A milk bar in Warsaw, Poland, which offers cheap food.

Is Poland Cheap? How to Travel on a Budget in 2023

Whether you are considering Poland as your main summer destination, or just a quick weekend stopover on a longer European trip, Poland is an amazing place to travel if you have limited funds! Poland has budget options for cash-strapped university students (like me) and family trips alike, in all cities, from Warsaw to Gdańsk.  

Generally speaking, the cost of food and lodging in Poland is cheaper than in other, more-popular European summer destinations such as France or Germany. Additionally, there are many ways you can make your stay even cheaper if you make some adjustments and are willing to be flexible! 

In this guide to Poland on a budget, you will find the following:

  1. Information on the cost of traveling in Poland, with a brief comparison to other major travel destinations, such as New York and Paris.
  2. As a self-proclaimed “novice expert” on traveling and living in Poland, I will provide some tips and tricks to make your hard-earned Złoty go even farther.
  3. A list of the best budget-friendly destinations in Poland, including underrated cities like Poznań.

The Cost of Traveling in Poland

Currency and Payments

The most important money-related thing to remember when traveling to Poland is that they do not use the Euro like other EU countries. They use the Złoty. 4 Złoty is about 1 euro. So, remember that the 3 Złoty bottle of water is actually cheaper than a Euro.

However, in most touristy places in Poland, you should not need cash. Almost all restaurants, hotels, shops, and even public transportation, accept major credit cards, such as Visa and Mastercard, or contactless payment. The only cases I personally have ever had to use cash in Poland are to pay for a public bathroom, or a taxi. However, even some taxis in Poland except card.

If you do choose to withdraw cash, always remember the costs associated with using a foreign ATM. I recommend using a Polish bank’s ATM for safety purposes, just in case your card gets stuck. Also, NEVER accept the exchange rate that the ATM offers you. Every time this is done, you risk losing an added 10-15% of the amount you withdraw in fees. Let your bank decide the exchange rate for you.

General Costs

Item (prices in Euros)PolandNew YorkBerlinParisLondonBarcelonaLisbon
Inexpensive meal7.49€22.93€12.00€15.00€18.19€14.00€12.00€
Mid-range meal for two, three courses32.09€91.72€60.00€65€79.58€60.00€50.00€
1 pint domestic beer2.57€7.34€4.00€7.00€6.82€3.00€2.50€
1 small water (12 fluid oz)1.11€1.97€2.12€2.46€1.58€1.48€1.15€
Bus ticket, one-way0.86€2.52€3.00€2.10€3.07€2.40€2.00€
Taxi Rate per km0.64€2.75€3.38€3.00€2.04€2.00€0.65€

Relatively speaking, Poland is a very budget-friendly country to travel to, based on the cost of certain every-day purchases. The table above shows that Poland is much more inexpensive compared to popular destinations such as Paris, London, Barcelona, or Berlin, and on the same level of other budget-friendly destinations such as Lisbon. If you are coming from the US, Poland is overall cheaper than the cheapest large city in the US (although Tulsa, OK is certainly not a tourist hotspot).

However, there are of course city differences within Poland. For example, Warsaw, Poland’s capital, and most expensive city, is quite a bit more expensive than a less-popular destination such as Poznań. In spite of this, Warsaw is still cheaper than a majority of European destinations!  A warning to the wise is never mention this to local Polish people if you want to make friends, as Poland is not as cheap for locals as for tourists.

Cost Breakdowns

Next, I will break down the cost of tourist-related activities, such as accommodations and transportation, to help you get a better idea of how much money you will spend in each area!

Cheap Accommodations in Poland

Choosing accommodation in Poland depends on whether you are a solo-traveler, couple, or family. Generally speaking, the best options for accommodation in Poland, from least-expensive to most, are hostels, Airbnbs, and hotels. 

