This guide to the best Zakopane souvenirs runs through a handful of products that should let you take a taste of Poland’s charming winter capital back home with you. It’s got a whole range of things, ranging from trinkets to foodstuffs. So, will it be the woolen shepherd’s hat, the smoky summer sheep’s cheese, or the hand-whittled wood ornaments? You decide…
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This is just one part of our ultimate guide to Zakopane town.
What’s in this guide to Zakopane souvenirs?
Hand-carved wood items and whittling
Wood carving has been happening in the Podhale region of Poland – the area where you find Zakopane – for hundreds of years. The most obvious place to look for the craft is on the local architecture, which makes a heavy use of timber that’s often elaborately whittled and decorated (some of the very best hotels in the town, including Aries Hotel & Spa showcase these sorts of features).
The wood carving traditional also gives some of the best Zakopane souvenirs. Items are typically made from locally sourced materials, such as pine wood, and feature intricate designs inspired by the natural beauty of the Tatra Mountains and the greater Polish highlands. Some popular themes for Zakopane wood carvings include animals, flowers, and scenes from local folklore.
The carving process involves carefully shaping the wood into the desired form, often using hand tools such as chisels and knives. Some carvers may also incorporate burning or staining techniques to add depth and dimension to their work. Zakopane wood carvings make for unique and meaningful souvenirs, and are a great way to take a piece of the region’s rich cultural heritage back home. Probably the best place to go shopping for such pieces is the market at the northern end of Krupowki Street (just at the base of the Gubalowka lift).
Oscypek cheese is a traditional and protected regional product from Zakopane and the surrounding Tatra Mountains in Poland. It is a type of smoked dairy that’s made from the milk of the local highland sheep – known here as Podhale sheep. It’s been around for centuries and remains a staple of the Zakopane kitchen (you simply cannot leave without giving it a try!).
Oscypek cheese is known for its distinct flavor, which is a result of the smoking process as well as the unique composition of the regional sheep’s milk. The cheese is formed into distinctive cylinder shapes and is often decorated with traditional geometric patterns using unique instruments.
The production of the cheese is closely regulated by the Polish government. Only cheese made in the traditional way and from the milk of animals from the Podhale can even be called by this name. You won’t have to look far to buy yours, though – shops up and down Krupowki Street and even supermarkets in Zakopane sell it for between 5-25 PLN ($1-5) a pop.
The Goral hat is a traditional woolen headpiece that is a staple of the local mountain culture of Zakopane and the Tatras as a whole. The hats are made from thick, warm wool and feature a rounded top that’s not unlike a British bowler hat. Finished pieces are usually garlanded with a ring of beads or shells and a plumed feather on the right-hand side.
You’re probably most likely to notice the Goral hat being worn by the folk bands that play each night in the hearty taverns of downtown Zakopane. However, they were traditionally used by shepherds and farmers out in the backcountry of the mountains, both to protect from strong sun in the summer and warm the head during the snowy winters.
To get yours, drop by the market at the southern end of Krupowki street. Almost all of the clothing shops there sell their own version, along with woolen waistcoats and cozy woolen socks to match.
Local honey from Zakopane and the surrounding Tatra Mountains is known for its unique and high-quality flavor. The locals will tell you that’s due to the variety of wildflowers and herbs that grow in the region. It’s all small-scale stuff, with local producers making batches every season and then selling it at ad hoc stores that dot the highways running in and out of town. Pull over at one of those and you could score yourself some of the sweet Zakopane nectar for just a couple of dollars a jar.
In addition to its delicious flavor, local honey from Zakopane is also championed for its many health benefits. The folks here say it’s rich in antioxidants and is known to help boost the immune system and alleviate a variety of health problems. Others will tell you that it’s a cracking cure for a vodka-induced hangover, which could come in handy if you’ve been hitting the town!
Okay, so this one’s a bit of a cop-out but we’d thought we’d drop it in here anyhow since Zakopane is now the epicenter of the Polish ski scene. That means there are snowy slopes and lifts to get stuck into all around the city, and one of the finest selections of winter sports shops in the whole country.
The middle and southern ends of Krupowki Street are home to most of the gear outlets. There’s oodles, from Poland’s own 4F to global brands like Salomon and others. If you happen to be dropping by the town sometime around the spring, then there’s a good chance you could score some epic deals on gear as the old year’s stock is moved on for 50% or more!
And it’s not just ski gear in Zako. These outdoorsy shops also often do hiking boots, hiking poles, waterproof coats, and technical climbing gear for fantastically discounted rates.