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Set at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, Zakopane is an outdoorsy city. It's a great spot for hiking in the summer, and skiing is so popular once snow falls that Zakopane is sometimes called Poland's winter capital. Strolling around, you'll find unique wooden villas with rounded windows and ornate decoration, inspired by traditional Goral culture. If you're lucky, you might see lively folk dances or locals in brightly coloured embroidered costumes.
In Zakopane, you can immerse yourself in nature at a cabin in the forest, relax at a 1930s-style house with mountain views or stay in city centre lodgings with rustic décor. Some Zakopane hostels offer a hearty free breakfast, and you can expect basics such as free Wi-Fi. If you're staying during summer, look for a Zakopane hostel with barbecue facilities so you can make the most of the sunshine. Many hostels have common rooms and shared garden spaces where you can mingle with other travellers.
The heart of Zakopane's city centre is Krupówki Street (also known as "Walking Street"), which has street performers, independent shops and restaurants where you can try local specialties such as oscypek, a smoked sheep's milk cheese. Outside the city, the small town of Kuźnice is the starting point for a cable car ride to the top of Kasprowy Wierch mountain, which straddles Poland and Slovakia. Alternatively, if you're feeling energetic, you could hike up to Czarny Staw Gąsienicowy, the Emerald Lake.
You can enjoy some natural beauty at Termy Bukowina, which has steaming hot springs, and the Tatras mountain range, which has Poland's tallest peak. If you want to learn more about local history, geology and natural science, head to the Tatra Museum in town. Stanisław Witkiewicz, the Polish painter who created the Zakopane style of architecture, is buried at the Old Church and Cemetery. This 19th-century wooden church is worth a visit for its striking design and ornately carved wooden headstones.
If you're flying into Kraków John Paul II International Airport, you can use the twice-daily bus service to Zakopane, which takes about three hours. From the centre of Kraków, it's a two-hour bus ride or a three-hour train journey to Zakopane. If you're coming from Hungary, a direct shuttle runs from Budapest (taking six hours). Once you're in town, the easiest way to get around is on foot. For longer trips, you can catch scheduled local buses or private minibuses.