Christmas in Zakopane is one of the most eagerly awaited moments of the year and the perfect time to visit this charming mountain town. Renowned as one of Poland’s most famous and sought-after ski resorts, Zakopane is a true hidden gem nestled among the majestic peaks of the Tatra Mountains. During the Christmas season, it undergoes a magical transformation, becoming an enchanting winter wonderland.
This picturesque mountain town is celebrated for its traditional wooden architecture and rich mountain culture, offering a truly authentic Christmas experience. In the heart of winter, when the streets are adorned with twinkling lights and the air carries the delightful scents of pine and spices, Zakopane becomes a captivating Christmas village. Polish Christmas traditions come alive here through artisan markets, where you can discover handmade treasures, traditional Christmas decorations, and delectable festive foods.
Immerse yourself in the local culture by attending folk music concerts and savoring traditional dishes like pierogi, hearty soups, grilled meats, and succulent locally produced kielbasa. The atmosphere during Christmas in Zakopane is nothing short of magical, with its streets bustling with street performers, caroling groups, and traditional dance performances, creating a festive ambiance that enchants the hearts of all who visit.
In this article, we will delve into the enchanting world of Christmas in Zakopane, guiding you through its cherished traditions, captivating attractions, and must-visit places during this festive season. From the enchanting Christmas Markets to thrilling snow adventures in the Tatra Mountains, prepare to embark on a journey to discover a unique and unforgettable Christmas experience in the captivating setting of Zakopane.
What you will find in this guide to Christmas in Zakopane:
Zakopane Christmas Markets
One of the most cherished experiences of the Christmas in Zakopane is undoubtedly a visit to the cozy winter markets in the heart of the town. The Zakopane Christmas Market is a captivating tradition that runs from December 9th to January 8th, magically transforming the picturesque Niepodległości Square, located in close proximity to Krupówki, the city’s main street, into a truly enchanting and festive destination.
This mesmerizing market boasts a wide array of stalls, each offering a plethora of unique and special items. As you wander through this magical setting, you can fully immerse yourself in the spirit of Christmas, exploring local crafts, procuring memorable souvenirs, and discovering exquisite Christmas tree ornaments and home decorations. Among the most sought-after items are traditional Christmas baubles, cozy slippers to combat the Polish winter, delightful wooden kitchen utensils, and fashionable leather clothing. However, the market offers much more, with finely detailed nativity scenes, lovingly crafted ceramics, and sparkling jewelry.
For those with a passion for gastronomy, this market is a culinary paradise. Delights include mead, an alcoholic beverage crafted from fermented honey, pure honey, and an assortment of pickled treats. You’ll have the opportunity to savor traditional Christmas desserts and dried plums, perfect for preparing compote on Christmas Eve. Moreover, you cannot miss the chance to sample local cured meats and cheeses, including the renowned Oscypek.
To stay warm and toasty during your market visit, indulge in delicious beverages like mulled wine and a selection of artisanal beers. Additionally, for a delightful and rejuvenating snack, relish stuffed sandwiches, succulent sausages, and piping hot pierogies. The Zakopane Christmas Market is an ideal destination for families, providing endless enjoyment for little ones who can revel in exciting rides on the carousel, adding an extra touch of festivity and joy to the Christmas ambiance. This enchanting event captures the essence of Polish Christmas in an authentic and unforgettable manner.
Top 10 Things to Do at Christmas in Zakopane
The Enchantment of Christmas Eve in Zakopane
Celebrating Christmas in Zakopane offers a captivating immersion into Polish traditions. Homes are adorned with charming garlands, flickering candles, and vibrant poinsettias, crafting a cozy and inviting ambiance. Local families come together to partake in a cherished Christmas Eve Dinner known as “Wigilia”. This moment holds great significance for local families, and it is customary to exchange heartfelt Christmas gifts after the meal.
The Christmas Eve dinner is regarded as the pinnacle of the year and a time for sharing and joy. For those eager to partake in this tradition, numerous restaurants also offer traditional dinners. However, the enchanting evening doesn’t conclude there. Following dinner, many individuals attend Pasterka, the midnight mass held in Catholic churches. In Zakopane, this mass is a truly unique experience. As you join the faithful in the church, you’ll be captivated by individuals donned in regional attire and the melodious rendition of Christmas carols by a folk band, creating a spiritually engaging atmosphere.
