Julie Poland, Slovakia 14 Comments

The High Tatras are a mountain range that span the border between Poland and Slovakia. This region attracts hikers in the summer and skiers in the winter and is rapidly increasing in popularity. You can visit the High Tatras from Poland or Slovakia. Which one you choose depends on your traveling style and how much time you have to spend here.

Quick Facts About the Tatra Mountains

The Tatras are located in the Carpathian Mountains. The Carpathian Mountains are the second longest mountain range in Europe, stretching from the Czech Republic, across Poland and Slovakia, to Serbia, Romania, and Moldova.

The highest peak in the Tatras (and the Capathian Mountains) is Gerlachovsky štít at 2,655 meters. Lomnicky štít (2,633 meters), the third highest peak in the Carpathian Mountains, is easily accessible from a cable car in Slovakia.

If you are planning to hike the Tatras, the best time to do so is from June 15 through September. Some trails will remain open until the end of October, depending on snowfall.

The Tatras are quickly growing as a popular hiking destination in Europe. Many sources list this as an off-the-beaten-path destination, but that’s not necessarily the case. It can still be a very busy place during the summer months, especially Zakopane, Poland. The Tatras may not get the same crowd levels as other hiking destinations in Europe, but the trails in the Tatras can be quite busy during the summer months.

High Tatras in July

Zelene Pleso in Slovakia

Poland or Slovakia?

When visiting the Tatras, you can do so from either Zakopane, Poland or from Slovakia. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of visiting the Tatras from either place.

Zakopane, Poland

Zakopane is a large town in southern Poland that sits right at the foothills of the Tatras. For most people, this is the gateway into the Tatras since it easy to get to and located near a major city (Krakow).

The Good

It’s Located near Krakow

Because of its close proximity to Krakow, Zakopane can be visited on a day trip. It takes 1.5 to 2 hours to travel between Krakow and Zakopane, so it is possible to visit the Tatras on a day trip from Krakow. You can join a one-day tour or rent a car and set off on your own.

If you have limited time in Poland, it only takes one extra day to “squeeze in” the Tatras (and it’s worth it!).

You can Use Public Transportation to Get Here

The easiest way to get to Zakopane is by car. It takes 1.5 to 2 hours to drive from Krakow to Zakopane.

However, if you don’t have a car, there are numerous options to get to Zakopane by public transportation: take the bus, take the train, or join a tour. Click here to learn more about using public transportation.

More Hotel and Restaurant Options

Zakopane has been a popular destination in Poland for quite some time. With that, the town has slowly expanded and has a well-established tourist infrastructure and an abundance of restaurants and hotels to choose from.

View of Zakopane

A view of Zakopane and the Tatras on the drive down from Krakow.

 Hiking Trail Polish Tatras

Hiking trail to Czarny Staw in Poland.

 

Best Zakopane Hike

Hiking in the Polish Tatras.

The Bad

Busier and More Touristy

With Zakopane’s popularity, it is also busier and more touristy. Traffic jams between Krakow and Zakopane are very common during the summer months.

There is one cable car that you can take up into the mountains, the Kasprowy Wierch cable car, and during the summer months, expect massive lines and hours of waiting in line to board the cable car.

In our experience, the hiking trails were much more crowded on the Polish side of the Tatras.

Line for the Cable Car

The line to board the Kasprowy Wierch cable car.

 

The Cable Car Line

Another view of the line.

The High Tatras of Slovakia

On the Slovakian side of the Tatras, take your pick from several small towns as your home base. It takes longer to get to the Tatras of Slovakia, but it is quieter, less crowded, and less touristy on this side of the Tatras.

The Good

It is Less Crowded

Since it takes longer to drive to the High Tatras of Slovakia, there are fewer people here. And since it does not work as a day trip option from Bratislava or Krakow, day trippers do not to add to the crowd levels.

The trails are less crowded and the lines for the cable cars are much shorter. It feels more peaceful on this side of the mountain range.

If you want a fantastic hiking destination away from the crowds, it is worth the extra time to drive to the Slovakian side of the Tatras.

More Hiking Options

The hiking options on both the Polish side and the Slovakian side of the Tatras are phenomenal. However, we felt like there were more options to choose from on the Slovakian side.

In Slovakia, there are multiple cable cars that you can ride up into the mountains. This makes hiking accessible for many people. By eliminating the first major climb, cable cars save you lots of time and effort. Spend your time up on the mountain peaks, and then hike or ride the cable cars back into town. And with several to choose from, you spend several days exploring the Slovakian side by riding the cable cars and going on short hikes.

The Hiking Trails are More Dramatic

Again, the hiking is amazing in both countries. But the majority of the Tatras mountain range is located on the Slovakian side, so if you really want to hike high into the mountains and witness some dramatic scenery, the Slovakias side is ideal.

From Slovakia, you can ride a cable car from Tatranská Lomnica to Lomnicky štít, the third highest peak in the Tatras. Hike to the peak of Rysy, the tallest peak of Poland, from the Slovakia side of the High Tatras. You can also summit Gerlachovsky štít, the highest mountain in the High Tatras, if you hire a certified mountain guide.

