Skip to Content

Things to do in Zakopane in winter: On and off the slopes

Discover the best things to do in Zakopane in winter – whether you’re a skier or not – with a guide to this Polish town in the Tatra Mountains which is a great value destination for winter adventures.

* This site contains affiliate links, where I get a small commission from purchases at no extra cost to you.

AD: My trip was hosted by Snomads, but all views are my own

Lying on the border between Poland and Slovakia, the Tatra Mountains tower over Zakopane, and are the reason this Polish town south of Kraków is known as the winter capital of Poland. As well as a series of resorts to keep skiers and boarders busy there’s stunning scenery, tasty food, hiking, thermal spas – and good value prices.

Snomads are an eco-friendly ski company run by a group of passionate and experienced skiers who have two chalets in Zakopane. After skiing with them in Bansko, Bulgaria, a few years ago, they invited my sister and I back to see what Zakopane has to offer.

Although snow isn’t something this region is usually short of, we timed our visit during an unexpectedly warm spell. But it wasn’t a problem as there’s plenty to do in Zakopane in winter, whether you want to ski, are looking for a winter activity trip or want to soak up the local culture. So here’s our rundown of Zakopane’s highlights, on and off the slopes.

Things to do in Zakopane in winter: On and off the slopes
Views from Gubałówka

Things to do in Zakopane: On the slopes

Skiing and snowboarding

Zakopane is Poland’s most famous ski region. But rather than one big ski area, there’s a series of separate resorts (including the 18 which make up the Tatra Super Ski area), so you can ski a different place each day – and even head across the border to Slovakia.

It’s an ideal place to try skiing, with prices for ski hire and lift passes much lower than you would pay in the Alps. Five days’ equipment hire (skis, boots, poles and a helmet) costs 105 PLN (£21/€25/$27). And a five-day lift pass for the whole Tatra Super Ski area costs 635 PLN (£127/€150/$162), but you can also buy passes for individual resorts.

Bialka Tatrzańska ski area in Zakopane, Poland
Bialka Tatrzańska

Just across the road from the Snomads chalets, the Nosal ski area is perfect for beginners finding their feet. There are a few drag lifts you can practice on before moving on to Bukowina Tatrzańska or Male Ciche to perfect your skills on their blue runs.

Bialka Tatrzańska is Poland’s biggest ski resort – and snow cannons meant that even during our unusually warm trip there was plenty of snow. It has three linked resorts with 21km of slopes, mainly blues and reds, as well as a snow park. And you can ski into the evenings with floodlit night skiing (then soak in the spa afterwards – see below).

Kasprowy Wierch has Alpine-style skiing at almost 2000 metres. You take a cable car from the edge of Zakopane to get there (which isn’t included in the Tatra Super Ski Pass and can get busy, so reserve in advance if possible). As well as 15km of blue, red and black runs, it’s good for off-piste and ski touring for experienced skiers or boarders.

Kasprowy Wierch skiing in Zakopane, Poland
Kasprowy Wierch

Other snowy activities

Zakopane is home to Wielka Krokiew, Poland’s biggest and most famous ski jumping hill, which is used for international competitions. You can see just how terrifyingly steep it is by taking a chair lift up to the top, where there are views out over Zakopane. Also near the base of the jump is a snow maze with ice sculptures and a sledging hill for kids.

You can also explore the mountains on a snowmobile, try out snow-shoeing or go ice-skating. But one of the best things to do in Zakopane in winter is a traditional kulig horse-drawn sleigh evening. You’re taken out into a snowy valley in the Tatra Mountains for a BBQ with live music and mountain tea and hot wine to keep you warm.

Wielka Krokiew ski jumping hill in Zakopane
Wielka Krokiew ski jumping hill

Things to do in Zakopane: Off the slopes

Stroll along Krupówki Street

The heart of Zakopane is Krupówki Street, a 1100-metre long pedestrianised street lined with shops, restaurants, bars and clubs, with the distinctive pointed-roof wooden buildings that are characteristic of Zakopane. It’s busy with a stream of people and horse-drawn carts – and if you’re visiting around Christmas there are festive market stalls too.

Look out for traditional restaurants known as karczma, serving Polish specialities like placki ziemniaczane (potato pancakes), pierogi (stuffed dumplings) and zurek (sausage, vegetable and rye soup). Often they’ll also have musicians playing Góral folk music.

You can also pick up osczypek cheese from stalls along Krupówki. This local delicacy is made in the Tatra Mountains using sheep’s milk and moulded into different shapes. It’s usually served grilled with cranberry jam and is smoky, salty and very moreish.

Busy Krupówki Street in Zakopane
Krupówki Street

Take the funicular to Gubałówka

For spectacular views out over Zakopane and out to the mountains – without needing skis – you can take the Gubałówka funicular railway. The funicular runs from the end of Krupówki, with a souvenir market in front of the station. The journey to the top only takes five minutes to climb up to 1123 metres, or there is a walking path next to the tracks.

Gubałówka has a toboggan run, souvenir and traditional food stalls, as well as restaurant terraces where you can soak up the scenery over a drink or a meal. It’s a great place to watch the sun set, with illuminated sculptures to light it up by night.

