Straddling the borders of eastern Poland and western Belarus, Bialowieza Forest is a must-see if you’re visiting either of these countries. The Polish side was once the property of King Vladislaus II who escaped to his manor here in the 15th century during a plague epidemic. But the forest is much older than this.
A time capsule from the last ice age, Bialowieza Forest dates back as far as 8,000 BC and is a rare pocket of the wilderness that once covered Europe. It’s fascinating for its primeval ambience but on a scientific level the forest is renowned for its unique flora and fauna; many of which can no longer be found elsewhere due to eradication. There are over 900 varieties of plants, so this alone makes the forest a treasure trove for scientific expeditions.
flickr/ Frank Vassen
The majority of the woodland is made up of spruce, oak, beech and pine trees, and is also the only place where European bison are free to roam. Around 800 of these large mammals call Bialowieza Forest home. Depending on the season you visit, other animals that can be found include: elk, roe deer, lynx, wolves and wild boar. Rare birds such as white storks and white tailed eagles can also be glimpsed.
A Bison in Bialowieza forest
A lynx in Bialowieza Forest
On the Polish side around 40 square miles make up Bialowieza National Park, an area fully protected by a fence and which can only be visited by a guided tour. These are conducted either on foot, by bicycle or, for a real step back in time, by horse and carriage. Local nature experts such as ornithologists make ideal tour guides if you’re a keen bird watcher.
Bialowieza National Park
Tours are available all year round, and most people choose to stay in nearby Bialowieza village which has plentiful accommodation and food options. Popular times to visit are autumn for the stunning colourful display of foliage, and spring for birdlife and hiking. If you wish to see bison, summer and winter are the best times for this.
Some practical advice for visiting in May or September is to apply mosquito repellent liberally! Also be sure to carry your passport ID with you if hiking near the border.