7 Epic Things to do in Zakopane in Winter 2024

Why you should consider visiting Zakopane in winter

Two hours away only from Kraków is a real gem – Zakopane, the winter capital of Poland. It is a pity the city is not more well-known, as it is the perfect place to visit for a winter trip.

Winter in Zakopane does it all: snowy mountain caps, hot cocoa, warm blankets, melted cheese. The scenery is breathtaking and your wallet remains full. It truly is the perfect winter destination.

Zakopane is located in the heart of the Tatra mountains in southern Poland, at the very border of Slovakia. It is heaven for outdoor enthusiasts who want to cleanse the city stress. The city itself has a classic mountain resort warm and cozy ambiance to it, with a lively main street, Krupówki Street, and cozy restaurants and shops.

Visitors have access to a charming town with quaint stores, mountain hikes, strolls on frozen lakes, and all sorts of winter activities such as skiing or snowboarding, snowmobile tours, ice skating rinks, tobogganing, or even sleigh rides.

Zakopane is one of the most affordable winter resorts in Europe, without a doubt. In total, including roundtrip flights to Krakow, busses to Zakopane and back, accommodation, food, activities and souvenirs, 4 full days cost me around 300 euros.

This is the ultimate guide to visiting Zakopane in winter.

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A quick list of the attractions and activities in Zakopane 

Let’s quickly review the best things to do in Zakopane in the winter:

  • Visiting the town
  • Hiking in the Tatra National Park
  • Sightseeing
  • Snowboarding 
  • Skiing and ski jumping
  • Cable car rides 
  • Sleigh rides
  • Eat the local Polish cuisine 
  • Thermal Baths
  • Souvenirs shopping 

Zakopane in Winter: best things to do


The number one most appreciated activity in Zakopane is without a doubt hiking. The Morskie Oko hike is very popular, and very beginner-friendly. To get there, you must first take the 60-minute bus from the city’s main bus station to Polana Palenica Białczańska. There is an entrance fee of 9 zloty (2.25 euros).

The trail starts at the doors of the Tatras National Park and ends in the mountain lake Morskie Oko. You can then go on to the next lake, Czarny, and even further reach mountain peak Rysy, which will allow you to cross the border to Slovakia.

The trail is very beautiful and as I said, beginner-friendly. The round-trip to Morskie Oko takes 4.5 hours in winter, as the snow is hard to walk in and often slippery. You’ll need solid winter hiking shoes with good gripping soles, or add Snow Grips, which is what I ended up doing. I got mine at Alpine Pro in the city center.

If you want to enjoy the winter snow sights I did, you must go during the November-April period, as the mountains in winter look very different during spring and summer. The snow melts after April and makes way for beautiful greenery and the lakes are not frozen anymore.

In December, make sure to watch the hour so you don’t end up doing the return trip at night like I did. However, if you don’t make it in time on the way back, or if you’re in Zakopane with kids, you can take one of these horse sleigh rides under cozy blankets. It would make the moment memorable for sure!

Kasprowy Wierch is the second most popular hike in the Zakopane area. I personally did not attempt it, as I didn’t have enough time in the Zakopane region, but I’ve only heard good things about it from other travelers. It’s also very close, since the drive from Zakopane to the entrance of the Tatra National Park is only 10 min. 

Visit Krupówki Street, the main street in Zakopane

The city of Zakopane, on top of being a hiking spot, is also a quaint town with cute streets and shops and best of all, great restaurants. At the heart of Zakopane is Krupówki Street, its main street with everything you will need there. It’s the perfect place to sit back and watch passers-by for a few hours.  

If you need help, the tourist Office in the main bus station is a good source of information. Zakopane is home to many Museums, including the Tatra Museum, The Museum of Zakopane Style, The Gallery of 20th Century Art, and the Karol Szymanowski Museum which explores the life of Karol Szymanowski, the 2nd greatest Polish composer after Chopin.

You’ll also find plenty of sports equipment stores, which is practical when you need anything last minute.

Sightseeing at Gubałówka

At the center of Zakopane lies a cable car station, that takes you to the summit of Gubałówka Hill. A view of the snowy landscape of the Tatras mountains with the city at your feet is a mere cable car ride away. The wooden cottages add a charming touch to the winter scenery, it truly feels like a fairy tale. If you stroll down Krupowki Street, you’ll find souvenir boutiques and food stands selling snacks such as Oscypek, a smoked cheese unique to the region. Don’t miss out on the seasoned accordion potatoes on a stick!

Skiing and snowboarding

As the heart of Poland’s winter season, Zakopane is known for its ski slopes, from beginner-friendly to more challenging. The Nosal Ski Center offers a perfect playground for beginners, with easy slopes. 

You can rent all the equipment there, but I’d advise on getting ski gloves if you don’t want scratched bloody hands like me. If you’re a beginner I would also advise on not making the same mistake I did: not getting an instructor for the first lesson. Or risk falling on the ski slopes ten times more than you should!

