Poland lies in Eastern Europe and shares its borders with many other countries. The northern border runs mostly along the Baltic Sea, though also meets a small region belonging to the Russian Federation. Lithuania lies to the northeast, Belarus to the east and Ukraine to the southeast. Due south are the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Germany lies to the west.
Roughly one-third the size of Ontario, Poland is a country of contrasts, known for both beautiful landscapes and for industrial cities that belch some of the continent's worst pollution. The Baltic's sandy beaches give way to the rolling hills of northern Poland, marked by thousands of small lakes. The Polish capital of Warsaw lies in central Poland's flat, rich farmlands. Important rivers like the Vistula, Odra, Warta and Bug flow through this region.
About one-quarter of the country is forest, some of which has been protected by the creation of 23 national parks. On Poland's eastern border is the primeval Bialowieza Forest, home to the largest remaining herd of European bison-Europe's largest mammal. Woodland mammals also include hares, red deer, wild boars, moose, brown bears, wildcats and elk. Slowinski National Park in the northwest contains over 250 species of birds and has been internationally designated a world Biosphere Reserve.
To the south the land rises sharply; the Sudetes and Carpathian mountain ranges reach heights of over 2,000 metres in the High Tatra section, with the highest peak being Mount Rysy (2,499 metres). The mountains are home to wildlife like the lynx and the rare marmot, a rodent that is related to the beaver and makes a whistling sound when disturbed.
Poland's climate is similar to much of Canada's. Weather is generally warmer in the west than in the east. Summers are short but can be hot, while winters can be cold and snowy, with temperatures averaging -6°C in Warsaw, though recent winters have been milder.
Poles are proud of their architectural heritage. After World War II, residents rebuilt many town squares and buildings in their original style. In the countryside, medieval castles and manor houses dot the landscape.