Be sure to also read our article about Zakopane’s Famous Lake Morskie Oko!
No matter what time of year it is, Zakopane is always a fun day trip from the city. A mountain town, approximately 2 hours from Krakow (be careful on weekends and rush hour because there is only one way to and from Krakow and Zakopane, so if you’re not careful with the time you go, it could take hours). There are buses leaving every half hour or so from the main bus station, Dworzec Glowny. You are dropped off near the main street of the town, and then have a few options for what to do.
If you want to take a hike, there are hundreds of buses all day long running back and forth between the town and the beginning of the hike to the infamous lake, Morskie Oko. The hike takes around 5 hours total, in the winter the lake is frozen over, and the trails can be covered in snow and ice as well, but in the summer the lake is one of the most gorgeous sites you will see. (Do a quick google image search of Morskie Oko to see its beauty in the summer). If you don’t want to hike, you have the option of paying for a horse-drawn sleigh to take you closer to the lake, still having to walk the last part of the trail though, around an hour.
If you don’t feel like going to the lake, or don’t have enough time, there is still a lot to see here. Take a funicular up to the top of a mountain for beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and entire town. Just follow the signs to the Gubalowka, and if you pass by an electronic ticket station, buy your ticket there, as the lines can be long at the funicular station cash desk. Cost is around 15zl each way, less for students and children. (Also an option to ski/snowboard back down). While you are at the top, have a meal, or just some vodka at the restaurant there.
Back down on the main street, wander around to see some fantastic all-wooden churches. Take a taxi, or maybe a tour guide, to a larger wooden church just outside of town, part of the Wooden Architecture Route of Malopolska. And don’t forget to grab dinner and some cheese before you leave! Oh, and the souvenirs at Zakopane are some of the best around… I suggest buying a pair of mountain slippers, a printed scarf, wooden cutlery or dining ware, or a cool ceramic coffee mug.
For dinner I suggest visiting Stek Chalupa, and ordering the ribs! Located just along the main street, with live folk music at night, and fireplaces all around. Truly a log-cabin restaurant.
And for special mountain cheese, called Oscypek, stop by any little stand that is grilling it fresh and definitely take it with the Cranberry jam! If you have access to a grill or stove where you are staying, buy a whole bunch of cheese to pan-fry or grill at home. It comes in all different shapes and sizes, and some different colors too, depending on the milk used and if it was smoked.
Can’t make it to Zakopane? Look around Krakow for stations grilling the special mountain cheese, or look for a mountain-woman at a local market or on the street to buy the cheese from. There is also a restaurant in the tourist town called Morskie Oko, which has the same feeling of the mountain lodges, in the middle of the city!