In Austria, there are some of the best places I’ve ever been to. Spoiler: the big Austrian cities are not the best you can see there. Check out this ultimate guide to top tourist attractions and the best places to visit. From mighty castles to impeccable nature. Find out what James Bond has to do with Austria and what was my biggest surprise.
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The first thing we need to get straight: Klamm means gorge in English. So, don’t expect a sea world. You can expect a lot though. It’s a wonderful narrow zig-zag route through the cliffs where you can admire the crystal-clear waterfalls and moss-covered stones. The place itself is magical, it reminded me of our Czech fairytales.
Of course, there’s a legend when it comes to places like this. Austrians are very superstitious, and they love a good story. So, they decided, that the gorge was created by a devil throwing water onto the rock. I think they could have tried harder to come up with something worth mentioning. Anyway, the true story now. The name of the town where the gorge is located is related to Prince Johann II of Lichtenstein, who decided to donate to build the walkaway and bridges so that people could explore the gorge safely. Kudos to him.
The modern spiral staircase called “Helix” provides the access to the gorge recently. Thanks to Helix, it is possible to explore the gorge up to 30 m under the surface and enjoy the tunnels, galleries, and waterfalls. When I was there, I thought that I already saw all of it, when we reached the end of the walkaway, heard the rumbling, and saw the huge Lichtenstein waterfall at the end of the gorge. Worth seeing.
The whole route is around 4 km long, so you can make it in 2 hours. It depends on how many photos you need to take and how much you are willing to let loose into the charm. You can easily find it near St. Johan im Pongau, which is a small, picturesque town about 50 km south of Salzburg. There’s free parking on the site, but I recommend arriving early in the morning or late in the afternoon to catch a spot.
On the shores of Trauensee (we’ve already established that it’s not a real sea in the article about Austrian background) lies the cute city of Gmunden. Notice that I say cute because it’s basically a teeny tiny place with nothing interesting there except the Schloss Ort. The only advantage of the city (apart from the castle) regarding tourism is the location. Yes, it has nice streets you can stroll after dinner, but that’s just about it. Now, let’s talk about the castle.
Schloss Ort is a tiny castle on a tiny island accessible through the wooden pier. But to be fair, it’s quite charming. The history of the castle dates back to the 10th century and people believe, that the castle was built by the giant called Erla for his mermaid lover from Traunsee, Blondchen. the exhibition in the castle is dedicated to the “Mythos Traunstein”.
In Sölden, you can visit the James Bond Museum 007 Elements. The cinematic installation takes you through the major moments of James Bond movies, with special emphasis on Spectre, which was shot at Sölden. It’s a must-see stop for fans of classy cars and badass agents. You will see how the tricks in the movie were made, the exhibition dedicated to action scenes, the hall of James Bond’s legacy, and more. I was super excited. It’s clear they thought through all the exhibitions and when I walked the underground tunnel leading to the museum, I felt like an action hero myself.
If you’re interested in an extremely expensive experience, head to the ice Q gourmet restaurant on the premises. I don’t know if you’ve ever had lunch in 3 038 m (9 967 ft), but the view is breathtaking, and so is the bill. The food is served from 11.30 am to 3.00 pm.
Zell am See is now a small town of 10.000 on the route between Salzburg (an hour and a half drive) and Innsbruck (two and a half hours drive). The question is, why the hell should I care, where this village is? Long story short, it has a marvelous setting. Not only that the town itself is adorable, but there are plenty of great places to see nearby.
The city was a village not so long ago (some hundred years) and it wasn’t much interesting. Austria has a thousand cute tiny villages in mountains like that… and with lakes too, so what is the deal? Well, the railway road from Salzburg to Tyrol opened in 1875. And as Austrians didn’t have to care about the Civil Rights Act, they found fun in outdoor activities and tourism. And that’s when Zell am Zee discovered its marketing plan.
Huddled among the biggest mountains in the area and surrounded by the lake, Zell am See is a perfect trip base. The old town is small and there’s not much to see, however, the restaurants are good and in the summer months, you can take a dip in the lake. There are literally just three sights in the town worth mentioning:
Fun fact: Zell See is in fact very warm compared to other lakes in the Alps thanks to the hot underwater springs.
Around a 20-minutes ride from Zell am See lies a much more interesting place. Kitzsteinerhorn is at the altitude of 3 203 m (10 508 ft) landmark of the Hohe Tauern National Park. The absolute top of the glacier is reserved for professional climbers, but there’s a Gipfelwelt 3 000 center in 3 000 m (9 842 ft) with a restaurant, cinema, Ice Arena, ski site, and of course the panorama platform where you can take the coolest photos on Instagram.
