Hmmm, how much history do you want? First mentioned during C17, the village had a population of 43 in 1676. It became a centre for mining and metallurgy – the largest centre for metallurgy in Galicia in C19. By the late C19 it had grown to about 3,000 inhabitants and was already a health resort connected to the rail network.
Villa Konstantynówka – Polish-English author Joseph Conrad lived here in 1914
The Villa Tadeusz in Zakopane hosted a meeting of the Soviet NKVD and the Gestapo in March 1940 (when, remember, they were both nominally on the same side) to coordinate the pacification of the Polish Resistance – fittingly, the village itself became an important staging post for the Underground between Poland and Hungary.
Villa Tadeusz today
From 1975 to 1998 Zakopane was part of the Nowy Sącz Voivodeship (province). Like Nowy Sącz, it is now part of the Lesser Poland Voivodeship (województwo małopolskie).
Zakopane and the High Tatras, from Gubałówka
The town in famous for several things:
The Zakopane style of architecture
Summer mountain pastimes – walking, climbing, trekking, potholing, paragliding, enjoying the views, horse-drawn carriage rides, aqua park
As a base for exploring the region, including the famous wooden churches
Winter sports – downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, horse-drawn sleighs or husky sleighs and all
Nightlife – restaurants specialise in local dishes and produce, bars and clubs, music and costumes
Cheese – the famous smoked cheese, Oscypek, and a daily cheese market
And shopping – the year round pastime centred on ul. Krupówki.
With visitor numbers topping 3,000,000 each year, the town is well-provided with hotels, bars, restaurants and attracts tourists from Poland and abroad throughout the year (tailing off on the shoulder seasons, while weather and services adapt to the changes in weather, obviously. The road from Kraków to Zakopane is often packed on a Friday starting at about 16:00 as people leave work early for a weekend in Zakopane, and in Sunday evenings as they head home.
Mentioning the road, we should also say something about getting down to Zakopane. It’s a fair way from Kraków and a bit further from the airport. Public transport will usually be via Kraków, so take the most convenient bus or train into Główny and the coach or train down to Zak – as is typical for most of Poland the coach will be quicker, subject to that point on Friday afternoons and Sunday evenings! Work on 2 hours from Kraków RDA (coach) or nearer to 3-3.5 from Kraków (train). Matter of interest, see http://1904loghouse.com/?s=luxtorpeda You will find taxis and minibuses at the airport and in the city which will take you down to Zakopane. Kraków is usually a staging post for journeys to Zakopane from elsewhere in Poland – there are very few direct services.
Minibuses provide most of the local bus services around Zakopane, along with timetabled PKS buses.
Things to see and do
Morskie Oko valley. Get there on one of the many minibuses leaving from opposite the bus station to a massive parking lot near the Slovakian border, after that you walk the remaining 9km to the lake, or use a horse and cart!
Mount Rysy (2499m) is a 4-hour hike from Morskie Oko valley. You can cross the border to the Slovakian peak of Rysy (2503m), but ID may be needed to do so, as the crossing is manned in the summer.
Gubałówka. A sort of mini-Zakopane on top of the hill reached by a long walk or a ride on the funicular railway (start at the market at the north end of ul. Krupówki). Here you’ll find pony rides for the kids, a mini toboggan run, ski and snowboard runs and the eponymous restaurant, famous far beyond the village!
Kasprowy Wierch (1987m) is on the border between Poland and Slovakia – you can cross the border, as both countries are in the Schengen area. The cable car is one of the oldest in Europe, having been built in 1935-36, though it was closed for a while allowing total modernisation prior to re-opening in 2007.
Having changed cars at Myślenicke Turnie, visitors arrive to find the observatories, view point, restaurants, skiing areas and ski lifts. NB the cable car gets extremely busy – one can walk to the top in about three hours or go up by local bus (from the road next to the bus station).
The Cemetery of the Distinguished on Pęksowy Brzyzek, on ul. Kościeliska, is the oldest cemetery in Zakopane. Since the 1920s it has been a burial place for distinguished people connected to Zakopane and Tatra Mountains. Most of the tombstones are real works of art made of wood, stone and metal.
The Tatra Museum has several buildings throughout the town
St Mary of Częstochowa Church is on ul. Kościeliska and open from about 06:30 – 19:30. Inside you will find, along with some local art, a reproduction of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa. Next door is the oldest shrine in Zakopane, the tiny stone chapel of Saints Sverad and Benedict (1806-1820) and close by is the Cemetery of the Distinguished on Pęksowy Brzyzek.
On ul. Krupówki and open from 09:30 to 17:30 is the Holy Family Church. Not unattractive from the outside, but like many churches in Poland it’s the inside that repays the time spent visiting.
A couple of trails for the keen walker
Zakopane to Giewont (can be a detour on the way to the beautiful Gąsienicowa valley)
Orla Perc is a famous (and very serious) mountain trail from Zawrat to Krzyzne. Chains provided!
Otherwise, get a map at the Tourist Information Office in Zakopane.
This has just been a taster – enough, we hope, to encourage you to give Zakopane a try. Zakopane is about 70km from the 1904loghouse by the windy road, and along the way you can even stop off to raft through the Dunajec Gorge and spend some time at Czorsztyn.
Visits to Zakopane should not be rushed, as one of the unique assets of the town is the atmosphere, especially in the evening as the bars and restaurants serve up local cuisine and the fun starts. You CAN visit Zak on a day-trip from Krakow, but if you do you’ll not see the best of it. You WILL see some lovely scenery though!