Ah, winter in Zakopane. Winter trips will be some of the best Zakopane trips of all. You’ve probably heard that this is the self-proclaimed winter capital of the whole of Poland. Nope? Well…it is. And for good reason too. It’s a major ski hub, the home of the biggest ski jump in the country, and the gateway to the forested mountains of the Tatras, which look nothing short of spectacular in the colder months of the calendar.
On top of all that, Zakopane is a darn fine place to explore between November and March. It’s usually covered in snow and looks like a real wonderland. The restaurants and the bars are as cozy as they come. You can spend days on the slopes and nights in the spa hotels. We love it! Add to all that the fact that it’s less than two hours from Krakow and you begin to see why this is such a great place to spend a couple of days.
This guide will look at all the ins and outs of the Zakopane winter. We’ll reveal everything you need to know about the weather in the mountain town at this time of the year, plus the coziest hotels to stay in. Perhaps most importantly, we’ll showcase 10 of the best things to do in Zakopane in the winter, to get you hiking snow-covered trails to frozen waterfalls and enjoying hearty Polish meals in highlander taverns.
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This is just a part of our complete guide to Zakopane
What’s in this guide to winter in Zakopane?
How to get to Zakopane in the winter?
We run through exactly how to reach Zakopane in our complete guide on getting from Krakow to Zakopane. That’s got all the info you need to make it down this way after flying into Krakow Airport, which is actually the closest arrival point from the air (Zakopane doesn’t have an airport of its own).
As a quick overview, we’d say there are three main ways to come: By car, by bus, or by train.
In the Zakopane winter, you can often find that the train is the best of all. That’s largely because the road from Krakow to Zakopane, especially the last stretch along the Zako valley itself, gets super busy when the school holidays in Poland are on. So busy that we’ve been stuck in buses for two hours or more, not moving an inch.
Where to stay in the winter in Zakopane?
We’d say that picking the right hotel in Zakopane is key to making it a great winter trip. Why? Some of the places on offer here are among the coziest winter hotels that we’ve EVER had the pleasure of bedding down in. We’re talking traditional mountain-style chalets with roaring wood fires, and even spa hotels with hot tubs set in the snowdrifts outside.
Here’s a sneak peak at a couple that we think have the potential to make that winter outing something truly fantastico…
- Aries Hotel & SPA Zakopane – There’s still nothing that can beat Aries for us. A truly five-star spa hotel, it sits smack dab in the middle of the town, just steps off the bustling main drag of Krupowky. Rooms channel authentic Polish mountain character and there are Jacuzzi baths outside, in the snow!
- Grand Hotel Stamary – We often wax lyrical to mates about this top-notch spa hotel. It’s still not as pricey as some spots in Zakopane, it’s neatly tucked right by the bus station so you can check in like seconds after arriving from Krakow, and it’s got an underground spa with salt rooms and other nifty things. It’s a great choice for couples on a midrange budget.
- Domek Trzy Doliny Zakopane – Snuggle up with the family in your own mountain cottage at the Domek Trzy Doliny Zakopane. It’s just outside of town, but is immersed in nature and looks downright idyllic covered in winter snows.
If you want any more top suggestions for places to stay in Zako, winter or summer, be sure to check out our complete guide to the top hotels in the city.
Things to do in winter in Zakopane
Here we go…the top things to do in Zakopane in the winter. It’s a good mix, offering downhill skiing (some of the best downhill skiing in the country, in fact) and wooded hiking paths covered in snow, but also bubbling thermal baths and charming taverns where you can sample the traditional mountain foods of southern Poland. Let’s begin…
Skiing was ALWAYS going to be the top of our list of things to do in winter in Zakoapne. This is, after all, the MAIN ski town in the whole of Poland. The good news is that you can ski right from the town center. The resort of Polana Szymoszkowa is a mere 20 minutes’ walk from the center, or a 3-minute bus from the main station. It’s a good place to pull on the skis if you’re a learner and want cheap tuition, but it’s important to manage expectations. It’s not the Alps. In fact, it’s little more than two slopes and two chairlifts, though the views of the Tatras are fantastic.
On the plus side, there’s plenty more skiing in the Zakopane valley that’s among the best in the country. We talk about it in much more detail in our full guide to Zakopane skiing and the skiing in Poland. For now, here’s a quick overview of just some of the places you can get to:
- Kasprowy – The highest skiing in Poland happens on the mountain of Kasprowy, which you can see – often covered in snow in the midwinter – by just looking up in Zakopane. To get to the base station, catch the bus from the station to Kuznice (it’s $1 per person) and then hop in the heritage cable car. That will take you to a high bowl with three or four runs.
- Białka Tatrzańska – The most comprehensive ski resort in Poland is in Białka Tatrzańska. It’s only 30 minutes’ drive from Zakopane but do the trip early because the traffic can be TERRIBLE in the winter. The runs here are very family friendly and there’s stuff for all levels apart from the total pros.
- Ski Station Witów – One of the lesser-known ski slopes in the Zakopane Valley is in the west in Witow. It’s small and very cheap, about 20 minutes’ drive from the center. Come here if you’ve got the kids in tow and want to give them their first taste of skiing.
Just imagine it – sitting out in a steaming pool of naturally warmed spring water to a backdrop of the snow-draped High Tatras! Southern Poland is well known for its thermal bath complexes. The naturally hot H2O of the region has been used for centuries and is hailed for its healing powers. Today, there are LOADS of options for getting your fix of R&R in the baths. Most are a short drive from Zakopane but there’s one option in the town center itself.
