Route 1. The Great Żuławy Loop
Route 2. The Small Żuławy Loop
Route 3. The Route to the Capital of Żuławy
The Żuławy Loop is a network of waterways: rivers, canals, and the Vistula Lagoon, attractive for tourists and nature lovers, adapted to a large extent for water tourism, including canoes, yachts, motor boats, or houseboats.
The Loop consists of 303 km of waterways directly linked to the International Waterway E70. Some of these routes are common for the Żuławy Loop and the IWW E70, the others are simply sections of the IWW E70 or they cross one another. The Loop offers well-equipped piers, harbours, and marinas that were built or modernised as part of the project “The Żuławy Loop – Development of Water Tourism. Stage I”. The project has been recognised as one of the best ones revolving around water tourism in Poland.
The Żuławy Loop is set around the Vistula Delta and the Vistula Lagoon, in a region that could not exist without all the efficiently-managed rivers and canals. There is no other region in Poland like Żuławy that is so saturated with hydrotechnical structures, such as pumping stations, floodgates, water pumping stations, locks, aqueducts, floodbanks, and various bridges. That is not all! The region has a rich and diverse cultural heritage with monuments and sites that never cease to impress the visitors, such as unique temples, houses with arcaded porches, Olęder buildings (settlers of Dutch of German origins), Mennonite necropoles or very special villages that would use rivers as their main transport route. The Żuławy Wiślane region, the flattest area in Poland which is also located partly below sea level, is called by those who have visited it – a land for connoisseurs, as its charms simply cannot be described in words. You have to experience it to understand it, and you can actually do it while sailing! We recommend three routes to sail around the Żuławy region, depending on the time you wish to devote: from one to six days.
In principle, the waterways of the Żuławy Loop are accessible for vessels with a draught of 1.4 m – with the exception of the route to the Capital of Żuławy, where the guaranteed depth is 1 metre. At the each end point of every route, there is a marina or other mooring spot that is not only safe, but also equipped with basic utilities: water, electricity, bathrooms, and toilets.
The Vistula is a waterway forming a part of the IWW E70 and Żuławy Loop. High water levels can pose a problem while sailing on the Żuławy Loop, as the Biała Góra, Gdańska Góra, and Przegalina locks are being closed to prevent flooding. You should also avoid sailing close to the shore to avoid hitting, e.g. spurs hidden under water.
887 km down the route, there is the Biała Góra lock with the entrance to the Nogat. Two kilometres further, there is the village of Piekło, which has become a symbol of the battle to protect Polish schools during fascist Germanisation. We can also find the village of Gorzędziej (902 km), where – according to a legend – St. Adalbert of Prague prayed in 997. One kilometre further, we pass the Knyblewski Bridge built by the Germans right at the beginning of the war. The bridge used to connect Berlin with Königsberg (Kaliningrad) and was demolished at the end of the war. The Poles rebuilt the bridge in 1950.
The mooring piers (908 km) let us go to the city of Tczew that houses the very interesting Vistula River Museum.
In Palczewo (918 km), we can find probably one of the last and the most impressive Dutch windmills with a rotating dome that allowed to set the vanes in the direction of the wind. There is also a wooden church built in the 17th century. Nearby, in Steblewo and Nowa Cerkiew (918-921 km), there are historic houses with arcaded porches and further down, in Kiezmarek (939 km), the Vistula crosses the bridge over the S7 road which connects Gdańsk with Warsaw.
We reach the Gdańska Głowa lock (931 km) leading to the Szkarpawa that can take us to the Vistula Lagoon. Two kilometres further emerges the dyke through the Vistula: a 7-km long, man-made section built in the years 1890-1895 to avoid flooding of the area. The entrance to the Przegalina lock (936 km) connecting us to the Martwa Wisła can be found just around the corner. The river can take us all the way down to Gdańsk. One kilometre further, between Świbno and Mikoszewo, there is a ferry that crosses the Vistula in just 5 minutes. At the mouth of the Vistula (941 km), there is the “Mewia Łacha” Nature Reserve.
