Where: Zakopane, Poland.
Zakopane is a ski resort on the edge of the High Tatras mountains, close to the Polish/Slovakian border. It is about two hours drive away from Krakow.
When: February 2011
Why: For my 32nd birthday, Jeff and I went on a mini-Eastern Europe tour, where we visited Krakow and Zakopane in Poland, Zidar and Bratislava in Slovakia and Budapest in Hungary.
Zakopane is a fairy tale, wooden town on the edge of the High Tatras mountains.
When you hear the name High Tatras, you kind of expect quite high, intimidating mountains – but actually, they’re not: they’re quite cute, accessible mountains and this is a very cute, accessible town in the foothills.
Zakopane, I think, will become one of the hot new places for sports in the next few years as it’s so cheap, accessible and so cool (although Jeff said the skiing didn’t look that great). The town is made of wood. They have a little bubbling river with restaurants built over it. It’s a town from a Grimm fairy tale and I love it. And because it’s in Poland (which is one of my favourite counties), the people are wonderfully friendly, they have amazing food, wine and beer and everything is great value.
We only stayed in Zakopane for one night on our way from Krakow to Slovakia, so we didn’t actually do anything in town apart from eat meat and drink wine (perhaps that’s why we liked it so much), and we had a look at the pretty wooden buildings and churches – but I’d definitely like to go back to spend a little longer here.
Zakopane is quite a sizable town – with a station, bus station, lots of hotels, shops, bars, restaurants etc. – and it is very much a resort town with cute markets, souvenir shops, people in strange fancy dress etc. – but I liked it and I’d like to go back to spend more time here and to explore the surrounding area in more depth.
We caught the bus to Zakopane from Krakow bus station. It was really easy to locate the bus and it took about three hours to get to Zakopane. Some services only take two hours.
Krakow’s bus station is on the far side of the train station. When we were there there was a large departure board listing all of the destinations, times, bus platforms etc. and the ticket ladies were really helpful in directing us to our bus. We paid for our tickets on the bus and it cost us about £4 each.
If you’d like to pre-book your tickets or get times and prices in English, you can do this at the Mayer website. From looking at their site today (December 2016) there seems to be a service about every half an hour. You can also get times and book tickets on the Szwagro Pol website. This isn’t in English though it is pretty easy to navigate, even in Polish.
There is also a train station at Zakopane but from what we could understand, the trains take much longer to get there than the bus – so we just caught the bus. If you’d like to take the train, even though it takes double the time and costs twice as much, then you can book tickets online at the Polrail website.
After Zakopane, we caught the bus to Zidar in Slovakia – which is where we stayed on the other side of the High Tatras mountains. For more information on travelling to Zidar, visit the Slovakia page.
What we did on our holiday
To be honest, Zakopane was just an overnight stop point for us and so we didn’t really ‘do’ anything apart from enjoy being in this pretty town and admired the scenery. I’ve included a What we didn’t do section as I think that we missed quite a lot and we will have to go back to explore further.
Looked at the wooden houses and churches
Zakopane is famous for it’s wooden buildings, which are very ornate and pretty. That is all.
One of my favourite meals ever was at Czarny Straw in Zakopane, where Jeff and I ate meat! This trip to eastern Europe was magical for us as we were all young and falling in love and I particularly remember this meal for being all giggly and fun. Also, the food was fantastic. We had the meat platter, which included different sausages and wonderful roasts, accompanied by fluffy baked potatoes and a fresh salad from a salad bar (I love a good salad bar).
The meal was giggly, partly because the service here was so bad and the menus came on something which looked like an axe (we think it was to hit the servers over the head with when their service was so bad). Despite this though, I loved this place and would go back to Zakopane just to visit this restaurant.
Zakopane is a great place to eat. There were a number of restaurants and bars perched over the river – which made for a beautiful setting. There were lots of good local cafes too, serving hearty pastries and warm drinks – all lovely and hygge for a cosy afternoon.
Whilst in Zakopane we discovered Knopper chocolate bars, which are much more common now; we bought something off a man on the street which we thought was bread, but which turned out to be smelly, street cheese; and whilst waiting for our bus to Zidar we went into a local milk bar where we had amazing sausage broth and drank compote, a kind of stewed fruit drink (much more delicious than it sounds).
What we didn’t do on our holiday
Tatras National Park
Zakopane is the Polish gateway to the Tatras National Park. From the town there are many hikes that you can do, from gentle strolls to tough treks. Apparently you can get a really good map fro the tourist information centre in town which details all of the trails and their difficulty. An easy trail to take is to walk the 40 minutes from town to the Siklawa Waterfalls or you could walk up to Morskie Oko lake.
