Carpeted under a blanket of snow, with hoardes of tourists giving it a pulsating atmosphere, Zakopane in winter is magical.
The centre of the Góral (Polish Highlanders) culture and nestled in the Tatra Mountains, Zakopane is full of traditional folklore and it offers a wide range of attractions during the winter holidays.
The city of Zakopane is potentially the most popular skiing destination in Poland, but as well as the slopes it boasts ice rinks, toboggan runs and cross-country tracks.
Plus, it’s in the midst of the Tatra National Park, with attractive landscapes and beautiful views.
In this article, we’ll detail why it’s such a special place in the winter months!
What’s Zakopane like in winter?
Zakopane is located in the mountain climate zone of Poland, which is characterised by a low average annual temperature of barely five degrees!
The coldest month is January, when the thermometer drops to -7.0°C (19.4°F).
But don’t let the freezing temperatures put you off!
Zakopane is the winter capital of Poland, and it has perfect weather for skiing and a fun wintery atmosphere!
In January, February and March tourists from all over the country and abroad come to this ski resort.
Things to do in Zakopane in winter
Explore the city centre including Krupówki Street and Kościeliska Street
Krupówki, bustling and vibrant with life and full of tourists, is the most famous promenade in Poland and a lively street in the very centre of Zakopane.
At about 1.1 kilometres/ 0.7 miles long, Zakopane Main Street enchants tourists with elegant restaurants serving regional dishes, street vendors, cafes, pastry shops, ice cream parlours and social pubs.
You will also find horse-drawn carriages and old carts selling oscypek and regional foods.
An essential part of sightseeing in Zakopane is taking a walk along the Kościelnicka Street.
This is the oldest street of the town, where you will be able to explore historic huts representing the style of the Podhale Highlanders and Zakopane wooden architecture.
The oldest church in Zakopane – the Old Church or First Church – is also situated here.
Skiing is one of the most incredible experiences that you can have in Poland in winter, and Zakopane is the best place to try it!
Zakopane is an immensely popular winter ski destination (and there are plenty of other winter sports on offer too, like snowboarding and snow shoeing!).
There are plenty of incredible skiing slopes that attract snow-lovers to Zakopane. On them, you will find numerous, perfectly prepared runs of varying difficulty.
For beginner skiers, the slopes on Nosal, Gubałówka, Lipki or Wielka Krokiew are perfect, while more advanced skiers can enjoy runs on Polana Szymoszkowa or Kasprowy Wierch.
Don’t have your own equipment? Need to brush up on lessons?
Don’t worry – rental shops and ski schools operate in almost every ski complex.
Snowlandia is a unique Zakopane attraction.
The most popular activity here is the Snow Labyrinth.
The largest such snow maze in the world, many people willingly “get lost” in its snowy corridors, admiring its ornate detailing.
In addition to the labyrinth in Snowlandia, you will also find the Snow Queen’s Ice Palace.
The facility consists of a complex of nine chambers with incredible sculptures inside.
It’s also possible to visit the Mini Zoo and feed the animals there.
Zakopane is also famous for its large number of water parks and thermal baths, which are modern, well-developed and adapted for both children and adults.
One of the most popular thermal pools is Aquapark. Located in the centre of Zakopane, it offers swimming pools, slides, a wild river, dry and wet saunas, water jets and a solarium.
The second facility is the Szymaszkowa Swimming Pool, which has an area of five thousand square metres.
This thermal pool is also a great place to admire the panorama of the Tatra Mountains surrounding it.
Wielka Krokiew ski jump
Wielka Krokiew, the largest ski jump in Poland and one of the most recognizable skiing hills in the world is located in Zakopane Ski Resort.
It’s a regular host of the prestigious Ski Jumping World Cup, as well as a place of training and international competitions.
Don’t miss the chairlift ride to the top of Wielka Krokiew.
The view from the top above the run will allow get in the mind of the jumpers as they sit on the starting bar during the competition!
