Situated at the foot of the Polish Tatra Mountains and with over a century-old tradition of skiing, Zakopane is Poland’s “Winter Capital” so expect loads of skiing, snowboarding, cross-country activities, walking trails, and breathtaking vistas!
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Where is Zakopane?
Passing through a few Slavic countries and spreading over more than a thousand kilometres are the Carpathian Mountains. And, situated in the middle massive arch of the Carpathian is the Tatra Mountains, which host the highest peak: Gerlach at 2,654 metres above sea level.
The gorgeous Tatrzański National Park is only a few kilometres out of Zakopane, another reason why this area is so popular with all tourists.
The first thing that strikes you about Zakopane in the spring (April Easter weekend) is the abundance of heavy snow, in fact, blizzards! So, there’s no surprise that the skiing season is from November to May.
The other thing is all the lovely traditional wooden homes covered in snow that are so picturesque; everywhere you look there’s a postcard scene just waiting to be captured.
As Zakopane has always been a mecca for artists, you can find many museums, art studios, and galleries in town.
Because of the spectacular highlands, Zakopane hosts many festivals each year. Be sure to do some research before arriving so you don’t miss out on the chance to party with the locals – I’m sure this would be loads of fun.
Founded as a crop-growing and livestock-raising settlement at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, the number of visitors grew. Especially when the railway was built in 1899, which made travel to this region more accessible.
The Tatrzański National Park offers many short and longer walking trails.
Although we spent seven nights in Zakopane and walked pretty much all over the town and out to the start of the walking trails, it was snowing so hard some days that we didn’t bother doing the walks, so only walked two of the longer trails.
The whole area is magical, especially walking along the trails.
Depending on your fitness level but more importantly, if you’re doing the trails in the snow, allow more time than the designated signage time. Also, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be stopping a lot to take numerous photos along the way.
Check out the Tourist Information wooden booth on T. Kościuszki and pick up your weather-resistant map (7PLN), which shows the well-marked walking trails (colour-coding and trail names match signs on the forest trails). So you shouldn’t get lost…even in the snow.
This trail is one of the shortest at around 2.8 kilometres, easiest, and closest to Zakopane so very popular with everyone, especially on a Sunday.
The walk is pretty flat and marked as a child-friendly trail, so many families take this trail, which should take 40 minutes. But, in the snow and if you stop for photos, this takes much longer. With spectacular vistas along the way, why rush?
This trail is longer than Strążyska and a little steeper, also in the snow, and a little harder.
The blue and yellow trails run parallel until they split.
The map and sign for the yellow path states it’s another 55 minutes to the next sign, but this takes longer in the snow and when taking many photos.
This region is nothing short of stunning amongst nature and the forest, so there’s no need to rush the trail.
A steep incline greets you for the last part of the trail. The scenery that awaits at the top is spectacular and well worth the climb.
From the signpost, there are several directions – choosing the black trail, this is signed at 15 minutes, but of course, this takes us longer.
Heading right at the next sign post, we trek back down to the parallel blue/yellow path from which we started.
Getting to Zakopane
In March 2015, the 3-carriage train (14PLN ‘Promotion fare’ – usually 18PLN) from Kraków for the 3.5-hour trip to Zakopane is old with hard plastic seats, but the heating works well.
Several locals including the lady selling us the ticket advised to take the bus as it’s about 2 hours and “better” by European standards.
Travel is slow across a flat and mostly farmland terrain.
Starting the incline slowly to Zakopane – about the last hour of the trip – unfolds snow-covered hills and very picturesque vistas. It’s the 31st of March tomorrow and Spring although still snowing a lot, so going to need the base layers again.
Luckily, the train is heated exceptionally well. I am sitting directly over a heater and the plastic seat is pretty hot!
Where to sleep?
If you don’t want to stay in hostels then self-contained apartments are still the most economical accommodation for two people.
Making breakfast and cooking dinner in the apartment saves a lot of cash, so a splurge on coffee and dessert every day is still affordable.
Daily budgeting means we’ve been able to travel for over a year now and hopefully can be out for some time yet.
On Brzozowa 36, this studio apartment is around a 5-minute walk from the train station – arriving at Zakopane station, the heavens opened. As this apartment is so close, we’re not too drenched.
I think the complex is empty, as I haven’t heard from anyone yet. I’m sure this will change over the Easter break.
The apartment is fairly new, clean, and with a small kitchenette, which is the reason to chose this accommodation for 7 nights. The price is also reasonable for this time of year (125PLN/night) but Wi-Fi is proving flaky – first time in Poland – and as all the apartments fill up over the busy weekend.
Mostly cooked in the apartment so not much to suggest for restaurants.
For the best burger around and if you feel like a massive meat hit, then you must try Stek Chalupa on Krupowki 73.
The burgers are advertised as 500g of 100% Angus beef in each burger, which comes with roast potatoes or chips, a couple of sauces, and coleslaw (33PLN).
You may experience a meat coronary!
The Glühwein (mulled wine, 7PLN) is also good but the quantity served in the stone cup is a tad stingy.
Besides hamburgers, this restaurant is a steakhouse but also has an extensive menu of delicious authentic Tatra food – great service and atmosphere in this very cosy carved wooden building.
Along Strążyska 39 is a great little coffee shop at the start of the Tatrzański National Park walking trails. Great ambience, staff, and stop-off after your walk for a beverage, savouries or cakes – reasonable prices considering the proximity to the National Park.
A few supermarkets in Zakopane but mostly closed over the Easter weekend – surprising for such a very popular tourist destination.
Yes, there is a small Tesco on ul. Chramcówki 30 – British supermarket chain.
Just down the road five minutes from the apartment, this Tesco offers everything you need including freshly baked bread and pastries.
On Aleja 3 Maja 9, the Biedronka chain is Poland’s answer to Aldi and is excellent for cheaper groceries than other chains. You won’t pick up your usual brands but I love wandering the shelves for many unusual delicious things to eat (I’m sad like that!).
After scouring the city on Easter Sunday and Monday for a grocery store, only found this tiny Żabka shop on Pardałówka 8, which opens on Monday and doing a roaring trade. Considering it’s the only place open for a few groceries, the prices are pretty reasonable. If you find yourself in Zakopane over a public holiday weekend, then this may be your only option.
As Kraków is an excellent transport hub and base for other destinations, decided to return here for a few nights before travelling on to Poznań. However, as the midday train isn’t running from Zakopane this time – a change of timetable – decided to return by bus (€15) instead.
Buses from the bus station run every 15-20 minutes and the trip should only take just over two hours and as it’s after the Easter weekend, so roads should be free of cars.
This could not be further from the truth. There is so much traffic that the bus journey takes almost three hours.
The road the bus travels on only crosses the rail line a few times so it’s different scenery to the train trip.
The landscape seems hillier than the much flatter farmland scenery on the train trip, which only became hilly during the last hour of the train journey. Both routes are still very picturesque.