Zakopane is a charming mountain town, found in the far south of Poland. Zakopane’s natural beauty makes it popular amongst Poles on holiday, and one of the best cities to visit in Poland. It is full of fun activities during all seasons of the year, with winter and summer sports available depending on the season you choose to go. However, this article will be more summer focused; keep an eye out for a winter-themed article coming soon.
Since, like me, you may not have heard of Zakopane before coming to Poland or researching Poland, it can be hard to decide what the best activities to do are. Zakopane is full of many tourist traps that are not related to the true spirit of this amazing area, and while they can be temporarily fun, they will be more expensive than they are worth. Thus, this article aims to focus on activities that are truly unique for Zakopane and connected to its culture.
Read onwards to find out about the 8 best things to do in Zakopane, as well as a few bonus activities specifically catered towards kids. At the end of this article, you will also find some information about restaurants and hotels, in a similar format to our earlier article about Toruń. Finally, you will find some information about traveling to and within Zakopane, and some general tips and tricks. I hope you find this article useful!
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Best Things To Do in Zakopane
1. Hike in the Tatra National Park
The main draw of Zakopane is certainly Tatra National Park. Often lapeled TPN, this national park houses the highest points of Poland along its southern border with Slovakia. You will also find alpine lakes, meadows, creeks and waterfalls, and forests full of evergreen trees. Quite simply, it is a unique region in Poland. It is widely popular, with a record-breaking 4.6 million tourists in 2022, which is a similar number to the Grand Canyon in the United States.
About 15% of those visitors are there to hike on Poland’s most popular trail, the paved trail to Morskie Oko. Morskie Oko, meaning eye of the sea in Polish, is a beautiful alpine lake with a beautiful clear blue color, surrounded by Poland’s tallest mountains. Its relatively easy distance and elevation gain make it achievable for people of every fitness level. Because this hike is so popular, I have dedicated an entirely separate companion article with everything you need to know about Morskie Oko.
Of course, there are many other hikes available. Most of these hikes, such as Morskie Oko, start from the Palenica Białczańska area, which is reachable by car and minibuses that run often from Zakopane. These include a hike to Rysy, Poland’s highest point, or to Wielka Siklawa, a less busy valley full of beautiful lakes connected to Morskie Oko by a somewhat difficult trail.
The other area to start hiking from is Kuźnice, the starting point of the hike to Kasprowy Wierch (more on that later). You can also hike to Dolina Gąsienicowa, another beautiful valley full of lakes and stellar views of Zakopane. Also nearby is Orla Perć, a hike only meant for the most serious mountaineers, as it is very dangerous. Nearby Kuźnice, you can also find Dolina Ku Dziurze, and easy hike to a cave that is perfect for kids, due to its proximity to the center of Zakopane, and its flatness and novelty,
An important thing to note about TPN is that you must pay an entry fee for each day you want to go. When I visited in July 2023, it cost 9 PLN per person, or 4.5 PLN reduced. If you want to hike for a longer time, a 7-day ticket costs only 45 PLN per person. Or if you have a large group, of up to 10 people, you can buy a group ticket for 81 PLN to essentially get one person in for free. These tickets can be bought at major points in the park, or might be included in other tickets, such as with Kasprowy Wierch.
The other possibility is to buy your tickets online at their website. This is a great choice during the busiest days of the summer, as it will save you a lot of time. You can also buy parking in advance, which is usually a must, and even bus tickets to the start of Morskie Oko. In general, the website supplies all the information you will need for any hike or activity you plan to undertake in TPN, and I highly recommend checking it out.
2. Krupówki: Zakopane’s Main Street
Krupówki is the heart of all activity in central Zakopane. This very busy pedestrian street is lined with souvenir shops, restaurants, tacky museums and exhibits, a shopping mall, and much more. If you are spending a lot of time in Zakopane, or staying near the center, you will spend a lot of time here, as the best dining is here. There are also many photo opportunities, such as Little Bridge, with the stunning Giewont mountain in the background.
There will be many souvenir booths here as well, where you can buy tacky souvenirs like magnets, and some things allegedly made of sheep, the famous product of the area. I would add a note of caution for buying anything on Krupówki and expecting it to be authentic. The same goes for the cheese you will think is “oscypek” on the street (more on that later). It is very likely that none of this cheese is what you are expecting, and while it still might taste good at first, some very essential corners may have been cut in making that cheese.
