The Culture of Polish Highlands: Why People Come Back to Zakopane

e tSkiing, snowboarding, hiking, walking…the Tatra mountains offer plenty of opportunities for sports junkies to feel right at home! For those who enjoy calmer activities the picturesque resort town of Zakopane is the perfect place to unwind and tour the historical old town which is full of wooden villas and elements of highland culture.  Find out more about Zakopane’s  unique cultural heritage and why it is the winter capital of Poland! You won’t want to miss this fantastic town on your visit to Poland as it is within a stone’s throw from Krakow!

Zakopane, a town which lays at the foot of the Tatra Mountains is a tourist destination frequently visited by Poles who appreciate adventures in nature. It is perfect to relax in between winter sports, hiking trips and mountain climbing.  As the  highest located city in Poland it offers fantastic views and the perfect departure point for adventures. Apart from its breathtaking surroundings it is also known for it’s unique architecture and culture of the Tatra highlanders who are famous for their vibrantly decorated clothing, unique dialect, folk dancing as well as traditional cuisine.    

Góralski zespół instrumentalny

Highland culture

The inhabitants of the Tatra mountains, called Gorals, have a distinct culture that can be discovered in the town of Zakopane. Sheep grazing was an important element of survival, woolen slippers and vests can be bought throughout the town and a smoked cheese called oscypek made from sheep milk can be sampled at every corner. It is served warm or cold, with or without cranberry jam. Other dishes that are also popular throughout Poland but that originated from the Gorals is kwasnica and golonka. Golonka is a specially prepared pork knuckle, while kwasnica is simply sauerkraut. However, the traditional way it is prepared is by being stomped on with bare feet in a barrel.

Gorals are also famous for their energetic folk dancing and singing as well as their vibrant and intricately embroidered clothing that can be best admired at traditional weddings. The highlanders folklore is cultivated to this day and passed on from one generation to the next.  The dances are usually very dynamic with male dancers taking on an energetic role that exemplifies power in contrast to the women who play a quieter slightly more decorative role in the choreography.

An amazing festival takes place every summer that brings together folk groups from around the world, the Festival of Highland Folkore is the largest event of its kind in Europe and should be checked out by those interested in all types of folklore especially that of the Gorals.


Krupówki street, one of the top five famous Polish streets, is the main pedestrian zonne of  Zakopane. Full of shops, restaurants and banks. Long street can get very crowded in the high season especially in bad weather. Street performers, portrait artists, horse drawn carriages combined with elements of highland culture and local cuisine make Zakopane a mesmerizing and unforgettable town.


One of the most charming aspects of Zakopane is its architecture. When strolling through the streets you are sure to notice the unique building style that Zakopane is so well known for. Wooden villas built at the turn of the 20th century are icons of Zakopane-style architecture. The inspiration for these buildings came from highlander art and their traditional huts. Stanisław Witkiewicz successfully created the foundations of modern national architecture based on Podhale region and its culture. Some buildings worth visiting are the Chapel in Jaszczurowka whose altar resembles a highlander hut. The Old Church of Our Lady of Częstochowa and surrounding cemetery is one of the most exceptional sites of Zakopane where wooden crosses and tiny huts can be see atop the graves of some of the most distinguished inhabitants of Zakopane.

Kościeliska Street is full of beautiful wooden villas. The first house that was designed in this style is Koliba villa which is also home to the  Museum of the Zakopane Style, a branch of the Tatra Museum.  It is the only museum in Poland where guests can learn more about this building technique and see the intricately decorated wood interior. Another building that you can visit on this street is U Wnuka which was the first inn and remains a central part of cultural life.

You can learn more about Zakopane style architecture here.

Zakopane style was later adapted to the needs of the hospitality sector and still serves this purpose today for building wooden guesthouses. If you you are looking for accommodation in  Zakopane make sure to book a room in a wooden chalet.  The warmth of the wooden interior is a lovely place to return to after a thrilling day in the mountains.



Read on to find out about the best hiking routes!

The mighty Tatra Mountains tower  over the cute town of Zakopane, this offers the ideal opportunity for hiking endeavours on the many  trails that cross through the Tatra National Park.

The summits of Kasprowy Wierch and Gubałówka can be reached by  cable car and funicular, respectively, from the heart of Zakopane . They are the perfect destinations for winter sports and breathtaking views.

Although it not within walking distance from Zakopane the most popular destination in the mountains is to the largest and fourth deepest lake in the Tatra’s called.„Morskie Oko” or „ The Eye of the Sea”. The 8km trail commences in Palenica Białczańska which can be driven to from Zakopane. The lake is said to be connected to the sea via an underground passage, though most consider this a legend.

Click here to find out about all the hiking routes that originate from Zakopane ! 

A route that originates in Zakopane is to the top of Mt. Giewont, resembling the face of a sleeping man towering above the town it is one of the symbols of Zakopane. Three different routes can be taken to the summit, each takes approximately three hours of walking. Other mountain tops that can be explored from Zakopane include the most dangerous hike to Orla Perć and a more relaxed hike to Czerwone Wierchy.

Are you interested in winter sports?…this is the place for you!

On the right trail

When the snow falls Zakopane becomes the Polish hub of winter sports, the snow covered mountains provide amazing slopes for skiing and snowboarding.  Cable cars and lifts run for long hours to high slopes while calmer routes in the lower mountains are available for those who enjoy backcountry skiing. An interesting  attraction for sports lovers is the largest ski-jump on Krokiew Mountain, where the  FIS Ski Jumping World Cup is regularly



Hi, I'm Kaya. I'm a travel writer. I grew up in Canada, in recent years I have been living in Poland and traveling around Europe. I'm passionate about kayaking, backpacking and animal rights. I love visiting new countries and meeting new people.

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