THE PIAST TRAIL WITH CHILDRENThe dawn of the Polish state dates back to the 10th century, when duke Mieszko I established his rule right here in Greater Poland! As a result, many of the oldest sights in the country can be visited in day trips from Poznań (Being based in a regional centre is also highly recommended!) and the local cultural institutions have done a great job making this history accessible to children! The Piast Trail as it's known kicks off in Pobiedziska with the Piast Route Museum of Miniatures, found on the way to Gniezno from Poznań, consists of miniature recreations of key landmarks throughout Greater Poland with a particular focus on the Piast cribs. In total, are 37 miniatures at a scale of 1:20, including Gniezno Cathedral, Rogalin Palace, Poznań Rynek any many more. If you and the family have already been travelling throughout the region, a visit here is a great time to prompt your children's memories and give them a Godzilla complex! The exhibition is also complemented by a gallery of sculptures of the gods of Slavic mythology, which is a fascinating subject for all ages and perfect for you children and young families.
While you're in the area, you should ensure you visit the Pobiedziska Stronghold, a reconstructed wooden fortress dating back to the early days of the Polish state. An exhibition of medieval siege weapons on a lifesize scale, an armoury, a shooting range with siege weapons and an area where enthusiasts can organize medieval-themed games and competitions, are available to visitors within the walls of this wonderful place. This is not a museum where 'DO NOT TOUCH' signs are hung everywhere and over-bearing floor staff scowl at you just for showing any small amount of enthusiasm. On the contrary, children are very much encouraged to get their hands on everything! Furthermore, there's always a cast of fun-and-friendly reenactors to help bring the place to life!
Those keen to stick around Poznań need not go far to get an understanding of Poland's origins. Joining the two sides of the Cybina River from the loch of Poznań Cathedral is a rather modern-looking passenger tunnel that leads to the equally-impressive ICHOT Brama Poznania, also known as Porta Posnania. Here, using state-of-the-art multimedia and light displays, the story of the Piast dynasty and subsequent events in the 10th, 11th and 12th century, as well a history of Poznan's Ostrow Tumski - all regailed with a dazzling effect on the audience. Visitors young and old can also make good use of the centre's audio guides, available in as many as 8 language versions: Polish, English, German, Spanish, French, Czech, Russian and Ukrainian!
Heading south-east from the regional capital, the historic city of Kalisz offers a slightly different angle on the Piast trail, and one that children will find welcoming in its quaint size and appearance. Baszta Dorotka (ENG: Dorotka Tower) was named after a local legend of a girl who fell in love with a shoemaker and was subsequently imprisoned here by her local-bigwig daddy. Despite this sinister parable of entrapment, this little drum tower has become the home of much friendlier-sounding Center of Kalisz Fairy Tales and Legends! Here, four children's tales of Poland's medieval period, later immortalised in the works of local poet and author Eligiusz Kor-Walczak, are on display for younger generations to discover. 'Silent Frogs', 'Curse of St. Wojciech', “King and Matt” and 'Dorotka', the latter of which we've already mentioned, will be of great intrigue your children, whilst your own adult understanding of these tales may send a shiver down your spine!
Your adventure on the Piast trail would not be complete without a visit to Gniezno, the dynasty's stronghold lying just 50km west of Poznań that many consider to be Poland's legendary capital. Young families browsing the list of sights in Poland's first capital may be dissuaded by the abundance of churches and archaeological museums that can test the patience of young children. However, there is more to Gniezno than just dry ecclesiastical tourism. The Museum of the Origins of the Polish State does a great job of making early Piast history more accessible to children of school age, with plenty of bits and pieces to push and pull, as well as guides donning a helmet, sword and shield to make the experience all the more whacky! Out on the picturesque cobblestone streets, there are many more landmarks that help bring the history of Gniezno to life. Trakt Królewski (ENG: The Royal Trail) refers to the various monuments of Polish kings, specifically the first 5 of the Piast monarchs who were coronated here. Accompanying these fantastic statues you will also find a band of rabbits scattered around the place, taking on other historical characters, and a bunch of 'development models' of Gniezno, showing the layout of the city as it was in times past. All these landmarks have been incorporated into a fun mobile app called Królika Goń (ENG: Rabbit Chase) which you can download from the iOS App Store or Google Play. For more on this, read our article: Gniezno with Kids!
Moving out of the historic centre, Lake Malta is a popular local option for outdoor activities and watersports. Getting more specific, however, the Maltese Baths is an aquatic centre that was surely made with young families in mind. On one hand, you have a water park for kids, featuring a series of 16 pools (including a wave pool and smaller play pool) plus 13 water slides and two wild rivers. On the other hand, the World of Saunas is a dreamy health zone for weary parents, featuring 14 saunas, two of which are outdoors and a vapour bath. However, this is just skimming the surface - most recently, a full spa complex with underground thermal springs, offering therapeutic and beauty baths including Turkish Hammam, a Rasul mud bath, and a bunch of other massage treatments are at your disposal with the aid of fully trained staff!
The fun around Lake Malta does not stop there. Along the northern shore, the Maltanka Railway Station can be found, which is home to a quaint little steam engine named Borsuk (ENG: Badger). Drawing the carriages along an incredibly narrow 600mm track gauge, the Maltanka line near Rondo Śródka is one of the most practical ways to get to Poznań's New Zoo. Housing over 2,000 beasts representing nearly 350 species, it's comprised of 60% pine and mixed forests with a man-made stream and string of ponds running through the grounds. This means many of the Zoo's residents live in recreations of their natural habitats and not in godforsaken concrete pens! For more on the region's capital, visit our city page for Poznań!
