Some places just draw you back. After spending months hopping between cities in Europe in 2010, I was craving some time in nature. I’d heard about Ždiar in Slovakia through travellers on the road and it sounded like the perfect place to do some hiking and get away from city life for a few days. My visit in 2010 exceeded expectations and when in 2016, I found myself visiting Budapest again I knew I had to make a detour back to Ždiar and the High Tatras.
Six years later, little has changed about the charming village of Ždiar. Whilst the High Tatras have certainly become popular on the tourist trail, a lot of this is concentrated on the Polish side of the mountains. Ždiar is undoubtedly the perfect place to base yourself if you want to explore this region as it offers phenomenal hiking, great budget accommodation and hearty local food.
Ždiar is located in the north-eastern part of Slovakia, close to the Polish border and Slovakian city of Poprad. There are regular trains to Poprad from Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia and you can then connect to Ždiar on a local bus. If coming from Poland, you catch a bus from the Polish border town of Zakopane. For backpackers travelling through Central Europe, this is a particularly good stop if you’re travelling from Kraków to Budapest.
Where to stay in the High Tatras
One of the main initial appeals of Ždiar was the Ginger Monkey Hostel. The hostel is located in the centre of town in a renovated cabin that offers dorms and private rooms with absolutely stunning views of the High Tatras.
The patio out front is equipped with hammocks that are the perfect place to spend an idle day reading a book and staring at the majestic beauty of the mountains. The hostel also has a resident dog named Wally who is always after some affection! The staff are extremely welcoming and create a great atmosphere in the hostel with frequent activities and communal dinners organised.
If the hostel is booked out when you visit, there are also a number of local pensions and B&Bs that offer basic budget accommodation.
What to do in the High Tatras
There are two main activities that draw people to Ždiar. In summer it’s hiking. In winter it’s skiing and snowboarding.
There are a plethora of hiking trails in the area which means that you could easily spend weeks here and still not run out of trails to explore. Trails range in difficulty and from Ždiar there are a number of trails spanning from a leisurely two-hour walk to an intense eight-hour slog through the mountains which you can start directly in town. Some other trails might require you to take a local bus to nearby towns. Bug spray and rain jackets are highly recommended!
In winter, the skiing and snowboarding offered is some of the cheapest in Europe with ski hire and lift passes starting from €20 per day.
If, for whatever reason, you get tired of being surrounded by the stunning mountains, there are also a number of day trips you can do to nearby regions including visits to castles, caving and rafting.
What to eat in the High Tatras
Ždiar is full of hearty Slovak food that is perfect fuel before or after an active day of hiking or skiing! Some local dishes that are common in restaurants include halushky (similar to gnocchi with sheep’s milk cheese and bacon), pierogi (dumplings filled with potato or meat) and garlic soup. Another great option is the Goulash Man in Ždiar where you will be required to knock on a small window to order your steaming bowl of goulash for €5.
If for whatever reason you need a break from Slovak food, head to Rustica Pizza which makes surprisingly delicious pizza given its geographic location. If you’re staying at the Ginger Monkey the staff will undoubtedly take you there at some point!
Ždiar is the perfect place to explore the High Tatras on a budget. Stop for a few days to get in touch with nature, enjoy the unbelievable beauty of this region and indulge in some hearty Slovak food!
Have you been to Ždiar or the High Tatras? Add a comment below and share your experience!