The Strictly Protected Area is the oldest and most precious part of the Białowieża National Park. The area is covered with natural, multi-aged primeval forest with tree specimens reaching an impressive height and diameter and with large amounts of deadwood at various stages of decomposition. There is a great diversity of plant communities and forest types in this area and a great diversity of plant, animal and fungi species, many of them relicts of the primeval forests of the European lowlands.
The strictly protected area can only be visited under the supervision of licensed guides in groups of less than 20 persons. Only a small part is open for visitors. The entrance is located c 2 km from the Conference Centre.
Please note that the mid-conference excursion will take place in the Strictly Protected Area of the Białowieża National Park.
In the Show Reserve a herd of European bison, comprising an adult male, several females and their offspring, can be seen along with other large mammals typical of the area such as: red deer, roe deer, elk, tarpan horse and wild boar. There are also some predators from the Białowieża Forest: a herd of grey wolves and lynx. In the show reserve animals live in semi-natural conditions in an area of 27 ha. covered with natural vegetation, thus, they may not always be visible.
The Show Reserve is located c 3.5 km from the Conference Centre and can easily be reached by bike or on foot (e.g. along the “Żebra żubra ” or “Drzewa Puszczy” educational trails – see below). Opening hours are from 9:00 to 17:00 every day. The admission fee is 9.00 PLN (c 2-2.5 EUR).
The Białowieża Forest is home to more than 12 000 animal species, among them c 50 mammal species (e.g. bison, elk, roe deer, red deer, wild boar, fox, lynx, wolf, hare, otter, beaver, several bat species, etc.) and 250 bird species, 177 of which are breeding in the Białowieża Forest. There are e.g. 15 species of birds of prey, 8 owl species and 9 woodpecker species. The area is therefore a paradise for bird/animal watchers and nature photographers. Early May mornings are a perfect moment for this activity, as it is the breeding season for many birds.
There are several nature guides who organise bird/animal watching tours, such as:
In the Polish part of the Białowieża Forest there are over 250 km of walking trails, over 350 km of cycling trails and over 100 km of Nordic walking trails. There are also 15 educational trails, like “Żebra żubra” or “Drzewa Puszczy” trails (starting from Białowieża, see below), the “Route of Royal Oaks” (24 monumental oak trees), etc.
The area of Białowieża Forest is rather flat, suitable for gentle hiking and cycling. You can easily reach the European Bison Show Reserve (3.5 km from the Conference Centre, see above) and other attractions (small villages and lodges hidden in the forest, nature reserves, educational trails, animal spotting sites, etc.). Nordic walking and cycling equipment can easily be rented in Białowieża from the following:
Białowieża settlement is several hundred years old. From the beginning of the 15th century to the end of the 18th century the forests around Białowieża were the royal hunting grounds of Polish monarchs. Later, until the end of the 1st World War, they belonged to the Russian tsars. The rich history of the area, lying on the border between Central and Eastern Europe with its mixture of nationalities, languages and religions, is recorded in the number of monuments, such as an obelisk commemorating one of the largest royal hunts in Białowieża Forest organised by the Polish king August III from the Saxon dynasty (1752), the Palace Park with several buildings of the tsar’s residence (end of the 19th century), the manor house of the Russian governor (1845), an Orthodox church with an iconostasis made of porcelain (1897), the historic settlement system and wooden buildings (19th century), the wooden building of the railway station (19th century), etc.
The area of Białowieża Forest is a region where wooden architecture still predominates. Wood was, and still is, used for constructing houses, outbuildings, churches and shrines. Wood was also a common material for everyday articles and art works such as icons, sacred paintings used both in churches and in private houses, where they were supposed to protect buildings against theft and fire. The oldest houses which have survived to our times in Białowieża date back to the end of the 19th century. Many examples of regional wooden architecture can be found on the main street of Białowieża (0.5 km from the Conference Centre) and in an open-air ethnographic museum (1.5 km from the Conference Centre).
“Żebra żubra” is a 3.5-km long route which goes from Białowieża to the Bison Show Reserve. It is an educational trail presenting a diversity of habitats and forest types in the boggy valley of the Narewka River. The trail runs on piers, bridges and embankments above the flooded bottomland of alder and hornbeam forests.
The “Bison ribs” trail starts 2 km away from the Conference Centre, from the Białowieża-Pogorzelce road.
