From Vilnius to Warsaw and how not to get stranded in Kaunas
Since 2020, the Baltic countries are new to Interrail, Lithuania even since 2019. This year, my journey also led me to the Baltic States and via Poland back to Germany. I used the new connection from Kaunas to Bialystok and further to Warsaw. It is the only direct connection between Lithuania and Poland and saves the detour via Belarus (visa!). Why you have to change trains twice between the capitals Vilnius and Warsaw, how you manage not to get stuck in Kaunas like I did and what the future will bring, all this you will find out in this blog!
One of the biggest and most promising rail projects is called "Rail Baltica" and comes from the Baltic States. By 2026, Warsaw and the largest cities in Estonia, Latvia and Tallinn are to be connected by high-speed rail. The crowning glory could be a tunnel from Tallinn to Helsinki under the Gulf of Finland, although this is not yet a certainty in the program. In any case, however, there will be great travel time reductions. A small example: Tallinn-Vilnius in only 3h38! The decision was made to use the European standard gauge instead of the Russian broad gauge, which is still used in Russia today. Wide gauge, which is still used in these countries today.
A small section between Kaunas and Poland has been ready since 2015, but it still does not meet the requirements of a high-speed line. This part looks rather ridiculous, but at least cross-border regional trains have been offered since then, running from Kaunas to Bialystok on standard gauge. Unfortunately, since these tracks are only between these two cities, you have to take an additional train from Vilnius to Kaunas and from Bialystok to Warsaw, so you have to change trains twice in total.
new standard gauge between Kaunas and Bialystok
Unfortunately, the trains run only from Fri to Mon. Though there are two daily trains on weekends and one on Mondays. Status: 2020
UPDATE: we don't know how the connection is affected by the Corona crisis and if it will run again in summer 2021. If so, the connection from Kaunas should be shown at reiseauskunft.bahn.de and in the DeutscheBahn app. In addition, you need to look for a train from Vilnius to Kaunas here. The same applies to the opposite direction.
Timetable Vilnius- Warsaw
Sat/Sun/Mo (early train)
from Vilnius: 0730
to Warsaw: 1610
Sat/Sun (late train)
from Vilnius: 1445
Warsaw to: 2310
Note: I cannot say anything about the reliability of the connection in the evening in Bielostock. Also, the timetable of the IC Bialystok-Warsaw changes slightly every year.
Sat/Sun (early train)
from Warsaw: -
Bialystok from: 0723
Fri/Sat/Mo (late train)
from Warsaw: 1310
There are three possibilities:
You can travel the whole route with Interrail, of course. You don't need a reservation. You can buy Interrail tickets here.
If you want to travel with normal train tickets, then buy your train ticket from Vilnius to Kaunas (and eventually further to Bialystok) on the website of Lithuanian Railways. From Kaunas or at the latest from Bialystok you can buy your ticket on the website of Polish Railways. In case of need you can buy your ticket at the ticket office in Poland/Lithuania. Tickets are usually quite cheap there.
Part 1a: Vilnius-Kaunas by regional train
You have to combine the train from Kaunas over the border with a regional train from Vilnius to Kaunas before. On my travel day I chose the train with departure 1535 from Vilnius, arrival about three quarters of five, so half an hour change to the 1720 train across the border. However, I learned in the morning that the train arrives in "Palemonas (Kaunas)" and not in Kaunas. I had not thought about this when planning, since here every city actually has several names. "Minsk" (Belarus) is called here "Minskas" and the capital Vilnius is called in German "Wilna", besides, there was still (Kaunas) in brackets behind it. But Palemonas is only a suburb of Kaunas and from there you have to go by bus because of construction works. The official rail replacement bus would reach the train in Kaunas by three minutes, a regular bus would have a little more buffer in Kaunas, but only three minutes transfer time in Palemonas. The situation is coming to a head.
1430 hrs at the train station in Vilnius. 1535 hrs the train leaves for Vilnius, before that I have a look at the railroad museum for one Euro entrance fee, which is not earth-shatteringly interesting, only the film clip about the RailBaltica is good.
Vilnius main station
Also here in the station there is a big information booth about the construction works, you can get a timetable with the buses here. I hope that in the future the trains will run regularly again.
