Slovakia, the hidden gem in the heart of Europe, is mostly known for its stunning mountainous landscapes and spectacular medieval castles.
But underneath the mighty peaks and castle-cliffs lie treasures so valuable to mankind, that UNESCO decided to put them on the World Heritage List. We are talking about caves.
Ochtinská Aragonite Cave, Domica Cave, Gombasecká Cave and Jasovská Cave became UNESCO sites in 1995, and in 2000 Dobšinská Ice Cave followed. Together they represent the Slovak part of one natural heritage site: Caves of Aggtelek Karst (Hungary) and Slovak Karst.
We picked our three favourite caves which you can easily visit in one day (provided you are a cave enthusiast and start early). If you prefer taking it easy, you can still manage to visit two in a day.
Dobšinská Ice Cave
The Dobšinská Cave (Dobšinská ľadová jaskyňa) lies in the southwestern part of the Slovak Paradise National Park. During the 70 meters-long descent you’ll be amazed by numerous ice formations until you reach Great and Small Hall, Ruffiny’s Corridor and Ground Floor.
Admire thick ice stalagmites and ice falls. Some of them are 140.000 – 300.000 years old. The underground glacier replaces itself every 1.700 to 2.000 years causing a slow ice movement (2-4 cm per year).
Ochtinská Aragonite Cave
This small, only 300 metres long cave is our absolute favourite. The reason is its unique aragonite decoration. There are only a few aragonite caves in the world. Opinions differ between 3 and 7. However, Ochtinská Cave (Ochtinská aragonitová jaskyňa) is the most accessible one.
The secret of its beauty lies in the crystal structure of calcium carbonate. Most caves were formed by calcite. Aragonite crystals produce astonishing sea urchin- or star-like shapes.
We felt like in a sci-fi movie scene while walking under the ceiling of the Milky Way Dome.
You can find three generations of aragonite inside. The oldest and the thickest started to form 140.000 years ago, whereas tiny contemporary 1.000 years old “youngsters” are only 4 cm long.
Ochtinská Aragonite Cave is only an hour-long drive away from Dobšinská Ice Cave heading south-west.
After about another 40 minutes-drive to the south, close to the Slovak-Hungarian border, you’ll reach the karst cave Domica.
Besides its enormous ornamental limestone stalagmites and stalactites, it offers insights into lives of inhabitants of South-Eastern Slovakia from the Neolithic. Its residents left wall-paintings, primitive ceramics and tools behind. During the tour, the guide will point to the places, so you can spot them.
Current inhabitants are many bats, though. From time to time, you can catch a short glimpse of a winged mammal after the visitors disturbed it with a flash light.
In Domica, you’ll also find an underground stream. With all the bats and primaeval objects found there, no wonder it’s called Styx. Be sure to buy a ticket for the tour with the boat-ride on the Styx.
A word of advice: Occasionally, the underground river dries out due to lack of rain. If you want to visit Domica only for the boat-ride (which we wouldn’t), check out the news section of the Slovak Caves Administration website.
How to get there
The caves are conveniently located on the route, that connects northern and southern Slovakia. If you drive from the north (High Tatras, Poprad), start with Dobšinská Ice Cave (Dobsinska ladova jaskyna) and continue with Ochtinská Cave (Ochtinska aragonitova jaskyna) until you reach Domica (Jaskyna Domica) only 2 km from away the Hungarian border.
To give you a rough impression of driving times: from Bratislava, you’ll need 3,5 hrs, from Poprad around 40 minutes, from Košice about 2 hours to reach Dobšinská Ice Cave.
The drive there can be spectacular and fun as well. Coming from the north, you’ll need to pass some curvy mountain roads.
Where to Eat
Have a good breakfast. Lunch options are limited on the road. There are some buffets around Dobšinská Cave. We came across a nice place with decent food, good service and a sunny terrace in Plešivec on the way between Ochtinská Cave and Domica called Pizza Piazza Grill Bar on Československej armády 52.
When to visit
Visiting Slovak caves is a perfect alternative to hiking during a rainy day. There is no admission on Mondays. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bank holiday or not. You can generally visit whole year long with shorter opening hours (till 2 pm) in winter.
Check the opening hours here.
There are group admissions. For bigger international groups, there are English tours upon request. The easiest way is to download the cave tour guide as a document. You can get it in advance from the Caves Administration website, or if your trip is spontaneous, you’ll get a QR-code for download at the ticket booth.
The admission prices differ from 5 € to 8 €. Check the prices for the chosen cave here.
Photography is allowed, but you need to buy a permission in each cave separately. It costs 10 €. You’ll get a sticker you should put on a clearly visible place (e.g. your camera).
What to wear
Don’t underestimate the terrain and temperatures. While in Ochtinská and Domica Cave the temperature is around 10 °C the whole year long, in Dobšinská Ice Cave it doesn’t get warmer than 0°C. Bring layers. Don’t even think about wearing flip-flops or sandals. The pavement is slippery, it’s dark, and it would probably lead to a harrowing fall. Solid shoes are obligatory.
Whether you choose the winter kingdom of Dobšinská Ice Cave, a walk under the Milky Way in Ochtinská Aragonite Cave or a boat-ride on Styx in Domica we promise you a spectacular and unique experience. Combine it with a road-trip through the hilly landscape, and you’ll have a fantastic day!