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Mar 03 2015

Getting Around Poland: A Practical Guide

Getting around PolandI’ve spent the past two weeks travelling around Poland without a car.  As usual, I used different modes of transport to get around, and I thought it would be useful to share my experience just in case you are thinking of doing something similar.  It’s always good to know what your options are if you don’t have a car.

Trains

At the start of this two-week trip, I decided to start my journey in Gdansk because I wanted to start at a point as far away as possible, and then slowly make my way back down south.  When I looked on the PKP website (the national Polish train website), I found a few train journeys of varying lengths.  One was a cheap, overnight trip, which would have been fine if the journey started before midnight rather than after one in the morning.  This and other journeys were 9-10 hours long.  I would have taken one of those, but I saw a journey for five and a half hours, literally halving the journey time.  That was obviously my preferred option, although it was a lot more expensive.  To be honest, I didn’t have to think about it for too long.  I was tired, and needed a break.  Also, because it was a time-limited holiday rather than one of my open-ended journeys, I decided to treat myself.  One of my Polish colleagues didn’t believe I would get from Krakow to Gdansk in five and a half hours, but I did.

As it turns out, the Pendolino train I ended up booking is brand new.  This high-speed rail service was only launched in December 2014, so I was very fortunate to have that as an option.  You have to buy a ticket before boarding the train.  If you don’t have a ticket, the fine is set at 650 zl.  If you purchased your ticket online, the ticket inspector will ask to see your ID as well as your ticket, so make sure you have it handy.  It was a warm, comfortable, and just an all-round great journey for a long trip.  I even got two complimentary cups of coffee that I wasn’t expecting, which I appreciated.   You can also order food, which will be delivered to your seat, although I didn’t do that.  In addition, there are power sockets, one for each seat, which means you can charge up one of your devices.  The only thing it’s missing is WiFi, although I’m sure that will be introduced at some point in the future.  One last thing: If you buy your ticket online, you don’t have to print it off.  They can scan the code on your mobile device, which makes it so much easier.

Apart from the national trains, I used a few local trains such as SKF when I was in the north.  These are no way near as comfortable and take longer to go shorter distances, but these ‘no frills’ trains get you to where you need to go, and that’s what matters.  It’s easy to buy a ticket from a ticket machine because you change the language to English or German.  That was really helpful.  You can also purchase tickets from cashiers, although that’s trickier when you speak very little Polish, like me.

Once you have your ticket, it can be a bit of a challenge trying to work out which train you need to take.

Useful tip:  Peron means platform.  Tor means track.

When there is more than one platform, and more than one track (which is usually the case), you need to make sure that you are on the correct platform, and get on a train on the correct track.  There is rarely a member of staff to ask, and often little information, so I kept asking people until someone confirmed that the train was going to the correct destination.  It’s worth getting to the train station in plenty of time, so you have the time to suss all this out.  Don’t leave it to the last minute or you could accidentally end up on the wrong train.  Then again, that would be an adventure you might enjoy.

Another issue I came across when I was going from Torun to Poznan was that I stupidly agreed to taking an indirect journey.  I wouldn’t advise doing this if you can take a direct train.  It didn’t save me money, but it did mean that I didn’t have to hang around a train station that was under construction.  The cashier told me the platform without me even having to ask, which was great, and it all seemed to be fine until I saw two trains on the same track.  What?  Which one should I get on?  I had no idea, and there wasn’t a member of staff to ask, which isn’t unusual.  I ended up getting on both trains and asking other passengers.  On one of the trains were some lovely local women.  They couldn’t speak English, but they were great.  They confirmed that I was on the correct train.  My second concern was the fact that the train didn’t leave on time.  That reduced my 8 minute changeover time to 3 minutes.  I honestly wasn’t sure if I would get there in time for the second train, but I did.

Useful tip: If you have a choice, always choose a direct train.

Buses

There are a few different national buses you can take.  I only took two types: Komfort Bus and Polski Bus.  I had used Polski Bus a few times before, so I knew what to expect.  I didn’t have a clue about Komfort Bus, but I didn’t have much choice because I wanted to travel from Kolobrzeg to Torun, and there weren’t that many options available to me.  I hadn’t taken Komfort Bus before, so it was worth trying, or so I thought.

For Komfort Bus, you buy the ticket from the driver rather than in advance.  Don’t let the name of the bus company fool you.  There is nothing comfortable about these buses, so don’t expect a luxurious bus.  It was old, smelly, the seats were torn, and there was no WiFi as advertised, or any power sockets.  I felt every single spring in the seat, and the back pinged in and out to add to the discomfort.  The suspension was awful too because I felt every single bump in the road, and for a journey that took over five hours, that wasn’t good.  The next day, my back was aching.  On long journeys, like mine, the bus driver stops for about 10 minutes for a toilet break.  Then, three hours into the journey, we had to change buses for some reason.  I don’t know if that is a regular occurrence with this bus company.

