Best Things to do in Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains

Looking for what to do in Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Zakopane is one of those still relatively unknown places that you will absolutely fall in love with.

Zakopane is the main town in the Polish Tatra Mountains with plenty going on – from hiking, cycling and climbing to thermal spas and world class Polish cuisine.

Whatever time of year you’re visiting, you are guaranteed to have an unforgettable adventure – and there are plenty of things to do in Zakopane for every kind of taste or traveler. Below, we’ve outlined some of the best things to do in Zakopane and the surrounding area to help you plan your trip.

Hike in the Incredible Tatra Mountains

There are so many incredible hikes in the Tatra Mountains themselves and the neighbouring areas, such as Pieniny National Park. In fact, hiking is one of the best things to do in Zakopane and there is a trail for everybody here. Below, we’ve outlined some of the best hiking trails in the area and surrounding areas with downloadable trail maps.

Useful information: You have to pay to enter the Tatra National Park – at time of publishing this is 9 Zlotte per person and gets you one day entry. This is payable as you enter the National Park barrier, usually found at the trailhead. You can also get a 7 day pass, which at the time of publishing is 45 Zlotte per person, standard ticket. If you’re hiking from Kasprowy Wierch cable car, your entry to the National Park is included with your ticket price.

Kasprowy Wierch to Kuźnice Cable car via Schronisko Murowaniec Hut

Distance: 7.1km
Ascent/descent: 63m ascent, 991m descent
Difficulty: Some exposure with uneven paths, high mountain terrain and significant descent

From the cable car station at the top of Kasprowy Wierch, this route takes you on a less busy trail back to the valley – expect incredible tree lined views full of life, the constant sound of fresh flowing water and unmatched views of the Tatra Mountains.

view from kasprowy wierch tatra mountains poland near zakopane

Location: Tatra mountains as seen from Kasprowy Wierch summit

Kasprowy Wierch to Kuźnice via Ridge to the West  

Distance: 9.2km
Ascent/descent: 171m ascent, 1120m descent
Difficulty: Significant exposure, alpine experience is a must, as is a head for heights, challenging terrain with significant descent

From the cable car station at the top of Kasprowy Wierch, this hiking route takes you on a trilling ridge seeing some of the most stunning high alpine views the Tatra Mountains have to offer – with views into Slovakia too. You’ll then head back down into the valley for your descent.

Kasprowy Wierch to Kuźnice via Main Trail

Distance: 6.3km
Ascent/descent: 19m ascent, 941m descent
Difficulty: Easy to follow trail, well marked. Minimal exposure with mostly even paths, significant descent.

This fabulous trail follows the line of the cable car above you – but don’t let that fool you – this hike will have you feeling at one with nature.

You’ll meander through wonderful mountain views, endless trees and the river running strong at all times.

hiking in the sleet at kasprowy wierch

Location: hiking in the Tatra mountains from Kasprowy Wierch

Morskie Oko

Distance: 18km
Ascent/descent: 479m ascent, 485m descent
Difficulty: Easy to follow trail (it is a road pretty much the entire way up). Minimal exposure with even paths, significant length at 18km

Morskie Oko, or Eye of the Sea in English is an alpine lake with spectacular views of the Tatra Mountains all around. The Morskie Oko hike is a long one for sure and you will not be alone on this hike – prepare to arrive at the trailhead early to ensure you have space to park or take a bus from Zakopane. Be aware it is also not permitted to swim in Morskie Oko.

Koscieliska Valley

Distance: 11.3km
Ascent/descent: 209m ascent, 210m descent
Difficulty: Gentle incline on well graded path, suitable for mobility devices such as wheelchairs.

This great trail presents a good option for a more accessible route – it is both wheelchair accessible and has the option to make the trail as long or as short as you want.

As well as lofty mountain views, this valley is teaming with life all around and you could easily spend a whole day exploring. Be warned, though, you will not have this trail to yourself – it is very popular!

moody Koscieliska valley hike near Zakopane

Location: Along the Koscieliska Valley trail near Zakopane

Koscieliska Valley – Kiry to Clemniak Summit

Distance: 12.6km
Ascent/descent: 1143m ascent, 1145m descent
Difficulty: Significant ascent and descent, steep rocky and uneven trail in places with minimal exposure

From the main Koscieliska Valley trail, this challenging mountain route takes you to some of the most incredible and iconic views in the area. Be prepared for a relatively long and remote day on the trail once you branch off from the valley.

The Peaks above the River Dunajec – From Szczawnica

Distance: 17.1km
Ascent/descent: 1214m ascent, 1213m descent
Difficulty: Significant ascent and descent, steep rocky and uneven trail in places with some exposure and long distance to cover

This is roughly 1 hour 20 minutes from Zakopane, but if you’re going to head to the River Dunajec for rafting and around Pieniny National Park, this is a great trail to check out.

