The Masuria region forms the largest and most-visited lake district in Poland. Poland lies in the central part of the European continent, the geometrical centre of which is near Warsaw. This is where the lines from Nordkyn in Norway to Matapan in Greece, and from Cabo da Roca in Portugal to the central Urals intersect. The boundary between the East and West European continental masses also runs through Poland.
Poland's total surface area is 322,500 sq km (312,600 sq km of land, 1,200 sq km of inland waters, and 8,700 sq km of territorial waters). This makes it the ninth largest country in Europe, after Russia, Ukraine, France, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Finland and Norway, and the 63rd largest in the world.
The Polish state is over 1 000 years old. In the 16th century Poland was one of the most powerful countries in Europe. With victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683, King Jan III Sobieski of Poland was able to break the Ottoman siege of Vienna and end the threat of a possible occupation of western Europe.
Poland is rich in natural mineral resources, including iron, zinc, copper and rock salt. The Wieliczka salt mine, constructed in the 13th century, contains an entire town below ground with a sanatorium, theatre, church and café! Everything from stairs to chandeliers is made from salt.
- Year of EU entry: 2004
- Capital city: Warsaw
- Total area: 312 679 km²
- Population: 38.496 million
- Currency: zloty (zł)
- Schengen area: Member of the Schengen area since 2007
Poland’s current constitution dates from 1997. The President is elected by popular vote for a five-year term. The 460 members of the lower house of parliament (the Sejm) and the 100 members of the senate, are directly elected by a system of proportional representation to serve four-year terms :
- Poland’s traditional dishes include beetroot soup, cabbage rolls (cabbage leaves stuffed with meat and rice) and pierogi (dumplings stuffed with cabbage and mushrooms, for example).
- Famous Poles include the astronomer Copernicus, the composer Chopin, the scientist Maria Curie-Sklodowska, film-makers Roman Polanski and Krzysztof Kieslowski, and the late Pope, John-Paul II.
The Legislative Authority
The Polish Parliament consists of two legislative bodies. The lower house is called Sejm, and Senate is the upper house. 460 elected deputies sit in Sejm, and 100 senators in the Senate. Candidates standing for Sejm must be citizens of Poland, enjoying full public rights and aged at least 21 on the day of the election. Candidates to the Senate must be 30 years old.
Deputies (Members of Sejm) are returned for the electoral constituency where they won their mandate. Most constituency borders coincide with those of one or several gminas. In large cities constituencies may be smaller in area. During a parliamentary vote, neither members of Sejm nor senators are bound in any way by the instructions of their electorate, but do have the constitutional obligation to be guided by the well-being of the entire Republic.
The Polish political system is based on a party system. In the parliamentary, presidential, and local elections candidates supported by significant political parties stand a better chance of success. Parliamentarians belonging to the same political group create their parliamentary "clubs" within the Sejm and Senate. In practice most of the bills and legislative amendments are brought to the House through the parliamentary clubs.
Parliamentary deputies participate in Sejm sessions and have the right to question members of the Council of Ministers; they work in numerous, permanent or special, committees attached to Sejm or Senate, and established to review various issues related to state administration and public life.
Parliamentary work is coordinated by its statutory bodies:
- Marshals (Speakers) of the Sejm and Senate
- Sejm and Senate Boards (Marshals and Deputy Marshals)
- The Caucus of Seniors (Marshals, Deputy Marshals and Chairpersons of parliamentary clubs)
- Sejm and Senate committees
For more details please visit: www.sejm.gov.pl
Administrative division of Poland
Poland is divided into 16 voivodships. Each region is governed by voivode (provincial governor).
- Lodz (Lódzkie)
- Lower Silesian (Dolnoslaskie)
- Lublin (Lubelskie)
- Lubusz (Lubuskie)
- Masovian (Mazowieckie)
- Opole (Opolskie)
- Podlasie (Podlaskie)
- Pomeranian (Pomorskie)
- Silesian (Slaskie)
- Subcarpathian (Podkarpackie)
- Swietokrzyskie (Swietokrzyskie)
- Warmian-Masurian (Warminsko-mazurskie)
- Western Pomeranian (Zachodniopomorskie)
- Greater Poland (Wielkopolskie)
- Kuyavian-Pomeranian (Kujawsko-pomorskie)
- Lesser Poland (Małopolskie)
Poland has a moderate climate with both maritime and continental elements. This is due to humid Atlantic air which collides over its territory with dry air from the Eurasian interior. As a result, the weather tends to be capricious and the seasons may look quite different in consecutive years. This is particularly true for winters, which are either wet, of the oceanic type, or - less often - sunny, of the continental type. Generally, in north and west Poland the climate is predominantly maritime, with gentle, humid winters and cool, rainy summers, while the eastern part of the country has distinctly continental climate with harsh winters and hotter, drier summers.
