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Zakopane Travel Guide for Hikers and Tourists

Hints Dec. 20, 2019, 10:14 p.m. 2019 Hints
where to stay in zakopane
By Bartosz Dąbrowski

Zakopane city is one of the most popular touristic destinations in Poland. Mainly because of marvel Tatra Mountains and excellent hiking trails. Tatras are the most breathtaking mountains in this part of the continent. But Zakopane also has a couple of own attractions that we shouldn't miss.

Zakopane has city rights since 1933. If we try to translate its' name, it means literally: "buried one" or "after the hole". It is currently counting 27k habitants. The Zakopane city is the accommodation base for all tourists planning to hike the Tatras. 

In this post, we will include all the essential information you have to know about. Included how-tos for hiking and visiting the Tatra National Park.

Also, we'll list Zakopane's popular attractions beyond the mountains. This guide contains our recommendations which we are deeply excited to share :) We also share some dark secrets of Zakopane :o

Table of contents

Shopping street of Zakopane

The shopping street of Zakopane a central attraction © alexmu / Adobe Stock

Where is Zakopane?

communication in Zakopane

Roads in Tatra mountains © zbg2 / Adobe Stock

The city is located in Southern Poland right next to the border with Slovakia from South. It belongs to Malopolskie (lesser Poland) voivodeship. The closest major city near Zakopane is Cracow (Kraków) 70 miles to the north. Cracow also has the nearest international airport and offers many options for good transportation between Kraków and Zakopane.

Zakopane is the closest and most significant settlement under the beautiful Tatra mountains from the Polish side. They belong to the Carpathian range - the second-longest mountain range in Europe.  As you should know Tatra mountains are laying on the line of two countries Poland and Slovakia - you can pass the border during your hikes or drive around them if you plan to hike from North to South and come back via Taxi/bus to Poland. There is no physical border between Poland and Slovakia as they both belong to the Schengen Zone.

Zakopane has neighbouring settlements also perfect for visiting and staying. They are equally exceptional as Zakopane but smaller and quieter.

Kościelisko - is 3 miles from Zakopane and it's closer to Western Tatras rather than the High Tatras. 

Murzasichle - Village bordering with Zakopane - it is the highest located village in Poland closer to High Tatra side.

Małe Ciche - Small village counting 850 people located 5 miles from Zakopane and on the East side of the Tatras (High Tatras).

About Tatra National Park

hiking path in zakopane

Hiking path in Tatras © Grigory Bruev / Adobe Stock

The mission of Tatra National Park: We protect and help to understand the nature and culture of the Tatras, enabling to experience it by current and future generations.

The most significant advantage of the Tatras is that governors of the National Park protect animals and nature but also maintain all the paths with visible marks and signposts.

Other Pros:

  • Many paradise-like spots and viewpoints
  • Excellent hiking paths, visible and colourful route marks, signposts
  • Well preserved and the wildest nature
  • Magnificant mountains
  • World-class rescue service and online weather alerts

Camping and staying on hiking routes of National Park after down is against the rules, beds in mountain huts are limited and require a book in advance. Therefore it is almost necessary to spend the night in Zakopane city for most arrivals. But on the bright-side is the most spectacular viewpoints can is accessible within 1-day hikes (including return time).

There are two national parks in Tatras: one is Tatra National Park of Poland (TNP) and Tatra National Park of Slovakia (TANAP). Since this is an article about Poland side, we will refer to the Polish park. Check the detailed differences in our post about them

There are also some specific rules in Tatra National Park of Poland we described in details here.

Magnificent mountains over Zakopane

Zakopane in Poland at night from Tatras peak Swinica

View of Tatras from Swinica mountain near Zakopane © TTstudio / Adobe Stock

Zakopane is an attractive city, but the biggest reason for tourists coming here is the charm of the mountains. There are the highest mountains in the central-eastern part of Europe.

Length of the Tatra mountains is amazingly only 57 km.