Few tips for Kitzsteinerhorn:
This was one of the biggest surprises on our trip to Austria. The museum of Swarovski crystals is located a few minutes by car outside Innsbruck and it’s very sophisticated. One could say there’s nothing for men to see. I’m saying everyone can be a princess from time to time.
This large complex comprises the museum, gardens, observation deck, playground, and even the roman excavation site! The tour takes around 2 hours and the exhibition itself attacks all your senses, there’s I dare say psychedelic display—of course, no drug included (wink wink). And the whole route is accompanied by music and a light breeze and all kinds of gadgets. I must say I haven’t had any relation to the brand before, but this experience was captivating.
The next top tourist attraction in Austria is the oldest salt mine in the world. The history of salt mining there continues for 7 000 years, hell the whole era is named after this place. But it was an important place throughout the whole history, considering it contributed to the vast wealth of the whole Salzburg region (and mainly its archbishops).
You can get up to the mine on foot or use the funicular to save yourself from the ascend. The tour begins with a train ride inside the caves, which is an exciting experience by itself. We got the helmets and raincoats and rode through enormously narrow spaces about a kilometer (0.60 mi) down to the heart of the mine. There we came across the oldest wooden staircase, used by miners almost 3 000 years ago. Then the tour continued with a 2 km (1.3 mi) long exhibition and archeological excavations.
The most bizarre thing is, there are several long slides down from the individual floors. It’s super fun, but also unexpected at this place. We felt a bit like in the dwarf mine in Lord of the Rings, but it was thrilling and educative. From my point of view, one of the best places to visit in Austria.
Tip: Wear warm clothes and sturdy shoes for the visit. The temperature inside the mine is around 8 °C (46 °F) and the tour takes 90 minutes.
Salt mine admission:
Combined ticket (salt mine + funicular):
Hohenwerfen is one of the must-see places in Austria for people who love Middle-Ages architecture. This mighty fortress sits on top of the hill about an hour’s drive south of Salzburg and you don’t need to worry about getting lost as you can see it from afar.
Archbishop Gebhard ordered the construction in 1077 along with other fortification elements in that area to secure his position in investiture conflict. In the following years, it took turns in being the archbishop’s hunting residence, a military fortress, feared prison, a ruin, and a training center.
Nowadays, the castle hosts throngs of tourists every year. I must admit, it’s an impressive structure in a beautiful location. On the other hand, don’t get your hopes up for the tour. There’s literally nothing in the castle. The only thing we could admire inside was a wooden floor and maybe some frescoes. It’s not even furnished. Whether or not to participate in the tour is to your judgment, but I warned you.
What Karin and I truly enjoyed, was the “Mythos Jackl” exhibition dedicated to witches’ and wizards’ history in Austria. It’s an interactive presentation with 3D holographic prisoners and many other intriguing artifacts of this gruesome era in Austrian history. Apart from the real witch cases, we enjoyed the display dedicated to Germanic/Central-European myths and mythical creatures. It reminded me of our Czech child stories and sent me back to childhood for a while.
There is free parking under the hill right at the funicular station and at the beginning of the forest route leading to the castle. So, you need to choose, whether you want to hop on the funicular (which is a kind of exciting experience) or hike the hill yourself. The elevation gain is only about 150 meters (495 ft) and the combined ticket is only 4 EUR (3.40 GBP / 4.70 USD) more expensive. Either way, I strongly advise you to arrive early in the morning, as the parking lot gets filled up, mainly in the summer months.
The opening times may vary according to the actual Covid-19 restrictions.
Check the official websites of the castle for the opening times before your planned stay, times for tours of the castle, and the falconry demonstrations.
The ticket always includes the castle exhibition, Austrian falconry museum and demonstrations, and the interactive exhibitions of “Mythos Jackl”. If bought online, there are further discounts.
Hallstatt is yet another charming small town at the lake. I consider it to be one of the top attractions in Austria and one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The place is ultra-photogenic and the whole region of Hallstatt-Dachstein is also on the UNESCO World Heritage list as Cultural Landscape. It’s even so impressive, that the Chinese built their very own replica of Hallstatt in the province of Guangdong, how crazy is that?
In addition to the salt mines I already told you about, the city represents a great base for exploring the region. The setting in between the Hallstätter see and the mountains make the town a charming, cozy place with good restaurants and accommodation options.
The Dachstein mountain range stretches a few kilometers south of Hallstatt. During our visit, we stayed in the little town of Gosau in the Dachstein Salzkammergut region. However, there is an abundance of small towns and tourist destinations all around the region.
There’s a lot to explore, in the whole region, but the Dachstein Glacier is definitely number one of the places to visit. In the altitude of almost 3 000 m (9 840 ft) await several attractions, one most exciting than the other. First, you can try the Sky Walk—a glass viewing platform on the top of the 250-meters (820 ft) long vertical rock face. Followed by Suspension Bridge and Stairway to Nothingness.
