City Guide to Warsaw, Poland: Part 1 | Public Transportation

City Guide to Warsaw, Poland: Part 1 | Public Transportation

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When in Warsaw, Poland we stayed a few miles outside of city center, so we found ourselves needing to take public transportation to get into the city each day. Naturally, once in city center it was up to us to explore by foot! We like to be prepared so we did our due diligence and researched Warsaw’s public transportation system ahead of time. We feel competent with public transportation in general, and while some cities may be similar to each other, when it comes to the details, every public transportation system and network is different. Throughout our travels we’ve seen many official public transportation system websites, and we must say, we were impressed with the public transportation website for Warsaw. The system is managed by ZTM (Zarząd Transportu Miejskiego) and they have one of the most informative public transportation websites we’ve come across so far! They have a step-by-step guide that covers almost everything you need to know about the system. It goes over all the types of vehicles (trams, metro, and buses), as well as how to ride them and how to validate your ticket. While we found the guide to be extremely helpful for using Warsaw's public transportation system, we ran into a few areas that we felt lacked clarification or sufficient information. So, in order to make it a bit easier for your travels, we've filled in the gaps with what we learned from our stumbles and experience using the system. 

Public Transportation Zones

There are two public transportation zones in Warsaw. The nice thing is, if you’re staying within Warsaw City, you only need to be concerned with Zone 1, as Zone 2 is comprised of the suburbs of the city and extends beyond Warsaw City limits. However, we always recommend double checking the zone map to be on the safe side.

Public Transportation Tickets

Like in Bratislava, public transportation tickets in Warsaw are priced according to the zones traveled through and the length of time needed to complete the journey. For most visitors, Single Tickets and Short-Term Tickets are the best options, although there are 30 and 90 day tickets available as well. All ticket and fare information is available on the ZTM website.

Single Ticket

A Single Ticket is valid for a single journey and allows unlimited rides and transfers on all ZTM vehicles. Don't forget to validate the Single Ticket when boarding the bus or tram, or when passing through the entrance gate at the metro. There are a couple of options for Single Tickets, so be sure to choose the best Single Ticket for your journey:

  • 20 Minute Ticket, Zone 1 & 2 – It’s valid for 20 minutes and will work for travel in both Zones 1 and 2 with unlimited transfers between all vehicle types. Cost: 3.40 PLN
  • Single Fare Transfer Ticket– It’s valid for 75 minutes and allows unlimited transfers between all vehicle types. Cost: Zone 1 is 4.40 PLN, Zone 1 and 2 is 7.00 PLN
  • Single Fare Transfer Group Ticket, Zone 1 – It’s valid for 75 minutes and allows unlimited transfers between all vehicle types for a group of up to 10 people. Cost: 22.00 PLN

Short-Term Ticket

A Short-Term Ticket is valid for an unlimited number of journeys on all ZTM vehicles, without restrictions on transfers. Don't forget to validate the Short-Term Ticket when boarding the bus or tram, or when passing through the entrance gate at the metro. Remember, choose the best Short-Term Ticket for your journey:

  • One-Day Ticket – It’s valid for 24 hours from the time it’s first validated. Cost: Zone 1 is 15.00 PLN, Zone 1 and 2 is 26.00 PLN
  • 3-Day Ticket – It’s valid for 72 hours from the time it’s first validated. Cost: Zone 1 is 36.00 PLN, Zone 1 and 2 is 57.00 PLN
  • Weekend Ticket – It’s valid from 7 pm on Friday until 8 am on Monday and allows travel in both Zones 1 and 2. Cost: 24.00 PLN
  • Group Weekend Ticket – It’s valid from 7 pm on Friday until 8 am on Monday for groups of up to 5 people. It’s valid in both Zones 1 and 2. Cost: 40.00 PLN

These tickets were purchased ahead of time at a storefront and then validated on the bus when we started our journey. You can see the stamped validation on the back of the ticket in the left image.


Purchasing Public Transportation Tickets

The ZTM Guide goes over purchasing public transportation tickets and includes pictures, however this is a place we found a few gaps in the provided information. Here are some tips we figured out along the way:

Ticket Machines and Purchase Points

The ZTM guide covers buying public transportation tickets, which can be purchased at automated ticket machines, select storefronts, and at some hotels. From the condition of the ticket machines we saw, it seems they’re a relatively new addition to the public transportation system. Thankfully the ticket machines are are fairly easy to use and all types of tickets can be purchased from the ticket machines, with the exception being ticket machines on-board buses, which only sell Single Tickets. We appreciated that the machines accept credit cards (even American Express!), including both chip cards and contactless cards. In our experience, the one limiting factor is that they’re not located at every public transportation stop, so they can be a bit challenging to locate when you need to purchase a ticket. However, we did notice that there seemed to be a high concentration of ticket machines in city center.

Tip: If you find a stop with a ticket machine, it may be helpful to make a note of it (save a pin to your smart phone map app), then you can return when you need to buy a ticket!

