Best 10 Things to Do in Zell am See (with maps and tips)

> September 21, 2023
Best 10 Things to Do in Zell am See (with maps and tips)

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Forget about Vienna! Zell am See-Kaprun is a must-visit location in Austria. Lovely region ideal for summer vacation as well as a winter hideaway. My personal tops? The Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse twisting among mountain peaks, elvish waterfalls like Krimmler Waterfalls, and the technical jewel hidden in the mountain valley Hohenwerfen Castle. Here are my top 10 things to do in Zell am See!

You might also be interested in reading:

Zell am See: The perfect base for your vacation  

Zell am See is now a small town of 10,000 and represents the best starting point for adventures in the surroundings. Its greatest advantage is its setting on the shores of turquoise Zeller See with plenty of tourist attractions nearby. And in winter it turns into a ski hub. 

However, it was a village not so long ago (some hundred years) and it wasn’t too interesting. So, what was the secret card that Zell am See played? Well, the railroad from Salzburg to Tyrol opened in 1875. After that, it was much easier to travel to the backcountry and as a result, Salzburgers found fun in outdoor activities and tourism. That’s when Zell am Zee discovered its marketing plan. The tourists are going to need a good place to stay and decent dining options... luxury holiday in the countryside anyone? 

Tip: Heading to Salzburg? This article might come in handy: Top 7 Sights of Salzburg + Itinerary, Maps, and Tips 

How to get to Zell am See

Travel Map, Zell am See, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Munich

3 possible starting points for your travel to Zell am See!

Zell am See lies in between Salzburg (1.5-hour drive) and Innsbruck (2.5-hour drive). Also, pretty close to Munich (80 minutes’ drive).  

My personal tip for those traveling to Zell am See by plane: Fly to Munich, Germany, and cross the borders to Austria by car. Luckily, nowadays it’s much safer than a hundred years ago and also much more comfortable than flying to Vienna. 

Our top tips for Zell am See: 

  • Save money with Zell am See-Kaprun Summer Card
  • Do you want to eat seated? Make a reservation in advance!  
  • If you’re planning to hike, pack a rain jacket and thermal underwear even in the summer

1. Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse scenic drive

Grossglockner High Alpine Road, Austrian Alps

Passing the Grossglockner in the Alps is a dream come true

Hands down the best place to visit in Austria! I would also probably the most beautiful place in Europe. The Grossglockner is the highest mountain in Austria at 3,798 m (12,461 ft). The High Alpine Road leads you through the mountain range at around 2,500 m (8,200 ft). 

For us, it was a full-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. 

Opening times: Open from late April to early November (access depends on weather conditions and the amount of snow). Opening times vary depending on month. In June through August, the road is open from 5:30 am to 9 pm. See other times on the website

Price per day: EUR 40 for cars, EUR 30 for motorcycles. Full price list on the website.  

Grossglockner Loop Hike 

  • Difficulty: Hard 
  • Distance: 8 km (4.8 mi) 
  • Elevation gain: 396 m (1 300 ft) 
  • Time: 3 hours 

Tip: Check out more incredible places in my other article, 11 Top Tourist Attractions & Best Places to See in Austria.

Grossglockner hike, Hohe Tauern National Park

The feeling when you get to the top is priceless

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). Not that you'd be hiking up to the actual Grossglockner peak, it’s a trek in its surroundings through the Hohe Tauern National Park. It was a tough hike, but very much worth it. The views are absolutely spectacular!

Tip: For the best hiking options I recommend komoot.com, which is much more suitable in Austria than alltrails.com.  

2. Kitzsteinerhorn and the Gipfelwelt 3000 

Kitzsteinerhorn around Zell am See, Austria

We conquered Kitzsteinerhorn!

About a 20-minute ride from Zell am See is another place we simply couldn’t miss. Kitzsteinerhorn is at an altitude of 3,203 m (10,508 ft) and is an iconic landmark of the Hohe Tauern National Park. The absolute top of the glacier is reserved for professional climbers, but there’s the Gipfelwelt 3 000 Center at 3,000 m (9,800 ft) with a restaurant, cinema, ice arena, ski site, and of course, the panorama platform.   

A few tips for Kitzsteinerhorn based on my experience:  

There are multiple hiking routes up to the peak, but they're rather demanding and you need to take into consideration that there is around 2,500 m (8,200 ft) elevation gain. And it’s freezing up there, even in the summer. Make sure you have some warm clothes in your suitcase for this trip! On the other hand, if you’re not a wuss, it’s a really beautiful and exciting hike. There are epic views from the top, and to get there, you need to walk through a large tunnel with a very well-structured Glacier exhibition.  

