Transportation in Poland

Posted on 29. Oct, 2010 by in travel

When you come to Poland you will find that in some ways traveling is very efficient. And in other ways it is frustrating.

The larger cities do not have the big metro systems that you will find in places like Prague and Budapest. But don’t let this stop you from settling in a town or city in Poland. Bus, tram, and train networks are effective means of getting around.

If you live in a larger city and commute frequently, you should consider investing in a monthly “all public transportation pass”. You will save both money and time. Because it’s embarrassing to be “controlled” (caught without the proper pass or ticket) by a conductor, don’t forget to carry your pass with you at all times.

Subway (metro)

Most of Poland’s cities are not yet equipped with metro systems. Warsaw is the only exception. Given the success of the metro systems in several others Eastern Europe’s capital cities, it may come as a surprise that this is only a very recent development. Over seventy years in the making, Warsaw inaugurated its single metro line in the spring of 1995. It has only one line, but is very nice and clean.

Trams (tramwaje)

You will find trams in many of Poland’s larger cities. Though tram routes are usually not as extensive as bus routes, trams effectively complement other forms of local transportation, while lending their own charm to the urban environment. Also, they don’t get stuck in the traffic. So even though they may be slower than buses and have more stops on the way, they can sometimes get you faster to your location.

Be sure to check whether or not the tram system in your city requires separate passes or tickets. Bus tickets will not always work on the trams and vice versa.

Buses (autobusy)

In Warsaw and in Poland’s other cities and towns, buses are the most common and convenient type of inner-city public transportation. In the larger cities, they are almost always crowded. There are few different inner–city tickets (bilety) you can buy. They could be valid for certain amount of time (for example 2 hours, 24 hours) or just for one bus ride (once you leave the bus and get into the next one – you will need a separate ticket).
You can buy tickets for city buses at the kiosks near the stop, and be sure to validate your ticket once you board the bus. It’s a good idea to keep several extra tickets with you because not all buses sell tickets on board.

For longer trips, you can buy tickets at the station or on the bus if you’re running late. Express buses take seat reservations (rezerwacje), though they’re not always required. If you absolutely have to be somewhere at a particular time, plan in advance and make a reservation.

If you travel longer distances between larger cities, buses usually are slower than trains. Because buses travel to some of the more out-of-the-way places where trains don’t venture, you will need to familiarize yourself with bus routes and schedules if you settle in a remote small town.

Taxis (taksówki)

Poland is like any place in Eastern Europe: if you aren’t careful, many taxi drivers will not pass up the chance to relieve you of the heft of your wallet. Here are some tips to help you negotiate the shark-infested waters of Poland’s taxi system:

  • Taxi stops (where taxis line up and wait for fares) are the worst places to catch a taxi. The best way to get a taxi is to call ahead. Companies such as Halo-taxi and Radio-taxi are reputable and do not charge extra to pick you up.
  • Settle on a price with the driver before you get in the cab. At least you’ll have the option of turning down a fare that seems exorbitant.
  • Once you board the cab, make sure the meter is in operation. If you can, try to determine the charge per kilometer.
  • Familiarize yourself early on with the details of taxi travel in Poland, especially in the larger cities. You will save yourself both money and grief. Find out the shortest routes to and from places where you frequently go, so you will know if a taxi driver is trying to run up the fare by taking the long way.
  • If you can, make the driver aware that you know where you are going, he’ll be much less likely to try to put one over on you.

Trains (pociągi)

Warsaw may be the capital, but all trains do not lead there.

A vast network of train lines criss-cross Poland (the national train service is known as PKP – Polskie Koleje Panstwowe)).

There are three types of trains in Poland: Ekspres, Pośpieszny, and Osobowy – express, fast, and passenger – train (the slowest). Take these descriptions literally, or else you will find yourself pondering every tiny ripple in Poland’s gentle topography as you ramble on the slowest train to Sosnowiec. The Ekspres and Pośpieszny trains offer both first- and second-class cars. Reservations are required on express trains and recommended on the fast trains, especially if you plan to travel in the crowded second-class compartments. Just to be safe, make reservations whenever possible, and particularly if your destination is several hours or more away.

Each time my husband and I travel by train, we stop by the PKP office at the Warsaw Central Station. They have a great customer service and are really friendly. They will help you organize your trip – even if you are planning to cross the border into other countries.

Cars (samochody)

Traveling by car is pretty convenient, although most of the Polish roads (drogi) unfortunately are not the best.

Poland is working hard to improve and extend their highways (autostrady); the Polish government hopes to construct over 2,500km of motorway by 2015. There is a strange mix of highways in the country. Old ones, without shoulders, newer ones built with EU-money and private toll highways.
The speed limit is 130 km/hr, but often limited to 110.

