Driving around Poland (slowly)

As part of the preparations for our summer holiday this year I’ve been booking a tour of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. We’ll be staying in Marbella and to get an idea of travel times I used ViaMichelin (very handy tool by the way) to find out how long we should allow to get to the places we intend to visit in our rental car. Yes, I am a small anorak with things like this, but I find it pays dividends later.

As the data for the Spanish trips came up I was zaszokowany extremus at the shortness of the drive times and the amount of the journey I would be spending on a motorway. Living in Poland, especially in Warsaw, for any real time just knocks thoughts of short journeys and motorway driving out of your head. Drive times that would be unthinkable when I lived in the UK (five hours or more will get you way up into Scotland or way down to the end of Cornwall from London) just become commonplace here. The good news is that I think I’m about ready to live in Texas. The bad news is…..well it’s all bad news really.

Here’s the raw data:

Marbella to

GRANADA – 183km, 1hr 58 (1hr 38 on motorway)
SEVILLA – 256km, 2hr 41 (2hr 26 on motorway)
CORDOBA – 215km, 2hr 19 (2hr 04 on motorway)
GIBRALTAR – 77km, 0hr 59 (0hr 39 on motorway)
CADIZ – 197km, 2hr 11 (1hr 49 on motorway)

Before anyone comments – I know Cadiz is a waste of time but the lure of breathing in the same air as Nelson is just too much to resist!

Warsaw to

KRAKÓW – 297km, 4hr 37 (9 minutes on motorway)
WROCŁAW – 345km, 4hr 57 (7 minutes on motorway)
GDANSK – 346km, 4hr 52 (15 minutes on motorway)
TORUŃ – 228km, 3hr 23 (15 minutes on motorway)
ZAMOŚĆ – 252km, 4hr 00 (5 minutes on motorway)

London to

PLYMOUTH – 348km, 3hr 49 (1hr 54 on motorway)
NEWCASTLE – 456km, 4hr 43 (3hr 50 on motorway)
GLASGOW – 651km, 6hr 34 (6hr 10 on motorway)

It’s worth bearing in mind as well the following;

  • The London times are from the City of London. It takes a whole lot more time just to get out of London than it does Warsaw.
  • Marbella is a one-boat little fishing village, not the capital of the country.
  • “Motorway”, in relation to any of those Polish journeys, is nothing like “motorway” when applied to the UK or Spain. Mind you, with a maximum of 15 minutes of it it is hardly worth worrying about that!
  • Although I was trying to get some good comparisons, I couldn’t find anywhere less than 250km from Warsaw that was worth visiting!
  • When they say 4hr 52 between Warsaw and Gdansk, they are talking about driving in the middle of the night on a day when trucks have been banned from driving on Polish roads.

As you might expect, this situation is not going to improve any time soon, or at all if you live in the capital city, Warsaw. “All roads lead to Rome” is a phrase never to have reached these shores plains, here it is best to say “All roads lead to Łodz” as the map below of the future (ho ho) motorway system explains. Note heavy use of the word “should”, as in “might not be”. Even when I’m dead and they’ve finally finished the road network, the hard working people of Warsaw will have to drive to Łodz before they worry about getting anywhere else. Wonderful.

Perhaps a little translation:

HIGHWAY – something not quite as good as a proper motorway.
EXPRESSWAY – two lanes if you’re lucky, traffic lights everywhere, people herding cows from one side to the other, ruts the size of Kilimanjaro, cardboard cut-out pretend police cars every 50km.

Goes without saying that all of the above will be made with that special Polish tarmac that “ruts up real nice” and needs heavy maintenance every 6 months.

That, ladies and gentlefolk, is the sad truth of the matter. Getting around this country in a car – SUCKS!

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30 thoughts on “Driving around Poland (slowly)

  1. guest says:

    Your british fellow likes the polish roads :D


  2. scatts says:

    I know! I often browse Alan’s site myself. The big question is do I prefer no motorways and less traffic, or good motorways that resemble parking lots most of the time (i.e. M25)?

    I think I’d like motorways with less traffic (and zero trucks). That would be nice.

