Zakopane is a charming town located in the southern part of Poland, nestled at the foot of the Tatra Mountains. It’s a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, and those interested in traditional Polish culture. Visiting Krakow while staying in Zakopane can be a great idea if you’re interested in exploring different facets of Poland.
Even though it’s not our first time in High Tatras, staying in Zakopane was new for us. The town didn’t disappoint! Here are the 10 best things to do Zakopane according to our experience there.
Where to stay
During our stay in Zakopane, we chose a homestay called Willa u Bachledów – undoubtedly the friendliest host I ever met, great studio apartment with a balcony and mountain view, easy access to secure private parking, and close to the local food store with fresh bakery every morning and bus stop to get into town. Totally recommend!
Kasprowy Wierch cable car
You can reach Kasprowy Wierch (1987m) by foot if you have the strength for an over 3-hour hike. The hike starts in Kuznice, at the lower station of the cable car. The total elevation is around 1000m, so this is by no means an easy hike. If you are not into mountain walks so much, there is an easy solution – a fantastic, modern cable car that will take you all the way up in a matter of minutes.
The route is actually divided between two cable car lines, you would have to change cars in the middle. The views along the way are simply breathtaking with lots of nice photo opportunities. Make sure to take a good place when you board. As a nice touch, all the way up there was a recording playing, telling us about the area and what we were seeing along the way.
Tickets and opening hours
Despite the horror stories I read about huge lines, we were able to board the cable car in less than an hour. In fact, buying online would have meant getting up 2 hours later than when we actually did. Maybe it’s because of COVID and social distancing, people were standing much further away from each other than usual. At the bottom of the stairs leading to the ticket office there was a sign saying “3 hours wait from here”, but, in reality, it was hardly an hour.
In summer, the cable car is open daily from 8 AM to 6:30 PM (last ride up at 04:30 PM). The return ticket price is 89PLN (23 USD). Beware that getting to Kasprowy Wierch cable car station requires a long, strenuous walk uphill (around 2km), so I recommend taking a bus or taxi. You can’t get there with your own car, because the last stretch of this road is private.
Kasprowy Wierch – what’s it like up there?
Once you get all the way up, you can expect it to be much colder and windier. With a return ticket, you are allowed to stay for 2 hours before taking a ride back. The upper station has a café, restrooms, and gift shop. The view is spectacular and, weather permitting, you can take some beautiful photos. However, the weather can change pretty quickly. In a matter of minutes, everything was covered with fog and we could hardly find the way back to the station.
We noticed a very cool hiking path along the ridge of the mountain. If you enjoy such hikes, this may be a great way to spend a few hours.
Whenever you look up towards the mountains while in Zakopane, you cannot miss a beautiful mountain peak with a 15m steel cross on it. This is Giewont (1985m), one of the most iconic mountain peaks in the area. The easiest hike to Giewont starts from Kuznice. Another option is hiking from Strążyska Street parking (private parking costs 20PLN / 5USD) per day. The entrance to the National Park costs around 5PLN per person.
The trail is quite busy in summer with lots of hikers and families taking this trip. You walk through the forests and along the river. Sadly, we couldn’t reach the summit on that day due to some health issues. However, it seems like a nice way to spend one unforgettable day in the Tatra mountains.
We discovered Gubalowka almost by accident. Long story short, after an unsuccessful attempt to climb Giewont, we decided to take it easy and ride one of the numerous chairlifts in Zakopane. One of the closest to us was Butorowy Wierch. Some great advantages of this chairlift – free parking and literally no people using it, even in summer!
The chairlift is quite small, allowing only two people at once. The ride is quite long, around 15 minutes. Once you are all the way up, there isn’t much to do, so we took the road along the mountain ridge, enjoying the views. At some point, we reached a parking lot and then the shops and souvenir stalls started to appear along the way. Without even noticing, we found ourselves in the middle of the famous Gubalowka area!
Usually, people go to Gubalowka from the center of Zakopane via a funicular train or a larger chairlift to Polana Szymoszkowa. As we were planning a little picnic on top of the mountain, the upper station seemed like the best option with lots of free space and a stunning view of the High Tatras and the whole Zakopane panorama.
Krupowki Street and wooden architecture
Krupowki Street lies in the heart of Zakopane. The place is crowded at almost all times. You will find lots of restaurants, souvenir shops, pubs and nightclubs here. When you think about it, it’s no different from any other pedestrian walking street in any other European city. However, there is a special vibe in Zakopane – the log buildings are unique and create a special atmosphere. Zakopane has its own architectural style. You can spend hours walking around town and admiring the houses, wooden frames, and decorations, small details carved in wood.