There are also many good restaurants on this street with live music, great local food and drink, and a great general environment. However, I would check the reviews on Google or your preferred website before going into a restaurant. There are somehow restaurants in Zakopane with hundreds of reviews that have an average rating of 2 stars, and yet people still go to them! Later in this article, you will find a few trustworthy restaurants I recommend.
Overall, while the novelty of Krupówki is that it is kind of like the Las Vegas Strip of Poland with how touristy everything is, it is still an enjoyable place to just walk around and enjoy the energy. You do not have to buy anything to have fun, but it is likely you will buy at least one thing here on your trip.
3. Ride the Gubałówka Funicular
This funicular is another widely popular attraction in Zakopane. Essentially a tram that goes up a steep hill, this being Gubałówka, the short 2-minute ride will lead you to some of the best and easiest-accessible views in Zakopane. However, because of this, it gets very busy quickly, and what you find at the top may not be super special. If Krupówki was filled with touristy things, Gubałówka takes this to the next level. You will find “traditional” food, ice cream, a gravity slide, ropes course, ziplining, horse riding, and more.
But you should really go up for the view alone. This summer, there is an artificial beach with beach chairs where you can enjoy stellar views of the Tatras looming over Zakopane. Especially at sunset time, you can get an amazing, beautiful view. However, if the weather is poor, I would recommend waiting until it is clear, or at least the clouds are high, before going. This makes the experience much better.
The funicular is relatively inexpensive, but its popularity means that there can be long lines waiting to go up. To avoid the lines, you can purchase the tickets online in advance. A ticket will let you board the train anytime you want and skip the line. However, buying online can be troublesome, I was only able to buy the ticket on the same day. In the end, tickets can be bought at the window, or at self-serve ticket machines as well.
An up-down ticket will cost you 29 PLN per person, or 23 PLN reduced. As there is also a trail that you can hike as well, you can choose to only hike in one direction and take the tram the other. A one-way ticket will cost 23 PLN, or 19 PLN reduced. The funicular is also dog friendly, with a dog ticket costing 10 PLN roundtrip, or 5 PLN for one direction. For hours, check their website, as they change consistently. Overall, this is a very unique experience in Poland, and the views make the busyness worth it.
4. Ride the Kasprowy Wierch Cable Car
While the Gubałówka Funicular is more accessible due to its close location to the center of Zakopane, the experience with Kasprowy Wierch is much better in my opinion. While you can take a very difficult hike to the top, you can skip that toil by taking the cable car to the top. The cable car has been around for decades and takes you to one of the highest points in Poland in two stops. On your way up, you will learn the history of the area in Polish and English.
At the top you will find a restaurant with a Polish buffet, coffee, snacks, and more. You will also find some of the best views in the area. You will be right on the border of Slovakia, and you will be able to see the arguably more beautiful Slovakian Tatrans (sorry my Polish friends). You will also see many alpine lakes, and maybe even a mountain goat or two like I did. Finally, the sunset from here is unmatched, so taking a late cable car is highly recommended on my part.
Kasprowy Wierch is understandably one of the most popular attractions in Zakopane. It is possible that if you want to buy a ticket from the ticket office, there could be a line with a thousand people waiting. Luckily you can also buy the tickets online as well, or you can buy them at ticket machines at Kuźnice. An up-down ticket costs 129 PLN, or 109 PLN reduced, but the price can go down if you take an early or late cable car. For hours, check their website, as they change consistently.
5. Make or Buy Delicious Cheese at the Oscypek Museum
Poland has a lot of delicious food to try. One of these is the regional specialty oscypek. Oscypek is a protected cheese by the European Union, made of at least 60% sheep’s milk. The recipe is passed down from generation to generation to experts called “baca” who are also typically shepherds. The most common way to eat oscypek is fried or toasted, with cranberry jam on top, or with bread and onions. But it also goes well shredded on pasta, or even on a burger.
In my opinion, it is an experience you do not want to skip. However, much of the cheese found in Zakopane, while made from sheep’s milk, is not truly oscypek. Thus, unless you want to go find a shepherd’s hut outside of Zakopane, the best place to get authentic oscypek is the Oscypek Museum. Here you can buy, and pay to take a class on making it, while also learning the history of oscypek. However, the making part of the class is only conducted in Polish, so you will miss all the history.
