A mere two kilometres (1.2 miles) from the Belarus border, the town draws its influences from an eclectic mix of Russian, Polish and Belarusian history and culture. Most tourists will be here to explore the last primeval forest in Europe – Białowieża National Park, where you can find wild bison in their natural habitat. Beyond this, there are many other attractions on offer.
Local cafeteria Mak Dowbysz serves up delicious coffee with a view. Expect to enjoy a truly tranquil coffee and breakfast on the wooden balcony overlooking the lake which acts as the entrance to Białowieża National Park. Here you can relax in peace away from the crowds of tourists as the sun comes up over the lake. The birds are in song and the park gets ready for another busy day. Winter is a great time to visit for photographers, when the lake is frozen over and covered in snow. In the summer, temperatures can reach up to 30 degrees Celsius. Note that Mak Dowbysz has no Wi-Fi, is cash only and isn’t well signposted.
Białowieża National Park is famous for its resident ‘king of the forest’ – the bison. In order to be lucky enough to actually see a bison, you should book an early morning tour. These start in the middle of the night at around 3 am as bison are nocturnal animals. The tour is specially organised by the Białowieża National Park rangers who will provide you with an experienced guide to take you on a 6-hour walk through the deepest parts of the forest. You will be briefed in advance on how to dress and what to bring with you. The tour can be booked individually or in a group and prices vary depending on group size and season. Seeing bison is not guaranteed, but those who join the guided tour are rarely disappointed.
While Białowieża is not exactly a drinking town, there is no excuse for not sampling Bison-grass vodka. Also called Żubrówka, you are in the heart of the region where it was invented. The drink is distilled and flavoured with a slice of genuine bison grass (hierochloe odorata) from the Białowieża Forest. This grass gives the spirit its yellowish tinge. As well as the traditional yellow vodka, you can also get Żubrówka Biała Wódka (white), Żubrówka Czarna Wódka (black) or Żubrówka Złota (gold). Head to one of the village bars after sunset and drink a few shots of this with locals. To cushion the blow, many of them drink apple juice after each shot – which comes advised!
Białowieża National Park has over 10 different types of tours, so there is something to please everyone. The night-vision tour with binoculars (available to rent) allows you to see animals just as the sun goes down, typically starting an hour before sunset. The forest is full of surprises and you really never know which animals you might encounter. Bison, deer, fox, wild boar, tawny owls and pigmy owls are amongst the animals often spotted.