Kasprowy Cable Car ride
Kasprowy Wierch, scenic and easily accessible, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Polish Tatra Mountains at any time of the year.
This is largely due to the cable car that will take you to an altitude of 1,959 metres above sea level, making it a perfect attraction for people who don’t like to ski.
The train journey from the cable car station is an unforgettable experience, despite the fact that it only takes around twenty minutes.
From a bird’s eye view, you can admire the halls, forests, mountain peaks and ranges.
The journey ends at the top station, where you can take a relaxing walk around the slopes and soak up the wonderful panorama of the Tatra Mountains.
Zakopane also boasts perfect ice rinks, ideal for both children and adults!
Most famous is perhaps the artificial ice rink on the top of Gubałówka.
It is the highest ice rink in Poland and the only one with such a stunning view of the entire panorama of the Tatra Mountains.
Go on a sleigh ride
No Zakopane winter trip is complete without a traditional sleigh ride in the Chochołowska Valley.
This is the longest valley in the Tatras and one of the most beautiful valleys in Europe, and sleigh rides here are a real adventure.
Wonderful winter scenery, snow-covered trees all around and the silence of the valley create a fairy-tale-like atmosphere.
On the edge of the valley, highlanders will welcome you and you will set off for an hour-long ride through the Chochołowska Valley.
After the sleigh ride, everyone is usually invited to a bonfire, where a highlander-style party takes place.
A great attraction for both children and adults, the upside-down house in Zakopane is a unique attraction that allows you to feel a different impact of gravity!
Everything looks completely different here. The house is placed diagonally on the roof.
In the house, you walk on the ceiling and all its equipment hangs, attached to the floor above visitors’ heads.
In addition, the slant makes keeping your balance a little tricky!
There’s a small admission fee to enter this attraction.
Try traditional food
If you are in Zakopane for the first time, make sure that you try the plethora of local dishes that are served in numerous restaurants around the whole town.
The two most traditional dishes are moskole and kwaśnica.
Moskoles are pancakes made from boiled and mashed potatoes, baked on a baking tray or pan, while kwaśnica is a sauerkraut soup with a very characteristic and intense sour-salty taste.
It would be a crime not to mention at least a couple of types of typical cheese which are traditional in the Zakopane region.
- oscypek is a hard, smoked sheep’s milk cheese
- bryndza is a cheese with a salty taste, sometimes slightly sour
- gołka is a smoked Polish cheese with a delicate flavour
- korbacze is a cheese made from cow’s milk looking like pasta threads.
You can easily purchase this high-quality cheese in one of the market stands in Zakopane or sample it in restaurants.
Winter hiking to Morskie Oko Lake
There is no need to convince anyone to take a trip to Morskie Oko – it’s the most beautiful and popular Tatra lake.
Hiking here is a popular summer activity, and the place can be crowded during the warmer months.
In winter there are definitely fewer tourists, but the amazing views become even more stunning.
The frozen surface of the lake gives you the opportunity to see the surroundings of Morskie Oko from a different perspective.
If the surface is properly frozen, it is customary to walk on it.
Walking on it is faster, more comfortable and safer than the path around the lake which is prone to avalanches.
Make sure you’re 100% certain that it’s frozen first, though!
If you decide to go to Morskie Oko Lake, make sure that you’re with someone who has the right experience.
It’s a difficult hiking trail and can be a treacherous winter hike if you’re not prepared.
Snowmobiles are another option for those who are eager for extreme winter sports.
You’ll find a lot of adrenaline jumps in the beautiful scenery of Podhale forests.
Usually, there are one or two people on snowmobiles; you can drive them on your own or with a guide.
Snowmobile rides can one, two or three hours and they usually end with a bonfire.
Snowmobiles can be driven both during the day and at night, giving you an unforgettable, unique experience.
Dog sledging is another snow activity that is usually organised in a complex at Butorowy Wierch summit.
Although this attraction came to Zakopane from abroad, it is also very popular here.
