Poland is a large country in Central Europe. It has a Baltic sea coastline and is bordered by Belarus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, Russia (Kaliningrad Oblast), Slovakia, and the Ukraine. Historically, it has been an area of conflict because of flat terrain and the lack of natural barriers on the North European Plain.
Poland has 16 provinces (wojewodztwa, singular - wojewodztwo).
Poland is an ancient nation that was conceived around the middle of the 10th century. Its golden age occurred in the 16th century. During the following century, the strengthening of the gentry and internal disorders weakened the nation, until an agreement in 1772 between Russia, Prussia, and Austria partitioned Poland. Poland regained its independence in 1918 and defended it in the war of 1920-1922 against Soviet attempt to overrun Poland and invade Europe.
After a period of relative peace and development, just as it was recovering from the great economic crisis of the 20-ties Poland was overrun by Germany and the Soviet Union in what became the World War II. After the war it became a Soviet satellite country following the Yalta and Potsdam agreements between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union which to this day are viewed by Poles as a betrayal. After the brief but sometimes bloody Stalinist era of 1945-1956 Poland was comparatively tolerant and progressive as compared to other Eastern Block countries.
Labour turmoil in 1970 and then 1980 led to the formation of the independent trade union "Solidarity" that over time became a political force and by 1990 had swept parliamentary elections and the presidency. A "shock therapy" program during the early 1990s enabled the country to transform its economy into one of the most robust in Central Europe, boosting hopes for acceptance to the EU. Poland joined the NATO alliance in 1999 and it joined European Union in 2004.
As Poland is now a member of the European Union, EU citizens can enter Poland with a valid passport or identity card.
Citizens of the following countries may travel to Poland for tourism and business purposes without a visa if the planned stay in Poland does not exceed 90 days: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, Israel, Japan, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, USA, Uruguay, Vatican and Venezuela. Citizens of all other countries must obtain a visa in order to enter and stay in Poland legally.
Regular Visas are issued for travelers going to Poland for tourism and business purposes. Regular visas allow for one or multiple entries into Polish territory and stay in Poland for maximum up to 90 days and are issued for the definite period of stay. When applying for a visa, please indicate the number of days you plan to spend in Poland and a date of intended arrival. Holders of regular visas are not authorized to work.
Most of European major airlines fly to Poland. Poland has its own national carriers: LOT Polish Airlines, and owned by LOT low cost airline Centralwings. There are also several other low cost airlines, that fly to Poland: WizzAir, SkyEurope, EasyJet, AirNiki, Germanwings, AirBerlin, Ryanair.
Apart from direct air connections from many European cities there are also direct flights from United States and Canada. LOT operates direct flights from Washington D.C., New York and Chicago, however tickets for those flights are far from cheap and most people with limited budgets fly with other airlines with stopover at a major European airport.
International flights are mostly to Warsaw's Frederic Chopin airport (WAW) in Okęcie, some arrive also in Poznań, Kraków and Gdańsk. Domestic flights operated by LOT (under Eurolot brand) connect Warsaw with Kraków, Gdańsk, Poznań, Szczecin and Wrocław. Other cities don't have airports with facilities that would allow commercial airlines to operate internationally. There are however smaller operators which operate a fleet of small aircraft - these are of course rather for traveling businessmen with thick wallets and agendas.
Because the number of flights and passengers has increased significantly since 1990, a new terminal is being built on the Okęcie airport which will significantly increase the airport's capacity. Also airports in Krakow and Poznan were expanded to increase their standard and capacity.
When arriving by air to Warsaw beware of taxi drivers who stand by the exit from the customs at the arrivals lounge and propose a ride. These are mostly frauds. Airport authorities have recently cracked down on these guys some and there are now three authorised taxi companies.
The airport is pretty close and well connected to Warsaw centre with public buses. If you decide to leave the airport by bus keep an eye on your possessions as pickpockets are known to operate frequently on the two bus lines that connect the airport with the city.
Direct connections with:
For more information on traveling in Poland by train, please see Get Around::Rail section below.
You can enter Poland by car via one of many roads linking Poland with neighbouring countries. Since Poland entry to EU, road queues to check points with other EU countries have greatly decreased, in most cases the time delay in check points has been reduced to just a few minutes. Queues on borders with non-EU countries are much larger and in areas congested with truck traffic can last several hours or more. You can view the current waiting times on Polish Border Guard page (wjazd = enter, wyjazd = exit, osob. - car, autob. - bus, cieżar. - truck).
Polish road network is average - a bit underdeveloped by European standards, but quite functional and dense. There are only few highways connecting major towns, but the network is far from complete. Small 2-way roads span the entire country. As long as you keep by the main roads, you should get to where you want fairly easy. Estimate double time used and tiredness comparing to driving in countries like Germany or France.
