This guide runs through all the best ways to travel from Krakow to Zakopane, from the budget-friendly buses to the comfy trains. The trip from one to the other should take 2-3 hours in all.
Zakopane is the mountain capital of Poland and one of the best day or two-day getaways to make from Krakow. It’s surrounded by the Tatra Mountains and is a haven for hiking in the summer months and skiing in the winter months. The whole town is also riddled with traditional highland taverns and quaint timber architecture. We put it close to the top of our list for must-dos in Southern Poland.
Zakopane lies at the foothills of the Tatra Mountains. It’s just over 100 km from Krakow itself, so you can get there in less than two hours by car. There are also regular trains (our favorite way to go) and buses (the budget-friendly and fast way to go). Here’s a closer look at all the best ways to go from Krakow to Zakopane…
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This is just one guide in our complete guide to traveling in and around Krakow
What’s in this guide on how to travel from Krakow to Zakopane
Krakow to Zakopane by bus
By far, the easiest and the cheapest way to travel from Krakow to Zakopane, if you don’t own a car is by bus. There are lots of companies out there that offer frequent and inexpensive direct connections from the city of kings to the mountain capital of Poland.
Although this may not be the most comfortable way to travel, it usually only takes less than 2.5 hours. That said, the main road connecting Zakopane, and Krakow often gets congested, so travelling times may be extended. Make sure to avoid travelling during the rush hours if you don’t want to waste hours in traffic.
It’s very easy to find buses going to Zakopane from the main bus station in Krakow which is centrally located (right by the main train station). The good thing is that don’t need to pre-book your tickets, but we recommend checking the times beforehand to avoid waiting at the station. While the prices of the tickets vary, they start at around 18 PLN per person. You can easily buy them online or at the station.
While there are lots of bus companies out there, they all offer pretty much the same standard of coaches so there is no need to research them extensively. Just make sure to avoid the minibuses that don’t have as much legroom. Most buses will stop on the way, and it’s possible to catch them at other locations in Krakow, but you will not be guaranteed a seat, plus you can only put your luggage in the boot at the first stop.
Search for trains between Krakow and Zakopane below:
Krakow to Zakopane by train
This may not be the quickest way to travel from Krakow to Zakopane but travelling by train is a much more comfortable option. Although the train is quite slow, it takes a more scenic route. Especially as you get closer to the mountains the views will be much more pleasant than those from the bus window. Sometimes though, the train may actually be the fastest mode of transport by avoiding the traffic on the main road, which can be pretty bad.
You can catch the train from the main station in Krakow, which will drop you pretty much at the same location in Zakopane as the bus would. We recommend checking the times beforehand because the trains are not as frequent as buses. You should also bear in mind that trains often get cancelled due to bad weather and heavy snow.
You can buy your tickets at one of the counters at the main train station in Krakow. As with buses, you don’t need to book your tickets in advance, but you may find cheaper tickets if you buy them online. Although the trains are quite old, they are comfortable as long as you get a seat. We personally think this is the best way to get to Zakopane if you’re not short on time, but we may be biased.
Krakow to Zakopane by car
Usually, the fastest way to travel from Krakow to Zakopane is by car. You will take the same road as the buses do, but you don’t need to stop along the way to pick up other passengers.
With no traffic, it’s possible to do the whole A to B in less than two hours. That said, if you travel during the most popular times – 8-9am, the 5pm rush hour, and during major holidays – it can sometimes take two whole hours just to leave Krakow!
Zakopianka is the name of the two-lane highway that you take for the first two thirds of the journey. That lasts until the town of Rabka and then the road changes into a slower, windy, one-lane thing. There are plans to make this a highway the whole way, but the progress is slow. At the time of writing (2023), it’s not yet finished. Sadly, there’s no alternative route unless you take the even-slower DK28 route.
Renting a car in Krakow shouldn’t break the bank. We’ve found deals for around the $20/day mark, which is up there with the cheapest in Europe. Most rentals will be out of Krakow Airport but you can also organize to pick up the car in the Old Town.
The reason we really love this option is that you’ll have your own wheels down in Zakopane. That’s a proper bonus, letting you escape to the local spas and the trailheads that lead into the Tatra Mountains, and making it easy to hike famous trails like the one to Morskie Oko. Plus, it’s a great option for skiiers who want to sample multiple resorts in the area.
You can search for car rentals in Krakow below…
Other ways to get from Krakow to Zakopane
You cannot fly to Zakopane as there is no airport, with the closest one being a tiny Poprad-Tatry airport in Slovakia, and that only serves a couple of routes. The upshot? You can only really get to Zakopane overland from Krakow.
There are not many other ways to get to Zakopane aside from the three ways we mentioned above. It is technically possible to cycle, but you shouldn’t attempt it if your fitness is not up to scratch. It is over 100km with plenty of uphill and downhill sections so, it’s not the easiest task. But hey, if you’re up for it, you could give it a try! There is always a train you can take back with your bike.
With the number of people that regularly travel the main road, it’s actually possible to hitchhike. That said, your success is never guaranteed, so we don’t recommend this as a reliable option.
Where to stay in Zakopane?
We’ve got a complete guide to all the very best hotels in Zakopane. The top three picks we usually go for are charming highlander hotels, some of them downright luxurious, with spa facilities and swimming pools part of the package….
- Aries Hotel & SPA Zakopane ($$$) – One of the most luxurious hotels in town. It’s not cheap but it’s well worth the price.
- Grand Hotel Stamary ($$$) – Conveniently located, very close to the train station. One of the most iconic hotels in Zakopane with a lovely spa.
- Willa Orla ($$) – Lovely little family-run hotel with a great breakfast. It’s around a 15-minute walk from the centre.
Krakow to Zakopane – The conclusion
So, there are only three ways to get to Zakopane, by bus, by train, and by car. The fastest and the cheapest way to get there by public transport is by bus. It is also the easiest way since there are lots of buses every day. We think, however, that although the train is slow, it is still the most comfortable way to travel and is actually a pleasant ride into the peaks of Southern Poland. Of course, if you can drive, you will save yourself some travelling time and get to have your own car for exploring the national parks and traditional villages once you arrive in Zakopane.