We will be traveling to Slovakia from Budapest in August and want to do a hut-to-hut in the Tatras. Oldest in the group of 3 is 70; youngest is mid-teens. We are looking for a moderate hike and have found the travelSlovakia site. Do you have recommendations for any others? Thoughts about the difficulty of getting from Budapest to Poprad? As Ilja notes in another thread, there isn't a lot written about what looks like a most beautiful country.
Getting from Budapest to Poprad is very easy: IC train from Keleti Station in Budapest to Kosice in Slovakia for approx. 20 euros return ticket (sometimes it is better to get a return ticket even if you plan only one way because it is cheaper). The train leaves Budapest twice a day - one in the morning, one in the afternoon. If you take the morning train, you will be in Kosice around 9 am. There you will buy tickets to Poprad or directly to the High Tatras.
You can get from the train station to the city centre in 10 minutes on foot and you will find yourself in front of a majestic gothic cathedral. Walk around and relax in one of numerous cafe terraces. Then head back to the station - trains for Poprad leave every 2 hours and the ride takes 1.5 hours. If you want to continue straight to the Tatras, you will need to change for a tram - it leaves from the upper platform, quite frequently and the ride is around half hour.
As the previous post says it is easy get to Poprad-Tatry from Budapest. There are two ways: one via Kosice; takes little bit less than 5 hours. The other way via Bratislava takes at least 3 hours longer. The best connection leaves Budapest-Keleti at 6:30, arrives Kosice 9:59, leaves Kosice 10:08, arrives Poprad-Tatry at 11:23. You can buy ticket all the way in Budapest because in Kosice you won't have time unless you go by later train.
If you want to do hut to hut you already found travel Slovakia website. They have excellent suggestions. Choose the one which suits you the best. However, if you are not used to hiking, don't underestimate it. Almost all of those hikes are strenuous and your body needs more time to recover than just overnight especially if you are not the youngest and not used to it. I lived there for over one year and also came for hikes before and after that. Hiked all of 600 km of marked trails. Unmarked trails are allowed to hike only with a mountain guide. IMHO two most scenic hikes (they are all very scenic, but these two are absolute cream of it) are: Hike from Hrebienok to Mala Studena dolina to Tery mountain hut, continue to Priecne sedlo (saddle), there is a little airy scramble up, there are fixed chains there for safety, once you crossed the saddle you are in Velka Studena dolina, walk down to Zbojnicka mountain hut and then through Velka Studena dolina (Great Cold Valley) down to Hrebienok and once there you finished the loop. Next day take it easy, swimming, massages in hotel Kempinski in Strbske Pleso and then after you are rested for 1 to 2 days (if you are used to strenuous hikes you will not need that rest) go by a little electric train from Strbske Pleso to Tatranska Polianka and hike to the mountain hotel at Velicke Lake, continue up to Polsky hreben (Polish Ridge), the top of ridge has chains for safety, and then through very scenic Bielovodska dolina (Whitewater Valley) all the way to Lysa Polana. Many small lakes on the way. From Lysa Polana by bus to Stary Smokovec where you change for train or bus to Strbske Pleso (if you are staying there in hotel Kempinski - highly recommend - upscale hotel, fantastic views, indoor swimming pool, massages available, etc.). Both are long hikes, hike through Bielovodska dolina even longer, so start early. Another reason is that High Tatras especially in August are prone to afternoon thunderstorms and you certainly don't want to be near the summits or metal chains. If you feel like conquering the highest peak Gerlach, hire a mountain guide. Or you can take it easy and go by a cable car to the second highest peak Lomnicky stit.
The first topic under Slovakia (on this Travel Forum) is Best destination in Slovakia (scroll all the way down) and you can read my post about High Tatras (Vysoke Tatry). I saw many higher mountains (including Himalaya) but I still think Vysoke Tatry are one of the most beautiful mountains anywhere. Maybe North Cascades near Seattle can compete.
