Zakopane - the most popular winter destination in Southern Poland
Poland is a country of varied landscapes with plenty of active holiday options.
In the winter season, with snow cover lasting from November till March, the mountains along the southern border of Poland offer great possibilities for winter sports, being skiing and snowboarding the most popular ones. For those who do not ski, many places in Southern Poland are still well worth visiting for their unique character, fresh mountain air and the natural beauty of the surroundings.
Main mountain ranges in the South of Poland
Southern Poland’s mountains belong to two main mountain ranges: the Sudeten and the Carpathian.
In the Sudeten, in the west on the Czech border, there are Karkonosze Mountains, with maximum heights of 1600 meters.
The Beskidy Mountains, in southern central Poland, are a part of the Carpathians and reach height of 1700 meters.
Further to the east, on Slovakian border, the highest sections of the Carpathians is formed by the Tatra Mountains, with maximum heights reaching 2499 meters.
In the Tatra Mountains lies the town of Zakopane, Poland´s ultimate ski resort.
Tatra Mountains – skiing holidays in Poland
Tatra Mountains, or the Tatras, are the best ski and snowboard destination in Poland.
Being the highest mountain range in the country, the Tatras have many skiing slopes of different difficulty and well developed infrastructure for winter sports: ski lifts, cable cars, artificial snow machines, skiing and snowboarding gear hire as well as professional instructors.
For natural reasons (height) the Tatra mountains in Poland do not offer as challenging conditions for extreme winter sports as the Alps, but excellent skiing slopes for beginners and intermediate level skiers are to be found in great quantity in the Tatra Mountains in Poland. Competent and helpful English speaking instructors are available for one-to-one classes for less confident skiers. Children will probably enjoy more group classes where they can master their skills in a fun way, playing with their peers.
The skiers venturing for the more difficult trails will have opportunity to enjoy superb views of the snow covered Tatras with their many valleys and pristine forests.
What also distinguish Polish Tatra mountains from the Alpine skiing resorts are the prices. The cost of ski holidays in Poland: the ski passes and skiing gear hire, as well as of food and accommodation is still relatively low when compared to other European winter destinations.
Zakopane – the winter capital of Poland
The town of Zakopane in Tatra Mountains is unquestionably the prime location in Poland for winter sports.
Although Tatra Mountains offer excellent conditions for hiking, climbing or paragliding in the warmer months, it is the winter season that attracts most of the two million tourists visiting Zakopane every year.
Skiing, snowboarding, and even ski jumping can be practiced in Zakopane, home of the four-time Olympic medallist Adam Malysz.
If you have a hire car at your disposal it may be well worthwhile to venture a bit off Zakopane to Poronin and Bukowina Tatrzanska, also good skiing locations in the Tatras.
See the map of area around Zakopane.
Since many of the car hire offers in Poland allow crossborder trips to Slovenia, some more adventurous skiers in Zakopane opt for travelling even further, to the Slovakian Tatras.
See the most popular ski resorts in Slovakia, near the border with Poland.
In flatter areas around the town are many cross-country skiing trails.
For those who do not practice winter sports, Zakopane is still a great place to be, especially in the winter. Poles themselves treasure this mountainous town - and its tradition - very much and frequently chose to spend their winter holidays or Christmas festivities in Zakopane.
Things to do in Zakopane
The picturesque town of Zakopane, nestled in the foothills of Tatra Mountain is the essence of the highlanders, or górale, culture.
In Zakopane you will find colourful folk costumes worn with pride on daily basis, amazing handcraft for very affordable prices, unique architecture of wooden steep roofed houses, traditional music and hearty food.
Zakopane’s main landmark is Krupówki, a charming pedestrian street lined with restaurants, bars, souvenir and handcraft stores, but also museums and traditional-style cosy pensions.
In Krupówki, you can try typical highlander food, accompanied with hot spiced wine, get oscypek, a smoked sheep cheese, buy hand-knit wool sweaters or wood carved sculptures, find ski gear and instructors or book kulig, a horse-drawn sleigh trip in the mountains.
See the map of Zakopane.
Outside of Zakopane, do visit Tatra National Park, UNESCO’s biosphere reserve, boasting rare animal species: lynx, brown bear and eagle, deer, fox, badger and marmot.
