Poland can claim several superlatives—including the biggest medieval town square, the largest gothic brick castle, and probably the best vodka in the world—to name just a few of the best things the country has to offer. Whether you’re into museums or kitesurfing, sleeping in an old palace converted into a hotel or camping by the lake, folk crafts or fine dining, dancing in a bar, or listening to classical music in an ancient church, you will not be disappointed.
The setting for all these activities is impressive indeed: from the belt of silver sands hedged with fragrant pines at the Baltic shore through the zones of countless lakes, vast forests, and picturesque rolling plains, all the way to the sharp granite peaks of the Tatra mountains; Poland’s infinite variety of landscapes is arranged in latitudinal strips. Unspoiled nature is the pride of the country, and as much as 18.5% of Poland’s area is in a protected zone set aside from development.
And yet there is much more to Poland than great landscapes: what most attracts visitors is the wealth of culture and history, with important treasures of art and architecture, many of them with UNESCO World Heritage status. It is not just churches and castles either: unique historic sites range from prehistoric settlements to World War II fortifications. In addition to time-weathered monuments and works of art in every style of the last millennium, you will find contemporary art alive and kicking in Poland’s beautiful cities. Famous towns with character include dreamlike, medieval Kraków, the old Hanseatic port of Gdańsk, the ever-changing and vibrant capital of Warsaw, and many more dynamic urban centers across the country.
In Poland, you can experience the joy of four distinct seasons: watch ancient Easter traditions celebrated while the world turns green in the spring; slow down during the pleasant summer heat on a café terrace in a medieval town square or at the beach; take to the mountains to watch the colors change in the fall; and enjoy a well-deserved glass of vodka or mulled wine after a day’s skiing in the winter.
If you are flying into Poland from abroad, it’s most likely that you will fly into Warsaw. The city’s main Airport, Okęcie, also known as Chopin International Airport, is the largest airport in Poland, with about 70% of all the air traffic into and out of the country. About 80 daily international fights—as well as many charter flights—connect Warsaw with the rest of the world. You can fly nonstop from Warsaw to Chicago, Newark, New York–JFK, and Toronto. In addition, most European airlines connect Warsaw with the U.S. Warsaw’s second airport, Modlin in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki, serves most of the “low-cost” airlines that operate flights within Europe. Łódź also has some flights from within Europe, mainly from the UK and Germany. The flying time from New York to Warsaw is approximately 9 hours, from London approximately 2½ hours.
Airports and Transfers
Warsaw’s Okęcie Airport, also known as Chopin International Airport, is 7 km (4½ miles) south of the city center and has the most international flights into and out of Poland. Modlin, in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki, about 35 km (22 miles) northwest of the center. Łódź Lublinek Airport is located about 10 minutes drive southwest of the city center.
Five public bus routes connect Okęcie Airport to key points around the city: Bus 175, 188, 148, 331, and Night Bus N32. During the day, the service is frequent, at night, less so. Purchase your “single-fare transfer ticket” for zł 4.40 at a kiosk or from the machine at the bus stop. Or you can buy a one-day (zł 15) or a weekend pass (zł 24). If your immediate destination is not Warsaw, Polski Express has direct service from Okęcie to major Polish cities. The airport train station is served by both long-distance and local trains, which go to the center of Warsaw (SKM Szybka Kolej Miejska lines S2 and S3). City buses and SKM trains share the same ticketing system. Avoid taxi hawkers and unmarked vehicles (which have no number at the top) outside the arrivals hall at all costs: not only are these cabs expensive but they can also be dangerous. The airport recommends three taxi companies: Ele Taxi, Sawa Taxi, and Super Taxi. Your best bet is to call a radio taxi from one of the radio taxi kiosks in the arrivals area, or call your hotel in advance and have them pick you up. A cab ride into the city should cost about zł 40 (most hotel taxis have higher, fixed rates, of approximately zł 60).
You can transfer to Modlin airport via the Modlin shuttle bus, which you can ride every 20 or 30 minutes; many other buses out of the Modlin airport serve towns both large and small, primarily in central and northeastern Poland. Intercity trains also stop at Modlin station. A taxi to or from Modlin airport is an expensive option, costing approximately zł 200–zł 250 with a radio-taxi company.
