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Poland Country Information
Travellers to Poland will be enchanted by its remarkable history of heroic resilience and tragedy, and delight in the charming character of its cities and in the natural beauty of the countryside. From romantic tales of medieval knights and battles, kings and splendid castles, to the horrors and destruction of World War II; it's determined stand against Communism and today's modern outlook and booming economy, the country abounds with the evidence of a historically turbulent past.

Warsaw, the capital, was almost totally destroyed by the war and now presents an unusual mix of beautifully restored historic buildings, communist-era concrete structures, and modern fashion and consumerism. The maritime city of Gdañsk, home to the historic garrison at Westerplatte and the legendary Lenin shipyards, was the stage for both the beginnings of the Second World War and the disintegration of Eastern European communism. But it is Krakow, the ancient royal capital that draws the crowds, rivalling the elegance of cities like Prague and Vienna. Having largely escaped the destruction of the war it retains its charming medieval character; the Royal Castle, the grand Market Square, the old Jewish quarter and the nearby Nazi death camps of Auschwitz are all steeped in historical importance.

The unspoilt Baltic coastline and the splendour of the rugged mountain ranges of the Tatras will impress outdoor enthusiasts, with a variety of activities and scenery to provide a peaceful and relaxing break from the intensity of the country's history. Along with the legendary hospitality of Polish people, a sense of nationhood to which the Catholic Church is fundamental, and a strong musical and cultural sense of identity, its tourist infrastructure is flourishing and the country is experiencing a remarkable increase in the number of visitors to its shores.

The Basics
Time: Local time is GMT +1 (GMT + 2 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).

Electricity: Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. The standard two-pin European style plugs are used.

Money: The official currency is Zloty (PLN), divided into 100 groszy. Poland is essentially a 'cash country', and it is difficult to negotiate credit cards and travellers cheques in the cities, and well nigh impossible in rural areas. American Express, Diners Club, Visa and MasterCard are, however, accepted in places frequented by tourists. ATMs are also beginning to proliferate in Polish cities, where the sign 'Bankomat' indicates them. Money (preferably US$ or Euros) can be exchanged in the cities and larger towns at banks, hotels or bureaux called 'kantors', which offer the best rates. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and some are open on Saturday till 1pm.

Language: The national language is Polish. English is widely understood in tourist areas.

Travel Health: There are few health risks associated with travel to Poland. Those visiting forested areas are advised to seek medical advice about inoculations for tick borne encephalitis, and tick bite prevention measures due to the presence of Lyme disease. Bird flu was first discovered in northern Poland in March 2006; there is little risk to travellers, but close contact with live birds should be avoided and all egg and poultry dishes well cooked as a precaution. It is safest to drink bottled water to avoid stomach upsets. There is a reciprocal health agreement with the UK and most EU countries, whose citizens are entitled to low-cost emergency medical treatment on presentation of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), but full health insurance cover is still advised. Medical facilities and standards of health care are good, but not many nurses or doctors speak English.

Tipping: Tipping is not customary in Poland, but small gratuities of 10% can be offered for excellent service. In restaurants, when your money is collected, by saying 'thank you' this signals to the waiter/waitress to keep the change.

Safety Information: Tourists should be alert to the risk of robbery in tourist areas in large cities in Poland, particularly in the vicinity of hotels, markets and banks. Vigilance against theft should also be exercised at central railway stations, as well as on overnight long distance trains, and when travelling on public transport between Warsaw's Frederic Chopin Airport and central Warsaw. Avoid walking alone at night. Tourist sites, areas near big hotels, money exchange facilities and ATMs are popular with thieves.

Local Customs: Jay walking is an offence in Poland, which is punishable with a fine. Public drunkenness is severely viewed; police will take drunk people to drying out clinics until sober and the person will be charged for the stay, and driving after drinking alcohol is punishable by law.

Business: Poland has an interesting mix of the old and the new, and this is apparent in the business world too. Women can expect a kiss on the hand rather than a handshake from the older generation and one can expect to be warmly offered drinks during meetings; it is impolite to refuse. Although the Polish are hospitable and friendly, business is still conducted formally. Punctuality is important, dress should be formal and conservative (a suit and tie the norm) and business cards are exchanged. Use titles and first names unless otherwise indicated. English is widely spoken, though attempting some basic Polish phrases will be appreciated. Business hours in Poland are traditionally 7am to 3pm Monday to Friday, with a long lunch taken after 3pm. Western influence, however, means that hours are starting to shift to the more common 9am to 5pm.

Communications: The international access code for Poland is +48. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)22 for Warsaw and (0)12 for Krakow. Cheap rates apply between 4pm and 6am, and on weekends. Mobile phones work throughout the country, local operators use GSM networks, which may not be compatible with some US cell phones. Internet cafes are available in most towns.

