It is not only a resort which has been attracting tourists and mountain sports enthusiasts for years, but it is also the cradle of highland culture and Podhale art, next to which the unique Zakopane style was developed. Zakopane, discovered by Dr Tytus Chałubiński, has gathered circles of artists and scholars inspired by the proximity of the Tatra Mountains and the highland culture since the end of the 19th century. The Tatra Mountains dominate the town, making the tourist season last all year round, and the unique climate attracts countless visitors.
Is the magic of Zakopane really omnipresent? It is worth finding out by visiting this enchanting place.
The unique and unparalleled feature of Zakopane is not the mountains, nor highland folklore, but a symbiosis of these three factors: The Tatra Mountains, the highland culture and the Polish intelligentsia, which draws its creative inspiration from the Tatra Mountains and the highland culture. Zakopane can and should be a place of splendid - although not mass - cultural events at the highest level, non-commercial festivals, exhibitions and book publishing, and not only a market for tourism and trade.
The unique climate of a Tatra village
Zakopane has always fascinated, and the spirit of the place has always intrigued and attracted exceptional personalities. The first written mention of Zakopane dates from 1605, but the Tatra Mountains were still unknown then. At the beginning of the 19th century, the life of Zakopane revolved around the activities of the ironworks in Kuźnice. Doctor and botanist Tytus Chałubiński is called the discoverer of Zakopane. Although people had been visiting Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains since the beginning of the 19th century, he was the one who came here in 1873 and contributed to making the place famous. The doctor noticed the climatic values of the Zakopane health resort, which positively influenced the treatment of tuberculosis. On the other hand, he appreciated the charm of the Tatra Mountains and the peculiarity of highland culture. Thanks to Chałubiński, other personalities from the world of culture, art and science came to Zakopane. Enchanted by the beauty of the mountains and inspired by the previously unknown highland culture, these people contributed to the development of the place, later called by Rafał Malczewski "the navel of the world". It was thanks to Chałubiński that Stanisław Witkiewicz, the creator of the Zakopane style, whose works can still be admired today almost at every turn, came to Zakopane. It was in Zakopane that Maria Skłodowska-Curie, Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer, Ignacy Jan Paderewski and many others rested. It was thanks to Stefan Żeromski that Zakopane was the first town to regain independence in 1918. It is here that the FIS World Ski Championships were held years ago, and now the World Ski Jumping Championships, the Festival of Mountain Folklore and many other sporting and cultural events are organised.
Zakopane style and artists - timeless museums
If one wants to get to know a place well, they should start sightseeing at its source. The Tatra Mountains Museum, a treasury of knowledge about the Tatra Mountains and Podhale, opens the door for tourists to the fascinating world of the artistic creation and cultural heritage of the region. Consisting of 11 branches, most located in Zakopane, it provides unforgettable experiences and reliable knowledge. The Gąsienica Sobczak Cottage, which exhibits, among other things, the Dęmbowski collection of ethnographic objects, presents a traditional highlander cottage, everyday utensils and the highlander handicrafts that inspired the Zakopane style. The nearby Villa Koliba, the first villa in the Zakopane style, takes visitors back in time to the beautiful parlours and interiors designed by Stanisław Witkiewicz, complemented by works by leading Zakopane artists: Wojciech Brzegi, Tymon Niesiołowski, Franciszek Neuzil. The Art Gallery in Villa Oksza, the third work of Stanisław Witkiewicz built in the Zakopane style, presents the achievements of the Zakopane artistic colony. The wooden interiors are filled with the works of such artists as Stanisław Barabasz, Stanisław Gałek, Leon Wyczółkowski, Rafał Malczewski and Wojciech Weiss. Visitors can enjoy art inspired by the Tatra Mountains and Podhale from the highest level and various fields: photography, painting, graphics, sculpture and artistic handicraft. The exhibits also include works by students of the Wood Industry School, headed by Zofia Stryjeńska and Karol Stryjeński. A separate exhibition room is devoted to the works of Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz "Witkacy", one of the most recognisable figures in the Zakopane art world and the creator of the famous portrait company.