  3. guest says:

    and you cannot compare spain to poland

    -because Poland is only 4 years in the EU
    -Spain did not have problems like that


    -and you should not forget that huge parts of Spain is just “desert like” and it is much easier to build roads there than in Poland. In Poland the goverment has to buy land from farmers and other private people ,before they can start to build the roads.

  4. scatts says:

    I see we’ve started with the excuses already! :)

  5. guest says:

    And of course the Poles do not know how to build roads ! :D

    I give up ! :D

  6. MartinP says:

    I’ve driven today through half of Andalusia. The motorway are just like in Germany, but without the traffic. Then I took the train (Avant) from Seville to Malaga. A revelation. Smooth, fast, comfortable and each station a good work of architecture. Made me sad being back tonight now in Poland.
    >-and you should not forget that huge parts of Spain is just “desert like” and >it is much easier to build roads there than in Poland. In Poland the >goverment has to buy land from farmers and other private people ,before >they can start to build the roads.
    Well, Andalusia has a nice bit of mountains (ok, some deserts as well) and road go through.

  7. darthsida says:


    Sometimes “excuses”, sometimes “accusations”. If you don’t want to just brush the surface of the Polish Road (issue), delve into: What happened to Polish rail transport and / or Polish river transport past 1989 and why?

    How oudated is your map above?

  8. Brad says:

    My wife and I have driven a fair bit in and around Poland. Since I moved here in mid-2005 and bought a ’98 Citroen Xsara with 168,000 km shortly thereafter… well I think we’re there’s about 211,000 km on the clock now.

    I usually drive with a GPS on my longer trips (maps from http://ump.waw.pl/en/index.html …some of the best maps of Poland for Garmin devices) and keep fairly good track of my average speed. Which is roughly 70km per hour, at least in Poland. That being said, we live in Krakow and, intentionally, a large number of our journeys feature the A4. Additionally, not being Polish, I usually drive the speed limits (or at least slower than everyone else) and rarely go above 110-120km/hr even on the A4. Average speed includes stops for petrol on longer trips, bathroom breaks, stuff like that.

    In the Czech Republic I think we managed to keep our average speed (to/from Prague of course) around 95km/hr and in Germany (several destinations) it was about the same – 90km/hr I believe – a bit lower because we had to hunt around a bit more for places with LPG.

    Driving through Norway we had about the same rate of speed or even a bit lower (I don’t recall the exact number) because it’s so rare to find a bit of road with a limit at or above 70km/hr. Beautiful, though. I don’t think we’ve ever gone very fast while in Slovakia, either, but I don’t have the numbers in front of me.

  9. Jolanta says:

    Scatts, I must say that I am one of those few people in Poland who are happy to see as few roads (especially motorways) as possible here, very happy indeed.
    Why? Not because I tend to travel around per pedes only and go on holiday by bike or because I am extremely troubled by the level of noise and air pollution caused by millions of cars on the roads ( I am a bit, I admit) or because, on principle, I hate the car industry. Not at all. So why? I am happy NOT TO SEE the motorways because, generally, while building the roads, we do not bother to make any “zebra” crossings (deer/fox/hare/wild boar crossings) for the wildlife in the area. We do not care (most of us) whether a motorway is going to halve a protected area or a national park or cut across a vital migration route; neither do we care about thousands of trees to be felled down or marshes to be drained in the process and its tragic immediate result, namely an enormous habitat loss. We are a proud nation and we refuse to be bothered by some idiots from Brussels who tell us what should be preserved and protected, at all cost, in our country. They have carelessly destroyed their nature first so how dare they …


  10. scatts says:

    Whenever this topic comes up I’m always left wondering why Poles are so defensive of their quite clearly third-rate road system? Aside from those who would like to keep a third-rate road system of course.

    Darth. So what happened to rail and river all those years ago that is relevant to roads today? The map, I have no idea how old that particular copy is but the planned network has not changed since then as far as I’m aware.

    I’m even more confused when I hear of budget surpluses and of the possibilities of the EU cutting “aid” on the basis that Poland is not spending fast enough.

