This is an article written with love. You will find a list of awesome things to do in Zakopane in winter which includes few great hiking routes and an in-depth analysis of great Polish food.
Zakopane – the winter capital of Poland. The truth is that Zakopane is fantastic to visitit at any time of the year. Glorious with blooming flowers in the spring, warm, green and great for hiking in the summer (and those lakes!), covered by a colourful duvet of fall leaves in the Autumn and in the winter? What can I say? Zakopane in winter is just magical!
Zakopane is one of the best winter destinations in Europe. It is also one of my favourite cities in Poland – at any time o the year. But most recently, my sister and I have spent few days in Zakopane during winter, and we had an absolutely fantastic time! There are so many awesome things to do in Zakopane in winter that spending a month or a whole winter wouldn’t be enough. So let me list it all, and you can choose and pick to your liking.
Disclaimer – please forgive me if I’m biased. I’m Polish, and I love Zakopane! You will not hear any complaints here.
Zakopane is the largest city near the Tatra Mountains, located just a couple of hours drive from Krakow. It is extremely popular with skiers and winter sports amateurs, which is why it is often called the winter capital of Poland.
If you are wondering if Zakopane is worth visiting, wonder no more! With the extraordinary beauty of Tatras and surrounding valleys, loads of fun things to do no matter time of the year and very reasonable prices, Zakopane is definitely worth visiting, and you should put it on your bucket list today! Zakopane offers a perfect blend of outdoors and adventure, great hotels, beautiful views and interesting traditions – everyone will find something for themselves!
Stroll down the Krupowki Street
Even if you decided to do nothing at all, no skiing, no hiking – Krupowki in winter would make your stay delightful.
Krupowki is Zakopane’s main street and famous pedestrian area but also its historic centre. It is the true heart of Zakopane. Lined with restaurants, bars, street food stalls, mulled wine stalls and souvenir shops – you will find everything you need in Krupowki. You can purchase your hiking gear here or just enjoy a simple shopping spree. In the winter, when the day is shorter, the streets are lit and beautifully decorated. You can grab a mulled wine, zapiekanka or potato cake (about this later) and soak in the winter vibe. And if it snows enough to cover the streets in white down of snow – you won’t want to leave!
Discover Traditional Architecture on Koscieliska Street
Koscieliska Street is the oldest street in Zakopane and is the heart of traditional wooded architecture of the Podhale Region.
A walk along Kościeliska Street is an integral part of the stay in Zakopane. This oldest street in the town is full of important monuments, especially of wooden architecture. Here you will find the oldest church and chapel in Zakopane and the oldest Cementary in Zakopane – Cmentarz Zasłużonych na Pęksowym Brzyzku, as well as many wooden buildings representing the style of Zakopane the Podhale Highlanders.
Visit Gobalowka Hill
Gubałówka is probably one of the most visited mountains, regardless of the season. Gobalowka offers a stunning panorama view of Zakopane and the surrounding mountains and valleys. The views from Gobalowka in Zakopane are to die for.
It is a fun way to spend the morning or afternoon. You can take a funicular up to the hill and spend a day exploring, having fun and relaxing.
There are many attractions for tourists on Gobalowka. You will find many street food stalls, souvenir shops, challenge park, quad bike or snowmobile rental, snow park, mini ski cross, and great restaurants where you can try delicious Polish food. The Land of Lights was recently opened on Gubałówka Hill, and after 4 p.m., you can see the illuminations referring to the Tatra Mountain highlander tradition.
Take a Cable Car to Kasprowy Wierch
I don’t ski. I know it is weird as this is a very popular sport in Poland. But I don’t. Nevertheless, visiting Kasprowy Wierch was one of the highlights of my time in Zakopane in winter.
Kasprowy Wierch is Poland’s most famous ski resort, but it also offers the most incredible views of winter mountains. The cable ride is an adventure in itself, and once you arrive, you can take a dreamy walk around the slopes and soak up the views. I was recommended to rent crampons (just small ones) as it can get pretty slippery to walk around. I took the advice and was very glad I did. It is fun for all – families, skiers and amateurs of mountain views. Amazing photo opportunities as well. It is a truly magical thing to do in Zakopane in winter.