Day trips to Morskie Oko Lake and Czarny Staw Lake, the most emblematic spots of the Polish Tatras, can be organized from Zakopane.
Zakopane holiday with kids
Zakopane is an excellent and inexpenssive holiday destination for families with children.
Skiing classes and instructors can be arranged for very reasonable prices, for individual training or in groups.
After a day on the slope, Zakopane Aqua Park will be a delight of children of all ages. Three hours of fun on the water slides in this fairly new, inaugurated in 2007 aquapark, costs around £16 for a family of 4-5 people.
Find out more about Zakopane Aquapark here.
Accommodation in Zakopane area, Poland
Zakopane offers wide range of accommodation solutions: from luxury spa hotels, through pensions to cheap private lodgings in apartments or boarding houses.
Most of the renowned Zakopane hotels are situated in the city centre. Traditional highland-style cottages in the mountains, quiet, comfortable and more suited for family holidays are available for rent in a short drive distance from Zakopane.
Winter driving in Poland – holiday on winter tyres
Winters in Poland can be very rigorous, with temperatures well below zero and heavy snowfall. Taking simple precautions, however, will allow you to have a relaxed and safe winter driving holiday in Polish mountains.
Winter tyres in Poland are recommended in winter season. However, as of November 2012, following the changes in traffic regulations in Germany and Czech Republic, the use of winter tyres is expected to become mandatory in Poland between November 1st and March 31st.
Studded (spiked) tires are forbidden in Poland.
It is highly recommended to have snow chains aboard when driving in mountainous terrain in Poland in the winter season, as in some areas of Polish mountains the use of chains will be signposted as mandatory. An additional sign will indicate which types of vehicles are subject to obligatory use of snow chains. Snow chains in Poland should be assembled on at least two driven wheels.
In many of car hire offers in Poland winter tires are included in the price, in others they will be subject to an additional charge. Snow chains are available on request, at extra cost of around EUR 2.5 per day. Please check under ‘Price details’ of each Cartrawler car hire offer in Poland what conditions apply to winter tires, snow chains and other optional equipment, as for instance, ski racks.
Winter car hire in Southern Poland – compare rates
With an online search engine of car hire offers, such as Cartrawler, you can plan better your winter holiday in Poland. Cartrawler compares rates of car hire from many reliable companies in Poland.
The best skiing conditions in Southern Poland are in January and February. During those months, the cheapest car hire offers at Krakow Airport – the closest international airport to skiing resorts of Zakopane - start at around £150 a 7-days rental of a small city car, such as Peugeot 107, or similar. However, this type of hire car is not ideal when travelling with a lot of luggage, skiing gear and in mountainous terrain. A vehicle of a Ford Fiesta class, only slightly more expensive, at rates starting from around £157 for a 7-days rental, is by far a better option.
A considerably larger and more powerful compact class Ford Focus Stationwagon, or similar vehicle, costs from around £237 for a week long rental at Krakow Airport.
If travelling in a larger group, the cheapest minivan, a 7 seater Ford Galaxy, or similar will usually have prices starting at £400 for a 7-days car hire in Krakow.
Finally, for the maximum performance on the mountain roads in a 4x4, a Toyota Rav4, or similar vehicle can be found at Krakow Airport for around £480 for a week of car rental.
Drive to Zakopane in a hire car
If you decide to rent a car for your winter holiday in Poland, consider carefully the best pick-up location for your hire car. Factor in car hire rates in different locations and distances to be covered in winter conditions.
Poland’s main airport, Warsaw-Chopin and the increasingly popular low-cost Warsaw-Modlin Airport offer many cheap rent-a-car solutions.
However, the driving distance of 250 miles (400 km) from Warsaw to Zakopane is considerable and for some holiday makers it maybe more appealing to fly directly to Southern Poland.
The international airport closest to Zakopane is Krakow Balice Airport. Krakow Airport can be accessed by a wide selection of international and domestic flights and car hire options at the airport are plentiful.
Driving distance from Krakow to Zakopane is of approx. 60 miles (100 km), by the E77 and road 47, locally known as 'Zakopianka' road.