Yet, one of the most extraordinary attractions, though not accessible to everyone, is the midnight mass at the Wiktorowki Chapel in the Tatra National Park. This adventure necessitates a nocturnal trek through a snowy forest, with torches and flashlights illuminating your path. Proper attire, including boots and, if needed, small crampons for navigating the snow, is essential. The well-prepared even bring along hot alcoholic beverages to stave off the cold. The chapel’s size may require you to wait outside during the mass, but the experience is undoubtedly worth it.
For those seeking a more accessible mass, Christmas Eve is also celebrated in other chapels, such as Jaszczurowka, Gubalowka, Polana Kalatowki, and in the Chocholowska Valley. In these locations, you’ll witness musicians performing outdoors, even amidst the snow and freezing temperatures, creating an evocative Christmas atmosphere that’s truly unforgettable.
Take a Leisurely Stroll Along Krupówki Street
Zakopane’s vibrant heart is none other than Krupówki Street, the town’s bustling pedestrian thoroughfare. Nestled right in the city center, Krupówki offers an all-encompassing experience that seamlessly combines nightlife, shopping, and culture. Throughout the year, the street buzzes with life, but when the Christmas season descends upon Zakopane, Krupówki takes on an enchanting, almost magical aura. Snow blankets the cobblestones, while the buildings dazzle with twinkling lights and festive decorations. It’s the ideal moment to immerse yourself in the holiday spirit, perhaps even opting for a traditional horse-drawn carriage ride.
The shops lining Krupówki Street boast an impressive array of handcrafted goods, ranging from intricately carved wooden artifacts to elegant picture frames and delicate lacework. For those seeking to ward off the chill, there are jackets and clothing crafted from leather or wool. And of course, you simply must savor the homemade cheeses, especially the renowned mountain sheep’s cheese known as oscypek, a local delicacy that stands out.
As you meander down the street, you’ll come across a quaint bridge spanning a gentle stream. From this vantage point, you can soak in the breathtaking vistas of Mount Giewont, one of Zakopane’s most iconic landmarks. Another quirky attraction that piques curiosity is the Upside Down House. This peculiar structure appears to defy gravity, inviting visitors to walk on ceilings and observe furniture adorning the floors.
Continuing your leisurely stroll, you’ll encounter the Poraj, a remarkable wooden house steeped in history. Over the years, it has served as a hotel, guesthouse, and – most famously – a restaurant that drew in artists, politicians, and intellectuals. Today, the restaurant has made way for a bookshop and a shoe store, but the timeless charm of this wooden edifice endures, preserving its rich history.
Read More: Check out our guide to the best THINGS TO DO IN ZAKOPANE
Enjoy Crazy Views form the Zakopane Cable Car
If you’re seeking an adventure that seamlessly blends excitement with awe-inspiring scenery, look no further than the Zakopane Cable Car. This mountain attraction caters to visitors of all ages and is a year-round must-see. Your journey commences at the Kuznice station, situated in the upper reaches of Zakopane. To access this enchanting locale, you can rely on public transportation or opt for a taxi. Alternatively, if you relish the idea of a scenic walk, a 45-minute route starting from the Pope John Paul II roundabout immerses you in the surrounding natural beauty.
In just 15 minutes, the cable car will whisk you away to an elevation of 1,985 meters above sea level. Yet, during this brief ascent, you’ll find yourself captivated by awe-inspiring vistas that stretch across mountains and valleys. The sensation of ascending through the clouds is unparalleled, offering a unique peek into the natural splendor of the Tatra Mountains. As you climb, your gaze will be ensnared by mountain panoramas that appear as though they’ve been plucked from a postcard.
Upon reaching the summit of Kasprowy Wierch mountain, you have the opportunity to explore the Meteorological Observatory, the highest in Poland, which boasts an incredible view and an equally interesting history. Alternatively, if you prefer, you can venture towards the Cicha Valley pass, which treats you to spectacular views of the Tatra Mountains, both on the Polish and Slovakian sides. During the winter months, the Zakopane Cable Car can become quite congested, with lengthy queues forming at the ticket office. To avoid disappointment, we strongly recommend purchasing your tickets online in advance, allowing you to savor this extraordinary mountain adventure to the fullest, without wasting precious time waiting in lines.
Skiing in Zakopane
Zakopane, nestled at the base of the majestic Tatra Mountains, stands as a prime destination for snow enthusiasts from across the globe. This charming locale boasts a plethora of opportunities for winter sports aficionados. However, please consider that Christmas in Zakopane is also the busiest time of the year, so it is advisable to book hotels and restaurants well in advance. Merely 25 km from Zakopane lies the renowned ski haven of Bialka Tatrzanska, a true gem for skiing enthusiasts. This ski resort consistently earns accolades as one of Poland’s finest, and several compelling factors contribute to its esteemed reputation.