  11. darthsida says:

    and you think it is not relevant for the condition of roads (anywhere, not just Poland) whether they receive road transport or much more?

    I was asking about the map as the road-building plans for Euro 2012 are not implementable yet, so I read.

    Btw, some time ago a Gazeta Wyborcza journalist gave a list of partes under whose rules most motorways were built in Poland: SLD, PiS, NSDAP, PZPR.

  12. Brad says:

    Perhaps part of the reason they’re so defensive is because it’s a great excuse for the number of road deaths. When I was an ESL teacher and driving/cars/roads would come up they would always bring up the quality of the roads.

    It was never clear why, if everyone knows the roads are so damn poor, that everyone drove as if was a race on a well-maintained track in well-maintained, safe vehicles. As opposed to blacktop over cobblestones and driven on by cheap Korean cars whose safety motto must be, “Don’t get into an accident and if you do, have some great health insurance.” I can only assume the Polonez, then, had the safety motto, “Don’t get into an accident because you don’t want to end up in a Polish hospital.”

    In 2005, Poland had 5444 road deaths. Germany had 5361. The US had 43510. To put it into context, in terms of per one billion kilometers driven: Poland had 29 road deaths per 1b km. Germany had 6. The US had 9.

    US data from here: http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx
    EU data from here: http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-DA-07-001/EN/KS-DA-07-001-EN.PDF

    To the person, Jolanta, who was worrying about all the poor animals who can’t cross their natural, habitual territory because of some big, nasty motorway: this is Poland. There’s a tiny village over virtually every kilometer of the country and they’re all linked together by a criss-cross of tiny, meandering blacktopped roads. Getting everyone on the motorways and off of everything else would probably give the hedgehogs and storks some peace and quiet. You might even be able to ride your bike on those rural roads without constantly getting nearly run-over every five seconds because you aren’t being passed by someone else being passed by someone else doing 120 kph in a no-passing zone.

  13. scatts says:

    and you think it is not relevant for the condition of roads (anywhere, not just Poland) whether they receive road transport or much more?

    I was asking about the map as the road-building plans for Euro 2012 are not implementable yet, so I read.

    Darthy, of course it is relevant but are you suggesting that Polish roads have to cope with trucks that are heavier than anywhere else in Europe or more trucks or something? I’m afraid I don’t see your point, or you haven’t made one yet. The country needs a network of major roads that don’t disintegrate after 6 months use. What else is there to say?

    My company, amongst other things, gives advice to other companies who might want to locate in Poland. Many of these companies rely heavily on the road network (or the promise of one), so we have a pretty good idea of what is supposed to be coming and when. The map I used is very much the same as the one we have at work, so I think it is up-to-date and I’m not aware of any special extra motorways planned for the football.

  14. Baduin says:

    Polski most,
    Niemiecki post,
    Włoskie nabożeństwo,
    Wszystko to błazeństwo.

  15. darthsida says:

    and I am afraid I don’t see your point behind being “zaszokowany extremus” at the contrast between Spain and Poland. Surely you have your opinion about why Polish roads are the way they are.

    I don’t know much about “anywhere else in Europe”, but I know a bit about Poland. My point is: road transport has been receiving volumes of cargo that should be transported otherwise (rivers, railway). Ask me why and I can find you a few things. Comparisons “how many passenger cars does it take to equal a truck pressure on the road”. Case studies – where rail transport was removed from biz-plans. The collision private vs public money that’s the major reason. Just set up a separate post about transport.

  16. Jolanta says:

    Brad, I am afraid I did not make myself understood. I do not walk everywhere but I use the tram or I am driven around; I do not ride my bike because I would be a serious safety hazard on the roads. I am not against motorways as such but I am for the most carefully chosen location possible and for the passages for animals. I am not naive and I know that it is much easier and cheaper to build the roads through state property such as state forests or areas of protected landscape (parki krajobrazowe) or even national parks than through private land. “Poor animals” will not charge a penny but the farmers will.
    Like Mr Darthsida I am in favour of river and railway cargo transport.

