Zakopane -Town under the Tatra Mountains
Getting to know the winter capital of Poland

17.12.2023

I wholeheartedly believe that Poland has it all – absolutely breathtaking cities, tranquil seaside, beautiful lakes… there is even a desert! But on the very south of the country, one more absolutely magical gem awaits your visit – the Tatra Mountains. It is at their foot where you will find Zakopane.

Located a little over 100 kilometres (just under 70 miles) from the capital of Lesser Poland, Zakopane is the ultimate one-day tour destination from Krakow for people who want to experience something extraordinary. Often referred to as the winter capital of Poland, the town offers a perfect blend of outdoorsy fun, modern hotels, beautiful views and fascinating traditions – everyone will find something for themselves!

Interested? Keep on reading!

 

What does the name Zakopane mean?

Contrary to the names of most cities, the word zakopane actually has a meaning and is commonly used in everyday language. It means... buried (but only in passive voice, so you could say that skarby zostały zakopane - the treasure has been buried, but you can't say they buried the treasure using the same word. The beauty of Polish language, ladies and gentlemen! :)).
The name "Zakopane" originates from the distinctive geographical location of the town. The term comes from times when these lands were uninhabited by people.

But why has that become the name of the town? Well, there's a folk legend for it.

A shepherd who, staying with his sheep on a loincloth on the southern slope of Gubałówka, beautifully sunny and warm, with a beautiful view of the Tatra Mountains on the horizon, decided to check whether this place is suitable for a permanent settlement. He buried an oat seed, and after returning there later he saw that the seed had grown up beautifully and gave off a good crop. And from the burial of this grain, this place was called Zakopane.

Isn't that a cute story?
Initially, the Zakopane region served as a refuge for shepherds seeking shelter from the harsh mountain conditions and the dangers associated with the alpine climate. The settlement was nestled in a valley, sheltered from winds and extreme weather. This natural location was somewhat "buried" amid the surrounding mountains.

Officially founded in the second half of the 19th century as a mountain settlement, Zakopane has since become a popular leisure destination and a tourist hub recognized both in Poland and abroad. The name reflects both the town's position in the valley and its historical roots as a refuge in the mountains.


What is Zakopane famous for and why should you visit?

The most important things about this 30 000 town in southern Poland are the majestic Tatra Mountains and the unique folklore. Oh, and oscypki.

Definitely oscypki.

The Tatra mountains

There is plenty of reasons to visit the Polish mountains, I mean – just look at the photos in this post… I will give you some more specific recommendations though, don't worry! Regardless of the season – you will not be disappointed. Whether you are into hiking, skiing, snowboarding, or laying on a balcony of luxury hotel sipping mulled wine – Zakopane’s got you covered.

While Zakopane in itself offers a variety of attractions, the most common reason for heading there is to hike in the nearby mountains. I will list just a few of the magical destinations in the Polish Tatra mountains, bear in mind though there are plenty more!

Come and explore them yourself, but please remember to prepare yourself for the hike – wear appropriate shoes and outerwear, take SPF and water with you!

1. Giewont

zakopane_giewont_mountain

A very well-known mountain massif in the Tatra mountains with it’s highest point at 1895 metres AMSL. Look at it closely, can you see what it resembles?

It is said to be… a sleeping knight! If you couldn’t see it before, look at the photo once again ;) 
There is a legend among the locals that these are actually enchanted knights who sleep deep in the Tatra Mountains and will wake up when the time is right. But when will the time come? We still don't know...

In 1901, a steel cross (15 metres high!) was erected on Great Giewont. It is one of the regional landmarks and a site of religious pilgrimages.

2. Gubałówka

A mountain (1129 metres AMSL at highest point) very popular among tourists. It is a great option for those who want to experience views from a mountain top but can’t or don’t want to hike on foot, as there is a funicular that can quickly take you all the way up.

3. Morskie Oko

I don’t want to be biased, but I think this might actually be my favourite. Just saying!

Morskie Oko (the literal translation of it's name would be the Eye of the Sea) is a breathtaking lake (the largest one in Tatra mountains) in the midst of the mountains – it looks as if taken straight out of a fairytale. This one is also a very popular spot, and for very good reasons. Absolutely incredible views worth every second of the hike!

zakopane_morskie_oko

Isn't it just incredible?

4. Rysy 

Something for more experienced hikers – a beautiful mountain on the border of Poland and Slovakia, with it’s north-western summit being the highest point of Poland (2499 metres AMSL). Prepatation may take a little more effort, but the satisfaction is very rewarding.

Honorable mentions

The Polish Tatra mountains are truly beautiful and I highly encourage you to dive into Google to see what piques your interest and pursue that. Will it be one of the places mentioned above? Or maybe one of our beautiful valleys – Dolina Chochołowska, Dolina Kościeliska or Dolina Pięciu Stawów? Maybe you will want to reach the top of Kasprowy Wierch or Świnica? It doesn’t really matter which one you choose, as long as you are excited for the journey!

zakopane_cozy_view


Who lives in Zakopane? The wonderful people and the folklore of the region

The region of Polish Tatra mountains is called Podhale and the people who live there (górale eng. highlanders) are well-known for being very vibrant, passionate and hard-working people with rich culture that they like to cultivate. Their culture, music, dance, and traditional attire are an integral part of Zakopane. You will surely spot some traditional outfits and hear their lively music (often played live in restaurants). There is even an entire art style called Zakopane Style, which is very prominent in the region – you will notice very characteristic buildings everywhere!

