9 June 2020

Your Guide to Traveling Around Poland with a Rental Car

Aleksandrs Buraks
Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com

Why should you rent a car in Poland?

A beautiful, but sometimes underrated destination, Poland has only recently entered the limelight of international tourism. Those travelers who give it a chance to discover a proud, hospitable, and thriving land with plenty to enjoy. Whether you're into majestic mountains or ancient woodlands, sandy beaches or picturesque cities, intricate history or unique cuisine, Poland really has all of these things (and more). The last decade has also seen the arrival of low-cost airlines and some serious improvement in roads and other travel infrastructure, so getting a rental car and making your own adventure across this interesting land is the easiest it's ever been.

Your Guide to Traveling Around Poland with a Rental Car

By Aleksandrs Buraks | Published June 09, 2020

Why should you rent a car in Poland?

A beautiful, but sometimes underrated destination, Poland has only recently entered the limelight of international tourism. Those travelers who give it a chance to discover a proud, hospitable, and thriving land with plenty to enjoy. Whether you're into majestic mountains or ancient woodlands, sandy beaches or picturesque cities, intricate history or unique cuisine, Poland really has all of these things (and more). The last decade has also seen the arrival of low-cost airlines and some serious improvement in roads and other travel infrastructure, so getting a rental car and making your own adventure across this interesting land is the easiest it's ever been.

When should you go to Poland?

Poland has a temperate climate with warm summers, cold (and often snowy) winters and four distinct seasons. The country gets its largest share of its visitors from May to September as this is the period when the weather is most pleasant. However, that doesn't mean that you cannot enjoy Poland by visiting during any other time of the year.

It's important to keep in mind that there are local differences within the country. As the ninth largest country in Europe, Poland is quite big and has different geographical regions like vast plains (generally located in the northern part of the country), high mountains (mostly in the south-southeast), and a coastline that's more than 500 km (300 miles) long. It's always a good idea to check the weather forecast for the cities and regions that you plan to visit, not just the country in general.

The famous Polish cities of Warsaw, Krakow, and Poznan are very nice to visit from May to September or even early October. Although temperatures have been hitting some records over the last decade, Poland is, on average, cooler than most destinations in Western and Southern Europe, so the Polish summers are usually pleasantly warm and bearable. It should be noted, though, that the big cities can also be great to visit during the colder months as the historic city centers look absolutely stunning when covered in snow and ice. Many festivals and cultural events also take place during the colder time of the year.

The Polish Baltic coast is best visited during the summer months. There's nothing like enjoying the sea breeze and the waves when temperatures hit 30 °C (86 °F) or higher. Although the Baltic Sea doesn't get quite as warm as, say, the Mediterranean, during the summer, it's still great for sunbathing, swimming, and even surfing. Another plus is that while the most popular Polish beaches can attract plenty of people during the summer months, they're never quite as crowded as the most famous beaches in Spain, Greece, or Croatia. While nice to visit during the summer months, the largest Polish coastal cities of Gdansk and Szczecin are hubs of entertainment and culture meaning they have plenty to enjoy year-round.

Polish national parks, like the famous Białowieża, also see the most visitors during the summer months (June and August are slightly cooler while July is the warmest month). They are, however, just as fascinating to explore during the early and mid-autumn weeks when the colors are turning yellow and red and the weather is usually still quite dry. Most national parks are open year-round and can also be quite nice to visit during the winter months when some offer cross-country skiing, saunas and other activities.

The Polish Tatra mountains are a very popular travel destination during the cold months of the year. The mountain resort of Zakopane is known as the Polish capital of winter sports as it offers everything from skiing and snowboarding to snowmobile rides and even sleigh rides. However, the Tatras are just as awesome to visit during the summer months as it offers some of Europe's best climbing, trekking, and paragliding.

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Where should you pick up a car in Poland?

Most visitors to Poland choose to pick up their rental car at one of the country's airports. There are more than ten international airports, and most of them have a wide choice of rental car providers.

Warsaw Chopin Airport is by far the busiest in the country and the main entry point for many visitors to Poland. Located in the southwestern part of the Polish capital, it handles more than 40% of all of Poland's air traffic. In addition to European connections, Chopin Airport has flights to and from North America, Africa, the Middle East, and East Asia.

Warsaw Modlin, the other airport in the capital city, is served exclusively by low-cost airlines and often is a cheaper alternative to reach Warsaw, especially for travelers from Western Europe. Other busy international airports in Poland are Krakow Airport, Gdansk Lech Walesa Airport, and Katowice Airport.

Many car rental companies in Poland permit one-way rentals. It is quite popular for foreign travelers to pick up the rental car at one of Warsaw's international airports and later drop it off in Krakow, Gdansk, or Wroclaw (or vice versa). Most companies charge an extra fee for using the one-way rental option, but it will give you the freedom to travel all over the country without the requirement of returning to your original point of entry. Many companies also permit picking up a car in Poland and dropping it off in another country — popular international one-way rental routes include Warsaw-Berlin, Wroclaw-Prague, and Krakow-Kosice. The fee for international one-way rentals is usually higher than for domestic ones. You can see the exact prices by using our website to search for the travel dates and pick-up and drop-off locations of your choice.

