Zakopane is one of the most popular cities amongst Polish tourists, both in the winter and the summer. Zakopane in the winter, especially, is a tourist hot spot, but remains relatively unknown to outsiders. Snow covers the town for up to 6 months of the year, and creates a magical atmosphere perfect for relaxing, admiring the snow-capped Tatra Mountains, or taking an adventure out in the snow. Zakopane has every winter activity imaginable, from skiing and snowboarding to tobogganing and snowmobiling. All in all, it adds up to make Zakopane one of Poland’s top destinations.
While you may have already read our guide on Zakopane, the activities available change drastically for Zakopane in the winter. You can, of course, engage in many of the year-round activities, such as the amazing museums, eating oscypek, or exploring Tatra National Park. However, some of these year-round activities also are different in the winter. So, the following list of 10 items includes the best things to do in Zakopane in the winter, based on the season and based on what are the best activities Zakopane has to offer.
This guide, at the end, will also hold some general tips and tricks for Zakopane, especially tailored to the winter. Zakopane is a tricky place to navigate regardless of the season, and these difficulties only increase in the winter. I highly recommend reading this section if you are traveling on a budget, or plan to stay in Zakopane for an extended time. Overall, I hope you will find the activities on this list the perfect ones to fill the spots on the itinerary for your trip to Zakopane in the winter!
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Zakopane In Winter: Best Things To Do
1. Walk down Krupówki
Krupówki, the pedestrian-only street in the heart of Zakopane, is always going to be one of the busiest areas in Zakopane regardless of the season. When I visited in the summer, there were a few thousand people walking up and down, taking part in the tourist traps, eating food at restaurants, buying knock-off oscypek and other street food and souvenirs from the booths, and just enjoying the vibes. In the winter season, you get the same opportunities, except you are likely to also have snow to add a little extra magic.
You will see kids being pulled along by parents on their sleds, and everyone bundled up to warm up from the cold. If you are feeling a bit extra cold, you can buy mulled wine, a Christmas classic found for sale in most Polish cities during the winter and Christmas season, or you can buy an extra pair of wool gloves or hats from the vendors in the souvenir stands. If you get too cold, step into one of the many amazing restaurants on the street to try some authentic Polish food. But make sure to always check the reviews before entering, as there are some truly terrible restaurants mixed in with the amazing ones.
When the sun sets in the afternoon, all the Christmas lights will turn on, creating a romantic atmosphere. And you will be able to find the big Christmas tree ubiquitous in Polish cities, and up from December to February at the minimum. In Zakopane, you will find the tree near the Little Bridge, which supplies a perfect photo opportunity. And while Zakopane has not recently had a Christmas market, due first to the pandemic but then due to undisclosed reasons, Zakopane does not need one, as the market stalls available year-round fit the bill.
Overall, you will want to stay close to the center during the winter to take advantage of the atmosphere Krupówki supplies and enjoy all the delicious food and drink. For a list of some great hotels and restaurants to try, many of which are found near Krupówki, check out this other article I wrote about Zakopane. Otherwise, do not be afraid to wander inside some of the attractions alongside the street. They may be tourist traps, but they are entertaining if you have kids, and a way to get out of the cold. Only avoid any attractions with birds, I have heard bad things about them. Overall, spend lots of time here when you are in Zakopane in the winter!
2. Explore Gubałówka Hill
Gubałówka Hill is a popular tourist attraction found just west of Krupówki. It is popular due to the large bazaar of souvenir booths, restaurants, and tourist activities found at the top, as well as the stunning view of Zakopane, the surrounding valleys, and the high Tatras. The easiest way to get to the top is using the Gubałówka Funicular, a short 2-minute ride which rapidly climbs the side of the hill, giving you views of the city as you go. You can also walk to the top, but with snow, it would be a very challenging hike.
Once at the top, if the weather allows it, you will find a snow-covered playground with lots of activities for all ages. Of course, the view is stellar, and this is a perfect place to take some pictures for your Instagram, or for the family back home. You can have some hot chocolate or mulled wine as you enjoy the views, and with the early sunset, you can enjoy that too.
