Salzburg is a great small town to visit for a weekend, but there are so many other attractions to take in that you may just want to stay longer and check these out. Here is a sampling of what the area has to offer based on our experience.
Werfen is a small town located about 40 minutes south of Salzburg. One of their claims to fame is the Werfen Ice Caves. There are about 20 something different set of ice caves throughout Austria. These are supposedly the longest.
To get to the Eisriesenwelt, drive to Werfen and follow the signs up the mountain. You will likely want to stop to take pictures of your family above the clouds.
Once you get to the visitor center, you purchase your tickets and begin your journey. This is not a journey you want to undertake with small children under 6. It is physically exerting. Reviews of this attraction on TripAdvisor state this. Believe them.
During the tour, you will travel 134 meters (corresponding to a 40-story high-rise) and 1400 steps up and down through the cave and back to the entrance in the dark, the only light coming from your hand held carbide lamp.
This does not include the hike up to the cable car from the parking lot followed by the hike up to the actual cave from the cable car. There are many breakpoints, where your guide will provide interesting information about the world of caves. This will help you catch your breath. It is very cold being at that elevation but even colder in the caves. Bundle up and use the restrooms before embarking on your hike!
It takes about 4-5 hours round trip (including breaks for breath catching and pictures), but the views to and from the cave more than make up for the strenuous hike. You may think descending is easier than hiking upwards, but going down was more challenging as our legs were shaking from the ascent. And, in case you are wondering whether you should bring the kids, my children are 11 and 7 years old and they did great with a few breaks here and there. Within the cave, they kept up with the guide.
Please note that the caves are only open from May through October.
Upon driving up to the Eis Caves in Werfen, you find yourself above the clouds, especially if you are doing this early morning as we did. We stopped to take pictures on our way up and it looks like we are floating on clouds.
But on the descent from the Eis Caves, the skies opened up and this is what we saw:
Werfen’s second claim to fame is Burg Hohenwerfen. I had never heard of this castle, but while researching the ice caves before the trip, I noted that many reviewers pointed out that this was a “must see” site. If you have had your fill of fortresses/castles and have to pick one to visit, I would pick Burg Hohenwerfen. It truly looks like a medieval castle right out of a children’s book. This is a spectacular fortress built around the same time as HohenSalzburg and like HohenSalzburg, it is accessed via funicular.
What sets it apart is the guided tour which includes special audio guides for children and the falconry demonstration on the castle grounds. You can also purchase books at the ticket center targeted to children which discuss life in the Middle Ages.
The falconry exhibit is a real treat for young and old alike. The birds of prey included a Bald Eagle which the falconers described as the official symbol of the United States.
Please note that Hohenwerfen is open from April – early November.
There are three salt mines around Salzburg. And why wouldn’t there be since this city was founded on the business of salt mining! Hallein is located about 30 minutes outside of Salzburg and on the way to Werfen.
This is a treat for the kids because to get into the mine, you have to wear these garments over your clothes (to keep from ruining your clothes), travel by a little train into the mine and then descend into the mine via two steep slides.
I had visited the Wieliczka salt mine near Krakow years ago and this one was far less physically demanding than that one because rather than climbing stairs, you slide down and take a very long escalator up. Within the mine, you will cross into Germany and back underground (no need for passports). Each section of the mine has a movie presentation which tells the story of salt and the Prince Bishop of Salt, Wolf Dietrich.
There is a cafe at the visitor center in case you happen to be there around meal times and outside there is a recreation of an old Celtic village that presents the establishment of Hallein by the Celts. It was interesting to read about it but it was a bit disappointing because we were expecting employees to be dressed in Celtic clothing and teaching the kids the workings of the village like the pictures on the website, but no. Maybe it was late in the season. There is a small playground in the village where children can burn some excess energy.
Although we did not visit, The Silent Night Museum is located near the mines and houses signed copies of the music for Silent Night and the guitar used to play the famous carol in Oberndorf.
About 45 minutes south of Salzburg and crossing into Germany, you will find yourself at “Eagle’s Nest” as we Americans call it. It refers to a mountain top retreat used by Adolf Hitler during World War II. Aside from the history (it was given to Hitler as a gift for his 50th Birthday), the only thing there now is the Kelsteinhaus restaurant in what used to be Hitler’s retreat and the breathtaking beauty of the German/Austrian Alps.
In order to access Eagle’s Nest, you must park your car in the bus depot at OberSalzburg and purchase bus tickets for the round trip. You will see why this is necessary when you are on the bus. Once you arrive, you stamp your ticket at the kiosk and they will assign you a return trip time. Then follow the crowds to the golden elevator that takes you to the top of the mountain. The earlier you go, the more time you can spend, but you only need about 2 hours which hopefully includes coffee and cake at the restaurant.
Once you return to the bus depot (or before you go to Eagle’s Nest) you can opt to visit Dokumentation Obersalzburg where one can “study and reflect on the history of Obersalzberg and the history of National Socialism.” We did not visit, but if you are a history buff and your children are older, you may find it to be of interest.
And no visit to Salzburg would be complete without……
The Sound of Music Tour
I’ve always enjoyed the Sound of Music and now that we live in Austria it is even more relevant even if no other Austrian like or even knows about it. This past year, my youngest fell in love with the movie so we knew we had to work in a tour while we were in Salzburg.
We took a four hour Sound of Music Tour through Panorama Tours. Our British tour guide dressed in a dirndl was phenomenal and our bus driver actually danced with Julie Andrews on one of her visits to Austria – he had a picture to prove it.
You could probably drive to each film location (listed below), but the tour provided much more information that you just would not get if you went on your own. Further, the tour was interactive. They played the soundtrack as we drove to all these places and the whole bus was singing along. The tour included:
- Leopoldskron which served as the back of the Von Trapp home on the lake
- Schloss Hellbrunn which served as the front of the Von Trapp home and where the Gazebo was moved due to all the tourists invading Leopoldskron. It also contains the trick fountains that delight and soak young children. But you have to come back to do that.
- Nonnberg Abbey (in passing)
- A nice drive through the Salzburg Lake District with a pit stop at Wolfgang See/St. Gilgen
- Mondsee Basilica where the wedding took place
- Mirabell Gardens (on your own) and the Mozart Pedestrian Bridge over the Salzach (in passing)
The tour begins and ends at Mirabellplatz where you can then skip and sing (optional) Do-Re-Mi as you make your way to the Pegasus Fountain with great views of HohenSalzburg. You receive a Sound of Music postcard when they bid you “farewell, auf wiedersehen, good bye.”
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