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Krakow ©Sebastian Warneke
Travellers to Poland will be captivated and moved 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, battles, kings and splendid castles, to the horrors and destruction of World War II, from its determined stand against communism to today's modern outlook and booming economy, Poland abounds with evidence of both historical turbulence and a bright future to come.
Poland was the country most devastated by World War II in Eastern Europe, losing about a quarter of its population and almost its entire Jewish community. The aftermath of the war greatly influenced the character of the country. Former Jewish centres in the cities and the stark concentration camps where the Nazis carried out their extermination atrocities remain as the most stirring reminders of the nation's tragedies. Cities destroyed by the war had to be rebuilt from scratch and the many meticulously restored buildings and historic old towns are testimony to the pride and determination of a strong and durable nation.
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 beginning 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 international access code for Poland is +48. Mobile phones work throughout the country; local operators use GSM and 3G networks. Internet cafes and wifi are available in most towns.
Emergencies: 112 (Fire Department, Ambulance and Police).
The national language is Polish; however, English is widely understood in tourist areas.
Travellers to Poland over 17 years, arriving from non-EU countries, do not have to pay duty on 250 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco; 1 litre wine and 1 litre spirits; cosmetics and medicines for personal use; gifts up to the value of €175. Travellers to Poland arriving from within the EU do not have to pay duty on 800 cigarettes or 200 cigars or 1kg smoking tobacco; 10 litres spirits, 90 litres wine and 110 litres beer. Prohibited items include birds and poultry arriving from countries infected with avian influenza. The export of all articles of artistic, historic or cultural value are subject to special regulations.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. The standard two-pin European style plugs are used.
Poland's climate is moderate and temperate, characterised by cold winters and warm summers, with continental influences from the east and maritime influences from the west. The weather in Poland is highly changeable. There are, however, four distinct seasons, and spring and summer are usually lovely in Poland. Winters become increasingly severe inland from the Baltic coast, with January temperatures in Warsaw averaging 23°F (-5°C). In summer it is hotter inland, with July temperatures in Warsaw averaging 66°F (19°C).
Rain can be expected throughout the year, particularly in the southern mountains, and Poland is frequently cloudy and foggy. The best time to visit Poland is during the warmer months of spring and summer, between May and August. Early autumn, in September and October, is also a pleasant and mild time of year to visit. The peak tourist season is in July and August but travellers should note that many Poles take their annual leave at this time, making the tourist hotspots in Krakow and Sopot overcrowded in the height of summer. Budget travellers should consider travelling outside of the peak season.
A passport valid for at least three months after period of intended stay is needed for those who require a visa. Generally, 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, Lichtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. 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.
US nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days. Passports must be valid for three months beyond period of intended stay.
British passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject', 'British Overseas Territories Citizen', and Identity Cards issued by Gibraltar must be valid for the duration of intended stay. British passports with any other endorsement must be valid for three months beyond period of intended stay. Visas are not required for British Citizens, British Overseas Territories Citizens, British Subjects, and those with Identity Cards issued by Gibraltar. Those with any other endorsement in their passports can stay in the country visa-free for up to 90 days.
Canadian nationals do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days. Passports must be valid for three months beyond period of intended stay.
Australians require a passport valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.
South African passport holders require a visa for travel to Poland. Passports must be valid for at least three months beyond period of intended stay.
Irish nationals require a passport valid on arrival, but no visa is necessary.
New Zealand nationals require a passport valid for at least three months beyond the period of intended stay. A visa is not needed for up to 90 days.
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 take tick bite prevention measures due to the presence of Lyme disease. Vaccinations may be recommended for hepatitis A, hepatitis B and typhoid, although those eating only in restaurants and hotels can safely disregard the typhoid vaccination.
Poland has 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. If you take prescription medication along, be sure to bring a signed and dated letter from a doctor detailing what it is and why it is needed.
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. Having said that, visits to Poland are usually trouble free, and the precautions travellers should take are merely the safety measures advised for cities all over the world.
Emergency Phone Number
Emergencies: 112 (Fire Department, Ambulance and Police).
* For current safety alerts, please visit Foreign travel advice - GOV.UK or Travel.State.Gov
The official currency is Zloty (PLN), divided into 100 groszy. Poland still uses cash more frequently than visitors might expect, and it is sometimes difficult to use credit cards in remote areas. Credit cards are, however, accepted in places frequented by tourists. ATMs or Bankomats are available in major towns and cities. Money (preferably US Dollars or Euros) can be exchanged in the cities and larger towns at banks, hotels or bureaux de change called 'kantors', which offer the best rates. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 10am to 6pm and some are open on Saturday until 1pm.
Exchange RateNot available.
Embassies of Poland
Polish Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 499 1700.
Polish Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7291 3520.
Polish Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 0468.
Polish Embassy, Sydney, Australia: +61 2 6272 1000.
Polish Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 430 2631.
Polish Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 283 0855.
Polish Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 499 7844.
Foreign Embassies in Poland
United States Embassy, Warsaw: +48 22 504 2000.
British Embassy, Warsaw: +48 22 311 0000.
Canadian Embassy, Warsaw: +48 22 584 3100.
Australian Embassy, Warsaw: +48 22 521 3444.
South African Embassy, Warsaw: +48 22 622 1031.
Irish Embassy, Warsaw: +48 22 849 6633.
New Zealand Embassy, Warsaw: +48 22 521 0500.
Family is incredibly important and Polish people may often rely very heavily on their close-knit inner circles - as a result, outsiders may often be treated at first with caution. Jay-walking is an offence in Poland, and is punishable with a fine. Public drunkenness is frowned upon: police will take drunk people to drying out clinics until sober and the person will be charged for the stay.
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 are the norm) and business cards are exchanged. Use titles and last names unless otherwise indicated. English is widely spoken, though attempting some basic Polish phrases will be appreciated. Business hours in Poland are traditionally 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday, and lunch breaks are not a given as they are often unpaid.
Tipping is expected in restaurants in Poland and 15 percent is the standard for good service. In restaurants, when your bill is collected, saying 'thank you' signals to the waiter/waitress that they can keep the change. Tipping is not the norm in hotels across Poland, but taxis, tours and spas generally expect no less than 10 percent tip for good service.
Public Holidays in Poland
When sightseeing around Poland you'll find all the hallmarks of European charm in abundance: alpine mountains, historic buildings, resplendent lakes, lush meadows, untainted beaches, and some fascinating albiet harrowing sites from the Second World War.
The capital of Warsaw was the first city to fall to Hitler and had to be almost completely rebuilt after the 1944 invasion. Parts of the Old Town were built to replicate the city as it had stood in the 17th and 18th centuries and the Historical Museum of Warsaw, a salute to the city's violent past, is a must. A visit to Poland would not be complete without a trip to the country's most significant wartime landmark: Auschwitz, Hitler's biggest and most notorious concentration camp.
About two hours north of Warsaw is the Bialowieza Primaeval Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which is one of the last remnants of the European primeval forest which once covered most the continent. Further north visitors will find other rare vestiges of old Europe, like the Gothic Castle in Malbork, the largest and most impressive brick fortress in Europe. There are several other wooden and stone churches, temples and other impressive buildings throughout Poland's vast and glorious countryside, which can be traversed by bus or train.
The city of Krakow is the most popular tourist destination in Poland, and the city which suffered least during the war. The main attraction is the remarkably well-preserved medieval centre, but Krakow is a cosmopolitan, modern city boasting the wonderful mix between old and new which characterises the whole country.
Map of Poland
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