Just take a look:

zakopane_house_architecture 

The most popular choices

The food

Regional cuisine of the area is known for some of the most recognizable dishes in Poland. As you will see in a second, most of them are savoury and very flavorful!

Here are some examples:

  •  plenty of cheeses – you’ve got your
    • bryndza and bundz (made from sheep milk),
    • oscypek the king of all cheeses from the region (and may even be the king of all cheeses in all of Poland)  – smoked cheese made from sheep milk; has a characteristic shape – it’s tapered at both sides. Often served with cranberry sauce, oscypek provides a delightful blend of savory and sweet notes, offering a true taste of the region's heritage.
    • gołka (looks similar to oscypek, but it’s made from cow’s milk not from sheep's milk – you can tell the difference between them by their shape; their taste however is very different, so it’s a good idea to taste both)
  • kwaśnica – traditional saeuerkraut soup with meat, eaten usually with bread or potatoes – a must-try! This tangy soup is prepared by fermenting cabbage and cooking it with a variety of meats such as smoked sausage or bacon. The result is a hearty, flavorsome soup characterized by its rich, robust taste and comforting aroma.
  • czosnianka – soup made with potatoes, garlic, onion and mint
  • hałuski – a specific type of thick, soft potato dumplings
  • placek zbójnicki (or Highlander’s Potato Pancake in English) – well… a potato pancake :) made with potatoes, flour, onion, fatback, lard, eggs and spices. These hearty potato pancakes are typically served with goulash or beef stew, creating a filling and satisfying meal. The crispy texture of the pancakes complements the richness of the meat, offering a delightful contrast of flavors and textures.
  • Pierogi, traditional dumplings, are beloved in highland cuisine and come with various fillings, including meat, potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, or cheese. These dumplings are typically boiled and then either pan-fried or served with crispy onions and sour cream. Pierogi are a versatile and comforting dish, appreciated for their delicious fillings wrapped in a soft dough casing.

If you’re wondering where you could try all those delicious delicacies, I recommend checking out the tripadvisor list of best restaurants in Zakopane – thousands of tourists can’t be wrong! ;)

What if a lit stove is not enough to heat.... %%

First things first, so... Dzięgielówka (ahh those Polish names....)   nalewka  its aa type of traditional Polish strong alcoholic beverages made with garden angelica.
In the region of Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains, there are specific alcoholic beverages that are an integral part of the local culture. One of the most characteristic drinks is "Żubrówka," also known as bison grass vodka, which is infused with natural aromas of bison grass, giving the drink a subtle, herbal flavor.
Another noteworthy local alcoholic beverage is "Krupnik," a traditional honey-based liqueur infused with spices such as cloves or cinnamon. It's a sweet drink with a rich history, valued as both a way to warm up on cold days and a symbolic element of holiday traditions.

Moreover, the region is renowned for excellent craft beers crafted with passion and utilizing local ingredients such as mountain herbs or honey. These local beers often embody the distinctive flavors of the region and are a popular choice among tourists seeking an authentic experience.
Local alcoholic beverages not only complement the culinary journey through Zakopane but also form a part of the cultural heritage, offering an opportunity to taste traditional flavors and beverages deeply rooted in the local traditions.

zakopane_gołka_cheese

Traditional gołka cheese


The weather

Zakopane is a great destination regardless of the season, but it’s important to remember about taking according protective measures.

If you are planning on roaming the hiking trails in the middle of summer, it’s absolutely crucial to use high SPF and cover your head! During the wintertime on the other hand you have to make sure that you are ready for the harsh freezing weather. As the city is in a close proximity to the mountains, the conditions can be slightly more extreme than in the rest of the country. The weather can change rapidly, so be prepared for everything.

Better safe than sorry!

zakopane_winter


Where to stay in Zakopane?

There is a wide variety of accommodation options in Zakopane and it's area. It doesn’t matter if you feel like pampering yourself with a night in a lavish hotel or if you’re on a budget and just want to sleep in an affordable, cosy guesthouse – you can be sure that you will find something suitable for your needs.

Here are some examples, but feel free to check out booking or trivago for more options.

Please bear in mind that I am not including prices as they tend to vary depending on the season, weather etc., so be sure to check up-to-date pricing on the Internet!

the_tatra_mountains_view


Important tourist spots – worth checking out!

1. Gubałówka

Already mentioned before – you can get to the top by funicular and enjoy the view.

2. Krupówki Street

One of the most famous streets in Poland, is the main pedestrian zone of  Zakopane. Filled with shops, restaurants, cafes, and places where you can buy local handicrafts and souvenirs.

There is never a dull moment on Krupówki!

