What are the best things to do in Zakopane in winter, how to find winter wonderland in Poland and why Tatra mountains hiking in winter is the best?
The Tatra Mountains and Zakopane in winter
Poland has several mountain ranges. There are Bieszczady, Sudety, Beskidy, and many others. One of the most famous ones is the Tatra mountains. They are a part of the Carpathians and the highest mountain range in Poland. Zakopane is the closest biggest town, from where you can access the peaks. Even though I’ve been to the Himalayas, those Polish mountains are still my favorites (but maybe I’m biased since I’m Polish ;)).
Even though I’ve been to Zakopane in winter multiple times and I prefer the Tatra mountains in winter, this time we were in Poland only for 10 days, with a very tight schedule. I tried in all the possible ways, to fit at least a couple of days in the mountains in between a meeting with friends and the second piece of cake at my auntie’s. With 10 days in Poland, you can still squeeze in quite a lot!
I wanted to show my partner the best things to do in Zakopane in winter since it was his first time in Poland. Mountains, sounds of snow squeaking under every step, hot mead, and oscypki (traditional mountain smoked cheese) – what else do you need?
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The best things to do in Zakopane in winter
#1 Go downhill skiing and snowboarding – Zakopane is the winter capital of Poland
There are many opportunities for downhill skiing in Zakopane in winter, as well as in the area around. The area around Bialka Tatrzanska is one of the most popular skiing spots in Zakopane (or rather around it). It is suitable for beginners and more advanced skiers, as well as the whole family.
Some of the ski lifts worth checking out around Zakopane are:
#2 Take a gondola ride up the mountain – Kasprowy Wierch or Gubałówka
Even if you don’t plan to ski, taking a gondola ride up the mountain is a must-do thing in Zakopane in winter. The winter Tatra mountain view from the gondola is so worth it. Gondola rides to Kasprowy Wierch and Gubałówka are the top ones to try.
#3 Go on a horse sleigh ride “Kulig” or try dog sledding
Traditional Polish winter activity involving a horse-drawn sleigh ride called “Kulig” has been popular in Poland for centuries. It dates back to the times of nobelty “szlachta”. More and more popular are also dog sledding tours, originating from Scandinavia. I haven’t tried it in Poland, but I did the dog sledding in Norway and it was really good.
#4 Relax in the Thermal Pools near Zakopane
Did you know that there are thermal pools using the natural thermal water in close proximity to the Tatra Mountains? Only 25 km from Zakopane, you can relax in the Thermal Pools in Terma Bialka. The Thermal Baths are located just next to the big ski resort Kotelnica Białczańska. You can even do a private tour from Krakow there, which includes a private tour from Krakow that includes visiting Zakopane, exploring Tatras and amazing relaxation in the Spa.
#5 Try winter cross-country skiing around Zakopane
Cross-country skiing is starting to be more and more popular in Poland. In Zakopane, you can find several places where you can try cross-country skiing. They include Centralny Ośrodek Sportowy (main sports centre), Równia Krupowa (near Krupowki), Biały Potok, Siwa Polana, Kościelisko.
#6 Go ice skating in Tatra Ice
Ice skating in winter in Zakopane is a lot of fun. I loved to ice skate in Norway and in Poland, and I try it every time there is a chance. It’s a great winter activity for everyone. The best ice skating rink in Zakopane is Tatra Ice. It has a central location near Krupowki and there is an ice skate rental.
#7 Stroll around Krupowki street
Visiting Krupowki street is a must-do in Zakopane, especially in winter, when there are many Christmas decorations and soft lights coming from the cozy interiors. Visiting Krupowki is one of the top things to do in Zakopane, so it can be busy, but if you want to try local food and do some shopping, it’s worth a short visit.
#8 Eat traditional Polish food and drink in Zakopane in winter
Zakopane in winter is the place to be for all the cozy comfort food and drinks. The best medicine for winter cold in the mountains is obviously a hot mead – it’s an alcoholic beverage made from honey and spices, quite strong and delicious. The famous part of town is called Krupowki and you will find there a lot of restaurants. Prices in that area are not low, but the area is nice and has many traditional restaurants.
