Zakopane is a town in southern Poland with some 28,000 inhabitants (2004), situated in Lesser Poland Province since 1999 (in 1975–98, it was part of Nowy Sącz Province). The town, a place of Góral culture and informally known as “the winter capital of Poland,” lies in the southern part of the Podhale region at the foot of the Tatra Mountains.
Zakopane is located in southern Poland near the Slovak border. It can be reached by train or bus from Krakow, which is about two and a half hours away.
Zakopane lies in a large valley between the Tatra Mountains and Gubałówka Hill. It is the most important Polish center of mountaineering and skiing, and is visited annually by some three million tourists. The most important alpine skiing locations are Kasprowy Wierch, Nosal and Gubałówka Hill.
Zakopane has the highest elevation (800-1,000 m) of any town in Poland. The central point of the town is at the junction of Krupówki and Kościuszko Streets.
The earliest documents mentioning Zakopane date to the 17th century, describing a glade named Zakopisko. In 1676 it was a village of 43 inhabitants. In 1824, together with a section of the Tatra Mountains, it was sold to the Homola family.
Zakopane’s further history was connected with the development of the mining and metallurgy industries in the region — in the 19th century, it was the largest center for metallurgy in Galicia — and later with that of tourism. It grew greatly over the 19th century, as more and more people were attracted by its salubrious climate, and soon developed from a small village into a climatic health resort of 3,000 inhabitants (1889).
Rail service to Zakopane began on October 1, 1899.
During World War II, Zakopane served as an important Polish underground staging point between Poland and Hungary.
In March 1940, representatives of the Soviet NKVD and German Gestapo met for one week in Zakopane’s Villa Tadeusz, to coordinate the pacification of resistance in Poland.
Zakopane Style of Architecture
The Zakopane Style of Architecture is an architectural mode inspired by the regional art of Poland’s highland region known as Podhale. Drawing on the motifs and traditions in the buildings of the Carpathian Mountains, this synthesis was created by Stanislaw Witkiewicz and is now considered to be one of the core traditions of the Góral people.
Zakopane hosted the Nordic World Ski Championships in 1929, 1939, and 1962; the winter Universiades in 1956, 1993, and 2001; the biathlon World Championship; several ski jumping world cups; and several Nordic combined, Nordic and Alpine European Cups. It hosted the Alpine World Ski Championships in 1939, the first outside the Alps and the last official world championships prior to World War II.
Zakopane recently made unsuccessful bids to host the 2006 Winter Olympics and the 2011 and 2013 Alpine World Ski Championships.
Climbers from all over Europe travel to Zakopane to climb in the High Tatras. One can take a cart pulled by a horse in the summer to Morskie Oko which is 1395 meters. This is a lake. It is a ten kilometer ride to the lake. The road follows a stream called Rybi Potok. In the winter horses pull sleighs which carry 4 people to the lake. The scenery is very beautiful. Coniferous trees cover with snow and mountain peaks can be seen. At Morskie Oko, there is a chalet with food and beds for the night. The lake freezes in winter and one can walk across the lake to climb the trail at the other side of the lake to Czarny Staw which is 1583 meters, the next lake, which is two hundred meters above Morskie Oko. Views are spectacular. From Czarny Staw one can walk around the lake to begin the accent of Rysy which is the highest mountain in Poland. The climb from here is about 4 hours. Rysy is 2499 meters. The best of climbers challenge themselves climbing Mieguszowiecki Szczyt, 2409 meters, but is the most difficult.
Morskie Oko is the starting point for mountaineering climbs. As the mountains are all within view. One follows the trails and then climbs the mountain they choose. It is usually a four to six hour climb up any mountain and the same time descending. Winter climbing is harsh as the wind is strong on top of the mountains. Climbers bring crampons and ice axes. Snow can be two to three feet deep, or up to one meter. One was be watchful of avalanches.
Other climbs include Mnich, 2069 meters and Cubryna, 2323 meters.
From Zakopane one can see Giewont, the sleeping knight. One can hike to Giewont in about two to three hours. There is a small chalet which serves food about half way to Giewont. The climb is not that difficult in summer however in winter can be very challenging.
Weather can change fast in the summer. It has snowed in June in the High Tatras. Lightning can also be a problem in the summer. Most climbers start climbing around 6 am in the morning. The reason for this is so they reach the top of the mountain by 12 noon and can start the descent before thunderstorms start in the summer. From the tops of the mountains , one can see most of the High Tatras on a clear day.
Thousands of people arrive in Zakopane to go skiing in the winter, especially around Christmas and in February. Most take the cable car to Kasprowy Wierch which is the top of the mountain, then ski down. There is a restaurant at the top of the mountain. There is also another place with a cable car to the top of a hill and a rope tow up a small hill. Cross Country Skiing can be done at the end of town where there is forest. They make cross country ski trails there.
Zakopane is visited by over two hundred fifty thousand tourists a year. Tourists arrive from all over Europe.
Zakopane has many hiking trails and ski slopes. This makes Zakopane a tourism mecca for all seasons. The downtown bustles with outdoor wear shops, ski rental stores, and oscypek stands. Tourists come here in large numbers in summer and during the Christmas and New Year Season.
There are caves that one can go exploring in.
There are many excellent restaurants serving traditional Polish dishes of food all day long. Most restaurants have fireplaces and nice wooden tables.
The are many rooms for rent as well as several hotels. Rooms during the holiday season go up in price.
Taxis and mini buses take tourists to all parts of Zakopane for a reasonable fee.
To escape the crowds, one puts on a pair of hiking boots or rents a bike.
A scene in Andrzej Wajda’s award winning film Man of Marble (Czlowiek z Marmuru) was filmed in Zakopane, introducing the town to a worldwide audience