3. The Tatra museum

Perfect if you want to learn more about the history and tradition of the fascinating Podhale region.

4. Wielka Krokiew

The biggest ski jump in Poland. It attracts winter sports enthusiasts and serves as an interesting attraction for tourists. Such stars as the legendary Polish Adam Małysz, Finnish Janne Ahonen, Austrian Gregor Schlierenzauer and many others have jumped on this hill.

I said about this earleir but its so important I need to do it one more time:

5. Tatra Mountains 

"The Tatras - Poland's Himalayas" is a metaphor that perfectly encapsulates the majestic beauty of this mountainous region. Nestled at the foothills of the Tatra Mountains, Zakopane offers tourists a unique opportunity to discover captivating landscapes and unforgettable adventures. The similarities between the Tatras and the Himalayas not only lie in the impressive scale of the mountains but also in the magical atmosphere and extraordinary experiences awaiting travelers in this picturesque corner of Poland.

In Zakopane, surrounded by breathtaking mountain vistas, you'll uncover unique trekking and climbing trails, along with incredible opportunities for winter sports enthusiasts. This land of mountain adventures attracts nature enthusiasts and explorers from around the globe. Majestic peaks, deep valleys, crystal-clear lakes - these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the splendor of the Tatras.

Vacationing in Zakopane presents an excellent chance to experience not only the beauty of nature but also the richness of highland culture, local cuisine, and traditions. This charming spot in Poland, sometimes referred to as the Polish equivalent of the Himalayas, entices visitors with its unique charm and unparalleled opportunities for immersing oneself in the lap of nature. Come to Zakopane and feel the magic of the Tatras - Poland's Himalayas, waiting to unveil their secrets with every step.

 

How about spending time actively? Zakopane has a looot to say here

Spending time actively is an excellent way to invigorate the body and mind, as well as to explore the world around us.The Tatra Mountains, often dubbed the "Pearl of Polish Mountains," stand as a majestic natural wonder and a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts visiting from the UK. Among the most renowned peaks in the Tatras are Rysy, the highest summit in Poland, offering a challenging yet rewarding trek with awe-inspiring views. Giewont, recognized by its silhouette resembling a sleeping knight, is another iconic peak that draws adventurers seeking panoramic vistas.
Numerous hiking trails weave through the Tatra National Park, catering to various skill levels and preferences. The popular trail to Morskie Oko, a stunning glacial lake, presents an accessible yet picturesque hike. Adventurers seeking a more challenging journey often venture along the Orla Perć trail, known as one of the most demanding and exhilarating routes, traversing exposed ridges and offering breathtaking views.

One of the most enchanting spots in the Tatras is the Valley of Seven Ponds (Dolina Pięciu Stawów), a natural wonderland boasting a series of crystal-clear alpine lakes surrounded by towering peaks. The hike through this valley is an immersive experience, revealing a landscape of serene beauty with each step. The emerald waters of the ponds reflect the rugged grandeur of the mountains, creating a captivating scene that seems almost otherworldly.
Exploring the Tatra Mountains provides a chance to witness diverse flora and fauna, from rare alpine plants to wildlife like chamois and eagles. The raw, unspoiled beauty of the Tatras, coupled with the tranquility and purity of nature, makes it an ideal destination for nature lovers and adventurers seeking an unforgettable encounter with Poland's alpine marvels.

Another idea is kind wet. The Dunajec River rafting expeditions take place in towns near Zakopane, such as Szczawnica, offering an extraordinary experienc. For instance, Szczawnica is a prime location for these adventures.
Embarking on a Dunajec River rafting excursion from Szczawnica or similar towns in the area is an invitation to explore the stunning natural beauty of the region. Drifting along the meandering river, surrounded by towering limestone cliffs and lush greenery, provides a captivating journey through the heart of the Pieniny Mountains.
Guided by local highlanders known as 'flisacy,' the traditional wooden rafts navigate the gentle waters, adding an authentic touch to this scenic voyage. As you immerse yourself in this adventure, you'll encounter a breathtaking panorama, witnessing the harmonious blend of nature's splendor and the rugged, captivating landscapes that define this part of Poland.
For travelers seeking an enriching encounter with Poland's natural wonders, embarking on a Dunajec River rafting trip from Szczawnica or similar towns near Zakopane promises an unforgettable fusion of adventure, cultural heritage, and awe-inspiring landscapes.


How to get to Zakopane from Krakow?

 

Ok, so you really really really want to go there now?

 

We've got your back! Just check out this post where we go into detail on the topic. There you will find out everything you need to know!

zakopane_tatra_mountains


I hope I have managed to convince you that visiting Zakopane is a great idea.

Not that I needed to try hard, the place is so beautiful it basically sells itself!

The unique folklore, architecture, food and gorgeous views will surely enrich your Poland experience, so if you can – while planning your trip to Krakow, book an extra day for your mountain adventure :)

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Comments

Jocelyn
0
2019.08.15 05:08
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khursid
5
2019.09.25 21:09
Very good, very informative website. There is every thing a tourist would need to visit Zakopane. Thank you very much for providing this information.

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