High Tatras

Hiking to Zelene Pleso in Slovakia.

Hiking in July

Hiking trail in Slovakia.

Buildings in Slovakia

A hotel in the High Tatras of Slovakia.

The Bad

It’s More Remote

The High Tatras of Slovakia are more remote than Zakopane. The closest city is Krakow, 2.5 hours away by car. The next closest city is Bratislava, but that is over 3 hours away by car. Poprad is a small city that is located near the High Tatras. It is possible to take a flight here but your options will be limited. 

You can get here by public bus or train, but to do so, expect several transfers along the way.

The most convenient way to tour the High Tatras of Slovakia is by car, although you can also get around by bus.

Not a Great Day Trip Option

From Krakow and Bratislava, the High Tatras of Slovakia are not a great day trip option since it takes longer to get here.

However, there is an advantage to this. This helps keep crowds lower since you need to stay here in order to hike the trails.

If you are staying in Zakopane, you can day trip to the Slovakian side. From Zakopane, it only takes one hour to drive to Tatranská Lomnica, one of several small towns that sit at the foothills of the High Tatras.

It Takes More Time

Since a day trip to the Slovakian Tatras from Bratislava or Krakow is not a great option, you will need to spend several days here. Two days are just enough to hike one or two trails and ride a cable car into the mountains. Three days is better and four or more days would be perfect.

We spent 3 days on the Slovakian side and I wish that we had another day or two. There is so much to do here, especially if you are an avid hiker. Plus, a little more time gives you “contingency days,” just in case you get rainy weather or cloudy days (those clouds hide the mountain peaks and your views once you get up there).

Slovakia Hike

Hiking to Rysy in Slovakia.

So, Which One Do You Choose?

If you only have the time or the desire to get a glimpse of the Tatras, the easiest way to do it is on a day trip from Krakow to Zakopane.

If you are dependent on public transportation, you’ll have an easier time getting to Zakopane than Slovakia.

If you want a quieter, less crowded experience, visit the Tatras of Slovakia.

If you are an avid hiker, the Slovakian Tatras give you more options and are more dramatic.

If you have three or more days, go to both. Both are wonderful. We really loved the hike we did to Koscielec. I’m bummed we missed hiking to Swinica Peak (the trail was closed during our visit) but Koscielec was a wonderful consolation prize. The emerald green lakes, the wildflowers, the mountain huts…it was hiking paradise.

But we also loved the smaller, quieter towns in Slovakia, more hikes to vividly green alpine lakes, and the views across the mountain range in the Tatras of Slovakia. Because of its quieter, more off-the-beaten-path feel, we preferred the Slovakian side over Zakopane.

High Tatras from Poland or Slovakia

The view from Koscielec in the Polish Tatras.

How to Have the Best of Both Worlds

If you have three or more days, here’s how you could spend your time.

Day 1: Get a very early start (leave by 7 am) and drive to Zakopane from Krakow. Hike the Tatras on the Polish side, have dinner in Zakopane, and drive to Tatranska Lomnica or one of the other towns in Slovakia (I hour, 54 km).

Day 2, 3 & 4: Hike the High Tatras on the Slovakian side and/or ride the cable car to Lomnicky štít (if the skies are clear).

Return to Krakow or continue to Bratislava.

Hike Slovakia

Zelene Pleso in the High Tatras of Slovakia.


Are you planning a trip to the High Tatras? Comment below if you have any questions.

More Information for Your Trip to Poland and Slovakia:

Planning a trip to Poland or Slovakia? Read all of our articles in our Poland Travel Guide or Slovakia Travel Guide.

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High Tatras Poland and Slovakia

 

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Comments 14

  1. Thanks for all this great info.
    We like to travel and explore. Staying for a while, days hiking, few days trekking (not extreme), experience both nature and culture.
    We think of traveling to Slovakia this summer for 3-4 weeks!!! Is it not to much?
    thank you

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      Author

      3 to 4 weeks sounds like a lot of time to me. You will definitely have some days with leisurely time. In my opinion, 1 to 2 weeks here would be very nice. With the other two weeks, you could go into Poland or explore some of the Czech Republic (some time in Saxon Switzerland would be nice if you haven’t been here yet). Cheers, Julie

  2. I recommend a very helpful Youtube channel “A chodzze na pole!” They have a lot of great videos. They describe in detail the trails in the Polish Tatras, also have English subtitles.

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      Author
  3. I am a guide, photographer and author of books on Slovakia and here are some facts from me. It’s a bit like comparing Germany being a large country with a huge population and small part of the Alps with much smaller neighbouring countries of Switzerland or Austria with small populations but a huge share of the Alps. The same goes for Poland vs Slovakia.

