Slovakia has slipped quietly but assuredly into the world of outdoor adventures, a bit like its indigenous chamois, a precious protected species that wanders freely in the country’s High Tatras Mountains. If you spend a week hiking Slovakia’s High Tatras, or longer if you aim to summit Mount Gerlach, the country’s highest peak at 2,655m, you may have a chance of spotting one. You can also leap into Slovakia on a walking holiday in Poland, or shimmy in from Austria on a bike and boat trip down the Danube.
On one of our most popular Slovakia cycling tours, you start in Poland and segue smoothly into Slovakia’s natural playground by crossing the natural border of Dunajec River Gorge. However, Slovakia is growing into so much more than a day trip, with keen natural adventurers starting to see Slovakia for what it still is. A well kept secret.
Where to go
This colossal limestone landscape forms a natural border between northern Slovakia and Poland, with one of the most beautiful crossings being the dramatic 200m cliffs of Dunajec river gorge. Each country has protected their peaks with national parks and, on this tour of both Poland and Slovakia, you hike into the heart of Slovakia’s Tatras, and stay in Ždiar, one of the mountains’ oldest settlements. For a superb view of the Tatras, visit Bachledka Treetop walk in Slovakia’s Pieniny National Park. Or, for hiking Slovakia on its own, head to the magnificent lakes or highest peaks of the country’s Tatras National Park.
Slovak Paradise National Park
This is quite different to the Tatras’ towering peaks and ridges, and is a greener, more lush hiking experience, accessible from the gateway town of Spišská Nová Ves. Located in the north-east, Slovak Paradise (Slovenský raj) is a landscape of canyons and caves, waterfalls and what feels like an obstacle course of ladders, bridges and chains to get you from one point to the next. There are also over 300km of marked trails to help you ponder paradise.
This is not only the nearest airport to access Slovakia’s Tatras Mountains, it is also a mountain town in its own right, and a medieval one at that. If you are hiking Slovakia’s high peaks, or the Tatras lakelands, you’ll be popping into Poprad. Its historic centre, Spišská Sobota, is small but perfectly formed with baroque architecture and lively cafes. The town also has a spiritual side with churches galore, Co-Cathedral of Our Lady of Sorrows being the leading lady. Before the mountains beckon, and they are easy to access via cable car from nearby Tatranská Lomnica, don’t miss the geothermal and giant spa, Aquacity.
Biking and bobbing your way through Bratislava, Slovakia’s medieval capital, is one of the most exciting ways to see this most underrated of European great cities. Just one of several capitals that you stop at, in fact on a Danube bike and boat holiday. Bratislava not only has the Danube flowing through it, but also a Baroque castle as its centrepiece, the historic St Michael’s Street and quieter and delightful Kapitulská Street, or the contemporary art museum, Danubiana, on an island in the Danube. Choose between an eight day holiday or 15 days sauntering along the Blue Danube the green way.
Things to do
- Seek out some serious Slovakian summits in the Tatras Mountains. No longer just a country to pass through, Slovakia also has some passes to conquer. On our self-guided hiking Slovakia tour, some of the spectacular heights to head for include Velka Svistovka (2,037m), with an optional guided day hike to Gerlachovský štít, or Mount Gerlach (2,655m), Slovakia’s highest peak. You will also be staying in the mountain resort of Tatranská Lomnica, in the shadow of Mount Lomnicky, the second highest mountain in Slovakia at 2,632m, accessible by cable car from the town.
- Between the gorges of the Tatras Mountains and the luscious landscapes of Slovak Paradise National Park, go chasing waterfalls on our Slovakia tours. While hiking to the mountain town of Starý Smokovec, for example, on our Slovakian Alps and Lakes and Valleys walking holidays, you come across Obrovský vodopád, translated quite simply as Giant Waterfall, as well as four waterfalls tumbling into one another for 1.5m at Cold Water Creek. The 25m-high Skok Waterfall in the Mlynická Valley is also a joy. In Slovak Paradise National Park, you need to follow the park’s chains and ladders to seek out a real bit of paradise at Zavojovy Waterfall, plummeting for 75m.
- Look out for wildlife in the Tatras Mountains, in particular the rare and endemic Tatra chamois, which is the national emblem of Slovakia, and recognisable by its black facial stripes. You are unlikely to see them, but brown bears are now settling back into Slovakia, having been almost made extinct in the 1930s. There is thought to be a population of around 1,200, with over a hundred in Tatras National Park. Other wildlife to watch out for includes wild boar, deer, marmots and, if you are very lucky, the elusive wolf or lynx.
Responsible travel tips
- Hopefully you will meet some Goral people on our Slovakia hiking tours, an indigenous community of the Tatras Mountains, known as the Highlanders, with fascinating ancient culture based on mountain living, shepherding, log cabin-style architecture as well as a unique folk art, music, costumes and dance. For many years the Goral people led a nomadic lifestyle in the Carpathians, and now, as settled communities, they strive to protect their heritage, and tourism plays an important role in this.
- Bring a reusable water bottle to avoid plastic, as tap water is generally safe in Slovakia. Be wary of mountain water, however, and use a filtered water bottle such as Water to Go to ensure it is free of any toxins.
- Being bear aware is an important part of being a responsible hiker, however, and although their default status is to stay well clear of humans, they must never be provoked. When walking through dense forest, make some noise so that bears know you are about, talking loudly, singing or clapping your hands from time to time. And avoid having a teddy bear’s picnic in remote, densely forested locations. In addition, check out Slovakia’s mountain safety organisation, and have their rescue number, 112, on your phone.
- Slovakia’s cities don’t rank positively in terms of air pollution, and so avoid contributing to that by taking public transport when you can. You can also turn your Slovakia hiking adventure into an even more exciting journey by taking the train there. One of the best routes is via Paris and Vienna, with more details available on the train guru, Mark Smith’s Man in Seat 61 website.