Poland is a large country full of stunning and historic cities. But have you ever considered visiting the mountains of Poland? Head south towards the Slovakian border approximately 2 hours from Krakow to Zakopane, where a fabulous little mountain town sits at the foot of the Tatra Mountains. Popular among Polish tourists, there are plenty of things to do in Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains year-round. Visit Zakopane, and it may just be one of the highlights of your trip to Poland.
- 1 About Zakopane
- 2 Getting From Krakow to Zakopane
- 3 Things to do in Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains
- 3.1 Kasprowy Wierch Furnicular
- 3.2 Funicular to Gubalowka Hill
- 3.3 Hike in the Tatra National Park
- 3.4 Wander Zakopane and Krupówki Street
- 3.5 Visit Zakopane in the Winter & Ski the Tatra Mountains
- 4 Where to Stay in Zakopane
- 5 Where to Eat
- 6 Read all about Visiting Krakow and a Krakow Itinerary
Zakopane is a town of less than 30,000 people located in the “Podhale” (sometimes referred to as the Polish highlands) region in southern Poland at the foot of the Tatra and Carpathian Mountain range. The region is characterized by distinctive traditional folklore of the Gorals, an ethnic population who have inhabited the highland areas of southern Poland for centuries. When you visit Zakopane, you will get a feel for this traditional style that is apparent in architecture, food, and more.
Zakopane is a worthwhile destination during any season. It is an outdoor lover’s paradise. If you have the time, take a side trip from Krakow to Zakopane for at least a couple days to get your nature fix.
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Getting From Krakow to Zakopane
As mentioned, it takes approximately 2 hours to get from Krakow to Zakopane, depending on the traffic. It’s a scenic drive but the freeway can get quite busy during peak hours and weekends.
Bus From Krakow to Zakopane
You can take a public bus for extremely reasonable prices. You can check schedules and buy tickets ahead HERE if it is high season or weekend. Or just show up at the Main Bus Station (MDA) right by the train station, Krakow Glowny. There are buses from multiple bus companies running very frequently (approximately every 15 minutes) for around 20 PLN (about $5).
Train From Krakow to Zakopane
Although the 3 hour train journey is typically longer than driving, if it’s the weekend, summer, Christmas, or other holiday, the train may have an advantage over traffic. There is very little information online to be able to find or book train tickets, and taking the bus is much more popular. I would suggest going to the train station ahead to inquire about train schedules.
Take a Car
You could either rent a car and drive yourself from Krakow to Zakopane, or you could hire a private driver, although the price is significantly more than either bus or train. It would be really nice to have your own car for exploring the Tatra Mountains and Zakopane though.
Take a Day Tour to Zakopane
I’d hate to recommend such a short trip to this marvelous area of Poland. Truly, it is deserving of many days, and even one night is not enough. We had almost two full days there and certainly wanted much more. But…if a day trip is all you have time for, I certainly won’t try to dissuade you from it. Here are some of the top rated day trips from Krakow to Zakopane.
Things to do in Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains
Kasprowy Wierch Furnicular
A must do activity and one of the most popular things to do in Zakopane is take the cable car to the top of Mt Kasprowy Wierch at 1987 meters (6500 feet) for an introduction to the Tatra Mountains. At the top, you have astounding views, hiking, beginner and advanced skiing in the winter, and can even cross the border into Slovakia – or put one foot in each country like we did. The original cable car dates back to 1936, and has since been updated.
Be prepared, it can be very cold up there. I showed up in my dress with tights and a sweater, and my guide convinced me, despite the current sunshine and blue sky, conditions up there called for warm gear. I’m so glad I listened to her.
It can also be quite foggy, so views can be unpredictable. You can check conditions via a WEBCAM ahead of time. Tickets can be bought at the ticket office at the base of the lift, however the lines were incredibly long. I highly recommend buying ONLINE ahead or from the ticket machine at the base. If you don’t have your tickets ahead, try to get there just before opening to avoid long queues.
To get to the cable car, you can take a taxi for a few dollars, take the public bus, or, if you’re ambitious, you can alternately walk from town about 1 hour. And if you’re really ambitious, you can hike all the way to the top of Mt. Kasprowy Wierch instead of taking the cable car, as we saw many people doing.
Funicular to Gubalowka Hill
Although at 1123 meters (3700 feet) it is not as high as Mt. Kasprowy Wierch, the lift for Gubalowka Hill departs from the center of town which makes it quite convenient. Tickets can be bought at the ticket office, ahead online (recommended), or from ticket machines on-site. You can buy a combined ticket that includes a second lift from Gubalowka Hill to Butorowy Wierch or, if you want, you can walk.
Hike in the Tatra National Park
Hiking is not for everyone, but if you’re physically able and interested in nature, you should consider one or more hikes in the Tatra Mountains. Hikes range from easy to extremely advanced. Hiking must be on the trails, no camping, and no dogs (with a few exceptions). There are 8 SHELTERS throughout the park that you can book for very reasonable prices and they are STUNNING.
Picking a hike would be a hard decision for me. Luckily our guide chose our day hike for us, Rusinowa Polana, and it was quite beautiful. It was not difficult, there was a little mountain hut to purchase the salty smoked cheese typical from this region, and a stunning meadow to marvel at the mountains from. We also visited a beautiful church with typical architecture of the region along the hike. Because the hike was beautiful and fairly easy, it was also quite popular.
There are countless other stunning hikes with alpine lakes and meadows. Consider Strążyska Valley, which is also popular and easy, the meadows are lovely and the hike features a teahouse. Definitely a highlight for many people. Other favorites (which also make them crowded) are Koscielisko Valley, Dolina Chochołowska (famous for the meadow of crocuses that emerge in the spring), Dolina Pięciu Stawów (The Valley of Five Lakes), and Dolina Gasienicowa with a youth hostel and restaurant.