The rock formations are incredibly unusual and give stunning views of the surrounding topography, river and areas that make up this incredibly interesting landscape. It is not advised to attempt this trail after heavy rain as the trail can become very slippery, you should also avoid during thunderstorms.

mountain view in Pieniny National Park Poland

Location: Pieniny National Park, Poland

Take the Cable Car to Kasprowy Wierch

One of the highlights of being in Zakopane is taking the cable car from Kuźnia to Kasprowy Wierch. We would really recommend doing this, as the views from the top are spectacular and will leave you feeling in awe!

The cable car was built in 1936 for the FiS Nordic World Ski Championship which was held in 1939. Since then, it has been taking people to see the majesty of the Tatra mountains, with stunning views on one side over the Polish Tatra Mountains and to the other side, the Slovakian Tatra Mountains. From the cable car, there are a number of options once you’ve reached the top cable car station.

You can enjoy the café and chill out and relax at the top whilst taking in the views. You can also enjoy a variety of hikes in the area – many of which we’ve listed in our hiking route suggestions above. There are a huge range of trails that start from here and can suit a range of different wants and needs from a day out in the mountains – it is even possible to take the cable car up to the top of Kasprowy Wierch and walk back down.

There is a roughly 20 minute walk from where you can park your car for the cable car to where the cable car station is – but this is a mostly flat path which is well graded and accessible for mobility devices.

The cable car itself, to the top of Mount Kasprowy takes around 10 minutes. The cable cars are quite large – and run frequently throughout the day – you will never be waiting more than 10 to 15 minutes to get on board. For up to date prices and information about opening times, it is advised to check out the Kasprowy Wierch website. 

To avoid waiting in line, tickets can be bought in advance, and from the office at the cable car stations, tickets can be purchased for that day only with immediate departure.

view from Kasprowy Wierch in Tatra National Park near Zakopane

Location: View from Kasprowy Wierch in Tatra National Park near Zakopane

Enjoy Dunajec River Rafting and Dunajec River Cruise

Enjoying the sights and typical experiences along the Dunajec River is a must do experience and is well worth exploring outside of Zakopane – especially as you will get to check out the Pieniny National Park.

Going rafting on a traditional raft is quite the experience and you’ll travel roughly 18km which takes roughly 2-2.5 hours, The River gorge is on the list of UNESCO tentative world heritage sites and we could really see why when we visited.

You can find out more information about the history of the rafting and the fascinating way they are constructed here. What makes this so unique is that on one side of the river, you’re in Poland and on the other side, Slovakia.

Rafting experiences are fully guided so you can sit back and enjoy the journey – but it is possible to canoe, paddle board etc. too if you’d like. Guided rafting experiences are open from 1st April to 30th October from roughly 9am until 4-5pm.

You’ll typically park at Sromowce Wyźne, and the raft will transport you to Szczawnica. From here, the cost of your ticket will allow you to take the transfer bus provided back to the car park at the start.

Here is a link to the location where you leave your car. If you’d prefer not to drive, there are also options to take organized bus tours to the Dunajec River rafting from Zakopane – there are various companies in the town that offer this and will provide transport both there and back as well as the ticket price included.

However, we’d advise spending some time in and around Pieniny National Park to see the wonderful contrast to the Tatra Mountains, where there are also many hiking trails and other adventure based activities to check out, such as cycling, climbing and canoeing.

rafting on Dunajec River poland

Location: Rafting on Dunajec River, Poland

Related content: Poland and the Masuria Lake District: An adventure lovers paradise

Go Cycling Near Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains – Czorsztyn Lake

One of the best things to do in Zakopane is to go cycling – there are numerous trails in and around the area that are suitable for road bikes, but also there are numerous trails that can be accessed with mountain bikes too.

However, another option, and for something truly unique, is to head to Czorsztyn Lake. It’s incredibly picturesque, and its location can be easily tied in with a visit to Pieniny National Park and the Dunajec River gorge. Czorsztyn Lake is a man made reservoir and is well worth a visit – especially if you love castles as you’ll see Niedzica Castle and Czorsztyn Castle on your route.

If you don’t have a bike, you can hire one in the local area and it’s also possible to hire e-bikes to make getting uphill that bit easier. We’d recommend Karnijsie Bike Rental in Grywald.

From here, you can leave your car and cycle to the lake, and either head to a shore of the lake, or do a loop of the lake (which is around 25.7km). If you’re into outdoor swimming, we’d highly recommend cycling to Kluskowce beach where you can swim with stunning views of the mountains. Karnijsie Bike Rental can be reached in roughly 1hr 20mins from Zakopane by car.

cycling near Czorsztynskie Lake Poland

Location: Cycling near Czorsztynskie Lake, Poland

castle on lake czorsztynskie poland

Location: Castle on Lake Czorsztynskie, Poland

Cycling route to Kluskowce beach, Poland

Visit World Class Thermal Spas Near Zakopane

One of the things Poland does very, very well is thermal baths, and interestingly, it has made the thermal spas you will find near and in the Tatra Mountains incredibly popular. What sets the thermal spas in the area apart is the fact that they offer a range of treatments alongside the stunning scenery of the mountains all around you.