There is a meteorological and astronomical observatory on the top of Kasprowy Wierch. From the top, you can admire the wonderful panorama of the Western Tatras with Czerwony Wierchy and Giewont, as well as the High Tatras. From Kasprowy Wierch, you can go down to Hala Gąsienicowa or Sucha Przełęcz, yet this is definitely a walk you would rather not do in winter unless you are an experienced hiker.
Hike to Morskie Oko – One of the most beautiful lakes in the world!
Morskie Oko is the largest and the most visited lake in the Polish Tatras and a very popular hiking destination in Zakopane. It is one of the most recognizable places in the Tatra Mountains, and the trail leading to the lake is pretty comfortable. The trail resembles more a long walk rather than a mountain trek.
The Morskie Oko (translated as Eye of the Sea) is one of the most beautiful lakes in Poland and even some claim (myself included) in the world.
In fact, New York’s The Wall Street Journal has compiled a list of the five most beautiful lakes in the world. Morskie Oko was in the lead amongst The American Lake Powell, Kenyan Nakuru, Swiss Lucerne and Finnish Saimaa.
The incredible beauty of the lake Morskie Oko is undeniable.
Morskie Oko, located at an altitude of 1,395 m above sea level, is surrounded by the High Tatras. In the summer, the water is of beautiful green and blue colour, and its clarity was assessed to be at 11 to 14 meters. The lake usually freezes in November, thaws in May. It is beautiful at any time of the year. I promised myself that I would return in the summer to photograph it in its summer colours.
On the moraine closing the lake from the north, sits a famous PTTK mountain shelter. Located at an altitude of 1405 meters above sea level, it is one of the oldest and most beautiful Tatra shelters. It is now considered a historic building. Above Morskie Oko, towards the south, lies another large lake – Czarny Staw pod Rysami. Some brave or experienced hikers can continue this way in the winter. I would instead do this trek in summer conditions. There is a considerable avalanche hazard throughout the whole way, and the day is far too short for such a strenuous hike. At least for me.
Although the road to the Morskie Oko takes about 2 hours one way, it is not very demanding. However, it is exceptionally picturesque. You can get to the beginning of the route by bus. The road is well marked. In winter, I recommend leaving early. The day is short, and the whole trip can take up to 5 hours.
Explore Tatra National park and hike its stunning Valleys and Clearings (trails description)
Zakopane is an extraordinary city bordering the Tatra National Park. One of the most incredible things to do in Zakopane is exploring and hiking in Tatra National Park and its picturesque valleys and clearings.
Comes winter, those mountains are transforming into a fairy-tale-like magical land. The views of majestic snow-capped Tatra Mountains while hiking are making up for the cold and sometimes more challenging hiking conditions. While hiking in the mountains in the winter, there are many things you need to remember and be careful about (full list below), but it is also one of the best things to do in Zakopane in winter.
But Tatra National Park boasts trails for all – those experienced, adrenaline-seeking hikers as well as families and children. You will find stunning valleys, clearings and trails that can be easily accessed from Zakopane and offer hiking opportunities for everyone, regardless of their physical condition and age.
I put together a list of some great hikes near Zakopane you can do in winter:
Droga pod Reglami
Droga pod Reglami is not so much a trail as a walking path – perfect if you don’t fancy hiking but would love a good winter walk.
A walk along this path offers charming views of the Zakopane valleys and the Gubałówka range. Therefore if you are not planning hikes to any of Zakopane valleys – his walk is a must-do!
The trail essentially runs along the outskirts of Zakopane and Kościelisko. It is an interesting and varied walk – along the forest, next to the famous ski jump complex and Wielka Krokiew, steams and bridges.
A walk by Droga pod Reglami is a very popular winter walk in Zakopane. It combines the pleasure of hiking along a mountain trail with the possibility of glancing at the most beautiful valleys in the Tatra Mountains. This combination of hills and valleys creates a unique experience. If you decide to take just one easy walk – this is the best hike you can take in Zakopane in winter.
To make it a local hike without taking any public transport, start at the Wielka Krokiew Ski Jump instead of Kuznice.
