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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…)