Zakopane ski

The Ultimate Guide to Zakopane Ski Trips

Plan your Zakopane ski trip with this guide to seasons, resorts, hotels, and travel.

When the snow starts falling (usually around late November) and the ski resorts in Poland fling open their cable cars (usually in early December), it’s high time to plan a Zakopane ski trip.

One of the great things about Krakow is just how accessible the slopes are. A quick two-hour drive to the south or a comfy three-hour train can whisk you to the so-called Winter Capital of Poland.

Once there, you’ll have to resist the temptation to guzzle warm beer in fire-warmed taverns and munch smoky sheep’s cheese right away (there’s time for it later, don’t worry).

There are many a Zakopane ski resort to get through first. These are the best in the country, ranging from the 2,000-meter-high top station of Kasprowy to the beginner-friendly slopes of Harenda.

This guide will outline all you need to know about skiing in Zakopane, with tips on where to stay and when to travel, plus what to expect from the skiing and the slopes themselves.

This article may contain affiliate links to hotels, services, and other extras that will earn us something if you click through and book. It’s what helps us keep offering great info on Krakow, so

This is a splinter article of our bigger, better ultimate guide to skiing in Poland. Head that way if you’re after info on more resorts, hotels, and the like.

Zakopane ski conditions

What’s in this guide to Zakopane ski trips?

When to ski in Zakopane?

Obviously the best Zakopane ski trips come with plenty of snow. Despite Poland’s reputation as being somewhere in the depths of Siberia, the white stuff isn’t as guaranteed as you might think.

That said, as of 2022, the winters in southern Poland and the Tatras have generally been pretty good, bringing plenty of powder with them. It’s usually normal to have decent coverage by the start of December. That means that most Zakopane ski resorts will switch on their lifts by Christmas at the latest, although we’ve skied as early as December 2nd in the past. Things don’t wind down again until around April, depending on how big the snowpack has gotten.

If you’re thinking of coming at the start or at the end of the season, we’d recommend considering a ski field that’s got its own snowmaking. That effectively eliminates high-up Kasprowy Wierch, which is perhaps the best option for advanced riders.

Try to avoid a trip to Zakopane when the school holidays are on in Krakow or Warsaw.

We’d also suggest planning your Zakopane ski trip for a time that doesn’t clash with Polish winter holidays. In fact, we can’t stress how important that is! Queues can be out of control and traffic in and out of town is ridiculous, plus the hotel rates are sure to soar. But this is where things can get a little tricky…

The vacations for Krakow are different from the vacations for Warsaw are different from the vacations for Gdansk – so on and so forth. There are big influxes to the ski lifts during them all, but it’s probably best to avoid the times when Krakow and the capital are off, at least. Dates for school holidays are published each year on a government portal, at least five months prior to the peak of the ski season.

How to get to Zakopane

Kick-starting your Zakopane ski adventure means first getting to the so-called winter capital of Poland. Thankfully, there are loads of ways to do that from Krakow. We’ve actually got a full guide this this offers much more detail, but here’s a rough look at the options on the table…

  • By bus – The most common and the cheapest is by bus. Coach connections with several different companies leave from Krakow’s main station (Dworec Glowny) all day long. Departures start early in the morning and don’t stop until late at night. We found buses left at least every 15-30 minutes when we made the trip in the Zakopane ski season 2019 and 2020. If you’re bringing your own gear, bus drivers might be a little grumpy but just ask them to open the hold and they’ll let you drop it in there.
  • By train – A more comfortable option involves hopping on the train from Krakow to Zakopane. This will cost a little more (around 40 PLN, or £8) and will take extra time – the connection is about three hours in total. It’s a nice ride that can offer some stunning views of the Tatra foothills and the farms surrounding Krakow, which look lovely when covered in snow. Just a word of warning: This isn’t the option to go for if you’re planning a Zakopane daytrip on a tight schedule. Trains are regularly delayed, and heavy snowfall can get them cancelled altogether.
  • By car – Another way to get to the Winter Capital of Poland is by car. You can choose to rent in the airport or opt to pick up your ride in the city center of Krakow – a place and time is usually arranged and agreed upon. The road south is good, but could be better. It starts as a motorway with multiple lanes and turns into a narrow country road near the town of Rabka, which is about halfway. Traffic can get mega heavy as you approach Zakopane itself, mainly due to a one-lane bridge restricting access to the town. There’s a huge push to improve these connections, with a new motorway linking Krakow to the mountains. It’s not completed yet though. (Was looking pretty far off as of 2020 too!)

What’s the skiing in Zakopane like, exactly?

The skiing in Zakopane

Zakopane’s ski resorts are up there with the very best in Poland. Close to the city, you’ll find at least two of the most accomplished winter fields in the country. They have the highest kilometer counts, the best lifts, and the top altitude. Along with those, there are multiple slopes and smaller resorts that offer great riding at reduced rates in the surrounding region.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that Zakopane’s ski conditions still have a long (read: loooooong) way to go before giving the Alps a run for their money. You can check out our ultimate guide to skiing in Poland for more info on that, but suffice to say that you’re not going to be dropping in on mega bowls and carving down black runs with amazing vistas of endless glaciers!