- Starting point: Wielka Krokiew
- Point-to-Point Trail
- Difficulty Level: Easy
- Length of the route: 8 km (but there is possibility of covering any section of the route given there is access to public transport)
- Walking time: Around 3:00 hours
Strazyska Valley (Dolina Strążyska)
Strazyska Valley is one of the most beautiful mountain valleys located near Zakopane. It is also an easy path and has long been a destination for tourists of all ages and fitness levels. While walking there, you will experience the pure beauty of winter mountains. The picturesque Strążyski Stream flows at the bottom of the valley, forming very scenic cascades and waterfalls in many places alonf the trail.
The grand finale of this beautiful walk is the view of Giewont mountain with its 600 m majestic wall.
I also recommend going to the Siklawica waterfall – which is only ten minutes of rerouting.
- Starting point: Zakopane, Strążyska Street – entrance to the Strążyska Valley
- Out-and-Back Trail
- Difficulty Level: In good weather conditions, no difficulties.
- Length of the route: 5 km
- Walking time: Around 2:00 hours (in winter, the walking time may be longer)
Rusinowa Polana and Gesia Szyja
Rusinowa Polana is one of the most scenic hiking spots near Zakopane! Very panoramic and at the same time easily accessible. It is one of the most enchanting places in the Tatra Mountains.
From here, you will see a beautiful panorama of the High Tatras, including the peaks of Gerlach and Rysy. And if you are a lover of mountain sunrises – Rusinowa Polana is said to be one of the best to marvel at one of those!
Make it a day trip as the head of the trail is located 20km away from Zakopane. But it is definitely worth it and will be an unforgettable walk. The trail starts at the car park by Wierch Poroniec and to get there you can take a local bus from Zakopane. From there, take a green trail towards Rusinowa Polana.
You can just stay there and marvel at the beauty of the landscape or, If the conditions allow, continue following the green trail towards Gesia Szyja (Goose Neck). From there, you return to Rusinowa Polana the same way.
- Starting point: Wierch Poroniec
- Out-and-Back Trail
- Difficulty Level: To Rusinowa Polana itself, from Wierch Porońca, there should be no problems. In worse conditions, the Goose Neck trail may be icy (crampons might be needed)
- Length of the route: 9.5 km
- Walking time: Around 3:00 hours (in winter, the walking time may be longer)
Hala Gasienicowa is an absolutely unique place worth visiting at any time of the year. Yet, it is a bit more challenging hike in comparison to the previous two. You will cross many height differences in a pretty short time, and in winter conditions, this can be challenging for inexperienced walkers.
An unquestionable attraction of the valley is the Murowaniec Mountain Shelter. Mountain shelters are a very popular destination amongst hikers in the winter and often make a trail goal where you can rest and warm up before returning.
In winter, the fastest and easiest way to get here is via the black trail from Brzeziny. If you’d rather do a more challenging ascent via Boczań or Jaworzynka, I recommend packing crampons – it can be slippery on steep sections of the route. You can also approach the Czarny Gąsienicowy Lake, but do check the weather information before heading there as avalanches occur in this section! You will have to pay the Tatra National Park entrance fee once you arrive – 7 PLN ($1.7)
It is not a hike for complete beginners, but it is definitely worth the effort. My recommendation is to make the trail from Brzeziny in the winter – it will make a pleasant and peaceful walk rewarding you with spectacular views towards the end. You can get to Brzeziny by taking a local bus from Zakopane.
- Starting point: Brzeziny
- Out-and-Back Trail
- Difficulty Level: Easy to moderate
- Length of the route: 6.5 km
- Walking time: Around 2:00 hours (in winter, the walking time may be longer)
Kościeliska Valley (Dolina Koscieliska)
The Kościeliska Valley is one of the most beautiful valleys in the Tatra Mountains. It is an ideal place for walks in winter. The great thing about this valley is not only the fact that it is full of charm but also allows you to easily expand your trip to with of the nearby attractions, with Smreczyński Staw (good luck pronouncing it!) being my personal recommendation.
On the way to Koscieliska Valley, you will see rocky narrowings, known as the gates: the Kantak Gate, the Kraszewski Gate and the Raptawicka Gate – in winter, many of them are covered with icefalls.
The valley measures 9 kilometres in length. A green hiking trail runs along the valley floor, from Kiry to the shelter on Hala Ornak. The journey through the valley is easy and accessible to practically everyone.
You will have to pay the park’s entrance fee to do this trek
- Starting point: Kiry
- Out-and-Back Trail
- Difficulty Level: Easy
- Length of the route: 11 km
- Walking time: Around 3:00 hours
Important tips for winter hiking in Zakopane and Tatry Mountains (PLEASE read before you go!)
