Rural tourism – and particularly agrotourism, which has a high share in rural tourist offers – is an intensely discussed and politically supported issue in Poland. This paper critically examines the role of tourism in the development of rural areas. A literature review reveals seven success factors, whose existence or development is the precondition to develop rural tourism effectively in a region: 1) natural and cultural resources, 2) tourist and general infrastructure and services, 3) professional marketing, 4) cooperation, participation and effi cient organisation, 5) human resources, 6) fi nancial resources and technical assistance, 7) conditions of demand. The analysis of these success factors in rural regions of Poland using secondary data and literature shows both opportunities and barriers to a rural tourism development. Major opportunities are the existing natural resources in many areas and the good general outlook for the Polish tourism. In contrast, the defi ciency of the tourist and general infrastructure in many rural areas, the weak marketing, the negative international image of Poland, the insuffi cient coordination and cooperation in tourism, the shortage of skilled labour and entrepreneurial skills, and the poor fi nancial resources of public authorities and private enterprises hamper the development of rural tourism in Poland. Two cases studies carried out in the summer of 2005 – in the rural communes Bałtów in Southeast Poland and Dębrzno in Northwest Poland – emphasize the signifi cance of people‘s own initiative and partnerships in developing tourism and overcoming bottlenecks. Finally, even though rural tourism is not a panacea for the structural problems of rural areas in Poland, it could be developed in far more areas in different dimensions and forms depending on the resources provided that the regions succeed in addressing the barriers.