Generally, Poland receives all kinds of air masses typical of the northern hemisphere. This results in a variable climate and considerable problems with weather forecasting. Poland's climate is also characterized by substantial weather changes in consecutive years, caused by disturbances in the pattern of main air masses coming to the country. Summer may be hot and dry a few times in a row and then it becomes cool and wet. This phenomenon tends to happen in several-year cycles.
Poland's climate is also strongly influenced by the lowland topography of this part of Europe, stretching from France to Ukraine. Not stopped by any natural barriers, air masses move quickly from the Atlantic or North Sea. Another factor is the country's location, far from vast water bodies (the Atlantic Ocean) and close to extensive land areas (Eurasia). The Baltic Sea is a major contributor to the climate of north Poland while the southern part of the country is also affected by the Black Sea.
Winds: the sea breeze and the halny
The main pressure systems that affect the weather are the Icelandic low (stronger in winter) and the Azores anticyclone (more active in summer) as well as the changing atmospheric fronts from Asia: the East Asian high in winter and the South Asian low in summer. For a major part of the year Poland has predominantly west circulation of winds, caused by the eastward movement of barometric lows from the Atlantic. As a result, on 60 percent of all windy days the winds are from the west, blowing mainly from the area stretching between the Czech Republic and Scandinavia. In the eastern part of the country, the percentage of easterly winds is higher, while in the mountains, southerly winds occur more frequently.
The wind pattern is not uniform throughout the year. In summer months, that is from July to September, the winds are mainly westerly, whereas in winter, notably in December and January, easterly winds prevail. In the transitory seasons, both winds occur roughly with the same frequency.
The winds in Poland are typically weak to moderate, their speed ranging from 2 to 10 m/s. Strong and very strong winds occur at the seaside, causing storms, and in the mountains, where their speed may exceed 30 m/s. Hurricanes that uproot trees and blow off roofs are rather unusual.
With its diversified topography, Poland also has local winds. Along the Baltic coast, on a cloudless summer day you can experience a pleasant, invigorating sea breeze which occurs during the day and is felt about 10km inland. At night its direction reverses: the air moves from the cooler land towards the warmer sea, causing the land breeze.
In the mountains, there are mountain-valley winds. The best-known one is the halny, which blows in the Tatras and has been the subject of many poems and paintings. This kind of wind is not unique to Poland, though; it occurs in all mountains around the world and is called the föhn.
The halny is strong and gusty and its effects are higher temperature and lower air humidity on the leeward slopes. It develops when moving air is stopped by a mountain range and forced to rise. The halny is a nuisance for people as it lowers their mental and physical fitness and makes them irritable. It is strong enough to break trees, sometimes over large areas, blow off roofs and knock over fences. In winter it causes sudden thaws leading to floods.
Cloudiness and precipitation
A visible effect of the collisions of air masses above Poland is cloudiness. The number of cloudy days is between 60 and 70 percent, which is relatively high. The most cloudy regions are the lake districts in the north and the Sudetes; the least cloudy are Wielkopolska and the Silesian Lowland. The average number of cloudy days a year, with the sky more than 80% overcast, is 120-160; for sunny days, with cloudiness below 20%, it is 30-50.
The heaviest precipitation in Poland was recorded in June 1973 in the Tatra's Hala Gasienicowa. During one rain as much as 30cm of water fell. With Poland's predominantly westerly winds, the highest precipitation occurs on western slopes of mountains and hills. In the Carpathians and Sudetes, the annual precipitation is 800-1400mm. In the lowlands and uplands, it ranges between 400mm and 750mm. Similar levels are recorded in the Pomeranian and Masurian lake districts. This is caused by the proximity of the Baltic Sea, from which humid sea air flows east. The lowest precipitation occurs in the eastern part of Wielkopolska and in Kujawy, a region lying in the rain shadow of the Pomeranian Lake District.
Occasionally, Poland witnesses extraordinary precipitation. In 1901, when winds brought dust from Sahara, a black-brown rain fell. 71 years later the same phenomenon was responsible for orange snow in Zakopane. The maximum precipitation is in summer. At this time of the year it is on average 2-3 times higher than in winter (in the Carpathians, as much as four times higher). The smallest seasonal differences are recorded in the coastal lowlands.
