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A Complete Guide for Traveling by Train in Poland
Poland’s railway infrastructure has undergone an expansive modernization process since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union and Poland’s 2004 entry into the European Union.
Overhead electrification replaced diesel engines for about two thirds of the network, more than the percentage of electrified railways in the UK or France. This let nearly all of Poland’s significant intercity routes wave goodbye to smelly diesel propulsion.
With railways traversing the entire country, traveling by train in Poland is a great alternative to hiring a car. Usually running on time, trains do not face the traffic jams which sometimes cause delays on long-distance coaches, while delivering you right to the heart of most towns and cities. Our complete guide here shares everything you could ever need to know about Polish train travel. Have a great trip, or as you’ll hear in Poland, szczęśliwej drogi!
Train companies in Poland
Most passenger services in Poland are operated by the government-owned Polskie Koleje Państwowe (PKP), or Polish State Railways. Although it was only established in 2001 as the country’s economy liberalized, it has a history which dates back to 1926.
PKP’s long-distance passenger services are operated by PKP Intercity, which is responsible for almost all intercity rail services within Poland’s borders. They are run under several different names. Express InterCity Premium (EIP) are the fastest and most expensive services, traveling to destinations including Wrocław, Katowice and Warsaw. A level below these are Express InterCity trains connecting major towns and cities. Low cost Twoje Linie Kolejowe (TLK) runs services including trains between Poznań and Gliwice. EuroCity and EuroNight services are identical to intercity trains but run across Poland’s borders to neighboring countries, such as Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia.
Now run separately, Polregio started its service as an offshoot of PKP. It is responsible for around 3,000 regional train services each day, again split among various brands: regio, regioplus, interregio, and regioekspres. Regioekspres is the only Polregio brand to offer both first and second class. Its trains stop at major stations on a handful of international routes in addition to its domestic lines. These international routes are Dresden to Wrocław, and Frankfurt to Poznań. On the German side of the border, these services are known as RegionalExpress. Interregio operates on the Łódź to Warsaw line and between Elk and Grodno in Belarus. Regioplus trains stop at medium-sized train stations, and standard regio services at most stations along a line.
Deutsche Bahn is also a player on the Polish train scene thanks to its international services to border stations including Szczecin, Kostrzyn, and Gorzow. The parts of the service within Poland tend to be run by Polregio, with Deutsche Bahn taking over on the German side of the border, although passengers won’t notice any significant difference and do not have to change trains.
The last big train carrier to be aware of is Leo Express. It has trains connecting around 15 different destinations in Poland, including Krakow, Jaworzno, and Rybnik. Its international services include trains to Linz and Salzburg in Austria, Prague in the Czech Republic, and Bratislava in Slovakia.
Regional and International Services
Beyond its big cities, Poland’s regions and provinces are also well-served by passenger rail funded by provincial governments. They include Masovia Province’s Koleje Mazowieckie, which has seven lines with services centered on Warsaw and running to places including Skierniewice, Lukow, and Deblin.
In addition to the international services already mentioned, Warsaw is connected to Berlin (via Poznan) with multiple trains daily, as are the cities of Wrocław, Krakow and Katowice. Wrocław also has direct services with Dresden via Gorlitz.
Popular train destinations in Poland
With Poland’s major tourist destinations so easy to reach by rail, the big question is really not “Should I travel by train in Poland?” but “Where should I travel by train in Poland?” Check out these short introductions to some of Poland’s most popular destinations for a little bit of inspiration.
The Polish capital is served by a multitude of PKP InterCity services as well as some Deutsche Bahn trains and (of less use to visitors) the Koleje Mazowieckie regional trains. Despite being seriously damaged during the Second World War, Warsaw’s rebuilt old town was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. Explore this major cultural hub at the Royal Castle and adjoining square, Warsaw Uprising Museum, Soviet-era Palace of Culture and Science, and Varso Place, the EU’s tallest skyscraper.
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Krakow in southern Poland is connected by regular PKP Intercity trains to Warsaw, alongside Katowice, Gdynia, and Szczecin. International connections link it with most of the capitals of central Europe. Visited by up to 14 million people each year, Krakow’s sights include Wawel Castle, dating back seven hundred years, and the stores and cafes of Florianska Street. Trains also connect Krakow with Oswiecim station in around 1.5 hours. From here it is a short distance to Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp Museum.
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Located on Poland’s Baltic Sea coast, Gdańsk may be known for its shipyards but has plenty more to offer the visitor than the buzz of welders and the scent of engineer’s oil. Wrapping around the Martwa Wisła river, the city’s colorful buildings are interspersed with museums to learn more about Gdańsk’s experience of WWII and the Soviet era. From late spring to early autumn, streets buzz with people enjoying the café terraces, while sights like Oliwa Cathedral take on their full majesty in the weeks before Christmas. Regular rail links with Poznan make it easy to reach, too.
