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Questions about trip to northern Slovakia

I’m planning a trip for my son and myself to eastern Slovakia next May or June. We will have a guide who is going to take us to our ancestral village near Poprad, and for other historical sightseeing. We want to see Levoča and Špis Castle, do small hikes in the Tatras, do the wooden raft trip on the Dunajec River, and visit the Dukla Pass historical area. The guide is based in Prešov, and that is closer to Dukla Pass. But the rest of what we want to see--that I know about so far--is further north (although maybe there are lots of things around Prešov I am neglecting). We are generally more interested in natural and historic sites than churches and architecture. Would we do better to stay in Prešov, or perhaps Poprad or Starý Smokovec? We won’t be renting a car; can anyone steer me to a good site where I can investigate public transportation options? How easy is it to get around if you don’t speak Slovak? Finally, we are planning to go to Prague afterward: plane or train?

Thanks in advance for any advice; I know I've asked a LOT of questions. I wish Slovakia was not so woefully neglected in the travel literature.

Posted by
10672 posts

Michele, I would love to help you because I love Slovakia. We go every couple of years for fishing; but what i have will be marginal for you.

We've stayed in Štrbské Pleso; which is a stunning location. While we stay at the Kempenski which is magnificent by any standards, there are cheaper places on the lake as well. We also stayed at Chateau Grand Castle in Liptovský Hrádok. Staying in the old castle was interesting. The accommodations were pretty okay, the service in the restaurant was miserable. The countryside was spectacular. Not perfect, but i would stay there again. A little further south, but worth the visit are the two Banska towns. We've stayed in Banská Štiavnica at the Hotel Salamander which was pretty okay and run buy good folks. Next trip i think we are going to try the Hotel Grand Matej.

Transportation? We hire a driver (sorry).

Posted by
315 posts

I am in the thrones of planning a Slovakia trip. I have read every post from the beginning on RS. Each is very helpful. Consider private message to llja in Seattle. Slovakia.travel has links for all forms of travel to get there. Not sure about local transportation. May splurge on lodging. Considering a car rental.

Posted by
119 posts

Update: We are now planning to go in the fall. Has anyone been to the mountains, or on the Dunajec River, in late September to early October? I know there can always be bad weather in the mountains, at any time of year, but generally are the activities I've laid out in my original post still doable in the fall?

Posted by
10672 posts

I've driven from Budapest to Poprad and Liptovský Hrádok in late September. September/October has always been my favorite time to visit the region.

Posted by
16743 posts

Twenty years ago, I got around fine by train and bus by just turning up to the stations and buying tickets for the next departures. It was more successful than my pointing at unknown cafeteria food, which somehow always ended up to be tripe soup. The Lonely Planet or other guidebooks covering the region will normally summarize bus links, which is the info I started with.

Now, you can get train schedules through DeutscheBahn, same as for the rest of Europe, or the Slovak rail site also has English. You can also look for bus options at www.rome2rio.com, and then drill down to find links to the operators, or you might just google the two towns plus "bus."

Posted by
315 posts

I have worked and re-worked transportation in Slovakia via Rome2Rio. Public transportation is available but can be confining on time.
I am heading toward train Bratislava to Zilina or Poprad to rent a car. On hiking days a rental car is not needed but on exploration days a car is needed due to the time factor. Cost for a rental car in Bratislava is less than the other two options. For hiking in the fall, I have searched hiking in the High Tatras, blogs have provided information on hiking in the different seasons. The goal for this trip is zero large tourist cities and no 0630 flight home. Trying to nail that no 0630 flight involves travel to Prague.

Posted by
1 posts

We are thinking of a similar trip in summer 2018. My grandmother's parents came from a Slovak village on the Polish border along the river Poprad where I understand there are guided rafting trips. I found there is a walking path to the village from Stará Ľubovňa and a bridge to the Polish side where the rafting outfitters and lodging is located.

Of course I don't speak or understand Slovak or Polish. Would it be best to hire a local guide, or is there a possibility of shipping our bags from lodging on the Slovak side to a place to stay on the Polish side? How would we be able to find, or to navigate such services, speaking English?

