One of the highlights of our trip in Central Europe was visiting the High Tatras Slovakia in winter. Imagine craggy, snow covered peaks, rolling meadows, views for days, and charming little towns.
These Slovakia mountains are what made me want to go to Slovakia in the first place. We chose the town of Ždiar as our basecamp in the Tatra Mountains because it was easy to access via public transportation, had four downhill ski areas, and because I couldn’t figure out anywhere else to go.
Planning our Slovakia holidays was not as easy as it has been in other countries, but that’s part of why we wanted to go. It didn’t seem over-touristed, yet. In fact, we didn’t see any other Americans or Canadians for the first three weeks we were in Slovakia. It wasn’t until we got to Bratislava (an hour’s train ride from Vienna), that we heard the melodious accent of North Americans.
In this article, I want to help you plan your own trip to Slovakia in winter. I’ll share:
- Where the High Tatras are located
- Winter weather in Slovakia
- Things to do in the High Tatras in winter
- Places to visit in Tatry Slovakia in winter
- Where to stay in the High Tatras in winter
- How to get around the Slovakia High Tatras in winter
There are many things we loved about our winter holiday in Slovakia. One of those things is that traveling in Slovakia is much more affordable than most places in western Europe. It was even cheaper than Hungary and its Central European neighbors.
The High Tatra Mountains in Winter
The High Tatra Mountains (or High Tatras or Vysoke Tatry) is a mountain range along the border of northern Slovakia and southern Poland. It is a range in the Tatra Mountains chain, which in turn is part of the Carpathian Mountains.
We took advantage of High Tatras skiing (apline and Nordic), High Tatras hiking, and snowshoeing. It was the best part of our trip for me, because we were outside playing in the snow almost every day we stayed in Ždiar, Slovakia.
When we were in Banska Bystrica, we were in the Low Tatras, which is also a popular recreation spot. You can check out that article to find out about skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, and more in the Low Tatras.
Weather in the Slovakia High Tatras
Like weather in any mountain range, weather is variable in the High Tatras. We were there during a very dry January, which locals told us was becoming more and more common. “Global warming has come to Slovakia,” is a refrain I heard more than once.
The weather can change quickly throughout the day. Be ready for anything.
These two weather charts show average temperature and precipitation in Poprad. The higher you go in the mountains, the colder and snowier it will be.
Plan for winter conditions – cold and snowy. We had several sunny, bluebird days, and a couple gray days.
You can be prepared for mountain weather by:
- Dressing in layers. We wear long underwear, a midweight layer (like a fleece or wool shirt), and a soft-shell jacket. I usually have a lightweight down jacket, too because I get cold. Soft-shell pants, wool socks, mittens or gloves, insulated boots, and a hat complete the outfit.
- Changing your clothes before you are too cold or too warm.
- Making sure someone knows where you are going and when you expect to be back.
- Knowing emergency numbers and having a backup battery. My cell phone worked almost everywhere.
- Bringing plenty of water and food.
What to do in the Tatra Mountains, Slovakia
Since I needed a little help figuring out where to cross-country ski and snowshoe (and where to rent the gear) I enlisted Erik from Adventoura Slovakia.
This is an awesome company for many reasons, one of which is he picked us up right from our accommodation, took us to the rental place, and guided us while we skied and snowshoed.
Erik will totally set you up for a trip. If you tell him you are staying in Kosice or Bratislava, he’ll tell you which train to catch and pick you up at the station. I like easy.
Even though Slovakia travel can be tricky, we figured it out so you don’t have to. In each of our favorite things to do in Slovakia, I’ll share how to get there.
Cross Country Skiing in the High Tatras
Since cross country skiing is my favorite winter activity, I wanted to make sure we got to kick and glide in Slovakia.
Erik from Adventoura Slovakia picked us up at our apartment in Ždiar and drove us to Ski-Rent Ždiar to pick up our skis. The shop is in a wooden building painted in the traditional Ždiar colors and motifs. Our host told me that all the houses in Ždiar used to look like this.
