So this January, I decided to book a trip away. With two and a half weeks off, I had to take advantage of the opportunity to go away for a winter break. Of course, as many of you know, my travel bucketlist is quite long, and there are so many places I wish to see. When my friend Vicky and I came together and realised we wanted a cheap but lovely wintery break away, but also a city break, Krakow and the South of Poland sprung to mind. I’m a big fan of travelling Poland and I’m always dying to see more of the country whenever I can, and so after much googling and talking to people I discovered Zakopane. Once I’d researched the logistics and cost, there was no way I wasn’t coming here.
The stunning Tatra Mountains that form a natural border with Slovakia, the Polish comfort food, and all of the cosiness of highlander life ticked all the boxes for a wintery trip away. One great advantage of this destination was that it was similar to if not better than other great mountainous destinations in Europe, but one-third of the cost… This in conjunction with the fact that there is very little blog/vlog content out there for Zakopane is why I’ve produced this lovely detailed post!
HOW TO GET THERE
-For foreign visitors many fly into Krakow to start their trip, being the easiest airport to use.
-There are many ways in which you can get to Zakopane from Krakow, by bus, car, taxi or train. We picked the train due to the fact that January is the high season to visit and most Polish visitors will be driving. With only one route to and from Zakopane, it can get congested very quickly. So we opted for the comfy and modern PKP Intercity train.
-This train, however, has to be booked in advance, but it was very simple! Just visit https://www.intercity.pl/en/ insert your dates and times and you can book the train you wish. Once booked simply print off the tickets. It cost us 58zl return, just over £10 – a bargain compared to the UK rail services.
-To get a train with wifi, power and faster speed make sure you book an ‘EIC’. You can book a ‘TLK’ which we used upon our return to Krakow as our original train was cancelled, but they have no wifi, no power and stop frequently. But if the times are better; pick the TLK.
-Also, do not worry about delays and cancellations, the inspectors completely understand if you get on a different train as a result and there are no problems.
-If you do wish to use a bus, tickets can be bought at the bus station and the buses are very frequent. 34zl return, just under £7.
-For taxis, you can sometimes get a good deal – but that is with a hotel, so ask your hotel in Zakopane if they can book you a taxi and compare to all the other transport methods.
WHERE TO STAY
-We stayed at the Aries Hotel and Spa. As I’ve said many times in the past I am mainly a budget traveller, and in Krakow, I stayed at an Ibis and was very frugal. However for this occasion, I knew I wanted to treat myself after my exams, and I had some extra pennies to spend after Christmas overtime. Which is why we picked here.
-The breakfast was of great quality and there was so much to chose and eat I didn’t actually need any lunch – which of course saved me money.
-The rooms were gorgeously furnished and although not as minimalist as Scandinavian decor, I still had that hygge feeling. Although the heating was so high to combat the minus temperatures we did have to open a window at some points!
-The spa here was the selling point for me though. This is because Zakopane is notorious for winter sports and hiking, meaning a spa after a physically tiring day is the most wonderful thing – especially if it is a good one.
-Despite the cost I still class this as value for money, as a hotel of similar quality and class in Switzerland, France, Germany or Italy would probably cost triple the amount! Location, country, and currency can really play a huge role in the cost, even if you’re receiving the same quality of service and product.
WHAT TO DO
This is one of the most famous places in the town, it’s essentially the centre. It’s actually one of the five most famous streets in Poland itself! It’s a kilometre long and is lined with various shops, restaurants and hotels. It’s a great place to window shop, grab winterwear whether it be high-end ski-wear or pick up budget fashion buys in Reserved, Mohito or H&M. For food you won’t struggle to eat with tonnes of Polish eateries about, some chains, some independent and local to the region. However if you are desperate there is in fact one McDonalds! However even if you’re not shopping or eating, the atmosphere is superb, the sound of horses stamping on the pavement, the smell of various street treats and the dozens of toddlers being pulled along in sleds really immerses you in the world that is the Polish highlands.