“Drzewa Puszczy” is a 4-km long educational trail presenting the most typical habitat of the Białowieża Forest: oak-lime-hornbeam forest. The rout leads from Białowieża village to the Bison Show Reserve. The path runs through one of the oldest nature reserves in the area presenting typical old-growth forest structures, including ancient trees of large dimensions and extensive quantity of deadwood.
The “Trees of the Białowieża” trail starts 2 km away from the Conference Centre, from the Białowieża-Hajnówka road.
The cuisine of Białowieża, like the cuisine of the whole Podlasie region, is a mix of Polish, Lithuanian, Belorussian and Russian cuisines. This is simple, rural cooking which benefits extensively from fresh natural ingredients, often coming from the forest (e.g. wild mushrooms, wild berries, game, herbs, nuts and cones), also country bread, charcuterie, cheese (e.g. Korycinski – traditional homemade cheese), fruit and vegetables. The region is also famous for its potato dishes (e.g. potato babka, cepelinai), desserts (sękacz “tree snag” cake, Marcinek cake), honey, meads, liqueurs and spirits (among them the famous Żubrówka – Bison Grass Vodka flavoured with Hierochloe odorata grass).
While in Białowieża you can visit one of the restaurants and cafes which have a large variety of menus and prices, e.g.: Białowieska, Bierozka, Biesiada, Carska, Harpagan, Leśna Dziupla, Parkowa, Pasibrzuch, Pizzeria Siciliana, Pokusa, Sarenka Cafe, Stoczek, Unikat, Walizka Cafe, Żubrówka.
Palace Park (50 ha) in Białowieża was founded in the late 19th century in the English style (also known as the landscape style) around the tsar’s palace. Two ponds in the Narewka River valley were constructed then. Over 90 tree and bush species grow in the Park, among them native species and species introduced from North America and Asia, among them ancient English/pedunculate oak trees, which date from the 18th century. The Palace Park is a perfect area for walks, or jogging. There are some monuments located in the park: an obelisk commemorating a hunting trip by the Polish King August III from the Saxon dynasty (1752), the buildings of the tsar’s residence (end of the 19th century), and a manor house of the Russian governor (1845).
The Conference Centre and the hotel recommended as conference accommodation are located in the middle of the Palace Park.
Białowieża Forest is divided into two parts by the Poland-Belarus state border. Since June 2015 the Belorussian part of the forest (also protected as a national park) can be visited without the need to apply for a visa. Visa-free movement is only possible through the Białowieża-Prierow border crossing (5.5 km from the Conference Centre) which is available for pedestrians and cyclists. Based on a special pass, tourists can spend up to 3 days in the Belovezhskaya Pushcha National Park. Please note that the pass only permits you to stay in the NP, in a visa-free zone. A valid passport is required to cross Poland’s eastern border with Belarus which is also an EU and Schengen Area outer border.
Tourist agencies from Białowieża organise trips to the Belorussian part of the forest. You can also obtain the pass on your own: 1) register on www.npbp.by and fill up an application form, 2) wait (usually 2-3 h) for e-mail confirmation from the Belorussian agency, 3) print the pass received by e-mail, 4) arrive at the border crossing “Białowieża-Prierow” at the date and time specified on the pass you have received, 5) bring all required documents with you. Besides the printed pass you will need foreigner insurance and a valid passport. Insurance can be bought in 3 locations in Białowieża (Hotel Żubrówka, Hotel Białowieski and the PTTK Tourist Office, you’ll need to show your passport and printed pass). After entering Belarus purchase an entrance confirmation at the tourist information point just behind the state border. Keep all the documents (the pass, insurance and entrance confirmation) until you come back to Poland.
You can also try other tourist attractions in the region which include the rivers and swamps of the Biebrza National Park and Narew National Park, the lakes of the Wigry National Park, Augustów Forest and Knyszyńska Forest, historic monasteries and churches in Drohiczyn and Tykocin, Orthodox churches in Hajnówka, Sokółka, Bielsk Podlaski, Kleszczele and Puchły, holy Mt Grabarka (a pilgrim sanctuary of the Orthodox faith), 18th-19th-century mosques in Bohoniki and Kruszyniany, the castle, synagogue and Jewish monuments in Tykocin, an 18th-century palace in Rudka and a 17th-century palace in Białystok, and a 19th-century inland waterway, the Augustów Canal.
Find out more about the beautiful northeastern Poland in the Podlaskie Tourist Guide (English version).