Information stand about the construction works in Kaunas
Waiting room and lockers in Vilnius main station
Signpost to the tracks
As early as 1520 hrs, when there is still no train at track 1, I get restless. The train should leave here in the capital and should be ready to board a few minutes before. But it does not.
Departure board in Vilnius main station
A train that is supposed to arrive here from Kaunas is delayed. I already suspect: we will only be able to take this train, as it is scheduled to return. It is not until about 4 p.m. that this train arrives at another platform. I am heading for a missed connection in Kaunas.
longing waiting at platform 1
Lithuanian double-decker regional train
finally: our train has arrived!
Immediately as I board the other train, I look for the conductor. My last hope is that she can call the next train that it is waiting. But because of one person... And it would be also at least 20 minutes, In Bialystok I have then also only five minutes transfer time. That would be an error propagation. By the way, the train is a double-decker. There is a snack machine.
lithuanian regional train basement
Lithuanian regional train upper floor
Snack vending machine in Vilnius-Kaunas regional train
The conductor hardly knows English. A young man translates. To my great misfortune, my actual train was now also quasi "merged" with the following regional train. But since the later train stops more often, we take over its schedule and lose further time due to the additional intermediate stops. "Yes I have a problem with..." Suddenly, the song by Alligatoah comes over me as an earworm. Only my problem is not related to alcohol, but to the delay.
I immediately try to ask how it looks with overnight stay and so on. After all, I had actually booked an Airbnb in Warsaw. "She arranged everything for you" says the young Lithuanian, who is really friendly. "I should contact the staff in Kaunas, the "Watchman", he explains. I don't trust the whole thing.
When we arrive in Palemonas, I walk with the young man, who now introduces himself to me as "Lukas", across the overpass to the bus.
arrived in Palemonas
the station Kaunas-Palemonas
The bus takes us to "Kaunas Hbf". There Lukas leads me to the counter, checks if the lady there speaks English and then leaves, as he considers his job done.
Of course, nothing was organized for me in terms of accommodation. Or I can bring that badly across. Anyway. I'm sure Lukas could have explained it better, but he's gone.
Part 1b: Stranded in Kaunas
So first I ask if I could sleep in the train station if need be. What one has, one has. "Its not my fault" - I can't help it, I explain again and again. The lady at the counter wants to make me first white that the replacement bus with only 3 minutes would not have counted then as connection, and that the regular bus in Palemonas would have had there again only three min transfer time. Nevertheless! I am angry! I still let me a certificate of the train failure (mind you) give, to all evil I lose with my Interrail passport namely now in addition a travel day.
After a telephone call I am granted the night in the station. But this is not nice. I go in front of the building. Lukas is no longer to be seen, crap.
helpless in front of the "Gelezinkelio Stotis" in Kaunas
At booking.com I find a room in a kind of hostel on the outskirts of the city, for only 14 Euro. Quickly booked. The good thing is, there is a bus. The costs me only 2EUR, on the day after even only 1 EUR, student tariff, which I could not overlook so quickly. So the financial damage is kept within limits. I have a room for myself alone, now rest is announced. Unfortunately, I have to leave the next morning a little earlier than planned, well. And Warsaw goes again on it.
Three times I will have been there, each time only to change trains, since my trip now takes two days instead of one.
Part 2: from Kaunas to Bialystok
So my trip shifted from the late connection to the early connection. The train leaves Kaunas at 0958 hours. In Vilnius you would have to leave about 0730. I also have to take the bus quite a while earlier as it also goes a bit, only comes every 30min and I also want to have buffers.
Departure board Kaunas in the morning
The regional train in Kaunas is at track 3, the only standard gauge track with 1435mm gauge.
From the outside, it is quite colorful, from the inside, the seats are turkey red. But again, they are not very comfortable, for me they look like seats from a bus again.
at the very back left (hardly to see) is the green train to Poland
regional train Kaunas-Bialystok
The 4s also lack my beloved big table, only a small one is attached to each backrest. At least you can take bicycles on the train - it seems to be a real tourist train.
Bicycle transport possible: perfect for a bike tour in the Baltic States
4-seater in the regional train Kaunas-Bialystok unfortunately without table
Folding tables at each seat
The train is still running with diesel and without overhead line. An indication that not everything is finished here yet. Just like between Palemonas and Kaunas, where they are also building for RailBaltica.