Polski Bus is completely different.  It’s comfortable, there is a power socket for each seat, although mine didn’t work on my journey from Poznan to Wroclaw, and it has WiFi, although that worked intermittently.  Nonetheless, it was a comfortable ride, which is the most important thing for me, to be honest.  The next day, my back didn’t ache.  Also, there’s a toilet on board, and I have never changed buses mid-journey.  You buy the ticket online, and you don’t have to print it.  All you need to do is use your mobile device or write down the relevant information for the bus driver.

Useful tips for Polski Bus: Bring food and drink supplies with you because the bus doesn’t stop.  Check the departure location of Polski Bus on the website because it isn’t always in a central position.

Car journeys

I had a few car trips that I wasn’t expecting.

Local rides from local people

I was staying with someone in Gdansk, and she very kindly gave me a lift from time to time.  Then, when I was staying in a guesthouse in Leba, a friend of the owner, who was heading back to Gdansk, offered to take me to the nearest train station in Leborg, which was very nice.  She even gave me a quick tour of the town because I had plenty of time before my train left.

Car sharing

This is a new one on me.  I had heard about it during this trip, but knew absolutely nothing about it.  That was until the last morning of my trip.  I was staying in a hostel in Wroclaw, and was chatting to another guest with whom I was sharing a room.  She mentioned that she had used BlaBla Car once.  Then, while talking to a member of staff at the hostel about my journey back to Krakow, she asked if I had tried BlaBla Car.  I told her I hadn’t.  She raved about it, and promptly found the site on her computer, and checked journeys from Wroclaw to Krakow for that day.  Because I hadn’t booked a train or bus journey, and I was interested in trying a different form of transport, it was worth investigating.  She found lots of people offering a car ride for about the same price as Polski Bus at more convenient times.  BlaBla Car is basically a car-sharing website.  People who are travelling by car from one place to the next, offer a lift for a set price.  I chose a car journey with a woman, as it was my first time.

The girl in the hostel sorted it all out, and gave me the telephone number of the woman who was offering the ride.  When it came to the time to meet up, I was waiting at the pre-arranged meeting point.  To cut a long story short, it turned out to be a nightmare trying to find where she was parked.  It was my first time in Wroclaw as well as hers.  That didn’t help.  After about 30 minutes of me walking backwards and forwards and thinking I wasn’t going to get back to my town that night, I found her.  Having an exact meeting point that is clear to everyone is really important.  It’s hard when you don’t know a place, but you need a landmark of some description.

After that rather difficult start, it all turned out fine.  In fact, it was a lovely journey, and much better than sitting on a bus.  The journey time was reduced by an hour, I chatted to the other BlaBla Car passenger, the driver, and her boyfriend.  It was great.  They were all Polish, but they could speak English.  For more or less the price of a bus journey, it was quicker, more comfortable, and more enjoyable.  I would definitely use it again.  It’s worth pointing out at the start that you don’t speak Polish, if you don’t.  If they didn’t speak English, I would never have found them, and would have missed my ride.

Useful tip: Choose a recognisable landmark for a meeting point. Have a Polish SIM. If you don’t speak Polish, make that very clear.

Hitchhiking  

As I found out, hitchhiking is very popular in Poland.  It isn’t something I have done much of, and I didn’t hitchhike on this journey.  I just thought it was worth mentioning as an option because it is very easy to hitch a lift in Poland, so I’ve been told.  I met a Polish-Italian couple who were doing that, and the other person using BlaBla Car said she normally hitchhikes.  It takes longer, and is a challenge, but it’s an adventure in itself, and cheap.  I’m not sure if it is something I would do on my own, although I have met a number of women who hitchhike on a regular basis.  It’s certainly an option open to you if you are willing to try it.  I certainly wouldn’t suggest that you should hitchhike because it isn’t something I am comfortable doing, but I thought I had to mention it when talking about getting around Poland because it is so popular.

My Thoughts

It’s fairly easy to travel around Poland because there are so many options.  It’s great that in one trip, you can combine different modes of transport to travel around.  That makes for a more interesting trip.  Obviously, there are other ways of getting around that I haven’t mentioned such as cycling.  Cycling is a great option in Poland, especially in the summer, because the terrain is fairly flat.  I cycled a bit on my trip, but it was only one short round-trip of about 20 kms.

Have your say

If you have any questions or anything you would like to add, please post them in the comments section below.

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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