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.
- Facts & Figures
- Health & Emergency
- Law & Order
- Market Values
- Credit Card Charges
- National Holidays
- Public Toilets
- Tourist Information
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 although the long winter of 2009/10 saw a record low temperature in Poland of -32 degrees. Below is a graphic showing average temperatures and rainfall.
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 can then 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; if neither applies, 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 UK or Ireland you are definitely going to need a plug convertor. The best place to pick these up is at Saturn in Galeria Baltycka or one of the big electrical outlets situated on the edge of town. Our advice is save yourself the hassle and get one in the airport as you leave.
Facts & Figures
TerritoryPoland covers an area of 312,685 square kilometres and is the ninth biggest country in Europe. It borders the Baltic Sea and seven countries, namely the Baltic Sea (528km), Belarus (416km), Czech Republic (790km), Germany (467km), Lithuania (103km), the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad (210km),Slovakia (539km) and, Ukraine (529km).
The river Vistula (Wisła) is Poland's longest river at 1,047km and flows through Kraków and Warsaw before reaching the Bay of Gdańsk (Zatoka Gdańska). Gdańsk sits on the Motława river which reaches the Baltic via the Martwa Wisła.
Highest PointThe highest peak in the country is Rysy (2,499m above sea level) which can be found in the Tatry mountains in the south of the country.
Population (2016)Poland - 38,483,957
Warsaw - 1,744,400
Kraków - 761,100
Łódź - 700,982
Wrocław - 635,800
Poznań - 542,300
Gdańsk - 462,249
Katowice - 301,834
Gdynia - 247,672
Sopot - 37,457
Local TimePoland is in the Central European (CET) time zone (GMT+1hr). When it’s 12:00 in Warsaw it’s 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 & EmergencyIn case of an emergency those dialling from a land line or public payphone should use the following numbers: 999 for an ambulance, 998 for the fire brigade and 997 for the police. Mobile phone users should call 112 to be forwarded to the relevant department. English speaking assistance is not necessarily guaranteed, and rests on the linguistic capabilities of the call operator.
English, German and Russian speakers have the option of using separate lines specifically designed for foreigners in distress: dial +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.
Further help can be provided by embassies and consulates, of which a comprehensive list can be found in the directory section. If you’ve run out of money, however, then silly you. No embassy will bail you out, and your hopes will rest on a Western Union money transfer. Most banks and many exchange bureaus (kantors) can now carry out such transactions, just keep an eye out for anywhere displaying the Western Union logo.
For a list of clinics and hospitals check the directory section at the back of this guide.
Law & OrderIn Polish cities you’ll typically see two types of uniformed law enforcement. One is the police, the other is the local City Guard (Straż Miejska) and you’re more likely to come across one of them during your stay in the city.
The City Guard was created following the fall of Communism and began appearing on the streets of Gdansk in 1991.Their role is to focus on local law enforcement and although they do not have the full powers of arrest as the police it is their role to maintain public order in the city; manage traffic in the restricted zones of the main town including dealing with parking and traffic violations and above all to assist citizens in the city.
During the high season officers from the region who are able to speak foreign languages are re-deployed to the city and to the nearby beaches. These officers are easy to identify as they wear badges showing which languages they speak.
While the Tri-city is in general a safe city, petty crime does exist and travellers are warned to show common sense with their personal belongings such as carrying your wallet or passport in a secure pocket and not in a jacket left casually lying around. Those travelling by car are asked to beware of the restricted parking zones in the centre of Gdansk and to pay and display a parking ticket where necessary.
The most common reason foreign visitors fall foul of the law is for disturbing the peace by imbibing too heavily or for making too much noise particularly late at night. It is worth noting that large parts of Gdansk old town are residential and guards are often called to deal with rowdy party-goers by angry neighbours.
The other well-known ways tourists fall foul of the City Guard is for jaywalking. You'll undoubtedly be surprised to see a crowd of people standing obediently at a crossing – take heed, they know that being caught crossing on a red signal or at a point where there is no marked crossing can result in an on-the-spot fine of around 100zl. Don’t think you are exempt by being a visitor; In fact your non-residency means you will need to pay the fine on the spot (the helpful chaps will even accept foreign currency).
