Biaystok (pronounced byah-way'-stok), the regional capital, has a history that dates back to the 15th century. In this part of the country, it will become obvious to you that Poland was once a multiethnic territory. The region served under various flags, from Polish to Prussian, Russian, and Lithuanian, and was at one time ceded to Belarus. While the rest of the country was also subjected to the winds of change, this area has managed to hang on to the tangible evidence, the most prevalent being the onion-domed Orthodox churches. Today, about one third of Biaystok's residents are of the Orthodox faith, and the region has the largest Orthodox population in the country. It's common to see a Catholic cross and a three-bar cross standing side-by-side, bearing proof to the religious harmony. In Suprasl, the Church of Annunciation stands out for merging a prayer chamber and a defense fortress. Behind the church is the Museum of Icons that gives excellent coverage of Orthodox religious icons.

Until 1939, about half of Biaystok's population were Jewish. Many were involved in the textile industry in the region, and the factories operated until 1944, when the retreating Nazis burned them down. Like most places in Poland, the Jewish communities here never recovered from the war. Today, there are hardly any traces of their presence, except the 17th century synagogue in Tykocin.

Tatars, whose lineage is traced back to the Mongol empire of Genghis Khan, settled in the region in the 17th century under the patronage of King Jan III Sobieski, who rewarded them with lands for their vital role in the Battle of Vienna (1683). The majority of the Tatars' descendants are in present-day Belarus, while those in Poland have assimilated into local communities. The Tatar Route tracks through their former settlements. Only two Tatar wooden mosques are left. One is in Kruszyniany, and the other is in Bohoniki.

While Biaystok's blend of classical attractions, like an Old Town, interspersed with Communist-era structures does yield unexpectedly enjoyable explorations, you don't need to budget much time for the city itself. Instead, use it as your base and allocate time for visiting the points of interest outside the city.