Zakopane is considered to be the tourist capital of Poland. Millions of people go there every year. And there is only one railway line connecting it with the rest of the country. Plus one main road. So you need some planning and knowledge to get you there and back as smoothly as possible. Here’s a short how-to guide. Once you get there, remember to download our audio guides!
Where to go from?
Kraków is the most popular place to depart from, with 99% of visitors either departing from there or passing it on their way to Zakopane. All information provided in this post assumes you are or you will be in Kraków.
From Slovakia, the most popular route to Zakopane starts in Poprad.
There is a railway line connecting Kraków with Zakopane. The trains are not too frequent, especially during the low season, but there is one huge advantage of rail over bus. You avoid the traffic. If you plan to get to Zakopane from other cities, like Warsaw or Gdańsk, check the timetable as there may be direct connections available.
One important remark: it does not make any sense to use the train when taking a one day trip from Kraków. You will waste too much of your time.
Second remark. The railway between Kraków and Zakopane is under renovation. It may be closed temporarily, especially during the low season. Double check the timetable when planning your trip.
The buses are the most popular way of getting to Zakopane. They run frequently, sometimes as often as every 15 minutes. In Kraków, they depart from a bus terminal located right next to the Kraków Główny railway station. No need to buy the tickets in advance, it is enough just to show up at the station. In the worst case, you will have to wait for another bus.
If you really feel a need to book a ticket in advance, here are a few links to the bus companies that will help you get started:
By car or a taxi.
A taxi is an option if you travel in a larger group, as the price gets at least slightly closer to the price of a bus. It does have all the advantages the public transportation, but, at the same time, it exposes you to all of the potential troubles of travelling on Zakopianka – that’s how the national road from Kraków to Zakopane is called.
If you arrive by plane to the airport in Kraków, taking a taxi from there will save you a lot of time.
By (rental) car.
The traffic is high on the Zakopianka road. On peak days, Zakopane will be crowded. So, unless you have a strong need to have a car, avoid it. The ride takes some 2 to 2:30 hours in normal traffic. During peak hours, or during bad weather, it may increase to 3, 5, sometimes even 7 hours. Plan your drive carefully and avoid peak times like holidays and Christmas. The best time to drive is at night.
Keep in mind that the road between Kraków and Zakopane is currently (2018) under construction, with at least one “hot spot” where you drive through the construction site. At peak times, traffic jams are unavoidable.
There is no airport in Zakopane. There are two airports nearby: Kraków (KRK) and Poprad (TAT).
The airport in Poprad is relatively small and only has a few connections per day, mostly to London. Getting from Poprad to Zakopane is not easy, as you have to go around the entire Tatra mountain range.
Kraków has the 2nd largest Polish airport and getting to it is relatively easy from all over the world. From there, taking a taxi will be the fastest and the most expensive option. Otherwise, take a train or a bus to the Kraków Głowny station and continue from there by bus or train.