Winter comes to Poland from the north-east. The average annual number of days with snowfall is 30-40 in the country's western and central part, and over 50 days in the north-east. It snows for 120 days a year in the Karkonosze and for 145 days in the Tatras. Snow stays the longest in the mountains (up to 200 days) and in north-west Poland (90-120 days). The western part of the country has the fewest days with snow cover (40-50).
Temperature: heat and frost
The average annual temperature in Poland ranges from 5-7*C in the hilly Pomeranian and Masurian lake districts and in the uplands to 8-10*C in the belt of the sub-Carpathian basins, the Silesian Lowland and the Wielkopolska Lowland. Only in the upper parts of the Carpathians and Sudetes is it about 0*C (Kasprowy Wierch, -0.8*C; Mt Sniezka, -0.4*C).
The hottest month is July with the average temperature standing at 16-19*C. The coldest area in July is the mountains, where the air temperature drops as the altitude increases (on average by 0.6*C for every 100 metres). In the summit areas of the Tatras and Sudetes, the average air temperature in July is just about 9*C. July is also cooler in areas adjacent to the Baltic (about 16*C), which is caused by the cold sea waters. The hottest area is central Poland, with the temperatures exceeding 18*C.
Hot days, when the temperature exceeds 25*C, occur from May to September. Their number increases the further you go from the sea. On average, there are only five such days at the Rozewie Cape and over 40 in the Sandomierz Basin and Lublin Upland.
The coldest month in Poland is January. Cold continental air flowing in from the east in January makes the eastern part of Poland one of the coldest areas in the country.
Sub-zero temperatures are recorded between November and March. The average annual number of frosty days ranges from about 25 along the lower Odra River and at the seaside to 65 in the Suwalki Lake District; in the mountains, it reaches 132 days on Mt Sniezka and 150 days on Kasprowy Wierch. The number of freeze days, typically in late spring and early autumn, ranges in the lowlands from 90 (at the seaside) to 130, while in the mountains it exceeds 200.
Varying air temperatures affect the length of the vegetation season, during which the average daily air temperature is at least 5*C. On average the vegetation season in Poland lasts about 200 days. It is the shortest in the mountains, in the eastern part of the Pomeranian Lake District and in the Masurian and Suwalki lake districts. It is the longest in the Silesian Lowland and along the lower Odra. The lowest temperatures ever recorded in Poland were -41*C in Siedlce (in 1940) and -40.6 *C in the Zywiec Basin (in 1929). The highest temperature, +40.2*C, was recorded in Pruszkow near Opole in 1921.
Poland has as many as six distinct seasons. Apart from the four typical European seasons, there are also two periods described as early spring (przedwiosnie) and early winter (przedzimie). The seasons hardly conform to the calendar pattern. During the przedwiosnie, which is about a month long, the average daily air temperature ranges from 0*C to 5*C. Spring in Poland lasts usually about 60 days and comes from the west. The daily temperature at that time ranges from 5*C to 15*C. This is also when the vegetation season begins in Poland.
The summer, with temperatures above 20*C, begins in May and is about four months long. In autumn, the average temperature drops to between 5*C and 15*C. Almost every year, mid September sees the coming of Polish "Indian summer", which is a warm and sunny transition between summer and autumn. Leaves start to fall off the trees, but you can still feel the wafts of warmth.
Once the trees have lost all their leaves and the days are markedly shorter, przedzimie begins. Temperatures drop below 5*C. After about six weeks, winter comes and the frosts don't want to go away for a long time - until late February or early March, and even then przedwiosnie can be felt only in Pomerania and west Poland. The highlanders have to wait for it until mid March, while in the north east early spring arrives another two weeks later.
The seasons are of different length in every geographical region. For instance, summer in north Poland lasts about 2.5 months, while in the south east, centre and south west of the country it is over three months long. Winter length ranges from two months at the seaside and in the west to 3-4 months in the north east and even six months in the Tatras.
This climatic calendar is more complicated, though, as there are plenty of anomalies which make another distinctive feature of Poland's climate. There are many proverbs about the unpredictable weather, especially in March and April. Przedwiosnie may arrive as early as at the beginning of February and, conversely, it can sometimes snow even in September. In January 1982 the air temperature in Wloclawek dropped overnight from 8*C to -20*C, the record drop since temperatures started to be officially recorded in Poland. On 8 January 1994 the temperature in Cracow's centre stood at 17.3*C.
Over the last thousand years, Poland's climate has undergone substantial changes. For insstance, as late as in the 12th century grapes were grown in many regions. That was when the climate was the mildest. Today, even in Zielona Gora, once noted for its vineyards, you can see just one small plantation maintained for decorative purposes.
