One of my luckiest decisions was to go to Poland in a student exchange program. From a naive choice, I have had the opportunity to spend time, neither long nor short, in one of the countries that I believe has been, is and will be an essential part of who I am, in my soul. In this article, I will share some personal observations about the Polish culture here for everyone to refer to. So, what to know before going to Poland? Let’s check out some useful Poland travel tips (travel in Poland tips, Poland tips) with the +15 things to know before going to Poland as well as Poland etiquette which we have complied to help you plan a perfect trip to one of the most underrated destinations in Europe!
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- Tatra guide — How to visit & what to do in Tatra National Park, Poland
- What to buy in Poland? — 13+ Top souvenirs & best gifts from Poland
Things to know before going to Poland: Don’t just know and visit only Warsaw or Krakow
Poland is a great country with an extremely long and rich history. That means it has many cities worthy of attention, not just the capital Warsaw and the cultural center of Krakow. Of course, both Warsaw and Krakow are great. But personally, I especially love Gdansk as beautiful as Copenhagen, where the first movement for economic autonomy in Poland before the Communist government took place or little Wroclaw but once the historic capital of Silesia. And Polish nature is equally amazing! The majestic of Tatra mountains range is enchantingly white in winter with relaxing hot springs, verdant in summer with splendid, magnificent lakes.
So, if you have a lot of time to visit Poland, you should definitely visit other interesting destinations too!
Things to know before going to Poland: The country of strange experiences
Poland, of course, is not limited to just sightseeing. There are very cute and unique experiences in Poland. For example, go hunting for dwarves in Wroclaw. Or go hunting for buffalo tracks in Bialowieza National Park. Ride a horse-drawn carriage in the snow in Tatra. Explore the ancient Wieliczka Salt Mine. Oh my god, so many!
The paradise of museums
Poland is, in another way, a nation still heavily influenced by history. Incredibly bad things have happened in Poland at a highest terrible level. They are not only alive in the minds of Poles, but also inscribed in well-maintained and invested museums. For those who love history and understand the importance of knowing history so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past, Poland is the ideal place to visit for this, due to the system of museums that I must say is one of the best systems across Europe.
For example, the World War II museum and the solidarity museum in Gdansk. Holocaust Museum in Auschwitz. Schindler’s List Museum in Krakow. But it is not only the modern museums that preserve modern history. Also medieval castles from the Teutonic period like Malbork. If you love history, come here!
Poland travel tips: Don’t call Poland as Eastern Europe!
In fact, there is no specific definition of Eastern Europe, but mainly since the Soviet era during the Cold War, the bloc of countries under Moscow’s influence are collectively referred to as Eastern Europe. However, this geocultural/political and religious conception often ignores the geographical reality of Poland. Unless you are referring to a specific historical concept, Poland is located in Central Europe.
This may seem small, but it’s not small, especially if you talk to locals. They will understand the confusion of foreign visitors, but they will definitely “correct” your words.
What to know before going to Poland: Learn a few Polish words!
My experience shows that it is very effective to go to any country and learn a few basic local words. Same goes for Poland. The Poles also especially appreciate it if someone takes the effort to learn a few words of their language, because the Polish language is very difficult. Don’t be upset when you mispronounce, they may laugh and tease, but it’s a sign of goodwill.
Like me when lived in a dormitory while studying in Poland, I only know a few words like good morning, good evening, my room number and how is the weather today. However, the doorkeepers are extremely welcoming, always remembering which my room is. The uncles also say a word or two in English every time they see me such as today good, today beautiful. So cute.
What to know before going to Poland: The Poles are very interested in news
This is something that I learned a little bit after having a chance to talk with some native people who can speak English. Or when I sit at the tea shop and read the Polish news (I’ve seen this a few times, read the English newspapers available at the tea shop) the uncles sitting around point at the picture and say something I don’t understand, so they kept saying “ok, ok” and then turned to each other at the table, talking while pointing at the newspaper I read. Usually, I find Poles don’t talk a lot of sporadic gossip. But when it comes to news, especially Polish politics, they immediately change their attitudes and talk very enthusiastically. Even my two friends who are my exchange student instructors. Mention once, they talk continuously.
There’s one thing I don’t know if it’s true or not, it’s just that I heard it from a Polish doctor when we joined a language exchange night organized by the exchange student council. It is the Polish government that persists with the abortion law. Whenever the country needs to come up with a controversial and scandalous policy, they pull out a draft law… banning abortion to distract the public. So when Poland emerges with protests and discussions against the law banning abortion, it is probably “plotting” something. (haha, I don’t know is it right? Who knows, just show me?!).
If you are a woman, an older Polish man may will greet you by a gesture of hand-kissing.
