Things you should know about Poland before visiting
Poland’s tourist industry has been booming in recent years. I came back to Wroclaw, my hometown, after nearly 6 years of absence. I definitely noticed massive differences to how it all used to be. How has Poland changed? Here’s some things to know before visiting Poland!
Poland is definitely much more accessible to foreigners now, than it used to be. English signs and menus, guided tours, easy transport and helpful society make it a great and friendly place to travel. If you’re nearby, definitely come down and explore some of our great tourist destinations.
More and more tourists come to Poland every year, so definitely give it a go and pop in for a week or two. But what do you need to know about Poland before your holiday? Check out the list I prepared for everyone traveling to Poland for the first time.
What is the currency in Poland?
Even though Poland is a member of the European Union, we still have our own currency called Złoty (PLN). To give you an idea about the strength of the currency, take a look at my breakdown.
Below data was acquired 22 August, 2016.
1 Złoty = 100 Groszy
We’ve got notes of 10, 20, 50, 100 and 200 PLN. If you plan on exchanging money in Poland, ask at a Kantor (Currency Exchange) if they can pay you in 50’s or 100’s.
We also have coins of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 Groszy.
Polish language is one of the hardest in the world!
…but while you won’t be expected to learn much of it before coming to Poland, it would be greatly appreciated on the local’s part if you learnt at least the most common courtesy words like DZIĘKUJĘ (thank you), DZIEŃ DOBRY (hello), DO WIDZENIA (bye), PROSZĘ (please), PRZEPRASZAM (sorry, excuse me).
Most Polish people are familiar with basic English, so you shouldn’t have any problems even in areas off the beaten track. In touristy spots you can expect the locals to speak English at least on upper intermediate level.
Fact: a lot of hospitality places such as hotels, restaurants, pubs, sightseeing spots require applicants to have good command of English.
How do I get online in Poland?
Nowadays most big cities in their city centers and most shopping malls and cafes offer free wifi you can connect to and post on Facebook all them pretty photos from your trip across Poland.
Beware that sometimes in order to connect to public wifi, you will need to follow instructions, accept Terms and Conditions of the network or even provide a phone number – this may be tricky, because the system may only accept Polish mobile numbers.
Another thing is that sometimes said instructions are not available in English. If you need help with setting up Wifi in a shopping centre, find the information center and they will set it up for you.
A prepaid phone card is still a massive thing in Poland (I use one myself). And it’s not hard to get one, even if you can’t speak a word of Polish! Take a look below for more information about getting prepaid SIM card for mobile internet data in Poland.
How to get a SIM card in Poland?
If you want to be in touch with your friends 24/7 while in Poland, don’t worry! You can easily get a prepaid SIM card from any network. Setting up process is fairly easy and quick. English instructions are usually available at the back of the SIM card package.
In 2016 you can still buy a SIM card nearly in every kiosk or convenience store. However, starting 2017 you will only be able to do that in dedicated network’s store. If you arrive to any of Poland’s bigger cities, you shouldn’t have a problem finding one. They are usually located around the city centers or in shopping malls.
The staff there will not only sell you a SIM card with a tariff that will suit your needs, but they will also help you set it up.
While this is not a sponsored article, I will recommend Play Network especially for someone looking for good and cheap internet data packages. They are available for as little as 5 PLN per prepaid SIM card and an internet data package of 2 GB with 4G Internet for 9 PLN or 6 GB for 20 PLN as of August 2016.
In order to activate an internet package you will have to top up the account. You can do that at most kiosks, convenience stores or network stores. Simply ask for a top up of the balance of your choosing for the network of your previously purchased SIM card. You’ll get a receipt with activation code, top up number and instructions.
Let me know in the comments below if you’d like me to write up an article with detailed instructions how to set up SIM cards for the most popular networks in Poland.
Does Poland have street food?
No, Poland is not particularly popular for street food, but it doesn’t mean you can’t taste gorgeous Polish food on a budget! How come? Well, I have two words for you – milk bars.
The history of milk bars reaches the end of XIX century, but they only became popular during the communism period in Poland.
What is a milk bar? A milk bar is a Polish version of something like an American diner. A kind of cafeteria, where you can taste fresh homemade Polish dishes at low prices.
Milk bars are usually open until 5:00-6:00 PM, however if you don’t grab lunch there before 3:00 PM you might be left with whatever hasn’t been eaten during the peak lunch hours. Best time to go there? Noon.
What kind of food can you get in Milk Bars? All sorts of Polish all-time favourites. Golabki (rice and meat in a cabbage leaf served with tomato sauce), pierogi dumplings with all sorts of sweet and savoury fillings, pancakes, croquettes, bigos (boiled cabbage with bacon, sausage and spices), Polish traditional Sunday dinner classic schabowy z ziemniakami (fried pork chop in breadcrumbs with a side of potatos and a side salad), various soups (Rosół the Chicken Noodle Soup, Tomato Soup, Vegetable Soup, etc.) and much more!
