9 Top-Rated Day Trips from Salzburg
Salzburg, one of Austria's most beautiful historic cities, makes a wonderful base for day trips into the equally picturesque surrounding countryside. Great excursions from the birthplace of Mozart include a riverboat cruise along the wide River Salzach; a drive through the Salzburg Alps to enjoy the stunning city views from the 1,853-meter-tall Untersberg mountain; and the pretty village of Werfen, home to Eisriesenwelt, the world's largest network of ice caves. Salzburg is also a great place from which to explore other Austrian cities, as well as many scenic parts of neighboring Germany. And thanks to the country's excellent rail network, cities such as Vienna and Innsbruck - each less than a couple of hours away - are also day trip options worth considering.
1 Werfen and the World's Largest Ice Caves
A half-hour commute south of Salzburg is the picturesque village of Werfen, home to the incredible World of the Ice Giants (Eisriesenwelt). Billed as the world's largest system of ice caves, this vast network of caverns extends for more than 30,000 square meters, with a total of 45 kilometers of underground tunnels having so far been discovered. Highlights of the two-hour guided tours of the caverns include a visit to the Great Ice Wall; the massive Hymir Hall, with its impressive ice formations and icicles; and the Ice Gate (Eistor), a 1,775-meter-high sheer wall of ice. Also worth a visit is nearby Abtenau, a picturesque little market town that is a good jumping-off point for hikes and scenic drives.
2 Vienna: Austria's Beautiful Capital City
Although a three-hour drive east of Salzburg (or 2.5 hours by train), Austria's capital city, Vienna, is a must-visit. Long the seat of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg monarchy, Vienna offers memorable attractions such as the spectacular Hofburg Palace, home to every Austrian ruler (and now the country's President) since 1275. Covering nearly 60 acres in the heart of the city and boasting 19 courtyards and 2,600 rooms, the palace features highlights such as the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Apartments, with their fine collections of furniture, personal artifacts, and artworks. Another Vienna must-see is the famous Spanish Riding School, home to the country's magnificent Lipizzaner horses since 1562 (tickets for demonstrations and events sell out far in advance, so be sure to book early). Finally, no trip to Vienna is complete without stopping at the Demel Café for its mouthwatering cakes and pastries, each a work of art. Founded in 1786, the ambience of this superb "food palace" doesn't fail to impress (nor does its wonderful strudels and decadent cream-filled pastries).
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3 Innsbruck: Austria's Olympic City
A pleasant two-hour train (or car) ride southwest of Salzburg, the former Winter Olympic city of Innsbruck is well worth exploring. Idyllically located in the wide Inn Valley, Innsbruck has long been one of Austria's most visited tourist destinations, whatever the season. Much of the city's popularity is undoubtedly due to its distinctive medieval architecture, most notably in pedestrian-friendly Old Town Innsbruck, with its wonderful-to-wander narrow, twisting streets and lovely old buildings, including the Helblinghaus, with its fine decorative ornamentation. Other architectural highlights include the 16th-century Golden Eagle inn and perhaps the city's most iconic piece of architecture, the famous Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl), built in 1496 and made up of 2,657 gilded copper tiles. Other buildings of note include Innsbruck Cathedral (Innsbruck Dom), with its imposing twin-towers and magnificent ceiling paintings, and the spectacular Hofkirche, built in 1563 and home to the Tomb and Museum of Emperor Maximilian I. And, of course, no trip to Innsbruck would be complete without spending a little time admiring the views from the many mountains surrounding the city, the highest of which is the 2,403-meter Saile and the Serles group, along with the 2,247-meter Patscherkofel, where some of the country's best skiing lies.
4 Obersalzberg, Germany
An easy and attractive 40-minute drive south of Salzburg through the Bavarian Alps and into Germany, the Obersalzberg - a WWII-era community in the district of Berchtesgaden and once favored by the leaders of the Nazi party - is a wonderful outing. Here, you'll find the infamous Eagle's Nest, Hitler's favorite place of rest and relaxation. Though little is left of the original structures built to house the Nazi elite, the Obersalzberg's notorious past, though fascinating to historians and war-buffs, isn't the big draw. Instead, the majority of visitors are drawn here for the magnificent views of the beautiful Bavarian Alps. Another reason to visit is the splendid 450-year-old salt mine at the base of the Obersalzberg. Now a popular museum and visitor attraction, Salt Mine Berchtesgaden takes you deep under the mountain through numerous caverns and grottos and includes a ride on a refurbished underground railway, a raft ride, and a fun slide.
