The Carpathian Mountains form the most beautiful belt across the south of Poland, like a colossal cummerbund holding the country together, supported by an array of protective peaks and muscly massifs. They are also very accessible, with the southern airport and historic town of Kraków proffering a perfect entry point to Poland’s exquisite elevations.
Our most popular Poland tours take you into the heart of the Tatra Mountains and eponymous national park. The Tatra are part of the Carpathian chain and a magnificent range where you can summit the likes of Kopa Kondracka (2,005m), on the border with Slovakia. Our walking holidays in Poland also head west into Babia Góra National Park, where you summit Diablak (or the Devil’s Peak at 1,725m), with superb views back east to the Tatras. Tighten your belt, Poland we have lift off.
Where to go
Tatra Mountains and Tatra National Park
Also known as the Tatras Mountains, this is a limestone landscape of great gorges and great gorgeousness. Trek up to the likes of Kopa Kondracka (2,005m) or over to the Belianske Tatras just over the border with Slovakia. Another Tatras treat is the trek through spectacular alpine scenery of Valley of the Five Lakes, with beech forests and traditional wooden mountain huts en route. Or through the Malej Laki Valley and Kondracka Pass to the park’s gateway town of Zakopane.
Babia Góra National Park
Babia Góra National Park covers nearly 40km2 of the Zywiecki Beskid mountains, in the western Carpathians. Another southern belle, highlights on our walking tour here include a climb up to Devil’s Peak (1,725m), also known as Diablak, the highest point in the Babia Góra after which the national park is named. Although this park can get quite busy in summer months, one of the joys of trekking here is that you can get superb views of the Tatra Mountains’ snowy peaks, as soon as you get above 1,500m.
Dunajec River Gorge
Dive into Dunajec, a river gorge that runs through the Pieniny Mountains in the south of the country and the north of Slovakia. Walk along the 200m high cliffs of the canyon on both the Polish and Slovakian side, the latter being protected by Pieniny National Park and accessible by a pedestrian border bridge. Most tourists explore the river itself on a traditional, decorated wooden raft, guided by boatmen, many of whom have navigated these waters for years.
All of our Poland tours start in Kraków due its proximity to the Carpathian Mountains. The Old Town, Wawel Royal Castle and Jewish Quarter Kazimierz are all high on visitors’ lists, as well as the very cool cultural scene. This ranges from top notch opera, theatre and galleries, such as the Bunkier and MOCAK Museums of Contemporary Art. Check out Forum Przestrzenie, a former concrete Soviet hotel converted into a hipster food and bar scene. In total contrast, we also recommend travellers visit the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum. In the words of the Museum, “One cannot understand the modern world without a thorough knowledge of the history of the Nazi German concentration camp, Auschwitz.”
Things to do
- Fill your boots with Poland’s famously hearty food which stretches way beyond pierogi and vodka. Pierogi dumplings, stuffed with meat, vegetables, cheese or even chocolate are just a starter on a mountainous menu of local specialties. Soups are common, such as żurek, made with sour rye flour, potatoes, vegetables and meat, or czarnina which is a very traditional soup made with duck or goose blood and vinegar. You can get a blood-free version called ślepo if that makes you feel a bit squeamish. Schabowy is a popular pork cutlet, and kluski are popular potato dumplings. But for a filling feast, bigos is the biggie, an iconic Polish stew made with sauerkraut, beef, pork or game.
Responsible travel tips
- Rewilding Europe is an excellent organisation lobbying and acting to protect Europe’s most biodiverse land and waterscapes, and the Oder Delta in Poland is one of those. In 2016, the Polish government announced plans to develop the Oder, Vistula and Bug rivers so that they could cater for larger vessels. Not surprisingly, this could have devastating effects on wildlife. Read up on Rewilding Europe’s website and, if possible, donate to their vital work to protect nature’s ways.
- Amber, the ancient fossilised tree resin used in jewellery and a favourite with collectors, is very common in Baltic countries and especially around Gdansk. It is sold everywhere from market stalls to chic boutiques, but make sure it has a International Amber Association (IAA) certificate, an organisation based in Gdansk that recognises official sellers of amber jewellery.
- Other artisan gifts or treats for yourself can be found in the markets of Kraków or Zakopane, with no shortage of winter woollens or sheepskin products such as hats, gloves and scarves. Kraków’s 13th century Cloth Hall feels like Santa’s workshop, especially during our winter walking holidays in Poland, and Plac Nowy Market in the Jewish Quarter turns into a flea market at weekends. Nowy Kleparz is open Mon-Sat and sells everything from wooden crafts to wickerware, fruit to flowers, and has been doing so for over a century.