To give you a brief lowdown, I really recommend a trip out to the Tatra National Park of Poland and Slovakia, but Morskie Oko should be where you aim to visit within the park. This is because it’s not too far from Zakopane, it’s easy to get to and gives you a great balance of hiking and views but not too much exhaustion. To be honest, it’s so stunning I’m pretty sure many of you have seen summer pictures of the lake on the internet/Instagram/Pinterest without knowing the place, however, the hike is just as impressive in the winter! Plus, with the lack of tourists hiking at this time of year, it can a surreal experience hiking alone through the mountains at various points. I have written a full blog post here about my experience and how to do it yourself.
For those of you who adore beautiful views and mountains…without the hiking, this is the place for you. At the end of Krupowki Street lies the Funicular railway up the hill which will speedily take you up to the top in three minutes. At the top you can see the whole of Zakopane and many of the Tatra mountains, the view being so lovely people sunbathe here year round (yes even when it’s -10!). The market at the top too is a pleasure to walk down, with various snacks such as fried potato slices, corn on the cob and highlander cheese being offered to you over and over (not for free though!). If it was not for the huge breakfast I had at my hotel, I would have loved to have eaten a meal up here and take in the views. On this occasion, a hot chocolate had to do.
WHAT TO EAT
This was our first meal in Zakopane, and it certainly was needed after a day of travelling. Essentially it is a buffet that produces various Polish food for you – very comforting Polish food that is. The twist is that you pay for how much you get by the weight, 3,30zl per 100g. Meaning this is a great budget option, but it’s still seriously yummy! The only problem with this, is when you pile too much on and it comes to 40zl…well done Sophie…Although in £ that still is only £8 for a ginormous plate of food! It’s also great to try lots of different Polish dishes in one sitting.
Those who have read my posts featuring Poland in the past, will know fully well this place is heaven for chocoholics. In the UK we are pretty boring when it comes to hot chocolate, it’s either the poor quality instant type or we put a bit of effort in and mix cocoa with hot milk. Well in Poland and especially in Wedel, that’s not enough, the best dark cocoa will be mixed with milk and thick cream. Meaning you’re presented with a hot chocolate with the consistency of molten lava…yes I know you’re drooling. The best part is that it still costs the same as a Costa back home at £3. But they do more than just hot chocolate, ice cream, cakes, truffles, smoothies, juices and various herbal teas, Wedel is a lovely place for a quick stop.
I’ve already mentioned briefly earlier on that the stalls of food in Zakopane should be taken advantage of. Being able to get a good taste of local food and at a low cost is a win-win situation. The best places? Krupowki Street and Gubalowka Hill of course. You can find the food elsewhere but here you’d struggle not to come across anything! The famous highlander cheese is definitely an acquired taste and its a bit like marmite, some love, some hate. I personally didn’t like it, the smokey taste was a bit overpowering. But the texture of halloumi I did enjoy. The potato slices and corn too looked delicious.
IS THIS TRIP AFFORDABLE?
-Yes 100%, even by staying at a spa hotel, this trip still was not a huge expense in the slightest. Plus if you really wanted to go budget, there are still lots of lovely hotels that are ridiculously cheap compared to UK prices but ooze class and comfort such as:
Villa Nova – Booking.com
Pensjonat Maria 5 – Booking.com
Willa Baciarka – Booking.com
-For cheap food, shop at supermarkets. There are many independent grocers here but there is a Carrefour near the base of Gubalowka Hill.
-The activities themselves were also very cheap, with Poland being one of the cheapest countries for Skiing, in not only Europe but the world.
-Transport and living costs too among the cheapest in Europe. If you can afford Western Europe or Scandinavia, you’ll be living a life of luxury here.
Thanks for reading, I hope this post has inspired you to look into visiting Zakopane or trying to find places a little bit off the beaten path yourself (although Zakopane is an unlikely destination for British and other English speaking tourists, it’s extremely well known in Poland itself). I’ve featured my vlog below for those of you interested in seeing it all in action (featuring Krakow also).