As a former solo-traveler through Poland, I would recommend staying in the many hostels dotted around major Polish cities. On Hostelworld, you will find hostels ranging from 20-30 euros per night during the peak summer months, which is by far the most cost-effective method of staying in Poland. Additionally, many of these hostels will be in central locations of Polish cities, meaning you will save money on transportation as well. Also, in the off-season, these dorms can get as cheap as 15 euros per night! Hostels also offer private dorms, that can range in cost from 32-80 euros, depending on the season. Hostels are unfortunately not an option if you have kids, as most, if not all, hostels have an 18+ age rule.

Another option as a solo-traveler is to consider renting a room on Airbnb. Many Poles offer their spare bedrooms in their apartments to travelers, and these options tend to be very cost-effective, although less so than a hostel. I was able to stay in an extra room with a lovely Polish couple, and it only cost me 30 euros per night. I had access to everything in their home except their bedroom, which allowed me to cook and save more money.

If you are a traveling couple, group of friends, or family, an Airbnb might be the best choice. You can get full apartments with multiple beds in the range of 60-150 euros per night, depending on the location, amenities, and age of the building. Some cities have even cheaper apartments, such as Poznań, and Gdańsk. In Gdańsk, it is even possible to get a room in a brand-new apartment building for as low as 40 euros per night in the offseason.

But, if you prefer the comfort and convenience of hotels, they are still cheaper in Poland than in other cities. While they are not the most cost-effective method, if you are willing to stay outside of the city center, you can find hotel rooms for 65-85 euros per night. While you will spend extra time traveling, the amount spent on this travel will certainly be less than the cost of staying in the pricier hotels in the city center. 

Transportation

Getting around the large cities of Poland is simple due to the very efficient public transportation available. Additionally, there are a variety of trains that can get you almost anywhere in Poland. So, you should never need to rent a car! Not only will you save money on insurance, petrol, and parking, you will help contribute to keeping the beautiful green spaces of Poland green for years to come.

Arriving in Poland

Most important to consider is how you arrive to Poland. Planes are certainly a budget-efficient possibility. Low-cost airlines such as Wizz Air and Ryanair fly to many destinations in Poland. With Wizz Air specifically, you can reach Gdańsk, Lublin, Poznań, Katowice (with Kraków not too far away), Warsaw, and Wrocław. Ryanair especially conducts many flights from Warsaw to other parts of Europe, so it is possible to use Warsaw as a central point of travel to other parts in Poland, taking advantage of the many trains that leave to all corners of Poland every day from Warszawa Centralna station.

If you consider using Warsaw as your entry point to the country, make sure to check which airport you are flying to, because Warsaw has two airports. The main airport, Chopin Airport, is within the city limits, a rarity in European cities! Thus, there are city buses, such as Bus 175, that can take you directly to downtown, the main train station, or the historic Old Town directly from the airport. There are also commuter trains included in the basic transportation card that get you to other parts of Warsaw. Wizz Air is the main budget airline at Chopin, flying to popular destinations such as London-Luton, Paris-Orly, and Rome.

However, most budget flights into Warsaw (and Poland in general) fly into Warsaw Modlin airport. Ryanair is the only airline that flies in and out of this airport found 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Warsaw. While this is not as convenient as flying into Chopin, there is regular bus/train service leaving to and from Warszawa Gdańska station for about 5 euros each way. Destinations from this airport include Barcelona, London-Stansted, and Vienna. 

Other Polish airports with budget opportunities include Wrocław, with Ryanair flying from Athens, London-Stansted, Rome-Ciampino, and more. Wizz Air also flies to Wrocław from Barcelona-El Prat, London-Luton, and Reykjavík, amongst other locations. To Gdańsk, you can fly from Barcelona-Reus, Hamburg, Paris-Beauvais, and more with Ryanair, while with Wizz Air you can fly from Barcelona-El Prat, Hamburg, London-Gatwick, and more. Finally, in Kraków, with Ryanair you can fly from Barcelona-El Prat, Berlin, London-Luton and more, and with Wizz Air from Barcelona, London-Gatwick, Milan-Malpensa and more. All these airports are found outside of the city limits, but there are cost-effective buses and trains to get you to the center and avoid paying an arm and leg for a taxi.