The City Guard have asked us to point out that they sincerely hope everyone who visits the city enjoys themselves and returns home safely. If you do find yourself in need of advice, directions or assistance they are happy to help and will contact the police on your behalf if it is something beyond their jurisdiction.
Market ValuesPrices 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 July 26, 2016, based on €1 = 4.36zł
|Product||Price (zł)||Price (€)|
|McDonald's Big Mac||9.40zł||€2.16|
|0.5ltr vodka (shop)||23.99zł||€5.50|
|0.5ltr beer (shop)||3.49zł||€0.80|
|0.5ltr beer (bar)||8.00zł||€1.83|
|Loaf of white bread||2.49zł||€0.57|
|1ltr of unleaded petrol (98)||4.69zł||€1.08|
|Local transport ticket (1 journey)||3.20zł||€0.73 |
MoneyThinking of paying for your tram ticket with one of the 100zł notes in your pocket? Think again. Small shops, newsagents, public toilets, even the occasional fast food franchise and bar, will refuse to break a large note for you. As annoying as coins can be, do carry small change for such moments. Notes come in denominations of 500, 200, 100, 50, 20 and 10 złotys, and there are 1, 2 and 5 złoty coins. One złoty equals 100 groszy which come in 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 groszy coins.
Currency can be exchanged at airports, hotels, banks and anywhere with a sign proclaiming it to be a Kantor and you will also be able to withdraw currency at a bankomat using your ATM card. A Kantor will often provide better value than the banks in your home country or the ATM although for obvious reasons be very wary of Kantors in the airports, bus stations and close to tourist sights. Shopping around will reward you with the best rate. Prices for food, drink, cultural venues and transport still remain comparatively cheap in contrast to Western Europe. A ticket to the theatre or cinema will rarely cost more than 20zł while admission to most museums costs around 5-10zł.
Credit Card ChargesIf you’re visiting Poland and plan to pay for any purchases with a credit card whose base currency isn’t Polish zloty (and unless you’re Polish, this probably means you) odds are you may find merchants asking whether you want to be charged in your home currency or zlotys. 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 opt to be 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 zlotys.
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 zlotys.
National HolidaysPoland has a series of public holidays spread throughout the year. These for the most part will fall on a precise date meaning you could find yourself here in the middle of an otherwise busy week to find the city bolted shut. While more restaurants and bars have appreciated the opportunities of staying open when the rest of the country is taking a free day, do not expect very much open on important religious holidays such as All Saints' Day (November 1) or Easter Sunday.
January 1, 2016 New Year's Day
January 6, 2016 Three Kings
March 27, 2016 Easter Sunday
March 28, 2016 Easter Monday
May 1, 2016 Labour Day
May 3, 2016 Constitution Day (May 3, 1791)
May 15, 2016 Pentecost Sunday
May 26, 2016 Corpus Christi
August 15, 2016 Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also Polish Army Day
November 1, 2016 All Saints' Day
November 11, 2016 Independence Day (Nov 11, 1918)
December 25, 2016 First Day of Christmas
December 26, 2016 Second Day of Christmas
Public ToiletsGenerally speaking, toilets in Poland come marked with a circle for women, and a triangle for men. Although the habit is gradually dying some restaurants and bars still charge a nominal fee for use of their facilities – no matter how much cash you’ve already spent in the establishment. This is a practice also used in train stations and most public conveniences. Keep small change handy.
What you will also notice is that toilets in bars particularly are often both dirty and extremely short in supply. There does not appear to be any rules about the number of toilets a venue is required to have resulting in long queues. A venue holding up to a couple of hundred people will quite often have just the one unisex toilet in the corner. Go out prepared by taking tissues and a large bladder capacity.
- Gdansk Główny Train Station (toilet)
- Gdansk old town (toilet)
- Gdansk Wrzeszcz Railway station
- Oliwa Cathedral (toilet)