Poland is one of those countries where you will find everything – beautiful seaside beaches and sand dunes, lake districts shaped by the glacier, forests, new and old mountains, and even a desert. Cities, towns, picturesque countryside and romantic wastelands are incorporated into these beautiful surroundings. A tourist will definitely appreciate numerous historic monuments, architectural pearls, health resorts and all the places from the UNESCO World Heritage list as well as hiking routes.
The middle part of the country, in spite of being monotonous when it comes to landscapes, surprises with its richness hidden in the forests. Forests and coppices cut by unregulated, therefore naturally beautiful rivers. Full of islands and old-river beds, like the Vistula River (Polish: Wisła) in the area of Czerwinsk or surrounded by escarpments like the Bug River in Drohiczyno. In the east of Poland, the plains are full of water. The Narew River, the only braided river in Europe, gets very wide around Białystok and in some ways it resembles the Amazon River, the Biebrza River changes the whole area around Grudziadz in marshlands which are kilometers long. The northern part of Poland is a place of sand – fine, clean and more beautiful than that from The Mediterranean Sea. Wide Baltic beaches lead along high cliff shores, spits, transforming into sand dunes, including moving sand dunes – like the ones in the area of Łeba – which resemble a real desert. The Baltic Sea is separated from the rest of the country by lakes district. Drawskie, Kaszubskie, Mazurskie Lakes together with the biggest Polish lakes such as Sniardwy and Mamry Lakes or Suwalskie Lake have been left behind by the glacier. The last ice age went away only 10-12, 000 years ago so the relief is still very well-cut. The Suwalki Landscape Park (Polish: Suwalski Park Krajobrazowy) where you can find pyramids, moraines, kames, drumlins, terraces, cirques and hanging valleys is the best example of the glacier’s capacity. Mountains can be found in the south of the country. Young mountains such as Karpaty or Tatra Mountains but also the old ones whose history dates back to the beginning of the history of Earth so around 4,5 billion years ago. The Sudety Mountains were subject to erosion, then they were raised again and were even subject to volcanoes activities. The Stołowe Mountains – part of the Sudety Mountains – are the only in Europe, really special as presenting plated structure, built of horizontal levels of sandstone.
Poland is a medium seized – covering the area of 312,700 km2 (120,696.41 sq mi) – country of the Central Europe. It borders with Russia, Belarus, Ukraine to the east, Slovakia and the Czech Republic to the south and Germany to the west. This kind of localization had a big influence on the troubled history of the country, both back in the past and more currently.
For a couple of years Poland has been listed in rankings of the most attractive tourist destinations in Europe. Mainly thanks to its natural diversity, rich history, cultural heritage, as well as attractive services and commercial offer.
Poland has a lot of natural resources, such as iron, zink, copper ores as well as rock salt. Established in the 13th Century the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine is almost like a whole underground city with its own sanatorium, theatre, church and café. Everything there – from chandeliers to stairs – is made of salt.
Traditional Polish dishes include red borsch (Polish: barszcz czerwony), stuffed cabbage (Polish: głąbki), dumplings with cabbage and mushrooms (Polish: pierogi).
Poland is situated in the zone of temperate climate. The higher parts of the Sudety and Karpaty Mountains have mountain climate.
Summer temperatures are from 18 to 30 °C depending on the region. The average temperature is from 17°C on the coast to 19°C in the Lower Silesia (Polish: Dolny Slask) region and in the area of Tarnow. In the winter temperatures are from around 0°C in Swinoujscie, -1°C in Silesian Lowlands (Polish: Nizina Slaska), the Lubusz Land (Polish: Ziemia Lubuska) and the coast, -3 in Warsaw to less than – 5°C in the Suwałki Region (Polish: Suwalszczyzna). The average annual temperature is from over 9°C in the area of Wrocław, Legnica and Zielona Góra to around 6°C in the Suwałki Region.
Annual rainfall is about 600 mm. The lowest rainfall – around 500 mm – occurs in Kujawy, which is related to this region’s localization in a rain shadow of lake district; the highest rainfall – except for the mountains – occurs in the middle part of the coast and in the Silesian Upland (Polish: Wyżyna Śląska) (around 750-800 mm annually). Vegetative period lasts from 180-190 days in the north-eastern part of the country to 235 days in the area of Słubice, Głogów and Wrocław. On average there are about 3-5 warm air waves and 2-4 cool air waves in Poland so they take 18-36 and 13-28 days respectively per year. The number of days with snow cover varies and grows towards the east. Snow cover lasts less than 40 days in the Szczecin Lowland (Polish: Nizina Szczecińska), the Lubusz Land (Polish: Ziemia Lubuska) and the Silesian Lowland, around 60 days in the center of Poland and over 100 days in the Suwałki Region.