The A4 highway between Katowice and Krakow, known as the Małopolska Motorway, is a 61 km long toll road; the first in Poland. At entering and leaving the highway you pay PLN 8.00.
There are plenty gas stations and rest stops at the Polish highways. Major credit cards are accepted and many businesses operate 24/7 (especially for truckers).
The newest highways have the latest facilities and have a spacious design.

When travelling by car you have to be aware of few things. Speeding in small towns in marked congestion zone where the speed limit is 40 or 40 km/hr is normal. High speed in cities such as Warsaw is normal as well. And unfortunately drivers ignore the passing zones a lot. Note the picture which shows a classic example. In a no passing zone two cars, side by side, were passing a third. Drivers assume that others will yield to them. There is no concept of defensive driving, instead people tailgate so close that you are forced to pull over. Regardless of priorities or rights of way, any slower traffic or traffic in the way is expected to move aside.

So if are planning to travel by car in Poland, be really careful. My husband got used to driving in Poland really fast, but he is still a little nervous each time we visit my family and we have to drive the car.

Please share your experiences you had while travelling in Poland in comments below!

 

Do następnego razu! (Till next time…)

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew up in Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business at the University of Warsaw. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with her Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they was born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.

19 Responses to “Transportation in Poland”

  1. Thomas 29 October 2010 at 10:42 pm #

    Hmm interesting, I drive a car in Poland a lot (although i live in The Netherlands), but I never perceived driving in Poland as stressful.
    Of course on the smaller roads you see people making questionable decisions and questionable speeds. :-)

  2. Allen 30 October 2010 at 6:56 am #

    I visited Poland last August and had the chance to travel a bit, by train, bus and car. Without a doubt, the transport network is of very high standards; absolutely no comparison with Kenya. If you think you have poor roads, wait until you come to Kenya! Even where the roads have been well constructed (like the Nairobi-Mombasa highway), more often they are not well marked.
    What was interesting though, was a trip from Wadowice to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, and then to Krakow, by smaller buses, which looked a little like the ones we have in Nairobi, called ‘matatus’ only slightly bigger. But the drivers are more sane than the ones in Kenya.

  3. Marysia 30 October 2010 at 10:54 am #

    I think that in Warsaw, subway is very comfortable, and efficient, nice and clean.
    The tram service is really good, and also travelling by buses is not bad (especially in the moments of the day in which there’re not so many people around, so there’s less confusion)!
    Trains are very, very comfortable despite they can be slow -especially after the problems of floods which Poland suffered recently; both classes are very good: they offer you little snacks and newspapers.
    I have never driven in Poland, but I would feel a little bit nervous as well, because I agree that the drive seems to be quite dangerous because it’s very fast! But if you pay the right attention, everything should be ok.. :)

  4. TheBanjer 30 October 2010 at 1:53 pm #

    In Warszawa, I absolutely loved the public transportation system – always so punctual and reliable and it was basically impossible to get lost in the city :) Also, the night buses are the best thing about it all, since us, poor students, can’t really afford taking expensive cabs in an unknown city, while not really speaking a lot of Polish :)

    The trains were a bit weird for me, since I couldn’t book a seat in second class, but traveling in first class was quite a lovely experience (and students have discounts for first class tickets as well! HUGE discounts!)

  5. John Thomson 30 October 2010 at 5:02 pm #

    Polish railway stations are not very well sign-posted. You can be at your station but not see the station name board. You have to be alert at all times. You may be at your station and not know it then you have to be quick on your feet.

  6. Michael 30 October 2010 at 11:17 pm #

    I travelled on the faster trains in Poland, ICE which is the express train as I think and when that wasn’t availeable the next fastest one. My only complaint was that before I travelled I talked to some Polish people who thought that travelling by train in Poland during the day was some kind of a death defying adventure and that I was surely a crazy person for even contemplating such a feat. I was ready for war when I boarded the first train, anyway I met some very nice people on the trains in Poland, on the first train I met a grandmother going to visit her relations and the softest talking woman I have ever met, a total contrast to what I was led to believe. Some Polish people have a bad opinion of the trains in Poland but maybe this is becuase they haven’t used them in a long time, there are some grim stories about travelling by train in Poland also, especially the night trains. They advised me to travel first class by the fastest trains to avoid trouble which was good advise as I didn’t mind paying the money and it is nice to travel in comfort if you are on holidays.

  7. Michael 30 October 2010 at 11:19 pm #

    I only travelled by train during the day but they knew this and still didn’t think it was a good idea.

  8. Thomas 31 October 2010 at 9:40 am #

    I noticed as wel that Poles have a very bad opinion about the train system. I traveld by IC and by the fast service which I both enjoyed, I never had any trouble. Of course aside from the IC service the material isn’t always very well maintained.