Here’s a look at the thermal baths in Zakopane that we recommend the most:
- Chochołowska Termy – Most people will say that these are the best of all the thermal bath complexes in southern Poland. A whopping 30 pools that add up to more 3,000 square meters bathing waters make it surely one of the largest around. The saunarium is the highlight in the winter – its got a juniper sauna, a salt sauna, and a classic pine sauna overlooking the Tatras.
- Termy BUKOVINA – Less than 30 minutes from Zakopane by car, Termy BUKOVINA are one of the newer thermal complexes in the area. They sit a gorgeous part of the Tatras, with views of the higher mountains and the ski fields. We’d say these are a bit better for couples who want to escape the families and have some alone time.
- Aqua Park Zakopane – The option in Zakopane itself, Aqua Park Zakopane is a good option for families that you can walk to from Krupowki Street.
Of course, the other choice here is to pick a hotel in Zakopane that’s got its own spa! They will be smaller than the big thermal baths but also quieter and – here’s the best part – come at no extra cost to the price of your room. Our favorites are in the Aries Hotel & Spa and the Grand Stamary Hotel.
We wouldn’t usually recommend the middle of the winter as the prime time to go hiking in Zakopane. The high snowfall and the short days don’t really lend themselves to long sessions in the Tatras. However, there are two routes that remain open and even look extra spectacular in the cold. They are both rated as easy and should be accessible for families. They don’t take you high and for the most part are on wide tracks or managed trails. Check out:
- Morskie Oko – This is THE best winter hike in all of Zakopane. It’s also one of the most popular hikes here full stop because it takes you to a gorgeous alpine lake set deep in the mountains. You’ll need to get up early and get the bus to the car park that’s at the trailhead (it’s called Palenica Białczańska). From there, it’s an 8km hike that rewards with a vision of a fully frozen piece of water under serrated mountaintops.
- Dolina Strążyska – The short route through the Dolina Strążyska valley on the western side of town is one of our favorites for the winter. It follows a lovely river that will be caked in snow pillows and then hits a zenith at an amazing waterfall that’s frozen into clusters of massive icicles. Reward yourself at the end with a hot chocolate or a hot wine at the fantastic Roma café.
Zakopane food tasting
The cold winter nights and crisp winter days provide ample time to taste your way through the unique Zakopane kitchen. We’ve done a full write-up of the best restaurants in the town, including a good selection of the best Polish and pierogi restaurants, which are all great choices for that hit of cozy tavern dining with local dumplings and whatnot.
To begin, though, we say you simply MUST sample one of the local sheep’s cheeses that are sold at the stalls on Krupowki Street. They’re simply cooked over open coals and sold with a dollop of cranberry sauce on the side. Just ask for oscypek (o-sip-ek) and you’re good to go. Now…if you liked that then there are even guided tours that can take you our to the home of the smoked sheep’s cheese in Podhale.
Other dishes that we can recommend here in the winter months are the potato pancakes (known as placki zemiaki) with a top of wild mushroom sauce and the pork knuckle, but that’s certainly not vegetarian!
Snowlandia made the headlines when it went sort of half viral back in 2013 or something on major travel channels. It’s a winter-themed theme park sat right on the edge of the Tatra National Park on the south side of the town. You can walk there, or hop in the bus to Kuznice (they go every 30 minutes or so from the main bus station) and get out at the penultimate stop.
The main draw at Snowlandia has to be the huge ice labyrinth. No matter how old you are, it’s pretty darn cool. The whole thing is constructed from big ice blocks and is a PROPER maze. There are also pyramids made of ice blocks and a reconstruction of an igloo, along with a display of snow sculpture.
Entry to Snowlandia is around 55 PLN ($11) for adults and 42 PLN ($8.50) for kids.
Krupowki Street isn’t just a thing to do in winter in Zakopane. It’s the main street of the town, so you’ll encounter it whether you drop by in the summer, the spring, or the fall. That said, the whole thing takes on a very special atmosphere in the colder months. It’s actually our top time to be on Krupowki, especially if you’re around when the snow falls, when the gnarled street lamps look like something out of Whoville.
Anyway, Krupowki is the vena cava of Zakopane. It’s riddled with outdoors shops where you can search for ski gear and hiking equipment, but also fashion and threads. It’s also got loads of cozy Polish coffee shops and taverns that are just asking for you to dip in and have a drink.
The northern side of the street is often taken over by a lovely winter market. Head there to shop for sheep’s wool socks (we bought some of the comfiest we’ve ever had from there) and to get local foods like smoked cheese and blood sausage.
What’s the weather like during winter in Zakopane?
Snow is commonplace in Zakopane in the winter months. There’s nearly 180 snow days in the year here, the bulk of which occur between December and April. Snowpacks on the mountains can easily reach over two meters. At base level in the town, it’s normal to see snows hit over a meter, but – don’t worry – it’s well cleared by local authorities. The bottom line: Be ready for the white stuff. You will need shoes with good grip to walk the town, and even with spikes if you’re keen to do hiking, along with proper thermals and a good snow coat.
Talking of thermals, the temperature during winter in Zakopane averages between -5 C (22 F) and -7 C (19 F) most days. That said, we’ve been around when its more than -25 C, but also when it’s been +10 in the winter, so there’s lots of variation. We’d recommend packing thermals and plenty of layers. There’s also occasional bouts of rain in Zakopane in the winter, so have waterproofs at the ready.