If the planes seem too expensive to you still, consider including a destination near Poland into your itinerary. From cities such as Berlin, Vienna, and Budapest, you can take an intercity train or bus into many cities in Poland. While this will add time to your journey, the trains are more than comfortable, and usually on-time. I have taken the train between Warsaw and Berlin 4 separate time, and I have no complaints. You can also take advantage of the regular FlixBus service into Poland for the cheapest bus tickets (in my experience).

How to get around Poland on a budget

Congratulations, you have made it to Poland! Now what? As mentioned previously, renting a car is not necessary to getting around Poland, and if you are on a budget, you will spend a lot of money that could go towards activities on having a car. Instead, use the public transportation! There are buses, trams, and regional trains in most cities and metro areas, with Warsaw additionally having two metro lines. 

Every city has transportation websites with ticketing information if you want to know the prices before you go. A one-use 75-minute transport ticket should not cost more than 1 euro. Some cities also offer 24-hr and 72-hr tickets, so if you plan to use public transportation a lot, I would recommend buying one of these. A one-use ticket in Warsaw costs 4.40 Złoty (about 1 euro), but a 24-hour price costs 15 Złoty (about 3 euros). If you ride the public transport more than three times in a day, you will automatically save! 

Tram ticket vending machine in Warsaw, Poland
PolandInsiders photographer Andrzej is buying a 20 minute tram ticket in Warsaw, Poland.

Also, within Polish cities, you can take advantage of the great biking infrastructure. Bike paths on main arterials are strewn throughout major Polish cities, with many being dedicated bike lanes next to roads, making the experience very safe. You can rent bikes from kiosks throughout major Polish cities. You can also take advantage of e-scooters from companies such as Lime and Bolt, but this option is not as inexpensive. 

Finally, although you should never need to use them, taxis and Ubers can also be used in a pinch. I rarely use taxis, as I prefer the security of booking my price ahead of time. Depending on the time and distance, Ubers can be booked for as little as 5 euros per ride. But, if you find yourself needing a ride home at night and do not want to pay for an Uber, there are often night buses that run to many key locations in major cities. These night buses have the added benefit of being included in your transport ticket if you have chosen to by them. They can be a bit of a crazy experience, but they save you money, so do not discount the opportunity!

Within Poland, you can use the public train system to get between cities. Trains are cost-effective and usually quick. From Warsaw to Gdańsk is three hours on a typical train, and from Warsaw to Wrocław is about four hours. Not only will you save, you will get the added comfort of being able to stretch your legs whilst traveling. Only once has a Polish train I have ridden on been delayed, and this was due to mechanical issues caused by snow and ice.

When booking trains or buses that are run by Polish companies, make sure that when you search on Google, you do not buy from the first website that pops up. These websites are usually third-party websites that have paid to be placed at the top. They will charge you administration and transaction fees on top of the actual fee of the ticket, making a train ticket that might cost 15 euros now cost 25. For trains in Poland, you can buy directly from PKP, the Polish railway company, as early as one month in advance, by visiting https://www.intercity.pl/en/

One final important warning when buying train tickets or local transport tickets is to make sure you buy the right ticket! For example, in Warsaw, there are 2 zones, and unless you plan to go to the suburbs, you only need to by the cheaper Zone 1 ticket! Additionally, you will see the options for discounts. While the internet says you need an ISIC student card to be eligible for the 26-and-under student discount, from my experience, the ticket-checkers only accept valid Polish university IDs. So, learn from my mistake, and just buy the regular-priced ticket unless you are 100% sure that you qualify.

Food on a budget in Poland

Poland has a wide variety of food worth trying. From Pierogi, Gołąbki, Zapiekanki, and Barszcz, Polish food is delicious, filling, and usually low-cost! Rule number one when eating in a Polish city, like in other countries, is that the closer you are to the city center or some important tourist destination, such as the Old Town in Warsaw, the more expensive the food will be. These places will charge tourist prices, because these tourist districts are too expensive for most locals to live in, and thus tourists are the main source of revenue for these restaurants. Admittedly, tourist prices in Poland are much lower than in other European countries in my experience, but there is still the opportunity to save money on food in Poland.