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Wrocław in western Poland may be over a thousand years old, but today this major center for university studies hums with students and youth culture. Fall in love with the Gothic-style Old Town and don’t miss the Royal Palace of Frederick the Great (now the City Museum). For greenery, explore the 100-hectare Szczytnicki Park, as well as the university botanic gardens.
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A hub for rail travel in the south of the country, it’s more than likely your train will pass through Katowice or you’ll make a connection here, so why not stop off for a couple of days and explore? PKP Intercity has direct Express InterCity Premium services from Warsaw, Lodz and Poznan among other major cities. Once in Katowice, check out the Cultural Zone, containing concert halls and the impressive Silesian Museum, or take a walking tour of Old Town Katowice.
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The most scenic train routes in Poland
From beaches to mountains, Poland has an impressive choice of scenic train routes within its 18,000 kilometers of tracks. So why not hop on a train and check out the very best of them?
Gdynia to Hel
The train from Gdynia takes about an hour and a half to arrive into Hel. Operated by Polregio, it winds its way to the Gulf of Gdansk through attractive villages such as Jastarnia and Kuznica before taking a sharp turn onto the thin Hel Peninsula. Comprising not much more than a sandbank and sometimes not much wider than the tracks, the coastal landscapes are extraordinary, and the secluded beaches perfect for a picnic. Popular on summer weekends, we think the vistas are just as fine during the winter. Sit on the right-hand side of the train for the best views.
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Wałbrzych to Kłodzko
Although the train journey between Walbrzych to Klodzko takes under two hours to complete in one direction, it’s widely recognized as one of Poland’s most scenic. Passing through the Sudety mountains, the natural beauty of the region combines with impressive engineering, including nine bridges and three tunnels, to create an ideal rail journey whether it’s spring, summer, or fall.
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Warsaw to Łódź
Taking approximately two hours, and with intercity services throughout the day, there’s really no excuse to skip the train ride between Warsaw and Łódź. Once the conurbation of the Polish capital is behind you, you’ll pass through a number of small towns. These are separated by strips of farmland and areas of woodland, including that of Bolimowski Park Krajobrazowy, ensuring there’s plenty to see whether it’s the blossoms of spring, crops of summer, color-changing leaves of fall, or the snows of deepest winter.
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How to book train travel in Poland
Buy train tickets at the station or on the train
For regional train services run by Polregio it is usually unnecessary to pre-book tickets. However, it can be useful to make reservations in advance if you know what trains you’re going to catch and want to avoid the worry of long station queues or any language barrier.
All but Express InterCity Premium services allow you to purchase your ticket once onboard from the conductor – there are no turnstiles or barriers that prevent you boarding the train before you have a ticket. However, you will face a surcharge if the station you depart from had an open ticket desk, and you will need to find the conductor (hint: their cabin is in the first car), before they begin checking tickets, or you’ll risk a penalty fare. At larger stations, payments can be made by credit or debit card.
Intercity train services have a dynamic pricing structure like most airlines. In other words, the earlier you purchase a ticket the cheaper it is. It also means more popular travel times, such as Fridays and Saturdays, will likely have higher prices. Summer is also a popular time to travel, with many intercity services becoming fully booked.
Buy train tickets online
Reservations can be made easily online as well as in person at stations. They can be made for both domestic and cross-border stations to neighboring countries. Reservations for most services (including trains to Berlin) open 60 days before the date of travel, right up until the time of departure. Tickets purchased online are sent as either PDF email attachments or a text message linking to a PDF. You can show your PDF ticket as a print-out or on your mobile device, but be sure to download it ahead of time!
Keep in mind, tickets are not interchangeable, so you cannot board a Polregio train with a PKP Intercity ticket to the same destination, even if the PKP ticket cost you more. You will need to purchase a completely new ticket.
Tips for finding deals on train tickets in Poland
Children under the age of 4 travel for free within Poland. Children and young adults, ages 3 to 24, get a discounted ticket rate (about one third to one half of a standard ticket price), so long as they are enrolled in full-time school in Poland. If you look older than 24, you may need to prove your age with identification.
Seniors aged 60 and over are able to receive a one third discount on prices.
PKP Intercity also offers a family discount (Rodzina z PKP InterCity) that gives children aged 4 to 15 a third off the basic fare, and also gives up to 4 adults traveling with the child a discount.
