9 Most Glorious Polish Mountain Ranges
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Polish Mountain Ranges, A tourist at the Bieszczady Mountains' Polonina Wetlinska, photo: Michał Ostaszewski / Reporter / East News, center, bieszczady_2_en.jpg
Southern Poland is home to many mountain ranges. Some of these are exceptionally picturesque, making for great tourist destinations, and even feature valuable cultural sites as well. Follow Culture.pl on a tour from the Alpine landscapes of the Tatras, through the peculiar, table-like shapes of the Stołowe Mountains and all the way to the wooded slopes of the Bieszczady range.
1. Świętokrzyskie Mountains
The Świętokrzyskie Mountains are a low range situated in south-central Poland. Its highest peak is Łysica, which reaches 614 metres above sea level. But even though the range’s altitudes are low, its tourist value is high. That’s for two main reasons.
Firstly, the Świętokrzyskie Mountains are the oldest mountains in Poland – parts of them date back to 500 million years ago! Seeing rocks this old really puts things into perspective… Secondly, the range holds some magnificent sightseeing opportunities, many of which can be found in the Świętokrzyski National Park. Among these are, for example, the famous gołoborza – stunning rocky hillsides hidden between the range’s forests, or beautiful valleys like the spacious Wilkowska Valley, which reaches up to four kilometres in width.
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You can also encounter monuments of culture in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains. In the quaint town of Bodzentyn, you’ll the atmospheric ruins of a 14th-century castle. Atop the Łysa Góra mountain, you’ll find the historical Holy Cross Cloister, which dates back to the 12th century and sports gothic and baroque architecture. The cloister houses a relic of the Holy Cross – the source of the entire mountain range’s name (Świętokrzyskie Mountains translates to Holy Cross Mountains).
2. Tatra Mountains
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Morskie Oko in the Tatra Mountains, photo: Jan Graczynski / East News
The Tatra Mountains are the highest mountain range in Poland, lying in the south of the country, on the border with Slovakia. Their highest peak in Poland is Mount Rysy, which reaches up to 2499 metres above sea level (parts of the range in Slovakia are even higher). As the only Alpine mountains in Poland, they are highly popular with tourists.
Among the awe-inspiring sights offered by the Tatra Mountains is the Morskie Oko lake, which according to the Wall Street Journal, is one of the five most beautiful lakes in the world. It’s especially valued for its green waters and the amazing nature that surrounds it, including views of Mount Rysy. Astounding high-altitude views may also be enjoyed from the demanding Orla Perć (Eagle’s Path) trail, which leads from Zawrat pass to Krzyżne pass.
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In the foothills of the Tatra Mountains, which are protected by a National Park, lies the picturesque town of Zakopane. A popular tourist resort, it offers plenty of chances to interact with Polish culture. There you may find, for instance, a gallery showcasing works by the renowned sculptor Władysław Hasior or the famed Witkacy Theatre, named for Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz.
The Pieniny range is located about an hour’s drive northeast from the Tatras. Their highest peak, at 982 metres above sea level, is Trzy Korony (Three Crowns).
The Pieniny are usually associated with the magnificent rafting possibilities offered by the Dunajec River gorge that cuts through them. The breathtaking gorge, where rafters offer their services, twists for about eight kilometres between impressive cliffs, providing a much-appreciated tourist attraction. The hills are also famous for their picturesque pine trees which grow on steep, remote slopes. Among them, the solitary pine tree growing on Mount Sokolica is particularly well known.
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Among the points of culture found in the Pieniny is Niedzica Castle (also known as Dunajec Castle), a stronghold dating back to the 14th century. Pleasantly located on Lake Czorsztyn, the well-preserved castle sports sightly renaissance architecture. Also on the lake, you’ll find the ruins of the mediaeval Czorsztyn Castle. Located on a high rock, the gothic ruins of the once highly strategic fortress offer a magnificent view of the surrounding area.
4. Gorce Mountains
Just north of the Pieniny Mountains lie the Gorce Mountains. The highest peak of this range is Mount Turbacz, reaching up to 1314 metres above sea level. In the Gorce Mountains, you can encounter long, winding mountain ridges separated by quiet valleys, as well as amazing beech and spruce forests. Plenty of peaceful meadows can also be found here.
A major attraction of the region is Mount Magurki, where at the summit – at an altitude of 1,108 metres above sea level – there’s an observation tower offering a splendid view of the region, but also of the Pieniny and Tatra Mountains. Another characteristic element of the landscape is the impressive Kudłoński Baca Rock, on one of the slopes of Mount Kudłoń, reaching a dozen or so metres high.
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The town of Rabka-Zdrój is home to the amazing, wooden St. Mary Magdalene church, dating back to the year 1606. Among this cultural monument’s most significant features are its lofty tower and the polychrome decorations of the interior, made in the early 19th century. Another interesting sight is the small, charming Bulanda Chapel, built in 1904, which stands in a meadow at the summit of Mount Jaworzyna Kamienicka.
5. Żywiec Beskids
The Żywiec Beskids make for Poland’s second-highest mountain range. Located to the east of the Gorce Mountains, their highest peak is Babia Góra (1725 metres above sea level), which offers a breathtaking view.