Poles drive aggressively and with little or no regard to speed limits. Scenes seen on the Polish roads are sometimes described as shocking by the foreigners not accustomed to the way locals handle their machines. Drunk driving is also a big problem, despite heavy penalties. Overall, Poland has a higher index of deaths on the roads than many European countries.
There are many international bus lines that connect major Polish cities, with most of major European ones.
Poland has relatively poorly developed road infrastructure with only few motorways. Public transport is quite plentiful, both buses and trains. Some local trains are considered dangerous at nights.
In Poland there is only national railway - the PKP (Polskie Koleje Państwowe). It connects all major cities, but it is also good choice to get to many small towns on internal routes. Tickets are quite cheap, but travel conditions reflect the fact that majority of railworks and wagons are from few decades ago. Unfortunately, sometimes it's not very safe to travel by train, especially on some non-express suburban routes - it is recommended to travel close to the front of the train (where train staff is more likely to provide assistance), and to avoid traveling by night. Express and Intercity routes are much safer then slower connections.
Tickets for any route can be purchased in any station. Buying in advance may be necessary for peek seasons (eg. end of vacation, New Year, etc.) for those trains that has obligatory reservations.
You can expect fast, connection on modernized routes, as:
Note on taxis: try to use only those with phone number on the side/top. The unaffiliated ones are likely to cheat and charge you much more. Be especially wary of these taxis near international airports and train stations (but then, shouldn't one be wary of them everywhere?).
Because of advice like this one appearing in most travel guides by now taxis with fake phone numbers can be seen sometimes (although recently this seems to have decreased, possibly police has taken notice). These are quite easily detectable by the locals and cater for the unknowing travelers (both foreign and domestic). Best advice would be to ask your Polish friends for a number of the taxi company they use (corporation as they are called) and call them 10-15 minutes in advance (it doesn't cost additionally). That's what the locals do hailing taxi on the street only in urgency.
Every taxi driver is obliged to issue a receipt when asked. You can announce the driver that you want to get a receipt (rachunek) before you get into cab, and resign if his reaction seems suspicious.
The official language of Poland is Polish. English, German and Russian are also commonly spoken, especially in larger cities.
The unit of currency in Poland is the polish zloty (PLN), though Poland is expected to adopt the Euro as early as 2007 (more realistically, full Polish entry into the Eurozone will occur around 2010).
Common conversions (rates correct at Jan 1, 2005):
Link to exchange rates set by the National Bank of Poland: http://www.nbp.pl/kursy/kursyc.html, http://www.nbp.pl/kursy/kursyb.html. In the page, kupna rate relates to purchase, i.e. when you sell foreign currency.
Private exchange offices in Poland usually offer better rates than commercial banks. They are called "KANTOR" and are very common, especially in places like railway stations. Be cautious about those in tourist hot-spots, such as the Warsaw Old Town, since they may overcharge.
See Wikipedia entry on Polish cuisine.
It is no longer difficult to avoid meat, with many restaurants offering at least one vegetarian dish.
Poland is on a border of European "vodka" and "beer culture". Poles enjoy alcoholic drinks at least as much as other Europeans. You can buy beer, vodka and wine (but beware of some cheap Polish local fruit wine, that has more in common with spirit drinks than with French wines). There is no single national alcohol product; while some vodka variants may be internationally famous, local beer seem to have much more appeal to many Poles. Another traditional alcoholic beverage is mead. Officially, in order to buy alcohol one should be over 18 years old and certificate self with a valid ID or passport. .
Although not well known internationally, Poland traditionally sports some of the best pilsner-type lagers worldwide. The most common brands include:
Poland does not really make it's own quality wines. As for imported wine, apart from the usual old and new world standards, there is usually a choice of decent table wines from Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania or Moldavia available.
Black tea is traditionally a popular non-alcoholic drink. It is usually served plain with sugar or with sugar and a slice of lemon.
Interestingly, a very wide variety of fruit juices is available, with choice rivaling - and often surpassing - those of many other countries. The same applies to mineral water. Bottled ice tea is getting increasingly popular, although the choice is limited.
Many hotels, hostels, motels and apartments of various quality (from no star to 5 stars) are available.
Obviously the majority of those are to be found in big cities and near popular tourist destinations, and that eastern part of Poland is less developed (and so has lower average density of hotels and such), and star rating and prices are a reasonable guide to their quality (just like all over the world).
Increasing number of those places can be found through Internet.
Polish emergency numbers are different for stational and cellular phones. For stational phones these are:
For cellular phones the number is standard 112 (Telefon alarmowy, sto dwanaście).
Pickpockets operate in larger cities, especially in public transport or rail station areas, in a fairly usual manner for many European cities. Keep an eye on your belongings when travelling in a train. Don't display any bags or radio if you leave your car parked in the streets. You'll be best off trying to use guarded parking lots instead, whenever possible.
Avoid drinking tap water.
It's illegal to drink alcoholic beverages in public.