As soon as we read that the largest ice cave in the world – Eisriesenwelt – was located just an hour from us in Salzburg, we had to make the journey. First of all, I’d never seen an ice cave in my life and second of all, anything that’s the largest, oldest, tallest – I am SO there!
Plus, Eisriesenwelt literally means “World of the Ice Giants” in German…
So without any question of course, we picked our day and prepared for our journey. We weren’t sure what to expect, but we knew it had to be done. After all, go big or go home applies to ice caves in Austria too…
Our [Unprepared] Day Trip to the Largest Ice Cave in the World
Eisriesenwelt is located 53 km (33 miles) from Salzburg and can be reached completely by public transportation. Take a train from Salzburg HBF to Werfen (about an hour.)
We quickly found out that this day trip would take a lot more energy than we’d anticipated. And going out the night before until 5 am, waking up hungover at 11am, walking to the train station, hiking up a mountain for an ice cave tour was NOT the best idea. But…we did it anyways of course!
The first step was easy. Walk about a mile, catch a train to Salzburg and hop on train to Werfen. One, two, three DONE! That wasn’t so bad…
But when we got off the train at Werfen station, we were instantly confused. We failed to do much research on this little excursion of ours. (It was one of our first day trips since we moved abroad to Austria, so we hadn’t mastered the system yet!) So, with that being send, we ended up walking in the complete wrong direction when we got off the train. Although we had a nice mini tour of our surroundings (but it was Sunday so everything was closed), it was not the ice cave we were looking for…
We realized we weren’t getting any closer, so we turned around and headed back to the train station. Finally we found the sign (that we somehow missed before?) for Eisriesenwelt. Feeling relieved, we followed the sign to the departure point of the Eisriesenwelt shuttle – which was really only a 5 minute walk from the train station (if you walk the right way!)
When you’ve arrived at Werfen train station, you then have 2 options….
Hop on the scheduled bus (8:18 a.m., 10:18 a.m., 12:18 p.m. and 2:18 p.m) OR walk 5 minutes
…To the departure point of the Eisriesenwelt shuttle service.
Now, as I said, we woke up really late that morning, and by the time we actually made it to the shuttle point, there was 1 MORE bus going up! 1 more bus, 1 more cable car scheduled and 1 MORE tour left in the day, actually. But stubbornly, we continued onward.
They run a shuttle service from Parkplatz Gries/Werfen that goes up the mountain every 25 minutes for about 7 euros round trip. You can also drive up the mountain (BUT make sure your car is in good shape because it can get steep!)
The bus finally came and because it was SO late in the day, we were the only passengers (oops!). We hopped on and embarked on our very windy drive to the top – one that most cars would have issues conquering.
When we arrived, the bus driver explained that we had to catch the last cable car, which meant we had to make serious moves. Actually “SCHNELL!” (or hurry in German) was the word he used repeatedly, so we knew we literally had to run! Our driver also informed us that the last bus down would depart at 6:30pm and if we missed that, we were walking (the ride up was about 20 minutes, so you can imagine the WALK down).
That means we had 2.5 hours to get to the top, take the tour, and get back down. HALF the amount of time recommended for the full ice cave experience.
The recommended time for visiting the ice cave is 5 hours, but we recommend adding in a few extra hours, just in case you want to stop and admire the view.
But we pushed on…
We RAN to the ticket booth, purchased our tickets and were off. We had to make it to the cable car ….or else we weren’t going anywhere!
Tickets for the Ice Cave cost 24 euro if you’re looking to do the cable car and the tour. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to hike up to the ice cave, the cave tour is only 12 euros, and the hike takes about 1.5 hours, depending on how in shape you are of course!
Luckily, we made it for the last ride up. As the cable car began its ascent, we felt relaxed for the first time. We did it! Despite our terrible planning and unexpected delays, we were going to make it for the last tour of Eisriesenwelt.
But that moment of relaxation came to an end when the cable car arrived at our destination. The next mission was to walk 20-30 minute up to the entrance. And when I say up – I seriously mean up! The walk is steep. BUT the scenery makes everything okay…
Make sure you don’t underestimate the walk up to the entrance after the cable car. It’s actually really steep and with the higher altitude, it can be exhausting for some. Oh and don’t run up like we did…
Views from Hochkogel Moutain – The Ice Cave’s home
The views from Hochkogel mountain on your way to the entrance are some of the best views we’ve seen in Austria. The quaint village of Werfen is at the foot of the mountain, and then it’s just green fields, and layers of mountains with Austrian villages scattered throughout. And it seems to continue forever.
When the sun is shining through the clouds, reflecting patches of light, there’s simply nothing as peaceful.
…But, we’d have to enjoy that later – we had a tour to make!
Onward we went – literally running to make the last tour of the day. It was our final stage of the journey and we had to push forward or else this entire trip would be for nothing…
After a few breaks and moments where we both almost passed out, WE MADE IT!