If you are already staying outside of the city center, try eating at local restaurants near you. If you are in a residential area, these places will charge local prices, and you will save money, while still getting the same quality of food as in the city center. Additionally, if you are staying in a hostel, hotel, or a spare room in someone’s house, do not be afraid to ask the employees about where they like to eat. They will know the spots of the beaten path that still have authentic food for authentic prices. I have found Polish people more than happy to share their recommendations with me, and have ended up at some cool places because of it!

An intriguing possibility for eating cheap in Poland is Milk Bars, or Bar Mleczny in Polish. Milk Bars are styled off Communist era cafeterias, where low-cost food was provided to Poles. Due to nostalgia, Milk Bars made a resounding return to Poland in the last 10 years, and even receive subsidies from the government to keep costs low. Most, if not all, Polish staples will be served here by an old lady or two, giving it the feel that you are eating in a Polish babcia’s home kitchen. Additionally, entrees start as low as 2 euros; you cannot beat the price!

Eggs, bacon, salad and Perogies from a Milk Bar in Warsaw.
Fried eggs, bacon, salad and sweet Perogies in a Milk Bar in Warsaw. Taken by PolandInsiders photograher Andrzej.

A final choice for eating is to simply cook yourself if you have access to a kitchen. Food prices at the local grocery stores, such as the low-cost store Biedronka (just look for the smiling ladybug) supply every type of food you can imagine (although not at the American level of variety) to cook at home, at prices lower than almost anywhere in Europe. You can also choose to shop at local markets where fresh produce is even cheaper than in the store, but be warned that these sellers will not speak English and will only accept cash.

Communication

I recommend taking advantage of the inexpensive and speedy internet connection available in Poland. Most corner stores sell SIM cards, where you can get a starting 15-day plan for as low as 1 euro! All you need is to bring your passport with you to the story, call a number quickly, and your phone will be connected to the internet. SIM cards in Poland will certainly be cheaper than any international phone plan your wireless company might offer, and cheaper than using roaming on SIM cards bought in other European countries. I recommend Plus as your SIM Card of choice, as it is the easiest to set up.

Tips and Tricks for Traveling on a Budget in Poland

With the more detailed description of costs and options in Poland completed, I would like to provide you with a bulleted list of knowledge I have gained from traveling through Poland, and have learned from the many Polish people around me that I interact with on a daily basis. These tips are if you want to go the extra mile in saving money. I will also summarize the main points from the above information.