During the one-hour visit, tourists have the opportunity to become familiar with the dogs and play with them, as well as choose from a two to five-kilometres-long ride.
If you want to do a sled ride, you have two options.
The first option is you sit in the sleigh and experience the mariner driving a team of Husky dogs.
The other, a more extreme one, involves you doing the driving!
Tatra National Park
In winter, the Tatra Mountains in winter are a completely different story than in warmer seasons of the year.
They might be chilly, but the jaw-dropping views of the majestic snow-covered Tatra Mountains make going on a hike here well worthwhile!
In the wintry landscapes of Tatra National Park, everyone will find a perfect trail for themselves – experienced, adrenaline-seeking hikers as well as families with children.
You’ll find stunning valleys and trails that can be easily accessed from Zakopane, for example, Strążyska Valley, Hala Gąsienicowa or Kościeliska Valley.
Make sure that you seek local advice before tackling any of these hiking routes – the same safety precautions as hiking around Morskie Oko Lake apply.
And don’t forget your hiking poles!
Visit a museum in Zakopane
When the weather gets too cold for your liking, there are plenty of museums in Zakopane.
- Tatra Museum is built in a traditional Zakopane style, showcasing you will be able to learn about local culture and folk art and Góral culture as well as the independence movements during the partitions of Poland.
- Another noteworthy museum is The Museum of Zakopane Style, where you will find many interesting traditional exhibits and decor that will make you feel like you went back in time.
- If you’re interested in learning more about Oscypek cheese you should visit the Oscypek Museum, where you can learn all about how it’s made.
What’s Zakopane like at Christmas?
Zakopane is the winter capital of Poland, so it’s no surprise that it’s absolutely magical at Christmas.
It boasts lots of attractions tailored specifically to the season, incredible accommodation facilities and atmospheric highlander taverns lining its charming streets.
All of these create a magical atmosphere for Christmas!
During the festive season, Zakopane becomes even more lively. In the evening the streets are lit with thousands of lights and decorated in a festive style.
The town has lots of attractions explicitly tailored to this season, with charming accommodation facilities and atmospheric highlander taverns.
Plus, it’s all surrounded by the majestic Tatra Mountains.
Every year, lots of families spend Christmas in the region – many traditional hotels and guesthouses organise attractions, most often based on regional traditions.
These include highlander food being served during Christmas Eve dinner and carolling.
There’s virtually no light pollution, and as it gets dark early in December, you can easily step outside and gaze at the stars!
How to get to Zakopane
Zakopane is located in an accessible location around 110 km from Kraków, so it’s easy to get here by car, bus or train.
The closest airport is Kraków Balice Airport.
Trains manage to wind their way up from the city and into Zakopane, but the journey from Cracow can take quite a long time – although this could be perfect if you need the rest after a long international flight.
Taking a bus is by far your best option for getting to Zakopane – you will wait no longer than an hour at the airport and it only costs around 15 PLN for the two-hour trip from Kraków.
Taking a car is also a good option for travelling from Kraków to Zakopane, however, traffic can be bad in peak season and you’ll need to wind your way up mountainous roads!
What to pack for Zakopane in winter
What you should pack for Zakopane depends on what exactly you are planning to do.
But one thing’s for sure – you’ll need lots of warm clothes, especially ones you can layer!
A warm winter jacket and good-quality shoes are essential.
If you want to go hiking, you should also consider taking a pair of reliable crampons with you, as well as a flashlight, a vacuum bottle with a hot drink inside, sunglasses and a map.
If you don’t own a pair of crampons or sports equipment, don’t worry – there are lots of places where you’ll be able to rent whatever you need.
Are you ready for winter in Zakopane?
Domestic and foreign tourists, advanced and beginner skiers alike love visiting Zakopane in winter.
A glorious ski resort town nestled in the Tatra Mountains, Zakopane is loved by snow sports fanatics and tourists seeking a wholesome wintery trip.