Tatras part into three major groups: 

  • West Tatras (highest peak Bystra 2248 m)
  • High Tatras (highest peak Gerlach 2655 m)
  • Bielski Tatras (highest peak Hawrań 2152 m)

Apart from the mountains, there are beautiful valleys, sharp passes and exciting caves.

Many activities like hiking and valley walk, skiing and ski touring, spelunking, mountain biking, climbing are popular.

An interesting fact is all the streams that become rivers staring in Northside of Tatras end up in Baltic sea those from Southern side end in the black sea.

See all available hikes from near Zakopane with a detailed description and maps and more beautiful pictures.

Zakopane popularity

Tourists in Zakopane

Hikers walking from Poroniec mountain to Rusionowa Polana © Piotr Szpakowski / Adobe Stock

Each year two million tourists visit Tatra National Park of Poland which is half the visits number of very popular Yosemite Park in the USA. Worth to know that one million arrivals visit in July and August timespan. The biggest attractions are magnificent mountains, nature reserve, outstanding folklore, wooden huts and handcraft, well preserved local traditions and culture.

In the past Zakopane was known from best goat cheese production and wisest shepherds in the country. In 1899 the first rail track from Kraków to Zakopane was open. Tourism grows since then.

In the near past access to Zakopane (and Poland) was restricted for most of the nations. Communism government at that time wasn't appealing for anyone, and international tourism almost didn't exist. Luckily the communism ended for good in 1989. In 90s Poland still lacked the infrastructure, hotels and popularity to attract international tourism.

But luckily nowadays Poland being in NATO, the European Union since 2004 and getting the first-class infrastructure like good roads, fast trains, more hotels and business. Zakopane is finally ready for global tourism and remains undiscovered by the worldwide mainstream. So there is a big chance that you have never heard about Zakopane except for internet.

Hiking in Zakopane

Tatra mountains and huts

Gasienicowa valley in Autumn © grzegorz_pakula / Adobe Stock

During your stay in Zakopane, you can choose from a variety of different hikes. In first you can consider simple walks in the beautiful Valleys like Chocholowska Vally, Kościeliska Valley and slightly more challenging Gąsienicowa Valley and Valley of Five Lakes

If we desire to hike tops of the mountains most famous peaks are Rysy, Kasprowy Wierch, Giewont, Nosal, Red peaks and Kościelec.

Our target for hiking can also be a beautiful lake, pass or ridge: Morskie Oko lake, Black lake or Zawrat pass.

The views and accessibility to the mountains are unlike any other place because you can get to the most exciting places in a 1-day hike, including returns. 

We can plan our hike as a circle back to the starting point if possible, return the same way or also hike from the North to the South (Slovakia side) and return to Poland by Taxi or bus.

But you have to get from a hotel into one of Park entries (listed in the section below). It won't be possible to hike right from your hotel to the interesting spots in a reasonable time (with few exceptions).

Before you head into the mountains, you have to have a hiking map. For all the trips we made to the Tatra mountains we always had the map, and it was a big help every single time. It is also good to make your hiking plans. Little preparations based on what weather is expected at the visit time is also good idea.

Tatra Hiking Map and Weather guide

Hiking routes in Zakopane

hiking in Zakopane

Hiking in Gasienicowa Valley - © tramper79 / Adobe Stock

We already wrote excellent articles on hiking routes across Tatra and High Tatra mountains. The guide includes several hiking ideas with detailed descriptions, photos and maps. Best of them are.

The list of best hikes near Zakopane with maps and plan

Step by step guide on hiking the highest mountain in Poland - Rysy

Practical information on hiking in Poland

The list of one-day hikes in Tatra mountains

All of the trails described in separate articles linked above include information about difficulty level and length of the walk.

Remember many routes maybe not available during different periods of the year due to avalanche risks or requirement of special equipment and skills. Read more about weather and how could we prepare for it in the mountains.

