Blessed with striking mountains and rolling hills, as well as wild rivers and wetlands, Poland is a haven for hundreds of thousands of migratory birds as well as avid hiking enthusiasts. About the size of New Mexico and a destination for all seasons, Poland also has a thriving ecotourism and nature tourism industry that offers plenty of eco-activities for families.
Last August, our family had the treat of briefly visiting the Sopot region of Poland. Known as the Riviera of the North, we were pleasantly surprised by the lushness of Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot. Next year, as Poland will play host to the European Football Championships (UEFA), our family is excited to be visiting again affording us some more time to see some of its most valuable natural places.
Poland has 23 National Parks with forests covering nearly 30 percent of Poland, allowing for unique wildlife viewing including the European bison. In addition, guides can expertly show you Poland’s own Big Game including wolf, lynx, stoats, martens, bear, elk, and red deer.
Some top ecotourism sites include:
- Białowieża Primeval Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site,is the last remaining primary deciduous and mixed forest of the European lowlands. The forest dates back to 8000 BC and is the only remaining example of the original forests, which once covered much of Europe. Visitors can hike and bike through the expansive trails that take you through backwoods and sleepy country villages. In addition, you can take a train to the middle of the forest for a picnic, ride a horse or horse-drawn carriage (pictured above, left). Lastly, on the eastern side of the forest, you can windsurf or fish along the Siemianowka Reservoir.
- Biebrza National Park, affectionately called the Green Lungsof Poland is its largest National Park (pictured above, right). Under the protection of the Ramsar Convention, the wetlands are centers for bird nesting and feeding. With many water trails that run the length of the park, the best way to explore is by boat or kayak. If you prefer, then entire water route can be done at a leisurely pace from 7 to 9 days with plenty of overnight stops and food available in towns along the way.
- Wigierski National Park, Suwalski National Park and Augustowska Forest are all in the same northeastern region in Poland. You can hike, bike, horseback ride, fish and even pick mushrooms and berries through the many lakes of the area. Children also will love the mini zoo, located in Zielone Kamedulskie some 3 miles from Suwalki.
- Pieniny National Park is located in the southern part of Poland near the border of Slovakia. Some 13,000 animal species live in the park including lynx and zbik as well as birds such as the golden eagle and eagle owl. The Dunajec Gorge (pictured below, left) is the most popular area in the park most well-known for its summer rafting.
- Zakopane is located in the southern part of Poland and while primarily known as a winter ski resort destination, its offerings in the summer are diverse. The resort town (pictured below, right), which has an interesting folk culture with its regional customs, dialect and architecture, is setup well for tourism. You can either enjoy the pedestrian areas or go for long hikes all around to find your most favorite panoramic view.:
One of the ecotourism pioneers in Poland is the Civil Affairs Institute, which is an independent foundation with its headquarters in Lodz, in central Poland. Since 2004, the non-profit group’s mission has been to develop, form, and promote civic attitudes…to see tourism not just as a product, but as a way of perceiving the way human activities and local communities relate to, and have shaped, the natural world. The Institute has worked with tourism operators to create active holidays which help to protect the land and its natural resources as well as the local culture, history, tradition and customs.
Why Poland is a good choice for a family trip:
Poland’s range of accommodation is extremely varied. Global hotel chains are present in every city in addition to small hotels in historic town houses, sometimes with heated swimming pools and saunas. In the tourist centers, there are comfortable pensions and large hotels with tennis courts, golf courses and fitness centers. Travelers may also want to consider Polish campsites, which are at a decent standard and beautifully situated whether on the lakeside or in forest clearings. Also, there are the agritourism farms, which are clean and comfortable. Gourmets will find numerous restaurants, bars and inns serving Polish and Old Polish dishes including kielbasa and pierogi in addition to regional specialties including potato pancakes.
Ultimately, Poland offers children a good mix of education, cuisine, outdoor adventure and old-fashioned water fun. With opportunities to experience wildlife at the national parks as well as participate in rafting tours, birding tours, and hiking tours, kids will by no means be bored.
Check out our eco-certified vacations in Europe.