Map of The Augustow Canal (Kanal Augustowski)
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
In 1821 when Prussia started putting high tariffs on Polish goods shipped via Prussian harbours Poland started to look for alternatives. They built a canal to connect to Lithuania and Russia and circumvent the Prussian tariffs: the Augustow Canal.
As is often the case with these types of actions, they quickly become obsolete. Prussia eventually relaxed the tariffs so that Polish goods could again be shipped via Prussian ports and the canal was not needed anymore.
In hindsight the Prussian decision seems unwise on multiple levels. You can question it economically. How was Prussia to profit from preventing trade? Having goods shipped via your ports is normally good for your economy as you get to pocket some of the profits for yourself. And looking at the Versailles Treaty after World War 1 you have to wonder if this experience wasn’t one driver for the Polish demand for direct access to the sea, the consequence being Danzig becoming a Free City.
Today the canal is used for recreational purposes only. You can rent boats and travel through lush forests and lakes. Together with neighbouring Masury (Masuren) this is a prime holiday region for Poles.
The Augustow canal landscape is nice. I greatly enjoyed my time hiking around the lakes and through the woods and it’s easy to understand why Poles enjoy coming here.
Less clear to me is the justification of OUV for the canal itself. I did read the Unesco description and spotted no reason or argument why this should be inscribed. Was this a first? What engineering feats were achieved? What obstacles surmounted? ... I would think that a inscription focussed on the wonderful nature and lake landscape, possibly combined with nearby Masury would stand a better chance.
Interestingly, there is a canal in Poland where those questions would be easy to answer, the Elblag canal (German Oberländischer Kanal). With its rail based planes to lift ships from one altitude level to another it is clearly unique, so much so that it’s featured in the Atlas Obscura. It is mentioned in our forum as Aspiring to be on T-List. Still, it’s not yet nominated.
The focus on the Augustow canal instead of the probably easier to inscribe Elblag canal could be due to Polish nationalism. The Augustow canal is a Polish canal, built by Poland on territory that always was Polish. Building it was an act of defiance against Prussia (Germany). The Elblag canal meanwhile was built by a Prussian engineer on Prussian territory.
As stated before, the area is really popular with Polish tourists. You can find daily busses to take you to Augustow from Gdansk, Bialystok or Warsaw. It may take a while, though.
The lakes and the canal have plenty of trails. You can also hop onto a cruise from Augustow.
Where to Stay
I rarely bother to book a room in advance. For the Labour Day weekend this wasn’t entirely smart as most of the inner city hotels were already fully booked. The Poles have two holidays in May and turn this into a long country wide weekend: Labour Day on 1 May and Constitution Day on 3 May. So everyone is travelling even if the weather is not yet nice.
I ended up in Hotel Wojciech on the far outskirts of town. To get there I had to take a cab (13€). The upside was that the hotel has a nice view of the lake and you can start your hike directly there. The Studzienicze chapels are 15min away and there is a also a canal lock to see. From Studzienicze you can hop onto the cruise back into town.