Pristine slopes, state-of-the-art ski lifts, and an exceptionally welcoming staff combine to make visitors feel right at home. Highly skilled instructors stand ready to assist in honing your skiing or snowboarding prowess. Yet, the ultimate allure here is the breathtaking panorama of the Tatra Mountains that unfolds as you descend the slopes. Recently, a network of chairlifts has interconnected three primary ski resorts: Bania, Kotelnica, and Kaniowka.
A mere 20 km from Zakopane, nestled in the picturesque village of Czarna Gora, the Koziniec Ski Center awaits. This enchanting locale boasts two extensive ski runs suitable for both novices and experts alike. For those seeking expert instructors fluent in English, you’ve found the perfect destination.
If you yearn to escape the bustling slopes and challenge yourself on more demanding terrain, the Jurgow Ski Resort in the quaint village of Jurgow stands as an excellent choice. Situated on the border between Poland and Slovakia, this locale exudes an authentic and less crowded ambiance, catering to intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders alike. For those who seek a less crowded yet highly rewarding experience, the ski slopes in Suche, a mere 8 km from Zakopane, offer yet another enticing option.
Relax at the Spa in Zakopane
If you’re seeking the ultimate relaxation experience, look no further than the wellness centers and spas in Zakopane and its enchanting neighboring towns.
Located just 20 km from the heart of Zakopane, the renowned Chocholow Spa stands as one of Poland’s most impressive thermal pool complexes. Here, you can immerse yourself in a world of well-being with dozens of thermal pools, both indoors and outdoors. Most pools are for family and couple enjoyment, including hot tubs and spa facilities, such as saunas and steam rooms, but there are also some real thermal pools filled with therapeutic thermal water. This heavenly oasis not only features swimming pools but also a rejuvenating wellness area and a spacious rooftop terrace offering breathtaking views, fitness facilities, and an array of good restaurants.
If you’re traveling with family, just a stone’s throw away from Zakopane’s center lies the Zakopiańskie Spa, an authentic spa paradise and water park. Here, you can relish in outdoor pools, a standard swimming pool and a large indoor recreational pool with entertaining water attractions and slides, and even a dedicated pool for younger children. There’s certainly no shortage of hot tubs, saunas, and a well-equipped fitness center. Plus, for those who crave both comfort and relaxation, the spa is conveniently connected to the elegant 4-star Hotel Aquarion Family & Friends.
For a spa experience beyond Zakopane, a mere 20 km away, you’ll discover the renowned Terma Bania, linked to the prestigious Hotel Bania. Here, you’ll be indulged in eight thermal pools, both indoors and outdoors, filled with geothermal water maintained at an ideal temperature between 34 and 38°C. The complex also offers five saunas, thrilling slides, and mini-pools designed especially for children.
Another relaxation option, just 15 km from Zakopane, awaits you at the Bukovina Spa inside Hotel Bukovina. This spa destination is a veritable water paradise, boasting 13 thermal pools, both indoor and outdoor, featuring a wide range of water attractions to cater to all preferences. Here, you’ll also find eight saunas for complete rejuvenation, three exhilarating slides, and mini-pools tailored for children. When it’s time to satisfy your palate, you can indulge in delectable dishes at the restaurant or unwind with a drink at the bar.
Take the Gubałówka Funicular Railway and enjoy Authentic Mountain Adventures
The Gubałówka Hill Funicular Railway is an unforgettable adventure that every visitor should include in their itinerary. This short yet captivating ride will transport you from the heart of central Zakopane to the summit of Gubałówka Hill, soaring to an altitude of over 1000 meters. The journey commences from the lower station, conveniently accessible from ul. Kościeliska, and takes you through a truly awe-inspiring landscape. If you’re fortunate with the weather, you’ll be treated to spectacular vistas encompassing the Tatra Mountains, Zakopane, and Koscielisko to the south, while to the north, the Gorce and Beskidy Mountains await, adorned with picturesque villages.
Upon reaching the summit, you’ll find yourself surrounded by charming wooden houses and artisan shops, where you can acquire unique souvenirs. If you visit Zakopane during the Christmas period, you should climb up here to enjoy the beautiful view and the charming atmosphere, enhanced by the Christmas decorations. On the top of the hill there are also some restaurants serving regional delicacies, such as pierogi with oscypek or bryndza cheese, desserts and cakes, soups, hot drinks and cold beers, offering the most panoramic views for a memorable dining experience.
