Looking to travel to Europe on a budget? With its diverse landscapes, delicious cuisine and fascinating history, Poland is a country bursting with wonder for the modern traveler, and those who are budget-conscious will find their money going further here than other trendy European destinations.
Given that it is so often overlooked, Poland remains one of Europe’s true hidden gems; a budget-travelers dream locale if you’re in the know on how to get around, what to do, and where to eat. Here’s everything you need to know for traveling Poland on a budget.
Know Before You Go:
First things first, stash away those Euro. Like a few other EU nations, Poland has its own currency which is called the Złoty. This is pronounced “zwoti”, as the ‘L’ with a line through produces a ‘W’ sound. The current exchange rate is 3.7 PLN to $1 USD.
When in Poland it is customary to tip at restaurants and service establishments. For smaller tabs, round the bill to the nearest 5 PLN or 10 PLN increment. Otherwise, 10% is standard practice.
Because Poland is not a widely English-speaking country, it’s likely you’re going to need to pick up a few phrases if you’re wanting to get around with ease.
Hello: Dzień dobry
Thank you: Dziękuję
How much does this cost? Ile to kosztuje?
Cheers: Na zdrowie!
One of the best things that makes Poland ideal for budget travel in Europe, is its incredibly affordable and well-connected train system that links nearly every city and region in the country. This makes getting between cities a breeze, with a three-hour train ride from Warsaw to Krakow costing around 45 PLN (approximately $11USD). While full-fare train tickets are reasonably priced, travelers can save even more money by purchasing a Weekend Ticket (Bilet Weekendowy). At a set price of 79 PLN (approximately $21 USD), users have unlimited rides aboard certain PKP trains from 7 pm on Friday evening to 6 am on Monday morning — making the perfect excuse for a weekend getaway! Another money-saving tip for all rail riders is to spend an evening aboard a night train. Grab yourself a cheap ticket, enjoy a decent night’s sleep (without the added costs of accommodation) and wake up in a brand new city.
Looking for an international detour while in Poland? Explore neighboring countries with PolRail’s links to Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania and other budget travel countries in Eastern Europe.
Buses are another affordable mode of transport, with the real bargain hunters seeking out Polskibus, which offer seats between cities for as little as 5 PLN ($1 USD) if you book far enough in advance. For local buses, a single-fare ticket in the city’s central zone averages around 3 PLN, with major cities offering one-day public transport tickets for approximately 20 PLN.
Taxi or rideshare apps are also a low-cost and time-efficient way of traveling around town in a quick and comfortable manner. Avoid unmarked taxis — your safest (and cheapest!) bet would be to book an Uber or BlaBlaCar.
Where to stay:
Poland is positively packed with vibrant hostels and cheap accommodation — like elsewhere, its hostels are both an excellent way of saving money and encouraging guests to meet fellow travelers who enjoy more of a social atmosphere. The cheapest hostels have been known to go for as little as 25 PLN ($6USD) a night for a twelve-bed dorm, though you can find plenty more comfortable stays for equally affordable prices. For a taste of the outdoors, check out Goodbye Lenin in the Tatra Mountains, Greg and Toms Hostel if you’re up for a party in Krakow, or Oki Doki in Warsaw — one of Europe’s most famous hostels and an experience all in itself!
Another alternative is to find yourself a Noclegi, a no-frills bed and breakfast/mini-hotel offering simple yet cozy rooms. Usually frequented by locals who have come to the city and have no relatives to stay with, a Noclegi is perfect for those wanting to save money but prefer their own privacy, peace, and quiet.
Booking with as much notice as possible will also help save on the money front and booking directly through the website will save on booking fees. When possible, keep an eye out for mid-week deals, as you’ll most likely be able to find a few bargains targeted at those not visiting during the weekends.
What to do:
From the seaside beauty of Gdansk to the show-stopping architectural prowess of Krakow, you’ll never be short on sights to see when wandering Poland’s urban gems. Climb up to Wawel Castle in Krakow to see one of Poland’s finest examples of Medieval architecture. Spend an afternoon strolling along Trakt Królewski (the Royal Route) in Warsaw free of charge, and peruse Gdansk’s many markets for bargains galore.
If you’re up for a Polish history lesson, you’ll find free walking tours in all major cities. Most government-funded museums also offer free entry on particular days of the week: The National Museum in Gdansk is free every Friday and Warsaw’s National Museum is free every Tuesday. Keep an eye on this website for updates on free events in Warsaw in particular.
For lovers of the great outdoors, there are 23 spectacular national parks to choose from, all of which showcase different pockets of Poland’s natural beauty. Check out Ojcow National Park for its stunning caves and castles, the shifting sand dunes of Slowinski National Park along the Baltic coastline, or Kampinos National Park with an easy 30-minute drive from Warsaw. Entry to the parks are usually no more than 10 PLN per person, or if you’re lucky, free!
What to eat and drink:
While almost all food and drink options in Poland are affordable, eating with the locals will ensure you get the most bang for your buck in authentic style. The cheapest restaurants in Poland are known as Milk Bars (bar mleczny) and are frequented mostly by locals, operating during daylight hours. Here, you’ll find cheap, hearty meals served up cafeteria-style. Sample traditional, home-cooked Polish dishes such as the iconic pierogi, tomato soup or cheese-filled pancakes. While dinner at an authentic Milk bar will give you a real taste for this slice of Polish culture, the likes of Milkbar Tomasza in Krakow’s Old Town or Mleczarnia Jerozolimska in Warsaw are more trendy takes on the communist-era classic.
If you’re after a home-cooked meal in the comfort of your hostel, head to Poland’s cheapest and most popular supermarket Biedronka for well-priced seasonal ingredients and all sorts of delicious bargains.
And lastly, don’t forget to check out Poland’s varied street food, with the likes of Zapiekanki (a toasted open-faced sandwich), Obwarzanek (a deliciously salty cross between a pretzel and a bagel) or Nalesniki (pancakes stuffed with fruit, jam, and cottage cheese) all sure to fill your belly without emptying your wallet.
Find the best hearty Polish food from Gdansk to Krakow with this Poland travel guide and culinary map in one, Pierogi & Beyond: Poland’s Culinary Past and Present.
When it comes to drinking, “Pijalnia” is a popular choice: a chain of local old-school bars found in most Polish cities and big towns. Serving up cheap beer, coffee, wine, and vodka along with cheap and fast snacks such as toast and kielbasa (Polish sausage), they’re a great place to start your night off. Given that vodka is Poland’s most popular choice of drink, it is greatly affordable, getting you a shot of vodka for just over $1 USD, or a glass of Bison Grass Vodka and apple juice (a combo you simply have to try!) for about 15 PLN ($4 USD). With the average price of a pint of beer around 8 PLN ($2 USD), its no wonder Poland makes for an ideal boozy getaway. Na zdrowie!
Looking for other spots to travel in Eastern Europe on a budget? Check out Six of the Best Places in Europe for Budget Travel.
All uncredited photos by Lily Allen and Kyle Peters.