Just over a year ago I started a search for the next country I was going to call home, there were a few things on my checklist; how friendly the people are, what the cost of living is and what there is to do and explore. The last was an interesting requirement to research given my favorite past time; walking, hiking and adventure.
Out of all the options on my new home short list, Poland ticked the most boxes for things to do and explore with their incredible range of beautiful national parks. Since I moved here I have fully exploited these areas of natural beauty and think it is only fair that I share with you the five national parks that I have visited and made me completely speechless….which, frankly is no easy feat.
Another brilliant park to visit when in Poland is the Tatra National Park, this is a hugely popular park with annual visitors hitting over 3 million, so be prepared for crowds in the more popular times of the year. The best thing about this park is the multiple paths to follow and it has something for everyone regardless of their ability or energy levels.
If you are feeling energetic I especially recommend the Orla Perć, a difficult path to follow but worth the trek.
An added benefit to visiting Tatra National Park is it’s close proximity to the spa town of Zakopane, this is a great option for accommodation and gives a deep insight into the Polish highlanders’ culture.
Bison? Who knew!
Białowieża National Park is based in north-east Poland, this protected park covers the centre of the Białowieża forest. Importantly this is the only site in Poland that is a designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, this basically means the site if so beautiful and of natural importance that it is protected by a world organization. This place is beyond beautiful, lush green and truly took my breath away. Covering over 10,000 ha of land there is no shortage of space to explore in this stunning national park.
The major highlight of visiting this park for me was seeing the European bison, an animal that I ignorantly never knew existed in Europe, so that was a nice surprise. The other less prominent but also impressive wildlife at the park is the list of birds including Eurasian pygmy-owl, three-toed and white-backed woodpecker.
Basically this place is awesome and is a perfect escape from daily life to take in the wilderness and see a few rare birds and animals along the way.
Lynx, wolves and bears
When hiking through the Bieszczady National Park I have to admit I felt a little like I was on the set of the Lord of the Rings. The vast rolling landscape truly took my breathe away and relaxed me in a way I only seem to feel when miles away from civilization. The only other place on earth I have experienced this sort of natural landscape is the Scottish Highlands, another one of my favorite places on earth.
Not that I have been fortunate enough to see them yet, but the park is home to a number of large predators including lynx, wolves and even bears. I have been fortunate to see the park’s growing herd of bison, which is quite a spectacle. Nothing really makes me feel more at one with nature than being close to animals that make me feel tiny.
Another great park for biking and hiking is the Biebrza National Park in the north-east of Poland, with over 480 km of marked trails you are not going to be short of places to explore in this park.
With a focus on the waterways and rivers that run through the area, the big feature that really stood out for me here was the wildlife, especially the number and variety of birds to see. The park has really focused in on this with dedicated educational paths with watchtowers, observation platforms and interpretation boards available to use throughout the park.
The added benefit of the waterways and rivers in the park is the ability to get a little more extreme and go kayaking and canoeing, which I would thoroughly recommend as an excellent way to explore the environment.
A new world…
One of my absolute favorite areas to visit in Poland is the Ojców National Park, not only for it’s stunning environment, but for the fact that is it just 15 km from where I live in Krakow. This park is like stepping into a different world and really brings a new meaning to the word green.
Being a bit of a history nerd, and especially being interested in the medieval period, one of my favorite features of the park is the medieval castle based in Ojców that was built by Polish King Casimir the Great in the 14th century. With much of the history in the city focusing on the events of the war and post-war, it is great to get some insight into medieval Poland.
With the well-organized paths this makes for the perfect environment for getting around by bike also.
If you are a nature lover I can highly recommend visiting Poland, not just for the incredible landscapes, but also for the sheer variety of wildlife that can be experienced. There is something for everyone, from short easy to walk trails for families, longer rugged bike trails, flowing waterways to paddle down and more extreme treks for the adventurous.