31 December 2014

Poland Travel Guide

This is slightly different to our usual guides, as it covers 4 different cities, and only scratches the surface of Poland. We have one overall tip:


These travel guides are invaluable when travelling in Eastern Europe. They are written by English people and do exactly what we try to in our guides – tell you the real facts. Even better, they are free, and available as booklets, maps, websites and smartphone apps. We wouldn’t have had such an easy time without them.

Other general tips:

Things are very cheap in Poland. Change your pounds to złoty before you go (it’s about 5 zł to the £). All shops accept debit and credit cards and there are plenty of ATMs around. Tipping isn’t compulsory but you would round up for taxis and add up to 10% for restaurants. Have plenty of room in your baggage for souvenirs.

Travel

Flights:
From Heathrow, you can fly BA or LOT to Warsaw
LOT uses Warsaw as a hub to most other Polish airports, but unless you’re pushed for time, train or bus are much nicer ways to see the country. LOT does not offer free drinks or meals.
From Stansted, Ryanair offer flights to 11 Polish cities
From Gatwick, Easyjet flies to Krakow
From Luton, Wizz Air flies to 7 Polish cities

Train travel:
As usual, the only site you need to visit is www.seat61.com
We booked all of our trains through http://www.intercity.pl/en/
First class is hardly more than standard class, and seat reservations are now included in your ticket price
You can print out tickets as PDFs before you go, and booking more than 7 days in advance gets you a discount. Don’t worry if you haven’t though, for most trains you can hop on board without a ticket and get one from the conductor for a small supplement.


Warsaw

People often seem quite down on Warsaw, and as capitals go, it’s no Paris or Berlin. But it has plenty of different districts and easy travel by metro, bus or tram.

Airport: Head right out of the terminal to a set of escalators leading down to the rail platforms. Unhelpfully there are several companies and each has their own ticket machine (a bit like at Gatwick). Choose the cheapest single fare you can find, and you can use any train. Ticket machines do give English instructions, but aren’t clear as to your options. You must ensure that you validate your ticket. On some trains you do this at the driver’s door, on others there are lots of machines. To disembark, some trains stop at Warsaw Central, others at Warsaw Srodmiescie. They’re next to each other, but all in all, it’s an unhelpful start to your Polish holiday.
Alternatively you can take buses 148, 175, 188 or 331.

Hotel: the advantage of Polish prices is somewhere like the 5* Intercontinental is ridiculously affordable. £90 will get you a high-floor executive room with Club Lounge access. This means free breakfast, free drinks all day, and free dinner. You’ll only need to buy your own lunch!
Intercontinental Warsaw, Emilii Plater Street 49
Phone: 00 48 22 3288888

Tourist Information:
Palace of Culture and Science, pl. Defilad 1
(entrance from Emilii Plater Street, between Kongresowa Hall and Museum of Technology)

Sightseeing:

Palace of Science and Culture, 9am to 8pm
Technical Museum, Cinema, view from 30th floor, 20 złoty
This monstrous edifice was built on Stalin’s orders, so most Poles hate it, but it’s impressive nonetheless. The view is said to be the best in Warsaw, as it’s the only place where the Palace isn’t on the skyline!

Łazienki Park
They have free Chopin concerts on Sundays at 12pm and 4pm

Old & New Towns: Since the 1940s and 1950s saw the destruction of many of Warsaw’s old buildings, the Old Town is relatively new! Essentially it’s all fake, except for the Rynek, numbers 34 and 36, which are genuine facades. It’s still the most picturesque part of the city to visit, other than the palaces.

We suffered from Poland’s occasional torrential rain, so rather than being stuck indoors all day, we used CitySightseeing Warsaw buses to get around. At 60 zł for 24 hours and 80 zł for 48 hours, it’s not cheap, but they run all the way from Łazienki in the south to the Old Town in the north.
Be warned, there is no bus at 2pm so don’t get stuck somewhere for 2 hours!
Also available: www.city-tour.com.pl/en

Shopping:

Tarasy Złote shopping mall near the station – 200 shops and restaurants

Nowy Swiat and Krakowskie Przedmiescie form a long shopping street running north-south

Cepelia, Hala Mirowska – for crafts and gifts

Bolesławiec pottery – we bought ours at the Ceramika gift shop, Freta 14 in the Old Town

If you’re after DVDs or electronics (NOT much cheaper than elsewhere in Europe, sadly) try branches of Empik, Saturn, MediaMarkt


Łódź

Once Poland’s second-largest city, the fortunes of Łodz have been affected by the death of its textile industry. However a renaissance of development, with Manufaktura (“Central Europe’s largest shopping mall”) completed and the main street Piotrkowska pedestrianised and prettified, means it’s a lovely place to spend a day just strolling. Less than 2 hours by car or train from Warsaw, it would be an easy daytrip.

Hotel: the Holiday Inn is brand new, with spacious rooms, a nice bar, and a good breakfast selection. It’s only a short taxi ride from the station.
Holiday Inn, Piotrkowska 229
Phone: 00 48 42 2082000

Tourist Information: Piotrkowska 87

Sightseeing:

Just walking the 2 miles along Piotrkowska is all you need – with palaces, tenements, statues old and new, churches, memorials, and Hollywood-style stars in the pavement reflecting the Film School that is still here. Especially moving is the tiled part of the street where every family living in Łodz at the Millennium has been given a plaque. And just keep looking up at all of the buildings – every one has a story.