Kissing on the hand is a very classic greeting, but older men are more likely to do this to show respect and courtesy. (I found this way of greeting is more common in the East of Poland than in the West, where there are many tourist cities. In Europe now this greeting probably only exists much in Southern Italy, Southeast Poland and perhaps Southern France).
In contrast, young people prefer to greet by shaking hands. And in general, they’ll probably kiss you on the cheek in greeting. With close acquaintances can be three kisses.
Poland is very cold, but not that cold
Poland can get very cold in the winter (coming from someone who lives in one of Poland’s both cold and dry place, Bialystok). The average winter temperature in Poland can be dropped very low, about -20 degrees Celsius (where I lived, it was really down to -20. Or like when I went to Tatra in winter, -20 was a normal thing). But in a way, Poland’s cold is not bitterly cold due to dryness (winter trips to Tatra, Wroclaw and Warsaw, but I found Bialystok where I live is still the coldest, can’t breathe because of the freezing cold). If you plan to visiting Poland in the cold season, you’ll only need to wear layers, a good coat, waterproof fur-lined shoes, and a warm scarf to survive.
(Speaking of scarf and Poland, I think I love Poland because of a special memory. I have few friends, only a few close friends in Italy. But my Italian best friend flew from Italy on my birthday just to give me a scarf. Maybe that’s why I love Poland so much?)
Also, there is a personal observation but it reminds me of a story my father used to tell me back in the day. When I come to Poland, I see that most of the doorkeepers of residential buildings or administrative offices are usually elderly people. They look very kind but their attitude is… very serious. Only when you greet them do they nod their heads in return, not rushing to greet you much. My father said that in the cold season, those who suffer from frostbite due to snow, usually these gatekeepers will not let them in right away, but force them to rub the snow on their body for… familiarity, and then slowly let them in to warm up. Because it is too cold, it is more dangerous to go to a warm place right away.
However, in the summer Poland can be very hot, hot enough to go to the beach! Let’s visit Sopot, for example. Fine sand beach with shallow water is no less than sea of other countries.
Experiences of visiting cold countries in the cold season:
- Regularly take vitamin D. In the cold season, the days in cold countries are very short, the sun is not available, so it leads to vitamin D deficiency, causing sadness or upset. In many cases, chronic vitamin D deficiency can cause depression. This is my personal experience. I lived half a cold season in Poland without taking vitamin D, sometimes just staying in my room like autistic. But when the spring comes, the flowers bloom and the snow melts, and the spirit immediately returns!
- Be careful with electronic devices such as phones. It’s so cold that they “collapse” on their own. Get in a warm place and then turn on the phone. And should keep the phone as close to the body as possible. (My Polish friend jokes that we heat our phones better than our bodies).
- Usually when it’s snowing it’s not as cold as it is… no snow (or when everything freezes).
- If you can’t stand the cold, it’s best to crawl from one shop to another while walking!
Things to know before going to Poland: Don’t ask “how are you?” unless you really want to know
Poles are very outspoken, honest, and often misunderstood as rude. They will say what they think and are completely unafraid to point out the faults of others. Coupled with this national character are communication habits based more on sincerity than on etiquette. I realized this because when I stayed in the dorm, some of my English friends had a habit of greeting with “how are you?”, or “how was your day?” and then surprisingly discussed that the Poles actually told their real story. In Polish language and habits, they only ask each other when they really want to know. So if you ask them that, they will answer honestly, and they will also expect you to respond the same when they are actively interested.
Poland etiquette: Polish women pay close attention to their appearance
This is something that I only discovered after staying in several places. Similar to communication habits, thinking, approach to matters, etc., the difference in self-care is also huge. For example, in the Netherlands, people in general prefer comfort and simplicity. They are rarely fussy about their appearance, and even in formal events, their dress-up is much lower than in some countries like Italy or Poland. In this country, men also pay attention to their appearance but do not pay too much attention. Meanwhile, women when take down the street often follow the motto, which as my friend describes it, “It’s safer to be too elegant rather than not elegant enough”. Heavy makeup is very common, and clothes are also neatly cared for. In particular, Polish people are very fond of leather goods…
Poles are very, very proud of their Vodka
The Poles love vodka, and take great pride in their vodka, which they say it is even tastier and purer than Russia’s. Many Polish people even told me that it is the Poles who drink the most vodka, and make the best vodkas in the world. Both men and women can drink quite well. And contrary to the popular stereotype that Poles get drunk all the time, it’s rare these days. (But still yes, especially in the evening, when Poles almost 180 degrees change – from “cold, serious” to enthusiastic, crazy. At this time, young people go to disco, bars, older people love going to pubs to drink beer and meet up.
