While Poland is increasingly becoming less discernible from other western European countries (in a good way, that is), there certain local traditions and laws which the foreign visitor should be aware of. This is In Your Pocket's run-down of the helpful things everyone should know when visiting Poland.
ClimatePoland has a temperate climate with hot summers and cold winters. Seasons tend to be more pronounced than in the west and temperatures can get down as low as -20 C in winter and as high as +30 C in summer. The coldest weather tends to hit around February.
CustomsIf you are travelling within the EU those over 18 can now take 10 litres of spirits, 90 litres of wine and 110 litres of beer. Most countries will not allow more than 800 cigarettes from Poland. If purchasing art or books, you need to consider their age and value. In order to leave the country, art must be both less than 50 years old and under a certain value (varies depending by type; photos under 6,000zł, other art under 16,000zł, for example); if these conditions are met, the gallery curator then can (and should) provide you with a 'zaświadczenie' (permission document) describing the artwork's price and when and where it was created. If the work exceeds the permitted age or value, you must get permission from the 'Wojewódzki Konserwator Zabytków' (Regional Curator's Office) to take it out of Poland; bear in mind that this process will likely take 2-3 months. Books must be less than 100 years old and under 6,000zł in value in order to leave the country; otherwise, permission must be obtained from the National Library. Obviously, problems arise when purchases are made at bazaars or flea markets where vendors cannot provide the necessary documents; if there is any doubt about the value or age of your purchase, we suggest you visit an 'Antykwariat' (antiques dealer – see Shopping) for advice.
ElectricityElectricity in Poland is 230V, 50Hz AC. Plug sockets are round with two round-pin sockets. Therefore if you are coming from the US, UK or Ireland you are definitely going to need a plug converter. The best place to pick these up is at home though if you do arrive without a converter try your luck with your hotel reception; they should be able to point you to an electrical store if they can't provide a converter themselves.
Facts & Figures
Poland covers an area of 312,685 square kilometres and is the ninth biggest country in Europe. It borders the Baltic Sea (528km) and seven countries, namely Belarus (416km), Czech Republic (790km), Germany (467km), Lithuania (103km), the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad (210km), Slovakia (539km) and Ukraine (529km).
Kraków is split by the Vistula (Wisła) River. At 1,047km it is Poland’s longest river, flowing through Warsaw and into the Bay of Gdańsk.
The highest peak is Rysy (2,499m) in the nearby Tatra Mountains. By comparison Kraków’s landscape is flat and the city lies 219m above sea level.
Poland - 38,478,602
Warsaw - 1,735,442
Kraków - 761,873
Łódź - 706,004
Wrocław - 634,487
Poznań - 545,680
Gdańsk - 461,489
Katowice - 301,834.
Poland is in the Central European (CET) time zone (GMT+1hr). When it’s 12:00 in Kraków it’s 6:00 am in New York City, 11:00 in London, 12:00 in Paris and Berlin and 19:00 in Tokyo. Polish summer time (GMT+2hrs) starts and ends on the last Sundays of March and October.
Health & Emergency
In the case of an emergency, mobile phone users should dial 112 to be forwarded to the police, fire department or ER. From a landline or public phone dial the following: Ambulance: 999; Fire: 998; Police: 997.
English, German and Russian speakers have separate lines specifically designed for foreigners in distress: +48 608 599 999 or +48 22 278 77 77. Both numbers can be reached from a mobile phone or a land-line and are hotlines in case you run into any troubles during your stay. The lines are active year round with later hours during the high-tourist season.
For urgent medical emergencies, a list of Emergency Rooms can be found in the Directory section of this guide. If you've woken up to find you've got a raging headache, a swollen foot you can't put weight on and vague memories of some kind of calamity, we suggest you sort it out by calling a private clinic, thus avoiding the hassle of the notoriously long queues in Polish hospitals; a list of private clinics can also be found in the Directory. Further help can be provided by embassies and consulates, a list of which can also be found in the Directory.
InternetInternet access is typically free and widely available in Poland, with practically every café and restaurant offering wi-fi to customers with laptops and smartphones. Getting on the network often requires nothing more than a password, which you can request of your favourite bartender or barista with a simple, “Poproszę o hasło do internetu?” If you don't have your own gadgets we offer a few Internet cafe options below.
Law & Order
In general Kraków is far safer than most West European cities, and visitors are unlikely to face any problems if they simply employ common sense. Petty crime does exist, and travellers should be on guard against pickpockets; if you’re in a bar or restaurant keep your wallet inside your trouser pocket, not inside a jacket casually left lying around. Perhaps the biggest danger in Kraków is posed by groups of drunken football hooligans who can be easily avoided and heard coming a mile away. Finally, foreign men should be suspicious of young women who take an overactive interest in them and suggest going to some dodgy nightclub not in this guide where they stand the chance of being intimidated into paying for vastly inflated drink charges by thuggish bouncers; unfortunately, it happens.
Staying safe and on the right side of the law is significantly easier for tourists who accept that Polish beer and vodka are rocket fuel and drink accordingly. If you’re determined to make an idiot of yourself then make sure it’s not in front of the law. Since the budget airline boom, plenty of geniuses - from those in Chewbacca costumes to complete prats who’ve thought it perfectly acceptable to drop their trousers and urinate in a city centre fountain - have tested the patience of local law enforcement, which is now decidedly low so don’t push your luck.