    1. In Poland the High Tatras are the only big mountain range and compared to the large size of the country, they cover a very small area encompassing just a few valleys.
    2. Slovakia is just a little larger than Switzerland and similarly it is mostly a very mountainous country where the High Tatras are just one of many mountain ranges.
    3. Poland has 23% of the High Tatras, while Slovakia 77%.
    4. But Poland has 38 mil. inhabitants, while Slovakia 5,4 mil.

    So when you take into consideration all of these factors it becomes clear why the Polish side is “busy”, if crowded has a negative connotation. For millions of Poles Zakopane is the place to go. That’s why it’s grown into a busy city. On the other hand the few Slovaks have a wider choice to go to in the High Tatras plus all of the other mountain ranges and national parks with resorts to go to. So that explains the observations the author of the article has made.

    Here is an explanation for a different development of the Polish and Slovak side of the High Tatras. On the Slovak side the oldest resort is Stary Smokovec (then Alt-Schmecks in German) established in the 1700s as a spa resort. The dynamic development started in 1871 when the railway reached the wide valley just below the High Tatras and the town of Poprad (size of Zakopane). In the subsequent decades a string of resort towns were established high upnthe mountains all connected by cog railways with each other as well as with the main line. This way the High Tatras were easily reachable by the 1890s by train from Vienna, Budapest and Prague – the then centers of the Austro-Hungarian empire and the aristocracy and the new industrialists started flocking to the High Tatras where a massive development of villas, luxury hotels and sanatoria would take place. At that time it was the St. Moritz of Austria-Hungary as there was nothing comparable on such a scale in what is now Austria. In short it was developed for the elite with a lot of space around the buildings usually set in parks. It was not meant to be crowded in the first place nor to become a city. These people were fleeing the crowded cities and preferred quiet and nature in the High Tatras without sacrificing the luxury of their palaces.

    As for the accessibility of the Slovak High Tatras: In 10-20 min drive from all resort towns you are at the Poprad-Tatry (TAT) airport (the highest elevated airport in Europe with regular flights) with direct flights to London. Furthemore, it is a 1 hour 15 min motorway drive to Slovakia’s second largest city Kosice with an airport (KSC) servicing major destinations in Europe.

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      Author
  4. Dear “Earth Trekkers”, you wrote that “Zakopane has been a popular destination in Poland for quite some time”… Well, this is true, but an understatement 🙂
    Zakopane has been a fashionable resort for 150 years or so. The mountaineering tradition is especially rich and long here – interestingly, TOPR (Tatra Volunteer Search & Rescue) of Zakopane is one of the oldest mountain rescue assocs in the world. Already in 1899 the railway has reached Zakopane , making it easier to reach: Zakopane became known as „the winter capital of Poland”. 🙂

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      Author
      1. Sure, me, I’ve been traveling a bit, too, and always valued comments from locals, so decided to post on Zakopane. Fingers crossed for your next travels accross the World (including my country, i.e. Poland). Best and take care.

  5. I love this post! We visited Zakopane and actually walked across the border into Slovakia and went to a little town called Sucha Hora for lunch. I wish we had allowed more time to do some of the hikes !!

  6. I am from Slovakia and currently living in Poland. I would recommend both sides. Polish part of Tatra’s is cheaper, but Slovak part have nicer mountains and higher hike routes. Better to take more days for hiking and see both sides. 🙂

  7. Hi, after reading through forums, including your extremely good, easy to read post, I am struggling to choose between either the following:

    1. Taking the bus to Lysa Polana and hiking to Bielovodská Dolina in Slovakia.

    or a hike from either:

    2. tatry zachodnie

    3. kościelisko

    4. chochołowska

    5. Skrzyczne

    6. Gubalowka

    7. dolina pięciu stawów polskich

    The plan would be to leave by bus from Kracow on Friday morning 19th July and hope to get a bus back to Krakow on Saturday evening 20th July or Sunday morning to avoid the Sunday traffic.

    We can manage approx 5 – 6 hours hiking. Love forests, vegetation and rivers.

    As it is busy in July we are hoping to try and get away from the crowds as we are looking for peace and quiet. We will rely on public transport.

    If you have any recommendations of places to stay, transport, and quietest hikes for the Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, please let me know. Thank you so much.

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      Author

      If you are relying on transportation and coming from Krakow, Zakopane is a great place to make your home base. The hike to Koscielec is great but it is challenging. However, you can take the Kasprowy Wierch cable car up into the mountains and hike back down to town from here. Seeing the lakes of Czarny Staw and Dlugi Staw are very nice. Right at the base of the cable car are stands selling maps, it’s a good idea to buy one of these before you hike so you know where to go.

      If you don’t mind traveling further from Krakow, you could continue into Slovakia. I preferred this side of the Tatras more because it was quieter. We stayed in Tatransky Lomnica and you again can take a cable car up and hike down from the mountains. Check out our article about this great hike we did. I am not familiar with everything on your list but I’m fairly certain that you will see #7 on the Koscielec hike in Poland. It will be wonderful, whether you choose Zakopane or Slovakia. Cheers, Julie

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