There are also a variety of activities available, the main one being tobogganing, with many perfect hill spots to enjoy this exhilarating sport. Of course, there are also lots of tourist traps, that are not necessarily truly authentic Zakopane experiences. However, if you ignore the market stalls, you will find some genuinely entertaining activities. You can pay for dog sled rides, or to take an ATV tour through the snow, admiring the views as you go along.
Riding the funicular to the top is affordable. I paid 29 PLN for a two-way ticket in the summer, but the prices may be different in the winter; however, they should not be higher. A one-way ticket, if you were to choose to ski down for example, would cost no more than 23 PLN. Tickets are cheapest if you are purchasing online in advance, you can buy a ticket for anytime during the day and skip the line. Also, check the website for hours, which change depending on which part of the season you plan to be there.
3. Visit Snowlandia and the Zakopane Ski Jump
The Zakopane Ski Jump is one of the most distinctive sights in Zakopane, and a main attraction for Zakopane in the winter. From any viewpoint of the city, the towering jump is visible, and it is almost unbelievable that people willingly fling themselves into the air from the ramp. During the summer, the ski jump is like an abandoned structure, but during the winter, the area becomes alive with activity and action.
The main reason for this activity is Snowlandia, and snow-based activity park that places itself right next door to the main ski jump. Snowlandia serves as a unique opportunity to appreciate all snow has to offer. Firstly, there is a giant snow maze that only can exist thanks to the icy temperatures of Zakopane in the winter. After wandering through the maze, you can make your way to the 16-meter (52 feet) tall castle of snow and enjoy the view of the beautiful Giewont mountain. There is also a massive toboggan run, and other activities, including interactive exhibits with animals provided by Tatra Educational Park.
Also, the ski jump does get used, as every January, the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup comes to Zakopane. Here, you will see the best ski jumpers in the world at work, and with almost 40000 seats available, you should be able to snag a seat. Tickets will cost between 50 and 60 PLN, or 20 PLN for qualifying. If this sounds too scary, you can stick to Snowlandia, open every day during the winter season from 10 AM to 8 PM. Tickets are bought for individual attractions, or a bundle, and the price varies, so visit the website for more information.
4. Relax in a Thermal Bath
Zakopane is known for its thermal baths! And on a cold winter’s day, relaxing in one might be the top activity you should engage in. While this activity is also certainly a year-round one, the thermal baths for Zakopane in the winter become much more crowded, so while it may be a relaxing activity, it will not necessarily be peaceful. But many of the baths provide separate attractions for kids and adults, so there is fun and peace available for all involved!
Perhaps the most convenient is the thermal baths located at Aquapark Zakopane. While the Aquapark also operates a set of swimming pools, there is also a large set of thermal baths available. You can choose to relax in the baths, enjoy some time in the 18+ sauna, or sit down and take a break in the salt rooms. Located close to the center of Zakopane, you cannot find more convenient thermal baths around.
Ticket prices depend on how long you plan to stay and which activities you choose to engage in, but a combined all-day thermal bath and sauna ticket costs 105 PLN, or if you have kids, you can get a 2+1 package for as little as 169 PLN or a 2+2 package for as little as 199 PLN. Check their website for more info. Check the website also for the current hours, as they change quite frequently.
But the most popular baths are probably those at Chochołowskie Termy, the largest thermal baths in all of Poland. With over 30 swimming pools and Jacuzzis full of warm, mineral, water, there is enough to keep you occupied for an entire day. There are water slides, pools meant for sports such as volleyball and basketball, a lap pool, hydromassage pools, geysers, and more available, as well as a salt cave. In general, there are activities available for all ages and interests.
The main disadvantage of these baths is that they are not directly in Zakopane, but they are only about a 30-minute ride by car away, and there is also a minibus service there and back, and with changing rooms available, it is not a big deal. Tickets are available online ahead of time, but if they run out, you can purchase them the same day at the baths. Ticket prices will depend on your group size and how long you want to spend, but start at 69 PLN for three hours, with parking included. Check the website also for the opening hours of each attraction, which are different depending on the day and season.