- It doesn’t matter how easy the hike appears to be – you are hiking in the mountains. The weather can change from one minute to another, and days in winter are much shorter. Please be prepared.
- Before leaving, check the current weather and avalanche reports (click here). In Poland, there is a five-level avalanche risk scale. The higher the degree, the greater the avalanche risk.
- Know where you are going, with a calculated time of passage.
- At your hotel, leave the information on where you are going, what route and when you intend to return. Many hotels will ask for it if you tell them you are going hiking.
- Make sure your phone is fully charged and enter an emergency number for TOPR 601 100 300.
- Pack crampons, head torch, thermos with hot tea or coffee, plenty of water, high calories snacks, lunch, sunglasses and a map. I always carry a power bank for longer trips. Don’t think you will not need crampons! The trails tend to be very slippery (I fell around ten times on my way back from Morskie Oko even though the route is easy) – crampons will make your hike easier and more comfortable. You can rent small crampons all around Zakopane and at the majority of head trails.
- Dress appropriately. Layers are the best way of dressing for a winter hike: breathable and thermal underlayers, fleece and waterproof winter jacket. Remember about a hat and gloves. And of course, good quality and waterproof hiking shoes. Hiking poles are great for some trails as well.
- It is crucial to constantly observe whether the weather changes during the hike. With a sudden break in the weather, worsening visibility, wind or snowfall, it may be wiser to turn back on your traces than to wander further into the unknown. This is one time when I will not advise you to go outside of your comfort zone. In 2020 TOPR carried out 606 rescue operations in the Tatra Mountains, including 229 with the participation of a helicopter.
Many of those folks underestimated the weather conditions and what it takes to hike in the mountains.
I am not saying it to scare you. Hiking in Tatras is a fantastic experience – if you are well prepared and mindful. Enjoy!
Go Skiing or Snowboarding in Zakopane in Winter
Winter sports, including skiing and snowboarding, are among the best things to do in Zakopane in winter. While in summer, Zakopane is visited by lovers of alpine tourism, in winter, it turns into a paradise for skiers and snowboarders.
There is a reason why Zakopane was named the Polish winter capital. Zakopane is known for being a winter sports centre and a beautiful holiday resort, known both in Poland and abroad. Every year, the city is visited by crowds of winter sports enthusiasts. Many great skiing slopes attract ski-lovers from all over the country, but Zakopane is also a place where Wielka Krokiew, the largest ski jump in Poland, is located. It is a regular host of the prestigious Ski Jumping World Cup.
Here are The best slopes and ski resorts in Zakopane
- Kasprowy Wierch (1987 m above sea level). One of the most popular peaks in Poland, which in winter becomes a true paradise for skiers. It is the highest place in Poland from which you can ski. There are three available ski runs. Two of them are marked as black (very difficult – Gąsienicowy kettle (1,200 m) and the Goryczkowy kettle (1,770 m).
The third route – the ski slope from Goryczkowa, marked in blue, is 3500 meters long. You will be transported to the top by cable car, and it will run in two sections.
Nosal Mountain is another very popular ski resort offering all levels of ski slopes. It offers spectacular views and it used to host Alpine World Cup ski championships. Nosal slopes are one of the best organized and equipped ski areas in Poland. In this small area there are as many as 9 ski lifts, a cable car, parking lots, restaurants, a hotel and ski service points. Most of the routes are artificially snowed, illuminated and serviced by snow groomers.
Harenda Ski Station – consists of six ski routes, a cross-country and a ski-tour route. The longest (difficult) track is 900 m long. The shortest (very easy) track is only 100 m. Within the resort, there is a ski kindergarten with a varied ski run. The routes are marked with all the colours of the difficulty levels. There is even a green marking on the maps of the resort (very easy exit).
There are many more ski resorts worth looking into so for more information and resorts details visit this page.
Ski schools operate practically at each of the ski lifts so if you are looking for a place to start your skiing adventure, Zakopane might be your place.
Relax in Thermal Bath
The history of hot water pools in Poland dates back to 1844 when the oldest thermal spring in Poland was discovered. Thermal baths allow for both relaxation and active recreation and are gaining popularity among visitors to Zakopane. This is a great way to relax and repair, especially in winter – after a long hike or morning spent skiing.