Where to start your hike near Zakopane?

Map of Zakopane National Park entries

There are a couple of places where we could start our hike. Given that most of our hikes will be one-day trips, we should start from the National Park entries to save time. To get there, we should use own or rented car, bus or taxi.

Popular entries, including parking space, are:

Chochołowska Valley Parking also is known as Witów Siwa Polana

Entrance located far in the West Tatra of Poland. It is the best starting point for easy hiking to the Chocholoska Polana and mountain shelter. This entry should be usually less popular and less crowded. 

Kiry starting point also is known as Kościeliska Valley Parking/Entry 

West Tatras, one of the main entries on this side of the mountains. Great for waling in the Kościeliska valley. Kiry is a small settlement right next to the Zakopane.

Dolina Strążyska

It is located under the Zakopane and it is a preferred entry for hiking to the Giewont mountain.

Kuźnice - have the cable car to Kasprowy Wierch

Kuźnice is little settlement surrounded by National Park forests. Having quite a lot of parking space and bus stations. The closest location to hike the Kasprowy Wierch or Giewont mountains.

Toporowa Cyrhla

In Toporowa Cyrhla we can hike via beautiful forests into astonishing Hala Gąsienicowa and mountain shelter Murowaniec

Palenica Białczańska - most famous and main entry to the High Tatras

Most popular entrance to the High Tatras giving the best starting point for Morskie Oko and Rysy. It has the biggest parking with 450 parking places. Also, Łysa Polana and Wierch Poroniec parking are backup parking in case Palenica is full.

Mountain Huts in Tatra National Park

Mountain shelter in the Five Lakes Valley

Shelter hut in Five Lakes Valley © Agnieszka Rodowicz / Adobe Stock

Hiking in the mountains is enjoyable because we can have cold drinks and hot food in the middle of the terrain of National Park.

It is a big advantage to refill or have hot regenerative lunch during the hike. We can also sleep in the hut if we booked the bed in long adance or if we are lucky that some bed is available ad hoc.

Please read more about huts in the Tatra National Park in our separate article dedicated to them.

Shepherds and local sociaty in Zakopane 

Shepherds in Zakopane

Shepherds in Zakopane © Adam Olszowski / Adobe Stock

They are the wisest men in these parts able to predict weather and always eager to share truths about life.

They say that native citizens of Zakopane have rooted the desire to live as shepherds driven by generations of tradition. Many valleys in Tatra National Park are available for shepherds to sustain local traditions and culture to produce best and cleanest cheese called Oscypek.

It is a very difficult work in difficult conditions that Tatra are known for and it requires a lot of strength. Shepards are rewarded with excellent cheese and charming mountains to admire.

Shepherding tradition is very old. Farming wasn't possible due to bad grounds and lack of proper space to be sufficient. They have very characteristic colourful outfits and play or sing during the travel with folks.

Zakopane local outfits

Traditional outfit of Zakopane citzens © Tomasz Zajda / Adobe Stock

One interesting thing is that the culture of this place is very present and vivid. Many locals wear their colourful outfits every day for their own pride or rich traditions and to promote their unique cultural identity.

Most popular places in Tatra for Zakopane tourists

Below we list of located in mountains essential and famous places to add to the journey checklist.

Kasprowy Wierch

Cable Car Kasprowy

The Cable car of Kasprowy Wierch mountain © kosmos111 / Adobe Stock

Kasprowy Wierch (6519ft / 1987m) it is the most visited mountain of Polish Tatra National Park because it is accessible via cable car. The lift can take people from Kuźnice. It is a thrilling experience and views are staggering. If for some reason you can't hike high mountains you should use the cable car to get to the top of Kasprowy.

Read more about Kasprowy in this article

Hiking to Morskie Oko

morskie oko lake

Morskie Oko lake one of the most beautiful places in Tatra © shaiith / Adobe Stock

Morskie Oko lake is the most famous places in the entire Tatras. Many travellers consider it also one of the most unique places in Poland. This beautiful postglacial lake is surrounded by the High Tatras - the landscape is amazing!

