The most rewarding excursion to be made from Werfen is to the "World of the Ice Giants" (Eisriesenwelt) on the western edge of the Tennengebirge. Covering an area of 30,000 sq. m/36,000 sq. yd, it is the largest known system of ice caves and one of the great sights of the Eastern Alps (open: May-October). The caves, carved out of the rock by an underground river in the Tertiary period, were discovered in 1879 but were not opened to the public until 1912.
World of the Ice Giants Map
Eishoehlenstrasse 30, A-5450 Werfen, Austria
May 1 to Oct 26: 9am-3:30pm
Entrance fee in EUR:
Adult €17.00, Concession or reduced rate €15.00, Child 14 & under €8.50
Useful tips: Warm clothing recommended.
So far 45km/28mi have been explored. The conducted tour through the caves (warm clothing and stout footwear essential) takes about two hours; the whole trip there and back takes some five hours. The trip to the ice caves from Werfen is along a 6km/3.75mi long mountain road up to the parking lot (1,000m/3,300ft) near the lower cableway station. At present only vehicles of up to seven tons in weight and 2.2m/87in. wide may use the road. Minibus-taxis can also be hired to take visitors from Werfen to the parking lot. From there it is a strenuous 20 minutes' walk to the lower station; the cableway goes up the next 500m/1,650ft in about three minutes, whereas it would take about one to one and a half hours on foot up the romantic mountain path. Near the upper station is the wonderfully situated Dr-Friedrich-Oedl-Haus (1,575m/5,170ft). From here it is about 20 minutes' hard climbing to the entrance to the caves (1,664m/5,460ft), in the midst of the precipitous rock walls of the Tennengebirge (be prepared for the 1,340 steps up to the caves themselves and the same number back down again). During the winter cold air flows into the cave, lowering the temperature of the rock; then in spring the water trickling down the rock freezes. In summer the direction of air flow is reversed and an ice cold wind blows out of the cave. The outer reaches of the cave are ice covered for a distance of some 600m/660yds. After winding along the "Great Ice Wall" we come to the massive "Hymir Hall", named after the ice giant in the "Edda", with impressive ice formations such as the Hymir Burg and the Eistum. Here can be seen icicles of all kinds and - on a hill of ice in the Nifl-Heim - "Frigga's Veil", a dome-shaped formation of rare beauty. Other interesting rooms are the "Hall of Odin" and the "Thrym Hall", where the roof of the cave sinks down almost to floor level save for a narrow horizontal gap. Stone steps lead to the Eistor or "Ice Gate" (1,775m/5,824ft), the highest point in the cave, and then down into the Alexander-von-Mörk-Dom, named after the cave explorer of that name (1887-1914) who, shortly before the First World War and together with other speleologists, conquered the almost vertical wall of ice which blocks the cave. In 1925 his ashes were interred in a side gallery of the Mörk-Dom. The great Ice Palace (Eispalast) is also very interesting. In spring this flat hall is covered with a carpet of ice; in high summer, when the ice is flooded over, visitors are enchanted by the reflection of a burnt out fire. The tour of the ice section can show the visitor only about a fifth of all the caves, which extend far into the mountain. From Werfen the climb to the cave, walking all the way, will take about 3.5 hours.