From there we went to Magurka Ridge. The conditions weren’t ideal while we were there, but we had a great time anyway. The views from the ridge into the High Tatras on one side and Poland on the other were outstanding.
Erik told us a bit about the history of the area. People in Ždiar would sneak past border guards on the ridge to sell horses in Poland. This was during Communist times and these smugglers could make as much selling one horse (and not having to pay taxes) as they could working for a month.
You could also access this ridge by taking the chairlift to the top at Ski Centrum Strachan or Bachledka Sun and Sport. The trail along the ridge is around 10 kilometers.
I’d recommend you go cross-country skiing with Adventoura Slovakia for a richer experience.
(We were hosted on this cross-country ski adventure.)
Snowshoeing in the High Tatras
Once again we joined Erik for a day in the snow, but this time on snowshoes. We tromped across fields and picked our way through forests and up the ridge where we had skied the day before.
There was no way we would have known where to go – or even where to get snowshoes – without Erik. It was a real treat to spend the day in the sun with him again and take in the gorgeous Tatra views.
Erik was great with my kiddos (11 and 12 when we did this) and I think having a guide along gave at least one of them a little extra motivation he wouldn’t have had with me alone. If you are a parent, you know how a “new” person can bring out a whole different (easier) side to your child.
Definitely put snowshoeing with Adventoura Slovakia on your to-do list if you come to Slovakia in winter.
(We were hosted on this snowshoeing adventure.)
Part of why we chose Ždiar was because we wanted a Slovakia ski holiday. The four ski areas in the valley are not large. Three of them are downright tiny, and the fourth is small. In Montana and Idaho, we love skiing the little, local resorts so it was a perfect fit for us.
We chose Bachledka Sun and Sun, just south of Ždiar in Bachledova Dolina. There are free ski buses that run up and down the main roads through Ždiar and you just have to flag them down. It seems like they run every 15 minutes or so.
Slovakia ski resorts are just like anywhere else, so we had no trouble renting skis, buying a day pass, and finding the mid-mountain lodge for hot chocolate, beer, and snacks. We are intermediate skiers and could ski everything that was open and had a lot of fun doing it.
There is an incredible-looking tree-top walk at the top of the mountain. It was so foggy the day we went that we decided to skip it, but the views from up there would be amazing on a clear day. You pay an extra 10 euros or so to get in, and they have shoes to borrow so you don’t have to walk it in your ski boots.
Read about our Slovakia ski trip to Park Snow Donovaly here.
Winter Hiking in the High Tatras
If you know us, you know we had to get some Slovakia hiking in on our visit to the Tatras. Anders and I decided to hike to Green Lake (Zelené pleso Kežmarské) and a chateau (Chata pri Zelenom plese). It’s a popular winter walk, but we made it a loop and didn’t see anyone for part of the journey.
We hopped on the bus right outside our apartment and rode it to the Biela Voda stop (White Water Parking). We told the driver where we were going and he made sure to shout it out when we got to the stop. As the only non-locals on the bus, he must have known we needed extra help. It cost 1.60 euros each.
You can also drive there pretty easily. It costs about 6 euros to park and the lot fills up, at least in summer. We arrived around 9:30 a.m. on a winter weekday and it was half full.
In summer, you can get to Green Lake via a chairlift and hike from Tatranska Lomnica, but that route is inaccessible in winter.
We started following the snow packed road and the blue/white and yellow/white blazes. At the second big trail sign, we went right, to Vel’ke Bielo pleso. By going right here, we started a less popular loop. It was definitely steeper, longer, and more strenuous than following the road to the chateau, but Anders and I thought it was well worth it.
At Bielo pleso – a small lake – we turned left and followed the red/white blazes to Chata pri Zelenom plese, a mountain hostel and restaurant. You can spend the night here, and there were several backcountry skiers who appeared to be doing that.
We got drinks and snacks and relaxed a bit before following the road/trail back to the bus stop. The loop was about 12 miles according to my FitBit. It’s about 10.5 miles out and back if you take the road.
Dog Sledding in Slovakia
We didn’t get to run with the huskies since the weather wasn’t right for them, but it was high on my list. If you want to learn how to mush and spend a couple hours with Siberian huskies, contact Adventoura Slovakia and they’ll hook you up.