The hottest and coldest areas
The hottest part of Poland is the Silesian Lowland, strongly influenced by the Atlantic air. An important factor is also the region's location close to higher-lying areas that stop clouds and moisture, which results in high insolation. The thermal winter period here is only about 60 days long and winters are relatively mild, while summers are sunny and hot, lasting over 100 days, which puts them among the longest in Poland. Average temperature in July exceeds 18.5*C. The highest temperatures are recorded near Wroclaw, on the Wroclaw Plain. This is the only area in Poland where the annual average temperature is over 8.5**C. Because of this mild climate, the Silesian Lowland has one of the longest vegetation seasons in the country, lasting 220 days.
The coldest spot is the north-eastern corner around Suwalki. With its morainal hills, postglacial lakes and low temperatures, this region bears much similarity to the distant Scandinavia. Harsh and long winters, lasting over four months, earned it the name of Poland's cold pole. The influence of the continental climate manifests itself in very low temperatures in winter and pretty high ones in summer. The average temperatures in the Suwalki region have the biggest amplitudes in Poland, over 23*C, which is even more than in the mountains. The average air temperatures in January, the coldest month, are below -5*C, the lowest in Poland. In summer the average air temperature drops below 17.5*C. The annual average air temperature in the Suwalki Lake District is slightly more than 6*C. Predictably, summer here is one of the shortest in Poland, lasting about 60 days. The vegetation season in this harsh climate is about 190 days long, to which the breathtaking wild nature of the Suwalki region has become well adapted.
Areas with the lowest and highest precipitation
Paradoxically, the driest part of Poland is a region abounding in lakes and rivers - Kujawy. As it lies in a rain shadow, it sees relatively rare rains and snowfalls. Before reaching Kujawy and west Wielkopolska, the prevailing north-west air masses lose their moisture above the higher-lying Pomeranian Lake District. Other factors are the flatness of the terrain and the lack of any sizeable forests. At Lake Goplo, the yearly precipitation is just 300mm, which is the lowest value in the country.
Radically different are the Tatras, where rain, snow or even hail is more likely than sunshine. Rocks and plants are often covered by hoar-frost, rime or dew, collectively referred to as horizontal precipitation. Water circulation in this area is particularly intense. Retained for a short time by the mountains or by a snow cover, water escapes quickly as fog or through crystal-clear mountain streams.
The Tatras have the highest precipitation in Poland. This is particularly evident in the Five Lakes' Valley (Dolina Pieciu Stawow Polskich), where the annual precipitation exceeds 1800mm of water. The period from April to October has more precipitation than the winter half-year. June is usually the rainiest month of the year, while February is the least likely month for any precipitation (in high mountains, it is September). On Kasprowy Wierch, there are annually about 230 days with daily precipitation over 0.1mm and about 50 days when it exceeds 10mm. The mount also has the longest-lying snow cover. Some snow is blown by winds and when it is warm enough, water evaporates intensively, which makes an impressive sight.
In winter, the Tatras see a curious phenomenon known as temperature inversion. In the valleys, it is colder than in the higher parts of the mountains. The so-called fog seas that develop in depressions make the air above extremely clear, so that the views from the peaks extend over hundreds of kilometres.
Poland has areas of outstanding natural value, both Europeanwide and worldwide. There are still places hardly touched by the civilization, like the wild and desolate Bieszczady Mountains with their spectacular pastures known as poloniny, and the inaccessible flood plains along the Biebrza River, home to many rare bird species, sometimes found nowhere else in Europe.
The most valuable gems of Poland's flora include the several hundred ancient oak trees in the Rogalin forest near Poznan. Every Polish schoolchild learns about the thousand-year-old Bartek oak near Kielce which was officially recognized in the 1930s as the biggest and oldest tree in the country. Bartek appears in many legends like the one about King Casimir the Great, eminent ruler of medieval Poland, who is said to have tried his subjects in its shade. In fact, however, Bartek is much younger than a yew tree in Henrykow Lubanski, north-east of Jelenia Gora, whose age is estimated as over 1250 years, which is more than the history of Polish statehood.
Oaks and yews are the longest-living trees. Poland's famous monument oaks: Bartek, Chrobry, Lech, Czech and Rus are all between 700 and 1000 years old. Lime trees, once often planted in villages, especially at manor houses and churches, also live relatively long. Poland's oldest elm and ash, both the most impressive in Europe, are over 400 years old. This is also the age limit for spruces and firs, the only trees that reach up to 50m. Beeches and pines live shorter, though they still outlive birches and poplars.