As we've observed over the years, Poland seems to have a bit of a preoccupation with miniature parks, and Greater Poland is no exception. We already mentioned the one at Pobiedziska, which focuses on architectural sites around the region, but the bar continues to be raised elsewhere. The city of Konin has its own institution called Park Makiet Mikroskala (literally 'Micro Scale Model Park') and its focus goes well beyond regional history. While there are recreations of Communist-era PRL and the invasion of Poland in 1939, there are also scenes of prehistoric dinosaurs, the moon landing and even the 2011 Japanese tsunami. You can also see plenty of other pop culture references from music, animation and science fiction cinema - Star Wars, Terminator and Avatar to name a few. Perhaps the biggest thrill for both children and adults is the train track that runs the length of the back wall. There are hands-on things to do as well: Kids can play with thousands of construction blocks scattered on activity tables, a wooden ball track-ball tsunami, safes with riddles to crack and walls with magnetic puzzles.
MINIATURE PARKS AROUND GREATER POLAND
Back towards Poznań, the miniature park in the village of Borówiec has made a name for itself in recent years for its own unique collection of vignettes and its own mini-railway novelty. In fact, this is one of the largest railway model set-ups in Poland, if not the largest! The low-hanging ceiling with a sky mural really amplifies the experience for children, who may be prone to some kind of vertigo during your visit!
There's nothing more nostalgic than a ride on a steam train, and we have no doubt that your children will squeal with delight they partake in such a novelty. Średzka Kolej Powiatowa (ENG: Średzka County Railway), located in the quaint little town of Środa Wielkopolska, is the departing platform of a charming, early 20th-century steam engine and carriages in tow. On a 14km route to the town of Zaniemyśl, as you chug along the picturesque landscape of the region, both your interior and exterior views are a sight for sore eyes. Each passenger car is wonderfully furnished with the original components of wooden benches, framing and light fixtures, and, if you have come to the area to cycle, there are even old luggage cars where you can load your bike into! Zaniemyśl itself is a rather pleasant spot to hop off at, featuring a picturesque lake with a beach, a restaurant on the island in the middle, and a small bounty of ice cream parlours plus other attractions for children.
STEAM TRAINS IN GREATER POLAND
Elsewhere, in the north of Greater Poland, the Białośliwie line of the Wyrzyska Kolejka Powiatowa (ENG: Wyrzyska County Railway) offers another change in scenery with another little steam engine. The railway line traverses dense forests and ravines, along the Białośliwie river, before emerging in the famed orchards of the area, complement by lakes and small hills.
If you're planning a visit to Greater Poland National Park (PL: Wielkopolski Park Narodowy), consider stopping by Puszczykowo. This town is the home of one of Poland's most obscure museums, the Arkady Fiedler Workshop-Museum, sporting a fascinatingly eclectic collection of exotic paraphernalia that was put together over many years by the eccentric Polish adventurer and writer Arkady Fielder. Within this mish-mash of larger-than-life souvenirs, you will find ritual masks, human head trophies, tropical butterflies and crocodiles from the far-reaching corners of world. Outside, in the 'Garden of Cultures and Tolerance', the exhibition of oddities continues with a replica of one of the Easter Island head statues, as well as monuments of Aztec gods. However, by far the most impressive piece in the collection is the 1:1 replica of Christopher Columbus' ship, the Santa Maria. Like something right out of a children's book, your younger kin are bound to fall in love with this place. Make sure you stop by!
ARKADY FIELDER WORKSHOP-MUSEUM
While the whole Greater Poland affair may seem rather focused on the medieval period, there are a number of notable destinations that represent a more recent end of history. One of these is the Center for Regional and Natural Education in Mniszki, a modern institution that resides in an 18th-century agricultural estate and has taken on the role of a technology museum with a particular focus on pre-industrial advents. Children get the opportunity to try their hand at old school professions like wood-carving, smithing, shoemaking and basket-making, as well as witnessing the use of various old household 'appliances' and agricultural tools from a bygone era. There is also an exhibit of other 'dying professions' from the 20th century, including an analog photography, TV maintenance and a dressmaking workshop. Keep an eye out for other markets and gallery events taking place here throughout the year.
CENTER OF REGIONAL AND NATURAL EDUCATION AT MNISZKI
Some parents may struggle to keep their children open-minded about the aforementioned options in this article, and so a good old amusement park may have to be thrown in as a bargaining chip at some stage! Fortunately, in the 21st century, there are more wholesome ideas about how such places should operate. The main idea behind the creation of DELI Park, not too far from Greater Poland National Park, is learning about nature and the world through play. The emphasis is on smart entertainment, through which children are encouraged to develop a respect for nature! Attractions within the park include a line park, a mini zoo full of alpacas and lemurs, a tonne of gigantic prehistoric animals and bugs, and a cafeteria that sells wholesome local produce.
AMUSEMENT PARKS IN GREATER POLAND
Just the ticket if you have kids in tow and want to trade off a bit of history and culture for some fun. Zaurolandia is one of the best parks of its type in the country - the kind that is set in a forest with recreations of all your favourite dinos. You'll even find one being eaten alive by another! On a brighter note, there is also a central play area for the kids involving a number of younger children's rides and an outdoor food court and picnic area. The older children can have fun on the rope park, go-kart or dirt bikes tracks. The complex also offers a hotel and restaurant should you wish to relax and stay over for the night instead of heading back to Poznań. All in all a recommended spot for the family if you have your own transport.