Posted by
4637 posts

It is a good idea having a guide going to Dukla Pass battlefield. For that you will stay in Presov. Then on the way to your ancestral village near Poprad you can stop at Spis Castle and Levoca. I assume that guide will be taking you by a car. After visiting your ancestral village (by the way what's the name of it?) if you still have your guide he can drive you toward Dunajec and you stay overnight wherever he recommends. If not, stay one night in Poprad. In the hotel they can advise you how to get to Spisska Stara Ves or nearby Cerveny Klastor for your rafting on Dunajec river. My educated guess is by bus. And for hikes in High Tatras stay in Strbske Pleso or Stary Smokovec or Tatranska Lomnica. I personally prefer Strbske Pleso. There are plenty of options for rafting on Dunajec from Polish side. You can google Dunajec rafting. For rafting on Slovak side read here:
http://www.rafting-slovakia.sk/eng/rafting/rafting-dunajec-pieniny . For hiking in High Tatras read my post:
https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/slovakia/best-destination-in-slovakia . You can get some good tips for hikes in Horska sluzba (Mountain Rescue Service) building in Stary Smokovec.
It's relatively easy to get around Slovakia even if you don't speak Slovak. English is now mandatory language at school so young people should be able to speak at least some English. Most older people don't speak any. Poprad has an international airport, so if you find flight to Prague you can fly from there. If not, get from Strbske Pleso to Strba (by cog wheel rail) and catch a train to Prague from there. Not all trains stop there. If your train does not, go to Poprad by little electrical train (Slovaks call it electricka). From Stary Smokovec or Tatranska Lomnica you would go to Poprad to change trains for Prague there. You can find Slovakia train schedule also on Czech rail (and bus) website: http://www.idos.cz (you can switch it to English) or Deutsche Bahn website. Most hotels in High Tatras can find your connection and book it for you.

Posted by
119 posts

Thanks everyone for all the good information. I’m trying to flesh out a general plan of what we want to do and then talk to our guide about specifics. This is the draft itinerary so far: We will be coming from Paris, so we will fly from Paris to Košice on Tuesday Sept. 18th (just to give an idea of what part of the fall we are talking about). It seems pretty straightforward to get a train from there to Prešov, where our guide is based. Then I figure Wednesday for the Dukla Pass (and perhaps a wooden church on the way); Thursday Prešov and the wine museum there, and perhaps the opal and/or salt mines; Friday Levoča and Spiš Castle; Saturday/Sunday our ancestral village (IIja, it is Vikartovce, about 20 minutes from Poprad) and wooden rafting on the Dunajec; and then 2 days just for the Tatras. I was thinking to stay in Prešov until Friday, and then move to Poprad or another town in the Tatras from Friday night until we leave on that next Wednesday. I think our guide could drop us at a Tatra hotel on Friday after Levoča. He would be coming back to help us with the village visit, but it makes sense to do the rafting and hiking (no serious mountaineering!) by ourselves. From Poprad we could take a plane or a train to Prague for the next leg of our journey. Getting to and from the raft trip seems the most problematic: the raft trip is long enough and biking back to the start plus a bus ride makes it an extremely long day. Is there any tourist transportation from the Tatra hotels to Červený Kláštor and back from Lesnica?

Posted by
4637 posts

Your plans sound good. On Friday you would stop first at Spis Castle then Levoca. Then you got several options: your guide can drive you to Cerveny Klastor where next day you would start your rafting on Dunajec. There is plenty of accommodation there. Or he can drive you from Levoca to nearby historical town Kezmarok where next morning you would catch an early morning bus to Cerveny Klastor. There is also bus from Lesnica. Your trip is still too much ahead so when it's closer check the bus schedules on website I mentioned in my previous post. Other options would be taxi or some other tourist transportation. Let your guide inquire about it. After your rafting trip he can take you to Vikartovce. I would recommend for your hikes in Tatra mountains to stay in one of the High Tatras resorts: Strbske Pleso, Stary Smokovec, Tatranska Lomnica. Poprad is a bigger town in the valley between High and Low Tatras. The town is mostly modern and to get to hiking trails can take up to one hour or longer. As I already said; I would much rather stay in Strbske Pleso than Poprad.

Posted by
8 posts

Hope your plans for Slovakia are not totally crammed full. If you can squeeze in Banska Bystrica (for the exquisitely preserved 18th century architecture) and Trencin (for the Soviet era thermal baths), I think you would be pleased.

Posted by
10672 posts

There are two Banska towns a short distance apart. Both are worth a stop.

Posted by
4637 posts

Banska Bystrica is substantially bigger and it is a regional town. Banska Stiavnica is a pretty, small town. Banska means mining. Precious metals used to be mined there.