But, if you still want to take part in this during opening hours from 11:30 AM to 6 PM Monday to Saturday, a ticket costs 35 PLN or 30 PLN reduced. Or you can just show up to buy the cheese like I did, the people in the museum did speak English and were nice. A good block of oscypek, in its ornate cylindrical shape, will run between 120 and 150 PLN per role. However, this role is enough to last you for quite a while, and the flavor and quality make it worth it in my opinion. For more information, visit their website.
6. Learn Local History at the Tatra Museum
The Zakopane area is one full of history, and of special interest is the unique Góral people, with their own culture, music, food, architecture style, and more. The Tatra Museum is a great place to learn about the Góral people. Inside, you will find a variety of interactive exhibits that allow you to hear old recordings of the distinctive highlander music from a century ago and get into the mindset of the daily routine of a Góral person over the past centuries. Upstairs you will also find an impressive collection of taxidermic animals from the Tatras.
However, the main building is not the only interesting part of this museum. The main building was designed by Stanisław Witkiewicz, a Polish painter, writer, and architect. He thus also has his own museum dedicated to his life, housed in an ornate wooden Zakopane-style building, the architectural style he championed. Inside, you will learn briefly about his life, and see some of his art and designs. Both museums complement each other well and have ample descriptions in English.
Each branch has its own tickets, and beyond the two mentioned there are a few other buildings dedicated to the culture of Zakopane. The main branch is open from Wednesday to Sunday from 10 AM to 6 PM. The branch dedicated to Zakopane-style architecture is open from 9 AM to 5 PM Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and 11 AM to 7 PM Friday and Saturday. The main branch costs 20 PLN or 10 PLN reduced, and the architectural branch costs the same. However, if you want to visit all the museums in one day, you can buy a combined ticket for 49 PLN, or 24 PLN reduced. Visit their website for more information.
7. Visit a nearby Góral Village
Zakopane is surrounded by small villages that are perhaps more authentic than Zakopane itself. Here, you will find the previously mentioned shepherd’s huts where you can buy authentic oscypek, and see it being made. You can also get to see the Góral culture in action that you learned about at the Tatra Museum. There will be many buildings with the Zakopane architectural style, and you will be able to eat at a karczma, a local tavern-style restaurant.
Two great villages that are ideal for this include Ząb or Małe Ciche. While I did not get the chance to go to either of them, both have reputations for being peaceful villages with beautiful views and architecture. It is easy to get to either location. There are minibuses that leave from Zakopane Bus Station, currently at a temporary location (so be careful), hourly to both locations. This trip might cost you around 15 PLN each direction and will take about 30 minutes total. Timetables can only be found reliably at the bus station itself; online resources are unfortunately scarce.
8. Scale a Hill to Watch the Sunrise or Sunset
Zakopane is full of many lovely hills that supply dynamic viewpoints of the city and surrounding mountains. One of the most peaceful things you can do is wake up early to climb one of these hills, and watch the sun rise over the mountains. I chose to do this, and I can guarantee you that not many people will choose to do this with you. I found myself alone on top of the hill I chose, as the brilliant orange colors filled the sky, and eventually the sun appeared over the horizon. My only companions were a few rabbits, and the birds waking up for the morning.
Be warned that during the summer, you will have to wake up quite early for this. I woke up at 4 in the morning, and then walked 30 minutes from my Airbnb to the top of Bacheldzki Wierch, which is an amazing place to watch the sunrise if you are staying near Olcza. Or, if you are staying in the center, Lipki is a great place to watch the sunrise. Alternatively, you can choose to watch the sunset at either of these places, although it will not necessarily be as solitary. But I highly recommend this enjoyable experience as an alternative to some of the activities provided in other articles.
BONUS: Kid-Friendly Activities
As I mentioned in the introduction, there are many touristy activities available in Zakopane that are not related to Zakopane or special in any way. However, if you are coming with kids, I must admit that some of these tourist traps are great for kids. Just make sure to pick a reputable one. For example, Iluzja Park Zakopane and Myszogród Zakopane are highly rated and respected attractions in Zakopane that kids will enjoy.
In Zakopane, you will also find many activities related to animals. For example, you will see small museums related to tropical birds such as parrots. However, from what I have heard, these museums are bad, and do not treat their birds well. So, avoid these at all costs. If you want an amazing animal experience for your kids, visit Tatrzański Park Edukacyjny, an Australian-style zoo with rave reviews, and full of local nature.
