After a few weeks bouncing around some of Europe’s most popular cities, we were eager for our summer European road trip to head into the mountains. With serrated edges cutting through the thick and moody cloud line, Slovakia’s Tatra National Park gave us three full days of dramatic scenery and some of the prettiest hikes in Eastern Europe. It was just what we needed.
In this post, we cover what to see and do on a summer visit to the Slovak side of the High Tatras Mountains, including popular hikes and visiting the small villages at the base of the mountain range.
Table of Contents
Get to Know Tatra National Park in Slovakia
Running along the Slovakia-Poland border, the High Tatras Mountains are part of the larger Carpathian Mountain Range that stretches over 930-miles from the Czech Republic to Romania. Both sides of the High Tatras Mountains are protected national parks which share the same name: Tatra National Park Poland – GANP (82 square miles) and Tatra National Park Slovakia – TANAP (286 square miles). UNESCO classifies both parks as a biosphere reserve.
At the foot of Slovakia’s High Tatras Mountains are three popular ski villages: Tatranská Lomnica, Vysoké Tatry, and Štrbské Pleso. These tiny villages are the gateways to the Tatras National Park. We’ll go into what you can do and see in each of these in summer.
As we wanted something a little more authentic than a ski village, we stayed a little further out, at Boutique Hotel Hviezdoslav in the town of Kežmarok. Only a 20-minute drive from Tatranská Lomnica, this historic settlement is worth a visit.
Though there is a train line that runs between these main towns, you’ll find it much easier to get around with a car. For instance, the train takes over an hour from Tatranská Lomnica and Štrbské Pleso, but it takes less than 30-minutes by car.
Tatra National Park Map
We’ve mapped the towns, cable car stations, and the hikes mentioned in this post for easy access on your trip. Press the slider in the top left corner to open the attractions list. Clicking on an attraction gives more information on the site.
To save this map to your phone’s Google Maps account, click the small grey star next to the title. To recall the map later in Google Maps, click Saved, then Maps. You’ll see this map in your list.
The Town of Kežmarok
Full of history, Kežmarok is a wonderfully small town with gorgeous examples of Renaissance-Baroque architecture. It’s a nice place to just wander, grab a beer, and enjoy some local food, but there are also a few buildings you’ll want to see.
Unfortunately, it’s not much of a tourist town in summer, and places have short opening hours. Check directly with the sites before you visit. It’s also worth noting a lot of attractions in Slovakia are cash only.
- Kežmarok Castle: Compared to other European castles, Kežmarok’s is rather unassuming, but has a simplistic beauty to it. Tours were only available in Slovak, so we didn’t enjoy it as much as we hoped, but there was a collection of antique furniture and weapons, an old pharmacy, and fantastic views of the mountains on a clear day. Since our visit, the castle has remodeled and made a lot of well-needed repairs.
- New Evangelical Church: This giant pink church with green accents is impossible to miss. Inside is the mausoleum of Imrich Thököly (1657 – 1705), Prince of Transylvania, and uncrowned King of Upper Hungary.
- The Wooden Evangelical Articular Church: Next door to the grand Evangelical Church, is a tiny plaster building easy to miss, but you shouldn’t. Inside this UNESCO World Heritage Site, brightly colored religious paintings cover the antique wooden walls. When you see it, you’ll understand why it’s nicknamed the Little Sistine Chapel.
- The Evangelical Lyceum & Library: Built in the years 1774-1776, if you love old libraries then this is for you. As the largest school library in central Europe, over 150,000 books cover the walls from floor to ceiling.
Vrbov Thermal Park: Five miles from Kežmarok is a geothermal swimming pool resort. I can’t begin to tell you how amazing it is to soak in the hot springs after a day hiking in the Tatra National Park.
With around a dozen small gift shops and a tiny train station built in 1895, the ski resort town of Tatranská Lomnica is really cute.
At the foot of the High Tatras Mountains, the Vysoké Tatry Ski Resort converts into a day park for hikers in summer. Three chair lifts whisk hikers up into the Tatra National Park.
- Tatranská Lomnica <-> Štart: Base of mountain to lower central
- Štart <-> Skalnaté Pleso: Lower central to upper central
- Skalnaté Pleso <-> Lomnický štít: Upper central to the top of the mountain
Make sure to note the time of the last return lift. Let’s just say, we learned this one firsthand.
Cable Car to Lomnický štít
Lift tickets to Lomnický štít, one of the highest mountain peaks in Tatra National Park, often requires purchasing a few days in advance as there are limited tickets. Despite them being expensive, they still sell out.
The challenge is you may have a summer day like ours. Covered in a thick blanket of clouds, visibility at the top was nonexistent.
At the top is just a small station, a platform, and a rocky stairway to another platform. If you are lucky enough to have a cloudless day, the views are said to be breathtaking. Sadly, we wouldn’t know.
Even though we didn’t luck out at the top, the views and hikes around Skalnaté Pleso were impressive.
Hike to Veľká Svišťovka Peak from Skalnaté Pleso
Facing the mountain, head up to the right side of the lake and pass the observatory station. The hike goes for about 1.6-miles to reach Veľká Svišťovka ridge.
