Having shown you the absorbing views of the drool-worthy Zakopane outdoors already, we now bring you the comprehensive account of our 5-day halt in Zakopane towards the year-end. Without a second thought, I can state that nothing equals the charm of Zakopane when you are on a holiday in Poland. Zakopane, in the south Polish mountains, sits right on the Poland-Slovakia border, exhibiting the best of southeastern Europe and illustrating a bit of Slovakian and more of Polish traditions.
109 km to the south of Krakow, Zakopane flourishes in the heart of the Tatras and resembles a dreamer’s imagination. We too found it too awesome to handle. During our stay there from December 27, 2017, to January 1, 2018, we extensively explored the pretty mountain town. And guess what!
Zakopane received us with open arms. From dining in the best restaurant in Krupowki to hiking to the Morskie Oko in the vast Tatras, and from filming The Sleeping Warrior to munching on delicious Oscypek, and further riding a funicular from Gubalowka, we experienced the best this town had to offer. Read on…
How to reach Zakopane
The town in southernmost Poland is well-connected with major Polish cities by road. Therefore, reaching Zakopane by road from prominent cities like Krakow and Warsaw is not a big deal. Buses ply to Zakopane in tandem and the rates are nominal.
By air: Krakow Balice Airport is the closest Polish airport which can be reached after covering a 2-hour road journey. However, Poprad in Slovakia is just 70 km far.
By road: There are buses running from Krakow Central Bus Station to Zakopane in tandem. We paid 25 Zloty per person. The journey through the highlands would let you feast on the magnificent vistas. With all the wooden cottages zooming past the window, you certainly wouldn’t to want to miss the views even for a while!
Day 1 – The evening of 27th Dec
It was drizzling when we reached Zakopane from Krakow and the gloomy weather made the immense outdoors look even more captivating. No, it wasn’t much of green because the autumn had already taken its toll on trees and scattered leaves around had already abandoned them. We were escorted by our host at Ulisa. A 10-minute ride took us to one one of the dreamiest stays in the Tatras.
It wasn’t dark until we made home and we got luckier with the views of stunning outdoors, flourishing outside our balcony. A Christmas tree and handmade vodka awaited us in the room. That was the perfect welcome drink. I was more than excited about the day to follow! The second day in Zakopane was going to be exciting. Welcome drink was served which happened to be a local handmade vodka.
Highlights: The stay in the wooden cottage, fantastic outdoors, churches in Krupowki
Day 2 – Lazy stroll to Krupowki & Gulbowka Mountains
The Sun sets in this part of Europe around 3:45 pm in winter and the day doesn’t start until 10 am! Which means you get a little window to pull off activities and explore the popular attractions in the city you are eyeing. After a quick breakfast, we headed to Krupowki market – the busiest and the most widespread market in Zakopane.
From plush showrooms to street side stalls selling mouthwatering local delicacies, Krupowki has it all. Talk about the local handloom products, woolen footwear, clothes, rugs, furry jackets and you find all here.
I found the wooden antiques more exciting, with all their patterns and design, they certainly looked the most fascinating thing to buy in the Krupowki market in Zakopane. Moving across the market we continued our march to the Gubalowka Mountain. This happens to be an easy 1.5-hour hike which is flat and leads straight to the Gubalowka Resort – which overlooks the Zakopane town meticulously entwined between the Sleeping Warrior and the Gubalowka Mountains.
Highlights: Sunrise view in a snow-swept outdoor, the vast Krupowki Market, hike to Gubalowka Mountains, regional dishes, street food, & the famous ‘Oscypek’
Day 3 – Hike to Morskie Oko Lake
We woke up to a dreamy outdoors buried under heavy snow. The day was already saved for the Morskie Oko Lake Hike. Having already read a lot about it, we were clearly excited. Our hosts were not really sure about us hitting the lake because the weather was getting worse with time. As we peeped out of the balcony we found no trace of the adjoining road leading to the main road.
By the time we ate our breakfast and prepared to leave our stay, 20-30 cm of snow had already accumulated on the main road outside. As we were weighing the available options to travel to the bus depot, our host came to the rescue. They were kind enough to give us a ride to the bus station. From there on, there was no looking back! We trekked in the heart of the Tatras Mountains and lived an incredible day to complete the Morskie Oko Lake Trek. Here’s our blog on the memorable excursion to the Morskie Oko Lake!
We took out some time to head to the Krupowki Market that looked even more dreamy studded with snow.