I spend most of the trip reading, George Orwell, 1984. In Trakiszki I get off briefly, here my train and the oncoming train cross.
the train coming from Poland in Trakiszki
In Suwalki the train changes direction.
changing direction at the historical station of Suwalki
If you can't take a train during the week, then take a bus to here, here you have a connection to the Polish railroad network. In Augustow the train also stops for a few minutes, in Augustow Port it stops at a beautiful bathing lake.
Bialystok is then reached with about 5min delay. Also this would have probably "killed" me last night. Now come unpleasant 1h21 transfer time, also not particularly great at this connection. Hope is, however, that in the future to Warsaw perhaps the schedule of Polish trains either condensed or adjusted. By the way, in the "Timetable" section you can find the current connections, which are already a bit better.
Arrival in Bialystok
Bialystok station building
Part 3a: from Bialystok to Warsaw
TLK train to Warsaw
I take a short walk and basically get stuck at a white church, whose tower I had already seen from the train. I first thought it was a mosque - but in Poland? It is a Catholic church after all! Unfortunately, I can't find access to the tower, but the building is still quite impressive.
Back at the station, the sun is burning down from the sky. My train arrives a quarter of an hour earlier, so I can board right away.
It gets very crowded, though, and it is also warm. The windows can be opened here, but as a price the loud clatter resounds inside. It is a Polish TLK. These trains have 8 seats per compartment in 2nd class, nowhere else than in Poland I have experienced this so far. And the 8 seats are getting full, except for one fat lady who needs two of them at once.
2nd class compartment with 8 seats
1st class compartment with 6 seats
Route of my TLK from Gdynia via Bialystok and Warsaw to Krakow
Unfortunately there are NO sockets here and arrived in Warsaw Centralna my cell phone battery leaves me.
Part 3b: finally beaten in Warsaw
At the provisional end of an exhausting journey I arrive after more than 24h in Warsaw Central. At the counter I buy my reservation for the EC to Berlin fam next day, can pay with card. My host from AirBnB wrote me which bus I have to take and to where. But then the cell phone was empty. And my spare battery too.
modern railroad station in Warsaw
Warszawa Centralna railway station
The problem is that there are about 20 (untruthfully) stops around the station, wildly numbered from "Dworzec 01" to "Dworzec 20", at least roughly. I can't see any system. First I look for the bus at the big stop directly behind (the side facing away from the main street) the station. Wrong. Wrong Dworzec. How do I find mine now? I search with the eye. Almost impossible. At some stops they only go in one direction, so I find the opposite direction but not mine. Not even the locals I ask know. By chance a passer-by, whom I had addressed, discovers my Dworzec, when he looks around helplessly. Since no less than 30 minutes had passed.
TIP: if you want to take the bus or the STR in Warsaw, print out a map of the stops from the main station "Centralna".
After all, a bus comes quite soon. But my stop doesn't tell the driver anything. Instead, a woman advises me to get off with her, that is my stop. Nevertheless, this has a slight difference to the stop that my host had told me. When I get off, I find myself at the end of the street (approximately house number 150 instead of 1c) and have to go back to the beginning. This costs further time, I am actually already too late. It takes far more than an hour until I finally stand in front of the correct house number of an apartment block.
But where should I ring the bell now? I had no information about the last name, calling was not possible because of the empty battery. I was finally defeated.
As a very last resort, I was now forced to simply shout out loud in front of the house: "I'm looking for an AirBnB!" I shouted. A little embarrassing, but at least no people around.
It helped! Mohammed, a small Moroccan immediately strolled out of the left entrance. "We can speak German too" he said flawlessly. I apologized for the delay. He was basically a nice host, offered a guest room in his apartment on the platform. The next day he gave me even, if a little reluctantly, at least a part of my money from the actually booked 2nd night again, on the other part I waived. At least something!
Staying overnight in Kaunas and Warsaw
In Kaunas I found what I was looking for at booking.com. There are no hostels in this smaller (about 100K inhabitants) city.
In Warsaw, however, there are. Check Hostelworld or AirBnB if you prefer private accommodation. There you can find beds in e.g. guest rooms or even whole apartments for good prices.
If you have any questions or need help with planning, just post in our friendly forum.
Thank you for reading my report and I hope it was helpful and interesting. I would be happy if you recommend us to others. Thank you. :)
Posted 1 year ago