Finally, on a hot day, you might want to cool off. The easiest choice for this is the indoor Aqua Park Zakopane. There are attractions for both kids and adults inside, with waterslides, lazy rivers, various pools, thermal baths, and more. However, be warned that this activity is very popular, and the park gets crowded quickly. However, it will certainly be enjoyable for kids, and could serve as a good reward to motivate them to go on the amazing hikes around Zakopane!
Best Restaurants in Zakopane
Polish food is delicious, and Zakopane has many restaurants for you to try it. You will also find meals served with the oscypek, so if you do not want to pay for an entire block of it, eating at a restaurant is a good deal. I must note that restaurants in Zakopane are even more expensive than in Warsaw, but I found portion sizes to always be generous. Read on to learn more!
Góralska Tradycja: I ate a very delicious meal at this restaurant, found on the top floor with views of the Tatras and an intricate wooden interior. I ate delicious pork ribs with plum dressing, which were super filling and a huge portion size. The service was also super friendly, and there were lots of great local options to try. I give my recommendation for here.
Gazdowo Kuźnia: Inside a rustic building, you will get to try a tasty menu full of local specialties, and it is described as feeling like eating a meal at a Polish grandma’s house. It is also in the heart of Zakopane, so it is very convenient.
Karczma Zapiecek: Karczma is like a tavern in English, and this might be the best one in Zakopane. It is in the heart of Zakopane with lots of good Polish options. The atmosphere appears festive, and there are also even vegetarian options.
Bubuja Bistro: This was the second restaurant I ate at, and compared to some of its neighbors, it was easy to get a seat outdoors, and get to watch the activity. I ate a delicious oscypek burger that was priced fairly and was huge and massive. The service was very friendly, but a bit slow. But I still recommend eating here.
Bąkowo Zohylina Niźnio: Found next-door to Bubuja, there was a line out the door of people waiting. The building is a rustic wooden building, with a cool exterior. There is also live music, huge servings, and the ability to try oscypek in a variety of ways.
Cristina Italian: If you want a fancy, upscale meal that is not just Polish food, Cristina Italian is a good choice to spoil yourself. They offer all the Italian classics in a beautiful dining room.
Best Hotels in Zakopane
Zakopane, as a resort town, has so many hotels to choose from. I list a few here, but do not be afraid to look for private lodges or houses you can rent if you have a large group or want some more privacy. There are many nice places to stay available on Airbnb as well, I found my studio apartment for around 100 PLN per night. But that was a huge steal, as Zakopane can get expensive quickly.
Aries Hotel and Spa: For the most upper-class experience, stay here. It is in a prime location with great views of the mountains and a beautiful exterior. There are fancy rooms, prime dining, an indoor pool, and more, and it is very kid-friendly too. And it is relatively affordable for what it offers, starting from 600 PLN per night. For more info, visit here.
ApartHotel Giewont: This wooden hotel has a very central location, with rustic-chic interiors, fine dining, a spa and indoor pool, and attentive stay. Prices run between 700 and 800 PLN. For more info, visit here.
Hotel Belvedere Resort and Spa: This hotel is in a quiet place close to the ski jump. There is amazing food, a nice wellness center, and cozy and clean rooms. But expect to pay for many extras that might be free at other hotels. Rooms start from as low as 450 PLN. For more info, visit here.
Good Bye Lenin Hostel: This is the only hostel found on Hostel World for Zakopane. It is found a bit out of the city but is connected to the center by a sporadic local bus, and some minibuses too. You will get a quiet no-frills location that is budget friendly. A bed in a dorm starts from 100 PLN. For more info, visit here.
How to Get to Zakopane
Getting to Zakopane is the least enjoyable part of Zakopane. Poland is building an expressway that will serve this southern part of Poland directly from Kraków, but for now, while that construction happens, traffic is worse for it. Additionally, with Zakopane covered by snow much of the year, all construction on city roads has a limited window to be done. Thus, bus or car traffic into Zakopane can be excruciatingly painful; it could take you up to an hour to make it to the center from the city limits.
However, while there may be some delays in entering depending on when you choose to visit, you have a few options. The most popular choice is by bus. From the Kraków Bus Station you can get to Zakopane in around 2 hours, depending on the stops. I used FlixBus, who runs a route from Warsaw via Kraków, which is convenient if you are staying in either of those two most popular cities. But, FlixBus also offers routes from Wrocław, Katowice, Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, and even a long overnight bus from Berlin.