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Visa and Entry Information

  • Entry requirements for Americans: US nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days. Passports must be valid for period of intended stay.
  • Entry requirements for UK nationals: UK nationals with a passport endorsed British Citizen do not require a visa. If passport endorsed British National (Overseas), British Overseas Territories Citizen or British Subject with the right of abode in the UK a visa is not required for a stay of up to 90 days. Other passport holders require a visa.
  • Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadian nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days. Passports must be valid for period of intended stay.
  • Entry requirements for Australians: Australians require a passport valid for at least the period of intended stay to enter Poland and may stay for up to 90 days without a visa.
  • Entry requirements for South Africans: South African passport holders require a visa for travel to Poland. Passports must be valid for at least six months after arrival.
  • Entry requirements for New Zealanders: New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for at least the period of intended stay. A visa is not needed for up to 90 days.
  • Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish nationals require a passport, but no visa is necessary.

Passport/Visa Note: A passport valid for at least six months after arrival is needed for those who require a visa. Visa exempt nationals must have a passport valid for period of intended stay (other than EEA nationals). The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all.

Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.

Weather and Climate in Poland
The climate of Poland is continental with typical very cold winters and warm summers. Winters are particularly cold inland, with temperatures in Warsaw averaging below freezing. By contrast summers are pleasantly mild to warm. Rain falls mostly during the summer.

Warsaw has a continental climate, with cold, snowy winters and mild summers. On average, summer temperatures range between 47°F and 73°F (9°C and 22°C), while winter temperatures range between 25°F and 42°F (-4°C and 6°C). July is the wettest month, though rain does fall sporadically throughout the year.

Krakow has a temperate climate, influenced by the weather systems that build over the Atlantic. The weather in Krakow in summer is comfortably warm with occasional heat waves when dry continental air comes in from the east. An old Polish poem says that in Krakow 'days are longest in June, hottest in July and most beautiful in August'. Autumn in Krakow brings dry, warm days starting with morning mist, and rich golden colouration of the foliage. Winter is fairly severe when the city is blanketed in snow and temperatures at or below freezing. Spring is the best season in Krakow, when bright, mild days are accompanied by the fragrance of blossom.

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Attractions in Poland

  • Old Town (Starego Miasta) - The busy Old Town provides the historic focal point of the city, having been rebuilt in the original 17th and 18th century style following the almost total destruction of the city during the war.
  • Historical Museum of Warsaw - The History Museum is one of the best of Warsaw's museums. Its three-stories are crammed with fascinating exhibitions covering every aspect of Warsaw's history and life, from its beginnings to the present day, and there are old photographs, clippings and articles on display from everyday pre-war city life.
  • Westerplatte - Westerplatte is where World War II broke out on 1 September 1939, situated at the entrance to the harbour and just a few kilometres from the city of Gdañsk.
  • Malbork Castle - Malbork Castle is a classic example of a medieval fortress; it is the world’s largest brick castle and one of the most impressive of its kind in Europe.
  • Wieliczka Salt Mine - The Salt Mine at Wieliczka is a unique underground complex that has been in continuous use since its construction in the Middle Ages and is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Monument.
  • Auschwitz Memorial Museum - The Auschwitz concentration camp is actually made up of three camps - Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau and Auschwitz III.

Events in Poland

  • St Dominic’s Fair - Poland’s largest open-air cultural event is also one of the oldest in the world, having been started by papal decree back in 1260. In the 21st century the annual fair draws about 150,000 visitors a day over two weeks in the peak tourist season, when a variety of events take place in historic Gdansk.
  • Mozart Festival - Every summer, music lovers from around the world flock to Warsaw to attend the highlight of the city’s music season, the Warsaw Chamber Opera’s Mozart Festival.
  • Piano Festival - For five days at three stunning venues in the Polish capital, the Ludwig van Beethoven Association present some of the finest young virtuosos and masters of the piano.

Airports in Poland

John Paul II International Airport (KRK)

  • Location: The airport is situated 7 miles (11km) west of Krakow.
  • Time: Local time is GMT +1 (GMT + 2 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
  • Contacts: Tel: +48 (0) 12 639 33 01; or +48 (0) 12 639 33 22.
  • Getting to the city: City bus services 208 and 192 leave from the roundabout in front of the passenger terminal, ferrying passengers regularly to the city centre. Taxis are also available outside the arrivals hall and take 20 minutes to get to the city centre. A shuttle train operates between the airport and the city centre. The Kraków-Balice train station is located 200m from the passenger terminal and operated a daytime service every 30 minutes.
  • Car rental: Car rental companies include Avis, Budget, Europcar and Hertz.
  • Facilities: There are banks, bureaux de change and ATMs at the airport. Other facilities include restaurants, bars, and shops, duty-free, child facilities, tourist information and hotel reservations desk, WiFi and a post office. A business lounge (60 zl) and VIP lounge is also available. Disabled facilities are good; those with special needs should contact their airline in advance.
  • Departure Tax: None.

