A guide to Poprad, Slovakia

Josh Ferry Woodard

The Slovakian city of Poprad is the gateway to the Tatra mountains. A beautiful place that's gaining in popularity, we show you all the best things to do while there

Spisska Sobota 

Spisska Sobota is a sleepy district of Poprad, Slovakia, famous for its easy on the eye Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture.

Wide paved squares are flanked by ornate pastel houses with triangular wooden roofs and huge arched doorways. Taverns serve local Zlaty Bazant beer–don’t be put off by the 12° label, it’s only 4.7%–and various Slovak delicacies such as potato dumplings with sheep’s cheese, pork goulash with sauerkraut and potato pancakes.

It’s a lovely place to stroll late in the afternoon as the distant peaks of the High Tatra Mountains dissolve into darkness and the wide pebbled boulevards succumb to the timeless shadows of the night. 

 

High Tatra Mountains

Hikers and nature lovers are spoiled for choice in Poprad due to its close proximity to the dramatic High Tatra Mountain range.

Boasting 29 sky high peaks above 2,500 metres, miles of pine valleys, dozens of alpine lakes and a notable population of Eurasian brown bears, the High Tatras are fertile grounds for adventure. 

From Poprad, a scenic electric railway takes trekkers through a labyrinth of spiky fir trees to the mountain resort town of Stary Smokovec, home of the Art Nouveau Grandhotel, which makes a compelling case to have been the inspiration behind Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel and, interestingly, was the site of an epic game of (topless!) table tennis between Fidel Castro and the hotel boiler tender in 1972.

The ascent to yet higher altitudes and crisper alpine air is aided by a pleasant funicular to Bilikova Chata, the starting point for numerous walking trails and the last place to purchase a novelty axe (for bear hunting). The towering peaks take upwards of four hours to summit, but less committed hikers can reach gushing white and ice blue waterfalls in around half an hour.

 

JM Cocktail Bar

JM Cocktail Bar, with its Art Deco fittings, passionate mixologists and flickering candlelight, is a must-visit while in Poprad.  

Each drink is expertly made and elaborately served. The hard-hitting Rob Roy whisky cocktail is placed in a small glass receptacle which is buried among crushed ice and orange peel in a metallic goblet. The vodka Strawberry Surprise comes in a highball glass with a paper cone of sour red sweets attached. The Old Fashioned arrives on its own wooden slider, with a leviathan of an ice cube and a side bowl of dark chocolate, marshmallows and a dried slice of orange. 

While the duration of each concoction’s creation is long and assuring, the prices (about a third of those in London) are short and refreshing.

 

Vino & Tapas    

For a city of only 50,000 people, Poprad certainly packs a punch when it comes to wining and dining. In addition to the aforementioned JM Cocktail Bar, there is the exquisite Vino & Tapas.

Within an intimate setting where fine art hangs from the wall and fine wine bottles line the mantle, Peter, the host, tends to diners as if they were guests, weekending in his country manor. Anecdotes and cultural context accompany the cornucopia of accomplished dishes, as do a series of delicious Slovak wines–white, red and sparkling.

Wildly expensive for Poprad but outrageously good value for the quality, this is Michelin standard food. Standout dishes include a grass-like mound of smoked spinach and truffle caviar, served still smoking in a glass bell jar, the house special cherry tomato infused with raspberry and homemade frosted sorbet.


Skiing

During the winter season (December–April) the slopes surrounding Poprad offer some of the most affordable skiing in Europe.

Just a 20-minute taxi ride from the airport, Strbske Pleso is perfect for families, with 9 km of easy to moderate ski runs. Nestled at the top of the High Tatras, at an altitude of 1360-1825 metres, the resort is the highest in Slovakia and boasts spectacular views of the snowy valleys below.

In addition to great slalom and downhill tracks, Strbske Pleso has a heritage of cross-country skiing: the World Championships were held here in 1976 and these days there are 11 routes with a total length of 26 km. 


Aquacity

Aquacity is a huge swimming and wellness complex that offers something for everybody.

Kids love the 13 pools, the indoor and outdoor water slides and the (surprisingly captivating) nightly laser show. There’s nothing to say adults don’t enjoy these things too, it’s just that spa rooms with exotic names such as Emerald Secrecy, Jacuzzi Paradise, and Oasis of Peace tend to be more alluring.

The wellness centre, which permits cocktails and prohibits bathing suits, is based on the theme of ice and fire, meaning guests can enjoy the exhilarating sensation of moving from a sweltering sauna or steam room into a gelid plunge pool or sub-zero ice cave. All with a Piña Colada or Aperol Spritz in hand.