Read full hiking guide to Morskie Oko

Hiking to Rysy - the highest mountain in Poland

Peak of the Rysy mountain

Rysy peak © kabat / Adobe Stock

The Rysy mountain is the highest peak and one of more popular in Poland. The route is considered difficult and steep - it is still doable for inexperienced people in the summertime but they barely make it. We really recommend getting prepared before such an effort.

The route to the Rysy from Zakopane goes via Morskie Oko one of the most beautiful landmarks of the High Tatras. If you feel less fit into hiking very steep slope of Rysy you can just stay at Morskie Oko and enjoy surrounding mountains and nature.

Read full hiking guide to Rysy

Five Lakes Valley - Moon-like scenery in a 1-day long hike

joanna and her sister in valley of five ponds

On the picture Joanna with her sister in the view of Five Lakes Valley near Zawrat

I love Joanna's (co-founder) description of this place: "It's like a moon surface but on earth". So you don't have to wait for Elon Musk space travel agency you can do a 1-day hike from Zakopane in the High Tatras to the Valley of five Ponds.

Read full hiking guide to Five Lakes Valley

Zakopane non-hiking attractions - what to do in the city?

cloudy day in tatra mountains

Bad weather in Tatras © Kazick / Adobe Stock

Some people say your vacations can be as good or random as the weather you will get. In Tatras weather is of one the most unpredictable kind. If you are interested, you should check our article about weather in the Tatra mountains.

It is essential to prepare for awful weather days when you are our kind or if you love to discover all the exciting places in the city resort of Zakopane.

Krupówki street

Krupowki street in Zakopane

Krupowki street in Zakopane © Andrey Shevchenko / Adobe Stock

Busiest and prettiest vibrant street in Zakopane. It is the best place for buying souvenirs or for shopping in general. Also, many historic and touristic places are located on the Krupówki.

  • Church st. Rodziny build from Tatra rocks (in 1876)
  • Tatra Museum functioning since 1888
  • Morskie Oko Disco Club
  • Art Gallery of Zamoysky

Google Maps Link to Krupówki

The Tatra Museum in Zakopane

The museum opened in 1888 and function up to date. It consists of a collection of cultural art, nature and mountains as well their history.

The museum is in the building on Krupówki street liked below:

Google Maps Redirect link.

Pros
Cons

Morskie Oko - Disco Club

Zakopane Morskie Oko building on Krupówki

Zakopane Morskie Oko building on Krupówki © Alex White / Adobe Stock

The disco club is located in the beautiful building which was in the past serving as a prosperous hotel.

Google Maps Link to Morskie Oko Disco club

Zakopane water parks

waterpark.png

If you would like to take a break from hiking and try other things to do in the Tatra mountains, you might be interested in the below options:

CHOCHOLOW THERMAL BATHS

The biggest waterpark in southern Poland. Opened in 2016, it offers numerous indoor and outdoor pools with hot thermal water (there are about 30 of them!), many different kinds of saunas, slides, kids zone, SPA facilities, sports centre, restaurants and pool bar.

We especially liked the spacious infrared sauna with big windows from which we admired the panoramic view on Tatra mountains.

If you would like to visit this modern water park and not wasting time in lines, you can get a full access ticket in advance here.

BIAŁKA TATRZANSKA THERMAL BATHS

It's a smaller waterpark than Chocholow Thermal Baths but also a fun place to visit. It offers a few thermal water pools with a beautiful mountain view and several saunas, outdoor. Bialka Tatrzanska Thermal Baths are divided into the quiet and loud zone. The latter one offers water attractions: waterslides, kids fun zone, outdoor pools, waterfalls, etc.

You can get a skip-the-line ticket along with hotel pick-up here.

