tourist destination full of equal parts history and beautiful natural scenery.
While Poland holds a special significance for our family, being the place of birth of both Simon’s parents, there is so much appeal for anyone looking for a budget-friendly European destination. Bordering countries include Russia, Germany, Belarus and Slovakia, making a visit to Poland the gateway to many other top travel destinations.
POLAND QUICK GUIDE
We have put together a Poland travel guide to help you get the most of this amazing country. Find a quick reference below for some of the essentials:
Location: Central Europe
Capital City: Warsaw
Time Zone: GMT+2
Language: Polish, although English is widely taught in schools and more than 50% of the population speak basic or fluent English.
Visa: Poland is part of the Schengen Zone, therefore if visiting from Australia, USA or Canada, no Visa is required for up to 90 day stays. Citizens from Ukraine, Belarus and Russia require a Visa, and standard Schengen Visa requirements apply to visitors from other foreign countries. Citizens from EU countries can stay for an unlimited period of time.
Electricity Socket: 230V AC, typically with two-prong round power sockets. We recommend getting a Universal Travel Adaptor for travel to avoid the hassle of getting multiple single adaptors.
Driving Side: Right
Useful Polish Phrases:
- Hello – Cześć
- Yes – Tak
- No – Nie
- Please – Proszę
- Good – dobry
- Thank you – Dziękuję
- i don’t understand – Nie rozumiem
- Cheers/to your health – Na zdrowie
- Beer – Piwo
BEST TIME TO VISIT POLAND
Poland is a great destination all year round, however depending on the type of vacation you are planning, different times of year will suit you best. The weather in Poland can play a major role in this, with the summer months proving popular with tourists.
The best time to visit Poland is during the shoulder seasons of Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to November) if you are wanting to avoid the biggest crowds. During these months, the weather is also more mild
If you are planning a winter break and want to make the most of the snow season, December through January are popular especially around the Polish Alps – The Tatra Mountains and Zakopane.
The Summer months of June through August are a great time to visit the tri cities of Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia in Northern Poland, along the Baltic coast.
COST OF TRAVEL IN POLAND
Compared to most of Europe, Poland is a very affordable destination to visit. You can enjoy a great vacation in Poland on a smaller budget and still enjoy all the great things the country has to offer.
According to Budget Your Trip, it costs approximately zł273 per day for a mid range budget in Poland. This is approximately US $75 a day.
Food and drink, including beer and vodka, are typically low priced, with the exception of the tourist hot spots. Even in these cases, you can usually walk a few blocks and find cheaper alternatives for dining when out and about.
If you want to keep your budget on the lower end, there are plenty of hostel type accommodations available and you can stock up on groceries at the corner store. Fresh bread and cold meats are a staple, and an easy no cook lunch option.
Poland is best travelled by bus if you are looking for an affordable and reliable transport option. Most of the younger generation rely on public transport to get to and from where they need to go. The bus routes are frequent in the bigger cities, with many services running to regional areas too. You will also find trams in some of the larger cities, such as Warsaw.
All day travel tickets are available at most convenience stores or via ticket machines. You can also purchase single trip tickets for public transport.
There are trains connecting most of the cities, which is an alternative affordable transport option and there are taxi services available in Poland also.
Poland has several airports, with the major international airport being Chopin Airport in Warsaw. LOT Polish Airlines is Poland’s international airline carrier, travelling around Poland, Europe and further abroad. Many international carriers fly direct to Poland or may stop in other European cities with a connecting flight into Poland.
WHERE TO STAY IN POLAND
Accommodation in Poland is quite varied, with typical hotel options in all major cities, including many of the large global hotel chains. There are speciality historic accommodation situated in some of the older parts of Poland, many maintained to their original glory, with a few mod cons added. Check out our travel resources page for recommendations for booking accommodation.
Bed and breakfast style accommodation is also popular in Poland, like much of Europe as an alternative to the big chain hotels. This can be a great way of getting to know some locals.
Airbnb is a great option if you are looking for self contained private accommodation and can often work out more affordable if travelling with family or friends.
ACCOMMODATION TIP: If you prefer to stay in private apartments or homes, we recommend Airbnb. Check out our full guide booking accommodation with Airbnb or simply click here to get an Airbnb coupon to save on your first booking.
WHAT TO EAT IN POLAND
The cost of food and drink, alcohol included, is very affordable in Poland. Although the prices are a little higher around the main tourist areas and airports. You can often get great street food at the markets in Poland, or cheap eats at a ‘sandwich shop’. Expect hearty food with lots of meat, potatoes and cabbage. No watching your weight while in Poland!
