Zakopane is situated in southern Poland, about 100 km to the south of Cracow, close to the border with Slovakia. It lies in a valley at the foot of The Tatras, the highest mountains in Poland (Mount Rysy 2499 m). On the map Zakopane can be found at 48,18" latitude and 19,57" longitude. The centre lies at about 840 m above sea level, but some parts are even as high as 1000 m above sea level on the slopes of Gubałówka - a hill that surrounds it from the south.
Zakopane is a town commune. It neighbours on Kościelisko and Poronin villages. It is not very far from the well-known villages of Bukowina Tatrzańska and Czarny Dunajec and the town of Nowy Targ.
Zakopane district is considered the most attractive tourist region in Poland. The Tatras, the hills of Podhale as well as the town itself are ideal places for walks or longer or shorter hikes. A walk around the town can be combined with visiting its monuments and other interesting places.
Advanced tourists can take trails along the ridges of The Zachodnie (Western) Tatras (e.g. from Kasprowy Wierch reached by cable car to the west, climb up Czerwone Wierchy, around Dolina Chochołowska) or trails in The High Tatras (from Kasprowy to Świnica, from Zakopane through Zawrat and Szpiglasowa Przełęcz to Morskie Oko, difficult trails of "Orla Perć", climb up Rysy). The trails in The Tatras are marked well with plates and colour stripes. In difficult areas there are special buckles, chains and even ladders. However, to use them you must not be afraid of heights, need to be fit and have good health.
In the Tatras you can also do some winter hiking. However, it requires high tourist qualifications, good equipment (clothes, boots, alpenstock and crampons) and good skills in using them. You should take your first steps under supervision of some qualified Tatra guides.
The Tatra National Park has made some trails available for cyclists. These are Droga Pod Reglami, Dolina Chochołowska and Suchej Wody Gąsienicowej, trail to Kalatówki.
The Tatras are high mountains and can be dangerous. You must always remember about the changeability of the weather - even in midsummer there may be some snowfall, beautiful sunny weather may turn to thick confusing fog. Another serious danger is storms; when you see there is going to be a storm you must take the nearest trail down from the ridge to the lower areas. When planning climbs in the higher parts of the mountains you should ask some experienced people for advice or hire a guide. In case of an accident you should call for help by using the international signal - light or voice signals six times a minute. The injured or lost in the Tatras are rescued by TOPR which uses a helicopter if necessary.
Zakopane can be a starting point for longer trips - to the Gorce Mountains, to Babia Góra and to the Pieniny Mountains. On such trips you can find unique monuments in the nearby villages: Chochołów, Dębno, Orawka and Zubrzyca (heritage park). Another attraction is rafting along the gorge of the Dunajec River in the Pieniny Mountains, which has been popular for 150 years.
Although Zakopane is known mainly as a tourist and winter sports centre, it also plays an important role in Polish culture. Before the First World War it was visited by the most famous people of divided Poland. After the war many artists decided to settle down here. The Tatras attracted such famous musicians, writers and artists as Ignacy Paderewski, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Karol Szymanowski, Stanisław Witkiewicz, his son Stanisław Ignacy and many others. Today in Zakopane there are numerous artist studios, galleries and one of the best-known theatres in Poland named "Witkacy" after Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz. Zakopane hosts music festivals, serial artistic events and film and theatre festivals.
Zakopane is also a place where people cultivate their own culture - songs, dances, local dialect and highlander craftsmanship. There are many folk groups supported by the local authorities. There is also "Tatrzański Ośrodek Swojszczyzny" - The Tatra Local Culture Centre.
For a few dozen years Zakopane has hosted Międzynarodowy Festiwal Folkloru Ziem Górskich (International Highlanders Folklore Festival) - the oldest and one of the biggest folk events in Poland and one of the best-known festivals of this kind in the world.