Masurian Lakes District, Warmia-Masuria, Poland
The Masurian Lake District of Poland is the most sought-after vacation destination in central Europe for lake lovers. Containing over 2000 lakes, most of which are connected by canals and waterways, the district is a favorite of boaters and nature enthusiasts the world over. Located in northeastern Poland near the Lithuanian border, the district occupies an area of roughly 20,000 square miles stretching east 180 miles from the lower Vistula River. The lakes themselves are the result of melting ice blocks left when the last glacier receded. Glacial moraine dammed other low-lying areas creating even more lakes. In medieval times, the area was heavily forested. Some stands of this forest remain, preserved, to protect natural populations of wildlife and provide nature observation opportunities for the thousands of visitors who flock to the area each year. Lakes not connected by natural rivers were connected by artificial canals in the era of water transportation to enhance ease of travel, creating a scenic and natural landscape well-supplied with historical landmarks and ruins.
Lake Sniardwy, the largest lake in the District, forms the heart of the Masurian Landscape Protective Area. Created to protect the postglacial terrain, forest and swamps filled with unique vegetation, as well as many lakes and pools, the Protective Area is open to visitors who enjoy the wide variety of plants, animals and birds living here. There are also waterfowl protection acres set aside within the Protective Area, such as Lake Luknajno biosphere reserve with its colony of mute swans. The area around Lake Sniardwy is a popular study site for ecological, botanical and zoological research.
Lake Sniardwy offers sites for sailing and yachting with the city of Mikolajki the busiest waterfront in Masuria. Along its nearly mile-long quay, hundreds of colorful yachts, motor boats, and pleasure boats tie up. Called the “Pearl of Masuria”, Mikolajki is a great place to find boats that take tourists for cruises on the nearby lakes. This famed sailing village is one of the major tourist destinations of the Masurian Lakes District. Visitors are attracted to its cluster of lively tavernas and summer events such as the Shanties Festival as well as prestigious regattas (notably the Journalists’ Sailing Championships of Poland). Mikolajki is a popular tourism center with a beautiful historic church and bridges. Summer residents from all over Europe call Mikolajki home base from which to sail the inter-connected waterways of the District. Lake Sniardwy (27,182 acres) and Lake Mamry (25,883 acres) are considered part of the Land of the Great Masurian Lakes. The Route of the Great Masurian Lakes at 55 miles is a favorite boating tour. The Augustow and Elblag canals are also very popular both with larger craft and canoes and kayaks.
Another popular tourist destination is Mragowo a few miles to the northwest of Mikolajki. Here, the popular resort hosts the annual summer “Piknik Country” International Festival of Country Music. Gizycko is another lakeside tourism center, as are the two smaller cities of Wegorzewo and Ruciane-Nida at the northern and southern ends of the Masurian Lake District. Gizycko is located on the shore of Lake Niegocin, and has a historical fortress, and passenger boats to the towns of Wegorzewo, Mikolajki and Ruciane-Nida. The largest town in Masuria, Elk has 56,156 inhabitants along the Elckie Lake.
The large Masurian Landscape Park, encompassing much of the land to the west of Lake Sniardwy, includes 11 nature reserves such as the Luknajno Lake UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and the Bialowieza Forest with a breeding station for European Bison. In addition to the many rivers good for fishing and forest areas that offer many trails for hiking and biking, excellent spots for swimming and camping can be found in designated areas. Waterway maps can be obtained locally and from park offices.
Cruising the many waterways is an excellent way to see the many ancient fortresses and ruins of the Masurian Lake District. Much of the region was part of Germany until World War II. Hitler’s main headquarters, called the Wolf’s Lair, was near the Masurian village of Gierloz. The site of a failed murder attempt, the complex of bunkers was partially destroyed during the war. Today the ruins of this huge complex of heavy bunkers are open for visitors. Pisz is located at the junction of Lake Ros and the Pisa River. The Pisa connects the waterways to Poland’s largest river, the Vistula, via the Narew River. The entire area was heavily influenced by the Teutonic Knights, who built many impervious fortresses within the Masurian Lake District. Historic sights near Lake Ros include the ruins of the Teutonic Knights’ Johannisburg castle and the Church of St. John.
The entire Masurian Lakes District is also a popular holiday destination among the Polish people. Every summer, thousands of visitors descend on the area to hike, fish, hunt and enjoy nature. Nightlife is plentiful in the larger towns, many of which also regularly sponsor festivals and special events with an eye toward tourism. Many of the larger towns also have area museums where one can learn local history and enjoy the arts and artifacts protected from the ages by local Poles. Most restaurants serve primarily hearty Polish cuisine, often featuring locally-grown produce, meats and dairy products from nearby fields and pastures. A few restaurants in the larger tourist towns offer specialty foods of other nationalities. Many towns offer local theatre and performances. A Lakes District visit is an opportunity to immerse oneself in the local culture in a way that is impossible in more developed tourism regions.
Seeing the entire Masurian Lake District would take several summers of dedicated travel. Fortunately, the Masurian region can be reached by train, bus, or car from anywhere in Poland or from Lithuania. Nearby international airports are located in Vilnius, Gdansk, and Warsaw. The main transport hub in the region is the town of Elk. There are trains to Masuria from Warsaw, Gdansk and Vilnius, and buses to there can be found in many Polish cities. A boat service connects some central towns in the region.Visitors wishing to bring their own pleasure craft will find Mikolajki and Mragowo easily accessible by road.
First-time visitors will find that accommodations are plentiful and that staff in the larger tourist locations speak at least some English. Camping facilities, small local cottages and youth hostels provide lodgings throughout the Masurian Lake District. Vacation rentals in guest houses, hotels and inns are not difficult to find, although June and July vacationers quickly fill them unless one makes reservations. A special treat is an overnight stay in one of the castles-turned-hotels. And real estate can sometimes be found among the neat small farms and wooded shorelines in the area. But, you cant fully appreciate the Masurian Lakes District until you’ve made your first visit. That first visit will quickly lead to a second, then a third. What are you waiting for? Schedule your visit now – you wont regret it!
(The statistics below refer to Lake Sniardwy only; statistics are not available for the entire District.)
Things to do at Masurian Lakes District
- Wildlife Viewing
Masurian Lakes District Photo Gallery
Masurian Lakes District Statistics & Helpful Links
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