All in all, between the ski station fee and the equipment renting, it cost me 16 euros for 2 hours of ski fun.

If you’re a pro at skiing and you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, Wielka Krokiew ski jump is for you. The space has even hosted the Ski Jumping World Cup before. The area is also perfect for cross-country skiing and many other winter sports: I recommend checking out Bazartatry, they offer ski lessons, snowmobile and ice climbing trips.

Eat the local Polish cuisine 

Zakopane offers a unique experience of Goral (Highlander) culture through dishes and specialties distinctive to these mountains. In all restaurants, the ambiance is warm with fur-covered seats, wood fires and hearty meals. You can enjoy specialties such as the classic Polish dumplings Pierogis, potato pancakes called Moskole with garlic cheese, or delicious Trout fried in butter. If you’re adventurous, maybe some deer meat! Meals in these restaurants are frequently complemented by traditional music provided by talented singers wearing full costumes.

I highly recommend Gazdowo Kuźnia for traditional dishes and Bifalo Steakhouse if you feel like an excellent Ribeye Steak.

Relax in a thermal bath

Thermal baths and spas are a fan-favorite activity for travelers in Poland and Zakopane because they constitute a good reprieve from more strenuous activities like hiking and skiing. The city’s thermal pools promise an unforgettable relaxation experience amid stunning panoramic views. The state-of-the-art facilities provide a perfect balance of modern luxury and traditional charm.

What and where to shop for souvenirs

The region’s skillful craftsmanship makes it easy to shop for souvenirs in Zakopane. You’ll find wool blankets, socks, and mittens adorned with colorful Highlander patterns, embroidered folk costumes, and hand-painted Easter eggs, known as Pisanki. I myself bought a pair of beautiful amber earrings, as they are traditional not only in Zakopane but in all of Poland. As well as a mug with a picture of the mountains on it!

I suggest going to Tatra Folk Art for the souvenirs and W.KRUK for the jewelry.

How to go to Zakopane

The easiest way to get to Zakopane is from Kraków MDA bus station, where you can catch a bus. The trip from Kraków to Zakopane is thankfully short, only 2 hours. I booked with Flixbus but alternatives exist in the form of national and regional companies such as Polonus, BP Tour and Maxbus.

You can also take the bus from Warsaw, but also from Budapest, Prague, Berlin or Kosice and Proprad in Slovakia.

You can also choose to book a day tour from Krakow with the many travel agencies you’ll find there, but then you might miss out on so much of what the city has to offer in outdoor experiences and Highlander culture.

Where to stay in Zakopane 

Zakopane’s architecture is an iconic facet of the city, with chalet-style homes adorned with wooden balconies and verandas, many of which you can stay at and enjoy:

Willa Rawa, a wonderful Zakopane-style chalet all in wood with big front porches and a gorgeous view of the mountains. At only 17 euros per night, this was my pick!

Hotel Helios, for a comfortable yet affordable hotel.

Aries Hotel & SPA Zakopane and Bachleda Residence Zakopane, for a luxury experience. Both come with a spa!

Top Hostel Pokoje Gościnne if you’re looking for a party hostel in the city center.

A few things to know before going to Zakopane

1- You’ll be surprised to learn that Poland is much closer to the North Pole than you would think. Apparently, they sometimes catch the Northern Lights! Which means that winter days are short: in December, night falls at 4 pm only. This completely messes with your perception of a day and how to use it – I remember feeling sleepy by 6 pm in the first few days I was there. You have to plan your day around the few hours of daylight you’re provided to optimize them, which usually means waking up earlier to be ready to go as soon as the sun is up.

2- Poland does not use euros as a currency, they use złoty (pronounced “zlo-ty”), which is equivalent to roughly 1/4th of a euro. It leaves you with a few options to remediate the problem:

  • Change your money before coming or when arriving.
  • Use Revolut and convert your money in the app. When I tested, fees amounted to 1 euro for every 100 euros.
  • Take an international option with little to no conversion charges with your credit card, which is what I ended up doing as it was the best hassle-free solution for me.

When in a pinch, I found Polish businesses still accept euros for the most part, but I would suggest not relying on that and finding a reliable solution instead.

Conclusion: why Zakopane deserves a spot on your bucket list

All in all, the Zakopane area is the best of Poland in winter, with a multitude of great sights and fun things to do. It’s not Poland’s winter capital for nothing! I have personally spent great winter holidays there, I’d say one of the best of my life even.  

So for me, Zakopane in winter is a fantastic experience that I cannot recommend enough, because the city really has it all: a charming town, breathtaking nature and plenty of winter fun. It is also one of the cheapest ski resorts of Europe, so you get great value out of that trip. Don’t even think, just book the next plane ticket!

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