Pork knuckle, singing, and homemade vodka
We went to the “Stodola” restaurant. There was a huge fireplace with a table next to it, that we immediately took. Wooden interior and traditional design. We ordered Polish beer “Okocim” and a local dish – beer-marinated pork knuckle with roasted potatoes and salads. It was very good! I can highly recommend “Stodola” restaurant (no, they don’t pay me for advertising, although I wouldn’t mind some pork knuckles sent to me from time to time haha).
Later on, there was also live traditional music with a local band. After Lukas has joined us, we went to another place, where we were greeted by very strong homemade vodka, also called in Polish “bimber”. I had a headache even two days later, so better watch out!
#9 Visit Morskie Oko
Even if you don’t have experience hiking in winter, you can still see the beauty of Tatras in winter. One of the easiest places to visit around Zakopane in winter is Morskie Oko. It is one of the most beautiful lakes in Poland, surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks, with a wooden cottage on its shore, that you can visit and grab a bite at.
To get to Morskie Oko, you need to take a bus from Zakopane to Palenica Białczańska which usually takes 30 minutes. From there, you can take an easy 2:20 hour hike or ride horse-drawn carriages.
If you don’t want to organize the trip yourself, You can take this day trip from Krakow that will take you to Morskie Oko, or this one that also includes Thermal Baths.
#10 Try Tatra Mountains hiking in winter (if you have experience)
Where to go in difficult winter conditions?
The Tatra Mountains in winter are so pretty and without many tourists (which changes a lot in the summer). The good part about the mountains is that they are very close to Zakopane town and they are visible from the center. There are many different hikes and walks to choose from, depending on your level of winter experience.
When we arrived in Zakopane, the winter was in full blow. It was still -17 degrees during the day, avalanche risk just came down from grade 3 to 2. We didn’t have much winter hiking equipment with us and Alex has never been in the higher mountains in winter before.
Murowaniec hike or cable car to Kasprowy Wierch
We chose a relatively easy walk to Hala Gasienicowa, to Murowaniec mountain hut. Then maybe hike to Kasprowy Wierch mountain (you can also take a cable car to get to the top), if the conditions are good. Another popular place to take a cable car to is Gubalowka.
The path was leading us through the fairytale landscape. The snowy empty forest, where you couldn’t hear anything apart from the snow squeaking under our shoes, and everything was covered in the cozy winter fluff.
The better choice is a blue trail through Boczan (more info at the bottom of the article), in case there was an avalanche problem in the valley. After a short time, we saw the view opening into the Jaworzynka valley and the city covered in clouds.
My favourite part on that trail is where you walk through the pass into the flatter area and can see the massive mountains of High Tatras towering just in front of you. This time they were initially in the clouds, but closer to the hut, the clouds went away and the valley was flooded with the sunlight.
Black Lake – Czarny Staw
In the Murowaniec hut, you can have your own lunch, or you can buy something (it’s usually quite pricey – it’s in the middle of the mountains!). We had instant soup and sandwiches with Polish pate (it’s a tradition to eat bread with pate and tinned meat in the mountains ).
Daylight is much shorter in winter and we were running out of time. The Kasprowy was in the clouds and the people who we met on their way down suggested that we probably need crampons if we want to go there.
Instead, we went to the Black Lake nearby in order to have a look at the frozen water and the mountains towering above it (more practical info at the bottom of the article)
#11 Take an easy walk in “Narnia” – Strazyska Valley near Zakopane, and explore a frozen waterfall
The next day in the morning we decided to go for a small stroll in the morning before leaving the city – we decided to visit Strazyska Valley, which is very close to the Basecamp 2 hostel.
Strazyska Valley goes until it reaches the glade, where you have an amazing view of Giewont – one of the most famous mountains. A few steps further, there is a big waterfall Siklawica – normally producing big noise of falling water, but this time it was entirely frozen and looked magical. The walk is very easy and it can be done with any experience.
Alex concluded, that the views are like from Narnia, and we felt again like in a fairytale. Snow hats were sitting on the rocks, trees bending under the cold weights, twigs looking like chubby barrels dressed in the white snowy fluff – so pretty.