5. Ski or Snowboard at Kasprowy Wierch
Kasprowy Wierch is a high flat shoulder found far above Zakopane. During the summer, it is a popular hiking destination due to the stunning views provided from its peaks, the alpine lakes below, and also the famous Kasprowy Wierch Cable Car. For Zakopane in the winter, the Kasprowy Wierch area adds the benefits of being a haven for skiing and snowboarding. There are multiple chair lifts, but the slopes are not so friendly, with black diamonds making it a challenging, but rewarding, place to indulge in some winter sports.
If you are not into skiing or snowboarding, you are still in luck! You can ride the cable car to the top and enjoy the views. During the two-segment ride, you will enjoy views of the snow-covered Tatras from above and the valleys below you, filled with snow-covered rocks, frozen ponds, and lakes. At the top, you can wander around the flat area, getting some more stunning views on a clear day. When you get cold due to the high winds and low temperatures, you can step inside the cable car station for a Polish buffet and some coffee.
If you do like to ski or snowboard, you have two routes to choose from, each with a chair lift back to the top. The Gąsienicowa Route takes you downwards into a beautiful valley full of frozen lakes, that is a very popular hiking spot. This route is slightly less challenging, but still a very difficult and dangerous route. The other route, the Goryczkowa Route, takes you all the way back down to the lower cable car stop at Kuźnice, descending hundreds of meters downwards, and while beautiful, is extremely challenging.
Overall, Kasprowy Wierch is realistically only a good place to visit when the weather is clear, or the clouds are high. Winds can also be very high, which can be dangerous for all activities starting from Kasprowy Wierch. You can keep track of conditions, and view webcams of the current weather, at their website. There you will also be able to buy a ticket for the cable car, which is recommended due to its popularity, and ski lift tickets, although both can be bought at the lower cable car station, or even the top. Check the website too for hours, as they change often during the winter season.
6. Hike to Morskie Oko
Morskie Oko is a beautiful lake nestled between some of the highest mountains in Poland. It is also perhaps Poland’s most popular hike. Regardless of the season, thousands of people every day hike this easy hike to see the lake that is called “the eye of the sea.” In the wintertime, the lake is typically frozen over, with the ability to even walk on it. Its beauty is certainly something to behold.
The hike is an overall easy one. The road is paved, and during the winter, it is often cleared. Thus, this walk will take you only about 3-4 hours in one direction, depending on the temperature, how much snow is on the ground, and how physically able you are. Of course, if you do not feel like hiking, you can also pay to reserve a seat in the horse-drawn carriages you will see at the start. They will take you most of the way and will charge you anywhere from 60-80 PLN each direction. For a full guide on Morskie Oko, and how difficult it is, you can read the piece I wrote about it.
In the wintertime, it is very important to be prepared for the icy conditions you will face. While the beauty of the snow is captivating, it can be deadly. So, make sure you have a warm coat, good quality gloves, a hat, a scarf, thermal underwear, and other warm clothing. The hike gets high in elevation, so it can get well below freezing at the top. If you get cold, there is a lodge at the very top where you can warm up with some good Polish food and drink.
It can be difficult to get to Morskie Oko by car to start your hike during the winter, as the roads may not be cleared very well. Thus, having all-wheel drive, or taking one of the minibuses from Zakopane might be the best way to get there. Additionally, as the days are short in the winter, I would recommend that you start your hike as soon after the sun rises as you can, to ensure you finish before the sun sets (there can be only 7 hours of daylight on some of the shorter days of the winter in Poland!).
Overall, Morskie Oko is a feasible hike for almost everyone, although definitely more challenging in the winter than the summer. It is also affordable, with entry costing 9 PLN or 4.5 PLN reduced, and a minibus ticket costing somewhere in the range of 15-20 PLN each direction. Visit the TPN website for more information. Please note that the park offices only run during daylight hours during the winter.
