There are so many things to do in Zakopane it can be hard to narrow them down. Nestled in the Tatra Mountains is Zakopane, Poland, easily one of the best places to visit in Europe. The Polish mountain town serves as a great base to this stretch of the Carpathian Mountains.
Zakopane is an outdoor wonderland that provides visitors access to snow-capped peaks, waterfalls, alpine forests, mountain lakes, wildlife, quaint towns, and meadow-filled valleys.
The Carpathian Mountains are the second-highest mountain range in Europe behind the Alps. Zakopane offers visitors a wide range of sports such as mountain biking, hiking, skiing, and even paragliding. Zakopane is about as far south as Poland gets, bordering Tatra National Park, there is no shortage of activities here.
Where is Zakopane, Poland?
Zakopane is a Polish town in the extreme south of the country next to Slovakia. It’s in the Podhale region, nestled at the foot of the Tatra Mountains.
It’s about 110 km from the major city of Krakow and will take you about two hours of drive time to get there by bus or car.
Best Things to do in Zakopane, Poland
Hike the Tatra Mountains
You can’t visit Zakopane and not go hiking at least once. Hiking is definitely one of the best things to do in Zakopane and the small town makes an excellent base. So if you’re an adventurer, hiking is probably the best thing to do in Zakopane for you!
The town is right next to the Tatra National Park, and trails are abundant. Most trails are day-long hikes, allowing for a full day hike up to a peak, only to later return to town and relax in your well-equipped guesthouse. Or if you feel your muscles could use a little R&R, you could head to a beautiful Zakopane Spa to relax. Some of the best Zakopane hikes are:
- Strążyska Valley
- Kasprowy Wierch Mountain
- Dolina Pieciu Stawow (Valley of Five Lakes)
- Dolina Gasiennicowa (Gasiennicowa Valley)
Hike to Lake Morskie Oko, the “Eye of the Sea,”
There is no shortage of mountain lakes around Zakopane. Similar to the mountain peaks, there are some great hikes out to see the areas pristine lakes. The most famous being Lake Morskie Oko, “Eye of the Sea,” which requires a bus ride to the base of the trail. It’s about a two-hour walk from the drop-off point, each way.
Hike in the Gasienicowa Valley
Gąsienicowa Valley in Tatra National Park is a protected area that is home to some of the best hiking in all of Poland. There are some stunning hikes where you’ll pass unique flora and fauna along the way. The Gąsienicowa Valley is home to several glaciers and waterfalls. Hiking the Dolina Gasienicowa trail is one of the best things to do in Zakopane.
Eat Oscypek Cheese!
I bet you didn’t think one of the best things to do in Zakopane was to eat cheese. Or “Oscypek” as it’s called, is a delicious smoked sheep’s milk cheese. It is a local staple, and you will find stands selling the stuff all over the town of Zakopane and various other mountain lodges throughout the region.
The recipe is strictly followed and dates back to the 14th century. You can only find the stuff in the area since it’s made in small batches, and it is hard to export given regulations against unpasteurized sheep’s milk, but damn is it good. You can also find dishes of the cheese pan-fried and served with cranberries; I highly recommend this if you’re a fan of cheese or food for that matter.
PS – If you miss Oscypek in Zakopane, you’ll be able to find it in many restaurants in Krakow.
Get Cozy With Mulled Wine
Hot Mulled wine or “grzaniec galicyjski” is prevalent throughout the mountains. When the temperatures drop, it’s perfect for warming you on those chilly fall evenings or after a day on the slopes. It’s also cheap, with prices ranging from 3zl to 8zl ($1-$2). Although it is not limited to the region, it exhibits the warm Polish spirit you can find in the bars.
Many restaurants in town are open late; people eat and drink late into the evening after a long day in the mountains. Maybe a few shots of that polish Vodka if you dare? Try some “Zubrowka” vodka.
That’s the one with a buffalo on it. Don’t miss trying it in this Polish town. It’s one of the best things to do in Zakopane. One of our favorite bars in Zakopane is Cafe Piano Zakopane.
Climb Rysy Mountain
The highest peak in Poland sits on the border with Slovakia. The trail up the mountain is difficult and can be steep at points, but it does not require any technical climbing and can be done by most outdoor enthusiasts.
