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My Day Trip to Zakopane from Krakow
I had originally decided to spend a few days in Zakopane.
The combination of poor weather and lack of things to do in the city itself made me decide on a trip to Prague.
In the back of my mind I kept thinking I was missing out on one of the most beautiful parts of Poland.
So I made the plan to visit Zakopane and see everything I could in just one day!
My day trip to Zakopane from Krakow started early in the morning.
The bus left from the main station in Krakow at 4:45AM. I assumed it would be empty and I would be able to catch some sleep on the 2 and a half hour ride to the mountains.
Well, I was wrong.
The bus was actually full of a group of 20 or so German tourists who all woke up as they reached Krakow. The entire trip was full of Germans talking, laughing, and cracking jokes. I wasn’t able to sleep at all!
The bus ride itself was extremely beautiful. It was through Polski Bus – check them out if you’re looking for bus tickets in Poland.
After 30 minutes of driving south the High Tatras start dominating the skyline off in the distance.
As the sun peaked over the horizon the Tatras lit up in a magnificent orange glow. It looked like they were on fire!
It was at this moment I knew I made the right decision getting up so early and hopping on the bus.
After a few hours I finally arrived in Zakopane.
It was only 7 A.M at this point and I knew I wanted to get to the Tatras National Park. I just didn’t know how.
I walked around looking for someone to ask who was young enough that they would likely speak English but I was out of luck.
I finally said to a security guard at the train station, “bus Morskie Oko?” and made an awkward driving symbol with my hands. Thankfully he pointed to the place where I needed to wait and signed the numbers 7-4-0 on his hands.
Thirty minutes later the oldest bus I’ve ever seen pulled up. Aman came out with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He started yelling “Morskie Oko, Morskie Oko” so I figured he was on his way there.
I got on the bus, which would be perfectly at home in a horror movie, and 10 minutes later we were on our way. The price was only 10 zloty, which is roughly $3.30 Canadian, for almost an hour-long ride.
I have to say that my bus driver, and all the other bus transfer drivers to Morskie Oko have one of the best jobs in the world.
The view on the way there was incredible. I was jealous that he got to enjoy the same trip multiple times each day. I don’t think seeing the peaks of the High Tatras off in the distance would ever get old.
I finally reached the Tatra National Park entrance and got off the bus.
It turns out that one of the ladies on the bus with me was the gate attendant. I waited a few minutes for her to sort everything out.
You need a ticket to enter the park so I paid her the 5 zloty fee (as of 2016) and began my hike up to Morskie Oko.
At this point it was 8:30 A.M and there was hardly anyone here.
The parking lot was empty and I didn’t see any other hikers. Nobody else but the attendant lady get off the bus with me. When I think back I’m super lucky that I left so early because had the entire place to myself.
There are 2 ways to get to Morskie Oko from the parking lot:
- Hike the ~7KM up a paved and winding road
- Pay for a seat in a horse drawn carriage.
I decided to hike because I’m a fan of budget travel and I didn’t want to wait for the carriage to fill up. It’s not even really a hike, more like a steady uphill walk.
After hitting the road on the hike up I was provided with amazing views of some of the highest peaks of the Carpathian mountain range.
For most of the hike up to Morskie Oko there were incredible sights the either mountain peaks and forested valleys.
The signs say the hike should take 2 hours and 20 minutes. I was able to do it in less than 90 minutes with breaks for water and photos.
There are 4 different shortcuts you can take through the woods. Keep in mind that even in April they were covered in snow and slick with ice.
When I made it to the top it was still early. There weren’t many people around and it was the perfect opportunity for taking photos.
Since it was late April there was still a lot of snow on the ground. This meant there weren’t many places to sit.
Along the way are plenty of opportunities to take photos though it’s worth waiting until the hike back down. This way you can conserve your energy for the walk up.
To be honest, I was surprised when I reached the lake. For some reason it didn’t dawn on me that it would be frozen over.
When I saw it I was completely thrown aback
Instead of a beautiful alpine lake I saw a completely frozen beautiful alpine like. It was a funny surprise and thinking back I’m glad I saw it when it was still frozen over.
Morskie Oko itself is beautiful and one of the most picturesque places I’ve visited.
The Wall Street Journal actually named it one of the most beautiful lakes in the world – I would whole-heartedly agree.
I spent an hour sitting outside of the chalet and just staring at the lake and the surrounding peaks. On all sides the High Tatras dominate the skyline up to 2600 meters above you.
Rysy, the highest mountain in Poland, makes a striking appearance to the left-hand side of the lake.
The snow was deep around the lake and a few times I sunk up to my knees in fresh snow. I decided I wasn’t prepared enough to hike to the other alpine nearby, so I turned back.
