Zakopane and its Unique Cultural Heritage
Hiking or skiing in the beautiful Tatra mountains during the day and touring the historical old town in the evenings. Zakopane really has it all! You won't want to miss this amazing place on your trip to Poland. Especially recommended during your holidays in Krakow, as it is just 2-hours drive away!
Zakopane, a picturesque resort town located at the base of the Tatra Mountains is a well known tourist destination perfect for relaxing in between hiking, mountain climbing and winter sports. It is the highest located city in Poland and offers spectacular views and a great starting point for adventures. Zakopane is also famous for it's unique historical buildings and highlander culture of the region.
One of the five most famous Polish streets - Krupowki Street is main pedestrian area in Zakopane. Here, you can visit shops, restaurants, post office as well as banks and exchange offices. In the high season the street can get very crowded, especially when the weather is not allowing for spending time actively in nature. The portrait artists, street performers, horse drawn carriages and elements of highland folklore and local cuisine make it a wonderfully vibrant and unforgettable place. Here you will find the funicular to Gubalowka. An interesting tourist attraction for sports lovers is the largest ski-jump built on Krokiew Mountain. It is regular venue for the FIS Ski Jumping World Cup.
Zakopane is surrounded by mountains which offers the perfect opportunity to explore the multitude of hiking trails that pass through the Tatra National Park. The mountain tops of Gubałówka and Kasprowy Wierch can both be reached by funicular and cable car from the center of Zakopane. They are ideal destinations for skiing and amazing mountain views.
Although it is quite a distance from Zakopane, the most popular hiking trail in the mountains is to „Morskie Oko" or „The Eye of the Ocean". It is the largest and fourth deepest lake in the Tatra Mountains. You can drive from Zakopane to the start of the 8 km hiking trail in Palenica Białczańska. Legend says that the lake is connected to the sea through an underground passage.
A hike from Zakopane to the top of Mt. Giewont it is one of the most popular trails near Zakopane. Mountain itself looks like a figure of a sleeping man towering above the town. To get to the top you can take one of the three trails that take about three hours one-way. Other summits that can be reached from Zakopane include Czerwone Wierchy and Orla Perc - the most dangerous hike of them all.
Zakopane's Cultural Heritage
The Old Church of Our Lady of Czestochowa along with its adjacent cemetery is one of the most prized monuments of Zakopane. Built in the mid 1800's, the church has glass stained windows with the stations of the cross and is decorated with beautifully carved wooden ornaments. Its old character was retained thanks to figures of saints and old folk paintings. The cemetery that can be found right behind the church is arguably one of Poland's most beautiful and definitely the most unique ones with its wood-carved tombstones resembling little huts or large chess pieces. It is also the burial ground of 70 distinguished inhabitants of Zakopane including the famous artist and architect – Stanislaw Witkiewicz.
When walking through the streets of Zakopane you are sure to see the unique local building style that city is famous for. Wooden chalets from the early 1900's are symbols of the city style architecture and can be seen throughout the city. Inspired by highlander art and traditional buildings, Stanisław Witkiewicz aimed to create the foundations of modern national architecture. He was the first to successfully plan and implement the concept of Polish national style, that was based on the Podhale region, its inhabitants and decorative art. Architect's best known works are the Chapel in Jaszczurowka, a roman-catholic church built in 1904. You can enter the church to see the altar that resembles a wooden highlander hut.
Another one of his famous Villas is „Dom pod Jedlami". Built in 1896, it is considered to be one of the hundred wonders of Polish architecture. The building is private property and can only be visited from the outside. It is definitely worth seeing from up close as only then the entire project and details can be admired. Koscieliska Street is an entirely historic living museum. Here you can see plenty of Zakopane style cottages from the break of the 20th century and visit the Museum of the Zakopane Style, a branch of the Tatra Museum. It is the only place in Poland where guests can learn more about the unique Zakopane style building technique and see the traditionally decorated interior. The museum is located in another outstanding building called Kolliba Villa, it is the first house ever designed by Witkiewicz. Another noteworthy building on this street is U Wnuka - the first inn which is still a central part of cultural life.
Witkiewicz's passion for amazing architecture as well as the stunning surroundings attracted many artists to the area. In the beginning of the 20th century Zakopane became a hub for painters, writers, composers and poets. The best known of which is the famous pianist; Karol Szymanowski. The life and work of this early-Modern Polish composer can be learned about at the Szymanowski Museum, which is located about 500 meters south of the city center.
The architectural style was later adapted by the hospitality sector for building guesthouses and still serves its purpose today. If you plan to stay in Zakopane, make sure to book a room in a wooden chalet. The charm and coziness of the wooden interior is a lovely place to come back to after an active day in the mountains.
Zakopane and the surrounding regions are best known for highlander culture. The highlanders of Podhale, called Gorals, have a distinct and interesting culture. They are famous for their vibrantly decorated clothing, unique dialect, folk dancing as well as traditional cuisine.
The intricately embroidered clothing is decorated using a special type of embroidery called "parzenica", where blue and red thread is looped multiple times. Clasps and corsets are also important elements of their traditional attire. The most beautifully decorated clothing is worn for special occasions such as weddings and performances.
You can try a local specialty sold along the main streets of Zakopane called "oscypek". It's a type of smoked cheese produced from sheep's milk that can be served cold or warm with cranberry jam. It is a common Polish treat, however, for traditional highlanders it was considered a rare delicacy, as their diet was mostly made up of the food that could be obtained in the harsh rocky environment of Tatra Mountains. Other dishes that originate from Highlanders are golonka and kwasnica. Golonka is a specially prepared pork knuckle, while kwasnica is simply sourkraut.
Highlanders are also well known for dancing and music. It can be admired at a traditional wedding. Their folklore is cultivated to this day and passed on from generation to generation. The dances are typically very dynamic with male dancers taking on a role that shows power and energy in contrast to the women who have a slightly more passive role.
Festival of Highland Folklore
Every summer one of the most important cultural events in Poland is organized in the center of Zakopane. The Festival of Highland Folklore is perfect especially for those who are interested in the culture and music of highlanders and other cultures from around the world. The festival began in 1965 and has grown to include folklore groups from all over Europe. Uplifting music, colorful costumes and beautiful choreography are sure to keep the audience mesmerized during the concerts. The highlanders of Podhale typically play in band of four with three violinists and one double bassist. They are accompanied by female vocals and a dance performance. The festival is seven days long so make sure to make some time for it in August, as it is amazing show that completes the Zakopane experience.