My personal tip is to hike up and enjoy the scenery, reward yourself with a delicious meal in the restaurant, and then catch the cable car down. When enjoying the view and taking an unreasonable number of photos, don’t forget that the last cable car down leaves at 4:30 pm.  

Practical information: 

  • There are 7 kinds of lifts to the top and you should prepare your wallet as this is usually the most expensive item on this trip. The return ticket costs EUR 40–50 EUR per adult based on how high you want to go.   
  • Opening times vary depending on the lift and weather conditions, but are generally daily from 8 am to 4:45 pm (the time of the last descent). 
  • There is a large parking lot next to the cable car station under the mountain. It’s free of charge and mostly designed for the surge of skiers in winter, so it’s often half-empty in the summer.  
  • Check out all the details at the Kitzsteinhorn official website

3. Kaprun Dam 

Drinking beer and getting Austrian Goulash in Kaprun Dam, Austria

Gotta love some Austrian beer! 

Speaking of Kaprun, 13 km (8.2 mi) further south of the Sigmund Thun Klamm lies the Kaprun Dam. The technical marvel is at an altitude of around 2,000 m (6,500 ft) and provides electricity for the entire Zell am See-Kaprun region. The bonus is it also looks fantastic! There are two mountain reservoirs, a restaurant, and plenty of hiking options. Just be mindful of the rapid elevation gain (around 1,500 m) which may cause trouble with breathing or dizziness. 

Tip: The best meal to have in the Alps is the goulash (strong meat stew). It usually comes at a reasonable price and always tastes great. Other useful tips to be found in 13 Tips and Tricks for Your Vacation in Austria.

How to get to Kaprun Dam: 

It’s necessary to book the bus up to the dam. And brace yourself, it’s an adrenaline experience. Like...I don’t know how about you, but I don’t fancy strangers breathing down my neck... and the buses are always crowded. Here are a few tips: 

  • Get to Kaprun Stauseen Parkahus where you can leave your car in a free parking house. Life hack: park in the highest parking spots, they're closer to the bus station.  
  • The ticket office is above the parking lot, there you can buy the tickets which include two bus rides and a journey with the inclined elevator (an interesting experience in itself). You can also book a tour of the power plant there. The ascent takes about 45 minutes
  • The first bus up leaves at 8:10 am and the last goes up at 3:30 pm (can be slightly later in the summer). There’s no exact timetable, but the buses leave continuously every 15 minutes or so. 
  • Opening times: Depends on the weather, but generally they're open from the end of May to mid-October, daily from 8:10 am to 4:45 pm (last bus leaves at 3:30 pm). Get all up-to-date information on the official website.
  • Price:  EUR 28 all inclusive 

Kaprun Dam on the map, Zell am See-Kaprun

There it is!

4. The impressive Krimmler waterfalls (and friends)

One of the many perks of the area around Zell am See is the sheer number of natural wonders. What do you get when you cross massive rocks and raging rivers? Correct, an epic tourist attraction! Here are 3 must-see waterfalls: 

The Sigmund Thun Gorge Waterfall 

Sigmund Thun Klamm, Austria

Are you also thinking about the barrel scene in Hobbit?

The first thing we need to get straight: Klamm means gorge in English. So, don’t expect this to be 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. Take at least two hours to walk the route. 

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 (proper footwear is essential!). It kind of reminded me of the Hobbit barrel scene, where the dwarves escape from the elves. Do you think Tolkien draws his inspiration from Sigmund Thun Klamm? Let me know.  

  • Generally open daily from mid-May to November 5. Opening times: July and August: 9:30 am to 7 pm; May, June, September: 9 am to 5:30 pm; October and November 9:30 am to 3:30 pm ​
  • Price: EUR 6   

Where to stay: I can recommend Avenida Panorama Suites in Kaprun. It’s an epic location with good parking spots, nice and clean modern rooms, and a good breakfast. However, the rooms are so tiny, it taught me to check the size in square meters as well from now on. 

The Krimmler Waterfalls   

Krimmler Waterfalls, Austria

Krimmler Waterfalls—the largest waterfalls in Europe!

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: Ache is a common word for a mountain river in the Alpine region. It’s not related to the 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 about 2 hours out-and-back (if you’re as ripped as I am). Just don’t forget to look up and enjoy the scenery while taking all the pics for your feed.  

