As someone who made the bold decision to move from Chicago to Warsaw last year, there are a lot of adjustments that I have had to make and continue to have to make. From figuring out how to rent an apartment to getting used to shops being closed on Sundays, many challenges arise for me as a foreigner. For example, I still have not learned how to use my phone to pay at the store. However, one of the biggest challenges was figuring out the public transportation system in Poland.
Coming here, I knew that the public transportation was pretty good, especially compared to the one in the States. I made sure to do my research before buying my one-way plane ticket because it is significant to me since I did not plan on purchasing a car, and I knew I would be relying on public transportation anywhere I go. Despite living in this country for over a year, I’ve only recently begun fully understanding all the different modes of transportation. That is why I’ve created a guide on how to navigate public transportation in Poland written from the perspective of a foreigner, so it can be a bit easier for other foreigners and visitors to understand it.
- In big cities, there are a lot of bus and tram stops everywhere, and they are easy to spot.
- There is a lack of interaction between the bus drivers and the passengers.
- Buses are often late.
- Trams are faster, safer and more sustainable than buses.
- The metro is faster, safer and less crowded than trams and buses.
- In Warsaw, there are two metro lines: M1 (north to south) and M2 (east to west).
- Tickets can be bought in ticket machines by bus, metro or tram stops, in machines inside of the vehicle or digitally, for example, with the Jak dojade mobile application.
- In Warsaw, there are two zones :Zone 1 is the city itself, and Zone 2 signifies the suburbs that surround the city.
- Jak dojade is an app that provides you with all the necessary information about public transport, such as arrival times in real-time, delays and different routes.
- City bikes have designated bike racks throughout the city, and you can rent out one of them using the Veturilo app or the terminal next to the bike racks.
- Scooters can only be rented via a mobile application.
- Trains are the best way to travel from city to city, and there are many express trains available.
- You can purchase tickets online or at the kiosk at one of the train stations, and you have the option of choosing between first class and second class.
I have found that travelling by bus is different everywhere I go, from the amount of interaction with the bus driver to the accessibility of the buses.
For example, in Chicago, many bus stops are dedicated to a particular bus line. That makes things difficult if there is a significant delay because you cannot go on another bus unless you walk over to another bus stop. That is also a challenge because bus stops are pretty sparse, especially if you are not in the direct centre of the city, and they can be difficult to spot since most of them are marked with only a small metal sign attached to a pole.
In Poland, buses are much more accessible, and there are plenty of bus stops everywhere, apart from small villages. The bus stops are also impossible to miss because each bus stop is made into a mini station, usually with a ticket machine next to it and plenty of other people waiting there. (More about tickets below.)
Something that stood out to me the first couple of times I travelled by bus in Poland is that bus drivers are very isolated from the passengers. In addition to the glass barrier the driver is behind, there is an absolute lack of interaction. They do not control who comes in and out of the bus, and often even if you ask the driver a question, you will be ignored. That is not even the effect of the pandemic, and it surprised me because it is the complete opposite of what I’m used to. In Poland, talking to the driver is considered as something that could be a distraction that takes the attention away from driving the vehicle. In comparison, in Chicago buses, you enter the bus at the doors closest to the driver, always greet him or her and then either scan your card to pay for your ride or put cash in the cash machine and when you reach your destination, you thank the driver as you leave.
Another difference is that it is normal for Polish buses to stop at every single stop on their route, so you don’t have to worry about requesting your stop. Transferring from one bus to another is also very easy. Even if the bus you’re transferring to isn’t departing from the stop you got off on, most of the time, it will be nearby.
Buses are not my favourite way to travel because they often get stuck in Warsaw’s notorious traffic, and there are common delays, so I never have the guarantee that I will get to my destination on time. Still, they are much more convenient and reliable than buses in Chicago.
Travelling by tram is my favourite way of getting around Warsaw, the city I currently live in. However, since they don’t have any trams in Chicago or pretty much anywhere else in the States, I had no idea what a tram was for the longest time. I just called them buses, and every time I did, I would get very confused looks from people, and I had no clue why.
Trams are public transportation vehicles that run on their own separate tracks. In comparison to buses, that makes them the faster option of travelling and also the safer option when it comes to the number of accidents. Additionally, they are more sustainable than buses because they are powered by electricity.
Of course, there are occasional delays, but they are not significant. I’ve never experienced a delay that was over four minutes long, and if I’m in a rush, I can hop on another tram that is headed in the same direction since each tram stop has multiple trams departing from it.
If you’d like to get across the city quickly, metros can be a good solution. Since they are underground, they are not affected by traffic like buses and move quicker than trams. That also makes them much safer than buses and trams when comparing the number of accidents, and they are also significantly less crowded.
In Warsaw, there are two metro lines: Metro Line 1 (M1) and Metro Line 2 (M2). M1 runs from north to south, and M2 runs from east to west.
Although there are many metro stations in big cities, they are still not as common as bus or tram stops, so the metro is not as accessible as buses and trams.
However, a third metro line has been announced, which will connect the city centre with the city’s Praga-Południe district, and its construction is planned to last until 2028. Until then, if you’re travelling across the city from the other side of the Vistula river, it might be a good idea to transfer from a bus or tram to the metro to shorten the length of the trip.
Tickets for public transportation can be bought in ticket machines by bus, metro or tram stops, in machines inside of the vehicle or digitally, for example, with the Jak dojade mobile application (see below). Tickets bought prior to the trip have to be validated inside the bus or tram or at the metro station, but the tickets bought inside the vehicle already have a time stamp on them, so there is no need for validation. They can be paid for with cash or card, but many are starting to only accept payment by card.
