So you've visited the city of Salzburg and are ready to explore the surrounding area? That's great. Salzburg is the perfect base for discovering some of the best places in Austria. When embarking on day trips from Salzburg, you might not only cross borders from Salzburg Land into the state of Upper Austria but even into Germany.
Article by: Gerhard, the founder and guide at Free Walking Tour Salzburg
The options for a day trip from Salzburg are countless. So where to go? Let me ease the agony of choice by telling you about the three best day trip destinations from Salzburg.
The lake district in Salzburg's east is home to Austria's most popular day-trip destination - Hallstatt. It is a picturesque village situated on the shore of the Hallstättersee - Lake with the same name. What makes Hallstatt so distinct?
I like to put it this way. Hallstatt is like the other places in the lake district but more so. Hallstatt is unique in that it was cut off by land from the rest of the world until the last century. It's unique because they found graves of an ancient civilization in the area, which termed the Hallstatt era, a recent historical period. But the place is most famous for taking pictures of cute wooden houses next to the lake. It's famous for the scenery. Is Hallstatt worth visiting?
Well, yes, if you know what to expect. Hallstatt became so popular that the one street it comprises gets flooded by tourists every day. There are less than a thousand inhabitants, but in 2019, there were close to a million visitors. That angers the locals, corrupts tourism businesses, and shocks some visitors who expect a serene paradise.
If that's okay with you, here's how to get to Hallstatt from Salzburg on a day trip exactly.
I don't want to talk you out of visiting Hallstatt on a day trip from Salzburg, but I don't want you to be disappointed either. What are the alternatives?
Luckily the rest of the lake district is almost as pretty as Hallstatt. For example, the town of St Wolfgang where you take the Schafbergbahn mountain train, a 19th-century cog railway that takes you to an altitude of almost 2000 meters. If you visit St Wolfgang, here are ideas of things to do in St Wolfgang and the surroundings.
Or the imperial town of Bad Ischl, where you find the Habsburg emperor's residence among other historical sights. Bad Ischl is different because it doesn't have a lake but instead impressive architecture and a still-present flair of the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Sound of Music fans often visit Mondsee on organized tours or by themselves since Mondsee is where you can find the wedding church from the movie. If you prefer an easy hike and a relaxing swim, you might want to check out Fuschl am See.
To get to the Salzkammergut lake district on a day trip, you take bus 150 from either the train station in Salzburg or Mirabell square. The bus passes Fuschlsee and Wolfgangsee on the way to Bad Ischl. If you plan on visiting Hallstatt, Bad Ischl is where you change from bus 150 to the train or another bus to Hallstatt. If you take the train instead of the bus, you also need to take a ferry to reach the village of Hallstatt.
The closest place to Salzburg is Fuschl which is thirty minutes away. After Fuschl, the bus passes Lake Wolfgangsee, where you can either get off in St Gilgen and take a boat, change buses in Strobl to reach St Wolfgang, or ride the bus to the end to Bad Ischl. Although Fuschl is only thirty minutes away from Salzburg, Hallstatt is almost three hours from Salzburg. That gives you an idea of how vast the Salzkammergut is.
It might come as a surprise, but my favorite day trip destination from Salzburg takes you across the border and into Germany. In fact, Salzburg is only an hour's walk from the German border, and a day trip to the Berchtesgaden national park in Bavaria takes less time than a trip to the Salzkammergut.
Königssee, kings lake, is also known as the Bavarian fjord. Indeed, if you didn't know otherwise, Königssee could be believed to be located in Norway. Walking around the lake is impossible since the mountain reaches into the lake. Instead, you take a boat across the lake to the pilgrimage site of St Bartolomä and further to lake Oberssee. I love this place.
Königssee is very touristy as well. I have been told that it's the most beautiful and one of the most popular places for Germans to travel to in their own country. But Bavaria takes the national park laws very seriously, which is a good thing. Even the boats are not allowed to run on petrol and run on electricity instead. That makes them almost silent.
And if you don't finish your exploration at the first stop of the boat in St Batholomä but take the boat to the last stop, hike around Obersee and towards Germany's highest waterfall. Most tourists stick to the previous places and are thus settled and gone by the time you reach the end.
Here is an article on the Free Walking Tour Salzburg's Blog with detailed explanations on how to take a Day Trip to Königssee from Salzburg.