We caught up with the last group of the day. And lucky for us English speakers, the last tour of the day was only in German. (FYI we’d only been living in Austria for 2 months, so our German skills = nonexistent)
Despite the language barrier, we entered the ice cave bundled and ready to be amazed.
The Tour of Eisriesenwelt
The entire tour of the ice cave takes about an hour and 15 minutes, and it consists of a lot of stairs. Be sure to bring warm clothes – sweaters, scarves etc – and good sturdy shoes. No matter what the weather is outside, the ice cave is freezing cold (of course), so you wanna dress appropriately.
The only thing we did right was pack warm clothes. Unfortunately for us though, they didn’t help much! Since we ran up a mountain, we were sweating. And stepping into a giant freezer when wet = instantly frozen. And the entire tour is walking up and down stairs, so we had to physically force ourselves to keep moving.
But despite that and the fact that we were still catching our breath, none of that really mattered anymore. What we saw erased it all…
World of the Ice Giants
There’s something magical about ice caves. Thick walls of ice. Beautiful shapes and colors. We’d never seen anything like it before. You’re not allowed to take pictures inside, but we were more than content taking it all in mentally.
And although we couldn’t understand what the tour guide was saying (HA!), we were happy being in our own world. During the tour, I kept thinking…
I am in a mountain, above the clouds, walking through the largest ice cave in the entire world.
How could I be anything but perfectly happy?
After our tour came to an end, we had to briskly walk back to the cable car to make the very last one of the day. We snapped as many photos as we could, since the way up was more of a mission than a travel experience. Then hopped on the last cable car of the day (literally we rode with the employees who were going home) and crossed our fingers that we’d find that bus waiting for us…
About that bus?
Well, that bus never came (at least not to where we were standing!)
Who knows if we were late or we were in the wrong place. At this point in the day, we were exhausted and not much thinking was going on! As we waited for the bus, we mapped out our ‘what if’ plan.
That plan involved starting our walk down and trying to hitchhike on the way. To our disappointment, no one pulled over, so we kept on trekking.
Finally we saw a bus!
We weren’t sure what bus, but it looked official. So we did what any smart traveler would do – run practically in front of the bus to flag it down!
Much to our luck, the bus saw us and stopped. We jumped in and sat still for the first time in what seemed like hours of “schnell”ing (hurrying!)
Our mission to explore Eisriesenwelt was complete.
It was definitely a whirlwind – one that felt more rushed than we’d wanted it to be – but we did it. You live, you learn. And that’s all that matters.
Travel Myths for Eisriesenwelt: BUSTED
You only need a few hours…
The more time you have the merrier. Make an entire day of it and enjoy the walk up! The view is half of the experience. You don’t want to miss out on that kinda scenery because of a packed itinerary or (like in our case) a late start.
Plus, with the village of Werfen and the Hohenwerfen castle, you can create the best day trip of all time. Castle, village AND an ice cave = day well spent.
It’s an easy journey.
Although the transportation is direct, the journey up can seem like it goes on forever. Make sure you’re ready (physically and emotionally) to handle it all. After all, you want to enjoy yourself as much as possible. This was a lesson we learned the hard way.
The perfect rainy day activity.
No, no no!
Many people suggest a trip to the ice cave as a rainy day activity, but Eisriesenwelt is most enjoyed when the weather is clear, sunny and beautiful. If it’s cloudy, you’ll miss out on the views and the outdoor restaurant at the top (that serves Austrian snacks and drinks.) If you go on a nice day, you’ll appreciate your surroundings so much more – I promise.
Lessons learned: Quick tips from our Journey
1 Leave AT LEAST 5 hours for your visit.
Or 6 hours – just to be sure you can take your time.
2 Bring warm clothes.
Even if it’s hot outside! Bundle up for the tour, because as you can imagine, it’s FREEZING!
3 Plan on visiting in the morning/early afternoon.
The last cable car up is 3:20pm (May, June, Sept., Oct.) and 4:30pm (July, Aug.)
4 Make Werfen a day trip.
Visit Hohenwerfen Castle the same day – 10 minutes away – and don’t forget the village of Werfen. Both are 100% worth adding to your itinerary.
5 Bring water!
AND fill up water in the bathroom sinks – the cold mountain water is SO fresh and SO cold.
6 Don’t miss the last bus back down.
Which departs around 6:30pm. Otherwise, you’ll be walking down the mountain.
7 Get a good night’s sleep the night before
And don’t go out partying…
Despite our struggles, Eisriesenwelt was one of the coolest experiences we’ve had in Austria. Aside from taking a peak into the largest ice cave in the world, you get to enjoy peaceful views, and the outskirts of Salzburg. An experience you will never forget during your trip to Austria.
Between the mountains, villages, green hills and (OH YEAH) that giant ice cave, no day trip is more worth it.