In addition to airports, in many cities it is also possible to pick up or drop off a car at international hotels, car rental company offices, and other locations.

How easy is it to travel around Poland independently?

Over the last 10-15 years Poland has become a much more accessible destination to explore on your own. The roads, especially the main national highways, were greatly improved in preparation for the Euro 2012 football tournament, making travel all across the country much easier. The tourism sector has also greatly expanded and everything from rental cars and hotels to tours and experiences can usually be booked in advance.

While the general quality of life in Poland has been rapidly improving, prices have also gone up, Poland remains a very affordable travel destination that's significantly cheaper than Germany, France, or the United Kingdom. Although part of the European Union, Poland has not adopted the euro and uses its own currency, the złoty. Multiple currency exchange offices can be found in all of the airports and larger cities, but it's a good idea to wait until you reach the city center, if possible, as the rates in airports and train stations are notoriously bad. While most shops, restaurants, and gas stations accept international credit cards, you can still find the odd place that doesn't, so having at least some cash on you at all times is a good idea. There are plenty of ATMs in cities and towns.

GPS services work well in Poland and even the most rural and sparsely populated regions are mapped. Getting a car with a GPS is a good idea, although it's also possible to use an app. Most car rental providers charge a small additional fee for GPS devices.

The size of Poland should not be underestimated. Poland is significantly larger than some of its neighbors such as Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Lithuania, and also countries like Italy and the United Kingdom. While many famous destinations are located near one another, a trip between, say, Krakow and Gdansk or Poznan and Białowieża will take the better part of your day, so plan accordingly.

Is Poland safe to travel around by car?

Overall, Poland is a very safe destination. The crime rate is comparable to that of Western Europe and the days of highway carjackings seem to have stayed in the turbulent 1990s. The police are efficient and generally trusted by the local population, so if there's an issue, you shouldn't hesitate to contact them at any time. Like elsewhere in the EU, the nationwide emergency number is 112.

Like in any large European metropolis, pickpocketing and small tourist scams can occur in the large cities, especially in the touristic parts of Warsaw and Krakow. Look after your belongings, keep your wits about you, and don't hesitate to ask for help if you need it!

Poland has its fair share of reckless drivers and the overall driving culture is slightly more aggressive than in, say, Western Europe. However, polite drivers are in the majority and the overall driving culture is good, so most travelers who use a rental car to visit the country do so without any issues. Speed cameras are in use in Poland and speeding fines are quite hefty.

Driving in the Polish Tatra mountains is similar to high altitude driving anywhere else in the world — extra caution is required. Drivers with previous experience with mountain driving shouldn't have any issues. Poland does get quite a lot of snow most winters, especially in the mountainous areas, so snow chains might be required. Ask your rental car provider about them or any other equipment your car might need if you're visiting in winter.

Poland is home to animals like moose and deer, so wildlife crossings are something to keep an eye on, especially when driving in forested areas and after dark.

What language do they speak in Poland?

The official and dominant everyday language of Poland is Polish, the native tongue of more than 98% of the country's inhabitants. Learning at least a couple of basic phrases before your trip will be very useful and will make you popular among the locals. Polish uses the Latin alphabet with some modified letters.

Knowledge of English continues to improve across the country, especially among the younger population and in the big cities. However, it remains far from widespread, so you will also encounter plenty of people who do not speak it. Overall, knowledge of English in Poland is lower than in places like the Benelux countries or Scandinavia and is more similar to the knowledge of English in France. Most people working in tourism and services will know at least some English (or at least will find a colleague who does).

German is also a useful language in Poland as a notable percentage of the population speak it, especially in the southwestern part of the country which has strong historical ties with Germany.

Some Poles, especially the older generation and people living along the country's eastern border, also understand Russian. However, you should keep in mind that while Polish and Russian are both Slavic languages, they are not especially closely related and the degree of mutual intelligibility between them is low.

What about filling up in Poland?

There are plenty of gas stations in Poland. In the larger cities and the more densely populated regions, you're almost never more than a 20-minute drive from the nearest station. There's a lower concentration of gas stations in the rural regions, nature areas, and less populated parts of Poland like Warmia-Masuria and Podlaskie — this is where having GPS will come in handy.

Gas stations in the cities and on the main highways are usually open 24/7, but others might close for the night. Most gas stations in Poland are self-service.

Before reserving a rental car, make sure to check the fuel and mileage conditions!

Aleksandrs Buraks

Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com
Aleksandrs has over 10 years of experience in marketing with a focus on creating stellar content that provides topical insights using data. Having taken five road trips across Europe and one in the U.S., he is passionate about traveling by car. His favorite countries to visit are Denmark and Thailand. You can find him on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter.

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