Warsaw Frederic Chopin Airport (WAW)

  • Location: The airport is situated six miles (10km) south west of Warsaw.
  • Time: Local time is GMT +1 (GMT + 2 from last Sunday in March to last Sunday in October).
  • Contacts: Tel: +48 (22) 650 4220.
  • Transfer between terminals: Terminals are within walking distance of each other.
  • Getting to the city: Municipal bus lines (No 175 and 188) operate daily from 4.40am to 11pm ferrying commuters to Warsaw city centre and the right riverbank. Journey time is 30 minutes and a single daytime ticket costs 2.40 zl. Tickets are available in the 'Ruch' kiosks and at Tourist Information in the Departures Hall. Some hotels provide a shuttle bus service to and from the hotel on request and a taxi stand is located in front of the Arrivals Hall. The Polski Express bus provides connections to the biggest polish towns. The bus stop is on the Arrivals Hall level of Terminal 2.
  • Car rental: Most leading car rental companies, including Avis, Budget, Hertz , operate from the airport outside arrivals in terminal one.
  • Facilities: There are shops, bars and restaurants at the airport. Other facilities include banks, bureaux de change, ATMs, a post office and a tourist information and hotel reservations service. There is also an observation deck; a fee is charged and visitors are subjected to a security check. Disabled facilities are good; those with special needs should contact their airline in advance. Note that the line for check-in can be very long.
  • Departure Tax: None.

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Driving Information

Drinking and driving:
The maximum level of alcohol in the bloodstream is 0.02 per cent. Between 0.021% and 0.05% per cent a heavy fine imposed and suspension of licence. Over 0.05% the fine is determined by a tribunal along with the prison sentence and suspension of licence.

Driving licence:
Minimum age at which a UK licence holder may drive a temporarily imported car and / or motorcycle (over 125cc) 18. All valid UK driving licences should be accepted in Poland.

Fines:
On-the-spot. An official receipt should be obtained. The Police are authorised to request foreign motorists pay their fines in cash. Wheel clamps are in use. Illegally parked cars causing an obstruction may be towed away and impounded.

Fuel:
Unleaded petrol (95 & 98 octane), diesel and LPG available. No leaded petrol (95 octane petrol with lead replacement additive available). 10 litres of petrol in a can is permitted but forbidden aboard ferries and Euro tunnel. Credit cards accepted at most filling stations; check with your card issuer for usage in Poland before travel.

Driving Distances:
Please click here http://www.viamichelin.com/ for driving distances


Lights:
Dipped headlights or daytime running lights are compulsory for all vehicles at all times. Fine imposed for non-compliance.

Motorcycles:
Use of dipped headlights during the day compulsory. Wearing of crash helmets is compulsory for both driver and passenger.

Motor Insurance:
Third-party compulsory. Green Card recognised.

Passengers / Children in cars:
Children under 12 and 1.5 metres in height cannot travel as front or a rear seat passenger unless using a suitable restraint system adapted to their size. If a car is equipped with front seat airbags it is prohibited to place a child in a rear facing seat.

Seat belts:
Compulsory for front / rear seat occupants to wear seat belts, if fitted.

Speed limits:
Standard legal limits, which may be varied by signs, for private vehicles without trailers: In built-up areas 37 mph (60 km/h) from 2300hrs to 0500hrs and 31 mph (50 km/h) from 0500hrs to 2300hrs, outside built-up areas 55 mph (90 km/h), on express roads (2 x 1 lanes) 62 mph (100 km/h) or (2 x 2 lanes) 68 mph (110 km/h) and 80 mph (130 km/h) on motorways. The minimum speed on motorways is 24 mph (40 km/h). Some residential zones are 13mph (20km/h).

Compulsory equipment:

  • Warning triangle - compulsory for all vehicles with more than two wheels

Other rules / requirements:

It is recommended that visitors equip their vehicle with a first aid kit and a set of replacement bulbs.

It is also recommended that a fire extinguisher be carried as its carriage is compulsory for Polish registered vehicles.

The use of spiked tyres is prohibited.

Snow chains may be used only on roads covered with snow.

It is prohibited to carry or / and use a radar detector.

The use of the horn is prohibited in built up areas except to avoid an accident.

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