When you think of cities in Poland, you probably think of Warsaw, Kraków and maybe Gdansk. It’s unlikely that Zakopane comes to mind – in fact, you may have never even heard of it. But this beautiful town, nestled at the foot of the Tatra Mountains and just a two-hour drive south of Kraków, is definitely worth a visit.
Known as the winter capital of Poland, Zakopane is a very popular destination for hikers, skiers and snowboarders. The scenery is breathtaking and the atmosphere is laid back. Although we were only there for less than 24 hours, it was well worth it to see a completely different side of Poland.
Aside from outdoor activities, there’s really not a whole lot to do in Zakopane. You’ll find most of the tourists strolling up and down the pedestrian-only main street, Ulica Krupówki, which is lined with shops, restaurants, cafés and art galleries.
By the time we arrived in Zakopane, checked in to the hotel, unpacked, and then walked to Krupówki, it was time for a late lunch. Unfortunately, I left my notes with my restaurant recommendations back at the hotel, so we were forced pick one at random (you know how traumatized I am by that).
After rejecting about ten places for really no reason I could verbalize, we came upon Owczarnia. The restaurant is housed in a wooden building boasting a huge grill filled with pork, chicken and sausages. There was also a fryer holding slices of golden-brown potatoes just sizzling away. I checked the menu, verified that they offered grilled oscypek with cranberries (which was the one local specialty I really wanted to have in Zakopane), and decided that this was the place for us.
The restaurant was filled with wooden tables and benches, exposed beams, and the wait staff was dressed in traditional Góral (mountaineer) attire. For starters, we all had the oscypek, which was everything my cheese-loving dreams hoped it would be.
Unsurprisingly, the menu was almost entirely made up of different kinds of meat, and we all opted for the pork with bacon and onions. A huge portion came served on a wooden “plate”, but the flavor was only okay, at best.
Service was prompt, but not very friendly. As we found in Kraków, the prices were extremely low…for two starters, three entrees, two Pepsis and two large waters, the bill was 122 zloty, which is $30. Though the oscypek was outstanding, the overall experience was only average. I would definitely look for other dining options…and there are plenty.
After lunch, we walked down Krupówki, slowly making our way to the end of the street and the one must do item on our list: taking the funicular up Gubłówka Hill. When you reach the end of the street you will find a ticket kiosk and then some stairs leading down to cross under the street (there is also an elevator for those who need one). You can buy your tickets for the funicular here or just buy them when you arrive at the station. We bought them at the kiosk and it was very easy, with instructions in both Polish and English.
Once you cross under the street and come out on the other side, you still have about a 5 – 10 minute walk to the funicular. The lane is lined with stalls selling oscypek, clothing, honey, jams, ice cream, and tons of other things. We were there at the end of the day, so a lot of the stalls were closed or closing.
Once you hop on the funicular, it’s a quick three minute ride to Gubłówka Hill. At the top, you will find a couple of restaurants, a toboggan ride and some unbelievably gorgeous views.
In the small restaurant, there is a bathroom for your use…just make sure you have some change with you as it costs 1 zloty to use.
It was a gorgeous day when we were there, and we just spent some time enjoying the view until the sun started to set. Then we took the funicular back down (you can walk down, if you want to) and headed back to our hotel, The Grand Stamary.
Our stay in Zakopane was a very short one, and therefore the time we spent in the hotel was limited. However, it was an overall pleasant experience for the time we were there. Located in a beautifully restored building, the Grand Stamary is a pleasant 10-15 minute walk from Krupowki Street.
The service we received – both while planning our trip and during our stay – was very good. We had a Luxury room with a small balcony and a gorgeous view:
The room had two beds, a small sitting area with a couch, a desk and a good-sized bathroom (though limited on counter space, as usual). The mattresses were very comfortable and the free wi-fi was reliable.
The hotel has a gym, a pool and even a play area for kids. Although we didn’t see any during our stay, it seems like it would be a great hotel for families with small children. The restaurant is large and the included breakfast was a huge spread of really good food.
My only complaint about the Grand Stamary is a minor one, and it is that the hallways are poorly lit, making it difficult to get the key (a real key, not a key card) into the lock on your door when arriving home after dark. I would stay here again and recommend it to anyone.
If your travels find you in southern Poland, you should definitely include the hidden gem of Zakopane on your list of places to visit!