Hot days with a maximum temperature over 25°C occur from April to September, sometimes in October as well. There are around 10-20 of such days on the coast to over 40 in Podkarpacie and the Silesian Lowland. There are from 1 day in the north to 8 days in the area of Wrocław, Tarnów and Słubice of really hot days with a maximum temperature of over 30°C .
There are about 38 million people living in Poland. According to the new definition of the EU Statistical Office, people staying abroad for over a year will be included in the statistics of their current country residence. GUS (Central Statistical Office in Poland) forecasts that due to high economic migration of Poles, the population of Poland may drop to 37 million.
In the National Census of Population from 2011 Polish nationality was declared by 97,09% of respondents (including those who declared a second nationality). 887,000 people (2,26%) declared 2 nationalities – Polish and non-Polish, 597,000 people (1,55%) declared only non-Polish nationality, including 46,000 people who declared 2 non-Polish nationalities. Silesians (847,00), Kashubians (233,000), Germans (148,000), Ukrainians (51,000), Belarusians (47,000), Romani people (17,000), Russians (13,000), Lemkos (Polish: Łemkowie) (11,000), Lithuanians (8,000), the Jews (8,000) are the biggest ethnic minorities.
Massive immigrants inflow does not affect Poland to such extent as some western countries. However, more and more enterprises employ workers from other countries, especially Ukraine, Belarus and Far East (Polish: Daleki Wschód) (China, Vietnam). They take place of those Poles who left Poland because of economic migration.
POLITICAL SYSTEM AND POLITICS
The legal basis of the political system of the country is included in the Poland’s Constitution of 1997. The president is elected by popular vote every five years. Legislative power is vested in the Sejm and Senate, whose members – 460 MPs and 100 senators are elected every 4 years in a proportional system.
Polish is the official language but quite a lot of Poles speak English, some of them (mainly elderly people) speak Russian and German.
The Catholic Church is the main religious community in Poland. Around 33,5 million worshippers (2011) are Catholics, which means that 87% of Poland’s residents are baptized as Roman Catholics. In 2008 this number reached nearly 96%. The Greek Catholic Church has 55,000 worshippers, the Armenian Catholic Church – 5,000, Neo-Uniate Church – 147 people. Old Catholicism comes from the Catholic tradition and now it has 47,000 worshippers. Apart from Old Catholics, there are also other groups of traditionalist Catholics: Lefebvrists and Sedevacantists. There are over 0,5 million worshippers who belong to the Orthodox tradition community. There are also Coptic Church representatives in Poland. 150,00 people declare to be Protestants. Restorationist religions include: Jehova’s Witnesses Association (129,000), Free Bible Students Association (2,000), Lay Missionary Movement “Epiphany” – 1,500 and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) – 1000 worshippers. Other religious groups add up to 150,000 people altogether. The most important interfaith Christian organizations include: the Polish Ecumenical Council associating Protestant, Old-Catholic and Orthodox Churches and the Evangelical Alliance connecting churches and organizations related to Evangelical Protestantism.
The national currency of Poland is złoty. The following coins are issued: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 groszy, 1, 2 and 5 złoty and such banknotes as: 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 złoty. Cash Machines are easily accessible and accept all international cards. Most shops and services accept credit card payments. You need to have cash if you want to do the shopping on a local market or in small corner shops.
While traveling around Poland, we have a rich offer of accommodation (different prices and standard) to choose from: campsites, summer houses, agrotourism guest houses, youth hostels, pilgrim’s houses, student houses, private rooms in villas picturesqually located at the seaside or in the mountains and of course a whole array of different standard hotels. Higher standard hotels usually offer breakfast and a possibility to use the hotel swimming pool or spa – included in the price (you have to pay extra for dinner and other beauty treatments). When renting accommodation at the seaside or in the mountains we may have an access to public well-equipped kitchen or we can rent an apartment with a private kitchen area. Kitchens and bathrooms in youth hostels are usually public (student house’s standard) but the atmosphere is really great. When it comes to accommodation, we may count on the European standard – hotels can impress with their interior design, delicious food and good facilities and guest houses usually have picturesque localization and unique atmosphere.