I have met many times when drunk people took on the street. Even in some more “local” cities, with less tourists, like where I live, many restaurants even let people who are too drunk to sleep in restaurant chairs for a while, until they wake up).
However, not everyone drinks vodka. In fact, Poles love beer just as much. Craft beer has become a trend in recent years. Usually in midweek meetings, Poles drink more beer. And this is probably the only place I see that… cherry or berry syrup is put in beer. Not everyone orders. Usually only women like to add it.
In addition, young people also have a hobby of pub crawling. In some places where I once lived like Italy or the Netherlands, people seem to like to drink in one place for a night, or just at a familiar bar. But in Poland, young people like to crawl across many bars a night, each they only having one or two drinks. This activity is so popular that many tours are born just to take guests to discover the interesting bars of a city.
Ah, and note: in Poland, it is prohibited to drink alcoholic beverages on the street. But this is one of the countries where alcohol drinks is the easiest to find.
Travel in Poland tips: The Food
I love Polish cuisine second only after Italy, even more than France. Why? Because Polish cuisine is typical of “comfort food”, the type of food that creates a warm, family feeling. Polish dishes are all very full portions (pay attention when going to a restaurant and order, Asians can sometimes be full for two people with only one serving!), often rich in taste, with a lot of meat (vegetarians will meet a bit difficult, even in big cities like Warsaw or Krakow there are vegetarian restaurants, well, they’re not really Polish cuisine anymore). And they are also diverse and rich!
Also, if you receive an invitation to eat from a Pole, expect to be served until you can not breath because of too full! There is a Polish proverb: “Guest in the house brings God to the house”. So, with the hospitable nature that is shown most strongly through the banquet table, do not be too surprised when they will treat you to a slightly “excessive” amount of food. And, no matter how full, but if you accept the second serving, you will see that they are radiant and enthusiastic!
Poles don’t drink tea with milk
Polish people often do not drink tea with milk, but drink tea with spices (such as anise, cinnamon, …) and a slice of lemon. They seem to consider it a British habit and are not very interested. Furthermore, Poles drink more tea from the pods and dried leaves than black or green tea itself, which are more common in many parts of the world. My teacher said that because before the war, poor Poles could not buy tea or import tea, but they liked tea very much, so they dried many varieties to make teas. Today, these types of dried tea are a specialty of Poland and you can buy as a gift.
Poland etiquette: Don’t give flowers with even numbers
In Poland, giving even-numbered flowers is usually only at funerals. So if you want to give flowers to someone, buy an odd number of flowers!
Poland travel tips: When visiting a Polish home, what should be paid attention to?
When invited to visit a Polish family, never come with empty-handed. Bring gifts that can be shared with others. Chocolate cake, homemade cake or bottle of wine are good options. And usually the gift will be given to the woman who is the head of the family. Although today this is no longer a mandatory standard to be followed.
In addition, when entering the house, there is a high chance that you have to take off your shoes. The host will give you a pair of house slippers. Unless the home owner tells you not to take it off. So don’t wear socks with holes (hihi).
Poland is one of Europe’s most affordable destinations. Or as my friend in Austria said: insultingly cheap (haha). Really, traveling to visit Poland is extremely worth it! All costs are surprisingly cheap and reasonable. On average, a two-course meal with drink costs around 10 euros. Visit museum, theater, the prices are almost half compared to other countries. And if you have a student card, it’s even cheaper! I went to 4, 5 cities in Poland just by going… 2 cities in other countries.
The Polish currency is Zloty. 1 euros is equal to 4 Zloty.
In Poland, the train system and bus operators are very developed and convenient. And very cheap too. Going from one end of the country to the other is only 30, 40 euros only (not yet discounted for students. If you are a student like me, the price down to…10 euros). But the minus point is that most stations (as of 2021) do not have ticket vending machines, but have to queue in front of the counter to buy. So either come early to buy tickets, or buy online. The homepage of the Polish railway system is here.
Of course there are many interesting things about this wonderful country. But in my opinion, here are Poland travel tips (Poland tips) and things to know before going to Poland, what to know before going to Poland, Poland etiquette as well. Hope these will be useful to everyone on future trips. Don’t forget to share with me your experiences! Please share the article to save for later use.
Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to Warsaw you can refer to
- Fryderyk Chopin’s Concert Ticket in Warsaw Old Town
- Warsaw Hop-On Hop-Off City Sightseeing Bus Tour
- Private Warsaw Frederic Chopin Airport (WAW) Transfers for Warsaw
- Best of Warsaw Half Day Tour
- Frederic Chopin Evening Walking Tour in Warsaw
- Warsaw Off the Beaten Path Half Day Tour
Are you looking for more top things to do in Poland: Tours, activities, attractions and other things? Let’s check it out here.