On a cool spring day, under the warm blue sky, I set out hiking along jagged peaks, through forests of tall spruce and Scots pine trees. Along gushing rivers I walked, past waterfalls so intense that I couldn’t hear my own jumbled thoughts. A wild fox ran past me on the trail, stopped just a few feet away and turned to face me before darting off; my heart skipped a few beats as I thought: damn, I’m hiking alone in the High Tatras of Slovakia!
I’ve been lucky enough to hike through some incredible landscapes in Europe. The alpine Berchtesgaden National Park of Germany, the Tyrol region of Austria and the stunning Julian Alps of Slovenia. But the High Tatras of Slovakia felt different. Think rugged beauty, solitude on the trails with only wild creatures to keep me company, locals who speak not a word of English, the lingering traces of a communist past, the surreal feeling of being somewhere far off the beaten path.
Why visit the High Tatras of Slovakia?
Dramatic mountain landscapes, wildflower-filled meadows, fields of blooming yellow rapeseed flowers, jagged peaks often clad in mist, pristine rivers and waterfalls, wooded hiking trails – need I say more? I fell in love with the High Tatras – designated the “Tatra National Park” – not just for their surreal beauty, but also because they’re perfect to hike solo and independently.
Truth be told, writing this post makes me feel pretty conflicted. On the one hand, I worry that its pristine beauty might no longer remain if word got around. But on the other, I think the only way to combat overtourism is to spread out, travel in search of our own paradise (for believe me, it exists) and in the quest, realise what we’ve got to lose if we don’t travel responsibly.
Tatra Mountains hiking: Best short hiking trails in Slovakia
Although hiking trails in the Tatra Mountains are well-marked, I recommend getting a hiking map in Poprad, the main town, and figuring out which hikes you plan to do. The folks at the tourist information office in the central area of Poprad speak great English and are very helpful!
Hriebienok to Zamkovskeho Chata / Teryho Chata
While Stary Smokovec is probably the most popular tourist settlement in the High Tatras, the real beauty of the mountains begins after Hriebienok – accessible through a one-hour uphill hike on a paved road or by the Tatry Motion Train, which costs 11 Euros for a return journey, runs every half hour, has a glass roof and climbs up the steep track in a few minutes.
The one-hour hiking trail from Hriebienok to Zamkovskeho Chata follows a wooded trail with stunning views, wooden bridges, a crystal clear river and a couple of gushing waterfalls. A wild fox crossed me on this hiking path, and I loved taking a little detour to chill at by the river. Chata is the Slovakian word for hut, and at Zamkovskeho Chata, I was delighted to find warm vegan lentil soup on a chilly afternoon. Two hours further, the trail leads up to the beautiful Teryho Chata with more rugged Tatra scenery on the way.
Hriebienok to Slavkovska vhyliadka
My Airbnb host recommended the longer and steeper trail from Hriebienok to Slavkovska Vhyliadka, which takes about 3 hours, and leads to what he believes is one of the most beautiful parts of the valley.
Strbske Pleso to Pleso Hincovo
While the walk around the glacial lake Strbske Pleso feels more urban than alpine, there are some spectacular hiking trails up to other glacial lakes like the biggest in the Slovakian High Tatras – Pleso Hincovo. This one takes about 3 hours one way and climbs up along beautiful forests and rugged mountain terrain; stop for snacks / drinks at the mountain hut Pri Popradskom Plese.
Slovak Paradise National Park
The gorgeous Slovak Paradise National Park – with alpine forests, waterfalls and rivers – is just half an hour from Poprad Tatry, though poorly connected by public transport. According to the tourist information office in the city centre, only one bus plies there at 10:30 am and back at 4:23 pm, which is how I got there. Taxis cost 12-15€ one way.
Sucha Bela is the most popular hike, but on a rainy day, I didn’t think doing it on my own was a good idea, considering it has a vertical gorge to be climbed with ladders, sheer drops into rivers / waterfalls and a one-way path so there’s no turning back. I would have loved some company to attempt this adventurous trail. Instead I picked the less adventurous blue trail through a quiet old forest.
Where to stay in the High Tatras of Slovakia
Given how little is written online about good accommodation in the High Tatras in Slovakia, I had a tough time deciding whether I should stay in Poprad, pick a mountain accommodation in the Tatras, splurge on a High Tatras hotel or find a Tatra mountain hut when I got there. I finally ended up staying at a family-run cabin on the outskirts of Poprad, in a small village with rapeseed fields and a stunning panorama of the High Tatras.