A mere 60 meters from the upper station lies the adventure park Złota Grań. This venue provides year-round entertainment with 7 courses of varying difficulty, boasting over 100 obstacles, a 700-meter zip line, a 16-meter-high stilt house, and a climbing wall. Thanks to a specially designed route for younger adventurers, the park is also suitable for children, offering them a thrilling and enjoyable experience. And if you crave a bit more excitement, you can challenge yourself to a game of paintball or test your marksmanship at the shooting range.
Ice Skating in Zakopane
One of the most popular winter activities during Christmas in Zakopane is ice skating, enjoyed by both locals and tourists. There are plenty of opportunities for enjoyment and adventure beneath the crisp, wintry skies. Leave your skates at home; you can conveniently rent them on-site. To the south of the city center lies the COS Sports Center, boasting two skating rinks: a high-speed track tailored to the more seasoned skaters and another catering to amateurs. This location is framed by the magnificent landscape of the national park and the enticing cross-country ski trails.
If you find yourself in the southern part of the city, make sure not to overlook the Tafla Ice Rink, situated near the bustling Solidarności roundabout. This rink offers a more urban experience, allowing you to immerse yourself in the vibrant city atmosphere as you gracefully glide across the icy surface. For those seeking a breathtaking panoramic view while skating, the U Daniela Ice Rink, nestled in the upper reaches of Zakopane, is the ideal choice. This venue provides awe-inspiring vistas of the Tatra Mountains and is conveniently located near the restaurant of the same name.
New Year’s Eve in Zakopane
If you decide to extend your stay in Zakopane until the beginning of the New Year, you’re in for an unforgettable celebration. New Year’s Eve in Zakopane is undeniably one of the most eagerly anticipated and festive evenings of the year. The city truly comes to life with dazzling fireworks, bustling street parties, and live music performances. For those seeking an unforgettable experience, there are numerous intriguing options for spending the final night of the year. Many hotels host elaborate New Year’s Eve parties, complete with sumptuous dinners and dance floors, offering attendees the chance to usher in the new year in impeccable style. These celebrations frequently culminate in fireworks displays that illuminate the night sky.
For those who prefer a more intimate and authentic celebration, regional restaurants are an excellent choice. Here, you can relish delicious Polish specialties while local bands entertain with traditional musical performances. It’s a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture. If you’re an adventure enthusiast who delights in the wintery landscape, there are exciting options to consider, such as thrilling snow sleigh rides or snowmobile excursions through the enchanting winter vistas. These adventures are often paired with traditional dinners in mountain cabins, crafting a one-of-a-kind experience that allows you to embrace the beauty of the winter landscape as you ring in the new year.
More Tips for Your Christmas in Zakopane
Zakopane is a treasure trove of experiences waiting to be discovered. This charming town offers a plethora of activities for nature enthusiasts and culture seekers alike. The Tatra National Park beckons with its pristine hiking trails, including the challenging climb to Rysy, the highest peak in Poland, offering panoramic views that will leave you breathless. For winter sports enthusiasts, Zakopane transforms into a snowy wonderland with world-class skiing and snowboarding opportunities in the nearby resorts, including Kasprowy Wierch and Nosal. The town’s vibrant Krupówki Street is lined with local eateries and souvenir shops, perfect for savoring Polish cuisine and picking up unique mementos.
Małopolska, the surrounding region, promises further adventures. The historic city of Krakow, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is a short drive away. Immerse yourself in its rich history by visiting the Wawel Castle, the former Royal Palace, and the stunning Wawel Cathedral, where Polish kings were crowned and buried. Stroll through the charming medieval Market Square in the heart of the Old Town, called Rynek Główny, to witness its vibrant street life and pay a visit to the old Cloth Hall to shop for traditional handicrafts. Furthermore, Christmas in Krakow is a truly memorable season: you shouldn’t miss the famous Krakow Christmas Markets, renowned for being among the most beautiful in the world.
Venture to the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum to gain insight into the harrowing history of the Holocaust. Explore the Wieliczka Salt Mine, an underground marvel adorned with intricate salt sculptures and chapels carved from salt rocks.
In the Małopolska countryside, indulge in the serenity of the Ojców National Park‘s limestone formations and hidden caves. The historic town of Kazimierz Dolny, perched on the Vistula River, is an artist’s paradise, with its charming streets, art galleries, and picturesque landscapes. Małopolska and Zakopane offer a captivating blend of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and historical significance, making this region a must-visit destination for those seeking a multifaceted adventure in Poland.