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Scenic trails and cheap travel: This eastern European mountain town is a budget hiker’s paradise

The Tatra Mountains are a hiker's paradise.
The Tatra Mountains are a hiker's paradise. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Euronews Travel
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Escape to the Tatra Mountains this summer for scenic hikes and highland bites.

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Lazy days of sunbathing by the ocean aren’t for everyone. If you prefer an active summer holiday, skip the beaches for Europe’s mountains.

At the foot of the Tatra Mountains, Zakopane is a favourite weekend escape for Krakow locals.

In winter, skiing and sleigh rides draw crowds of tourists to Zakopane - but it’s just as worthy of a trip in summer.

Just over two hours’ drive from Poland’s second city, this picturesque resort town is packed with adventure - from hiking through protected national parkland to rafting down the Dunajec Gorge.

Here’s how to explore this mountain gem on a budget.

What to do in Zakopane: From folklore festivals to cable cars

Part of the Carpathian Mountains, which divide Poland and Slovakia, the Tatras have no shortage of scenic trails, pine forests and lakes, like the crystal clear Morskie Oko.

Swimming in the lakes is forbidden due to their delicate ecosystems, but you can hit up thermal baths like Bukovina and Terma Bania, or take to the water on a Dunajec River rafting trip - around an hour’s drive from Zakopane.

If you like a side of culture with your active vacation, plan your trip to Zakopane around the International Festival of Highland Folklore. Held at the start of August, the annual event sees the streets come to life with highland music, dancers, craftspeople and food.

Once you’ve had your fill of fried trout, Oscypek smoked cheese and kwaśnica - sauerkraut and slow-cooked pork or mutton soup - burn it off on a hike to the top of Mount Kasprowy Wierch. Here, you can wander through flower fields as you breathe the crisp mountain air before hopping on the breathtaking cable car back down.

To see more panoramic views without getting worn out, take the Gubałówka Funicular from the end of Zakopani’s main hub, Krupowki Street - where you can grab a hard-earned beer as you dodge the tourist touts come evening.

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The Tatra Mountains are beautiful in summer.Canva

Visit Zakopane for adventure on a budget

Zakopane is popular with locals but remains lesser known among foreign tourists. As a result, it’s still possible to visit on a budget.

You can enjoy a traditional Polish meal for under €5 at Marzanna. In the summer garden of Bąkowo Zohylina Niźno, mains cost between €5-10, while a beer costs €1.55. At the fine-dining Restauracja Halka, mains cost between €10-25.

One-way tickets on the Gubałówka Funicular cost €4 or €5.30 for a return, while the pricier Kasprowy Wierch cable car costs €24 one way and €28 return. Dunajec rafting trips cost from around €22.

For the full outdoor experience, you can camp near Zakopane for under €5. Accommodation ranges from around €30 for local lodges to €80 and upwards for luxury spa hotels.

Visit during weekdays to avoid the crowds and secure lower prices.

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Hike through flower fields and pine forests in the Tatra Mountains.Canva

How to get to Zakopane

The closest airport to Zakopane is Poprad-Tatry, which is around an hour’s drive south, while Krakow is about two hours’ drive north.

The best way to get from Krakow to Zakopane is by train, which takes two to three hours and costs as little as €3 each way.

A direct coach from Krakow to Zakopane costs from around €7.50 one way, while a taxi costs around €100.

A EuroNight sleeper train links Prague and other Czech cities with Krakow from €29.

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