Other easy ways for tourists to cross cops are by riding public transport without a ticket (see our section on Public Transport) and, silly as it seems, by jaywalking. If you are from a country which doesn’t have or respect jaywalking laws, you'll be surprised to see crowds of people standing obediently at a crossing waiting for the lights to change. The reason for obeying this little rule is the fact that the local city police (Straż Miejska) will quite freely give you a 50-100zł fine for crossing a road at a place where no crossing is marked or a 100zł fine when the ‘walk’ light is red. And don’t think you are exempt by being a foreign visitor. You too are subject to the law and your non-residency means you will be forced to pay the fine on the spot.
Prices in Poland are still fairly competitive despite increases over the last couple of years particularly in the prices of cigarettes. Here are some typical everyday products and prices.
Market values as of March 22, 2016 based on €1 = 4.22 zł
|Product||Price (zł)||Price (€)|
|McDonald's Big Mac||9.70zł||€2.30|
|Snickers candy bar||1.69zł||€0.40|
|0.5ltr vodka (shop)||23.99zł||€5.68|
|0.5ltr beer (shop)||2.99zł||€0.71|
|0.5ltr beer (bar)||9.00zł||€2.13|
|Loaf of white bread||1.99zł||€0.47|
|Pack of Marlboro cigarettes||15.00zł||€3.55|
|1ltr of unleaded petrol (98)||4.11zł||€0.97|
|Local transport ticket (1 journey)||3.80zł||€0.90|
MoneyThinking of paying for your tram ticket with one of the 100zł notes in your pocket? Think again. Small shops, newsagents, public toilets, and even the occasional restaurant or bar, will often refuse to break a large note for you. As annoying as coins can be, do carry small change for such moments.
Currency can be exchanged at airports, hotels, banks and anywhere with a sign proclaiming 'Kantor.' Kantors will often provide better value than the banks in your home country or the ATM, though for obvious reasons be very wary of kantors at the airport, train station and close to tourist sites. Shopping around will reward you with the best rate. For a list of kantors in Kraków that won't rip you off, see Directory.
Since EU ascension and becoming a favoured tourist destination, prices in Poland and especially Kraków have been on the rise, making the country less of a bargain than it was ten years ago. Having said that, however, prices for food, drink, cultural venues and transport still remain comparably cheap in contrast to Western Europe. A ticket to the cinema typically costs 15-25zł, while admission to most museums costs around 5-15zł.
Credit Card ChargesIf you plan to pay for any purchases in Poland with a credit card whose base currency isn’t Polish złoty (and unless you’re Polish, this probably means you), you may find some merchants asking whether you want to be charged in your home currency or złoty. At times (though this is more rare) it’s not even a question – the merchant will simply take it upon himself to charge your credit card in your home currency, no questions asked. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your credit card company won’t charge a foreign transaction fee if you're charged in your native currency; crossing the border is what they care about, not the currency. And that’s just one of the reasons why, when given the choice, it’s in the best interest of your wallet to choose złoty.
Why? Because the companies that process credit card transactions typically tack on fees for converting the money, and then do so at a lousy exchange rate. Depending on the size and number of your purchases while in Poland, the cost can really add up. Visitors will have to be vigilant and monitor receipts when paying with a credit card, and should you be charged in a different currency put your foot down. Merchants don’t benefit from those additional fees, only the company that processes the transaction does. So be firm about asking to have your purchase refunded and done over again in złoty.
With a full calendar of religious holidays, seasonal traditions and name days, it seems there's always something being celebrated here in Poland. Not to be confused with unofficial holidays like Women's Day (March 8th), national holidays that are still regular work days like the Day of Pope John Paul II (October 16th), or the rash of spontaneously decreed days of national mourning that occur each year, below we list Poland's annual non-working public holidays:
April 5 Easter Sunday
April 6 Easter Monday
May 1 Labour Day
May 3 Constitution Day (May 3, 1791)
May 24 Pentecost Sunday
June 4 Corpus Christi
August 15 Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also Polish Army Day
November 1 All Saints' Day
November 11 Independence Day (Nov 11, 1918)
December 25 First Day of Christmas
December 26 Second Day of Christmas
January 1, 2016 New Year's Day
January 6, 2016 Three Kings
PostA bureaucratic nightmare buried under paperwork riddled with illegible stamps and seals, there is no indication that Poland's postal service - Poczta Polska - will be automated or computerised during our lifetimes. There can be no doubt that the post office is one of the most frustrating places to be a foreigner in Poland, as you're guaranteed to not understand a damn thing happening there. Your best ally is the person in line next to you; if there's one person in the room who speaks not a word of English, it's the qualified clerk at the service window. Also, don't expect any signs to feature English translations, though all paperwork has been mystifyingly translated into French (and only French). When you get to the head of that insufferably long queue, don't be surprised to be sent to another or back to the end, paperwork in hand. The declaration that your nicely wrapped parcel is somehow 'unacceptable' is another popular reason why you might find yourself ready to 'go postal', though there are many others.
If sending something of any monetary or sentimental value, please, make sure you do so by using priority mail or better; magic word: 'Priorytet.' Choosing the cheapest overseas option available will ensure that your package takes months to arrive and is heavily tampered with en route. We're not exaggerating.
All post offices are marked on the maps in the back of our print guides; Poczta Głowna at the corner of ul. Westerplatte and Wielopole (D-4) is the largest and most incomprehensible. All post offices with the exception of ul. Lubicz 4 (open 24hrs) close early on Saturday, if open at all, and all will be closed Sunday. Good luck, gringo.