The Polish national carrier LOT (tel. 801/703-703; www.lot.com) offers regularly scheduled flights between major Polish cities, including Warsaw, Kraków, and Gdansk.
Car travel offers maximum flexibility, but driving in Poland can be a slow and highly frustrating experience. Most Polish highways -- even those connecting major cities -- are of the narrow, two-lane variety and are usually clogged with trucks, buses, tractors, and even occasionally horse-drawn carts. For most stretches, plan on at least 2 hours' driving time per 100km (62 miles) distance. And drive defensively. Polish drivers have an abysmal record when it comes to per capita accidents and fatalities.
Poland follows normal continental rules of the road, with priority given to cars on roundabouts and vehicles coming from the right at unmarked intersections. Note that drivers are required to keep their headlights on at all times. The speed limit on (the few) four-lane freeways is 130kmph (81 mph). This drops to 90kmph (56 mph) on two-lane highways outside urban areas, and 50kmph (31 mph) or slower in built-up areas. Speed checks are common. Random sobriety checks are also frequent. The blood/alcohol limit is 0.02% -- approximately one beer.
Sample Driving Times between Major Cities -- The times here are only approximate and depend very much on weather and traffic conditions. In general, Polish roads are busy, and it's best to travel at off-peak hours.
- Prague to Wrocaw: 3 to 4 hours
- Prague to Kraków: 7 to 8 hours
- Kraków to Wrocaw: 3 to 4 hours
- Kraków to Warsaw: 3 to 4 hours
- Kraków to Zakopane: 2 hours
- Lódz to Warsaw: 3 hours
- Warsaw to Gdansk: 5 to 6 hours
- Poznan to Warsaw: 3 hours
- Lublin to Warsaw: 3 hours
The Polish state railroad, PKP (www.pkp.pl), has improved its service in recent years, and train travel is usually the quickest and best way to move between big cities or to cover long distances. PKP maintains a useful online timetable (but be sure to use Polish spellings for city names) at www.rozklad-pkp.pl.
The best trains are the intercity (IC) trains, which link nearly all the country's biggest cities. You'll see IC trains marked in red on timetables; these are more expensive than regular trains and require an obligatory seat reservation. Next best are express trains (Ex), which also require a reservation. Avoid other types of trains for longer distances.
You can buy tickets at stations or directly from the conductor on the train, though you'll have to pay a surcharge of 8 z. Fares are relatively low by Western standards. A second-class ticket from Kraków to Warsaw, for example, costs about 90 z. For overnight trips, you can usually book a couchette in a six-bunk car or a sleeper in a three-bunk car. Sleepers run about 120 z. Be sure to book these in advance.
Poland is well served by myriad public and private bus companies that go everywhere, from the biggest cities to the smallest towns. Prices and journey times are often comparable to the trains, and buses can be a highly useful alternative if you can't find a convenient train connection. In fact, within specific regions, buses are often better than trains for getting to outlying cities and towns. From Kraków, for example, buses are much quicker and cheaper than trains for the popular day trip to Zakopane. The tourist information office can usually help you figure out the best way of getting from one place to another, or whether the train or bus is a quicker or cheaper alternative.
With some notable exceptions (including Lublin and Katowice), in most cities, you'll usually find the main bus station located just next to the train station. Buy tickets in advance from ticket windows at stations or directly from the driver. Watch to have exact change on hand since drivers may not have enough cash to deal with large bills. Try to arrive at the station well before your bus is scheduled to leave. Lines at bus platforms start forming early, and the best seats go to those who get there first.
By Public Transportation
Most Polish cities have excellent public transportation systems consisting of buses, trams, trolley buses, and in Warsaw, a small metro. See separate city listings for public transportation details. Though each city's system differs slightly, the overall idea is the same. Buy single-ride tickets from tobacconists and news agents for about 2.50 z per ride, validate the ticket in machines on entering the tram or bus, and keep the ticket until you get off. Once you've mastered public transportation, you'll find there's rarely any need to take a taxi.
You'll likely spend a lot of time walking. Since cars and taxis are often barred from the centers of large cities and public transportation can get you only so close to where you need to go, walking is often the only alternative. Buy comfortable shoes and break them in before you arrive; you're going to use them.
Poland is relatively flat, and depending how much time you have and what kind of shape you're in, you could conceivably cycle around the entire country. There are plenty of cycling trails that crisscross the country. Check out the organization Bicycles for Poland (www.rowery.org.pl) for some rules of the road and ideas on good routes. Cycling in cities is not recommended. Though some cities, like Kraków, do have specially marked bike lanes, traffic is heavy, and the lanes are not that well maintained.