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The Tatra Mountains of Poland and Slovakia

The Tatra Mountains of Poland and Slovakia
Date ReleaseDecember 26, 2023
Date UpdateApril 26, 2024
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Discover the majestic Tatra Mountains, a natural border between Poland and Slovakia. Learn about the best hiking trails, scenic views, and cultural experiences in Zakopane, Poland, and the Slovakian Tatras. Plan your adventure today and immerse yourself in the beauty of Europe’s second-largest mountain range.

The Tatra Mountains are a range of peaks that form a natural border between Slovakia and Poland. The Tatras are divided into the High and the Low Tatras. The High Tatras are known for their sharp peaks and deep valleys carved out by glaciers, making them a distinctive feature of the European landscape. The Low Tatras, while lower in elevation, are extensive and known for their rolling hills and lush forests. These mountains draw hikers in the summer and skiers in the winter and are quickly gaining popularity. The High Tatras are accessible from Slovakia and Poland. Which side you choose will depend on your travelling style and how much time you have available to spend here.

About The Tatra Mountains

The Tatras are found in the Carpathian Mountains, the second-largest mountain range in Europe, spanning from the Czech Republic across Poland and Slovakia to Serbia, Romania, and Moldova.

The highest point of the Tatras (as well as the whole Carpathian Mountains) is Gerlachovsky štít, sitting at 2,655 meters high. Lomnicky štít (2,633 meters) is the third-tallest peak in the Carpathian Mountains and can be easily accessed by cable car in Slovakia.

If you plan on hiking the Tatras, the best time to do so is from early June through September. Some trails remain open until the end of October, but this depends on the snowfall.

The Tatras are becoming an increasingly popular hiking destination in Europe. Many sources name this as an off-the-beaten-path destination; however, that’s not necessarily true. It can still be quite the bustling place during the summer months, especially in Zakopane, Poland. The Tatras may not bring in the same crowd volumes as other European hiking destinations, but the trails can be pretty busy during summer.

Poland or Slovakia?

When visiting the Tatras, you can do so from Zakopane, Poland or Slovakia. Ultimately, both the Polish and Slovak sides of the Tatra Mountains offer unique and memorable experiences. You may even consider a cross-border trip to enjoy the best of both! Here are the advantages and disadvantages of visiting the Tatras from either side.

The Tatra Mountains of Poland

Zakopane is the most famous gateway on the Polish side, a popular mountain resort town in southern Poland that sits right at the foothills of the Tatras. It’s known for its wooden architecture and distinctive Goral culture and is an excellent spot to discover traditional crafts, music, and food from the area. For most visitors, this is the ideal gateway to the Tatras because it’s easy to get to as it’s located near Krakow. Morskie Oko is one of the most famous and largest lakes in the Tatra Mountains, accessible from the Polish side. It’s known for its breathtaking scenery and is a must-visit for nature lovers. The Polish side also provides access to some of the most popular hiking trails, including those leading to Kasprowy Wierch and Giewont, offering magnificent views and well-marked paths.

The pros …

Its proximity to Krakow

Visiting Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains from Krakow is a highly feasible and rewarding option for travellers, especially those with time constraints. The pros of visiting the Tatra Mountains from Zakopane is that you can get a lot done in a short amount of time. Given Krakow’s proximity to Zakopane, the journey provides an enriching day trip experience that blends urban exploration with natural beauty. The journey from Krakow to Zakopane usually takes around 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on the mode of transportation and traffic conditions. This relatively short travel time makes it practical for a day trip. You won’t regret squeezing the Tatras into your travel plans!

Easy access with public transport

The easiest way to get to Zakopane is by car. However, if that’s not an option for you, there are many other options to get to Zakopane by public transport. You can take the bus or the train or join a tour. Joining a guided tour can be convenient. These tours often include transportation and a structured itinerary, covering significant attractions in Zakopane and other parts of the Tatra Mountains. This option is excellent for those who prefer an organised schedule and insights from knowledgeable guides.

More accommodation and dining 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 with a plethora of hotels and restaurants to choose from. Zakopane also hosts many cultural events and festivals, especially in summer, showcasing the region’s rich traditions.

The cons …

More crowds and more touristy

With Zakopane’s popularity, it comes with more crowds and a more touristy vibe. Traffic jams between Krakow and Zakopane are prevalent during the peak summer months. There’s merely one cable car that goes up into the mountains, the Kasprowy Wierch cable car, and in the summertime, lengthy queues in line to board are to be expected.

The Tatra Mountains of Slovakia

You can choose from several small towns as your base on the Slovakian side of the Tatras. Towns like Štrbské Pleso, Starý Smokovec, and Tatranská Lomnica are popular bases. It takes longer to get to, but it’s quieter, less busy, and less touristy on this side, especially during off-peak seasons. The Slovak side is known for having more challenging hiking trails and is a favourite among serious hikers and mountaineers. Slovakia is famous for its thermal springs, and the region around the Tatras is no exception. Towns like Poprad offer thermal parks and spa resorts. Slovakia’s High Tatras are also known for more adventurous activities like alpine climbing, paragliding, and high-altitude cycling.

The pros …

It’s less crowded

Since driving to the Tatra Mountains of Slovakia takes longer, you can expect much fewer people here. And since a day trip option from Bratislava or Krakow isn’t possible, day trippers do not add to the crowd volumes. The trails are less crowded, and the queues for the cable cars are much shorter. It feels much more tranquil on this side of the mountains.

If you’re looking for an excellent hiking destination away from tourists, driving to the Slovakian side of the Tatras is worth the extra effort.

More hiking options

The hiking options on both the Polish side and the Slovakian side of the Tatras are incredible. However, there are more options to choose from on the Slovakian side.

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

The trails are more dramatic

Again, the hiking is impressive in both countries. But most of the Tatras mountain range is located on the Slovakian side and is more rugged and wild. So if you want to hike high into the mountains and witness some dramatic scenery, the Slovakian side is ideal.

From Slovakia, you can ride a cable car from Tatranská Lomnica to Lomnicky štít, the third-tallest peak in the Tatras. Hike from the Slovakian side to the peak of Rysy, the highest peak in Poland. And with the help of a mountain guide, you can also hike Gerlachovsky štít, the highest mountain in all the High Tatras.

The cons …

It’s harder to get to

The Polish side of the Tatras is located near Krakow, a major city with an international airport (Krakow John Paul II International Airport) that offers numerous direct flights from various European cities and some long-haul destinations. In contrast, the closest major airports to the Slovakian Tatras are Poprad-Tatry Airport (a smaller airport with limited flights) and Kosice International Airport, with fewer direct international connections.

Zakopane in Poland is just about 100 kilometres from Krakow. On the Slovakian side, the High Tatras are further from Slovakia’s major urban centres like Bratislava. While serviced by public transport, the Slovakian side has less frequent connections or requires more complex travel arrangements.

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Greta Konovalova

With a big love for travel photography and writing, Greta is the voice behind the blog for the English audience, passionate about discovering and sharing the very best in travel.