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Zakopane – Gateway to Tatras

View from Kasprowy Wierch, Tatra mountains

View from Kasprowy Wierch, Tatra mountains

I was probably 5 years old and a bit scared of that black devil with a pitchfork running around in a mountain lodge. It’s one of my earliest memories from Zakopane, where we went for a New Year break with my family. For the people who might not know – Zakopane is not a hell of any sorts, the Devil is one of the Polish traditional carnival characters alongside Angel, Death, etc. People would dress up as those characters and go to raise some money (similar to Christmas carol singers but with a bit more bite to it). Anyway, I remember the devil and lots of snow, we would go for night sledge rides and I was tucked in thick fur blankets like a Russian princess. I have been in Zakopane a few times since then, recently in May.

Krupowki, the main street in Zakopane

Krupowki, the main street in Zakopane

First, a few information bits about Zakopane. It lies in the South of Poland, and being a beautiful gateway to Tatra mountains (called Tatry in Polish), it has been a famous tourist destination for many years. It is one of the “must-see” places in Poland. Zakopane is very easy to get to even without a car. There is a train option (more expensive and longer) and plenty of buses to choose from (I would recommend private ones as they are the cheapest). If you are not sure, go to Cracow (most people go there anyway) and then take a bus. The bus station is under construction and the bus stands to Zakopane are situated outside, just follow the big yellow signs with letters written on them. There are also plenty of places to stay in Zakopane – you can choose between mountain huts, hostels, hotels, and private rooms. Almost every house in Zakopane offers rooms for rent, but it might be difficult to find rooms in the centre during the high season, so booking might be advisable.

Watra brewery, Zakopane

Watra brewery, Zakopane

There’s so much to do in Zakopane for everyone. If you’re a bit lazy and not so much into mountaineering, you can just put some outdoor clothing on and hang out on Krupowki. It is the main street in Zakopane, filled with outdoor shops, cafes, souvenirs, restaurants, and – most importantly – stalls with traditional goat cheese pieces (“oscypki”). Oscypki come in a traditional shape but in different sizes. They can be smoked (brown) or not (white), and you NEED to try them. I’ve just heard from a reliable source that it’s better to pay more for oscypki and not go for a cheaper option. Apparently even a not so fresh piece of better quality is much tastier than a cheaper alternative (especially if you heat it up in the oven). If you’re in a restaurant, try a grilled version with cranberry sauce as a starter, yummy…

Zajazd Furmanski, Zakopane

Zajazd Furmanski, Zakopane

Zajazd Furmanski, traditional design, Zakopane

Zajazd Furmanski, traditional design, Zakopane

We visited Zakopane in the middle of May, out of season, but it was still pretty crowded, especially in the evening. Choosing a place to eat is always a bit of a challenge for us, I like to try local dishes, my American boyfriend opts for a hamburger or pizza. So we were going from place to place to find a good compromise. As he really loves beer, I managed to tempt him to go to a local brewery called Watra. They offer not only delicious beer (honey beer being my favourite) but also a big variety of dishes – from traditional Polish to (beloved by some) pepperoni pizza. Another good place to eat is Zajazd Furmanski. Although not quite in the centre of Zakopane, the food is delicious. I enjoyed not only the food but also the traditional design of the building, huge wooden beams with the plaited straw insulation. If you travel with children and need a break, there was also an indoor children play area downstairs.

View from Kasprowy Wierch

View from Kasprowy Wierch

Good news if you’re lazy, but want to see a bit more than just a nice mountain town, there a few cable lifts which you can take to admire the mountain landscapes. We chose to go to Kasprowy Wierch (1,987m) to enjoy the afternoon before meeting up with our friends. To get to the lift from the centre, you need to take a minibus to Kuznice, it took me a while (a visit to the information centre to be precise) to figure it out. There was still some snow on top of the mountain and I was glad I had my insulated jacket with me to keep me warm. I’m not sure how some people managed to go to the top in trainers, I know it was not very far, but it would require some skill not to skid on a slippery surface. It’s worthwhile to go to the top, you will experience wonderful views of surrounding Tatras which can make up for 10 minutes of exercise…

And if you’re not so lazy and you would like to climb some mountains, Zakopane is also a great choice for you. More in my next post…

On top of the mountain, Tatras

On top of the mountain, Tatras

Climbing near Kasprowy Wierch

Climbing near Kasprowy Wierch

Taking photos near Kasprowy Wierch

Taking photos near Kasprowy Wierch

Scrambling near Kasprowy wierch

Scrambling near Kasprowy wierch