The ZTM website has a search tool that allows users to find nearby ticket machines, as well as storefronts that sell tickets. Unfortunately, when we used the online tool, we were directed to three different locations but we either couldn't find the location or the store front didn't actually sell tickets. Hopefully it was a fluke for the area we were searching in and the rest of the map and data is accurate.

Ticket Machines on the Bus

We needed a bus ticket, so we started to ask locals how/where we could purchase them. We were told that we could buy a ticket on the bus and we could use a credit card. We’ll be honest, we were incredulous and astounded by this information! So much so, that we asked several people to corroborate it. For context, of the 17 countries we’d visited so far in Europe, not a single one offered the ability to purchase a bus ticket on the bus with a credit card. London was close, but it had to be a contactless card that had been registered online. Since we’d just arrived in Poland and didn’t have cash on us (local currency is PLN, also known as Zolty), we wanted to double and triple check that our non-contactless credit card would be accepted on the bus. We asked two more people and they independently confirmed that it’d be possible. Even with triple confirmation, we were still amazed when we boarded the bus and sure enough, there was a ticket machine that accepted credit cards (including non-contactless)! Here’s the how-to on using the on-board ticket machines:

  • Most, but not all vehicles have the automated ticket machine on-board. Before boarding the vehicle, look for the small red and white square information stickers next to the doors that show the amenities of the bus. If the bus has a ticket machine on-board, it’ll have the appropriate sticker posted. See the image below for an example of what the sticker will look like.

Stickers, like these, are on the side of the bus, near the middle doors. The first sticker (on the left) indicates that there's a ticket machine on-board.

  • In the vehicles we boarded, the ticket machine was located in the center of the bus, and in the case of extra-long buses, in the front half of the bus.
  • The automated ticket machine is yellow and red with ‘Bilety’ written on the front and side of the machine. We’d estimate that it’s approximately two feet wide and three feet tall, so there’s no way you’re going to miss it!
  • It’s relatively easy to use, with a touch screen user interface and language options. Use the flags in the upper right corner to choose your preferred language.

This ticket machine was located in the center of the bus. We changed the language to English by selecting the United Kingdom flag in the upper right corner of the touch screen.

  • Only Single Tickets are available on the bus. Short-Term Tickets (1 day, 3 day, or weekend) aren’t available at these machines and must be purchased at ticket machines located at public transportation stops with ticket machines or sales points.
  • All tickets purchased on the vehicle are immediately validated and are printed with a red stripe indicating that they’ve been validated. This means that you shouldn’t stamp them in the validation machine, however it also means that you can’t purchase tickets at these machines in advance, for later use.

Tickets bought on the bus are already validated. Before finalizing the purchase, a warning is shown on the ticket machine screen. Once the tickets have been printed, you can see the red stripe that says "Do Not Validate".

  • Credit cards are accepted and you can use both contactless cards and chip cards (that need to be inserted into the machine). In addition, as we mentioned earlier, you can even use American Express credit cards!

This is the screen on the ticket machine indicating the credit cards that are accepted. When abroad, we're always pleased when we see that American Express is accepted by a merchant or at a purchase point!

  • When using an on-board ticket machine, be careful and be sure to hold on to the railing and stay steady. The bus will be moving as you’re purchasing tickets, and as you probably know, some drivers are ‘smoother’ drivers than others. So hold on to a handle or pole if you don’t want to go flying across the bus!

Public Transportation Tips

  • The ZTM guide goes over validating tickets, but just be sure to validate your tickets as soon as you enter the vehicle or pass through the entrance of the metro station. The fine, 266 PLN (roughly $73 USD) isn’t worth being caught without a validated ticket! The list of fines and additional charges can be found on the ZTM Fares and Payments – Ticket Tariff page at the very bottom.
  • When you validate your ticket, the machine will stamp the back of the ticket with the date, time the ticket expires, and the code for the vehicle it was validated on. Use the information on the stamp as a handy tool to know when your ticket will (or if it’s already) expired.
  • Not all vehicles have air-conditioning, ticket machines, or digital monitors indicating the next stop. In our experience the vehicles that are more heavily used, for example in city center and to/from the airport, are more modern, while the ones that travel further out into residential areas have fewer amenities.
  • Decode bus route numbers:
    • Bus numbers in the 100s, 200s and 300s are regular bus routes.
    • Bus numbers in the 400s and 500s are express/accelerated lines.
    • Bus numbers that have the prefix ‘E’ are lines that operate during peak hours on weekdays.
    • Bus numbers in the 700s are suburban lines.
    • Bus numbers in the 800s are weekday suburban lines.
    • Bus numbers that that have the prefix ‘N’ are night buses that operate between 11:15 pm and 4:30 am.

Final Thoughts

As always, we’re always looking to improve our articles! If you’ve used Warsaw public transportation and have a tip, correction, or additional information, let us know in the comments!

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