Spending the afternoon at a thermal spa is one of the best things to do in the area, and goes down very well after a long hike in the mountains – it’s a really great experience and not expensive. Zakopane itself has a lot to offer in terms of thermal spas, such as Termy Zakopiańskie, however, we really enjoyed Bukowina Thermal Baths, in Bukowina Tatrzanska which is roughly a 30 minute drive from central Zakopane (and a stunning drive through breathtaking scenery at that).

We enjoyed the various pools, jacuzzi, many saunas and steam rooms, as well as ice baths. You can also book further treatments too. You don’t need to make a reservation as such to use the main facilities, but we would advise checking out the thermal baths website for up to date opening hours and ticket prices.

swimming at lake czorsztynskie poland

Location: Swimming at Lake Czorsztynskie, Poland

Enjoy Local Hospitality and World Class Cuisine in Zakopane

One of the great things about Zakopane is its foodie scene – and whatever your dietary requirements, you will not be disappointed!

From traditional cuisine in ornate wooden buildings to modern takes on classics through to vegan options galore you’ll really enjoy eating here.

We’d particularly recommend the following restaurants in Zakopane:

Other restaurants to try in the area:

tatra mountains poland from kasprowy wierch

Location: Tatra Mountains from Kasprowy Wierch

Things to Know About Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains

Of course, there is a lot to think about when putting together a trip to Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains – how to get there, when to go, where to stay and what to expect of the mountains.

Our guide below covers some essential and key areas you’ll need to consider when planning your trip:

How to Get to Zakopane

Typically, from outside of Krakow and Southern Poland, you’ll want to fly into Krakow. Krakow is a relatively large airport with major flights departing each day.

It’s a very easy destination to reach from the UK and Europe with a flight time of between one and two hours, depending on your originating airport. It’s also possible to travel by train from many locations in Europe and the UK to Krakow too.

It does take around a full day (roughly 23 hours from London, for example) but you will also get to travel through some amazing places on the way. You could even consider visiting Zakopane and the Tatra mountains as part of a longer European rail journey.

The great thing about Zakopane is that it is really easy to reach from places like Krakow. Krakow to Zakopane is typically just under a two hour drive. It is possible to get to Zakopane by public transport from places like Krakow, however we’d really recommend hiring a car or driving.

When you’re in Zakopane, there are certain things to do in Zakopane without a car – for example, it is possible to get a bus from Zakopane to some of the more popular hiking trailheads such as Morskie Oko and Koscieliska Valley. Of course, Kasprowy Wierch cable car station can be reached from Zakopane and you can even get a transfer to the Dunajec River rafting from some of the local tour companies you’ll find in Zakopane.

However, if you really want to have freedom and check out all there is to see in the Tatra mountains as well as surrounding areas, a car will make this easier and more convenient.

You can hire a car directly from Krakow airport , for example, upon arrival. Many of the car hire companies offer electric vehicles too, and many of the hotels in Zakopane have charging facilities for electric cars. There are also numerous charging stations in Zakopane which can be found here.

  • How to Get to Zakopane by Car: Drive time is approximately 2 hours from Krakow by car – if you’re travelling by air, it is possible to rent a car from Krakow airport from all major car rental suppliers.
  • How to Get to Zakopane by Bus or Coach: A service called FlixBus runs a relatively frequent service from Krakow’s Dworzec Autobusowy to Zakopane’s main bus station. There are numerous services a day and the journey takes on average 2.5 hours. It is a relatively inexpensive way to travel but be sure to check out latest prices and timetables before travelling.
  • How to Get to Zakopane by Train: It is possible to travel from Krakow to Zakopane by train with various services running through the day and most trains departing from Kraków Płaszów station. It takes roughly 2-2.5 hours to reach Zakopane by train from Krakow. Tickets can be purchased at the station, and if travelling at busy times, such as public holidays it is best advised to book your travel in advance online.

Tatra mountains poland

Location: Tatra Mountains as seen on the way into Zakopane

Where to Stay in Zakopane, Tatra Mountains and Lesser Poland 

If you are travelling by car, this really opens up the options for where you can stay to make the most of your trip to Zakopane, the Tatra Mountains and Lesser Poland. We would recommend varying the locations you stay on your trip.

For example, in Zakopane itself, the Radisson Blu Hotel & Residences presents a great option. The hotel is modern and feels really comfortable. It also has a really nice spa, where you can book treatments as well as a swimming pool, jacuzzi area, sauna, steam and cold plunge. It is also well located for all that Zakopane has to offer in the town centre by way of restaurants, bars etc.