A slightly different perspective on art is offered by the Gallery of Władysław Hasior, one of the most eminent Polish artists of the second half of the 20th century. Through the prism of pop art and assemblage art, often inspired by folk art, mythology and history, it provokes and encourages one to expand the imagination. There are two other branches of the Tatra Museum in Zakopane: the main building and the Museum of Kornel Makuszyński, who was associated with Zakopane, but they are currently under renovation. A visit to the atmospheric Villa Atma, the Karol Szymanowski Museum, where the exposition presents the composer's life and work, rounds off your knowledge of Zakopane's artistic output. A visit to the Jan Kasprowicz Museum in Harenda, located in the villa where the poet lived with his wife, is a must. The permanent exhibition presents memorabilia of the poet and his family: furniture, paintings, books and photographs. Those who want to learn more about the region will enjoy the exposition at the Centre for Native Culture "Czerwony Dwór", the villa where Artur Rubinstein lived and where Stefan Żeromski frequented. The exposition presents exhibitions of works by artists from the Podhale region, in particular, traditional glass paintings by artists from Zakopane.
Unique nature of the Tatra Mountains
Let us remind you that the Tatra Mountains are a world biosphere reserve. One can learn about the nature of the Tatra Mountains and their topography by visiting the newly renovated Centre for Nature Education of the Tatra National Park. As part of the visit, one can take part in a fascinating educational walk, which will undoubtedly interest the youngest ones and surprise even the older ones with Tatra curiosities. Visitors are impressed by the largest model of the Tatra Mountains, which offers a close-up view of all the peaks. A presentation with a lector's commentary, a film projection in 4D and 3D cinema and realistic dioramas presenting the Tatra ecosystems and the impact of humans make one realise the value of the mountains. During the tour, one can even look into a cave and listen to or even feel the Tatra life going on. An excellent attraction for children is the Discovery Room, which offers educational computer games, e.g. to help them use a map, identify the sounds of Tatra nature and practice perceptiveness. The Centre of Nature Education offers fascinating modern education about the protection of the Tatra nature and about the habits and life of animals and plants.
The history and atmosphere of the place somewhat differently
The old architecture of Zakopane delights absolutely everyone. For those who do not like visiting museum interiors, Zakopane can offer an alternative - wandering around the streets and nooks of the city. The Tatra Museum has developed two walking routes: Szlakiem Stylu Zakopiańskiego (Along the Route of the Zakopane Style) and Szlakiem Znakomych Zakopiańczyków (Along the Route of Famous Zakopane People). The first route leads through the main, well-known but less recognised monuments of regional architecture. One can admire iconic wooden architecture buildings, such as Villa Koliba, the Old Church and the cemetery on Pęksowy Brzyzek, the necropolis of distinguished Poles. The cemetery contains real and symbolic graves of famous mountaineers, speleologists, TOPR rescuers, prominent figures from the world of art and science and famous Zakopane inhabitants. On the tombstones, there are such names as: Bronisław Czech, Kornel Makuszyński, Mariusz Zaruski, Andrzej Chramiec, Tytus Chałubiński, Stanisław Witkiewicz, Karol Szymanowski and many others. The route continues along the trail of historic brick and wooden buildings, such as Dom pod Jedlami and the historic churches of Zakopane. As far as religious monuments are concerned, it is worth visiting the National Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Krzeptówki, which Pope John Paul II visited in 1997. Be sure to visit the Old Church of larch wood in Kościeliska Street, the oldest church in the capital of the Tatras and Podhale. In Krupówki Street, it is worth stopping by the Church of the Holy Family. A little further from the centre, there are wooden and equally beautiful churches of Salvatorians and Bernardines by the Boulevards. Walking from Kuźnice towards Kalatówki, it is worth visiting the Albertine Sisters Monastery, and taking a right turn upwards, the neighbouring Albertine Brothers Monastery. The Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is a stunning place on Jaszczurówka, designed by Stanisław Witkiewicz, which looks magical, especially in its winter appearance.