Zakopane has some great skiing, especially for beginners

The main gripe with Zakopane ski resorts is that they have failed to unite to create a coherent ski destination in its own right. There are a handful of places worth mentioning (check below), but each occupies its own hill, with its own lifts, and its own ski passes. Maybe one day this will change, but for now, you’ll need to chop and change where you ride each day.

As far as the quality of the slopes go, there’s a good mix of light blues and speedy reds in the town. You can catch some expert runs, but they are typically short and sharp, and more like a red in France.

The lifts range from uber-modern (especially in nearby Bialka) to ancient (those rickety things up in Kasprowy, we’re looking at you). There’s also great snowmaking as soon as you’re out of the Tatra National Park. What’s more, pistes are well marked, groomed daily, and generally of high quality.

But Zakopane does have one trump card: It’s simply awesome for beginners. Yep, if you’ve come as a first-time rider, the tuition is cheap, ski schools are everywhere, the teachers are largely bilingual, and the slopes are amazing for starting out.

A guide to Zakopane ski resorts

Kasprowy Wierch skiing

Because this isn’t a traditional ski resort like you get in the Alps, but rather a town in the middle of a range of mountains where there are countless slopes in the vicinity, it’s a good idea to plan where exactly you’re going to go when you hit snow in Poland.

There are a few options. It’s likely your decision will depend on how far you want to travel, what your level of skiing is, and where you’re staying in Zakopane itself. You’ll notice that each of the ski fields listed below has its pros and cons, and caters to a different type of winter sportster.

Of course, you can pick just one of these and ski there every day of your trip. That’s fine, but the limitations on piste length and variety that’s long plagued southern Poland might get tiresome after a while. We think a whole week’s skiing can be shared between two or three places. That’s just about perfect.

Kasprowy Wierch

Pros: The views/Small queues/Challenging runs. Cons: Wind/Expensive passes/Zero Snowmaking

Without a doubt the highest of all Poland’s winter sports stations, Kasprowy clocks up a top station altitude of 1,987 meters. That’s whopping for Central Europe, and it means this one gets some of the very best natural snow cover this side of the Alps.

You take a vintage gondola all the way from the base to the summit. Ten you can ski down two sides of the mountain, one with zipping black and red runs, and another with some fat blues and reds that join in the forests beneath.

Unfortunately, there’s no snowmaking (we’re inside the Tatra National Park here and it’s not allowed) and the pistes are exposed to the elements. In addition, Kasprowy Wierch skiing is easily the priciest in the country.

Polana Szymoszkowa

Pros: Accessible/Cheap passes/Good snowmaking Cons: Short runs/Lacks variation/Pistes suffer later in the day

On the north side of the town is where to find Polana Szymoszkowa. A prime example of the small-scale Zakopane ski resorts that have just one or two runs, it’s draped over the low hills that face the Tatras.

That means snowmaking is in full effect here, which ensures openings before Christmas most years. Riding wise, you get two chairlifts that serve one small beginner section and one higher, longer intermediate slope. Don’t expect more than a couple of km of piste. Do expect well-marked, wide sections.

Oh, and ski passes are cheap (judging by Zakopane ski season 2020 prices, at least).

Harenda

Pros: Really easy to drive to/Good beginner area Cons: Very low altitude/Not great natural snow cover/Really just a single run

Like Polana Szymoszkowa before it, Harenda is a single-run Zakopane ski station that sits on the lower hills to the north-east of the town proper. It’s accessed just off the main road leading into the center, where you’ll find a chairlift and a number of drag lifts serving a steep red run and a whole field of easy greens. That makes it a beginner favorite but, all-round, not that great.

Kotelnica Białczańska/Bialka Tatrzanska

Pros: The largest resort in Poland/Modern lifts Cons: You need to drive at least 35 minute from Zakopane/Mega queues at midday and during holidays

Last but not least is the undisputed favourite of the region. What’s strange about that the resort of Bialka Tatrzanska isn’t even located in Zakopane. Instead, it’s in its own small village around 30 minutes’ drive to the north-east.

That means you’ll need to a car to get here each morning. Also, be sure to leave early for the slopes – traffic can get unbearable, especially during school holidays. The bonus of adding some journey time is clear, though. Kotelnica Białczańska (or Bialka Tatrzanska) is the largest of all on this list. It’s got at least 16 lifts, serving several hills covered in everything from small nursery slopes to mogul reds.

Things never get to challenging here and the tuition is excellent, so it really does lean towards families and beginners.

How much does a Zakopane ski holiday cost?

Let’s talk moolah.

Prepare to be pleasantly surprised. There’s plenty to be said for how cheap Zakopane ski resorts are. In fact, you can often get a few hours’ pass for just 60-80 PLN (that’s as little as £12/$14). Bigger resorts like Kasprowy will be more – expect day passes around the 135 PLN mark. (Estimations are based off Zakopane ski pass 2020 rates).