Some of the most popular Thermal baths in Zakopane include:
Termy Bukovina – The largest Thermal Spa complex in Poland. Located in Bukowina Tatrzańska, it provides twenty swimming pools. It includes pools inside and outside the complex, saunas, spa and entertainment for children – all with a beautiful view of the mountains.
Chochołowskie Thermal Baths – located in Chochołów, this largest facility of this type in the region. It offers 30 pools filled with thermal water with healing and therapeutic properties, saunas, a spa and a fitness centre.
Terma Bania in Białka Tatrzańska is a great destination for whole family. It boasts indoor and outdoor pools with slides, geysers and other fun as well as saunas and many relaxation areas. Saunas in the Polish mountains are great – just in case, you didn’t know about it. You will have a choice of wet and dry saunas, many infused with healing herbs. This is where I have learnt to love saunas!
In Szaflary, you will find Gorący Potok in Szaflary, which is a complex of several pools with natural sulfur water, massage fountains, geysers, slides, a relaxation zone and even a rope park.
Some claim that relaxing in Thermal Baths after Morskie Oko is the best thing to do in Zakopane in winter. You should go and find out 🙂
Visit one of many Zakopane’s Museums
Once you are all refreshed and relaxed after visiting the thermal spa, it is time to hit a museum. If this is something that ticks your fancy.
In Tatra Museum (Muzeum Tatrzanskie), you will be able to learn about local culture and folk art and Tatra-Highlander culture as well as the beginnings of the independence movement during the partitions. It is a very interesting museum built in traditional Zakopane style. You will not see anything like this anywhere in the world!
The Museum of Zakopane Style at the Koliba Villa is one of the most beautiful museums in Zakopane, and it is partly because of the building itself! You will find many interesting traditional exhibits inside but touring the building, and the traditional decor will make you feel like you went back in time. Highly recommended!
The most popular regional cheese – Oscypek – has its own museum. Taste it first! Then some more and then visit Oscypek Museum and learn about how it is made. There is a reason why this is the most popular cheese in Poland.
Awaken the child within. Get lost in the snow labyrinth and visit the ice castle.
Who said you need to be a child to have some innocent fun.
Zakopane’s Snow Labirynth is the world’s biggest snow maze and is larger than ten tennis courts. It was pieced together using over 60,000 ice blocks, and 50 workers were building the structure for over a month.
The Snow labyrinth is located in the Snowlandia (Winter Wonderland) complex near the Wielka Krokiew Ski Jump, which also features a snow castle full of hidden ice tunnels, sculptures and hidden treasure. It is beautifully illuminated at night, so definitely check it out in the evening! And no, there is no age limit to enjoy it!
Try delicious Polish food – Eat, drink ad be merry
You could not say you visited Zakopane if you didn’t try some great traditional Polish food. And drinks! Stroll down Krupowki Street, and you will be spoiled for choice! From street food stalls to traditional and upmarket restaurants – you will not go hungry. Oh, and of course, while you are in Zakopane in winter – you just have to try traditional mulled wine!
Here are a few of my recommendations – the best food to try in Zakopane!
Kwasnica Soup – Traditional sauerkraut soup. We like our cabbage in Poland. And this one is just the best after a winter hike! Prepared with fermented sour cabbage and smoked meat, it has a rich, smoky flavour. Have some after your Morskie Oko hike at the mountain shelter there!
Zurek (Żurek) – another great traditional polish soup, and my favourite! Made on a base of fermented rye flour (you would be surprised!) made with white sausage, smoked meat, and often topped with a boiled egg. You just have to try it!
Potato pancakes (Placki Ziemniaczane) – topped with either sour cream or think sauce, those potato pancakes are one of the most traditional Polish foods. In Zakopane, often served as street food, they are great to snack or even a dinner choice. I’m salivating, trust me!
Oscypek – Ok, this is the king of cheeses. This smoked cheese is made of salted sheep milk exclusively in the Tatra Mountains in Poland. Its production is actually regulated by EU standards since it has been included in the EU list of protected products.
The cheesemaking process is very traditional, and it can only be produced by Baca (Polish head shepherd and cheese farmer) and need to contain at least 60% of sheep milk. It is best served grilled with the side of cranberry sauce. It tastes heavenly!