However, another trail leads along the Route of Famous Zakopane People, sometimes passing the same places necessary for the history of Zakopane and bringing closer the activities of prominent people connected with the Podhale region.
In turn, a not-to-be-missed proposal for an evening is the absolutely unique and delightfully atmospheric Witkacy Theatre, which, in its repertoire, also includes plays inspired by the culture and works of Zakopane, e.g. the famous "Na Przełęczy" and the equally popular "Człapówki" or "Demonizm zakopiański".
Zakopane - thermal baths and regional dishes
After the unforgettable spiritual experience of mountain hiking, walking or visiting museums and theatres in Zakopane, one can also relax their body. Hotels offering various spa treatments are very popular. One of the most popular places is the Zakopane Aqua Park, offering water massages in geothermal waters, attractions for children and saunas. A little further from the city are also the Chochołów Thermal Baths, the Szaflary Thermal Baths and the Thermal Baths in Bukowina Tatrzańska. Zakopane restaurants, which are easily found, especially in Krupowki and in the surrounding streets, specialise in traditional cuisine, offering delicious regional dishes, which taste especially good after a day full of excitement. Oscypek, dumplings with bryndza, kwaśnica or mountain trout are dishes you absolutely must try. In restaurants and inns, the unique atmosphere is also introduced by live highlander music.
The Tatra Mountains and other routes
Zakopane and its surroundings are, above all, a paradise for tourists who enjoy hiking and mountain activities. Apart from walking along Krupówki Street, Zakopane is worth seeing from a different perspective. A ride in a cable car to Gubałówka provides a lot of excitement, and in fine weather, one can sunbathe on the top with an unlimited panoramic view of the Tatra Mountains. The walk can be continued in the direction of Kościelisko or Harenda. For those willing to take on bigger challenges, there is also a cable car to Kasprowy Wierch, but due to the high demand, it is advisable to buy the ticket in advance. Most of the Tatra valleys start in Zakopane, especially the Strążyska Valley and the Dolina Białego Valley. Less known, but nevertheless charming, are Dolina za Bramką and Ku Dziurze. The trail network allows for the planning of interesting loops and walks tailored to individual abilities. It is often possible to combine a route with the path running under the Regle and enjoy the panorama of the Gubałówka range and lower mountain pastures. For the more experienced hikers, the higher parts of the mountains await, with trails starting in Kuźnice. Hala Gąsienicowa and the main peaks of the High Tatras, Kasprowy Wierch and the Czerwone Wierchów ridge are just some of the most popular spots. An extremely attractive diversion is a trip by PKL, a cable railway, to Kasprowy Wierch, built at an extremely impressive pace within 227 days in 1935-1936. The railway runs daily, and the ascent takes about 30 minutes. The attraction is besieged by tourists, so it is worth buying a ticket online in advance. At the top, in good weather, a panorama of the highest peaks of the Tatra Mountains opens up before you, with Świnica proudly presenting itself in the foreground and the ridge of the Western Tatras on the other side. A walk to the nearby Beskid (2,012 m) is worthwhile, and those with more energy can descend from Kasprowy to Hala Gąsienicowa and Kuźnice.
In winter, in turn, in addition to mountain walks, tourists can use the ski trails from Kasprowy Wierch and the surrounding ski lifts - below Nosal and Krokwia, on Szymoszkowa and many others. More freedom is offered to ski tourists, who can use hiking trails and ski slopes.
Apart from museums and theatres open to tourists, Zakopane also offers a wide range of cultural events. Cyclically, the largest New Year's Eve concerts in Poland take place on Równia Krupowa. Every year, from spring to autumn, artists and musicians from all over the world come to take part in festivals: Festival of Mountain Lands, Festival Moc Gór - Encounters with Mountain Film, Book Festival, March Salon and Art Film Show, Tatra Musealia and Jazz Camping on Kalatówki.