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A (not so) hidden gem – Zakopane

A hidden gem is a place that is outstanding to visit but not too many people know about it. There is plenty of regions that remain largely untouched by tourists but offer huge potential. As we explore more and more of the world, we are constantly looking for unique and exciting destinations that are off the beaten track.

Finding hidden gems within towns and cities can be great. This might be stumbling across a great bar or restaurant in the area. But finding an entire city that is a hidden gem may not be as exciting as you might expect. The reason being is that you may struggle to find a whole lot of things to do there. The key is to find a city that is in between being a hidden gem and a popular tourist destination.

Zakopane is a small resort town located in the south of Poland at the base of the Tatra mountains, near the border with Slovakia. The city has a population of just 28,000 inhabitants but welcomes around 2.5 million visitors through its gates annually. The streets can get quite busy during the peak summer months and the weeks leading up to new years, but it’s still peanuts compared to visitor numbers in other major cities.

A log cabin in Zakopane, Poland

HIGH SEASON: May – September, late December & early January
SHOULDER SEASON: March, April & October
LOW SEASON: November – early December, late January – Febuary

This not so hidden gem is a city that seems to be stuck in the 19th century but with all the energy and excitement of today’s world. The streets are lined with cozy traditional Polish restaurants housed in charming wooden log cabins. In the summer, people come here for scenic hikes through the mountains. While in the winter months people come to take part in activities such as skiing and sledding.

A river in Zakopane

Krupówki street is the spine of the city. The pathway is sandwiched between rows of wooden log cabins and quicky buildings. The street performers continuously add to the upbeat atmosphere, and street food stalls ignite your sense of smell with freshly cooked fried cheese, a local delicacy. With each passing step along the cobbled stone street, you will forget you are living in the 21st century.

As you move towards the end of the street, wooden chalets will appear on either side of you packed with traditional Polish clothes and lovely handmade crafts. Straight ahead is the dominating Gubalowka Hill. In the summer months, you will notice that the mountain is a fresh green color surrounded by the captivating nature of mother earth. In the winter months, the mountain is concealed under a beautiful layer of talc-like snow while tourists glide down its slopes.

The tatra mountains, Zakopane

As you cross over to the other side of the city, you will be faced with the jaw-dropping scenes of Gubalowka Hill. While you take the funicular up to the viewing point you begin to see the city shrink ever smaller and the mountainous terrain expands around it. No matter what time of the year you visit, the views from the top are mesmerizing. Not only are you gifted with breathtaking scenery, but you are treated to more wooden stalls selling gifts, souviners, and tasty snacks.

The view of Zakopane from the mountains

Eventually, you will have to confess to yourself it is time to leave. Back in the heart of the city, you have some traditional Polish cuisine with your name on it. At Karczma Zapiecek Restauracja Regionalna, the dining room has wood-lined walls and a cozy homely feel inside. Try the authentic Zurek soup (celery root, sausage, bacon & boiled eggs) along with a local favourite, dumplings (a ball of dough fried or boiled and filled with potatoes or meat)

The main street in Zakopane

Zakopane might be a small city with a great sense of outdoor, but even so, it is still packed with fascinating museums. The Szymanowski Museum is a museum highlighting the life and work of the early modern Polish composer Karol Szymanowski. He is known to be the countries second greatest ever composer. There is also the Tatra Museum which focuses on the natural environment of the local area. This is a great place to learn about the interesting history or the area. Perfect for a cold, wet winter’s day.

As the sun edges it’s way below the surrounding mountains, the city takes a turn and looks towards its fun and exciting nightlife. Many bars and restaurants very much keep their traditional values alit. Bands dress up in old-fashioned Polish clothes and people come alive to the sounds of traditional folk music. For those seeking something a bit more energetic, a trip to Klub Vavavoom is in order. Upbeat club music pumps itself from the speakers while bartenders serve liters of vodka throughout the night.

A row of log cabins in Zakopane

Why would anyone choose to visit this small city over a tourist powerhouse such as Budapest or Kraków? Although these popular cities are amazing, they all share similar characteristics along with huge groups of tourists flocking through the streets. Zakopane offers tourists a chance to explore a unique city that can’t quite be found anywhere else in the world. The city still retains its charm and traditions as it has not suffered from over-tourism. For a new experience with amazing outdoor scenery, Zakopane should be first on your list.

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