While my husband and I have spent plenty of time together in mountain towns, it’s always been in winter, on snowboarding trips (mostly) sans kids. We went to Zakopane in late-May, as a stop on our great Tour de Poland road trip. This was a much, much different mountain town experience, but probably one of my favorite family getaways to date. We wasted no time, jumping right in to four nights-three days’ worth of kid-friendly, ie. family-friendly, activities in the town of Zakopane in the Polish Tatra Mountains, just two hours south of Krakow. Read on for your family friendly itinerary in Zakopane
The terms “kid friendly” and “family friendly” tend to make me cringe when it comes to lists of things to-do when traveling together. If this is you, please don’t be put off by the label! I promise, as someone who weeps when there’s a go-cart track listed on a “top 10 things to do with kids in XX city”, our three-day itinerary will make everyone happy and give you all an authentic Tatra mountain experience.
What I have here is our exact outline of our time spent in Zakopane, including cost info for travel budget planning. We did a morning activity, went home for a nap time, and then an afternoon/early evening activity. Home and back for the little guys’ early bedtime. Ready? Lets go!
Take the Gubałówka funicular up the mountain. Grab a second cup of coffee and a snack for the kids at the restaurants on top. Sip your coffee on the large, outdoor patio and soak in the sweeping panoramic view of the high Tatras. Then, take a slow walk along the road that follows the ridge along the top. It is lined with little roadside stands that sell everything from Zakopane mugs, to sheepskin rugs, to Oscypek cheese and tickets to the ropes course.
Cost: 25zł (about $7USD) for an adult round-trip (up and down) ticket. Kids under 4 are free, and older children receive a discounted price
Go home and take a nap
Take a hike! There are trails everywhere. The Dolina Białego (White Creek Valley) trail began within walking distance, at the edge of town and was great for our little family hike. It’s a gentle incline that follows a creek up its gorge. Perfect for throwing rocks in to little waterfalls. Beautiful mountain scenery rises on both sides.
We know our limits and set a time mark to turn around. We hiked up for 30 minutes, and then back for 30 minutes. It was pouring rain (the most blessedly pleasant cats-and dogs-rain I think probably ever) the entire time and a mountain miracle happened no on complained. In fact, at the end Miles said, “I’m getting a little bit grumpy”, but you would have never known it. He loved that mountain hike as much as I did. On the way back we walked in front of the ski-jumps at the outskirts of town. Just to check them out.
Cost: free if no one is at the trailhead booth (off-season perk), National Park entry fee required if attended. 5zł for an adult, or 20zł for a week pass.
Drive over to the village of Chochołów -about 17km from Zakopane- on the Polish-Slovakian border. The town consists almost exclusively of traditional Polish highland wooden buildings. It is unique in the area, and all of Poland and is a pretty drive. You could stop and walk around. The town is tiny. We just did a drive-through because again, it was pouring rain.
Then, hit up the Chochołowska Baths indoor/outdoor waterpark there! It’s one of the highest rated, and largest, of a few thermal waterparks in the area. It consists of indoor and outdoor thermal pools, slides, spas, saunas and a restaurant. Unfortunately, we visited just before the facilities re-opened after pandemic lockdown, so I can’t give you a full review. But I can tell you that the girl who turned me away at the front desk was super nice, spoke English, the place looked top-notch, and gets 4.6/5 stars out of 34,000 reviews on Google. Let me know what you think when you do go!
Head back, and on your way stop at one of the shepherds huts that are smoking Oscypek cheese along the road. You cannot visit Zakopane and not eat this cheese. I recommend eating enough of it there so that you’re sick of it for life, because otherwise you’re going to crave it often and have no way to get it after you go home. Oscypek is a regional specialty smoked goat, or sheep cheese. You can buy it fresh in bulk, or as small grilled pieces the size of your palm, served with a dollop cranberry jam. It is smokey, salty, creamy and delicious. If, at any given time, I were offered ice cream, or Oscypek, I’d take the Oscypek and that’s saying a lot.
Cost: 3-hour entry to the waterpark is 180zł (about $50) for a family pass that includes two adults and two children over 3 years of age. Additional children are 20zł and under 3 are free.
Go home and take a nap
Take the gondola to the top! Take the cable car from Kuźnice to Kasprowy Wierch peak. It is a breathtaking ride up the mountain. I think. We got lost in the clouds and stepped out into a whiteout blizzard at the top in May. But before we lost visual, we soared over roaring rivers and rocky cliffs. It was all for the sake of adventure. The boys loved the ride. Plus, it was fun to have a snowball fight, and build a tiny snowman at the top of a mountain and then take the gondola back down into late-May springtime.
You cannot park at the gondola. Brandon dropped us off, went down the road and parked in a paid lot, then walked up. There is a shuttle at different times of the year. We all walked the pleasant walk down to the car at the end, along a path lining a rushing stream. You can buy tickets ahead of time, and this is recommended. The gondola runs every 10 minutes during peak season, and every 30 minutes during slower times. Last ride up is at 4:30pm.
Cost: Varies by season, but runs around 80zł round trip. Kids 4 and under free.
Your Grand-Finale, saved-the-best-for-last day! Morskie Oko lake. It is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, and I will second that motion. The scenery is unreal. Getting there isn’t hard, but it takes some planning and coordination. Here’s what you need to know.
Leave Zakopane as early as you can get out, because it can get busy. You will park at Palenica Białczańska parking lot. From here you can choose your own adventure up to the lake. Adventure no 1 is to “hike” the 8.5km (5 miles) paved road up to the lake. It says this will take about 2.25 hours. There were people pushing strollers and whole entire families trekking up the mountain. I’m a big believer in walking, I love a good hike, and I don’t always take the easy way just because it’s available. I mean, I made my family walk out to Mont Saint Michel on a cold, and drizzly New Years Day morning, when there was a perfectly good, and free shuttle bus that would take us. But personally, I cannot fathom doing this with my children. It would certainly take a lot longer than 2.25 hours…We might make it before nightfall. But don’t let me stop you.
We opted for Adventure no 2, which is to take a horse drawn wagon. The boys loved it. It was about an hour ride up and about half that for the ride down. You do have to walk the last little stretch up to the lake. But again, it’s a paved road and took us about 15 minutes. When you arrive, there is a mountain house restaurant with restrooms, picnic tables and an overlook. Be sure to walk down to the lake, and even around it, if the season allows! Get a slice of the regional specialty apple pie, called Szarlotka, at the restaurant before you head back.
Cost: Parking was 50zł. The ride up with horses was 50zł per person (this is negotiable, and two-year-old Max was free). CASH ONLY. The ride down was 80zł, half the cost and half the time. Szarlotka was 6zł at the top. The restroom was 3zł. Porto-potties are free. National park entry fee required, 5zł for an adult, or 20zł week pass.
Go home and take a nap!
If you opted for the horses, and didn’t walk up and down from Morskie Oko, your legs might still have some life left in them. If so, stroll the main drag through Zakopane, Krupowki Street. It has tons of restaurants and shops where you can satisfy your appetite for traditional Polish highlander food and pick up souvenirs. We loved the view and our appetizers from the rooftop deck at Goralski Browar.
Cost: free to stroll
I think that when most people consider mountains in Europe, they think “Alps”. But if you’re looking for a different, and more affordable European mountain experience, head to the Tatras of Poland! Two hours south of Krakow and perfect for the family. They certainly do not disappoint.
Have you been to Zakopane? What were some of your favorite things to do there? Share them with us! Be sure to tag me in all your ExploreMoreCo inspired adventures on Instagram @exploremore.co