Pierogi – A popular dumpling style dish, traditionally filled with ground meat and herbs, or potato and cheese. There are also dessert varieties filled with fruits.
Bigos – A cabbage and meat stew that is perfect for the often cold climate in Poland, and often referred to as Hunter’s Stew due to it being made with whatever meat was available at the time.
Placki – Shredded potato pancakes that are fried and often served with sour cream or fried mushrooms.
CHECK OUT OUR MUST TRY POLISH FOOD GUIDE FOR MORE RECOMMENDATIONS ON WHAT TO EAT IN POLAND.
WHAT TO BUY IN POLAND
Poland is well known for handcrafts using wood and leather, and of course, for their world famous vodka. You will be able to pick up some wonderful souvenirs in Poland for relatively cheap.
Here are some of the typical souvenirs that are popular when visiting Poland:
- Handcrafts such as pottery, needlework or woodwork
- Wooden nesting dolls
- Amber jewellery
- Christmas ornaments
- Polish chocolate (We love E.Wedel the best)
WHAT TO PACK FOR POLAND
Your Poland packing list will depend on the time of year you are visiting and where in Poland you plan to go. During the summer months, lighter clothing is fine but you will still want a jacket for the cooler days and nights.
The weather can be unpredictable, even in the middle of summer and you don’t want to get caught out unprepared! Packing clothes you can layer is a great option all year round, so you can add or remove a layer depending on the day.
For winter, be sure to take a waterproof and windproof jacket. A beanie, gloves and a scarf are also a must! And you may even want to pack some thermals as well as it can get very cold in parts of Poland!
PACKING TIP: Be sure to check out our recommended travel gear for more tips on what to pack for your European vacation.
WHAT TO DO IN POLAND
Stroll Through Poland’s Historic Old Towns
With some of Europe’s most impressive town squares, this is an essential for visiting Poland. Krakow has the largest town square in Europe. And you will also marvel at how well restored Warsaw’s old town is following its destruction during WWII.
Take your time to get a little lost wandering through the cobblestone streets, seeing what you will find. This is one of the best ways to stumble upon some of the most delicious Polish food too.
You will often find markets or stalls set up around these areas too, which are perfect for finding unique souvenirs or fresh produce.
Visit Wieliczka Salt Mine
Dating back to the 13th century and continuing table salt production right up until 2007, Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the world’s oldest operating salt mines. These days you can enjoy a variety of tours through the mine to see the unique sculptures and the impressive St Kinga Chapel, or take an educational tour to learn what it was like to be a miner.
There is also a health retreat and accommodation within the salt mine if you want to extend your stay even longer.
Discover the Tri-Cities Along the Baltic Sea
The seaside towns of Gdansk, Sopot and Gydnia are popular in the warmer weather for their beaches, seaport and cool inner city style. Known as the Tri-Cities, enjoy taking a quick dip in the Baltic Sea if you dare, on a summer day. Or walk along the pier and enjoy the activities happening along the boardwalks.
You can easily visit the 3 towns in one day via public transport, spending a little time exploring each along the way. Gdansk is the biggest of the 3 and a great place to base yourself for a few days to explore this beautiful city. This is one of our favourite places to visit in Poland.
Tour Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp
A tough travel experience that should not be missed when visiting Poland. Learn about WWII history while visiting the Auschwitz – Birkenau Memorial and Museum – the largest of the concentration camps. This is a very sobering travel experience that will stay with you forever and perhaps not one to visit with younger children.
- Auschwitz-Birkenau Full-Day Guided Tour from Krakow – A 7-hour tour of the Auschwitz Museum and Birkenau Camp in Oświęcim leaving from Krakow city, to allow you time to explore the memorial and visit both camps.
Auschwitz-Birkenau and Salt Mine Guided Tour – Combine your visit Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp with a tour of the Wieliczka Salt Mine, with professional guides at each location.
Warsaw Rising War Museum
Continue your World War II education with a visit to the Warsaw Rising War Museum in Poland’s capital. This is by far one of the most impressive war museums we have visited. You will learn so much about WWII and the impact on Warsaw in particular, through unique and emotion evoking exhibits.
Explore UNESCO Listed Bialowieza National Park
To the north east of Poland, near the Belarus border, you will find the Bialowieza Forest and Bison Park. The natural scenery is so tranquil and well preserved, with the chance to see animals in the wild, or some guaranteed sightings at the Bison Park. Bialowieza National Park is a UNESCO-listed site, and Poland’s oldest national park. Take a day tour to Bialowieza from Warsaw.
