Last month, I visited Poland for the first time. Imagine my surprise when at least three locals that I met in the capital Warsaw told me they had Singaporean friends who were living in their country, some having already been there for many years.
One of these Singaporeans they told me about had been running an Indian restaurant in Warsaw for 15 years, while the other had moved to Poland on a whim to accompany his Polish girlfriend.
Anyway, that aside, from a tourist’s point of view, Poland is an affordable gateway to central Europe with rolling mountains, a notorious modern history thanks to WWII and lots of vodka.
Here are some tips for visiting on a budget.
Don’t book a tour when you visit the Auschwitz/Birkenau concentration camps
Considering the fact that the concentration camps at Auschwitz and Birkenau are arguably the world’s best known World War II site, there is little and conflicting information about how much it costs to visit them.
Well, it’s official: the concentration camps and the museums within are free to visit. Some people say you need to book a tour to see the camps, but that is neither true nor necessary—there is plenty of signage everywhere in English with a wealth of background information. When you arrive at the entrance, you can simply pick up a free ticket from the counter and then join the queue.
Head to milk bars for a cheap meal
The equivalent of Singapore’s hawker centre in Poland is the milk bar or bar mleczny, where you can enjoy a meal for about 10 zloty (3.70 SGD) These eateries resemble cafeterias. You order your food at the counter, it’s placed on a tray and you then look for a table. Don’t try to chope your seat with tissue packets, please.
The most intimidating about ordering at a milk bar is not knowing what a single item on the menu is. Don’t worry, most Polish food is pleasant. Either use Google translate to get a vague idea of what’s on offer, or ask a local to recommend something—the Polish are usually very willing to help clueless tourists, and most young people speak at least a bit of English.
Use Uber to get around late at night
Poland is famous for its mind boggling range of vodkas, which come in various flavours and vodka-based cocktails. Alcohol is also very cheap in Poland, especially for Singaporeans who are used to paying ridiculous prices. So it is totally possible that you will end up wandering around town past midnight, wondering how to get home.
The Metro or tram in major cities tends to end around midnight, and night buses are infrequent and can be confusing for the uninitiated. Instead of hopping into a cab and paying hefty midnight surcharges, travel by Uber instead. You’ll end up paying less than half of the price of a taxi.
Uber is also a great option, particularly if you’re travelling with a friend or two, for longer trips, such as to the airport. For instance, the 20 minute ride from the city centre of Warsaw to Chopin Airport should cost you no more than 25 zloty (9.33 SGD).
Use bike sharing to get around
Public transportation is affordable in Poland, but the cheapest way to get around is bike sharing. While you may have to pay a small fee to get registered as a user, you can get away with using the system for free for the rest of your stay.
Most bike sharing systems offer you free rides for the first twenty minutes, so just make sure you park the bike every 20 minutes.
Just do a bit of research beforehand so you know which are the major bike sharing companies in the city you’re visiting and where the kiosks are. Then all you have to do is register and pay online.
Have you ever been to Poland? Share your experiences in the comments!