£500/$600 – we think you could do a whole ski holiday in Zako for that!

Of course, that’s not the only cost you’ll need to handle. Join that ski pass to the cost of a bus transfer from Krakow (20 PLN/£4), the price of a flight into Krakow airport (from the UK, that averages perhaps around £80/$90 return), ski rentals (35 PLN/day, so perhaps £60 for a whole week), and the price of a hotel in Zakopane (luxury at £130/night; midrange at £50/night, or $150 to $60), and we reckon you could do a whole ski vacay with everything included in the Polish winter cap for under £500, including five days on the slope.

Of course, that’s a total estimation and prices will vary depending on times of year, hotel choices, where you ski – the list goes on…  

The best ski hotels in Zakopane

Zakopane ski hotels

Going skiing in Zakopane? There are plenty of hotels waiting all over this self-proclaimed winter hub. Spa hotels are everywhere if you’re after a touch of luxury. And there are cosy boltholes that channel a little of the classic gorale (Polish mountain culture) character. Look for those in timber-built chalets with steep-sloping roofs and carved wood frontages. We’ve gained some real favourites over the years, some of which also happen to be close to the slopes…

Aries Hotel & Spa

Best for: Proper luxury

Probably the most luxurious hotel in Zakopane, Aries Hotel & Spa is the one if money’s no object. The outdoor Jacuzzi is unbeatable – seriously, post-ski lazing in there is lush!You also get salt rooms, steam rooms, saunas, and more in the spa. The breakfasts are sooo good, with endless croissants, smoked cheeses, eggs, salads – you name it!

Grand Hotel Stamary

Best for: Relatively affordable luxury close to buses that take you to multiple ski fields

We like basing ourselves in the Grand Hotel Stamary for Zakopane ski trips because it’s only a few steps from the main bus station where you can grab connections to Bialka and Kasprowy (our two top ski fields in the area). It’s also a downright lovely hotel with a stunning spa that you’ll get for a lower price than aforementioned Aries.

IJG Imperial Apartamenty Szymaszkowa

Best for: Ski-in access and views

If you don’t mind compromising and skiing just the double-slope runs of Szymaszkowa, then you’re sure to love this gorgeous boutique hotel. You get ski-in access and panoramic views of the High Tatras on the opposite side of the valley. Interiors are gorgeous, with a touch of chic modernism and a twist of authentic Zakopane style.

Villa 9A

Best for: Family ski trips

Our top choice for families is this deluxe holiday home under the slopes of Kasprowy. You’ll be a short walk down the valley from the main cable car to what’s the highest resort in the whole country. That means better snow and less-busy slopes. The place itself has been finished so wonderfully. It’s got roaring wood fires and even its own sauna!

Apres ski in Zakopane

Zakopane apres ski

Zakopane isn’t big and it certainly ain’t Krakow when it comes to nightlife. But this town has some serious energy for those looking to let loose after they’ve been on the slopes for the day. In fact, it’s considered a little bit of a party town throughout the winter, when it doubles as the main winter sports hub and thousands of people flock in from the big cities.

The last five years or so has seen an explosion in the number of bars in Zakopane. Today, you’ve got slick jazz bars and quirky cocktail joints, along with down-to-earth sports bars and hearty mountain-man taverns that swing to live bands. Here, we’ll look at the places that we think would make up just about the perfect post-ski session on the town, in order at that!

Cafe Tygodnik Podhalanski

A bit of a local’s secret, Cafe Tygodnik Podhalanski sits on the top floor of a downright ugly building on the corner of Tadeusza Kościuszki street, a few minutes’ stroll from Krupowki (the main drag of the town). To get in, you need to enter what looks like an office building and then choose the top floor. The lift will open to reveal a strange bar of multiple rooms that has patios with views of the mountains. It’s got cocktails and cold beers and is one of our favorite places to begin a night out in Zako.

Cafe Piano Zakopane

As jazz bars go, this quirky joint in Zakopane is pretty darn good. We love the al fresco space by summer but summer means retreating inside to a cozy, log-cabin like spot that has dangling seats by the bar (not great after your third warm beer!). It’s all good vibes and often filled with skiiers.

Restauracja Browar Watra

At the top (that’s the south) end of Krupowki street, Restauracja Browar Watra is one of the longest-running Zakopane brew bars. It’s got some seriously fantastic in-house beers that flow from the moment the lifts close. There’s food too, in the form of hearty Polish mountain stuff – pork knuckles, steaming stews, pierogi.

Dyskoteka Morskie Oko

Choose Dyskoteka Morskie Oko for your later dance sessions. It’s a pumping club a la Krakow that is usually the finishing point for most drinkers looking to go long in Zakopane. Tunes are chart, EDM, and the occasional bout of Disco Polo (which no one really likes). Entry staff can be gruff but they’re alright really.


This article may contain affiliate links to hotels, services, and other extras that will earn us something if you click through and book. It’s what helps us keep offering great info on Krakow, so

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