Poprad is a mountain city with a small green centre and stellar views of the High Tatras, but also has modern malls, fashion stores, two vegan-friendly cafes and even a co-working space! Poprad train station offers easy access to the mountain trails, with electric trains departing every hour from morning to night.
Where to stay in Poprad Tatry:
- Pension Barborka: This was my first pick in Poprad, but sadly sold out for my last-minute trip. Set in a historical building, this charming pension (the European equivalent of a guesthouse) is built primarily with wood and stone, and offers a traditional Slovakian experience; 30€ per night.
- “Lost in view” Airbnb: I ended up staying in this independent rustic cabin, hosted by a friendly Slovakian family, in a little village in the suburbs of Poprad. I had access to a kitchenette, fireplace, radio, old bicycle and stunning mountain vistas. But the bus connectivity was quite awful, Google Maps didn’t work well and the whole experience was quite DIY. I’d recommend it for seasoned travellers who’re happy to be on their own; 50€ per night.
- Hotel AquaCity Seasons: The only eco-luxury accommodation I came across in the High Tatras, part of the city’s famous AquaCity complex, powered entirely by geothermal water and solar energy. I met locals who said they travel all the way to Poprad from around Slovenia just to pamper themselves with a stay here, which also allows access to the geothermal pools and other wellness zones; 108€ per night.
- Apartment centrum n8: A gorgeous self-catering accommodation; quite a steal at 55€ for the entire apartment.
- Hotel 63: A cool, small, hip boutique hotel just off the city centre of Poprad; 40€ per night.
Nova Lesna is a small village, just 2 stops from Poprad Tatry on the way to Stary Smokovec – where many of the popular hikes in the High Tatras begin. Unlike Stary Smokovec and other mountain settlements which were specifically set up for tourists, Nova Lesna is a real village with a local population, a village centre, an old church, meadows with wildflowers in spring and majestic views on the High Tatras mountains.
I only spent my last afternoon exploring Nova Lesna, and left feeling like this is the village I’d stay in if I ever came back. It feels well off the beaten path, and although there are few options to stay and eat, it is only a short ride to Poprad and further up into the mountains.
Where to stay in Nova Lesna:
- Penzion Tri Klasy: I walked past this charming wood and stone family-run guesthouse and was quite smitten; 56€ per night.
- Villa Tatranit: A self-catering accommodation with friendly hosts, a well-equipped kitchnette and bicycles for hire; 100€ per night.
- Vila Zvonika: An ultra modern, luxurious, design villa if you’re in the mood to splurge on a mountain hideout; 130€ per night.
The furthest stop (and one of the most popular) on the Tatra Electric Railway line is Strbske Pleso – a glacial lake surrounded by a paved, wooded walking path, with a view of the mountains beyond. This is a good starting point for hikes to further glacial lakes.
Where to stay in Strbske Pleso:
- Apartment House Oliver: A beautifully designed and well-equipped self-catering apartment, rented as part of a small family-run setup; 99€ per night.
- Grand Hotel Kempinski High Tatras: A hot favorite among locals and visitors, Kempinski at Strbske Pleso is among the most luxurious Tatra Mountains accommodations, set in traditional buildings with stunning views over the glacial lake and High Tatras; 235€ per night.
Not on booking.com yet? Use my sign up link and get 10€ off your first stay.
Other High Tatras accommodations
- Bluebell: A cosy, budget homestay located in the stunning village of Mengusovce, with panoramic views of the High Tatras; 27€ per night.
- Mountain Hotel Bilikova Chata: If you want to be away from it all yet have creature comfort on a budget in the Slovakian mountains, this High Tatras hotel maybe for you. It’s located near Hriebienok, the starting point for some amazing hikes near Stary Smokovec – accessible only by hiking or the Tatry Motion train; 30€ per night.
- Villa Pod Gerlachom: This unique Tatra hut accommodation is a standalone wooden chalet, surrounded by the mountains and forests. Ideal if you’re travelling in a bigger group; 141€ per night.
Not on Airbnb yet? Use my sign up link and get 25€ off your first stay.
Bratislava to the High Tatras by public transport
The High Tatra mountains extend from Slovakia to Poland. From what I’ve heard, the Slovakian side is less developed and relative less visited- and that’s where I spent all my time.
While it’s possible to rent a car and drive, I prefer public transport for its convenience, value for money and eco-friendliness. The small mountain city of Poprad Tatry (casually called Poprad) is the gateway from Bratislava to the Tatra mountains – and it takes about 4 hours to get there by train.