For more challenging hikes, consider Swinica Peak and Rysy Peak, the highest peak in the Polish Tatras.
If you are interested in the help of a guide, I can whole heartedly recommend Agnieszka, who is incredibly knowledgable about the area and can assist in any level of hiking capability. Check out her website, www.twojetatry.com and shoot her an email.
Morskie Oko Lake
We didn’t have time to visit this famed lake, and after hearing how popular and crowded it can get, I wasn’t too sad about it. But if I’d had more time, I would’ve loved to see it in any season.
The Tatra’s largest lake, Morskie Oko involves a 2.5 hour walk on a paved, ascending road from the car park area. You can opt to take a horse carriage for the majority of it, but please don’t. There have been observations that the horses are mistreated and overworked. To get to the car park area from Zakopane, there are frequent buses running back and forth all day, or you can take a taxi the approximately 30 minute drive.
Depending on your fitness level, the walk to Morskie Oko could be considered fairly easy or surprisingly difficult. The majority of the 8 km walk is considered rather boring by most visitors until the end when views begin to improve.
There is a small fee to visit the lake, so bring some cash. There are bathrooms available as well as food at the lodge at the lake. You can even opt to rent a room at the Morskie Oko Hut and stay overnight but bookings need to be made very far in advance as it’s very popular. You must contact them directly for bookings.
If you still have the energy, you can continue on around the lake and ascend even higher on a more difficult trail for another 1-2 hours for views of the lake from above and Czarny Staw, another lake considered even more beautiful by many than Morskie Oko.
Wander Zakopane and Krupówki Street
This the main pedestrian street in the center of town where you’ll find tons of restaurants, shops, and little stalls selling the regional cheese, oscypek. It is bustling in any season and not only lined with local shops and restaurants, but the occasional chain store like H&M as well. This street is adorable any time of year.
Church of Our Lady of Czestochowa
The first church in Zakopane, and referred to as “the old church,” this cute little wooden church is worth stopping by for a visit and a place to rest your feet. All the traditional wooden architecture around Zakopane is amazing.
Explore the Architecture of Zakopane
You don’t have to look very far to see how unique the architectural style of Zakopane and the Podhale region is. Like this stunning architectural wonder, Willa Pod Jedlami, just a few minutes walk from the center of town. The private house has been in the family since it was built in the 1890’s. You can visit from the outside and see the beautiful yard and woodwork.
Visit Zakopane in the Winter & Ski the Tatra Mountains
During winter, the activities around Zakopane include sleigh rides in the Tatra Mountain valleys, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and of course, skiing at any of the handful of ski resorts in the area. Kasprowy Wierch is the most advanced of them.
Where to Stay in Zakopane
You have to make the decision if you want to be right in the heart of town where the action is, slightly outside the main part of town where it’s quieter but you have a little ways to walk, or at one of the thermal spas outside town. If you have enough time, you could do all three!
Where to Stay in Zakopane Town
Aries Hotel and Spa – This hotel has the wow factor. Truly luxurious and beautiful hotel 5 minutes walk from the hustle and bustle of Krupowki street in Zakopane. This stunning hotel features an indoor pool, spa, and would be an amazing place to come back to after a day of skiing.
Grand Hotel Stamary – Right in the heart of Zakopane, stunning hotel with excellent reviews.
Hotel Logos – Also a stunning luxurious hotel near downtown, and you get a lot for what you pay for.
Villa Nova – Just steps from the main street of Zakopane, this modern property has style and decor to die for.
Villa 11 Folk and Design – Gorgeous mountain style with modern flair. Approximately 15 minutes walk from the middle of town.
Domek Koliba pod Jedlami – Admittedly this little wooden cottage is little walk to town (about 10 minutes), but I think it would be magical, whimsical and totally worth the slightly longer walk. If quiet seclusion with your own kitchen and garden is your style, this place will certainly meet your needs.
I could go on and on with awesome places to rent in or near Zakopane, including those at the base of the ski hills. Utilize Booking.com to get pictures, the locations, and read reviews. I always narrow my searches to a location score of 9+ (excellent location according to reviews) as well as filtering the list to those with overall review scores of 9+.
Where to Stay at a Thermal Spa in Zakopane
Hotel Bukovina – If you want the 4 star, full thermal spa resort experience, this is THE place to stay. Set in the beautiful Tatra Mountains close to the village of Bukwina Tatrzańska, this resort is a 25 minute drive to Zakopane. It is perfect for families with the variety of pools, waterslides, and restaurants. It is also nice for couples as there is a luxurious spa with steam bath and sauna and a variety of treatments.
Tatra Glamp – With the same mountain views but a more unique, adventurous atmosphere, consider glamping. You can always visit Hotel Bukovina for the day to swim or go to the spa and splurge.
There are certainly other thermal spa hotels in the area, or you can visit the Aqua Park, a large indoor waterpark in Zakopane with the family.
Where to Eat
There is no shortage of delicious restaurants in the town of Zakopane. But if the best views in the area are what you want, go to Szymkowka. I am not a connoisseur of Polish food, but I am a connoisseur of views, and this one is truly a splendid one. If you are staying in or near the village of Bukowina Tatrzanska, such as the thermal Hotel Bukovina, this restaurant is quite close.
I hope you make time to visit Zakopane during your Poland itinerary; you won’t be disappointed. Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains are a magical area of culture and astounding landscapes that contrast nicely with the historical cities of Poland. If you make the effort to travel from Krakow to Zakopane, you’ll find there are plenty of things to do in Zakopane to entice any traveler.
**This post was written in partnership with the Polish National Tourist Office.
Read all about Visiting Krakow and a Krakow Itinerary
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