    By the way, an American cousin of mine brought me last year some photographs of a US road somewhere near the Canadian border. The road was lined with decaying deer carcasses; at first I thought it was some kind of a sick joke but later I realised that nobody had bothered to remove /bury the run-over animals. They had been just put on the side of the road. From then on that’s America and its roads for me, thank you very much.

  17. Lisa says:

    Ha!! Great map showing “finished portions of freeway! A4 from Krakow to Katowice has been “unfinished” for years! Fortunately something’s being done about the crappy company that owns/is fixing it. I wrote about it on my blog. My husband’s an awesome Pole who does what he can to get things moving in this country.


  18. Lisa says:

    Oops, I hit “submit before I mentioned that you’ve got a cool blog, here.

  19. Lisa says:

    And oops again, I just submitted two comments that had only the quotation marks at the beginning of the word/phrase. And I promise I’m not to add any other stupid comments.

  20. Ivor the Engine says:

    I have no love of the motoring industry (don’t have a car, don’t need one, don’t want one) but Poland needs motorways. Being able to overtake safely on busy inter-city roads would surely cut the death rate greatly. The main road from Warsaw to Lublin (less than 250km from the capital and worth visiting) has one lane in each direction for most of the way. The result is outrageously dangerous overtaking.

  21. scatts says:

    Hi Lisa! Thanks for ALL those comments. :) I read the story of the amazing Greg – good for him, he’s my hero-of-the-week!

    Ivor – exactly. Another good reason.

    Darth – groan. Can you name me one European country where there is sufficient use of river and rail to really take the strain off the road system?

  22. Jolanta: The state (whichever one it was) is supposed to remove the dead animals. Specifically I guess it would be the Transportation/Highways department of that particular state. Where *I* come from they’re usually pretty good about it – Oregon has plenty of deer and more than a few end up getting hit, although it’s much more in the countryside than along the motorways.

    I am not for building roads through natural areas or forests. I’d much rather see some of the many useless and not-used “farms” do something productive and get turned into a motorway. It boggles my mind that in Poland, a country where the government seems to get to do whatever it wants, can’t just shove its weight around and get some roads built. I guess throwing your weight around only works when it benefits a really small number of people, not, say, the whole country.

    I’m all for rail transport. River transport isn’t really feasible as far as I can tell, at least in/around Krakow: The Wisla (around Krakow) isn’t nearly big or deep enough to support decent-sized barges. Rail, on the other hand, would be great. Now if only there were tracks that had been maintained and invested in for the last 30 years, that would be an option. Until then – or until there are some decent motorways – expect to see another semi truck rolling through your village every five minutes.

    This is what I’m talking about, BTW, when I say barges:

    There’s no point is using anything smaller: barges aren’t very fast, the whole point is to move a whole bunch of stuff at once (over several days or a week).

  23. darthsida says:

    Scatts – groan back.

    I wrote I didn’t know much about European countries. I wrote I could discuss Poland. Besides, what does “sufficient (use)” mean? You might take it like this: “more (cargo by trains instead of trucks) is better than less”.
    Not to mention I asked first: why are the Polish roads so misearble, IYO?

  24. scatts says:

    To answer your original question. I was shocked because the investigation of Spanish travel highlighted something that I already knew but was something I had come to take for granted. The sharp contrast of journey times and motorway length made me sit up and realise once again just how awful the situation is here.

    The same would apply, for example, to the time I spend in queues waiting for card transactions in Poland versus the instantaneous transactions in the UK and, I expect, in Spain also. This is something I don’t normally think about until I experience something considerably different.

    As to your supplemental question. I think the message in my post is clear enough. The journey times here are too long. A proper motorway network would help greatly not only in reducing those times but also in improving safety as has already been mentioned by others. A country this big really has to put a decent road network at the top of the priority list, especially when EU money is floating around to be spent. It cannot afford to get sidetracked by a few environmental issues for as long as it apparently has. Even then, the road objected to is not one of the major routes, so how is this an excuse for not getting on with the rest of the works?

    Any talk of rail or river, whilst it may well be theoretically a great idea, is just an ideological pipe-dream. It’s never going to happen. At least not until the oil runs out.