A day trip to Morskie Oko from Zakopane is a must if you are after beautiful scenery. The best part is – you don’t need to hike a lot to reach Morskie Oko from the parking lot. Here is a piece of advice though – in order to make sure you find a parking slot, be there as early as possible. The parking is not too big and gets filled quickly. We passed the Morskie Oko parking lot around 11 AM and it was already full, cars were turned around, and had to look for parking slots way far from the trailhead.
The reason why Morskie Oko is so popular among visitors is perhaps that it is the largest and fourth deepest lake in the Tatra Mountains. What makes this lake so special is the scenery of 1000m peaks rising above the lake and leaving a reflection in its waters. Some hiking trails are leading all the way up, but it is totally fine to enjoy the lake without much effort. In fact, you can even hire a horse carriage, as the road leading to the lake is paved.
Wieliczka salt mine
Tatra mountains are known for their unpredictable weather, so if you wake up with rain and thunderstorms outside, you have other options. Visiting Wieliczka salt mine on a rainy day is a perfect escape from bad weather. Discover saline lakes and beautiful underground chambers in one of the world’s oldest operating salt mines.
Drive time from Zakopane is around 2 hours. The salt mine can only be visited by a tour guide. There are many tours available throughout the day, English tours are every hour. Other languages offered: German, French, Spanish, Russian, and Italian. The tour price is 25 USD and best to pre-book in advance on the official website.
Day trip to Krakow
A day trip to Krakow is another great option for a rainy day in the mountains. Although Krakow deserves a trip of its own, you can still experience some of its beauty on a short day visit. Some of the most memorable things to see and do, include:
Krakow central square. Dating back to the 13th century, Crakow central square is the largest medieval town square in Europe.
Kazmierz The Former Jewish District. What used to be an independent city until the 19th century became a hunting ground for Nazis when local Jews were forced to live in crowded ghettos. A lot has changed since then and today this district has been reborn with Jewish-themed restaurants, bars, and bookstores. In fact, the famous Schindler’s list movie was shot here back in 1993.
St Mary’s Basilica. 14th-century brick Gothic church located on the main square, known for its wooden altarpiece carved by Veit Stoss.
Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory. Known by most people from the Steven Spielberg movie “Schindler’s List”, this museum is a vivid reminder to the dark past Poland was facing during WWII.
Day trip to Slovakia
Slovakia is a popular day trip destination for Zakopane visitors. There are many good reasons for that, such as delicious food, cheap prices, and great mountain attractions. One of the closest villages worth visiting is Tatranská Lomnica. One of the best things to do here is take a cable car to Lomnicky Peak – the second-highest peak of the High Tatras.
Moreover, you might enjoy visiting Belianska Cave – a stalactite cave with lakes, waterfalls & seasonal music shows (only guided tours available).
When it comes to hot springs, one of my favorites is a little-known place in Vrbov with really hot water (around 60 degrees C). This thermal spa is a little hard to find, but you will not regret visiting it. It’s not a typical water park full of slides and screaming children, but rather a place for “old people” with very healthy and healing waters.
If you are interested in reading more about different Slovakia attractions, have a look at these blog posts I wrote in previous years.
A dream of every hiker or skier – at the end of the day, just to lay in hot thermal water and relax. Luckily, there is no shortage of amazing water parks in and around Zakopane. We managed to visit Zakopane Aquapark during our visit. The view from the outdoor thermal pool is fantastic, especially if the skies are clear and you can see the sunset over the Tatra mountains. The water temperature is just right to keep you warm.
This aqua park is quite popular with locals and kids, as it has some slides and other fun activities. We visited the sauna area with various saunas from cold, salty ones to steam and hot Finnish sauna. The tickets are not cheap, but if you’d like to save and don’t plan to spend too much time, consider coming here after 8 PM. The ticket price is 20PLN (5USD) and you can stay for 1,5h. Parking costs 1 PLN per hour.
Other thermal Spas around Zakopane
If Zakopane Aqua Park looks too small and old, consider visiting Chochołowskie Termy (30min by car), Termy Bukovina (20 min), Terma Bania (35min), or Termy Gorący Potok (20min). All of them are great for relaxing after a long day of exploring the Zakopane area.
Polish food is rather fatty at times and the portions are very generous. Keep that in mind when ordering, as we ended up leaving a lot of food behind due to being unable to eat it all. When it comes to traditional tastes, there are undoubtedly lots of pork variations, lamb and calf, and some chicken and fish can also be found. One of the traditional dishes is called pierogi – huge fried dumplings with various fillings (meat, cheese, etc). These are really delicious but also quite heavy for the stomach.
Pierogi with meat served with sour cream
While walking on Krupowki street, I ordered pork ribs, which I couldn’t finish due to a very generous size
Chicken fillet under cheese cover
Grilled goat cheese
Grilled baby salmon
Mushroom noodle soup served in a white bread
Traditional apple pie (warm) served with ice cream and whipped cream
Have you ever been to Zakopane?
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