Ticket prices vary from city to city. In Warsaw, there are two zones in regards to public transport. Zone 1 is the city itself, and Zone 2 signifies the suburbs that surround the city. On tickets, you can always see the zone the ticket is for, whether it is for Zone 1, Zone 2 or both Zone 1+2.
The tickets for travelling in Warsaw are as follows:
- 20 minute ticket (Zone 1+2): 3,40 zł
- Single-fare 75 minute ticket (Zone 1): 4,40 zł
- Single-fare 90 minute ticket (Zone 1+2): 7 zł
- Group 75 minute ticket for up to 10 people (Zone 1): 22 zł
- One-day ticket (Zone 1): 15 zł
- One-day ticket (Zone 1+2): 26 zł
- Three-day ticket (Zone 1): 36 zł
- Three-day ticket (Zone 1+2): 57 zł
- Weekend ticket (Zone 1+2): 24 zł
- Group weekend ticket for up to 5 people (Zone 1+2): 40 zł
There are significantly reduced fares and discounts for seniors, students and others.
For frequent travellers, it is more affordable to purchase long term tickets instead of buying a ticket every time you travel. These long term tickets can be purchased with Warsaw City Cards, which are personalised travel cards that feature the passenger’s photo and basic personal information.
With the Warsaw City Cards, you can purchase 30-day or 90-day tickets. The price of a standard fare 30-day ticket in Zone 1 is 110 zł, and of a standard fare, a 90-day ticket in Zone 1 is 280 zł. In order to get the Warsaw City Card, you need to fill out a form and attach your photo to the application. That can be done online, by mailing it in or at a Warszawski Transport Publiczny service station, located at metro and train stations. If you fill out the form online or by mail, you can pick it up at a chosen station.
There is an incredibly useful mobile application called “Jak dojade”, which translates to “How do I get there”, and it is the perfect tool for accessing public transportation in Poland.
When you type in your starting and ending locations in the app, it will inform you of all the possible routes and even show you on the map how to get to the starting bus/tram stop or metro station and also how to get to your destination on foot from the stop you arrive at. This navigation is particularly useful because there are so many different stops, and if they are in the same area, they have the same names but different numbers (Centrum 04, Centrum 09, etc.), so it can be challenging to figure out on which side of the street your stop is located. You can also view particular timetables in the app and see delays in real-time.
When I’ve found myself a bit lost in the city or accidentally gotten on the wrong tram, this mobile app has always saved me. There is a free version and a paid version. I recommend getting the paid version, especially if you will be accessing public transportation frequently. In Polish App stores, the paid version of the app is purchased on a subscription basis, but I managed to buy it for a one-time fee of $4.99 in the US App Store, so if you have the option to switch stores, do so as it is more affordable in the long run.
Additionally, they have added a feature that allows you to purchase tickets in the app. You can transfer an amount to your account and then refill it when you run out of funds. In Warsaw, they offer time limit tickets (20, 75 and 90 minutes), short term tickets (one-day, three-day and weekend) and a weekend group option for up to 5 people. Tickets vary from city to city, but a standard 20-minute ticket in Warsaw is 3,40 złoty. Once you have your ticket, you validate it upon entering the vehicle by scanning a QR code in the app.
To read more about the different tickets available, see the section above.
Electric scooters & bikes
To avoid crowds, traffic and possible delays, and to get a little exercise, you can rent out one of the city’s electric scooters or bikes.
Bicycles have designated bike racks that you can find throughout the city, and you can rent out one of them using the Veturilo app or the terminal next to the bike racks. In the app, you validate your account, transfer a minimum of 10 zł to start and then scan the QR code on the bike of your choice. The first 20 minutes are free, and when you’re done with the bike, you can drop it off at any bike station, not only the one from where you picked it up. There are a lot of stations around the city, and you can locate them in Google Maps, so they are easy to find.
Renting electric scooters is a bit different because instead of having designated locations, they are just scattered around the city. If you’ve been to Warsaw, I’m sure you’ve seen them in the middle of random sidewalks. You can rent scooters only with an app on your smartphone. Once you have the app installed and your information is entered in, you can rent any scooter you come across by scanning the QR code located at the top of the scooter by the handlebars, and it will unlock automatically. Then, you can take the scooter anywhere you’d like and when you’ve reached your destination, enter in that you are done with the scooter, take a photo of how and where you are leaving the scooter, and the payment for the rental will be automatically taken from your account.
Travelling from one city to another in Poland is very easy and convenient thanks to the country’s great train system, which keeps improving year by year. Now, they even created additional express routes that get you to your destination faster than ever before.
For example, Gdańsk is about 350 kilometres from Warsaw and with the Express InterCity Premium route, you can get there in 2 hours and 46 minutes, which is about half the time it would take to travel there by car.
You can purchase tickets online or at the kiosk at one of the train stations, and you have the option of choosing between first class and second class. Like with tram and bus tickets, there are many discounts for trains as well, such as for students, seniors or people with disabilities. Seasonal tickets are also available for frequent travellers. On Express InterCity Premium, there is the option to travel in the Quiet Zone, which is an area of the train designated for passengers who want to travel in silence. You can also purchase an additional ticket for a pet.
Some trains don’t have air conditioning, however, so it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not always the most luxurious way to travel. It can also get crowded at times, and the train conductor might get annoyed if you don’t have your ticket ready in your hand when he comes by to check it. Sometimes they might ask for ID too. Still, trains are the simplest and fastest way to get from city to city.