Navigating in Gdańsk. We enter Gdańsk through the Przegalina lock on the Martwa Wisła. “Martwa” means “dead” in Polish and the river received its name in 1985, after the construction of the dyke. Before that, the famous Polish poet, Wincenty Pol, used to call this section “The Bold Vistula” (PL: Wisła Śmiała). Everything changed after a belt of dunes had been destroyed by the river that was piled up with ice. There is also the Motława whose final estuary section ends right in the centre of Gdańsk, near Polski Hak.
When visiting Gdańsk, you should take into account that you might encounter heavy ship traffic on the rivers, including sea traffic and water trams because there is a water tram – just like in Bydgoszcz.
After passing the Przegalina lock, we can stop at the marina in Błotnik (0.7 km further down the Martwa Wisła). There are many marinas and mooring spots in Gdańsk.
23.6 km down the Martwa Wisła, we navigate – surprise, surprise! – over the road tunnel that is located under the riverbed and just a bit further (25.5 km), we pass the Wisłoujście Fortress. It was built in 1758 as a lighthouse, later it functioned as a prison and even a sailing club but now – it serves as one of the departments of the Museum of Gdańsk. Just one kilometre further we enter the open sea.
The Motława flows through the very centre of the Old Town in Gdańsk. Along the river, you can find the Baltic Philharmonic, the Maritime Museum (Ołowianka Island) and the “Sołdek” museum ship, the restored Granary Island (PL: Wyspa Spichrzów), or the famous Gdańsk Crane.
When visiting Gdańsk, you just have to visit the local monuments, even if only those located right in the Old Town and in its immediate vicinity. St. Mary’s Basilica, the largest brick church in the world, sometimes called the “Crown of Gdańsk”. The Great Armoury, in turn, is the most marvellous secular building of the Mannerist period in Gdańsk, built in the early 17th century. The World War II Museum in its unusual building is simply a must-visit, with one of the largest exhibitions showcased by historical museums in the world. So is the European Solidarity Centre, whose aim is to protect and share the legacy of the “Solidarność” movement – both in Poland and abroad, and to actively participate in building our European identity. The Centre is located near Gate No. 2 of the Gdańsk Shipyard and the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers 1970. It is also worth visiting the Amber Museum which documents the history of amber and amber production in Poland. While visiting the exhibition, you will learn about the history of amber, amber crafting, and amber trade routes, as well as about the ways amber was used in healing, its use as a magical stone, research material, and an artistic medium. The exhibits include Stalin’s amber vase, an amber chess set from around 1700, the largest piece of amber weighing as much as 68 kg, and a unique animal inclusion, called “Gierłowska’s Lizard” – an amber nugget with a mummified lizard embedded inside of it.
The Szkarpawa is a 25.4 km long arm of the Vistula, connecting it with the Vistula Lagoon and separated from the river by the Gdańska Głowa lock. There are three bridges over the Szkarpawa, two drawbridges and one swing bridge. You can find mooring platforms in several places. The river serves also a transport route between the harbours in Gdańsk and Elbląg, so you can encounter some barges on the way. While navigating, you can see buildings characteristic of the Żuławy region, including the historic houses with arcaded porches. In Chłodniewo (Rybina) and Osłonka, there are large water pumping stations. The pumping station in Chłodniewo is the largest in Poland – it takes care of 22 thousand hectares of fields and pumps 14 thousand litres of water per second.
The Wisła Królewiecka is a cute 11.5 km long river with a beautiful view over the Żuławy. On our way to Sztutowo, we pass a drawbridge which “starred” in one of the episodes of the famous Polish series “Czterej pancerni i pies” (EN: “Four Tank-Men and a Dog”). While resting in Sztutowo, hop on the atmospheric narrow-gauge railway or visit the Stutthof Concentration Camp.