Highlights: Morskie Oko Lake Trek, horse driven sleigh
Day 4 – Local market hopping & lunch at the city center
After spending an exhausting day 3 we chose to sit back and feast on the dreamy outdoors that Zakopane mountains arranged exclusively for us! The soft fudgy snow on the streets had, by now, turned into ice which meant we had our task cut out while walking on the roads. Still, there was no way we would spend the day sitting idle.
Hence we planned a local market excursion, followed by a sumptuous meal & local vodka at Karcma Po Zboju – one of the highly rated restaurants in the Krupowki. The food & local handmade vodka were absolutely amazing! Later we went grocery shopping and as it grew dark, we tiptoed our way back to the homestay.
Highlights: Local citron – handmade local vodka, view of ‘The Sleeping Warrior’ all covered in the sea of white
Day 5 – Hike up to Cave Hole & New Year Concert
The weather was deteriorating faster and planning a short tour to Slovakia wasn’t something experts recommended. Yes, apart from constant snowfall, it was constantly drizzling, and conditions became even gloomier. Jaskinia Dziura Cave Hole, also referred as the ice cave, was pretty close to our stay. A 3-km hike through the forest covered in snow took us there. The cave hole turned out to be more exciting than we could have probably asked for.
The challenging trail through the snow-clad woods, and further the wonderful cave hole with dripping ice all around made it a thrilling yet magnificent spectacle; something that we loved a lot. The hike to the cave hole took us 45-50 minutes to complete. Getting back to the stay we ate our lunch and took some rest. The weather wasn’t ready to give in an inch and ice coated road denied us a comfortable walk.
Dragging our feet was the best thing we could do. In a few hours, we left our homestay. New Year’s eve had already gotten into everybody’s head by now and we preparations we on the live concert in Krupowki. The entire place was decorated and an ecstatic crowd made the streets even more lively. Artists, musicians, and traditional people Gurals exhibiting the typical Polish costumes from the ancient times made the highlight of the central market area.
The entire place was oozing with crowd and roads were sealed and cold drinks and boozes were being distributed to people by the sponsor companies right outside the concert arena. Soon the concert began and the crowd went berserk. After some time , we left the concert space and chose to welcome the new year from our beautiful stay watching the grand cracker show from a distance. Soon the memorable night of 31st came to an end. Our bags were already packed and early morning we were supposed to leave for the magical city of Prague!
Words of caution here: Don’t meander way too inside the cave if you don’t have proper spike shoes to give you the required grip and a torch, it’s so dark and damn slippery
Highlights: Hike up to the Jaskinia Dziura Cave Hole, musicians & sketch artists in the city center, concert
Day 6 – Off to Prague – the full day of travel beckons
We check out of the homestay 15 minutes to 8 and the bus was set to leave form the bus stop in another 15 minutes. Missing this bus meant that we would have to wait for another 4 hours for the next one to Krakow. Without thinking much we stepped on to the main road which had traces of last night celebrations in the form of empty alcohol bottles. I turned around and found the lone car going towards the city.
The optimist inside me rejoiced and I signaled for a help. The lady in the car pulled over and she was kind enough to give us a ride to the bus station. Lucky we were! Just in time, we boarded the bus for our onward journey to Krakow. Hitchhiking in Poland accomplished. Krakow to Prague was an interesting journey indeed with lots of panic and anxiety instilled moments. We are going to let you on about our journey and wonderful 3 days on Prague in the nest blog.
More things to try: Skiing, and museum-hopping
Hound’s advice for the travelers visiting Polish Mountains for the first time
- This place was designed by nature to visit in winter. Do justice to it.
- Carry a good pair of spike shoes. Snowfall looks so adorable but everything turns into a sloppy mess after this fudgy snow turns into ice.
- If you are opting for a homestay, flavored bread, and juice would certainly suffice your munching needs.
- Be extra cautious while buying water from stores. 90 percent of the bottled water being sold in the marts there is gas water. It’s more like a soda. And if you aren’t accustomed to it taking even a sip of the gas water would be like swallowing a medicine. Tap water is perfectly fine to drink.
- Don’t forget to carry an empty bottle to the toilet or ask the housekeeping to do you the favor. You won’t like toilet papers only option! (dear Indians, are you listening?)
- Keep a trekking pole handy. It will help you put the best foot forward.
- Walk here as much as you can. In these remote places, you are going to love it. Also, there isn’t much of public transport available. Horse driven cart/ sled is always available but doesn’t make a go-to option all the time. Plenty of buses are available in the city center region.
Mountains in southern Poland lie in their calm slumber and continue being awesome. If you have been to this part of Europe and still haven’t stopped by Zakopane, you are missing a great deal in life!