As beautiful as the surroundings are, so dark is its history. One of history's most vile figures was also attracted by Berchtesgaden's beauty. Hitler had a summer residence in the area as early as 1923, declared Obersalzberg a restricted area after he took power, and had the Kehlsteinhaus on top of the mountain built for his 50th birthday.
As a result, the Berchtesgaden area became the nazis' second headquarters after berlin and one of the allies' main targets at the end of the second world war. The allies named Kehlsteinhaus, the mountain retreat above Berchtesgaden, the Eagles Nest. The whole area around Obersalzberg was razed to the ground in 1945, but they missed the Eagles Nest. That's why you can still visit the building.
To get to the Eagles Nest, you take a public bus from Berchtesgaden to Obersalzberg. From Obersalzberg, you take a shuttle bus to the top of the mountain. The Eagles Nest is more about the views than the history since nothing is left from the war other than the building itself. However, there is a documentation center where you change from bus 838 to the shuttle, which is well worth a visit as it only costs a few bucks.
To get to Berchtesgaden from Salzburg, you take bus number 840 from the train station, from Mirabell square or the Rathaus bus stop next to Staatsbrücke bridge in the old town. The ticket you buy from the bus driver. You buy a day ticket about €11, including bus 840, 841, and 838, the buses to Berchtesgaden and from Berchtesgaden either to Königssee the Eagles Nest.
Suppose you are on a budget and want to make your day trip from Salzburg as inexpensive as possible. In that case, you might want to consider a hike from Obersalzberg to the Eagles Nest. That way, the entire experience would only be the price for the day ticket on the public buses. Here you find my review of the hike to the Eagles Nest. By the way, if you travel by public transport, you most likely can only see one of the two places during your time in Berchtesgaden.
You get to Werfen when you travel south of Salzburg and further into the Alps. But while the area is gorgeous, Werfen is famous for one thing and one thing only. What's that? Werfen is renowned for the largest Ice Caves in the world, and these ice caves are the main reason to take a day trip from Salzburg to Werfen.
The Ice Caves in Werfen, with a depth of 42 kilometers, are the largest Ice Caves in the world. To get there, you take a train to Werfen. In Werfen, either at the train station or at a parking spot across the bridge and to the right, you take a shuttle bus to the Ice Caves' visitors center.
At the visitors center, you buy the ticket, walk for 15-20 minutes, take a cable car, and walk for another 15-20 minutes to reach the cave entrance, where you gather with other travelers and wait for your guide. Guided tours are the only way to visit the Ice Caves. When the tour starts, every other person gets a petroleum lamp to light the way. Without the lamps, it would be pitch black inside the caves.
While you climb hundreds of stairs up and down, your guide tells you about the history of the caves and highlights some of the features of the caves and the shapes of the Ice. The Ice Caves are not only worth visiting for what you find inside the cave but also for the way to the cave. The entrance is located at 1700 meters of altitude, and the hikes and the cable car offer excellent views.
Here you find out what to expect from a visit to the Werfen Ice Caves, and in this article, I explain how to get to the Ice Caves from Salzburg.
The Hohenwerfen Fortress is easily visible from everywhere since it is situated prominently on a hill, and it looks quite impressive from the outside. If you have time or have an interest in fortresses and the Middle Ages, you should visit. If you have kids, you might also wish to visit. The Hohenwerfen fortress is an adventure fortress, as they call it. The best part of Hohenwerfen is the falcon show. The falcons are impressive.
If you are also planning to visit the fortress in Salzburg and are short on time, then the Hohenwerfen fortress is not a necessity on a day trip to Werfen. For more information, read this article about the Hohenwerfen Fortress on the Free Walking Tour Salzburg's Blog.
The Sound of Music Meadow is something Werfen came up with in recent years. They have found a clever way to use the Sound of Music hype and give travelers more reasons to visit the village.
Remember the scene at the beginning of the Sound of Music where Maria is dancing and singing or having a picnic with the kids? That's the meadow. Werfen only established the so-called Sound of Music trail recently.
With the internet at our fingertips, more and more people wanted to know the movie's exact filming locations, and some even tried to visit them. But the meadow was ordinary farmland. Therefore, the town of Werfen established an actual trail, called it the Sound of Music trail, and it became a thing. If you would like to walk the Sound of Music trail, you can do so right from the center of town and reach the exact spot in about an hour.
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