On a clear day, the peak offers the best views encompassing the Tatras; it’s said to offer views of over 100 peaks in the surrounding area. So cross your fingers and hope you’ll catch it on a clear day, although any day is exhilarating on the mountain.
Look for Wildlife in the Tatras
Asides from the wildlife you can find throughout the rest of Poland, Zakopane, and the Tatras are home to several rare species. Animals such as brown bears, lynx, mountain chamois, marmots, and eagles are all some wildlife you may see while hiking through the mountains.
We may have missed a bear ourselves, but crossed paths with a couple of locals on a trail warning us of a bear up ahead. We walked on tentatively. Here you can experience the wild and find truly remote places to relax and cut away from the crowded cities of Europe.
See What Podhale Culture is All About
Zakopane has its very own unique style of architecture. The buildings in Zakopane actually embrace the spirit of Podhale.
Stanislaw Witkiewicz is a famous Polish writer known as the style creator. This style completely transformed the town in the late 1800s. Wood rounded windows and detailed embellishments are seen on the homes throughout the city center.
What makes it better? The most popular form of accommodation is guesthouses, with over 500 unique places to stay, giving visitors a chance to stay in one of the homes themselves.
Enjoy Some Affordable Skiing
The skiing in Zakopane is not quite as known as in the Swiss Alps. However, it comes at a fraction of the price, with lift tickets topping out at $35 in Zakopane. This is some of the cheapest skiing in Europe you can find!
Winter here may be one of the best times to visit Zakopane. The town fills up with many families coming to enjoy the winter activities. The slopes here are family-friendly, perfect for beginners to learn the ropes.
However, for the more advanced, there is Kasprowy Wierch, which offers world-class skiing and a 6km long descent from the top lift. It will surely give skiers plenty of time to work their way down the mountain.
Head Up the Gubałówka Hill Funicular
If you’re feeling a little lazy, take the Gubałówka Hill Funicular up the Gubałówka mountain. On a clear day, you will have stunning views of the Tatras and of the surrounding valleys.
Soak in the Thermal Spas
Soaking in a thermal spa is always enjoyable, but it is one of the best things to do in Zakopane in the wintertime. The hot pools at Terma Bukowina are one of the most popular places to head. You’ll probably even get in a chat with a few locals.
Where to Stay in Zakopane?
- Aries Hotel & Spa: This is a wonderful 5-star hotel for affordable pricing. The hotel itself is built in the typical Zakopane style, with a great location just off of Krupowski street. If you’re looking for a proper mountain retreat, Aries is a wonderful choice.
- Tatra Chalet: This small chalet is a wonderful choice to have a chalet experience while getting the distinct Zakopane feel.
How To Get To Zakopane
There are only a handful of ways to arrive in Zakopane. The bus was the easiest choice for us. Good news is the bus system in Poland is pretty reliable, cheap, and in general the best way to travel.
Traveling around the country by train is also possible, but considering it’s only a two-hour bus ride from Krakow to Zakopane, we think it’s the best way to go. Majer Bus operates the bus route, and you can find the timetable here.
Buses run regularly throughout the day, and tickets are about 19 zlotych. In peak summer, you may have to book a ticket ahead of time, but other times of the year the bus is unlikely to be sold out.
- Plane: The nearest airport to Zakopane is John Paul II International Airport Kraków-Balice, 90 kilometers away. From the airport, you can take a taxi or a bus to Zakopane.
- Train: Zakopane has its own train station, which is served by trains from both Kraków and Warsaw.
- Bus: There are regular bus connections from Kraków and other cities in Poland to Zakopane the journey takes about 2-3 hours.
- Car: As it is located on a main road in the Tatras, Zakopane is easily accessible by car. If driving from Kraków, follow the E77 and E67 roads to get to Zakopane.
Why Should You Visit Zakopane, Poland?
Zakopane, Poland, has become fonder in our memories as time has passed. It was one of the earliest destinations as bloggers, and we had a truly fantastic time despite the weather being lackluster during our visit. A handful of destinations stick out in our memory, and one of them has to be Zakopane. Mountains surround the quaint town that is filled with charm and culture.
For us, Krakow was cool, but everyone went to Krakow. So, instead, head out of Krakow to Zakopane for a unique experience. While it may be very popular for the Polish, it is relatively unheard of for the rest of the world.
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