I am planning a trip to Poland at the end of June. I am thinking about spending 4 days in Zakopane. Opinions about Zakopane seem to vary greatly. The biggest complaint is that it is too crowded to enjoy. I have been to other mountainous areas in Europe including Val Gardena, Zillertal and Lauterbrunnen. I found those places to be busy, but not overly crowded. I am hoping to find a similar experience in Zakopane. I plan to have a car and would like to explore Slovakia as well. I would appreciate any input about Zakopane from recent experiences. Thanks.
I think that Zakopane is great! I was there couple of years ago and I didn't feel it was so crowded that I couldn't enjoy. As you say "busy, but not overly crowded", it is after all the mountain/hiking capital of Poland, kind of like how Aspen is for the United States, I would assume. In addition to the various hiking trails in the Tatra Mountains, there are many fun summer activities like ATV excursions in the mountains or tobogganing down Gubałówka mountain.
Although there was quite a few other people on the trail, I enjoyed hiking to the mountain lake known as Morskie Oko (Polish: Eye of the Sea). The lake is flanked by several tall forested peaks. It is fifty meters deep and is the only one in the Tatras with a natural stock of fish (one of the reason why it is called Eye of the Sea).
An alternate Polish mountain resort town, that I enjoyed as well, is called Wisła. It's about 2 hr southwest of Krakow, in the mountains where Slovakia, Czechia, and Poland meet. It's not as big as Zakopane and is less well know with foreign tourists. It's also where the President of Poland has his Presidential Castle, that he uses for winter/summer retreats, it's possible to visit the castle when he's not in. The hiking in the area is pretty good too, with trails that stretch into Slovakia and Czechia.
For both Wisła and Zakopane, I would recommend Belweder Hotels, they have locations close to both towns. Since you will have a car, a nice day trip from Wisła is the quaint medieval Czech town of Štramberk, about 1 hr west.
We were in Zakopane last July for two nights and enjoyed our stay. We had planned on doing some hiking but it was quite rainy when we were there and we did not have proper hiking clothes or boots with us. We opted to do some shorter walks, easily accessible from town. We enjoyed seeing how ordinary Polish families were enjoying their vacations in the mountains. We enjoyed the town itself. Zakopane essentially has one long pedestrian street where most of the action is. With a car and 4 days you could explore surrounding areas. We arrived by bus from Kraków.
Edited to add that I agree with the characterization of “busy but not crowded.”
We went for a full day taking the bus on a sunny day in May. It was busy, but like the others said, not overcrowded. Zakopane is worth at LEAST a day visit. Don't eliminate it if you can only do a day.
We were there on a sunny September weekend in 2013 and it was busy in the town, but up the mountain it was nice. That whole street of shops and restaurants that runs through town was busy but not oppressive. Note one of the main tourist attractions in town is the old cemetery just as you enter town. You'll see why when you get there. If you drive over to Slovakia, note that the official name of the country (on the road signs) is Slovenska Republika, which really threw me off.
Thanks for info. I was just a little concerned, but places are busy for a reason. I’m looking forward to visiting the area.
Well, Zakopane is a beautiful mountain resort, but it tends to get crowded. Mountains are very popular in Poland nowadays and tourists come to Zakopane all year round, so it's always rather busy. But in the summer months it gets especially busy. It might be a better idea to go there in May or beginning of June.
Slovakia is a bit less crowded, especially the trails - there are less hikers than in Polish mountains, probably because mountain rescue in Slovakia is paid.
Anyway, if you cannot reschedule your visit, just go and enjoy amazing Tatra mountains.
You may also have a look at those posts about Zakopane and Tatras: