Amazing Things to Do in Zakopane: Poland’s Coolest Mountain Town
When traveling through Poland, people usually choose to visit Krakow or Warsaw. However, travelers don't typically realize the natural beauty and relaxing towns that can be found in the southern region of the country. Zakopane is the perfect place to take a break from the chaos of larger cities and spend the day (or a few days) in the serenity of the mountains. As you explore, you’ll find so many things to do in Zakopane, and will come to appreciate the wooden architecture of the buildings, hotels and restaurants. This gives the area a cozy vibe and a look similar to the small towns in the Alps.
Getting from Krakow to Zakopane
There are many ways in which you can quickly get from Krakow to Zakopane. You can book a day trip with a tour company (which I don't recommend simply due to time limitations), you can take a 2.5-hour bus (via FlixBus or PolskiBus), or you can take a train. We opted for the train to Zakopane, which took about 2 hours and 20 minutes from Krakow's central train station and took a FlixBus back. Both options are comparable, with the bus being a little cheaper. We went with two different modes of transportation simply because the time tables worked better for us.
Experience Zakopane Hiking in the Tatra Mountains
The primary reason why people travel to the mountains of Poland is to tackle Zakopane hiking in Tatra National Park. With multiple trails throughout, the Park is a popular spot among multi-day hikers and backcountry campers and is on of the top things to do in the area. For a more accessible hikes that won’t require you to pack gear or a sleeping bag, Morskie Oko is the destination of choice. This stunning mountain lake (one of the top-rated lakes in the world by The Wall Street Journal) is located a 2-hour walk within the park.
Try Oscypek Cheese
Hands down, the number one food you have to try (and fall in love with) in Zakopane is Oscypek Cheese, which is cheese made from highland sheep's milk from the local region and mountains. You'll notice it being sold out of small decorated carts along the streets all over Zakopane. Golden in hue and often beautifully carved with ornate designs, this cheese is the perfect snack before dinner, after dinner, with a beer, or really any time of day. Go ahead and have it for breakfast too (I totally did)! The cheese has a strong smoky taste with a touch of brine and salt, giving it a very savory flavor profile. I am a major fan of cheese (I literally tea it ALL THE TIME), and Oscypek is one of the most delicious I've ever tasted.
Head to Krupówki Street
I wouldn't consider Zakopane to have a "downtown" or "city center" since it's so small. However, Krupówki Street is the main street in town, filled with shops, restaurants, and fun activities. Make sure to visit not just during the day, but at night as well as the street glows with lights and bustles with visitors. It's as if Zakopane wakes up at night when all the day hikers are back from the mountains. Upon return, they're ready to drink some beer and toast to their hiking accomplishments of the day. You’re also sure to be serenaded by live music and bands as they squeeze into the smallest corners and nooks of almost every restaurant.
One of the most fun things we did in town was swing by Ciuciu Cukier Artist. Claiming to be the world's smallest candy factory, the tiny shop frequently hosts candy-making demonstrations for visitors. Make sure you hang around to witness their process for making elaborate hard candy and bon-bons. Plus free samples!
Stay and Eat at the Hotel Aries Zakopane
Since we knew we'd be heavily hiking in Zakopane, we decided to splurge a bit on our hotel. Hotel Aries Zakopane features the gorgeous wood architecture of the surrounding mountain buildings, but what truly shines is the interior lobby and the hotel rooms themselves. The epitome of hygge design (pulled straight from Sweden), the lobby has gorgeous furnishings made from tree trunks and a central fireplace to help you warm up in the winter. Each room also feels like it's own personal chalet. We received a free upgrade (which never happens to us!) and were given a room with a beautifully carved staircase in the middle that led to a lofted sitting room. Our beds were also covered in moose furs, and our bathroom had the most gorgeous tile design.
The Hotel Aires Zakopane also has an amazing in-house restaurant, perfect for a higher-end meal. Halka Restaurant puts a modern spin on classic regional Polish dishes. The Oscypek Cheese appetizer with cranberry sauce is a fun way to eat the same cheese you tried on the streets of Zakopane in a much more refined way.
See the Upside Down House
When deciding what to do in Zakopane, consider one of the weirdest attractions I've seen in a while: the Upside Down House. We only noticed it because it popped on on our Google Maps as we were checking directions. We did not have a chance to go inside before it closed for the day, but it's a wacky spot to casually walk to in the evening. The inside is completely upside down as well and is perfect for some crazy photo-ops.
Even though we were only there for two days, we had such a beautiful and relaxing time exploring all the things to do in Zakopane. When the air is fresher, and you can see mountains on the horizon, you can't be stressed, no matter how hectic your travel plans are. Whether you want to try the typical activity of Zakopane hiking in Tatra National Park or want to binge on Oscypek cheese, this small town will wing you over. With how easy it is to get from Krakow to Zakopane, it’s a great choice for an additional stop on your Poland travel itinerary.