If you are wondering where to go for your next walking holiday in Europe, how about the Tatra Mountains which straddle Poland and Slovakia?
The High Tatras are a small, but very impressive, mountain range with fantastic views and trails to suit everybody. Zakopane makes a great base, which is easy to reach by a regular bus service from Krakow. And it is easy to cross between the two countries in summer using a daily bus service which takes you over a spectacular pass.
This post is about Zakopane and the Polish side of the range. To read about the Slovakian side see Stary Smokovec.
Getting to Zakopane
The easiest way to reach Zakopane is to fly to Krakow. You can search for flights from your local airport using Skyscanner.
From the airport you can get to Krakow city centre by train or bus (see this page for details). Then you need to get to Krakow bus station, where you can buy tickets to Zakopane. The buses are very regular (usually more than one per hour), and the journey takes around two hours.
You can also get to Zakopane from Krakow by train, but the trains are less frequent than the buses, and much slower. Unless you have problems travelling on buses we recommend you use the bus service. The vehicles are comfortable, and there is room for luggage in the hold.
Where to Stay in Zakopane
There is a very large choice of accommodation in Zakopane – to search for options see this page at booking.com.
The last time we went we stayed in smart 4-star Aries Hotel and Spa, and really enjoyed it. The hotel is just far enough away from the hustle and bustle of Zakopane’s main tourist street, yet within easy reach of everything. It is beautifully furbished with large, spacious rooms, and has an excellent restaurant. We can recommend it highly, and would definitely choose it again.
Zakopane has a very large choice of restaurants, so you will be spoilt for choice. We enjoyed the restaurant in the Aries Hotel (see above), where among other things they serve steaks that are still cooking on a hot stone platter. These were really excellent, and definitely recommended.
Another lovely restaurant that we found was Restauracja Halka Zakopane. This atmospheric restaurant in the centre of Zakopane had great food and excellent service, and felt very special.
When to Go
A word of warning – Zakopane gets hugely busy in holiday periods. Unlike the Alps, where there are a multitude of mountain resorts to choose from, Zakopane is the base for the Polish High Tatras. If you like to experience peace and solitude on your walks, you should definitely avoid July, August and early September.
The ideal times to visit are late May/June and mid September/early October. Winter can start early in the high mountains and linger in spring, so unless you are experienced at winter walking in snowy mountains, bear this in mind.
Walks Around Zakopane
There is a massive choice of walks, with trails suitable for all abilities. A couple of books we recommend are the Sunflower Landscapes guide Tatra Mountains of Poland and Slovakia, and the Cicerone guide Walking in the High Tatras Mountains.
Some walks make use of the cable car from Kuznice. If you are planning on using the cable car it is a good idea to buy your tickets from the ticket machine in Zakopane before you set off to avoid queues at Kuznice.
To get to Kuznice, and other starting points for popular walks, you can use the convenient minibus services. These park at various points near the bus station, and they are clearly marked with their destination – just look for the one you need or ask one of the drivers. They do not have a set timetable, but just go when they have sufficient passengers, and there will be minibuses waiting for your return journey. The service is really convenient and extremely good value.
Some popular walks starting around Zakopane include:
Walk up to Morskie Oko and circuit of the lake. This is very popular with Polish people, and therefore gets extremely busy. You can walk up on a surfaced trail at a manageable gradient (though other routes are available), and it is therefore good as an introductory walk if you haven’t walked for a while. To get to the start of the walk look for minibuses labelled Morskie Oko.
The Chocholowska Valley. Very scenic, and again very popular in the main holiday season. There are options as to how far you walk, and if you wish you can take advantage of the horse-pulled carriages which cover part of the route, or hire a bike for the journey down. To access this valley take a minibus to Siwa Palana.
Walking along the Polish/Slovakian border, accessed from the top station of the cable car from Kuznice. This is very scenic, with magnificent views of the Tatra Mountains, and you can choose how far you wish to walk before descending to get a minibus back to Zakopane. See the walking books mentioned above for full details.
Tour of the Lakes from Kuznice. There are various possibilities starting from Kuznice (a small fee is payable to enter the National Park). See the Sunflower Guide for full details.
These are only a few of the many possibilities. See the recommended walking books for more suggestions.
The Dunajec Gorge
Another possibility if you are staying in Zakopane is to walk in the spectacular Dunajec Gorge, which crosses the Polish/Slovakian border. The gorge is around 7km long, and an unsurfaced road goes all the way through. You can therefore simply walk as far as you wish before returning on the same road (the views are equally as good in both directions).
To get to the gorge you will need to take a bus from Zakopane to Nowy Targ, and then change for a bus to Szczawnica (you will be able to check the current timetables at the bus station or tourist information centre in Zakopane). The journey takes just under two hours, but we enjoyed seeing the countryside on the way.
The gorge is very scenic. We did the trip in late October, so the following photos show the glorious autumn colours. We didn’t see anybody rafting down the river, but apparently this is very popular in summer.
If you don’t mind sharing the trail with fellow walkers, we are confident that you will enjoy the beautiful mountains and gorges in this lovely area.
Please be aware that this site is based purely on our own experiences, therefore kindly note the Disclaimer.
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