SHOPS AND PRICES:
Food products in Poland are not very expensive. Hypermarkets and outdoor markets are the cheapest, small shops are a little more expensive. Here are example prices of some food products:
- Bread: 2-3 PLN
- Water 1,5l: 2-3 PLN
- Milk: 2,3 PLN
- Hamburger: 5-10 PLN
- Coke 0,5l: 2,5 PLN
- Coffee: 5-15 PLN
- Cigarettes: 6-15 PLN
The price you pay in a restaurants depends on its standard and localization. Cheapest places offer 1- course dinner for 10-20 PLN, 3-course dinner in higher standard restaurants will cost you 50 PLN and more. Nightlife is most expensive in the capital and big cities, club entrance fee is about 10-30 PLN, 0,5l beer will cost you 7-13 PLN, an alcohol drink – 15-30 PLN. Cinema tickets cost 15-25 PLN. Theatre, opera or concert are more expensive – 30-100 PLN. Shoppers usually do not negotiate the price in shopping centers or chain stores. Only while buying something really expensive like household appliance you can try to get a discount. It’s common to negotiate the price on outdoor markets, bazaars or fairs. Especially if you want to buy some hand-made products or antiques. By making a little effort we can make a really good deal. Tips are not obligatory and you do not have to leave them. You should do it only when you are happy with the service. It is common to leave 10% of your bill then. In some better restaurants tips are added to the bill as a service charge. Tips for hotel staff are usually 5-20 PLN depending on a standard of the hotel we are staying in. It is not common to give tips to taxi drivers in Poland.
Travelling by plane is an easy and comfortable way of getting to all the biggest cities in Poland. The airport in Warsaw – Okęcie offers direct connections with around 50 cities in over 30 countries in Europe and the World. International flights are also offered by the airports in Gdańsk, Katowice, Łódź, Lublin, Poznań, Szczecin, Wrocław and Cracow (Polish: Kraków). Main Polish airline is Polish Airlines LOT (www.lot.com). It offers domestic and international flights. Other popular airlines also use Polish airports. They include Lufthansa, British Airways, KLM or Air France. Most airports offer not only international flights but very convenient domestic flights as well. Domestic flights are serviced by the national airline PLL LOT (www.lot.com) and its subsidiary company Eurolot (www.eurolot.com).
Domestic connections include flights from Warsaw to Gdańsk, Katowice, Poznań, Szczecin, Wrocław; from Cracow to Gdańsk and Warsaw; from Katowice to Warsaw; from Gdańsk to Warsaw, Cracow, Wrocław; from Wrocłw to Gdańsk, Warsaw. Because of frequent changes of offers and routes of particular airlines, it is worth checking all the journey details before booking your flight.
Airports in Poland:
- Bydgoszcz (Szwederowo) – Jan Paderewski Airport in Bydgoszcz (Polish: Port Lotniczy im. Jana Paderewskiego) – http://plb.pl/
- Gdańsk (Rębiechowo) – Lech Wałęsa Airport (Polish: Port Lotniczy Gdańsk im. Lecha Wałęsy) http://www.airport.gdansk.pl
- Katowice (Pyrzowice) – International Airport (Polish: Międzynarodowy Port Lotniczy) http://www.katowice-airport.com
- Kraków (Balice) – John Paul II International Airport (Polish: Międzynarodowy Port Lotniczy im. Jana Pawła II ) http://www.lotnisko-balice.pl
- Lublin – Lublin Airport (Polish: Port Lotniczy Lublin) http://www.portlotniczy.lublin.pl/
- Łódź – Władysław Reymont Airport (Polish: Port Lotniczy im. Władysława Reymonta) http://www.airport.lodz.pl
- Poznań (Ławica) – Poznań Airport (Polish: Port Lotniczy Poznań) http://www.airport-poznan.com.pl
- Rzeszów (Jasionka) – Rzeszów Airport (Port Lotniczy w Rzeszowie) http://www.rzeszowairport.pl/
- Szczecin (Goleniów) – Solidarity Szczecin Goleniów Airport (Polish: Port Lotniczy Szczecin Goleniów im NSZZ Solidarność) http://www.lotniskogoleniow.pl/
- Warsaw (Okęcie) – F. Chopin Airport (Polish: Port Lotniczy im. Fryderyka Chopina) http://www.lotnisko-chopina.pl
- Warsaw (Modlin) – Warsaw Modlin Airport (Polish: Mazowiecki Port Lotniczy Warszawa-Modlin) (cheap airlines) – www.modlinairport.pl/
- Wrocław (Strachowice) – Wrocław Airport (Polish: Port Lotniczy Wrocław) http://www.airport.wroclaw.pl
- Zielona Góra (Babimost) – Zielona Góra Airport (Polish: Lotnisko Zielona Góra) http://lotnisko.lubuskie.pl/
FERRY AND SHIP
Ferries and ships transport people, animals and cars. You should declare everything you want to carry with you. Passenger seats and places for long-distance vehicles transportation should be booked in advance. Lack of such reservation will not guarantee a place for you and your vehicle.
