Still thinking about planning a trip to Poland? My last post gave some itinerary help. Today is about some other logistics to account for as you start putting the wheels in motion. The other two big things to figure out when putting a trip together is transportation and accommodations. Here’s what we did, and learned along the way.
Trains, Buses, and Planes
or “The Wheels on the Bus go Round and Round”
We decided to use exclusively public transportation while traveling through Poland. We did consider renting a car for the freedom it would provide, but were dissuaded from doing so due to bad road conditions as well as the sheer distances we wanted to cover (consider that Gdańsk to Wroclaw is 5-6 hours alone!). While the road conditions didn’t seem as bad as we were led to believe (at least not on main roads), I think it was a good decision given that this trip was focused on bigger cities and towns that made the coordination of public transit easy.
Here’s the breakdown of what we did to get around. You can refer to our full itinerary here - for a reminder, our route was:
Krakow ➡ Warsaw ➡ Toruń ➡ Gdańsk ➡ Wroclaw ➡ Krakow
We flew in and out of Krakow from our home in Paris. We flew EasyJet, and the round-trip airfare, booked just over two months out, came to $312.84 USD per person.
Krakow ➡ Warsaw (3 hours), $36 USD per person
We took the three hour high speed train between Krakow and Warsaw. We were told by a Polish friend that the trains in Poland are quite behind the rest of Europe, and that this is the only reliable train route. (Train travel is also quite slow within Poland.) I think this is changing, but we heeded the advice and only took this one train ride.
The train was comfortable and convenient, and saved us about 2 hours of additional time had we decided to take a bus instead. The bus undoubtedly would have been much cheaper, but we were happy to spend the extra time exploring Warsaw instead.
Get ready for this. There is a wonderful bus company called Polski Bus that you must try if you’re traveling in Poland. I usually prefer trains over any other type of public transportation but Polski Bus was a game changer.
We traveled on Polski bus between:
Warsaw ➡Toruń (3 hours, 15 minutes), $4.75 USD per person
Toruń ➡ Gdańsk (2 hours, 20 minutes), $4 USD per person
Wroclaw ➡ Krakow (3 hours, 10 minutes), $4 USD per person
Polski bus is a coach bus with comfortable seats that has routes all over the country. Yes, you read that right - for the prices listed above, we were riding in comfy coach bus seats, not on some run down clunker of a vehicle. If those prices don’t sound ridiculous enough, they have promotions on their website for some tickets available for 1 pln, plus the standard 1 pln booking fee - equivalent to a whooping $0.50 USD.
Now get ready for this...they have wifi on board. I know. Granted, on some parts of the ride it was quite spotty. But when I rode the National Express bus from London to Bristol, the wifi on those coaches didn’t work at all. 1 for Poland, 0 for the UK.
With that said, I also have to give a word of warning. Get ready for the mayhem of boarding. There is no assigned seating, so while everyone will get a seat, there is anxiety about boarding and getting seats together with one’s travel companions. My time battling the queue-less masses in France only mildly prepared me for the pushing and shoving to get onto the bus. When I heard one Polish guy yell out, “Go go, Power Rangers!” (the only English I heard during my bus experiences), I knew it was all systems go to get on that bus. So don’t be timid, and don’t be put off by the boarding process.
The last surprise on the Polski bus? On one of the rides, there was an employee who came around handing out complimentary juice boxes and cracker snacks. I have no idea how they make enough money to cover gas and salaries, never mind providing food on board! You have to try it, if for nothing else than to get a true Polish transportation experience.
Gdańsk ➡ Wroclaw (1 hour, 15 minutes). $51 USD per person
Gdańsk is way up there on the Baltic coast, and we had to make our way back south to Krakow to eventually fly home to Paris. We decided to take a short flight to cover ground more quickly to Wroclaw. The unfortunate thing was it involved taking a flight via Eurolot that left at 6:30am, which was rough getting out of bed for. And Michael kind of freaked out a little bit in air when he realized that this little plane was run on propellers. But as much as I loved Polski Bus, I certainly didn’t love it enough to bear an 8 hour 45 minute ride (and a direct train would have been 5 hours 40 minutes). So just don’t envision anything "fancy" for the regional flight, and you’re good to go.