  25. darthsida says:

    Scatts, thanks.

    Yes, I remember your post about card transactions. So, I take it, this one here is another post about your being shocked at some phenomenon. Fine.

    I should only assume that one would proceed to suggesting solutions how to improve things. In this case, how to make journey times shorter => to improve Polish roads. Before coming up with solutions, it would seem advisable to learn why the roads are so poor. That is where Poles have come handy, only to be accused (?) by you of being “defensive” and making “excuses”. Hmm. OK, we can contemplate your being shocked in silence.

    As you say this may get sidetracked, I’ll just put two points where you are wrong as briefly as possible:
    1. There is no EU money floating around to be spent.
    2. River- and [more importantly] rail transport deal with economy. Sly guys can count. They know that road transport is cheaper when they don’t have to pay a lot for their trucks on the roads. But make them pay fairly for every truck and you’ll see how swiftly their biz-plans include rail transport turned cheaper (oil or no oil).

  26. scatts says:

    Yes, that’s one of the differences between us – you often try to shock, I am often shocked, albeit for different reasons.

    Not my job to improve things but I think I’d start by building more & better roads, faster. I ask again, as you seem to know the answer but are reluctant to spill the beans, why are the roads so poor?

    1. Are you really really sure about that, Darth. There was, is and will be no EU money available for Polish roads? http://www.euromonitor.com/Improving_Polands_transport_infrastructure

    2. Every government I ever knew has tried that and failed. But let’s say the Polish government want to do that – where’s the improvement in rail and river to be ready for the day road transport is too expensive? Or is it your suggestion that goods just stop flowing to, from and through Poland? Who’s going to manage all this – PKP? :)

  27. darthsida says:

    You put me in a difficult position, Scatts. I would have to discuss Polish economy, EU economy, roads, rails, rivers, not too vaguely, and all in a comment to a post. Quite impossible, I daresay,

    So, let me put just some headliners:

    1. There is less EU money in Poland than is generally believed. I suspect that Poland pays to EU budget more than gets from EU budget. (Which I would like to support with some figures in a separate post one day.) Said that, whether the specific road-building industry is one that gains more than loses, that I do not know. However, laughing is my answer to, quote: “Building new roads will give impetus to the Polish construction industry as well as the creation of jobs that will assist reducing high unemployment;”
    High unemployment my Erse.

    2. I have a local newspaper before me, describing a road vs rail business case in Murów (Province of Opole, Silesia). I can translate some passages of that ‘case study’, if you’re really interested.

    A more global view is provided in the link I gave you, and not only the blog entry itself but along with comments on it. Unfortunately, it’s in Polish. Ask yourself: why is this so that most roads (motorways) were built under, in order: SLD (the post-commies), PiS (the mohairs), NSDAP (the Nazi), PZPR (the commies). Better yet: ask pro-liberals, Balcerowicz ilk and such.

    The answer to your question: why the roads are so poor, very generally and simplifyingly goes: not enough money. Simple, huh?

  28. […] make people write about rutting up real […]

  29. Jorge Sousa says:

    You don’t have to pass by Lodz, the motorway passes 8 KM north of Lodz.

  30. Damascus_ari says:

    8 years later, in 2016, I’ll have you know the travel time from Krakow to Warsaw extended to around 6 hours.

    JK. There were protests against building some power lines or something on three major exits of Warsaw and everything stood still for a big chunk of time. Very bad if you needed to pee halfway through…

    The roads are far nicer now, especially in Warsaw itself. The highway/motorway whatever system is visibly under construction, and the finished parts are very pleasant to use.

    If you want to see what ACTUALLY bad roads look (and feel) like, I invite you to Ukraine, to experience any road aside from the main ones (which, at times, are misteriously missing huge rectangular chunks of asphalt). Revel in the suspension-breaking magnificence of more potholes than road, and pray you’ll make it back to the EU with a still functional car. And bring spare tires. Seriously.

    So Polish roads are pretty decent, actually. They’re nowhere near as good as say, Germany’s, but they’re servicable, at least.

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