5 Climb Every Mountain: Kitzbühel
A little under 90 minutes' southwest of Salzburg is one of Austria's largest and most popular ski resorts, Kitzbühel. Often referred to simply as "Kitz," Kitzbühel is as popular in summer as it is in winter, thanks to fun activities such as hiking, biking, and golf. Perched on a long ridge of hills, this picturesque medieval town is a treat to explore, with its narrow streets and centuries-old gabled houses. The town also makes a great base from which to explore the mountains of the Kitzbühel Alps, the closest of which is the 1,655-meter-tall Hahnenkamm. Getting to the top is surprisingly easy, thanks to the many chairlifts and cable cars available, and it's a journey that's well worth the effort - the views of the surrounding countryside are wonderful, as are the many excellent walking trails leading back down (even if you only go part of the way, it's a worthwhile experience). Alternatively, the 1,772-meter-tall Hornköpfli, also reached by cable car, offers equally stunning views, including those from the Gipfelhaus, a unique mountaintop complex with a chapel, restaurant, and garden.
6 Hallstatt and the Hallstätter See
An easy hour's drive southeast of Salzburg is the beautiful Hallstätter See, Austria's most visited lake, and the postcard-perfect lakeside town of Hallstatt. Long a favorite location for artists and photographers due to its quaint traditional buildings and romantic setting - so quaint, in fact, that a complete replica of the town is being built in China - these two must-see Austrian attractions together form the Hallstatt-Dachstein/Salzkammergut Alpine UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stretching some eight kilometers end to end and up to two kilometers wide in places, the Hallstätter See is an ideal place to enjoy water sports such as diving, swimming, and boating in traditional flat-bottomed watercraft called Salzkammergut (the fishing is great, too). The area's walking trails are also lovely and offer a great opportunity to view diverse flora, including native orchids. Named after its nearby salt mine, Hallstatt is home to a number of attractions worth visiting. Of these, the most notable are its fine old market square and churches - one of them boasting a Bone House with its skeletal remains - and the always-popular Photo Point in the Römisches district.
7 Lovely Linz
A pleasant 75-minute drive northeast of Salzburg, Linz is located on the banks of the mighty River Danube. Linz can trace its roots back to Roman times, when in the 2nd century AD, it served as a camp for the empire's troops. Today, lovely Linz is famed for its many museums and cultural activities, with numerous attractions and festivals focusing on such luminaries as Mozart and Bruckner, both of whom once called the city home. One of the city's most famous landmarks is majestic Linz Castle (Linz Schloss). Standing high above the Danube, the site has acted as a fort since the early 9th century (the original walls can still be seen), with much of the present structure built in the 16th century. History buffs will also want to wander through the Schlossmuseum, with its artwork and displays of artifacts from the prehistoric, Roman, and medieval periods, including arms and armor. In addition to its splendid cathedral, Linz is home to the country's oldest church, St. Martin's Church (Martinskirche), an 8th-century structure equally famous for its fine 15th-century frescos. And if time allows, be sure to pick up a Danube river cruise, whether a short sightseeing cruise or a longer lunch or dinner option.
8 Historic Villach
About two hours south of Salzburg, near Austria's mountainous borders with Italy and Slovenia, Villach is surrounded by some of the country's loveliest alpine scenery. Famous for its fine thermal springs and spas, Villach is an ideal base from which to explore the country's spectacular Alpe-Adria area, widely regarded as one of Europe's most important bioregions. If possible, do your exploring on foot, starting in the Hauptplatz, or Main Square. Here, you'll find the tall 18th-century Trinity Column and numerous old merchants' homes, some dating back as far as the 16th century. Other sights worth seeing are the town's many fine churches, including the Heiligenkreuzkirche, or Holy Cross Church. This splendid 18th-century building stands out not just because it's pink, but because of its exquisite twin towers and impressive frescos (also check out the 800-year-old Parish Church of St. Jakob, with its narrow choir and tall tower). Another Villach attraction to visit is the 180-square-meter Carinthia Relief Model (Relief von Kärnten), a scale model of Europe made in 1913.
9 The Old Market Town of Klagenfurt
In southern Austria, near the border with Slovenia some 2.5 hours from Salzburg, pretty Klagenfurt can trace its roots as far back as 1161, when it was already an important market town. These days, Klagenfurt is famous across Europe for its historic Old Town quarter. Here, you can wander around quaint medieval laneways and streets as you admire the many old buildings and pleasant arcades and Renaissance courtyards. Gone, though, are the former merchants of old. In their place are countless shops, art galleries, restaurants, and cafés. Other highlights of a walking tour include the town's old moat, a still busy canal, and well-preserved fortifications. Be sure to also visit Neuer Platz for a chance to see the city's famous Lindwurmbrunnen or Dragon Fountain. Built in 1590, this massive statue is based on the legendary dragon that once supposedly terrorized locals. And if time permits, visit nearby Minimundus, a miniature town made up of models of some of the most recognizable buildings from around the globe.