I observed that in recent years milk bars have become even more popular than before. This applies especially to bigger cities. People there live faster, have less time to cook, and there is definitely more single people who’d rather grab a quick lunch/dinner at a milk bar than to cook a meal from scratch at home.
Other local food? Polish people like their kebabs, zapiekanki (pizza-like toasted baguette with cheese, mushrooms and ham), waffles with whipped cream, ice cream, etc. There’s also a lot of regional snacks sold on the street like oscypki (smoked cheese sold in the mountains), obwarzanki (pretzel kind of pastry sold in Krakow) or knysza (bread filled with raw vegetables and sauces sold in Wrocław).
How to use public transport in Poland?
You need to buy a ticket either in a kiosk or in a machine on a bus stop/tram stop. Depending on which city you’re visiting, there are numerous types of tickets for public transport. There are one entry tickets, time-tickets, daily, weekly or monthly passes.
After purchasing a ticket at a machine, you will have to mark it in whichever tram or bus you enter. The mark usually leaves a date and time on your ticket, so if you have a time ticket, keep in mind that this is your ticket’s starting time.
In some cities like for example Wroclaw or Warsaw, you can also purchase a ticket in a ticket machine on the bus or a tram, however it usually only accepts card payments.
Google maps is usually pretty good at figuring out how to get to places and which bus lines to use. There is a lot of apps for smartphones that show you the exact location of buses and trams, so you don’t have to worry about ever being late. A lot of websites such as jakdojade.pl can be of help.
Taxis? We’ve got plenty! Uber has also introduced itself to a few major cities in Poland, so you can always try it out!
You can use our code “sylwesterz6ue” or click here to sign up to UBER and receive a 20 PLN off your first ride!
How to get around Poland?
Is it hard? Is it complicated? Thankfully, the answer is NO. And it’s not expensive to travel around Poland either.
There’s no way for me to let you know about all the possibilities, but these are the most popular ways to get around Poland.
You should probably know about them, if you want to make the most of your time here.
#1 Buses in Poland
Buses are definitely the cheapest option and there is plenty of companies offering budget bus travels around Poland, one of the most popular ones are PolskiBus.
PolskiBus offers connections around Poland and some of the most popular tourist cities in other countries, such as Budapest, Berlin or Prague. The most popular connections are available nearly every hour throughout all day and most of the nights. The buses offer aircon, Wifi on board and power sockets.
The company has been heavily criticised by Polish people, however I used their services multiple times and never had any major issues. The seats could be, though, slightly more comfortable. You can only buy tickets for PolskiBus online and the more in advance you’ll purchase your ticket, the cheaper it will be, as tickets sometimes can be as low as 1 PLN.
#2 Trains in Poland
Trains have changed quite a lot in recent years in Poland. Compared to buses, they are quite expensive. PKP Polish National Rail Company has an English website where you can search for connections and purchase tickets online. The prices can be as much as two or three times higher than the prices of buses on the same connections.
#3 Flights between cities in Poland
What has become a trend in recent years is traveling around the biggest cities in Poland by plane. You can get flights from Wrocław to Warsaw for as cheap as about 50 PLN one way, so it’s cheaper than a train and takes you an hour or less to get from point A to point B.
Make sure to find out where your destination’s airport is located. Check also how far from the city center or your point of interest the airport is. Make sure transport from the airport is available and affordable.
The good thing about buses and trains, they usually stop in the city center or nearby. Airport can be as far as an hour’s drive away.
What is the weather in Poland like?
A big highlight of traveling around Poland is the weather. As much as I love boiling hot weather, I do appreciate the fact that as a child I could experience all four seasons.
The summers are usually hot and dry. It’s the perfect weather to check out some nice spots by the sea or to spend a few days in seclusion by one of many beautiful lakes Poland has to offer. During spring everything is blooming, it seems as if nature get a unique one of a kind glow. Golden Polish autumns are perfect for long walks around our national parks or even public city parks. The winter, even when it gets rough, is a stunning season. Long evenings accompanied by spicy mould wine and snowflakes falling slowly from the sky can be awesome, too.
A tip about the weather? If you’re a budget traveller, remember, the prices of accommodation down by the sea drop 50% around the second half of September. The beach is still just as beautiful as in the summer – and there are no tourists around!
Polish people – BOLD AND WELCOMING!
Polish people are bold. There is no other way to say it. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain it the best way and I’m still struggling.
It’s something on the other end of the spectrum from the British courtesy. Does it mean we’re rude? We can be, that’s for sure. But it’s all about welcoming you to the family. If you’re a new member of the family, why would we tip toe around you? Wanna eat? There’s the fridge right there! Or when you want to pay for a pack of chewing gum with a note of 200 PLN. The cashier will most likely laugh and refuse to sell it to you.
So if you want something done, if you want us to listen, say it, and be loud about it. Make sure that we’re listening. Repeat a few times. Argue if you have to. Don’t be shy.
Let me know in the comments what convinced you to visit Poland and what area you want to see! I’d love to hear from you!