The funicular railway to Gubałówka in Zakopane in winter
The Gubałówka funicular

Go winter hiking

The hiking routes around Zakopane are some of the best in Poland, with crowds flocking to the mountains in summer. But some trails are also accessible if you’re visiting Zakopane in winter, with quiet paths and stunning scenery. It’s a good idea to buy or borrow crampons to slip on over your shoes though as it can be icy, and check for avalanche risk.

We climbed up into the hills behind our Snomads chalet to the top of Mount Nosal (6km) for panoramic views, and headed into the Tatra National Park (which has a 8 PLN entry fee) to visit the Siklawica Waterfall and climb Sarnia Skala (10km). Or for more of a challenge, you can take the cable car to Kasprowy Wierch and walk along the ridge.

Views over Zakopane from the hik to the top of Mount Nosal
Views from Mount Nosal

Visit Morski Oko

One hike not to miss in Zakopane, whatever time of year you visit, is to Morski Oko. Known as the ‘Eye of the Sea’, Morski Oko is the largest lake in the Tatra Mountains. It’s a hugely popular day trip in summer, but in winter a layer of snow and the frozen lake make it extra beautiful (though at 1395 metres above sea level make sure to take warm layers).

The hike starts in Palenica Bialczanska, which you can reach using a public minibus from Zakopane in 35 minutes. It’s 8.5km or around two hours’ walk from the starting point to the lake, with a slight uphill incline all the way (there are also horse and carts for hire at the visitor centre but concerns about welfare mean I wouldn’t recommend them).

A paved pathway runs through woodland and past waterfalls, opening up to views of the mountains. It gets snowier as you go along, and the lake is totally frozen in winter so you can walk right onto it. And there’s a mountain hut where you can warm up with a bowl of soup, potato pancake or a hot wine (make sure to take cash with you).

Frozen lake at Morski Oko in the Tatra Mountains, Poland
Frozen Morski Oko

Soak in hot springs

One way to warm up after a day in the snow (or soothe any aching muscles) is by soaking in steaming hot spring water. The area around Zakopane is known for its spas, and there are several to choose from, each of which has a different feel and facilities.

Closest is the Termy Zakopiańskie aqua park in town, which has indoor and outdoor pools, jacuzzis and waterslides. Or Terma Bania is right at the foot of the slopes in Bialka Tatrzańska, with some fantastic snowy mountain views. It has has a bit more of a resort feel, with a kids’ fun pool, adults’ relaxation area, saunarium and swim-up bar.

Also nearby are the Termy Bukowina and the huge Chochołowskie Termy – the biggest thermal pool complex in Poland. You can book tickets for different time periods, starting from 69–109 PLN (£14–£20/€16–€23/$18–$25) for a 2.5-hour session. Towels aren’t provided so remember to bring your own, or you can hire one for a small cost.

The Terma Bania hot springs near Zakopane
Terma Bania

The details

The weather in Zakopane in winter

Zakopane’s ski season normally runs from mid-December to early April, depending on snowfall. January is the coldest and snowiest month, with average high temperatures of -2ºC (28ºF) and lows of -9ºC (16ºF). December and February generally stay below freezing too, but it warms up to highs of 10ºC (50ºF) and lows of 0ºF (32ºF) by April.

Mountain hut at Morskie Oko
Mountain hut at Morskie Oko

How to get to Zakopane

Zakopane is 115km from Kraków, where you’ll find the nearest airport – and it’s definitely worth adding on a day or two in the city onto your trip if you can.

Flixbus run services direct from Kraków airport to Zakopane. Or you can catch one of the more frequent buses from Kraków bus station in the city centre to Zakopane. These cost around 19 PLN (£4/€4.50/$5) and you don’t need to prebook. The journey takes around 2.5 hours, but the road between Kraków and Zakopane can get busy at weekends.

There’s also a train running between Kraków and Zakopane, which is a bit slower but comes with scenic views and avoids the traffic. Or you can book a private transfer* from Kraków airport to Zakopane for around 550 PLN (£110/€130/$140) each way.

Osczypek smoked cheese in Zakopane, Poland
Osczypek smoked cheese

Where to stay in Zakopane

We stayed at Snomads’ Chalet Stardust – one of two traditional timber-framed chalets across the road from the Nosal ski area. You can hire a whole chalet (sleeping up to 12/13) if you’re in a group, or book an individual room for a week. Prices start at a bargain £199 per person for a week, and Snomads offer a 10% discount if you get there without flying.

The chalet is a cosy, comfortable base, with extras like homemade cakes, video games and transfers to each of the Polish ski resorts. Plus you benefit from Snomads’ huge wealth of local information to help you plan your activities on and off the slopes each day.

There’s a guest kitchen and lounge, and lots of places to eat nearby – Karczma u Starego, Nosalowy Dwor Restaurant and Gospoda Polska Kolibecka were our picks.

Snomads Chalet Stardust I in Zakopane in winter
Snomads Chalet Stardust I

Save for late

Discover the best things to do in Zakopane in winter – whether you’re a skier or not – with a guide to this Polish town in the Tatra Mountains which is a great value destination for winter adventures | Tatra Mountains Poland | Visiting Zakopane Poland | Skiing in Poland | Winter in ZakopaneDiscover the best things to do in Zakopane in winter – whether you’re a skier or not – with a guide to this Polish town in the Tatra Mountains which is a great value destination for winter adventures | Tatra Mountains Poland | Visiting Zakopane Poland | Skiing in Poland | Winter in Zakopane

You might also like