You can drive your own or rented car as well as travel by taxi. Cars have an access to various roads. The most important ones lead from Jakuszyce on the Czech-Polish border through Zielona Góra, Gorzów Wielkopolski and Szczecin to the ferry from Świnoujście to Ystad in Sweden (E65 – no 3 road), from the Polish-German border in Świecko through Poznań and Warsaw to the border with Belarus in Terespol and further to Minsk and Moscow (E30 – no 2 road), from the Polish-German border in Zgorzelec through Wrocław, Opole, Gliwice, Katowice, Tarnów, Rzeszów and Jarosław to the border with Ukraine in Korczowa and further to Kiev (Polish: Kijów) (E40 – no 4 road), E75 route from the Polish-Czech border in Cieszyn through Bielsko-Biała, Katowice, Toruń and Łódź to the ferry from Gdańsk to Helsinki, A1 motorway which is now being built is a part of European route. E67 route (no 8 road) leads through the whole Poland – from the border with Lithuania in Budzisk to the Czech border in Kudowa-Zdrój and it is 790km long in Poland. This route is supposed to became a part of Via Baltica artery connecting Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with the Southern and Western Europe. Apart from that Poland has lots of country and local roads.
While driving a car, a driver should have a set of documents such as driving license, vehicle registration certificate together with a vehicle technical inspection confirmation and public liability insurance (OC). There are a lot of petrol stations in Poland. All year long dipped-beam headlamps need to be switched on and seatbelts fastened. Acceptable speed in a residential area is maximum 50 km/h, and between 11pm and 5 am – 60 km/h. Outside residential areas the speed limit is 90 km/h. Maximum speed on dual carriageways is 120 km/h, and single carriageways – up to 100km/h. On dual carriageways with at least 2 lanes in each direction the speed limit is 100km/h, on motorways – 140km/h. Cities have paid parking zones. If you do not pay, you will get a fine.
You can travel around Poland by buses or coaches, or mini buses offered by numerous bus companies. Almost every place in Poland is accessible by local buses and all the cities are connected by long-distance bus lines. PKS is a national bus company. Many long-distance connections are offered by Polish Express (Polish: Polski Express) or Polish Bus (Polish: Polski Bus). Bus stations are usually located in city/town centers. Tickets for long-distance journeys may be purchased at ticket offices at bus stations or from a driver (for latecomers). Apart from the listed ones, there are a lot of private bus companies that offer minibus transport on chosen routes. A lot of small towns and villages can only be accessed like that. Minibuses stop in the area of train or bus stations and tickets may be purchased only from a driver. Detailed information is offered by National Information about Bus Connections (Polish: Ogólnopolskiej Informacji o Połączeniach Autobusowych): www.autobusowyrozkladjazdy.pl.
Rail Network in Poland is well-developed when it comes to connections as well as standard of travelling. Travelling by train while sightseeing is a very interesting offer for tourists. Polish National Railways (Polish : Polskie Koleje Państwowe PKP) are national rail company.
There are lots of different trains in Poland offering different standard, journey time and ticket price. Here are some examples:
- EuroCity (EC),
- EuroNight (EN),
- International Express (Polish: Międzynarodowe pospieszne) (M),
- Express InterCity (EIC),
- Express (EX),
- Your Railways (Polish: Twoje Linie Kolejowe) (TLK),
- Regio Express,
- Inter Regio,
- local, eg.. SKM
The majoraty of trains (apart from the local slow trains) is divided into 1st and 2nd class. There is a restaurant or bar in many trainsets. Night long-distance trains offer sleeping cars or couchettes – places where you can lie down. PKP offers disabled people places in appropriate cars, when there’s a need some train companies offer platform lifts. You can take your bike or animal on a train but train companies have different rules which you should get familiar with. The ticket prices depend on a route, train type and a class of your compartment. There are often various promotions which you could ask about at the train station.