The White Factory, a textile museum showing the development of the city and its trade, and many examples of the factory’s work over the past 200 years. It features Łodz’s first textile machine imported from Manchester, and also wooden buildings from the 19th century.
Piotrkowska 282

Church of St Stanisław, a 103m-high steeple tops this brightly coloured church. Built on the site of the Factory Market Square, opposite the White Factory.

Eating:

The warehouse district has been comprehensively redeveloped, with artists’ studios, bars and cafes. We would recommend Społdzielnia for massive sandwiches and milkshakes that come in their own milkbottle.
“Off Piotrkowska” is at number 138 Piotrkowska just north of Piłsudskiego

Shopping:

Cepelia has branches at Piotrkowska 115, Stary Rynek 1, and Manufaktura
Central is a Soviet-era department store that still has a traditional layout (and what feels like 1980s goods) – Piotrkowska 165 at junction with Aleja Adama Mickiewicza
Manufaktura shopping mall – 300 stores, and a museum about the site, Muzeum Fabryki


Wrocław

Hotel: for a cheap but pleasant stay, right in the centre of town but only 3 tram stops from the station, the Mercure Panorama is ideal. Catch trams 9 or 11 north to Galeria Dominikanska. It’s next to a shopping centre with supermarket, and a stone’s throw from the Rynek.
pl. Dominikanski 1
Phone: 00 48 71 3232700

Tourist information: Wrocław has many shops that pretend to be Tourist Information centres, but are simply there to sell you souvenirs. The genuine ones are at the railway station, and on the Rynek south of the fountain.

Sightseeing:

Rynek: one of the largest market squares in Europe

Ratusz: free to visit, it tells the history of the running of the city, with ceremonial rooms, displays of silverware, and temporary art exhibitions.

Ostrow Tumski: one of the many islands to the north of the city centre, Cathedral Island has many historic buildings and the twin-spired cathedral of John the Baptist.

Panorama Racławicka: A circular painting 114m long around the inside of a purpose-built museum. Painted in 1894 it tells the story of a battle 100 years earlier in which Poland defeated Russia.

Eating:

In the Rynek is the best pierogi restaurant in town, Pierogarnie Stary Młyn

Shopping:

Hala Targowa: a market hall the size of a cathedral, destroyed in WW2 and rebuilt, featuring a colourful array of fruit, flowers and other groceries. Prices are dirt cheap and it’s a great place to stock up on goodies for a packed lunch.

Renoma, Swidnicka 40, while the outside of this mall reflects the long history of the building (completed 1930), inside has the usual chain fashion stores.

Galeria Dominikanska: the largest shopping mall in the city, with shops and restaurants.


Krakow

With a compact old town centre, surrounded by a belt of green, Krakow would be the perfect historical place to explore, if it wasn’t for the tourists! Be prepared for large groups, and long queues. Having said that, as soon as you head away from the Rynek, the quieter streets are well worth an explore.

Airport: this is currently being rebuilt, which means it is a dreadful mess. The terminals are hot and filled with insects, and there is minimal seating space or amenities.
To get from the city to the airport, the buses leave from the central bus station, a long walk from the railway station. You then have to go to the lower level, turn right, and find the stops for 208 and 292. Both take a ridiculously long time.
There is also a faster Airport bus that leaves from Pawia Street.

Hotel: the Holiday Inn is a hotel of two halves. The modern building looks like every other chain hotel, but if you are able to get a room in the original building, it will have much more character. Service is very good. Catch trams 10 or 52 from the south side of the plaza outside the shopping centre, not next to the west entrance.
Holiday Inn, Wielopole 4
Phone: 00 48 12 6190000

Tourist Information: there are kiosks and bureaux all over town, with a small but efficient one in the railway station.

Tours: you will be accosted on the street by people offering rides in their electric carts, trips to Auschwitz, the Salt Mines, or the Jewish Ghetto. Your hotel will also offer to book you on coach trips out of town. It is perfectly possible to see all of these things cheaply making your own arrangements. If you do go on an organised tour, you may get a pick-up from your hotel

Sightseeing:

Historical Museum, Rynek Głowny 35

Wawel Castle

Wieliczka Salt Mines
135 zł for an escorted coach from your hotel (about £54 for 2 people)
80 zł if you get your own transport there (about £32 for 2 people)
You can catch a train, take the bus, or a minivan runs from Krakow railway station

Kasimierz & Podgorze Jewish districts
Galicia Jewish Museum, Dajwor 18
Old Synagogue Museum, Szeroka 24
Oskar Schindler’s Factory, Lipowa 4

Nowa Huta: a Stalinist New Town from the 1950s with brutalist architecture
Cepelix gift shop – look up at the ceiling! 10am to 1pm
Nowa Huta Museum
Stylowa restaurant

Eating:

Zapiecek, 24-hour pierogi restaurant, friendly and cheap, Slawkowska 32

Antler, Burgers and Poutine, Golebia 10

Shopping:

Cloth Hall in Rynek – small Cepelia stall
Station – Wedel chocolate shop
Dekor Art, Sławkowska 11; Mila, Sławkowska 14
Galeria Krakowska, by railway station, 3 floors of shopping heaven

Plac Nowy, antique market and old market hall


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