They also offer dog sledding as part of their winter adventure trips.
Thermal Baths in the High Tatras
We didn’t do it, but it would be really nice to add a soak in a hot pool to one of your snowy outings. There are three thermal baths in the High Tatras, AquaCity Poprad is the closest to Ždiar.
AquaCity Poprad has 13 outdoor and indoor pools, waterslides, attractions, and a wellness center. There are special children’s attractions and it is located in Poprad.
Aquapark Tatralandia Holiday Resort is the biggest aqua-park in Slovakia and one of the biggest in Central Europe. It is located 4 km northwest from town Liptovský Mikuláš. It’s a huge waterpark with slides, surfing waves, pools, wellness and spas…there is a lot going on there.
Bešeňová AquaPark is another big water park with all the slides, attractions, spas, and wellness opportunities. Bešeňová AquaPark is located in Bešeňová.
Where To Stay in the High Tatras
There are plenty of Tatra mountain hotels and chalets to choose from. Here are my favorites in Ždiar.
Wellness Penzion Strachan: a family-friendly pension (chata) with a hot tub and free breakfast. It is family run and has a traditional feel. It’s located at the base of the Strachan ski area.
Apartments Mountain Resort: a small hotel with a personal touch. The apartments have a balcony, a living room with a seating area, a TV with cable channels, a spacious wardrobe, a fully equipped kitchen with a dining area, and a bathroom.
Ginger Monkey Hostel : a popular spot for backpackers. It’s not far from a bus stop and the owner is said to be very friendly and helpful.
Getting Around Slovakia in Winter
Once we found the right website, it was easy to find the right combination of buses and trains to get around the High Tatras and Slovakia.
We used this website for Czech and Slovak public transportation. This is how we got to the Green Lake Trailhead. We paid for our tickets on the bus.
There are three bus stops in Ždiar – it’s a small, but long town – so you can use the bus to get around the village, too.
As I mentioned above, there is a free ski bus that runs between the four ski areas in Ždiar. Stand on the road and flag it down. It feels a little weird, but it works.
For activities with Adventoura Slovakia, you get picked up and don’t have to worry about transportation at all.
You could also rent a car and it seems like driving in Slovakia would be pretty easy. Click here for deals on car rentals.
Other Places to Visit in Slovakia’s High Tatras in Winter
Another popular spot for winter recreation in the High Tatras is Štrbské Pleso. We didn’t visit, but it was recommended by locals.
Strbske Pleso is a favorite ski and health resort in the High Tatras. The area centers on a beautiful, glacial mountain lake. Strbske pleso is the starting point for hikes to Krivan and Rysy. There are 16 km of cross-country track, as well as freestyle skiing obstacles.
You can take the train to Štrba and then a bus to Štrbské Pleso. When we went through on the train to Poprad, we saw several people getting on with cross-country skis and other winter gear.
There are lots of Chateaus (chatas) in Štrba and several hotels in Štrbské Pleso.
Poprad is considered the gateway to High Tatras. It is the economic, cultural, and tourist center of the Spis region. You’ll find plenty of accommodations and restaurants here, as well as AquaCity Poprad.
Personally, I think it’s a little far from the winter recreational opportunities in the Tatras. You can see the mountain range from there, but you aren’t in the mountains. It could be a good base if you wanted to explore different regions of the High Tatras, but I prefer to pick one little village in the mountains and explore it.
Tatranska Lomnica is one of the biggest and most beautiful settlements in High Tatras. It is situated on the Road of Freedom, at the foothill of Lomnicky Peak.
Lomnicky Peak has the highest and steepest slopes, making it a good spot for downhill skiers. You can also find Museum of TANAP (Tatra National Park) here. It’s not far from the Green Lake hike.
Stary Smokovec is the administrative headquarters of the Tatra National Park. It’s the ideal spot to start winter hikes to alpine chalets and frozen waterfalls.
There is a 2.5 km-long sledging track from Hrebienok to Starý Smokovec, downhill skiing, and cross country skiing.