If you want something a little more quiet, the Hotel Harnas set a short distance from Zakopane in Bukowina Tatrzanska makes a great option for a couple of nights.

The views from the hotel are absolutely stunning, looking straight out on the Tatra Mountains, and it also has a fantastic restaurant that makes the most of reimagined classics with a modern flare.

The hotel is very much a design hotel with stylish finishes and thoughtful touches. You can also have access to Bukowina Thermal Baths, a 15 minute walk or short complimentary transfer from the hotel – well worth a visit.

If you’re going to be checking out some of the other areas nearby to Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains, such as Pienniny National Park, we would recommend getting back to nature for a traditional mountain cabin at Schronisko Orlica.

This puts you in a great position if you’re going to be Dunajec River rafting too. The views from Orlica mountain hut are stunning and you are very much back into nature – with the hosts cooking great food to boot.

tatra mountains near zakopane

Location: Tatra Mountains as seen from Hotel Harnas

pieniny national park poland

Location: View from Mountain Hut Orlica

How High are the Tatra Mountains?  

The Tatra Mountains are the highest mountains in the Carpathians mountain range. The area of the Tatra mountains is roughly 785 km2 of which 610 km2 is in Slovakia and 175 km2 in Poland. The highest peak in Poland is called Rysy and sits at 2499m above sea level and is located at the border.

When up in the Tatra Mountains, the air will feel thinner, and you may find yourself out of breath more quickly than normal. However, it is unlikely to develop altitude sickness as the peaks are all under 2,500m where most effects of altitude exposure start to set in.

How Hard are the Mountain Hikes in the Tatra Mountains?  

Of course, it is all relative and will really depend upon your experience level, where you are at with your hiking as well as your overall health.

What’s great, though is there are actually a range of different hiking trails near Zakopane and in and around the Tatra Mountains that will suit a variety of different people and present something for all. For example, the Koscieliska Valley is wheelchair accessible, it is mostly flat with incline over a longer period and presents the option to do as much or as little of the trail as you wish.

Whereas, from the Kasprowy Wierch cable car, there are very technically demanding trails, including cables and metal ladders where helmets and a good head for exposure is needed. If this is of interest, and depending on your experience level, it may be worth working with an experienced guide who knows the mountains well.

This can really allow you to focus on the experience and views whilst making the most of it. We worked with a local guide called Marcin Kowalczyk from Tatra Trek who made us feel at complete ease for our entire time in the Tatra Mountains and allowed us to focus on admiring the scenery and taking photographs.

hiking in tatra national park

Location:Hiking from Kasprowy Wierch, near Zakopane

Weather in Zakopane 

The weather can be very changeable in Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains – it can be raining one moment and full sunshine the next. However, this does give you some fantastic weather events and great photographs.

You are likely to see rain on your trip but given the quick passing over of weather through the mountains, you’re also likely to see some sunshine too (although of course not always guaranteed).

In summer, temperatures can typically reach around 16-22 degrees Celsius in the valley, with temperatures becoming cooler the higher you are. In winter, Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains are covered in snow, with much lower temperatures and winter climates. It’s important to remember that the higher you go, the colder it will become, especially in areas that are shaded, for example and it is not uncommon to see snow in the high mountains even in July.

The sun is also more intense at higher altitudes and UV exposure is higher – so always bring a good SPF sun cream (between factor 30 and 50). It’s important to make sure you protect yourself well by bringing adequate clothing such as good hiking boots, that are preferably waterproof.

Waterproof layers, including trousers, if possible, mid layers, hats and gloves (even in summer) and plenty of water. Basically, prepare for anything weather wise, and layers will make it easier and more enjoyable!

sunset on tatra mountains poland

Location: Sunset seen from Bukowina Tatrzanska

Best Time to Visit Zakopane

Of course, it depends exactly what you want to do with your time in Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains as the area is as much of a winter destination as it is summer. In Winter, you have skiing and winter sports such as ski mountaineering, snowboarding etc.

In the summer, you have the option for hiking, river rafting etc. Whilst some of the activities we’ve outlined above can be experienced in both Summer and Winter months, many of them are available in Summer only, such as hiking, Dunajec River rafting etc.

We would suggest that the best time visit Zakopane if you want to go hiking, cycling, take in the incredible scenery, wild flowers and everything the area has to offer, late June through to early October would be your best time to visit.

tatra mountains poland

Location: View from Hotel Harnas

Enjoy Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains

As you can see, there is so much to see and do in and around Zakopane – whatever your interests are. There is so much adventure to be had here, so many amazing mountains to see, so many interesting places to explore all amongst warm and friendly people.

Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains in Poland seem to be little known, but we can guarantee once you’ve been, you’ll be wanting to go back as soon as possible!