Rail Cards & Passes
The Group Journey Card offers a 15-20% discount on regular fares, but is only available to a group traveling at the same time containing at least 11 people. It must also be applied for ahead of time, with a standard approval period of five working days.
Meanwhile, Colour Intercity Cards are available to frequent travelers. Available in monthly, quarterly, half-yearly and annual versions, the cards provide a flat fee for unlimited travel. This is for a named traveler in second or first class (you can’t switch between the two). It can be used not only on PKP intercity services, but also on trains operated by Polregio, Warszawska Kolej Dojazdowa and Koleje Dolnośląskie.
Types of train services available in Poland
Regional and local trains offer the most basic level of service. These trains use standard second-class cars like you’d find in most of Europe, and don’t provide ticket holders with a seat reservation or offer extras such as onboard WiFi or catering.
Intercity services also provide first class and business class seating in specific parts of the train. They have a 2+1 seating arrangement rather than the 2+2 arrangement of second class, increased levels of legroom, foot rests, and power outlets. Business class seats are more comfortable and spacious again. Tea, coffee, and water are included in the ticket price, and power sockets and complimentary WiFi are available for use.
Those who opt for first class on Express InterCity Premium services can expect a complimentary light meal, while those in first class on intercity services (either domestic or international services) have a snack and a drink included in the cost of the ticket.
Express InterCity Premium trains are tilting pendolinos (trains that tilt on the tracks), and can reach speeds of 200 km/h. As these express trains get faster and make their trips in less time, fewer sleeper trains serve Polish destinations. The overnight services that have survived, including the Prague to Warsaw route, offer both seats and proper sleeping accommodation.
This accommodation has two different forms in up to three alternative classes. The cheapest form of sleeping accommodation is the couchette (kuszetka or wagon z miejscami do leżenia). On domestic trains, couchettes consist of a cabin containing three or four beds in bunk bed formations. On international routes, there are usually six beds to a couchette compartment. Couchettes come with bedding and a pillow, but you will need to prepare your bed yourself. Unless you purchase all the couchettes in a particular compartment, you will share the compartment with other passengers. When each bed is being used, it can be difficult to find space to place all your luggage, so prepare to pack light.
Sleeper compartments (wagon sypialny) are a more comfortable way to spend the night compared to couchettes. You’ll have the option of one-, two- or three-berth sleeper compartments, which can also be shared between multiple passengers who do not know each other.
When opting for second class, you’ll only see the two- and three-berth options. Single berth sleeper compartments are reserved for first class passengers. Sleepers have more comfortable beds, a larger amount of luggage storage space, a mirror, and a sink. Many also offer air conditioning. In addition to bedding, those staying overnight in a sleeper compartment receive a pack containing a washcloth and soap, as well as a complimentary snack and hot drink (tea or coffee) the following morning. Some international services also have deluxe sleeping compartments containing en suite showers.
Couchettes and sleeper compartments can usually be found at one end of the train. Each car is independently locked, so it will not be possible to pass through other cars you don’t have a ticket for.
Getting to the train station in Poland
If you know precisely where you need to go, there’s no need to arrive at a Polish train station more than ten minutes before the train’s scheduled departure time. However, it’s always wise to arrive a little earlier to reduce stress levels and account for traffic jams or other delays on route.
Make sure you head to the correct station too, as large cities may have more than one. The Polish word główny, such as in “Warszawa Główny”, means main station.
Most stations have electronic boards, with the information in both Polish and English. If there are no electronic boards, such as at smaller stations, look for the yellow posters detailing departures and platform (peron) numbers.
In Poland, a platform isn’t a single track, but an island reached by an underground passage or overhead bridge with a different track on either side. Once you arrive at the correct peron, you will need to wait on the side of the platform that your train will arrive at. This is known as the tor.
Most stations will have a handful of seats on the platforms themselves, plus more in a waiting room or in the main concourse. Around them, you will generally find a range of small shops selling snacks and magazines. All stations have manned ticket desks, and most have automated ticket machines with an English language option. There are also public restrooms (with a small entrance fee). Most stations will have a dedicated taxi rank, and Uber is another option for getting to and from the station.
Getting on the train in Poland
First class carriages have a yellow stripe at the top of the windows to make finding them easier, and they also show the number 1 denoting the class. You do not need to present a ticket to board the train, but should have it ready when the conductor passes through your car. It can be presented as a paper ticket or electronically.
Electronic tickets will include your name, and the conductor will also expect to see some form of official ID with a matching name. If you are on an international service, you will also need your passport, although since Poland is part of the European Union’s Schengen free travel zone, checks are only sporadic.
On-board experience on Polish trains
Top train routes in Poland
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