There are also many local buses from Kraków to Zakopane, if you visit the bus station, the clerks can help you book a ticket on the day. There are also even direct buses from Kraków airport or even Chopin Airport in Warsaw if you are arriving at either of those airports. Generally, bus transport is the cheapest way. I paid around 60 PLN each direction from Warsaw, so I imagine it would be cheaper from Kraków, and more expensive from Berlin or Wrocław.
Another public transportation choice is taking the train. You would most likely have to book a train from Kraków to Zakopane and book your travel to Kraków separately from other locations in Poland. I heard the train is often slow, late, and uncomfortable. However, with the effort Poland is putting into improving their train experience, I imagine it is better.
A quick search revealed to me that a ticket from Kraków to Zakopane can cost as low as 30 PLN in second class, but the trains take between 3 and 3.5 hours. So, you may be able to save some money, and add a little bit of comfort compared to buses, but the extra amount of time may not be worth it. But if you would like to take a train, always book at the PKP website.
Driving is possible too, although you will face the same traffic as the buses. However, there are a few detours you might be able to take to cut off some time. Make sure if you want to come by car that your accommodation has parking, as finding street parking in Zakopane is pretty much impossible. Also note that petrol prices in Zakopane can be a bit high, so take that into consideration.
How to Get Around Zakopane
Getting around Zakopane can also be a bit of a pain. However, much of what you need is all in the center of the city, so if you are staying in the center, you should have fewer issues. If you are staying on the outskirts of Zakopane like I did to save money, there is public transportation available. Tickets cost 3 PLN for a single ride, and you can also buy day tickets, weekend tickets, and other long-term tickets.
All buses have ticket machines (with English, German, and Russian as a language choice) on them where you can pay by cash or card, or you can buy tickets with cash from the driver directly when stopped. There are also ticket machines at some major stops, although I could not get them to ever work. Finally, there is an app as well that you can mPay app, although payments may be hard if you do not have a Polish bank account.
There are also many minibuses, such as the ones you would use to go to Morskie Oko or a surrounding village. These minibuses will usually start from 4 PLN depending on your destination and will stop at the same bus stops as the public buses. These drivers will likely not speak English, so make sure you have prepared some basic Polish phrases, such as “Ile kosztuje” and know smaller Polish numbers.
Overall, the buses are the easiest way to get around the city if you do not have a bike, as walking can be quite long. However, during peak hours, the buses will typically be anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes late, and sometimes even early in the morning they can be that late, so take that into consideration when using the buses.
Overall, the best way to get around is probably by bike, as you can escape some of the traffic, and you are guaranteed to be on time. There are some hills in Zakopane proper, but not too many to make it troublesome. There are Bolt scooters available to rent through the app as well. If you want to drive, there are parking lots away from the center, but within walking distance, for between 20 and 30 PLN for the whole day, but you will need cash to pay for that.
Final Tips and Tricks for Zakopane
Zakopane is a lovely city. I had fun, with some stressful moments mixed in all related to the public transportation. But, if you go in with flexibility and expect the buses to be late, it is not that bad. But there are definitely a few more things I must emphasis. First, you must take cash with you to Zakopane. While Poland is overall a less cash-reliant economy than, say, Germany, many services in Zakopane are cash only, such as souvenirs, minibus tickets, and parking, as well as some of the tourist attractions on the side of the roads.
Additionally, Zakopane has the reputation of not being English friendly, compared to other cities in Poland. And while my perspective is skewed, because I speak some Polish, all the many people from the middle east in Zakopane, who did not speak Polish that I heard, got by fine. But, knowing a few words and phrases will get you a long way, as well as pointing and gestures. Everyone in Zakopane who did not speak English was very accommodating, as they do want your service, so you should not have anything to worry about.
Finally, I recommend staying close to the center if you can afford it. This ensures you avoid having to rely on city buses to get to and from the city, and places you closer to those minibuses to key spots around Zakopane for hiking. Zakopane is deceivingly spread out because of many hills separating neighborhoods, so a short distance on a map can be a 60-minute walk. But, if you can be patient, staying in the outskirts, such as Olcza where I stayed, is very relaxing and much quieter.
Finally, do not be afraid to spend up to a week in Zakopane. There is a lot to do, especially if you like the outdoors. It is a nice place to relax for sure, but even for three days like I had, you can do a lot. Just make sure to explore, Zakopane has something for everyone!