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Zakopane is the perfect white Christmas destination in Europe! A Zakopane Christmas is an experience everyone should have at least once! With everything from Christmas markets, Polish traditions and celebrations to take you right through December and into the New Year!
Our Zakopane Christmas
While a white Christmas is very much the way things are year after year for many places around the world, here in Australia it is all sunshine and often very hot weather.
We are more likely to be swimming in the pool or at the beach than having snowball fights.
So like many fellow Aussies, we always dreamed of that magical ‘White Christmas’ experience one day. But where do you go for White Christmas?
Lucky for us we made it happen a few years ago with a European White Christmas, during a 6-week family trip to Europe.
Simon’s parents said they were heading back to Poland for Christmas, so we jumped at the chance to go too. This meant experiencing our first White Christmas in Zakopane, and it could not have been a more perfect place for it.
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The Perfect White Christmas Destination
Our white Christmas holiday took us from Paris, where I saw my first snow… EVER! Although it was light and not so unlike thick rain. It was just after we had been to the top of the Eiffel Tower to admire the somewhat foggy views.
Next, our trip took us to Germany, mostly through the Bavarian area where we finally saw the snow-covered ground.
We spent our days and nights wandering through the different Christmas markets, eating delicious food and tasting the mulled wine in our novelty boot mugs.
Finally, it was on to Poland. First to Krakow for a couple of days, before heading on to Zakopane – the place we would experience our first Zakopane Christmas.
We stayed in a massive private home which accommodated all 6 of us, plus the 8 friends who joined us in Zakopane from Australia.
For a couple of them, they have had their share of many white Christmas memories, having grown up in Poland before moving to Australia, but for the rest of us, we were beyond excited!
Don’t forget to pack the essentials for winter in Europe! Check out our winter packing list loaded with tips.
Our White Christmas in Zakopane
Being only a couple of days before Christmas when we arrived in Poland, we spent a big part of our first full day at the Zakopane Christmas market, buying each other small gifts to wrap under the Christmas tree, and of course, buying the supplies for our Christmas day feast.
There is a massive permanent marketplace in Zakopane which has some really beautiful and unique traditional Polish souvenirs, along with clothing and accessories, food and more.
You can easily lose yourself for a couple of hours wandering the aisles and shopping away part of the day, just like we did.
At Christmas time there are a lot of pop up market stalls along the main street as well, selling roasted nuts and delicious treats, or Christmas wares and gifts.
The market is at the end of the main street, below Mount Gubalowka. Of course, it is a great place to find a lot of traditional Polish food too and don’t forget those festive desserts.
However, there are several supermarkets around Zakopane too, stocking all the Zakopane food essentials and drinks for the festivities.
Read next: The Must Try Food in Poland
For Christmas Eve we spent the morning exploring Mount Gubalowka, riding up the funicular and checking out the incredible views.
It was so cold but so beautiful and quiet since most people were home preparing for the big Christmas Eve feasts – Wigilia.
Mount Gubalowka is one of the smaller Tatra Mountains that surround Zakopane.
Make sure you find time to go visit Kasprowy Wierch though, as it is magnificent!
Wigilia – Polish Christmas Eve Supper
That night we went to a neighbouring home for a traditional Wigilia – the Polish Christmas Eve feast.
The home was set up like a restaurant so there were a few other families there also. Most from other parts of Europe – Russia and Ukraine.
Several restaurants in Zakopane offer Wigilia options for tourists so you can enjoy this special tradition during your stay.
Following dinner, we headed back to our accommodation and exchanged gifts.
The tradition in Poland and many other European countries is to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve, before heading to midnight mass at Church.
Pasterka – Midnight Mass
Zakopane on Christmas Eve is a fascinating sight to experience. Almost every person in Zakopane can be seen out walking towards the church, for midnight mass.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it from quiet deserted streets to hundreds of people trekking through the snow together, united on this special celebration.
Christmas Day In Zakopane
The next morning we were up and preparing food, ready for our Zakopane Christmas brunch.
There were lots of the traditional foods we are familiar with already, having a heavy Polish influenced Christmas back home each year also.
But for some of our Australian friends, this was all very new and exciting to experience for the first time!
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We feasted for hours, laughed and enjoyed one another’s company before the afternoon rolled around.
Some of us decided to take a stroll through town and walk off some of that hearty Christmas food.
It began to snow soon into our walk and even though it was only early afternoon. It was already getting so dark. But that didn’t stop us.
Simon and I, along with his two much younger brothers ended up having a blast in the snow. Snowball fights, snow angels and just random silliness. We were laughing so hard and having the time of our lives.
When it was dark, we headed back for a relaxing evening of left overs and good company, after experiencing the magic of our first white Christmas in Zakopane.
Read next: 17 Best places to visit in Poland
Our white Christmas was before we had our kids, instead enjoying it through the eyes of a couple of our younger travel companions.
But we know we will be returning for another Christmas in Zakopane, as it is the perfect place for kids with so many things to do in Zakopane and just a really beautiful place in the world.
Sylwester – New Years Eve In Zakopane
Just like Christmas Eve, many restaurants in the centre of town put on New Years’ Eve celebrations that are a must-do if you are staying for the entire time.
We had planned to spend our evening taking a horse and carriage into the forest for a concert and bonfire, however, it was booked out. We did this the night before instead, so if you want to do this BOOK EARLY! So much fun!
Instead, we booked a table at a restaurant in town and enjoyed a night of music, food and drink that just kept coming and coming, and a perfect view of fireworks just outside our windows.
Complete chaos but in the best possible way!
Sylwester in Zakopane is an experience you will never forget!
After our time in Zakopane, we headed on to Bialystok for a few days, spending time with the extended family and enjoying some time away from the big tourist areas in Poland, followed by Warsaw then onto Australia.
Getting to Zakopane
Zakopane is only around an hour from Krakow on the bus so it even makes a great day trip if you aren’t staying overnight.
There is plenty of opportunity for skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing and enjoying the general winter vibe of this winter wonderland!
We caught the Krakow to Zakopane bus but must have been so super unlucky on the day as it broke down halfway and we had to wait for a backup bus.
Usually, it’s a super quick trip though for starting your Zakopane holidays!
Once in Zakopane, you can get around most places on foot as the town itself is not huge. There are also buses to take you for day trips outside of Zakopane.
Accommodation in Zakopane
If you are planning on Christmas in Zakopane, or just a visit any time of the year, a holiday home might be your perfect option.
The best option is to book an apartment or private home like we did so you can feel at home while away.
If you prefer to stay in a hotel, find other Zakopane accommodation via Tripadvisor or Hotels Combined, which allow you to compare the best rates.
For more ideas on what to do when visiting Zakopane at Christmas, or any time of the year, check out our Zakopane things to do guide.
We have included things to do in both Zakopane winter and summer, plus the seasons in between!
- Book your flights – We use WayAway or Skyscanner to research and book flights. You can set up a price alert for your travel dates, plus it compares most major airlines in one place.
- Book your Accommodation – We use Booking.com or Hotels Combined to book most of our hotel accommodation when we travel.
- Travel Insurance – World Nomads have insurance plans to suit all types of trips.
- Book your rental car – Compare the best car hire prices for your trip.
- Book your tours & attractions – Our favourite attraction and tour booking services are Get Your Guide and Viator. Booking ahead will mean you don’t miss out on popular tours!
Looking for more ideas on where to spend a white Christmas with the family? Check out these beautiful destinations where you are almost guaranteed snow for Christmas! And check out these magical Christmas markets in Europe too.
This guide has been updated in 2022.