The funicular runs from Zakopane up to Gubałówka Hill (1100m). From here you can get great views of the town and the mountains. From what I remember, the funicular departs from just next to Czarny Straw restaurant, right in the centre of town – so you can have fun (icular) and then go eat some meat straight after.
At the top there is a chairlift and a gravitational slide.
A return ticket is 21zl (about £4). You can find out more and buy tickets from the PKL website.
Kasprowy Wierch cable car
The cable car going up Mount Kasprowy is one of the oldest still working cable cars in Europe. It was built in 1935.
The cable car departs from the upper side of Zakopane (Kuznice) and takes 10 minutes to get to the top of Mount Kasprowy (1,987m). You have to change cable cars at 1,300m. There is a restaurant at the top and a metereological centre, which is the highest building in Poland.
A return ticket currently costs 63ZL (about £12).
You can find out more and book tickets (in English) at www.pkl.pl/kasprowy-wierch/kasprowy.html
Zakopane is a winter wonderfland apparently, with skiing, snowboarding, torch lit skiing, husky rides and horse drawn sleighs.
I’m not a skier, but Jeff has skied quite a bit and he said the slopes near town seemed to be good for beginners, but a little too easy for more advanced skiers – though obviously we only saw the ski runs near town.
Discover Zakopane has a good list of the ski runs and how to access them. They also list prices and facilities, including where you can hire equipment.
The Guardian described Zakopane as the perfect beginner’s skiing resort. They especially appreciated the pay-as-you-go lift passes and the low prices in the resort.
PKL has a brilliant website with information about all of the above and great overview information about the region, all in English. You can buy ski passes on the website.
Burkovina/Burkowina is a thermal resort located about half an hour from Zakopane. They have a wonderful thermal spa and nice hotels here.
Bukowina Thermal water park/spa looks amazing and fun. Whoever named their attractions is a genius. The outdoor pools include Bubbler-Bubb and Wetty-Wetty, there’s saunas called Highland Spring and Ohmygourmet, and a slide called the Kinky-Sprinky.
There’s a children and teenager zone and a separate adults only zone.
A normal ticket for two and a half hours entry is 49zl, about £10. You can buy your ticket online at the Terma Bukowina website.
Termal Bukowina reminds me of the waterpark we visited in Drukininkai in Lithuania, and that can only be a good thing.
Apparently you can get a minibus to Burkovina from Zakopane bus station. They seem to run approximately every hour. Rozklady Jazdy have a list of Zakopane bus times, including Bukovina, on their website.
Aquapark Zakopane has pools, saunas, jacuzzis, slides and a lazy river ride. It also has a bowling alley. This is much easier to access than Bukowina, but doesn’t look as nice and the slide names aren’t so good. Their website is only in Polish, but I think it looks as if a normal ticket is 20zl (about £4). www.aquapark.zakopane.pl.
There seemed to be quite a lot of good shopping in Zakopane, especially on Krupówki street. There were a lot of artistic shops in the centre and apparently there are quite a few galleries as well. I love going to the supermarket in Poland too, as there are always interesting foods to buy. Apparently there is a daily cheese market. We bought our cheese on the street, by the train station.
Cafe Piano has a bar with swings instead of stools. I’ve always wanted to go to one of these: www.cafepianozakopane.net.
Where we stayed
Gorgeous wooden hotel in the old town part of Zakopane. The Willa was full of character and individuality and was a great place to stay.
Our room was lovely. We had wood panelled walls, thick blankets, all the facilities you could need (i.e. kettle, hair dryer etc.), comfy arm chairs to snuggle down in with a good book and interesting artwork. Our room had beautiful views of the mountains and the ski runs and, best of all, we had the deepest, most gorgeous jacuzzi bath (although we couldn’t work out how to use the jacuzzi bit).
The Willa Orla served yummy breakfasts with a huge selection of local meats, cheeses and home made jams etc. They also provided free internet and free sledge hire.
The Willa was a little hard to find because it is ten minutes out of town and street numbers don’t quite make sense in Poland – but if you are trying to find it – it’s just opposite the small supermarket.
We could have booked the Willa Orla through HostelBookers, but as our plans were a little vague we didn’t prebook, we just headed there when we got to Zakopane. Luckily they had space and they gave us keys to all of the spare rooms and told us to take our pick. We paid £35 for the room for one night. I highly recommend this guest house.
wikipedia.org/wiki/Zakopane and wikitravel.org/en/Zakopane
Please note, some, if not much of this information may not be correct, or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to site which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is my own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
If you think I’ve missed something important or have got something wrong, please let me know in the comments section below.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.
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