7. Take a Guided Snow Safari on a Snowmobile
If you are an adventure-seeker, and want to explore Zakopane in the winter the most unique way, taking a snowmobile tour might be for you. The power of the snowmobile allows you to rapidly explore the main hills and valleys of the Zakopane area and will lead you to stunning views of the Tatras and the beautiful pastoral villages nearby Zakopane. Snowmobile tours are available for all skill levels and interest levels and will introduce you to the surrounding area with your guide.
One such company that is highly recommended is Snowdoo Adventure, which leads daily tours, with tours available in English as well. You meet 30 minutes before your scheduled time, learn how to use the snowmobile if you have never used it before, and then you are off on your adventure! There are options for short 1-hour adventures, or longer 2 to 3 hours tours that include meals around a bonfire. These tours can start from as low as 300 PLN per person for the hour-long tours and move up in price from there.
There are a few important things to note. Make sure that you bring all the proper documents with you on the trip! Driving a snowmobile is only allowed for people over the age of 18, but you can take kids as passengers on the trip. Make sure you have your valid driver’s license with you, and if you are coming from outside of Europe like me, make sure to get the International Driver’s Permit (which can easily be obtained from AAA in the US.) Also make sure to bring your identification document or passport, and warm clothing to prepare for all the weather Zakopane in the winter has to offer.
8. Snowshoe through Tatra National Park
Zakopane is popular during the summer for its hikes, but for Zakopane in the winter, these trails become covered with large amounts of snow, making hiking a more challenging task. However, the snow-covered trees and mountains are very enticing. The solution is to rent, or bring your own, snowshoes to take a hike on one of the many beautiful trails in the Tatra National Park. While Morskie Oko is often cleared, the rest of the less busy, and equally beautiful trails, will definitely require snowshoes, and this requirement should help you have a quieter trip.
Of course, you can also choose to pay for a guided snowshoe tour, for example with Snowdoo Adventure, the same company that does snowmobile tours. Other companies that offer tours include Ski School Strama, or you can get a private tour from guides who speak English, French, Spanish, and a variety of other languages. You can rent snowshoes for around 60 PLN for the full day to lead your own tour or take a 2 hour tour for somewhere between 200 and 300 PLN (although this is an estimate since it is hard to find information online).
If you do not feel like snowshoeing, you can also choose to cross-country ski instead! It achieves the same purpose and is a much quicker adventure through the trails of Zakopane in the winter. However, you will be limited in the number of trails you can conquer, as cross-country skiing requires a somewhat flat slope. But there are a few spots in the Tatras where this is possible. You can ski on Biały Potok, which starts near the city center and supplies lovely views of Giewont. Or you can try Bachledzki Wierch, which I recommend because the views are top notch, and it is very quiet.
Overall, the most important thing to remember is that these activities are only possible with good snow conditions. Ice makes the trip much harder, although still possible with the very modern snowshoes typically used on the guided tours. Also, be aware that both activities are challenging for the body, and you will be sore at the end! So, only do this activity if you feel like you are physically able to, but if you can, you will not regret the peace and quiet, as well as the views of nature, you will receive.
9. Ice Skate in the Heart of Zakopane
If you want a much less involved winter activity beyond snowmobiling, skiing, or snowshoeing, consider one of the other “s” activities of winter, skating. Zakopane in the winter has many ice rinks available every year throughout the city, where one can ice skate for as long as one wishes, with views of the Tatras in the backdrops. You can bring your own skates or rent skates as well. This activity is very affordable, with an hour of skating costing approximately 10 PLN per person and renting skates also costing 10 PLN per use.
The most popular ice rink is Ice Rink Cos, found near the ski jump and Snowlandia. There are two tracks available, with a speed skating rink surrounding an ice rink. The speed skating rink is occasionally open to amateurs if you want to try your hand at this sport. If you are staying a little bit outside of Zakopane in the winter, in the Olsza area, you can skate at Ice Rink U Daniela, which will be relatively uncrowded and supply stunning views of the Tatras in the background.
There are two busier and smaller ones available closer to the city center as well. Ice Rink Domino is the most popular, as it is found very close to the city center and Krupówki, and is quite popular amongst locals and school children. So, it is advised to skate later in the day to avoid those doing lessons. Finally, another small rink near the center is Ice Rink Tafla, which supplies great views of the Tatras. No matter which rink you choose, you will get to enjoy a fun winter activity with stunning views at an affordable price.