For normal people, it is a breathtaking experience. If you fear heights, it might be a heart-attack experience. The bridge takes you to the final 14 narrow steps down to a glass platform in the middle of nowhere, so you might feel like you’re just hovering in the air above the mountain peaks. There’s also an Ice Palace on the top, a restaurant and of course several slopes for skiing.
Cable car return ticket:
Cable car one way ticket:
There is a spacious parking lot under the mountain. The highway leading to the parking lot is charged 20 EUR (16.90 GBP / 23.20 USD). However, if you plan on using the cable car lift (which is probably the best way to get there, unless you’re a skilled climber), you can get the toll ticket validated at the Mountain station on your way back and not pay the toll.
Tip: Accomodation in Dachstein
We booked our stay in COOEE Alpin Hotel in Gosau which was a super amazing place. Nice, spacious bedrooms, wonderful breakfast, and awesome location. There is also a sauna at the hotel and free parking.
Just a stone’s throw away from Hallstatt lies the Krippenstein mountains, a popular ski resort. Krippenstein offers several hikes and natural wonders including the Dachstein caves. A marvelous world of glaciers, ice chapels, and frozen cascades completed by atmospheric music and light. From my perspective a captivating ice kingdom but compared to Slovakian Dobsinska Ice Cave it’s rather small. But hey, take it as a tip for another exciting trip in Central Europe.
The opening times of the caves (Giant Ice Cave, Mammut Cave, and Koppenbrüller Cave) are tied to the operation of the cable car, which rides every 15 minutes.
First ascent: 8.40 am daily
Last descent: 5 pm (on Saturday, Sundays, and public holidays at 6 pm)
There are several tariffs on ticket prices according to individual entries and tours. You can buy only cable car tickets, combined tickets to the cable car and one of the caves, or all-inclusive tickets. For further information please check the Dachstein Krippenstein Official Websites.
The caves are located in the Krippenstein mountains in the town of Obertraun. Once you get to Obertraun, head to the Krippenstein Ski Resort. There you’ll find a huge free parking lot, where you can leave your car and continue by cable car.
The nature in Austria is simply overwhelming. Much better than its cities. The majestic waterfalls were probably the biggest surprise for me, more so as I had no idea there are such huge waterfalls in Austria.
Located in the west part of Hohe Tauern National Park, the Krimmler Waterfalls are the largest in the whole of Europe. Try a 4 km (2.5 mi) long trail, that offers many viewpoints and platforms leading you up to the top through the Krimml Ache Valley along the numerous waterfalls.
Linguistic Session: The Ache is a common word for a mountain river in the Alpine region. It’s not related to English “ache” as in pain. Although, it can be quite painful to test these rivers in winter.
The overall altitude gain is 431 m (1 414 ft), and the trail takes circa two hours up and down (if you’re as ripped as I am). Just don’t forget to look up and enjoy the scenery while taking all the Insta pics.
As we already know, the Klamm is a German word for the gorge. I hope you still remember that from the beginning of the article, where I told you about the Lichtenstein Klamm. Because if you don’t, you have some serious trouble with short-term memory or worse, you don’t pay attention to my brilliant article! Anyhow, the Sigmund Thun Gorge is even more impressive than the Lichtenstein one.
Just outside the Kaprun town, the river decided to cut its way through the rocks, showing off its power. And I must admit, it truly is impressive. The roaring river forces its way through the valley meandering and offering a magnificent view from the narrow and slippery boardwalks and bridges. Enjoy the waterfalls while descending in the mythical rock mass.
Totally the best place to visit in Austria. I would say also the most beautiful place in Europe. The Grossglockner is the highest mountain in Austria with 3 798 m (12 461 ft). The route leads you through the mountain range in around 2 500 m (8 215 ft). For us, it was a whole-day trip. But it depends on how much you want to explore the surroundings. The 48 km (30 mi) route starts in Bruck an der Grossglocknerstrasse and leads to Heiligenblut.
On the way, there are numerous parking lots with hiking trails leading to the most popular lakes and peaks. We decided to take the Grossglockner hike (as it’s obviously the most badass one). It was a tough hike, but worth it. The views are absolutely spectacular. I felt a bit like in Lord of the Rings, walking from meadows, through mountain lakes to places that resembled Mordor. Sometimes I felt the urge to look over my shoulder to make sure the Gollum isn’t sneaking up on me.
Tip: For the best hiking options I recommend komoot.com, which is much more suitable in Austria than alltrails.com.
Tip #2: According to Karin, the best meal to have in the Alps is their goulash (strong meat stew). It’s usually for a reasonable price and always great.
Open from late April to early November (the access depends on the weather and amount of snow).
For up-to-date information check the official websites.
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