Since December 21, 2007, Poland is part of the Schengen Area, a zone without controls on internal borders which comprises of 28 countries. Third-country nationals may enter Poland if they are in possession of a valid travel document and a visa (if required). Council Regulation (EC) No 539/2001 includes the lists of third countries whose nationals must possess valid visas to cross external borders, and of countries whose nationals are exempt from this obligation.
When crossing the border third-country nationals are also obliged to justify the purpose and conditions of intended stay and prove that they have sufficient means of subsistence, both for the period of intended stay and for return to their country of origin or transit to a third state into which they are certain to be admitted, or are in a position to acquire such means lawfully.
Moreover, they must not be listed as persons who have been refused entry, and they must not be considered a threat to public policy, national security or the international relations of any of the Schengen states.
The visa application should be submitted to and examined by the relevant consular post in accordance with its territorial competence.
Applicants should contact relevant consular post in order to obtain the application as well as information on the electronic registration of the application and visa fees. The application will be examined no later than 15 calendar days after the date of submission of the full set of documents.
Polish delegations are not present in some countries. In this case, the applicant is obliged to submit the application to the relevant Polish consular post in another country, or in another Schengen consulate which represents Poland in visa matters.
Higher Education in Poland
Poland’s traditions of academic education go back to 1364 when King Casimir the Great established the Cracow Academy, known today as the Jagiellonian University. The Cracow Academy, one of the oldest in the world, based itself on academies in Bologna and Padua, and, after the school in Prague, was the second university in Central Europe. About two centuries later, in 1579, King Stefan Batory transformed the existing Jesuit College in Vilnius into the Vilnius Academy and in 1661 John Casimir, King of Poland, transformed the Jesuit College into the Lvov Academy. Thus, by the end of the 17th century, the Kingdoms of Poland-and-Lithuania had three flourishing universities providing academic education to both national and international students.
Today, the Polish higher education system is developing dynamically. Poland holds fourth place in Europe (after the United Kingdom, Germany and France) in terms of the number of people enrolled in higher education. The total student population at over 450 higher education institutions numbers almost 2 million. Each year almost half a million young people begin their education at universities and colleges. Polish universities offer more than 200 high quality study programmes as an integral part of the European Higher Education Area. Most schools offer their courses also in foreign languages.
Poland plays an active part in the Bologna Process. Owing to the introduction of three-stage education as well as the European Credit Transfer System, both Polish students and foreigners studying in Poland remain fully mobile and can continue education elsewhere in the European Union without any problems. Within the Erasmus Programme alone, which has been running for over 20 years now, almost 30 thousand foreign students have come to study in Poland while almost 100 thousand students from Poland have taken part of their education in another country within the European Union. Foreign students coming to Poland can expect a most attractive and diversified education offer meeting the high European standards. They can study medicine, biotechnology or engineering, but also art and business. The diploma awarded to them upon graduation is recognized not only Europe-wide but also in most countries of the world.
- University of Warsaw
- University of Bialystok
- University of Gdańsk
- Adam Mickiewicz University
- Jagiellonian University in Kraków
- University of Lodz
- Maria Curie Skłodowska University
- Nicolas Copernicus University
- Opole University
- Szczecin University
- University of Silesia in Katowice
- Rzeszów University
- University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn
- University of Wrocław
- Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University In Warsaw
- University of Zielona Góra
- Kazimierz Wielki University
- Jan Kochanowski University in Kielce
- West Pomeranian University of Technology Szczecin
- Warsaw University of Technology
- Bialystok University of Technology
- University of Bielsko-Biała
- Czestochowa University of Technology
- Gdańsk University of Technology
- Silesian University of Technology
- Kielce University of Technology
- Koszalin University of Technology
- Tadeusz Kościuszko Cracow University of Technology
- AGH University Science and Technology
- Lublin University of Technology
- Lodz University of Technology
- Opole University of Technology
- Poznan University of Technology
- Kazimierz Pulaski University of Technology and Humanities in Radom
- Rzeszow University of Technology
- Wrocław University of Technology
- University of Economics in Katowice
- Cracow University of Economics
- Poznań University of Economics
- Warsaw School of Economics
- The Maria Grzegorzewska Academy of Special Education
- Jan Dlugosz University in Czestochowa
- Pedagogical University of Cracow
- Pomeranian University in Słupsk
- Siedlce University of Natural Science and Humanities
- Warsaw University of Life Sciences- SGGW
- UTP University of Science and Technology
- University of Agriculture in Krakow
- University of Life Sciences in Lublin
- Poznań - University of Life Sciences
- Wrocław University of Enivronmental and Life Sciences
- Gdansk University of Physical Education and Sport
- The Jerzy Kukuczka Academy of Physical Education
- University of Physical Education in Krakow
- University of Physical Education in Poznan