The Żywiec Beskids are well known for their beautiful landscapes and highlander ambience – here, you can encounter charming villages scattered among wooded valleys and arched mountaintops covered with rocks. Among the region’s biggest tourist attractions are the magnificent, 10-metre-high waterfall in the village of Sopotnia Wielka.
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In the foothills of the Żywiec Beskids lies the town of Żywiec, where you can find, among other points of interest, the Habsburg Palace. The elegant, subtly classical building dates to the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. Another monument of culture in the region is located in the village of Sucha Beskidzka. There, an impressive renaissance castle stands – which is sometimes called ‘Little Wawel’, due to its resemblance to Kraków’s Wawel Castle.
6. Silesian Beskids
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The source of the River Wisła at Barania Góra in the Silesian Beskids, photo: Adam Ławnik / East News
The Silesian Beskids (Beskid Śląski) lie to the west of the Żywiec Beskids range. The two ranges, together with other hills, make up a larger formation known more generally as the Beskids. The highest peak of the Silesian Beskids is Mount Skrzyczne, which reaches up to 1257 metres above sea level.
The Silesian Beskids are usually associated with the source of Poland’s biggest river – the River Wisła – which can be found here on Mount Barania Góra. A picturesque walking trail leads up this hill alongside a stream, up to the ponds that are the Wisła’s riverhead.
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Another major attraction of the mountains is the village of Jaworzynka, where the borders of three states – Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic – meet. In the foothills of the Silesian Beskids, youll find the town of Bielsko-Biała, home to the former villa of the eminent landscape painter Julian Fałat, now a museum devoted to his work.
Another interesting cultural sight of the region is the Church of Saint Anne in the town of Ustroń. Dating back to the 18th century, it’s a marvellous example of wooden sacred architecture from the baroque period.
7. Bieszczady Mountains
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Połonina Bukowska in the Bieszczady Mountains, photo: Waldemar Sosnowski / AG
The Bieszczady Mountains lie in the southeast corner of the country. Here, there’s another place where three national borders meet – Poland, Slovakia and the Ukraine all come together at the summit of Mount Krzemieniec. The highest peak in the Polish part of the Bieszczady Mountains is Mount Tarnica, at 1,346 metres above sea level (parts of the range in the Ukraine reach even higher).
The Bieszczady Mountains are sometimes called the wildest region in the country, as they have plenty of unique wooded landscapes that are remote and quiet. Among the area’s biggest attractions are the amazing beech forests, which include plenty of pedestrian paths and the large, artificial Lake Solina – where there’s an impressive (664 metres long and 82 metres high) dam.
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An interesting cultural sight can be found in the town of Sanok – that’s where a gallery of works by the acclaimed painter Zdzisław Beksiński is located, in the local Historical Museum. Also, throughout this region, you may encounter charming wooden Orthodox churches, like the one in Krościenko, which dates back to the year 1799.
On the opposite side of Poland’s southern border, on its western edge, lie the Karkonosze Mountains. Their highest peak, at 1603 metres above sea level, is Mount Śnieżka. This mountain lies on the Polish-Czech border and has at its summit a picturesque meteorological observatory built in 1974.
What’s especially intriguing about the Karkonosze Mountains are the high relative altitudes encountered here – reaching to more than 1,000 metres – which provide awe-inspiring views. A natural sight in this range that’s particularly worth visiting is the beautiful Szklarka Waterfall, located on the River Szklarka. Situated at an altitude of 520 metres above sea level, the 13-metre-tall waterfall is surrounded by a peaceful forest.
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Nearby is the quaint town of Szklarska Poręba, where you can find, for instance, the Mineralogical Museum, housing one of the most original geological collections in Poland of minerals and fossils. Another cultural sight worth visiting in the region are the ruins of the Chojnik Castle. Located on a lofty rock near the city of Jelenia Góra, the ruins date back to the 14th century.
9. Stołowe Mountains
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Błędne Skały in the Stołowe Mountains, photo: Gerard / Reporter / East News
The Stołowe Mountains lie not far to the southwest of the Karkonosze Mountains. Made up of flat, horizontal layers of rock, they have a unique landform which may bring to mind man-made objects (hence their name, which translates as the ‘Table Mountains’).
The highest peak in the range is Szczeliniec Wielki, reaching up to 919 metres above sea level, in the form of a massive plateau. Its various peculiar rock formations offer plenty of spectacular viewing points of the surrounding area. The whimsically named Errant Rocks (in Polish: Błędne Skały) – which allow you travel through a dream-like labyrinth made of stone – also count among the most valued natural sights in the region.
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An intriguing cultural site to be found in the region is the Skull Chapel, in the town of Kudowa-Zdrój. Built in the years 1776-1805, the unique place is furnished by more than 3,000 human skulls and pieces of bone – a scary but nevertheless interesting sight. Also, in the town of Wambierzyce, there’s the impressive, 18th century baroque Basilica of the Visitation. Due to its importance to pilgrims, it is sometimes called the Silesian Jerusalem.
Travel in Poland
Written by Marek Kępa, Jun 2019