I was quite surprised to notice that the train prices from Bratislava to Poprad in the High Tatras varied significantly on different websites; I found the best price on Slovakrail (14-17€ one way). The bus is slightly cheaper, but takes 9-11 hours for the same distance! The train journey from Bratislava to the High Tatras (Poprad) is quite spectacular, crossing rivers, mountains and meadows along the length of Slovakia.
Also read: The Joy of Slow Travel
Public transport in the High Tatras
From Poprad, the mountain settlements and hiking trails are accessible by the Tatra Electric Railways – single track, narrow gauge electric trains that run every hour. Of these settlements, Stary Smokovec and Strbske Pleso are the most popular; the one-way journey upto Stary Smokovec costs 1.5€ and further to Strbske Pleso 2€; an all day pass is available for 4€.
Tickets can be bought at the train stations in Poprad, Stary Smokovec and Strbske Pleso, and must be validated in the machine on the train. No one ever checked mine, but the fine for not having one if there’s a surprise check is 50€!
Solo travel in the High Tatras of Slovakia: Is it safe?
Even though few people speak English, I felt very safe living, hiking, eating and chilling alone in the High Tatras. The hiking trails are well-marked and easy to follow; the locals don’t smile often but do go out of their way to help (hello Balkans!); and I felt no threat cycling and hanging out all by myself, by gurgling streams and yellow fields, with no one around for miles, in the little villages between Poprad and Nova Lesna.
A smartass taxi driver did overcharge me by a couple of Euros in Poprad, when I missed the rare bus, but I learnt my lesson to be more careful with the starting rate on the meter.
A wild fox crossed me a few feet away while hiking, but seemed pretty harmless! This is also wild bear territory, so it’s best to be indoors after dark (which is post 8:30 pm on summer days); consult with local hosts on staying safe in the season you visit.
Also read: How I Conquer My Solo Travel Fears
Vegan food in the High Tatras, Slovakia
One of the reasons I decided to stay on the outskirts of Poprad was to have access to atleast some vegan food amid the meat-obsessed Slovaks. In retrospect, this isn’t necessary for two reasons: One, the train connectivity from the mountain settlements in the High Tatras to Poprad is much more frequent than buses to the city’s suburbs. And two, the food in Poprad isn’t too great so I ended up whipping basic quick meals with produce from the supermarket at home anyway.
Vegan food in Poprad
- Lahodnesti: A cool space with plenty of vegan options like smoothies, burgers, paninis, couscous etc. The smoothies were yum, but the rest a bit bland; my favorite was the Lahodnesti burger.
- VEG: Despite the unappetizing name, the space is quite cosy, with a bunch of vegan options like wraps, curry, kombucha, etc. I tried the quinoa tofu wrap which was decent, though could do with more flavor.
Vegan food in Stary Smokovec
- Zamkovskeho Chata: A 2 hours hike / Tatra Motion train + 1 hour hike from Stary Smokovec, this mountain hut offers one vegan option on their limited menu – a lentil soup with potato cubes, perfect after a hike on a chilly day.
- Soul: Located in Stary Smokovec close to the train station, I saw this restaurant advertising vegetarian meals, though I didn’t have the chance to check out whether they were vegan or what they entailed.
Other travel tips for the High Tatras
When to visit the High Tatras of Slovakia?
The shorter hikes in the High Tatras are accessible all year round. The longer trails further up into the mountains open only after the snow melts, typically from July to October. I was there in end May 2019, which felt like spring in Slovakia, with wildflowers in bloom. The weather forecast wasn’t accurate, so I had to stay prepared for both rain and strong sun on all days.
How long should you stay?
I spent five days exploring the Tatra mountains and could have easily stayed longer. I would recommend a minimum of three days.
How to travel responsibly in the High Tatras?
- Don’t buy plastic bottles. Carry a refillable bottle, drink tap water (safe to drink across Slovakia) and fill real glacial water from streams along the way.
- Use public transport. The electric trains run frequently, are very affordable and make for a unique experience on their own.
- Avoid popular hiking trails on weekends if you can. They are far more enjoyable with fewer people.
- Stick to the hiking trails. Don’t go crazy trying to get the perfect selfie!
- Fight the FOMO (fear of missing out) and slow down; take the time to really experience this incredible part of the world.
Our Escape Clause: 5 reasons to go hiking in the High Tatras of Slovakia
Adventurous Miriam: High Tatras: The place you’re overlooking but shouldn’t
Earth Trekkers: Hiking the High Tatras of Slovakia
Have you explored the High Tatras of Slovakia?
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