Long distance train travel in Poland… in a nutshell
If you’re travelling between any of the major tourist destinations in Poland, like Kraków, Gdańsk, Warsaw, you will almost definitely use the PKP Intercity train services. So, here’s a short guide to help you get started.
Train operators in Poland
The state-owned train company is called PKP, with sub-brands like PKP Intercity. There are some independent companies, like POLRAIL, that have better branding, appear higher in the google ranking, but they are not the railway operator.
There are a number of passenger train operators in Poland. Most likely, you will be using PKP Intercity, which is the long-distance train operator in Poland. But there are other options – here is a list.
PKP Intercity is the long-distance train operator in Poland, they run 95% of the long-distance trains in the country, including international ones
You may have a chance to take a ride on LEO Express or DB when travelling between Kraków and Prague or Berlin respectively.
PKP PolRegio is the state-owned regional train operator. They operate longer inter-regional routes, between the main regional hubs, as well as local ones, throughout the country.
Local train operators are mostly owned by local governments. They connect the main city of the region with other towns in the region. Examples include Koleje Mazowieckie in Warsaw, Koleje Małopolskie in Kraków and Koleje Dolnośląskie in Wrocław.
Municipal Railways in Gdańsk and in Warsaw are called SKM – Szybka Kolej Miejska or Fast Metropolitan Railway.
When travelling between the major hubs, you will most likely use PKP Intercity. Koleje Małopolskie operates very popular routes from Kraków to Wieliczka and to the Airport in Kraków. The airport in Modlin near Warsaw is reachable by Koleje Mazowieckie, and so on.
EIP (Express Intercity Premium) Is the best, most expensive and, in theory, fastest train, served by Pendolino trains.
EIC (Express Intercity) is the 2nd best, as fast as EIP, but it uses a traditional train with coaches and a locomotive. In most cases, EIC trains have a decent restaurant car, much better than in the EIP.
Both EIC and EIP trains serve the busiest routes.
IC (InterCity) is a decent option, either on a new EMU train or a traditional train. It is way cheaper than both EIP and EIC, but quite comfortable. A small bar compartment is available on EMU trains.
TLK is the “cheap train”, a lower-quality, no-frills option with older, often worn, carriages. These trains have no bar on board. Many, but not all, have small, mobile carriages selling coffee, tea and some sweets.
When using day trains, your main choice will be between the 1st and the 2nd class and between the compartment and non-compartment carriages. Here is a short guide that will help you make up your mind.
As in most countries, you will make a choice between a compartment and a non-compartment carriage. It’s up to your preference, as there’s no price difference. There are no compartment cars on EIP trains or on the trains operated by Flirt and Dart units, which are marked as EMU in the online timetable.
The difference between the 1st and 2nd class depends on the type of train and a bit of luck.
In principle, there are three seats in a row in 1st class, compared with four seats in a row in 2nd class. The pitch between the seats is, in general, bigger in 1st class. If you are taking a long-distance ride and you are tall, consider 1st class, as the pitch in 2nd class is only slightly better than on any airline.
In a compartment carriage, there are nine compartments in 1st class and eleven in the 2nd. You can really see the difference. Compartment carriages on EIC and IC trains are also quite similar. It may, however, happen that there will be six seats in the 2nd class compartment. Usually, this happens on higher class trains, like EIC.
Sometimes you may encounter a “declassed” 1st class car, which means that you will ride a 1st class car treated as 2nd class. You can easily recognize them by the A4 sheets with a large “2” digit on them glued to the entrance door windows.
Some of the night trains operate sleepers or couchettes, or both. As the difference between the two may cause some confusion, let us help.
A sleeper means a two (1st class) or three people (2nd class) compartment. You will get a full bed with linen, a place to sleep. The compartment has a small washbasin and will be “male” or “female”. But, of course, if you’re travelling with your wife or husband it does not matter.
A couchette is unisex and has four or six beds in a compartment for 1st and 2nd class, respectively. Basic linen will be provided and it is definitely much more comfortable than a typical “seating” compartment.
How to buy a ticket
You can buy the ticket either at the station or online on the intercity website. You can try using other PKP websites, but they will redirect you to the main site.
In any case, the ticket sale starts 30 days before your travel date! 30 days, 1 am in the morning CET. This is very important when you’re hunting for the lowest discounts (see below). Note that all legs of your journey count separately when purchased on separate tickets. So, for example, you will buy your return ticket a few days later.
Except for the Warsaw-Berlin tickets, you cannot buy international tickets online. Sorry.
Tickets and seat reservation
In principle, you should buy your ticket before departure. This rule is strictly enforced for the EIP trains (Pendolino) – do not board this train without the ticket or you’ll pay a 150 PLN fine per passenger. On other trains, you can buy your ticket on board. A small fee applies, plus you have very little chance to get a seat reservation.
All EIP, EIC and most of the IC trains have a compulsory seat reservation. On other trains (TLK), it is optional. Reserve a seat for peace of mind.
Sometimes, the trains are sold out. You will not buy a ticket for a sold-out EIP train. For other types of trains, you will get a ticket without a seat allocation, which means that you will likely spend your journey jumping between the seats. In the worst-case scenario, without a reservation, you will be standing in a corridor, aisle or next to a toilette if the train is really crowded.
There’s no need to carry a paper ticket with you, as the tickets bought via the intercity website are mailed to you as a pdf, which you can present on your smartphone as long as the barcode is readable.
There is no need to validate the ticket before the departure, but the municipal train operators – SKM in Warsaw and Gdańsk – have a different rule here.
There is a basic rule regarding the prices. The earlier, the cheaper. There is a small number of really cheap (like 49 PLN vs 119 PLN) tickets available, but they sell out quickly. There are pools of 10-30% discounted tickets, catch them if you can!
Whether you get a discounted ticket or not, it all depends on how popular your route is. The most popular routes and trains, between Warsaw, Kraków and Gdańsk, sell out quickly.