Our journey visiting the natural parks in Poland countinued in the Southernmost region of the country; Lesser Poland. The main natural attraction here are the mountains in the Tatras National Park, which is where the highest peaks of the country are located. The Tatras National park extends to Northern Slovakia, which we had visited some years ago. You can read more about the Slovak Tatras National Park here. The mountainous part of Poland is confined to a rather small area when compared to the size of the country, so you can imagine how crowded it can get. Zakopane is the main town in the mountains and lies approximately 2 hours south of Krakow, where there is the closest airport. You can read more about Zakopane below.
Where to stay
There is a wide variety of accommodation in the area, with the most popular town being Zakopane. If you are using public transport, I would suggest staying in the centre of Zakopane as there are shops, restaurants and trips to the Tatras Park that depart daily from here. The accommodation options here range from apartments to hotels and hostels. Although much more expensive than other parts of Poland, it is still cheap when compared to other European skiing destinations in the Alps.
Since we’ve had our daughter we are trying to opt for accommodation which has an outdoor area. It is not very easy to find that in the centre of Zakopane, so we opted for the outskirts of Kościelisko instead. We had a nice modern apartment within an apartments complex that also had a large outdoor area. We chose Aparthotel Delta Boutique and we highly recommend this place if you are renting a car. The complex offers different sizes of apartments starting from studios to larger 2 bedroom apartments. They have a good sized shared outdoor area with a playground and toys for kids.
Top things to do in the Polish Tatras National Park
This is the surely the number one thing to do in the Polish Tatras; and you immediately realise that this place is the most popular place to visit. This mountain lake is very accessible and thousands of people get here every day especially in summer. Since getting to this lake involves walking through an asphalted road, people of all ages and fitness levels are able to get to it. You must plan your visit in advance when visiting the lake, especially in summer. You must purchase parking tickets in advance online here if you are visiting by car. If you are visiting by public transport or using a taxi you must still leave very early. We got stuck in traffic on our way to the parking and spent hours waiting, just to get to the parking. Well it’s partly our fault since I had read online that you must leave very early in the morning (be there at 6am) to avoid the crowds. We decided to ignore this advice, and tried to be there at around 9:00am. We only got to the lake at around 13:00! It was the most crowded place in the mountains I have ever been to! It was very hard to get a picture without people in it, and although the lake is very nice it was too overcrowded for my tastes. We did the easy loop around the lake, but since we had no time, we had to skip climbing up to the upper lake Czarny Staw.
Trek along the Polish/Slovak border on Kasprowy Wierch
Unlike our visit to Morskie Oko the day before, this time we were able to breathe and met much less people. Although there were people up the mountain, the area is vast and there are many trails that you can follow. Again you must plan your visit beforehand, and we also booked online the tickets for the cable car beforehand here. Moreover you must note that you cannot reach the cable car station with your own car, so you must either depart from the centre of Zakopane with a bus or get a taxi. As soon as we got out of the cable car station we walked along the border with Slovakia in an Eastern direction. Then descended down to get closer to the numerous lakes in Dolina Zielona (also known as the Green Valley). The trails are very well marked as you can see in the above photos. The most impressive aspect of this trek were the different shades of orange and red in the grass and shrubs (we visited in early Autumn – September). Going up again to the cable car station was the toughest part of the trail as it is very very steep. Although this part of the trail is not very long but the steps are very high and at a certain point I wasn’t sure we would make it. The challenge was even tougher since we had to carry our 3 year old daughter that was unable to climb these high steps. Luckily me and my husband took turns to help our daughter and we finally made it back to the cable car station.
Take it easy on a hike in Dolina Kościeliska
If you want to go on a stress free walk without a lot of crowds this is the place for you. This trail starts from Kiry and you can easily walk on a flat surface in this valley. You can reach the start of the trail by car, there weren’t any crowds and you can park in one of the parkings on the opposite site of the road. You will walk along the stream in different settings. The first part of the valley is very wide and as you walk further in the valley it will get tighter with high rocks and mountains on your side. There are side detours that you can go for, but we opted to go for the simple version and just walked straight. The trail keeps going straight until a mountain hut for about 6km but you can opt to walk as much as you want and return back from the same way. We were able to observe flowers and wildlife including red deer up in the mountains.
Top things to do near the Polish Tatras National Park
Visit the Centre of Zakopane
This is the main town in the area and it is quite busy. We visited twice in the evening and the main pedestrian road is named Krupowki. As you can imagine this street is full of hotels, shops, restaurants and bars. If you walk all the road in north direction you will find the station to the funicular that will take you up Gubałówka hill where you will be able to admire Zakopane from up above. Unfortunately we visited during a foggy day and we couldn’t see anything but clouds. Along the roads of Zakopane you will see a lot of street vendors selling all kinds of local goods like souvenirs, cheese and other local foods, leather goods, home decor, wooden products etc.
Spend some time in one of the numerous thermal baths in the area
This is the ultimate relaxing experience in southern Poland. The thermal baths are numerous and offer something for all types of visitors. There are larger baths with outdoor and indoor pools, kids areas, therapeutical baths etc. The larger the complex, the more likely it is to be crowded. If you want a more intimate experience you may wish to consider smaller thermal baths. Visiting a thermal bath may also be a good fix on a gloomy day.
Visit the Pieniński Park Narodowy
There is another (much smaller) National Park in southern Poland, which is located an hour east of Zakopane. The main attraction of this park are the Dunajec river, along which you can go for a rafting experience on traditional wooden boats. There is also a medieval castle Zamek Dunajec w Niedzicy, which lies on a very picturesque position over the lake.
Visit the Salt mines in Wieliczka
This is another definite must in the area. Although we usually prefer to go to places which are off the beaten track, when we are close to a must do attraction, we cannot miss it! So we also included a visit to these salt mines as we were on our way from Rzeszow to the Tatras National Park. It was on our way anyway! You must plan at least 3/4 hours to visit these salt mines as you can only do so following a guided tour. We were impressed by how big and deep underground these salt mines were. Unexpectedly the salt is dark grey and looks like granite. You can find more information from the official website here.
End your trip in the city of Krakow
Krakow is where our trip in Poland was set to end, as we had to take our flight back to Malta from Krakow airport. We spent the last day and a half here and made our way around the main attractions of the city on foot. The historical centre of Krakow is very pleasant and not too busy. The main attractions include:
- St’Mary’s Basilica and the main square in which there is Rynek Underground Museum and Market
- Wawel Hill with the castle and Cathedral
- The Jewish Quarters and Synagogue
- St. Florian’s Gate and the fortification of Barbakan Krakowski
Have you followed our journey in the Polish National Parks?
Here are the links to my previous posts:
A journey through Poland’s Natural Parks – Warmia & Masuria Lake District