  • Open daily from mid-April to November 5
  • Price:  EUR 8

Bad Gastein 

Visiting Bad Gastein Waterfall, Austria

Bad Gastein Waterfall

On your waterfall quest, you can’t miss Bas Gastein, the city in the hills. It’s only 45 minutes’ drive from Zell am See and there’s basically nothing else around it worth visiting except for the Bad Gastein Waterfall, but that alone is worth a detour. 

What else to do in Bad Gastein itself? I got it covered in the 7 Top Tourist Cities in Austria. Take a look.  

5. Visit Hohenwerfen Castle 

Hohenwerfen Castle, Austria

A fairytale castle

Hohenwerfen is one of the must-see places in Austria for people who love medieval architecture. This mighty fortress sits on top of the hill about an hour’s drive northeast of Zell am See and you don’t need to worry about getting lost as you can see it from afar.  

Archbishop Gebhard ordered the construction of Hohenwerfen Castle in 1077 along with other fortification elements in that area to secure his position in the investiture conflict. In the following years, it took turns being the archbishop’s hunting residence, a military fortress, a feared prison, a ruin, and a training center.   

Nowadays, Hohenwerfen 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 inside the castle. The only interior thing we could admire was the wooden floor and some frescoes. It’s not even furnished. Whether or not to participate in the tour is up to your judgment, but I warned you.    

What 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. You know, the Witcher kind of stuff. 

Hohenwerfen meme, Castle exhibition

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 hether you want to hop on the funicular (which is an exciting experience) or hike the hill yourself. The elevation gain is only about 150 meters (495 ft), and the combination ticket is only slightly more expensive. Either way, I strongly advise you to arrive early in the morning, as the parking lot gets filled up quickly, especially in the summer months.  

  • Opening times: The castle is open April through the beginning of November, opening times differ but are generally from 9 am to 5 pm (6 pm in the summers). Check the official website for details.  
  • Price: Tickets start at EUR 12.90 for everything if you're using good ol' leg power, and are up to EUR 16.90 for all-inclusive combination tickets. They can be bought online

6. See the See from Schmittenhöhe Mountain 

Schmittenhöhe view of Zell am See

Walk up and then look down and enjoy the view

See what I did there? The nearest mountain from Zell am See is Schmittenhöhe. The resort up in almost 2,000 m (6,562 ft) runs year-round and it’s a favorite Zell am See tourist attraction. I will tell you why... the mountains open up in front of you and give you a view of the whole Zeller Lake and the town! It's a sight to behold. 

Schmittenhöhe Panorama Route 

  • Difficulty: Moderate 
  • Distance: 8 km (4.8 mi) 
  • Elevation Gain: 1 143 m (3,750 ft) 
  • Time: Approximately 4 hours (including photo stops)

The Panorama Route will take you up to the Schmittenhöhe Peak around the water reservoirs and along the viewing points of the valley. It’s a bit demanding, but the views are extraordinary. It took us almost 4 hours, but we stopped every now and then to savor the atmosphere. There is a restaurant at the end of the way, where we recharged and then took the cable car down to the valley.  

Fun fact: There’s a small wooden chapel up there dedicated to Empress Sissi who loved this place. 

Practical info: The cable car tickets start at EUR 26 and EUR 36 depending on how high you want to go, and can also be bought in combination with a Panorama Cruise. See details on the Schmitten official website.

7. Swimming and light shows on the lake 

The Zeller Lake in Zell am See, Austria

This lake turns into a magical light show when the sun goes down

In summer, it’s obviously tempting to take a dip in Zell am See. And why not? There are several public beaches around the lake, where you can spend a relaxing afternoon swimming in the crystal-clear water with beautiful mountain views in the background. You can rent various sports equipment and boats on-site or hop on the steamboat ride. And if you’re brave enough, come here at night and try skinny dipping in the most romantic setting. If you’re lucky, it won’t be raining all the time, like it was during our vacation in July.  

The Zeller Lake beaches: 

Fun fact: Zeller See is in fact very warm compared to other lakes in the Alps thanks to the hot underwater springs... in my opinion, still damn cold though. 

The cool thing we missed because I didn’t know about it at the time, is the Magic Lake Show taking place at Elisabeth Park. As soon as the sun dips down, the laser show takes place right on the lake. The enchanting performance includes water and sound effects and it’s truly impressive. You'll need to visit in spring through fall to witness it. 

  • Showtimes in 2023: 14 May to 15 October: every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, evening show at 9:30 pm (9 pm starting in September), plus daytime shows at 1 pm and 6 pm (those are a little less impressive because of the daylight)
  • free entrance 

Accommodation tip: If you really want to pamper yourself, book your stay at the Elements Resort. This hotel has got it all, a perfect location, outdoor pool, great restaurant, friendly staff, and stylish comfy rooms.

