In Poland, an "outdoor" vacation invariably boils down to either mountains or seashore. That means having to choose between the Baltic Sea and Mazurian Lakes far in the north, or the Giant Mountains and the Tatras far to the south. Unless you've got lots of time to travel, you'll have to make the same choice, too. Below are two 5-day itineraries, depending on whether you're a "seashore" or a "mountain" person.
Days 1 & 2: Gdansk & the Tri-Cities
This is the center of Poland's beach scene, and a surprisingly lively beach scene it is. Most of the best beaches are in Sopot or on the Hel Peninsula, reachable by boat from Gdansk. You'll find all the usual beach diversions in Sopot, including a long pier, a "boardwalk" -- actually a sidewalk -- that runs for miles on both sides of the pier, and a late-night disco scene. If you're traveling in July or August and you get a patch of hot weather, this is where you'll find a good percentage of the Polish population.
Days 3 & 4: The Mazurian & Suwaki Lake Districts
From Gdansk, make your way over to the Mazurian lakes for some long-distance canoeing.
Day 5: Biaowieza National Forest
From the lakes, head south and east to the Belarusian border for some unspoiled forest and gorgeous hiking territory.
Day 1: Warsaw or Kraków to Zakopane
Depending on your base, make your way to the Tatra resort of Zakopane, one of the country's most popular hiking centers in summer and a leading ski resort in winter. In summer, pick up some hiking maps once you hit town and plot your assault on the peaks. There are hundreds of kilometers of marked trails for all skill levels. Check our hiking suggestions or consult the tourist information office for some ideas.
Day 2: Hiking in the Tatras
Hit the mountains early and remember to wear sturdy shoes and bring plenty of water, sunscreen, a rain slicker, sunglasses, a bite to eat, and a map. The trails may be well marked, but believe us, you're going to need the map anyway. With luck, you'll get a clear, sunny day, but remember to start heading back down the hill the moment it starts to look like afternoon showers.
Day 3: Boating Down the Dunajec
After an exhausting hike, take it easy today with a relaxing float down the scenic Dunajec River. Several travel agencies in Zakopane book rafting trips down the Dunajec. Each raft holds around a dozen people, and the guides are decked out in mountain garb. The float takes a couple of hours, and you have the option of walking back to the parking lot or renting and riding bikes. It's a great day out and perfect for kids.
Day 4: Travel to the Giant Mountains
There's no easy way to get from the Tatras to the Giant Mountains in the southwest. The easiest is to drive down the A4 highway from Kraków to Wrocaw (3-4 hr.) or, alternatively, take a bus. From Wrocaw, make your way by car or bus to one of the Giant Mountain resorts or the regional capital of Jelenia Góra. Plan on traveling most of the day. Reward yourself with an excellent Polish meal at Metafora in Szklarska Poreba.
Day 5: Cycling in the Giant Mountains
Find your way to the resort town of Szklarska Poreba for a day of heaven in the open air. Stop by the tourist information office to pick up some cycling maps and good advice on rentals and trails. Szklarska Poreba has cast itself as southern Poland's biking capital, and some of the best mountain trails in the country -- including plenty for novice riders and families -- are here. Some of the most rewarding and longest trails dip into the Czech side of the mountains, but be sure not to go overboard on your first ride. These are mountains, and you'll have to work hard uphill for every easy downhill (but it's worth it).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.