The Elbląg river flows out of Lake Druzno and ends its 20 km course in the Vistula Lagoon. The river is very navigation-friendly. The last obstacle – a pontoon bridge in Nowakowo – will be replaced by a swing bridge in 2023, and depth the river itself will be increased to 5 metres – all of this is part of the investment including the construction of a canal through the Vistula Spit. The Elbląg will take us to a bird sanctuary – Druzno Lake – further to the Elbląg Canal, as well as Ostróda and Iława – towns that are particularly famous among water sports afficionados.
In the city of Elbląg, the river is regarded as internal sea water and a fairway of the Elbląg harbour. There are several marinas in the city and a renovated wharf, right at the Zygmunt August Boulevard. In 2021, a new marina of the “Grupa Wodna” group was opened, together with a water equipment rental (canoes, motor boats, sailboats, pedal boats) open in the summer season. We recommend stopping to visit the Old Town that was renovated using “retroversion” – a rather controversial technique, nonetheless used in multiple cities worldwide. During the renovation scientists conducted a thorough archaeological research, which is why the Elbląg Museum has one of the richest collections of urban archaeology exhibits in the world. The museum is located right by the river and you should definitely check it out.
The Jagiellonian Canal is the oldest active canal in Poland. It was built in 1438. Currently, it is 5.8 km long and connects the Nogat with the Elbląg.
There are four locks on the Nogat, with the Białe Błota lock separating it from the Vistula. Its current is very lazy, often covered with a thick carpet of floating fern that might get tangled into your propeller. The Nogat is especially attractive, as it flows to the castle in Malbork – the former capital city of the State of the Teutonic Order; the castle itself is the largest buildings of this kind in the world.
The Tuga is about 50 km long and its initial section is often referred to as “Holy”. Heavily meandering and covered with beautiful “green meadows”, it is the perfect place for canoers or families. In the centre of Nowy Dwór Gdański – the capital of the Żuławy region – there is a marina and the Museum of the Żuławy Region that open in 1990s.
One kilometre away from Nowy Dwór Gdański, in Żelichowo, there is a historic house with arcaded porch which was “built” very recently, as it was moved from another town. This is where you can taste the famous “Machandel Stobbes” juniper vodka, served in a traditional way set out by the once famous distillery. You might also be tempted by the dishes of the regional Żuławy cuisine.
The Vistula Lagoon is a large body of water with an area of 838 km2, 328 km2 (40%) of which is located in Poland, and the remaining part – known as the Kaliningrad Lagoon – is located on the Russian side of the border. It is the second largest body of water on the southern shore of the Baltic Sea, surpassed only by the Curonian Lagoon in western Lithuania, which is connected to the Vistula Lagoon by the rivers Pregoyla and Dejma. The Vistula Lagoon is 90.7 km long (the Polish section – 35.1 km) and its width ranges from 6.8 to 13 km. It is a shallow waterbody with an average depth of 2.7 m, and the surface area of the Polish section of the Lagoon is three times larger than the biggest lake in Poland, Lake Śniardwy.
The Polish section of the Vistula Lagoon is only indirectly connected with the Baltic Sea – through the Szkarpawa and Vistula rivers. On the Russian side, the Kaliningrad Lagoon connects to the Baltic Sea via Pilawa Strait, also known as Baltic Strait. There is also the Kaliningrad Canal, leading further towards Kaliningrad, whose depth ranges from 10-11 m (for commercial and military reasons). The Vistula Lagoon connects the Polish and western European inland waterway networks with Russian and Lithuanian waters.
The southern section of the Vistula Lagoon is called the Elbląg Bay. It is a very shallow part of the Lagoon (1-1.5 m deep), with a waterway on its edge that is min. 2.2 m deep. The Elbląg Bay offers tiny marinas for yachts with a draught of up to 1.5 m. You can find them in Suchacz, Kamienica Elbląska, and Jagodna. The Elbląg Bay Nature Reserve was established here in 1991.