We are planning a 2 week trip to Poland in July. We plan to visit Krakow, Warsaw and Gdansk with side trips from those cities for 9 days and then go to Helsinki for 3 before flying back to US. Or should we spend all our time in Poland? We plan to take trains and buses. Is it advisable to rent a car for a road trip? How are the roads? From other sites the roads are poor with no highways. Has anyone rented apartments or private rooms using airbnb.com? I found some very inexpensive flats in Krakow and Warsaw in the city centers. I have used them in Asia in 2012 as hotels are very expensive. Sheron
Re renting a car: I would personally advise against it unless you are used to driving in, say, downtown LA during rush hour. People are very aggressive drivers, sometimes to a fault. In Southern Poland (can't speak for the rest of the country), they do have what they consider to be highways. I would say these are more like "county roads" that we have here there are frequent crossings, they are generally maximum of two lanes in each direction and the speed limit isn't that high. There are frequent speed trap cameras on the roads as well, so beware: a sign warning you a camera is approaching comes first, and then a camera just a few dozen feet later. Remarkable how many people they give tickets to that way, apparently. Also, cops like to hang out behind trees, curves, etc to catch speedersmuch like they do on our interstates. The roads themselves... that varies depending on where you are in Poland and where you are from in the US. In Krakow, the roads are fine. Once you get out into the countryside, large roads are fine, but the smaller roads are a bit more... umm... unique. Also, as you would suspect, the signs are all in Polish and they can be quite confusing. A further complication: they use the Zloty & a chip/pin credit card system, so re-filling a gas tank with your American credit card could become an adventure and unlikely you want to carry that kind of cash on you. I would say save yourself the headache and take trains. It's very easy to get around via transportation and the Polish people are nothing if not helpful and kind if you are the same. This is one of the few countries in the EU I would recommend a driver & guide for they can give you such a deeper experience and they aren't that pricey.
Hi Sheron, You'll have no problems with trains, buses, and (city) light rail/trams - they are quite inexpensive by W. European standards (although not as fast or spiffy everywhere). No need to rent a car unless there are sites you want to visit that appear more difficult to get to and you need to maximize your time (for instance, I'd highly recommend visiting Malbork, a Teutonic castle not too far from Gdansk or seeing some small villages and wooden churches in Southern Poland, depending on your interests - in those cases, I still bet there are other options to get there, although possibly not as convenient). If you rent a car, you shouldn't have major problems either, provided you're not too timid with your driving habits (even the traffic in central Warsaw is not intimidating, but that's just my take). A car would be most useful to efficiently visit the out of the way spots (in the cities, you'll just have to deal with paying for overnight parking, etc. and you won't be using your car during the day). And yes, the hotels and b&b s are surprisingly affordable in Poland, esp. outside the main cities - you can try looking on booking.com to find all kinds of options. I stayed in an apartment in Krakow w/ a little kitchenette a few years back and it was great (sorry, cannot remember the name). Getting around in the big cities is very easy (buses, trams, walking, underground Metro in Warsaw), so you don't even need to feel like you have to stay right smack in the center of town (called "rynek"). PS. When in Warsaw, be sure to visit Lazienki Park and the Warsaw Uprising Museum (and of course the Old Town)
I've done both car rental and the train route. Trains are very inexpensive and the network is extensive. I would advise buying a first class ticket though as they can also be crowded. Even at first class rates they are very inexpensive. As far as cars go they are useful for getting around outside the cities but a pain within the city. If you are going to be spending a lot of time in the cities I would just use the trains. If your focus is the countryside then the opposite. The roads are just fine. I didn't find the drivers very aggressive.
Sheron, We spent 2 weeks in Poland in September. Started in Gdansk and made our way all the way down to Krakow. You can easily fill the 9 days just in Poland. Some side trips you may want to consider: Sopot - resort town outside of Gdansk, Malbork Castle - south of Gdansk, Czestochowa - see the Black Madonna, Wadowice - birthplace of Pope John Paul, Salt Mines - outside of Krakow, Zakopane - mountain resort town south of Krakow, Auschwitz. Once you are in any of the major towns - Gdansk, Krakow, Warsaw - you won't want to have a car. The "old town" portions can all be done on foot, and parking in the city can be difficult - similar to a U.S. city. Once outside of the big cities, the roads are fine, although most are not "highways" like we are used to in the U.S. Lots of 2 lane roads that are in good shape, but can be slow and there are lots of roundabouts that can easily confuse you if you can't read the signs in Polish. We were with a tour group, so we went between cities by bus. However, prior to joining up with the tour we were in Poznan on our own, and took a train from Poznan to Gdansk. Found it very easy and cheap. I agree - worth it for a first class ticket. You will find the food, drink, and lodging to be very inexpensive in Poland compared to US standards, or other European countries. Staying on their own currency and not the Euro has its advantages!
I was not the driver but last summer we traveled by bus through a large part of Poland. To me, the roads seemed much better than expected. We were often on four lane highways. I did notice that the driver was careful about the speed limits.
Trains are dirt cheap. I've only been in the North, around Gdansk, but the roads weren't great and the traffic can be tricky in the city. Suggested day trips from Gdansk would be Malbork Castle, which can be seen as a stop between Warsaw and Gdansk or about a 45 minute train ride from Gdansk, it's a great castle and each person gets an Iphone-like guide with multiple language options. The other day trip option would be a visit to the Baltic Coast. Gdinia is supposed to be a resort town, but I wasn't overly impressed. I like less buildings and more beach but I didn't have time to find it.
We visited the same three Polish cities last summer. I agree with everyone else that between cities you should take the train. We rented cars in Krakow and Gdansk for day trips. The driving was fine. We weren't on large interstates, but the roads were in good condition and once outside the cities traffic was minimal.
Thanks for answering my questions!
I agree you do not need to rent a car. Six of us stayed in Krakow for a week (rented an apartment right off the main square) and hired a driver to take us each day to the salt mines, concentration camp, and Czestochowa. It was the same driver each day and VERY reasonably priced. It also allowed us to bypass lines and we got private tours at the concentration camp and Czestochowa. I did not go to Gdansk but the train from Krakow to Warsaw was very easy. If you are interested in the tour company we used, let me know and I can get you the information. We rented an apartment in Krakow for a week for six people, right off the square, three bedroom, two bathroom. It was $700 for the week total (not per person...total). And location was great, apartment was just as advertised. I don't remember how we booked it but the flats/apartments do seem to be pretty inexpensive. In Krakow, air conditioning seemed to be pretty rare. Something to consider if air conditioning is important to you. We ended up buying small fans from an electronic store at the train station and it worked out perfectly.