  • Many museums in Poland have free days that are available to all people, whether you are a tourist or not. For example, the beautiful Wilanów Palace in Warsaw is free on Thursdays. You cannot reserve your free ticket online, but can pick them up at the ticket office on the free day. Be warned that lots of large school groups go on these free days, so I would recommend arriving early on the free days. Also, remember to check the time stamp on your free ticket, because it might not be until two hours in the future depending on how many people are at your attraction that day.
  • There is also the chance of engaging in local Polish culture for free. Check tourist websites for major cities to see what opportunities there are available. In Warsaw, you can attend free Chopin piano concerts in Łazienki Park. The largest music festival in Poland, Pol’and’Rock, is free to all attendees. 
  • If you are a university student or young adult, I recommend always staying in a hostel. Not only will you save money, many of these hostels supply discounted events for guests, and you also get the chance to meet locals and other students who may know of cheaper budget opportunities.
  • If you want to learn an abridged history of a Polish city at a low cost, Google “free walking tour” for the city you plan to go to. This will return available tours in English and other languages. These tours will take you to the main sights in a specific area, such as the Old Towns of Kraków, Gdańsk, or Warsaw. The only cost will be how much to tip the guide at the end of the tour, but this cost is comparatively low to the amount of information you will receive and sights you will see.
  • You will see advertisements for Polish nature tourism, with usually ludicrous prices. There is no need to leave Polish cities to take advantage of beautiful nature. All Polish cities have beautiful green spaces that are free to access, and have forests, lakes, streams, wildlife, and more. Warsaw alone is 25% green spaces, meaning you will not have to go far to find a beautiful place to relax. 
  • Look into city cards! Most major cities in Europe offer tourists’ cards, and Polish cities are no exception. By my count, Warsaw, Gdańsk, Kraków, Wrocław, Poznań, and Łódź all offer tourist cards. These cards will include admission to many of the main attractions in the respective city, as well as free transportation within the city limits, as well as other discounts. If you want to see a lot of the city in a shorter amount of time, city cards may be the way to go. Make sure to view the terms and conditions of each card. In Łódź, for example, you must stay in a specific hotel to be able to buy the city card.
  • Sign up for rewards clubs, especially if your stay in Poland is longer than a few days. If you plan to spend a couple of weeks exploring everything Poland has to offer, this will save you money, as there are certain places you might visit a few times. One app I recommend is the app for Żabka, the convenience store that you can find on every block in Poland. If you buy enough bottles of water, you might be able to get a free hot dog! If you plan on popping into McDonalds a few times, download the Polish McDonalds app. You can get discounted food every time you buy, and earn rewards points towards getting free items. Unfortunately, these reward points will not apply back home, and the apps are fully in Polish, but I found them not too difficult to navigate with little knowledge of Polish. Also consider signing up for rewards points for hotels and airlines, as those points can apply for future trips in other parts of the world.
  • Finally, do not forget the basics I supplied earlier! Take advantage of public transportation. Use Uber instead of taxis if needed. Do not book using third party websites. Cook at the hotel, or eat away from the city center. And always ask locals for recommendations!
Inside the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum in Warsaw
An inside look into the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum in Warsaw. Our Poland Insiders photographer was able to visit it for free.

Budget-Friendly Destinations in Poland

As stated already, since Poland is generally cheap, all cities in Poland are budget-friendly destinations. However, there are certainly some destinations that are cheaper than others if you want to make your money stretch even farther. One warning is that the most cost-effective cities are generally ones with less flights to them, but if you are already in Poland, reaching them by train is no issue. I will supply a short summary of information about two smaller Polish cities that are budget friendly, and one major city that is budget friendly. If you want more information about Gdańsk, Kraków or Warsaw, this section is not for you!

Olsztyn

Olsztyn is not the first city on most people’s minds when they think of going to Poland; however, it is Poland’s cheapest city. Located in the heart of Poland lake district called Masuria, home to over 2,000 lakes, there is certainly no shortage of entertaining activities to take part in, whether indoors or outdoors. The smaller population of about 170 thousand people also means that relaxation is easily found, while still being in a city.

If you are looking for beautiful architecture, Olsztyn has you covered. The old town, part of the European Route of Brick Gothic, is full of typical narrow houses, mixed in with churches and the brick town hall at center. During the summer, the center fills with people, enjoying the pleasant summer sun and enjoying the joys of Polish food and drink. There are 14th century walls, gates, and cathedrals, the gothic castle of Warmia once home to Nicolaus Copernicus, and unlike in other Polish cities, these building are original, and survived WWII. 

Nature is certainly abundant in an around Olsztyn, with canoe trips available within the city during the summer, the beautiful lake of Jezioro Długie, and the Central Park perfect for walking, biking, and other summer activities. Venturing out of the city limits takes you into an outdoor wonderland, full of rolling hills, forests full of pine and broadleaved trees, and the largest lakes of Poland. It is a perfect place to hike, camp, swim, and enjoy all your outdoor wishes and dreams, all low cost.

Getting to Olsztyn is not as easy as major Polish cities, but is pretty straightforward. By far the easiest way is by train. It takes just over two hours to get to Olsztyn by train from Warsaw, or alternatively 2 hours and 30 minutes from Gdańsk, with tickets ranging from 8 to 12 euros one way. Olsztyn does have an airport, but it is found 56 km (35 miles) away, requiring an extra bus or expensive taxi ride. But Ryanair does fly there from London-Stansted, and Wizz Air from Dortmund or London-Luton, so there are international options if you so desire.

