Zakopane – winter capital of Poland
Zakopane, called the winter capital of Poland, is a lovely town situated at the foothills of the majestic Tatra mountains. But Zakopane is a place to visit in every season, not only in the winter. It offers incredible views and unforgettable experiences all year round.
I am pretty sentimental about the place as I used to visit Zakopane every year as a kid when my parents shipped me there for the summer and winter holidays, and to be honest, I really miss the mountains while living in Denmark.
Zakopane is a famous skiing resort during the winter when the whole of Poland grabs the skis and heads towards the mountains. Even though slopes are not comparable to resorts in France, Switzerland, or Austria, I am still sentimental thinking about it. It is a place where I learned how to ski and snowboard, and it is the perfect place for beginners to learn as the slops are short and not steep. And when I think about drinking hot chocolate with cream on top after hours of skiing, I immediately start drooling. The only downside is that it tends to be quite crowded.
Tatra mountains offer a myriad of hiking routes, from beginners friendly in the valleys to challenging ones in the High Tatra region. A couple of locations are trendy among tourists because of their accessibility and phenomenal views and are a must-see, even when it means waking up at the sunrise to escape the crowds. And once you have explored the famous ones, try some off-the-beaten-track hikes in Western Tatras or on the Slovakian side, where you will be alone with astounding nature for most of the time.
Morskie Oko (Eye of the Sea)
Eye of the Sea is the largest and fourth deepest lake in the Tatra Mountains, and the route to it is considered one of the best hikes in Zakopane. The Eye of the Sea is a starting point for many different hiking routes, including Rysy, the highest mountain in Poland, and many others. There is a shelter next to it, where you can buy some snacks and chill, enjoying the views. It also offers overnight stays, perfect for those that want to hit the mountains early in the morning and continue hiking.
The Eye of the Sea hike is so famous, of course, for magnificent views, but also because there is an 8km asphalt road leading to it, making it perfect for a walk with a stroller or smaller kids. Additionally, those too lazy to walk the whole way can grab a horse cart that will drive them almost right to the lake.
Gubałówka is a hill overlooking Zakopane from which you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the Tatra Mountains and Zakopane lying below. It is easy to access as you can get to the top by cable car, chairlift, hiking trail, or car.
Kasprowy Wierch (1987 m) is a peak in the Western Tatras. From there, you can see the panoramic view of the Tatra mountains and all neighboring peaks. The views are breathtaking enough, but you can reach many other astounding vistas if you decide to hike along the tops. You can either hike up to Kasprowy Wierch or take a cable car (though remember to book ahead, the queues are insane).
Dolina Chochołowska (Chochołowska Valley)
The Chochołowska Valley is the largest and longest valley in the Polish Tatras. It is located the furthest west within the Tatra National Park. The 10 km long trail leading through the valley will take you to the largest shelter in Polish Tatras and a gateway to many breathtaking trails in Western Tatras. The valley became extremely popular due to violet Crocuses spread throughout the meadows in the early spring.
The Chochołowska Valley used to be the largest shepherd’s center in the Tatra Mountains. Nowadays, Highlanders run cultural sheep grazing there, and in numerous huts, you can try shepherd’s products (oscypki – sheep cheese). The Chochołowska Valley is one of the few valleys in the Tatras where you can cycle or walk with a dog.
Dolina Kościeliska (Kościeliska Valley)
The Kościeliska Valley is located in the Western Tatras. It is a 9 km long trail leading through the second-largest valley on the Polish side of the Tatra Mountains. You can extend the hike along the route by going to one of five caves, Kraków Gorge, or a beautiful Smreczyński pond. Several trails start at the foot of the mountain leading to higher parts of the Tatra Mountains if you would like to do a little more hiking. At the end of the valley, you can find a shelter and buy some snacks.
It is a valley, so it’s relatively flat, making it a perfect hike for families with small kids. There are also small horse carriages taking tourists almost all the way to the shelter.
<coming soon> Click here to read more about the hike in the Kościeliska Valley.
If you are tired from skiing or hiking, you can chill in several thermal baths. My family, who lives there, said that they recommend Chochołowska Baths, as it is the biggest of all complexes in the area and is good value for money. But you can also check out Bukovina Baths or Bania Baths.
Krupowki Street, located in the heart of Zakopane, is one of the best-known streets in Poland. Along 1 kilometer long street, you can find many shops, restaurants, and souvenir stands. It is a tourist heaven, but it is also one of the most crowded places in Zakopane. Depending on who you ask, they will either say they loved it or hated it.
While walking through the streets of Zakopane, you will notice a lot of companies offering day trips to raft through Dunajec Gorge, which is the most famous tourist attraction of the Pieniny Mountains. The 18km long rafting route leads through the most picturesque areas of the Pieniny National Park.
You can visit the Dunajec Gorge on foot, by bike, rafting with raftsmen, kayaking, sub-boarding, rafting on a dinghy(rubber boat), or on cross-country skis in winter. Most of the tourists staying in Zakopane choose an organized tour with a guide on traditional wooden rafts. As Dunajec Gorge is located around 50km away from Zakopane, it is just easier for tourists this way.
If you want to know more about the mountain kayaking and dinghy rafting I did on the river, check out this post.
How to get to Zakopane
The easiest way to get there is with a car, as it is in most cases. But Zakopane has a pretty nice and fast connection by bus and train from Kraków. My friends went for a weekend trip to Kraków and as part of the weekend getaway they took the train to Zakopane and they loved it!