Thank you both for your detailed and helpful replies. We will take a more extensive look at the TravelSlovakia site and do some planning--it looks like there is much to discover! We may also want to do a bit on the Polish side; if you have thoughts about its difficulty relative to the Slovakian side we'd be interested in hearing them.
The train to Kosice leaves at 6:30am, which means you are leaving you hotel at 5:30. It arrives on Kosice at a few minutes before 10am (3.5 hours). The connection to Poprad leaves a few minutes after 10am. If your train is on time you have a 15 minute window to buy tickets and hop on. If you miss it, the next is an hour later. I wouldn't count on being in Poprad before noon. My guess is the cost will be under 30 euro. You have been up since 4:30, how much hiking are you going to do? You can get a car and driver to pick you up ay your hotel at 8am and drive you there by noon for about 400 euro (133 each). You could fly into Krakow and do the reverse trip leaving the long haul for the trip to Budapest.
James has a point which only you can answer. Are you willing to pay for convenience of door to door service by car with a driver about 300 Euro more? Then that's the way to go. To fly to Krakow to get to High Tatras? Not the best idea. Unless something changed the flight is via Warsaw with a layover there. More expensive and not faster than train with all the hassle associated with flying. However if you can fly from Budapest direct to Poprad-Tatry I would consider that. If you go by train there are only two trains via Kosice. The first one I already suggested. It's little early at 6:30. The other one leaves Budapest at 18:30, arrives in Poprad at 23:23 - I think that's too late and you would probably have to stay overnight in Poprad instead of some Tatra resort. All other trains go via Bratislava which is significantly longer and more expensive. In some other posts it was suggested that you buy tickets to Kosice and then in Kosice to Poprad. You won't have time in Kosice (unless you take a break to see Kosice). You can buy the tickets all the way to Poprad in Budapest.
Tatra National Park - two thirds of it are in Slovakia (with the highest peaks there), one third is in Poland. I know Slovakia side much better, I did only few hikes on Polish side. But on both sides - the most scenic hikes are well above tree level with elevation gain about 1000 meters (about 3300 feet) plus minus and those are strenuous. Of course you can find easier hikes on both sides with wonderful scenery. If you haven't seen what's above you would be satisfied. Example of easy hikes: from bus stop in Biela Voda to Chata u Zeleneho Plesa (hut by Green Lake), from Strbske Pleso to Jamske Pleso (Jamske Lake), from Strbske Pleso to Popradske Pleso - there is a symbolic cemetery for High Tatra mountains victims there. I have this suggestion: go to the Mountain Rescue Service (something like Ranger station here) in Slovak called Horska sluzba - in Stary Smokovec, tell them what kind of hike you desire and they will recommend you the best suitable hikes.
I meant to go from the states to Krakow and begin there. Especially since the idea of visiting Poland was expressed. Then you just work your way south to Budapest and fly home from there. The flight arrangements might be easier that way.
As for the 300 euro, actually I would spend 400 euro over the cost of the trains and arrange a few stops along the way to do some sightseeing. Slovakia has some amazing castles and towns. My trips for two run about $5000 on average and $440 more isn't going to break the bank. I would also rather have 10 extraordinary days, than 9 extraordinary days and 1 day sitting on a train. What I don't have enough of is TIME, so I sort of micromanage the routes to get every moment of something new out of it. We head up near Poprad about every third year to fly fish and we always hire a driver. A day of quality fishing in Slovakia is about half the cost of the equivalent in the US so getting more in for about the same price makes sense. But its all about what lights your fire. Its all good and its all right.
Hi, I am Slovak from Poprad, living in US. I wish I was still in Poprad when you come over, I would take you by the tourist agencies. You should definitely visit Tourist Information agency in High Tatras or in Poprad for more information about our region. The Tatras one will provide you with better information on the tours you would like to take in the mountains. Do not underestimate the mountains, the weather can change quick sometimes. Even the forecast sometimes won't tell you exactly. Have fun! Hope you have a great experience in Slovakia.