Lublin

Lublin is a delightful city of approximately 330 thousand people not far from Warsaw. It also holds the claim of the second least expensive city in Poland. As the cultural capital of Eastern Poland, it is home to museums, historic buildings, and also proclaims to be the Polish Capital of Festivals. Due to it short distance from Warsaw, and its low price, it is a possible one-day excursion to take part in to see more of the country.

Lublin’s Old Town is its crown jewel. Built in a medieval style with narrow cobbled streets, sights such as the Lublin Castle, the Dominican Abbey, Crown Tribunal, and Cracow Gate are must see. There are also a few intriguing museums, such as the somber Majdanek State Museum, a living reminder of the atrocities committed by Nazis during WWII. Also, a short way out of the city center is the Lublin Open Air Village Museum, where you can get a feel for how Polish people lived centuries ago. 

As the Polish City of Festivals, going to Lublin when one is ongoing is worthwhile. Some of the interesting ones include the Carnaval Sztukmistrzów, Poland’s largest circus, the free Noc Kultury, a display of the diverse culture of Lublin and the surrounding area, and the Night of Museums, where like Ben Stiller, you get to visit Lublin’s museums all through the night. 

Transportation to Lublin is easy from Warsaw, as it only requires a two-hour train with ticket prices as low as 7 euros each way. The Lublin airport is only 10 km (6 miles) outside of the city, with regular train and bus service to the city center available. Ryanair flies to Lublin from Dublin and London-Luton, and Wizz Air also flies to Lublin from London-Luton.

Poznań

Moving onwards to larger cities, Poznań holds the title of cheapest major city in Poland. Poland’s fifth largest city of about 500 thousand lies halfway between Berlin and Warsaw, making it easily accessible. While the beautiful main square, the heart of this bustling university town, is currently under construction (as of April 2023), there is still much worth seeing in Poznań.

First, the main square is still worth a visit, as the buildings surrounding it are stunning, and the town hall in the middle is also beautiful. All of Poznań seems to filter its way through these streets, and you will find many bars and restaurants here. However, the real pulse of the city is where the thousands of Polish university students are hanging out. A warm spring or summer day will bring many of these students to the banks of the Warta River, hosting impromptu barbeques and drinking parties. Another place to find these students is at the Nocny Targ Towarzyski (open only during spring and summer), a food cart where you can get delicious Polish food, other cuisines, and a drink. Music bumps both through the outdoor seating areas, and the concert hall next doors. It is an amazing spot to relax on a spring evening. The most important food item to try is the flavorful St Martin’s croissant, a legally protected food that can only be made in Poznań.

Poznań’s other gems are its parks. The Poznań Palm House is a pleasant place to spend on a rainy day, with a leisurely stroll through Woodrow Wilson Park to get there. Citadel Park is home to old forts staying from the days when Prussia was in charge. However, Lake Malta was my favorite place in the city when I visited. This lake has beautiful water-side bars and restaurants, a walking and cycling path, a kids’ train, a toboggan run, and hosts crew races during the summer.

As mentioned previously, getting to Poznań is easy by train from Warsaw, with the three-hour journey costing as little as 12 euros. Poznań also has an airport within city limits, with regular bus service. With Ryanair you can fly from Budapest, London-Stansted, Rome-Ciampino, and more. With Wizz Air, you can fly from Paris-Beauvais, Eindhoven, London-Luton, and more. 

Is Poland Cheap? Conclusions

So, I hope you agree with me that Poland is the perfect place to travel if you are on a budget! Amenities are cheaper than in other tourist destinations, there is lots of free things to do in every city, with these cities being served by low-budget airlines and trains from major European cities. While every city in Poland can be achieved on a budget, the cities of Olsztyn, Lublin, and Poznań are budget-travel dream destinations, with fun activities and even lower costs. 

In general, make sure to ask locals for advice, stay away from tourist centers when eating, and don’t be afraid to ask if there are discounts or rewards clubs! Take advantage of the stellar public transportation, and enjoy your surroundings. Poland has not disappointed me for the 6 months I have lived here, I am confident it will not disappoint you either.

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