On the way, we encountered one more interesting sight – halo – a rainbow around the sun. It is an optical phenomenon produced by light interacting with ice crystals captured in the clouds. I have never seen it before, so it was a new experience for me.
Useful information about Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains
Where to stay in Zakopane in winter?
Zakopane has a lot of nice places to stay. My favorite ones are the traditional huts in the mountains – called “schronisko”, where you normally need to hike to get to. That’s the best base for the various treks.
However, it is also possible to stay closer to town and still manage to go to the mountains. I really like the wooden and traditional houses, where you can hear the silence and have an amazing view of the mountains.
Recommended stays in Zakopane:
Budget hostels in Zakopane:
Basecamp 2 – it’s a wooden mountain-style house with 5 rooms inside, located by the entrance to the Strazyska Valley. We got a big double bedroom on the ground floor, with a massive balcony and a view of Giewont (one of the most significant mountains in the area). Prices start already from around 31zl (£6). Check price and availability here.
Latest hotel deals in Zakopane:
Tatra Mountains winter hiking tips:
- If you don’t have experience in winter hiking with the appropriate equipment, better don’t go to the more difficult trails, especially the ones with deep snow, any avalanche risk, or ice.
- Remember, that the weather in the mountains can change in a matter of minutes and a sunny day can turn into a snowy blizzard. Fresh, not tied snow can be more prone to avalanche risk and make finding the trail much harder.
- In winter, the days are shorter, and in the forest, the dusk comes much earlier – remember about it when planning your trips, and always take a headtorch with you.
- In Poland every trail has a specific color, that is marked on trees and wooden arrows throughout the whole way – pay attention to it, as it will help you to find the correct path.
- The estimated time for specific trails in winter is usually longer than the same places in summer, because of snow and ice. Keep it in mind!
- Always have a map and preferably also a compass with you.
- Always take enough water and food with you, and don’t forget about appropriate clothing! Good hiking shoes with hard soles are a must, breathable, water and windproof jacket, hat, scarf, and gloves. A good idea is also to take sunglasses – sun reflection in the snow can be very harmful to your eyes. Wind and cold will make you feel cold very quickly, so it will be good to have some warm tea with you as well.
- Remember and have written down the emergency numbers: 112 or 985 or 600-100-300 or for mountain rescue. Have your phone fully charged.
The Tatra Mountains winter hiking trails
- To get to Murowaniec mountains hut, you need to get to Kuznice first. It’s just a short bus ride from the main bus station in Zakopane and it costs 3 zlotych. From there you can take a blue trail through Boczan or a yellow one through the Jaworzynka Valley. Both of them take around 1,5-2 h. They are fairly easy, but there are some steeper parts, so be aware.
- Blue trail to the Black Lake from the Gasienicowa Hall takes around 30 minutes one way. However, in the deep snow and icy path, it might take longer and be more difficult, so make sure to check it before.
- If you want to stay in the mountain hut Murowaniec for the night, it’s the best to book it in advance. It’s one of the few mountain huts that don’t allow people to sleep on the floor either. Prices start from 30-40 zl per person.
- The path in Strazyska Valley is quite flat, so it’s accessible to more people, even with no previous experience in the mountains. From the entrance to the National Park until the end of the valley it’s around a 30-40 min walk. From there, after 5 more minutes, you can reach Siklawica waterfall. It’s worth remembering, that to get into the National Park you need to pay for entrance, which is 5 zl (£1).
Is it worth visiting Zakopane and Tatra Mountains in winter?
Definitely yes! It was a great trip! Beautiful views, unspoiled snow, and most of it exclusively for us. That’s why I prefer Tatras in winter. They are majestic, breathtakingly beautiful, a bit more adventurous, requiring more effort and preparations – but they are empty! Because crowds in the mountains are the last thing, that I want to experience myself.
Go and visit that beautiful place, but first of all – be safe!
Published: 2017, Updated: 2022
Would you like to go to the Polish highest mountains in winter? Have you ever been to Tatras? Have you tried hiking in the snow? Share your thoughts in the comments!