Note: All prices (except for our Easy Jet flights) were converted from the Polish zloty to USD. The tickets were purchased for our Poland trip in April/May 2014, and the currency conversions were done for this post in March 2015.
We alternated between staying in hotels and Airbnb apartments during the course of our trip. The benefit of Airbnb was not only that we had more space, but in each apartment I made sure I booked places that had washing machines. This was so helpful in allowing us to do some laundry during the course of the trip, which made packing light much easier to pull off. (I’m trying not to brag, but seriously check out the size of my tiny suitcase for the 16-day trip!)
Renting Airbnb apartments also makes self-catering meals easy to do with a kitchen. In Poland, we only used the coffee pots in the kitchens of the apartments we rented. Food is so inexpensive in Poland that we ate out the entire time, including breakfast (save for the two hotels that provided breakfast).
Here’s what we did:
Krakow, 4 nights: Airbnb apartment, $70 USD per night
The one-bedroom apartment we got was modern and clean in a safe apartment complex. The only thing about the experience was that had I researched Krakow a bit more, I wouldn’t have stayed out by the Oskar Schindler's Enamel Factory museum. I would have chosen to stay in the Kazimierz district because that’s where we enjoyed going out at night. It wasn’t an awful miscalculation, but we could have saved the 20-minute walk and been in a more interesting, lively neighborhood.
The plus side was that even though we never met our host, he was super responsive and helpful. He booked our tour to Auschwitz and our car transfer to the salt mine for us, which made those trips super easy.
Warsaw, 3 nights: Airbnb apartment, $55 USD per night
The accommodations in Warsaw were a complete hit - our host was super friendly and responsive, the one-bedroom apartment was perfect, and the balcony offered this view below. Plus, it was a six-minute walk from Aïoli which turned out to be one of our favorite food finds in Warsaw!
Toruń, 2 nights: Hotel Spichrz (breakfast included), $69.50 USD per night
This Rick Steves-recommended hotel suited our needs - it was in a central location, was clean and staffed by friendly employees, and even included breakfast (which weirdly makes me happy whenever the cost of breakfast is included in room rates). It has a rustic look to it, with wooden beam ceilings and all, but then again, you are staying in a former 18-century Swedish granary after all.
Gdańsk, 4 nights: Airbnb apartment, $48.50 USD per night
You can see that this was the most inexpensive accommodation of the trip. While the apartment was standard - one bedroom, clean, nothing remarkable to write about - our host was helpful and responsive. She gave lots of advice on what to see and do, and she arranged for a taxi to pick us up that morning we had the super early flight. It made a great home-base in Gdańsk, and the price certainly was right!
Wroclaw: 2 nights: Hotel PURO (breakfast included), $86 USD per night
I really liked this hotel chain, and am glad we ended up choosing it for both Wroclaw and for our last night in Krakow. (Since we were staying for shorter periods of time, we felt it would be easier to have the flexibility of checking in and out of a hotel rather than coordinating short apartment rentals.) The rooms were typical European size (small for us Americans but standard for this continent), modern, decorated nicely, and even offered a tablet to control the room (ie lighting, etc). PURO Hotel was definitely the most luxurious accommodation of the trip!
Krakow: 1 night: Hotel PURO, $95 USD per night
Location-wise, this hotel is a bit out of the way. We chose it because it was super close to the main bus station which was perfect since we arrived via bus from Wroclaw in the evening, and had to take a bus from the station the next morning to the airport. Like the one in Wroclaw, it was modern, comfortable, and the splurge of the trip.
Note: The Airbnb apartment prices were in euros. I included the service/cleaning fees from Airbnb when calculating the prices, though currency conversions to USD were done at the time of this post in March 2015 (and the Euro as we all know has plummeted!). Hotel prices were in Polish zloty, which were also converted to USD in March 2015.
Between the itinerary, methods of transportation, and accommodations, you should be set to start planning a trip to Poland! If you need a reminder of why exactly you need to add Poland to your bucket list, just refer back to my 10 Most Memorable Experiences in Poland post!
If you’ve been following along my Poland series, do you feel inspired at all to visit Poland? Or revisit, if you’ve been before?