After an hour and a half of near-solitude I noticed that the tourists started arriving. When I first got to Morskie Oko there were only 2 other people there and it remained empty for more than an hour.
It was definitely worth it to have woken up early to visit Morskie Oko. Having the place to yourself is a unique travel experience.
On the way I passed by literally hundreds of people.
This came as no surprise since. On my way up I read a sign that said Morskie Oko receives 30% of all the visitors to the Tatra National Park in all of Poland!
The reviews online said it was packed with crowds all summer long. Thankfully I didn’t have to experience that.
I took it easy on the way down, stopped a lot to admire the view, and take pictures.
It took me roughly the same amount of time to get back to the parking lot. I even hiked off the trail to check out a glacial river!
Once I reached the bottom I got onto another bus back to Zakopane. Once again I had the entire bus to myself for most of the ride. There wasn’t anyone else heading back so early.
I spent a few hours wandering around Zakopane before catching my bus back to Krakow at 7:50 P.M.
Check out the video I made of my day trip to Zakopane from Krakow:
Where to Stay in Zakopane
Book an AirBnb Apartment or Private Room
Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I recommend staying in an AirBnb on your trip to Zakopane.
There are plenty of apartments and private rooms to choose from for reasonable nightly rates.
Many of the places offer prime locations for hiking and sightseeing.
If you haven’t already, you can sign up for AirBnb here and receive up to $45 off your first stay!
If you’re looking for a hotel then I would personally recommend the Hotel Wersal.
This hotel is in a great location with easy access to the touristy parts of Zakopane and nearby hiking trails.
There is on-site parking and the rooms offer an incredible view of the Tatra Mountains.
For more information you can take a look at my Hotel Wersal review.
Feel free to visit the Hotel Wersal Booking.com page for more details, availability, and current rates!
Helpful Tips for Visiting Zakopane
Zakopane is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Poland.
Every year hundreds of thousands of people, both local Poles and international travellers, descend on this small mountain village to explore.
Here are some helpful tips for visiting so that you can make the most of your trip:
Book Ski Rentals in Advance
Those of you traveling during the winter to go skiing in Zakopane will want to consider booking your ski rentals in advance.
In the winter it’s possible to arrive and find places that are completely sold out of skis and winter equipment.
It’s getting more popular every year, given how skiing in Zakopane is cheaper than in Slovakia and other bordering countries.
Don’t forget that you will likely have to travel to the slopes by bus, something that isn’t easy especially if you’re traveling with kids.
For more budget-friendly and less stressful experience take a look at Biakla Tatrzanska. It’s a small town about 15 km away that’s still offers amazing skiing in the Tatras.
Skip the Upside Down House
One of the biggest tourist traps in Zakopane is the “Upside Down House”.
This house was designed to take money from tourists and it’s a waste of time, even for your kids.
There are so many more other interesting things to do in Zakopane, apart from the hiking, to avoid this place at all costs!
You can take a photo of the outside but I don’t recommend paying for the indoor experience.
Use an ATM for Local Currency
Most travelers will be able to use their debit cards at local ATM’s to withdraw Polish currency.
Nearly every store, restaurant, hotel, and ski rental shop will accept all major credit cards as well.
If you do need to exchange any currency make sure to look up reviews on Google beforehand.
Some of the places offer poor exchange rates and it’s possible to lose up to 25% of the currency value if you pick the wrong place.
Don’t Ride the Carriages
While they looks like fun, it’s a good idea to avoid riding the horse-drawn carriages.
You’ll see these everywhere in Zakopane and you’ll definitely be touted by the individuals trying to get you to pay for a ride.
The prices are extremely high for the length of ride and it’s not a unique experience.
These carriages contribute to the horse poop that you see everywhere in town and the owners don’t treat the horses very well either.
Save your money and spend it in a local business rather than this tourist trap.
Arrive as Early as Possible
Those of you driving to Zakopane will want to arrive as early in the day as possible.
After 11AM the small roads leading in and out of town become clogged with cars.
This is even more apparent on weekends when it can take more than 5 hours to make the drive from Krakow (only 90 mins away).
It’s best to arrive in Zakopane during the week and as early in the day as you can.
Don’t Spend Money on Krupowki Street
Running through the heart of Zakopane is Krupowki Street.
This is the main street in town and it’s packed with overpriced restaurants, tourist shops, and vendor market booths.
You won’t find anything here worth spending money on and I recommend avoiding buying any of the tacky souvenirs or poor quality “local” products.
Everyday travelers are getting ripped off on Krupowki Street between the tourist shops and poor quality restaurants.
Take the time to venture off this main street to find more local and reasonably priced shops.
Not everywhere in Zakopane is looking to make a quick buck from tourists – you just have to search for the right places.