Most of the trail is well marked but can be tricky along the rockslide section as everything looks the same. Take your time and look for the red markers and rock cairns.
It took us about 1.5 hours to reach the peak at Veľká Svišťovka for 360-degree views (on a clear day). Disappointingly, the heavy cloud cover made it too dangerous for us to continue to The Cottage at Zelené Pleso. We had to turn around here and go back to Skalnaté Pleso station.
Continue the Hike to The Cottage at Zelené Pleso
On a nice day, you can continue on the trail for another 2.5-miles to The Cottage at Zelené Pleso. Doing this trail returns you to town a different way, so you won’t need a chairlift return ticket.
This section of the hike is more challenging than the first. Though it’s completely doable, there is a section that uses chains to prevent slipping on the rocky downhill terrain. Luckily, you’ll be rewarded for your hard work with a nice lunch and a beer at the cottage on the emerald-green lake.
For a relaxing walk back to Tatranská Lomnica, use the Yellow-Blue-Yellow-Green trail through the alpine forest. All up, expect to take between 7-8 hours to do the full hike starting at Skalnaté Pleso chair lift station.
Red foxes are a common sight in the Tatra National Park. You may even get really lucky and see the elusive chamois (mountain goats) or a marmot (similar to a ground hog) or even a bear.
Starý Smokovec Ski Resort
Less than four miles from Tatranská Lomnica is the ski resort village of Starý Smokovec. Long hikes from the west of Skalnaté Pleso and Štart cable car stations lead here.
However, most day hikers start at Starý Smokovec and use the funicular to get to Hrebienok. From there they may hike to Dlhý vodopád waterfall or further up to Rainerova Chata, a tiny historic hikers pub.
Štrbské Pleso was our favorite of the three Tatra National Park ski villages.
Mostly it’s just a town of large hotels, but they center around one of the most charming lakes. With a 1.4-mile shoreline, walking the lake made for one of the easiest and loveliest walks.
Once again chairlifts make summer hiking in the Tatras National Park quite easy. The one at Štrbské Pleso goes to the Solisko Station, about half-way up the mountain where you’ll find a couple of restaurants.
Hike to Predné Solisko Ridge
From this point, the most popular hike is to Predné Solisko ridge. Follow the rocky path beyond the cottage. The roughly 45-minute hike is moderate but steep. You’ll know you reached the top when you see the giant cross.
Unfortunately, once again bad weather interrupted our hike, this time with some nasty lightening. Be careful with the summer storms, they can roll in amazingly fast.
Hike to Skok Waterfall from Štrbské Pleso
Skok Waterfall (Vodopád Skok) is another popular hike from Štrbské Pleso.
No need to take the chair lift. Follow the Yellow route, from the right side of the chair lift station in Štrbské Pleso. You’ll see a sign where the road turns into a trail. The 1.5-hour hike is a gradual assent, through an alpine forest, then along a rocky trail.
In summer, you can continue up beyond the waterfall to the lake Pleso nad Skokom. This section of the hike is more challenging and requires using chains to make your way over slippery rocks.
Three Day Itinerary for Tatra National Park in Slovakia
As you can tell, a lot depends on the weather you get. We noticed that mornings tended to have clearer weather, but by the afternoon, the higher elevations filled with stormy clouds. Also, the trails and chair lifts were quiet in the morning but started to get busy just before lunch.
This was our itinerary for three days in Slovakia’s Tatra National Park.
- Day 1: Tatranská Lomnica
- Day 2: Morning at Starý Smokovec | Afternoon at Kežmarok | Late afternoon at Vrbov Thermal Park
- Day 3: Štrbské Pleso
Where to Stay
- We chose Boutique Hotel Hviezdoslav in Kežmarok to escape the tourist crowds and stay somewhere a little more local. With large comfortable rooms, free parking, and an attached restaurant with breakfast, we felt the hotel offered fantastic value in a wonderful location.
- Grand Hotel Praha: Historic, elegant hotel in one of the best locations in the Tatras. Ask for a room with a view. Includes free parking.
- Hotel Patria: It doesn’t get more iconic than the hotel on Lake Štrbské. With jaw-dropping views, an amazing central location, a highly rated spa, free parking, breakfast included, it’s the perfect choice.
Books on Tatra National Park & Slovakia
- Walking Guide / Car Maps: Tatra Mountains of Poland and Slovakia: Car Tours and Walks – Slovakia’s hikes are well marked, but this book works well for those who want to plan their route. Plus, we found our Garmin and the GPS on our phones, didn’t work around the Tatras Mountains. We used the maps in the book just to find our way around.
- Travel Guide: DK Eyewitness Czech and Slovak Republics – We love the Eyewitness Guides for their inspirational photography and detailed itineraries. As we also visited Prague on our Europe road trip, the combined book on the Czech Republic and Slovakia worked well for us.
- Culture Guide: Slovakia – Culture Smart! – We feel these books on customs and culture are essential for longer trips or when you plan to engage a lot with locals. They cover topics like manners, basic language, and generally how things are done. Not only informative, but it is also fascinating for anyone interested in the cultural side of your trip.
Follow us through our ultimate Europe road trip or get to know some of our favorite European spots.