Kaszanka (Polish Blood Sausage) is a Polish delicacy made from pork meat, barley or buckwheat and pig’s blood. You will find many stands with kaszanka, Polish sausage and roasted potatoes on the majority of the slopes and everywhere around Zakopane. It is the best street food!
Pierogi – Who doesnt know pierogi! Stuffed with cabbage and mushrooms, meat, potato and cheese, and so many other ingredients are best enjoyed fried with onion! Yummy!
Apple Pie. Polish know how to bake. And Apple Pie is one of the best pies you could have in Poland and in Zakopane. Don’t have it if it isn’t served warm! Then have some cream or ice cream added and be the happiest person out there.
And to top it up – try Polish mulled wine (Grzaniec). Zakopane in winter is lined up with stalls and shops selling mulled wine in all styles and flavours. Be careful – warm wine can make you very merry very quickly.
Spend Christmass and NYE in Zakopane
If you haven’t considered spending Christmass or Yes Years Eve (or both) in Zakopane, I think you should. What better place to spend Christmas than the Polish winter capital. Christmas is a very special time in Poland and very much still traditional. Given Zakopane’s location, white Christmas is nearly guaranteed! During the festive season, Zakopane becomes even more alive. In the evening lit and decorated, lots of attractions explicitly tailored to this season, charming accommodation facilities, Christmas markets, atmospheric highlander taverns, and all this surrounded by the snow-capped majestic Tatra Mountains.
And if you are planning to have a great time during New Year’s Eve celebrations – trust me – Polish people know how to party, and Zakopane will not disappoint!
Is Zakopane Expensive?
In comparison to any other Western European city, Zakopane is still very affordable. The price of accommodation, food and entertainment is very reasonable given the rising popularity of the town. However, ski resorts are a little bit more expensive than those in neighbouring Slovakia.
You will be able to enjoy a very decent and affordable evening meal on Krupowki Street and around Zakopane. You could have delicious potato pancakes for $3 at Regionalny Bar Mleczny, a full fish or meat meal at Marzanna for $5 and of course, luxury steak, duck or a fancy vegetarian meal at Goralska Tradycja for $15.
Accommodation varies from around $7 for a room or $10 for a room with a bathroom and kitchenette (basic but good standard), all the way to luxury rooms in hotels with spas or private cottages at prices as low as $50 per night.
The best way to find well-priced accommodation is to use the Polish portal nocowanie.pl. It is in Polish, but you can use Google Translate, and you will be able to find the most extensive selection of accommodation in Zakopane.
If you’d like to stay in the hostel and near the town centre, there are a few really cool hostels you could choose from like Hostel 1902 or Target Hostel. A bit further out of the ton but with great reviews and close to National Park you will find Good Bye Lenin Hostel
All in all, a single traveller could spend a week in Zakopane for a total of around $250 upwards – depending on budget and preferences. Excluding ski passes.
How much does it cost to ski in Zakopane?
A day ski pass for Kasprowy Wierch cost around $30 during peak season. On cheaper slopes, you will, of course, pay much less than that. You can also buy Tatry Super Ski. By purchasing it, you can use 14 ski stations in the whole Podhale region. A weekly pass for an adult costs PLN 505 ($127).
There is no problem with renting skis in Zakopane – the rental shop is almost on every corner. You can rent practically all equipment there (skis, poles, boots, goggles, snowboards). Prices for renting the basic set for 24 hours up to an expense of PLN 40-50 ($10-$12)
How to get to Zakopane
You can get to Zakopane from most of the larger cities in Poland like Krakow, Katowice, or Warsaw.
The best way to get to Zakopane is to take a bus or train to Krakow first.
From Krakow, you can either take a bus or train to Zakopane. Flexibus will take you to Zakopane in just over 2 hours for $9. You can also opt for a train from Krakow to Zakopane, but trains in Poland are not the most reliable and are a little more expensive. I recommend taking the bus instead.
Is Zakopane worth visiting in winter? Definitely yes! It is a truly magical winter wonderland. The town is full of life, food to die for, loads of winter activities and entertainment and all in the surrounding of the most beautiful snow-capped Tatra Mountain.
I hope that I have convinced you and you are planning your winter stay in Zakopane already. I am.