  9. sila 1 November 2010 at 7:56 pm #

    i took a train from krakow to warszawa and back, and had not a clue about fast or slow trains, etc – it was a day journey in july, and the train was awful – noisy, hot, crowded; when i took it back to warszawa, to my surprise, it was a complete different train – new, beautiiful, air conditioned…. for the same price…

    as for the tramway inside the cities, my experience both in krakow and warszaw is that they are super!!!!
    i just had a little suprise in krakow to see so many dogs inside the tram car – big ones standing on their 4 legs beside their owners, sometimes more than one per passenger…
    don’t remember seeing them in warszaw…

    the roads outside warszawa are undergoing much intervention, and there can be a lot of traffic….

  10. Andreas 2 November 2010 at 12:14 pm #

    It may be worth mentioning that in some cities an extra ticket for luggage is required on trams and buses.

  11. Ann 2 November 2010 at 1:24 pm #

    I enjoy reading your postings, especially when you write about the Polish traditions and folk lore such as All Saints Day and Andrzejki.
    I teach Polish and am involved in an organization with women of Polish descent. The students and the women love to hear about these traditions. They heard it from their parents or grandparents when they were little. Now they are adults and they in turn want to learn more about the traditions so they can pass it on to the next generation.

  12. Bettina 4 November 2010 at 2:29 pm #

    I was just wondering: doesn’t PKP stand for “Polskie Koleje Panstwowe”? Anyways, great post, I love reading your blog :-)

  13. Lilo 5 November 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    Actually, there haven’t been osobowe and pospieszne trains for a while now. There are Regio (like short-distance osobowe), InterRegio (long-distance, operated by the same company that offers Regio trains), TLK (=Tanie Linie Kolejowe; operated by a deifferent company; what used to be pospieszne, which never or very rarely had place reservations btw), and InterCity and Eurocity. And a few more region-specific services.

  14. Zyx 7 November 2010 at 11:19 am #

    Hi. I live in Poland – I found this post via Google and noticed there are some mistakes.

    Trains: the situation with trains is a bit chaotic. In 1990-ies, the government did not pay much attention to them which casued great damages to the railroad network. This is why many people do not like to use trains. Anyway:
    – PKP is translated as “Polskie Koleje Państwowe”, not “Polskie Koleje Pociągowe”.
    – PKP is rather a group of smaller companies than a single service.
    – There are several train operators: PKP Intercity provides the “official” inter-city and express connections, Przewozy Regionalne (former: PKP Przewozy Regionalne) is supposed to run local trains, but it offers inter-city connections, too. Some voivodships have their own train companies, too (ie. Koleje Mazowieckie, Koleje Dolnośląskie etc.), or rent private companies to run the trains.
    – There is often no difference in time between the cheapest and the most expensive trains due to the poor track conditions. There are very few routes with a really good quality (i.e. Warsaw-Krakow/Silesia).

    I can’t disagree that buses are the primary form of public transport in cities. Their role is in most cases complementary to trams and subway. Trams have much bigger capacity, less delays and handle the most important routes. And most of all: contrary to buses, you see the tracks, so you can’t get lost. Currently, almost every city is investing in building new tram routes, and buying new trams (this process is slower than for buses, because new trams are more than ten times more expensive).

  15. mark 7 November 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    The author forgot to mention bicycles! In Krakow this is by far the fastest, most convenient way to travel.

  16. Margaret Phillips 7 November 2010 at 11:08 pm #

    We found the public transport in Krakow very good – although after rural Wales, any public transport seems amazing!
    When driving by car, we didn’t notice any problems with bad-mannered or speeding drivers but we got stuck in 3 or 4 awful traffic jams in and around Zakopane.
    However, the one thing you didn’t mention as a major hazard for drivers in Poland is that you must have your headlights on at all times. This summer, ten minutes after our very first venture into the country, we were fined 100 zloty by a cheerful policeman having missed the miniscule sign that told us to switch them on!
    Margaret.

  17. Thomas 8 November 2010 at 9:16 am #

    Very good point Margret makes! My wife is Polish and even in Holland now I got into the habit of always driving with my lights on.
    However a year ago while stopping at the last gas station in Poland before the border I forgot to switch my lights back on. I drove about 7km to the border where I was stopped and finned the 100zł. Although being very polite to the two border guards I was treaded extremely rude. In closing they found it necessary to say, “This is how Poland says goodbye to you”.

    Luckily I go to Poland about 6 times a year and I’ve been studying the language for 4 years. I absolutely love going to Poland and found the Poles to be friendly and welcoming. So I can easily blame it on the crappy behavior of those particular border guards. But for someone traveling through that would have been the worst PR ever.

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