8. Vogtturm Stadtmuseum

Vogtturm museum in Zell am See, Austria

Vogtturm museum was a really nice surprise for me!

A 1,000+-year-old tower guards the city at Stadtplatz. We also explored the local museum that displays historical artifacts (there’s nothing else to visit in the city anyway). And I must say I was surprised... in a good way. The interactive exhibition in Vogtturm provides information in English and even has an exciting video game for children. 

  • Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday 1 pm to 6 pm 
  • Price:  EUR 9.50

9. Church of St. Hippolyt 

Church of St. Hippolytus in Zell am See, Old town, Austria

The very medieval Church of St. Hippolytus

After the town hall, we strolled the old town and got to Stadtplatz (main square). The first thing that struck our attention was the 13th-century parish church of St. Hippolyt, richly decorated with original medieval frescoes.  

10. Town hall located in the castle (Stadtgemeindeamt Zell am See)

The Town Hall of Zell am See, Austria

The former Rosenberg Castle and the current Town Hall of Zell Am See

Cool huh? In the heart of the old town stands a cute Disney-like town hall named Stadtgemeindeamt Zell am See (a mouthful, right?). Why? Everything is possible in Austria; if you don’t believe me, read 7 Things About Austria You Should Know Before You Go. Anyhow, the town hall resides in a former Rosenberg Castle, built in 1583 by the Rosenberg brothers. There's not much to see inside, as it serves as a seat of the city council, but definitely worth checking out. 

In conclusion: Is Zell am See worth visiting? 

Yes, yes, and yes! As I said, it’s in a beautiful setting and there’s plenty to see and do in less than 2 hours' driving distance. And although it can get a bit crowded during the high season, you can always run to the hills. The countryside and nature are the best Austria has to offer. 

Where to stay? The best Zell am See Hotels

I’m going to point out a couple of accommodation tips from my own experience along the way. Let’s now look at the 3 best places to stay in Zell am See. 

Senses Violett Suites Hotel—acommodation in Zell am See, Austria

Senses Violett Suites Hotel

Schloss Prielau 4*: A fairytale gone real 

The landscape in Zell am See is breathtaking by itself, but to really top off the fairytale vibes, stay at Schloss Prielau. It’s a former medieval castle located on the north side of the lake turned into a luxury hotel with a private beach and spa. And you can even bring your pets! 

Sportshotel Alpin 4*: A winter haven 

If you come to Zell am See for a skiing vacation, this is your dream hotel. Located right next to the slopes, 3 minutes from the Old Town, and 7 minutes from Zeller Lake, Alpin Hotel is the perfect base. Providing free parking lot, a spa, a swimming pool, and rooms with a lake view.  

Senses Violett Suites 4*: A peaceful mountain oasis  

The Senses Violett Suites is located on the slopes above the city, which means one thing: splendid views. It’s adult-only, so it means another thing: peace! And finally, the suites are stylish and modern, yet very cozy. From mid-May to mid-October (high season), you also get a complimentary Zell am See-Kaprun Summercard, and I think that’s sweet. 

This post may contain affiliate links. We earn a small commission if you make bookings through my links, at no additional cost to you. This helps us keep this blog free, thank you! 

 

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About me

About me

Hi! I’m Jan. I live in Prague, Czech Republic. I try to experience the best the world has to offer, and I don’t cease to be impressed. But if I’m not, I’m sure going to tell you! You can count on my full honesty and real opinions here. No bullcrap. I own and run several companies, which gives me great (but not unlimited) freedom to roam the world.  

I was first inspired to start this blog by my own experience of researching for upcoming trips—I often struggle with a lack of good information, accuracy, and authenticity of resources. You wouldn’t believe how many “travel bloggers” don’t even visit the destinations they write about! 

My goal with this blog is to provide you with complex and practical information so that you can plan your own vacation, complete with insights you’d only get if you visited the place. I also put together itineraries that are fully planned out trip guides.

Another aspect that drives this platform is my curiosity about the history, geography, politics, and economy of each country I visit, so I try to include this information in my articles, too. It’s always great to get the bigger picture, right? 

And just to be clear, I am not trying to compete with backpacking blogs or provide hacks for an economical and affordable experience. My vacations follow the standard pattern of traveling by plane, staying in good hotels, and renting a car on the spot to get around. I’m also always up for a fantastic meal, though I don’t shy away from local delicacies and street food, either.  

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