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Poland is an oft-neglected destination for travelers to Europe and this bodes well for those of you who do make the trip. Poland has had its ups and downs since leaving the cold grip of the Soviet Union in 1990, but the economy is stable and the tourism infrastructure is more than adequate for the casual traveler and yet rustic enough to provide for those magic moments far away from home. Poland is still an inexpensive place to shop and travel and there are great opportunities for lake-side vacations in the north, mountain retreats in the south, seaside respites on the Baltic and rich urban life in the cities of Krakow, Warsaw and Gdansk.
Passports & Visas
Passports are required to enter and leave Poland. Visas are not required for US citizens for visits of less than 90 days. For longer visits, contact the nearest Polish embassy. Poland is a party to the Schengen Agreement, which allows for free travel among 25 different European countries.
See the US Department of State fact sheet on Poland for travelers:
“Polish immigration officials may ask travelers for proof of sufficient financial resources to cover their proposed stay in Poland, generally viewed as 100 zloty per day. Additionally, citizens of non-EU countries, including the United States, should carry proof of adequate medical insurance in case of an accident or hospitalization while in Poland. Polish immigration officials may ask for documentation of such insurance or proof of sufficient financial resources (at least 400 zloty per day) to cover such costs.”
Obtaining a US passport
The US Government Website is where to start.
Embassy of the Republic of Poland
2224 Wyoming Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008
tel. (202) 234-3800
or the Polish consulates in Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York.
The U.S. Embassy Warsaw
Aleje Ujazdowskie 29/31.
Tel: (48) (22) 504-2000
This number can be called 24 hours/day.
For emergencies after business hours, press “0.”
Fax: (48)(22) 504-2688
Consular Agency Poznan
Ulica Paderewskiego 8
Telephone: (48) (61) 851-8516
Fax: (48) (61) 851-8966.
Poland Tourist Information
Culture and History of Poland
Poland’s origins are hidden in the mists of the early Iron Age when the peoples of Central Asia and the Middle East migrated into modern Europe and mingled with the existing tribes. The first recorded history of Poland begins with the conversion to Christianity of Poland’s first king, Mieszko I, in 966. The dynasty he founded survived, flourished and led to a union 500 years later with Lithuania, Poland’s longtime ally. This Commonwealth became one of the greatest nations in Europe from the late 14th century to the late 17th century, before internal strife and repeated attacks from longtime enemy Russia and invasions by Sweden broke the Commonwealth and led to the first partition of Poland.
During this first Golden Age, the Commonwealth made vassals of the Teutonic Knights, repeatedly repelled Russian and Tatar incursions, occupied much of Eastern Europe and saved Western Europe from Muslim conquest at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Opportunistic and ungrateful neighbors – Prussia, Russia and Austria – partitioned and occupied Polish territory from 1795 to 1807 and then again from 1815 to 1918. After WWI, the American President Woodrow Wilson demanded that Poland be re-instated as a sovereign state and the Europeans agreed, except for Russia who had to be convinced through a crushing defeat at the hands of the Polish Army. It wasn’t long before the Germans and Russians once again schemed to wipe Poland off of the map: in 1939 the Nazis and the Red Army invaded Poland and destroyed the Polish Army. During the occupation, Polish rebels inflicted and suffered horrible casualties on the battlefield. Six million Poles died in that war, including as many as 3 million Polish Jews.
After WWII, the Polish nation was re-configured along Soviet and NATO lines, losing 20% of its original territory in the process. The Poles were on the frontline of the Cold War and it was in Poland that the Solidarity Movement grew and eventually helped to topple the Soviet Regime. Since the end of Communist rule, Poland has become a member of the EU and has experienced an economic boom as well as a brain drain. Things are stabilizing now that the initial wave of young people who left Poland in the early 1990s are now returning to live and/or invest in their home country.
Read our full guide on the best Polish dishes you should try when you visit Poland.
Currency and Money in Poland
Poland uses the Zlotych
Driving in Poland
Poland is part of that illustrious group of nations that has gained riches very recently, which means roads are under construction and/or narrow and/or poorly lit. Drivers may not adhere to the rules of road and, some might also be drunk. There has been a rapid increase of drivers on the road and not all of them know or care to know what they are doing. Having said that, the situation is improving rapidly and the government is enforcing the rules and punishing violators as best they can. In order to drive legally in Poland, US citizens must have a US driver’s license accompanied by an International Driver’s Permit, which are only issued by the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).
Electricity in Poland
Electricity in Poland is run off of 230V, 50Hz, so American travelers should bring converters or use local appliances.
Etiquette in Poland
Polish life still revolves around family and church. The traditional values of family first and devotion to Catholic matters holds sway for many households and, even if modernism has crept in, is widely respected. Poles like to drink vodka and will toast at least 2-3 times during a family style meal with a guest (such as you.) Naturally, urban Poles and rural Poles have different ideas about the Church as do older Poles and younger Poles; but stay on the safe side, at least initially, and respect the traditions.
Public Hours in Poland
Traditional business hours in Poland are from 7am to 3pm with a long lunch after 3pm, but those hours are beginning to shift. Currently, public offices and banks are open Monday thru Friday, from 8am to 4pm and banks also stay open on Saturdays from 9am to 1pm.