Warsaw’s main bus station, Dworzec PKS Zachodni, 10 minutes from Central Station on Bus 127 or 130, serves most long-distance routes, both domestic and international. Domestic buses headed east leave from Dworzec PKS Stadion on the east bank of the Vistula. The private long-distance bus service Polski Bus, which goes to most major destinations within Poland, arrives and departs from Jana Pawła II Station, between Central Station and the Holiday Inn. Polski Bus also has a stop at the airport. Polski Bus tickets can be bought only online (the website is available in English); book earlier for better prices.
Within Warsaw, a car is more of a liability than a convenience. Traffic jams are frequent and parking problematic, with a significant threat of theft—of contents, parts, or the entire car—if you leave a Western model unattended. If you do bring your car, park it overnight in a guarded parking garage.
A car can be a useful independent means of transportation if you are planning to travel around Mazovia to explore the countryside and off-the-beaten-track sights. For example, you may wish to follow the route from Warsaw to Łódź via Żelazowa Wola, Arkadia, Niebórow, Łowicz, and Tum.
Major international car-rental agencies have offices in both Warsaw’s and Łódź’s city center and at the airports as well.
In Warsaw, it is always best to use the services of radio taxis because these are the most reliable and because the operators usually speak English. This is also true in Łódź. The standard charge is about zł 8 for the first kilometer (½ mile) and approximately zł 2–3 for each kilometer thereafter (about 50% more at night and during holidays). You do not need to tip taxi drivers, although you can round up the fare to the nearest złoty. Avoid unmarked Mercedes cabs as well as taxis that do not have a number and a name of a company you know on the top. Those “independent” taxis are likely to charge far more than the going rate.
In Warsaw, a cheapest (20-minute) trip on a city bus, tram, or metro costs zł 3.40 within zone 1. There are also timed tickets: zł 4.40 for up to 75 minutes, and zł 7 for up to 90 minutes (the latter covers zones 1 and 2). A 1-day pass is zł 15, and a weekend pass, zł 24. There are additional charges for large pieces of luggage. Purchase tickets from RUCH kiosks, from ticket machines at the bus stops and metro stations, and on board, or directly from bus drivers (zł 0.60 surcharge), and validate one in the machine on the bus or tram, or at the metro gate, for each ride. Buses that halt at all stops along their route are numbered 100 and up. Express buses are numbered from E-1 and up. You can check details on the bus stop’s information board. Night buses (marked with “N” prefix) operate between 11 pm and 5:30 am; fares are the same as on day buses. Buses can be very crowded, and you should beware of pickpockets.
Trams are the fastest means of public transport since they are not affected by traffic holdups but are also often crowded. They run on a north–south and east–west grid system along most of the main city routes, pulling up automatically at all stops. Each tram has a transit map of the system.
Warsaw’s underground opened in spring 1995 (line 1), the first (central) section of line 2 was inaugurated in 2015. Line 1 connects the southern suburbs (Kabaty) and northern suburbs (Młociny) to the city center, while line 2 is running from the west (Rondo Daszyńskiego) to northeast (Dworzec Wileński), while work continues on its further extension. Use the same tickets as for buses and trams, validating them at the entrance to the station.
As the name implies, Warsaw’s Warszawa Centralna (Central Station) is right in the heart of the city, between the Marriott and Holiday Inn hotels, and next to the Palace of Culture. Beware of pickpockets and muggers who prey on passengers as they board or leave trains. Most trains from Warszawa Centralna stop on their way out in Warszawa Wschodnia, Warszawa Zachodnia, Warszawa Gdańska, or Warszawa Wileńska—depending on their direction.
You can purchase train tickets at the train station or at travel agencies, including Orbis. You can also buy tickets on the train (there is a small surcharge), but be warned: old-fashioned regulations require you to notify the train attendant before you actually get on that train if you need to purchase a ticket on board—otherwise you may have to pay a penalty. Tickets can also be bought online, and the full train timetable (rozkład jazdy pociągów) is available on the website of Polskie Koleje Państwowe, the Polish national rail company.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.
Poland can be visited during any season. If you enjoy parks and trips out of the city, summer is, of course, the best time. If temperatures are hot, the fast-lane capital city seems to slow down its pace. Łódź is also a city for all seasons—it has more indoor than outdoor attractions. Hotels in Warsaw target business travelers on weekdays, and tempt tourists with lower weekend rates.