10. Visit nearby Małe Ciche
Małe Ciche is a small village found about a 25-minute drive from Zakopane. It is reachable by car or minibus, especially during the winter due to its popularity amongst skiers. A trip to Małe Ciche means a trip to a very authentic small village, full of the wooden Zakopane-style buildings, which are especially beautiful when covered in snow, with icicles in the eaves. You will be able to eat authentic food, maybe even find some real oscypek at a shepherd’s hut.
However, the largest draw to Małe Ciche is the Małe Ciche Ski Resort. Compared to the difficult slopes offered at Kasprowy Wierch, this ski resort is very family friendly, with all 4 km (2.4 miles) of terrain being defined as easy. The longest runs are no more than 1250 meters, and there are bunny slopes as short as 80 meters for the kids to try. There are six lifts in total, and 5 different trails or slopes to try. There is ample parking, and a lodge with everything you need, including ski rentals.
The resort is typically open from late December to the middle of March, but it depends on when ample snowfall has happened. It is open from 9 AM to 7 PM every day when in season. A lift pass for a full day of skiing costs around 140 PLN, or 130 PLN for a child during peak season, with lower prices during the shoulder season, and multiple day passes available for savings. Rentals and ski lessons are also available at the lodge. For all the extra details you might want about the ski resort, visit the official website.
What Else to Know About Zakopane in the Winter
I have covered some basics on Zakopane in my previous article about Zakopane, but there are definitely some things to know related specifically to Zakopane in the winter. Firstly, I would personally recommend staying close to the city center during the winter. I recommend this mostly because getting around the city is difficult enough in the summer, due to narrow and traffic-filled roads, and adding snow and ice only adds to the challenge. If you are bringing a car, you will certainly need either chains or snow wheels to get around most of the winter.
Additionally, make sure to come prepared for the weather. It will be colder than you expect, due to winds and the mountains generating their own snowstorms. Temperatures for Zakopane in the winter average a chilly –7 C (19 F) and –2 C (28 F) at night, for example, and combined with the usual lack of sun during the dark Polish winters, it will feel even colder. So, bring warm gloves, a few hats, a scarf, long thermal underwear, sweaters, parkas, winter jackets, or anything else you need to feel warm.
Do also make sure to give yourself lots of time when arriving in Zakopane in the winter. Do not expect to be able to get to Zakopane in less than two hours like Google Maps will optimistically take you. Due to both traffic and road conditions, it will certainly take longer. While a freeway is being constructed, that construction means that the roads are even more of a mess than normal. Make sure you are well-rested before driving, as the drive has been known to be quite exhausting. If you are taking a train, prepare also for it to be delayed depending on how bad the wintry conditions at farther stations ahead are.
Additionally, while I mention some of these things in my other Zakopane article, I will mention them again because they are super important. Firstly, make sure you have cash, as many booths and attractions only take cash payments. There are plenty of ATMs throughout the city, just make sure to never accept the ATM’s currency conversion. Additionally, people in Zakopane do not speak as much English as in other cities in Poland, so knowing a little bit of basic Polish is useful. However, you should be able to communicate overall just fine, the workers and locals there were very accommodating.
But, overall, Zakopane in the winter is a beautiful place! Do not be scared by some challenges and crowds of people! Zakopane supplies the quintessential winter experience, and because it is still, and will likely remain due to logistical reasons, mostly unknown to non-Polish people, it could be a whole lot busier than it is! I recommend spending a magical weekend or an enchanting entire week in Zakopane in the winter.
If you need any more advice about Zakopane, I have written two other articles about Zakopane. They have already been linked a few times in this article, but in case you do not want to find where I linked them, you can find links to them below. So, go to Zakopane in the winter, and I hope you enjoy everything it has to offer!
Guide to Zakopane: https://polandinsiders.com/things-to-do-in-zakopane/
Guide to Morskie Oko: https://polandinsiders.com/morskie-oko/