Alpinarium

Crocus flower in Polish mountains

Alpinarium is a mountain botanical garden. Outstanding place with about 600 types of mountain plants. There are also endangered species and plants which grow nowhere else. It’s a very nice place to let our hair down after hustle and bustle of Krupówki street.

Link to the location in Google maps

Zakopane City Park

Zakopane city park

The playground in the park is excellent for children. Also on the terrain of the park, there is beautifully traditional and wooden Willa Jutrzenka.

Link to the location in Google maps.

Gubałówka

View from Gubalowka mountain zakopane

View from Gubalowka mountain © Marta / Adobe Stock

Gubałówka (3674ft / 1120m) is populated mountain that lays in the north of Zakopane. We can get there on foot from Krupówki street in Zakopane, take an electric tram also from Krupówki or drive there by car. From the top, the view is nice; it includes a panorama of Tatra mountains and entier Zakopane.

There is a few souvenirs shops and bars. We recommend hiking there if you can or take an electric tram otherwise. It is perfect for getting there if we plan to spend the entire day in the city because of a convenient connection from Krupówki Street.

Chochołów open-air museum

zakopane-wood-huts.jpg

Wooden huts © bnorbert3 / Adobe Stock

Chochołów is a living and functioning village that is also an open-air museum of settlements and folklore. It is located 12 miles from Zakopane but the definite spot we shouldn't miss. The huts were built in the XIX century in local style and are well preserved and used up to date.

Link Chochołów in Google Maps

Parrot house in Zakopane

parrot in parrot house zakopane

© Alinsa / Adobe Stock

Zakopane has its own "parrotarium" (papugarium polish.). It seems to be a great choice for families and it is a unique occasion to make a selfy with a parrot on your head.

Address: Droga do Olczy 11, Zakopane

Open hours: Everyday 10:00 am. to 7:00 pm.


Pros
Cons

Local building style

mountain hut in polish mountains

Modern wooden huts © shaiith / Adobe Stock

Another very significant characteristics are beautiful wooden huts with pointy roofs. Probably you will see many of them in random places around Zakopane because in Poland there is no strick area development plan. Many of them are older and some you will find luxuary and brand new all worth to see.

Accommodation in Zakopane

Houses of Zakopane © Milan / Adobe Stock

Zakopane dark secrets

Winter smog

smog in zakopane

Winter smog in Zakopane © Irina84 / Adobe Stock

Zakopane citizens use coal and wood for central heating in many buildings. Location of Zakopane makes it difficult to naturally ventilate the city, which results in high air pollution during the cold months.

The level of dust in the wintertime is record-high can reach PM10 over 400 µg multiple times - where 200 µg is considered very high.

The problem doesn't exist in the other periods of the year. If we happen to be there in winter, we need to keep checking the air quality with one of online air monitor this is possible (Zakopane has multiple measuring devices installed).

Halny wind (Foehn wind)

The halny in Tatra mountains - fen wind

Halny wind in Tatra mountains - © burasek79 / Adobe Stock

It is usually very strong wind blowing into the valleys dry and warm air. It can be very sudden and cause a lot of infrastructure damage.

"Halny" is also influencing the people mood. Because of atmospheric pressure changes rapidly health problem may experience people with cardio-vascular and heart issues.

This strong wind also influences the minds, people become nervous and grumpy. Suicide rate rises! Also, it's reported that animals act strangely during that time.

Most often occurs in autumn and early spring.

With this link you can query website of TVN Meteo - polish weather TV and portal for "halny" - you will need to turn on auto-translate as their website is in polish language.

Traffic jams

zakpane traffic

© Henryk Sadura / Adobe Stock

Majority of tourists in Zakopane are citizens living in nearby regions. This may result in 1 - 2 hours delays when travelling out or to Kraków direction.

Be sure to check Traffic intensity on Google Maps in Zakopane before hitting the road.


Ufff, that took me quite a lot of time

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