Safety in Poland
Poland has a very low rate of violent crime, according to the US State Department, but there are definitely thieves and pickpockets as in every country. Take standard precautions with your money, wallets and valuables and be aware of your surroundings at night and you should be fine. Poland is influenced by neighboring Russia, so Russian gangs and organized crime is something to be aware of. Also, Poland is quite homogeneous and quite white, so racism might be an issue here more so than in other European countries.
Tipping in Poland
Tipping is not expected in Poland. A 10% tip for cab drivers is normal, but restaurants usually include a 10% service tax in the bill.
Weather in Poland
Poland’s weather can be fickle and extreme. Summers can be abnormally hot or just temperate, then change suddenly. Same goes for the duration and severity of winter. The lakes in the north often freeze over in winter.
Wunderground has excellent information for daily forecasts and StayPoland has good background information.
Getting Around in Poland
LOT is Poland’s national carrier with service all over Continental Europe, to North America, to the Middle East and East Asia as well. LOT has extremely cheap flights from NY and Chicago during the down season (NOT June to August or Christmas). Virtually every other small-time operator in Europe has entered the Polish market and is offering cheap rates from within Europe, including CentralWings, EasyJet, GermanWings, Ryanair, SkyEurope and WizzAir, to name a few.
Boats and Ferries
There is a ferry that runs from the Scandinavian countries to Poland’s northern coast called Polferries — it might be a fine option if you are making a circuit through the north on your way to the east.
Rail and Bus
Poland is a huge country in the center of Europe, so the connections via rail and bus with its neighbors are well-established. You can get to Poland via any major city in Europe with Eurolines Polska (bus) or a Eurorail Pass. You can catch a train from any city in Europe headed east and end up in Poland. Rail connections are especially good between Germany and Poland, but it is also possible to board a train in Madrid or London and travel to Warsaw without having to change trains.
Car Rental and Taxis
You have to be 21 years old and have insurance to rent a car in Poland. Car thieves make a good living in Poland shipping cars east to Russia, so be careful with your rental car and your belongings. All major companies have a presence in major Polish cities like Krakow and Warsaw.
Health Care in Poland
Hospitals in Poland have adequate care, but may not be what you are used to at home. You should have no problem obtaining medicine as long as you have a prescription and the only real difference you will notice in terms of care is the environment: hospitals in the old “Eastern Bloc” still retain some of their Communist-Era “charms,” but for all basic ailments, the care should suffice. Doctors might speak English, but also might not. We recommend checking out the World Health Organization site for Poland for more information.
No permit is required to carry medication in your luggage. However, you should pack your medication in its original containers and/or have your doctor’s prescription with you. Customs officials will have to be satisfied that you are not importing more than would be necessary for your personal use, taking into account the drug type and length of stay (for no more than three months).
Lodging in Poland
There are a host of sites that offer booking information for hotels, hostels and B&Bs. Look to our booking site for hotels, B & Bs and hostels. For “agrotourism” style lodging, check out Agritourism Poland.
Main Sights in Poland
Gdansk – Former seat of the Teutonic Knights and bastion of the Prussian Empire, now an historic city on the Baltic.
Krakow – One of the few Polish cities not destroyed during WWII, it features beautiful architecture that is is some of the oldest in Poland.
Lake District – The northern parts of Poland are dotted with lakes and forests — some developed for tourism, others not — that are great for any type of traveler
For a lot of good information on sights and other travel information for Poland, visit Poland Official Tourism site .
Public Holidays in Poland
Poland celebrates the Catholic holidays as well as certain national holidays, such as Independence Day (November 11) and Constitution Day (May 3).
January 1, New Year’s Day
Sunday in Spring (movable) Easter Sunday
Monday following Easter Sunday Easter Monday
May 1, Labor Day This holiday is not officially called Labor Day (see below), but it is commonly called that and coincides with Labor Day as celebrated internationally on May 1.
May 3, Constitution Day
7th Sunday after Easter Pentecost Sunday As this holiday always falls on a Sunday it is not widely known.
9th Thursday after Easter Corpus Christi This is a Catholic Church Holiday
August 15, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary This is also the day of the Polish army celebrating the battle of Warsaw in 1920
November 1, All Saints’ Day
November 11, Independence Day
December 25, Christmas Day
December 26, Boxing Day
Telephones in Poland
You can make international calls from a variety of places in Poland, shopping centers, pay phones, the post office and your hotel. It is a good idea to buy a calling card for international and national calls.
Useful Country Codes:
USA and Canada 1
Returning to the US
Customs,VAT & Duty Free
For Americans going to or returning from Poland, TravelDocs has information on customs allowances, but you should always check the Polish Embassy site for more information.
Value Added Tax (VAT or IVA) Refund Information
For information regarding taxes in Poland and how to refund your VAT, visit KrakowInfo. VAT is normally between 20 -25% in Poland. It is important to keep your receipts for any purchases and any currency exchanges you do.
If you are a U.S. or Canadian resident, you may qualify for a personal exemption which allows you to bring goods of a certain value into the country without paying customs duties, excise taxes, or Value Added Tax.
Written By Sascha Matuszak for EuropeUpClose.com