Hike the Tatra Mountains
Sitting along the border between Poland and Slovakia are the impressive Tatra Mountains, often with peaks of snow against the horizon. Trekking through the mountains will bring you up close with beautiful scenery, glacial lakes and wildlife.
Ride up the Kasprowy Wierch cable car and check out the views atop one of the tallest Tatras in the region. During the winter months you can ski or snowboard back down the mountain. Although be prepared for large crowds during peak holiday season.
Spend Winter In Zakopane
A popular winter holiday destination for Polish natives and the rest of Europe, Zakopane has plenty on offer for the winter sport loving adventurers. Situated at the base of the Tatra Mountains, not only will you wake up to beautiful views each day, but you are literally on the doorstep for skiing, snowboarding and tobogganing opportunities galore.
We spent a white Christmas in Zakopane and celebrated the new year in the town centre. It was a memorable experience and a beautiful destination to visit with the family too. Make sure you take a funicular ride up Mount Gubałówka to enjoy great views, delicious traditional food and often handmade wares too. You may even have the chance to enjoy a dog sled ride through the snow – sure to be a hit with the kids!
Zakopane is a great family friendly destination, with plenty to see and do with kids in Zakopane during all seasons of the year.
Make Like Royalty At A Polish Palace
Poland is home to some beautiful palaces and royal residences, each unique in their own way. While there are more castles in Poland than we mention, we wanted to highlight some of our favourite royal residences worth visiting in Poland. You can find some of the other castles in Poland here.
- Royal Castle, Warsaw – Framing the Warsaw town square is this magnificent castle. Royal Castle was completely destroyed during WWII and rebuilt during the 1970-80s from castle remains.
- Lazienki Palace, Warsaw – One of our favourite places in Warsaw, Lazienki is also known as Palace on the Isle, situated between sections of a lake. The palace sits within the 76 hectare Warsaw Royal Baths Park, which is the largest park in Warsaw, making it a great option to visit with kids.
- Wilanów Palace, Warsaw – This beautiful Baroque style palace is another favourite, with a lot of similarities to Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. Through the summer months you may be lucky enough to enjoy a concert in the gardens.
- Wawel Castle, Krakow – Sitting atop a hill and overlooking Krakow is Wawel Royal Castle. Once an important symbol of Polish statehood, the castle is now a museum. Be sure to pay a visit to the Wawel Dragon and his cave at the foot of Wawel Hill.
- Malbork Castle, Malbork – The Castle of the Teutonic Order in Malbork is the largest castle in the world measured by land area. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The sheer size alone makes it an impressive sight to take in.
- Branicki Palace, Bialystok – Located in one of Poland’s most green cities, Bialystok, Branicki Palace is sometimes referred to as the “Polish Versailles”. It’s now the home of the University of Medicine. Surrounding Branicki Palace is the best preserved Baroque park in Poland.
BEST TOURS AROUND POLAND
It is relatively easy to get around Poland through their rail and bus system to each of the major cities and landmarks. It is also a safe country to visit, taking the usual precautions you would take when you travel anywhere.
However that being said, when short on time or preferring the convenience of a guided tour when visiting a new country, there are some wonderful tours available that will give you either a sample of Poland’s highlights or a more in depth experience.
TOUR RECOMMENDATION: We recommend Trafalgar Tours if you are looking to join a guided tour around Poland. They have tours focused just on Poland, as well as many that include Poland as part of a multi country itinerary. The best thing is all your accommodation and transport and most meals are provided for the duration of your tour.
BOOKS TO READ BEFORE VISITING POLAND
Here are a few recommended books to read before, or during your visit to Poland:
- Lonely Planet Poland Travel Guide – Includes maps, itineraries, tips, reviews and history as an essential Poland travel guide for your visit, no matter where in Poland you may be headed.
Lonely Planet Eastern Europe travel guide – An essential guide to exploring the countries that form Eastern Europe, including Poland, Bulgaria Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia and more.
QUICK TIPS FOR POLAND
- The travel high season in Poland is between July and August when accommodation prices increase
- Beware of pickpockets in crowded places and on public transport
- It is customary to air kiss on each cheek 2 or 3 times when greeting someone you know
- When visiting, it should be the host to offer the first toast – “Na zdrowie” which means “To your health”
- It is customary to take a small gift, such as flowers or chocolates when invited to someone’s home
- Public bathrooms can sometimes attract a small fee, and are usually labelled with a circle icon for women and a triangle icon for men
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