Detailed information about travelling by train in Poland, timetable and prices is available on:
Lately new train stations have been built or some old ones have been renovated, which increased comfort of travelling by train. Some train stations have become tourist attractions themselves.
Public transport is well-developed in big cities. You can virtually get everywhere by bus or tram. There is a tube running in the capital of Poland and Gdynia, Lublin and Tychy have their trolleybuses. Smaller cities have their local buses which function well.
MOVING AROUND THE CITY
It is hard to present one single model of public transport in Poland as each city has its own rules. However, some rules are the same:
- You can use public transport only if you have a valid ticket. Without it you may pay a fine,
- Tickets (usually the same for trams, buses, and tube) can be purchased at “Ruch” newsagent’s and in some grocery stores, also from bus drivers in many cities; there is also a system that enables you to buy e-tickets by mobile phone,
- Ticket prices vary as well as ticket types,
- There are also season tickets available in many cities; there are different types: 1-hour, 24- hour, 3-days, 1-week, 1-month, 1-quarter tickets and other,
- Tourists who possess so called tourist card can travel for free in many cities; you should inquire all the details at a Tourist Information,
- You should buy an extra ticket for your big-sized luggage, bikes and animals ; it is worth remembering that in some cities season tickets include luggage transportation fee,
- A passenger travelling on public transport is obliged to show the ticket to staff of the City Public Transport Operator (Polish: Miejski Zakład Komunikacyjny) who should first identify themselves.
In some cities there are special tourist trams, buses or coaches with roof seats (“City Tour”, “City Sightseeing”). Taxis are easily accessible in most Polish cities. Prices depend on a distance and price list in a particular city. Usually it is 3-6 PLN per km.
HOLIDAYS IN POLAND
The Polish like relaxing. Their country is the second in Europe when it comes to the number of public and national holidays (there are 13 such days in Poland, Malta or Slovakia – 12 and Hungary – only 6). There are long queues to cake shops on the last Thursday before the Lent. Streets are filled with the smell of fried donuts with rose marmalade. Fat Thursday (Polish: Tłusty Czwartek) is a day of uncontrolled gluttony, a real feast for sweet teeth. Christmas Day – the most important and liked holiday of the year – is the time when whole families sit together for a meal. 12-course supper on Christmas Eve starts with sharing Christmas wafer. Easter is the time of family breakfast and sharing holy egg and on Wet Monday Poles pour water on each other as a sign of prosperity. Other church holidays are not celebrated as solemnly. Catholics write K+M+B on their doors with a consecrated chalk on the Three Kings’ Day, on Pentecost Sunday they come to church with sweet flag and Corpus Christi is a day of processions to four altars. On the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Day thousands of pilgrims takes part in a holy mass in the Jasna Góra Sanctuary.
Poles like relaxing on national holidays. The bigger cities’ streets are empty on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd of May. All the people go to tourist resorts to relax. Labour Day, National Flag Day and Constitution Day is a time of justified slacking. Poles eagerly celebrate other holidays even if those are not days off work. These holidays include: Women’s Day, Children’s Day, Grandmother’s and Grandfather’s Day, Miner’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St Andrew’s Day (Polish: Andrzejki). It does not matter whether the tradition of celebrating a particular holiday came from the East or West. Good fun, being together with closest people and nice gesture is all that matters.
A calendar of national and public holidays in Poland
- January 01– New Years Day
- January 06 – Epiphany (Three Kings’ Day)
- April 5 – Easter (the 1st day)
- April 6 – Easter Monday (the 2nd day), Wet Monday – Śmigus Dyngus
- May 01 – Labour Day
- May 03 – May 3rd Constitution Day
- May 24 – Pentecost Sunday/Whit Sunday
- June 04 – Corpus Christi
- August 15 – Assumption of the Virgin Mary Day
- November 01 – All Saints Day
- November 11 – The Independence Day
- December 25 – Christmas Day (the 1st day)
- December 26 – the second Christmas Day