Visiting the Werfen ice caves near Salzburg in Austria is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all lovers of natural wonders. Getting to the mouth of the cave via cable car and hiking trails before entering the Eisriesenwelt is part of what makes this a must-visit attraction for anyone who is able and fit.
We visited the ice caves on a day trip from Salzburg. The Werfen Castle which dominates the town’s skyline is the one you see in the famous meadow picnic scene in The Sound of Music. We love exploring the history of the filming of The Sound of Music in Salzburg. The caves are also easily reached from Zell am See if this is where you’re based.
Werfen Ice Caves Basics
|Entrance fee (including cable car)||From €35 including cable car (see more prices)|
(Individual cave & cable car times below)
|July/August 8:30 – 16:30|
May/June/Sept/Oct 8:15 – 15:45
|Temperature in cave||0 °C|
|Time needed for visit||At least 3 hours|
|Getting there||Car, public transport, organized tour (see full details below)|
5 Reasons to Visit the Eisriesenwelt
- It’s the largest ice cave in the world – Although you’ll only see the first 2 km, the entire cave system is 42 km long.
- Cool off on a hot summer’s day – At an average year-round temperature of 0 °C, you’ll soon stop complaining about the heat after trekking up the mountain.
- Hike up a mountain AND ride a cable car – Getting to the mouth of the Werfen ice caves is part of the fun of visiting the Eisriesenwelt. Two shortish (about 20 minutes each) hikes are broken up by a thrilling cable car ride. In fact, it’s the steepest gondola lift ride in Austria.
- See stunning ice formations – The sheer size of the formations, including the Great Ice Embankment of about 25 m high, will let you forget about the cold.
- Enjoy beautiful views of the Alps – On your way to the Eisriesenwelt in the Tennengebirge, you’ll enjoy different views of the surrounding valleys and mountains as you make your way up to the Werfen ice caves. In particular, look out for Werfen Castle and the Sound of Music meadow behind the town of Werfen.
Our Werfen Ice Caves Experience
Getting to the Mouth of the Cave
From the ticket office, a wide and well-marked gravel path leads to the cable car station. At one point, you can take a shortcut through a tunnel in the mountain or take a detour around it. We took the tunnel on the way up and walked around on the way back. The detour doesn’t take that much longer, but does make a difference if you don’t want to wait too long for the cable car.
There wasn’t a long queue at the cable car station, but long enough that we didn’t make it into the first car that arrived. The next car came quicker than we thought, so we didn’t wait more than 15 minutes in total.
This was on a quiet afternoon in October, so I can’t imagine what the lines look like during the peak season in July and August. Fortunately, there’s a small café and a snack vending machine with cold drinks if you’re in need of refreshments while you wait.
After leaving the top cable car station, you’ll pass the Dr. Oedl-Schutzhaus restaurant that serves traditional Austrian food. From the terrace, you have great views of the surrounding mountain landscape. I suggest stopping here after your cave tour, especially if you arrive at or after lunchtime, to ensure you have enough time for the tour and to take the last cable car down.
The last bit of your trek to the mouth of the Eisriesenwelt is another 20-minute hike. You’ll soon be above the tree line and walking next to sheer rock faces.
Many parts of the trail have been covered to protect visitors from potential rockfalls and it’s wide enough to safely pass hikers coming from the front. Even more safety measures were implemented after a fatal accident in July 2020 when a falling rock killed a teenager.
There are toilets on the left just before you get to the mouth of the cave. We waited about 20 minutes for our tour to start and used the time to take pictures and dress warmly.
Inside the Werfen Ice Caves
The guides introduce themselves and give you a lecture about how to behave inside the caves. They also hand out open-flame carbide lamps to every 4th or 5th person to light the way inside. We didn’t get one, but I was glad I didn’t have the added responsibility of trying not to set myself (or anyone else) alight.
There is no electric light in the caves. The only light is from the lamps or from magnesium flares set off by the guides to illuminate the ice formations.
You are warned about the 700 steps and difference in altitude of 134 m you’ll have to overcome inside the cave. Your only chance to opt-out of the tour is after climbing most of the stairs. If you feel you’re not going to make the rest of the way, you can wait at one particular point for another group at the end of their tour and return to the exit with them. Believe me, there were people in our group who made use of this option.
Some of the ice walls are 20 metres thick. Among the highlights are stalagmites and stalactites that represent an ice organ, waterfalls, a chapel, and a tower.
The cave tour alone lasts about 75 minutes.
Interesting Ice Caves Facts
- The caves were officially discovered in 1879 by Anton von Posselt-Czorich from Salzburg.
- One of the early explorers, Alexander von Mörk, was buried in the cave after he got killed in World War I.
- The oldest layers of ice in the Werfen Ice Caves are approximately 1,000 years old.
Tips for Your Werfen Ice Caves Visit
- Wear sensible shoes and take a warm jacket and something to cover your ears no matter how scorching hot it is outside. If you’re not wearing jeans or other long pants, take a pair of tights to put on under your shorts or skirt before you enter the cave. I forgot my beanie and ended up wrapping my scarf around my head.
- Don’t fret about not being able to take pictures inside the cave. Just enjoy the experience. Pictures don’t do it justice anyway. Honestly, I don’t get how some people say the caves aren’t worth visiting just because they’re not allowed to take pictures inside.
- Make sure you have enough time to enjoy the experience without worrying whether you’ll make the last tour or the last cable car down. Start your journey up the mountain at least 3,5 hours before the last car ride.
- Buy your tickets and book a specific time online to avoid waiting in lines, but only if you are sure you’ll be there on time.
How to Get from Salzburg to Werfen
Many people visit the ice caves on a day trip from Salzburg. There are 3 possibilities to travel from Salzburg to Werfen:
Getting from Salzburg to Werfen by car is quick and easy via the A10 highway. It should take about 45 minutes to cover the distance of 56 km. From the town to the ice caves, it’s another 5 km.
There is limited parking outside the ice cave ticket office. If you arrive during a busy time of the day, it’s best to park in town and catch the shuttle bus. There is quite a big parking area that you can’t miss near the train station between the highway and the Werfen town centre. Return tickets cost €7,50 per adult.
Bus and Train
Getting from Salzburg to Werfen by public transport is the easiest by train. The journey between the Salzburg main train station (Hbf) and Werfen takes only 40 minutes and cost from as little as €9.
If you want to make sure you get to the caves without getting lost, an organised Werfen ice caves tour from Salzburg is the answer.
Frequently Asked Questions
How far is the walk to Werfen Ice Caves?
Visiting the Werfen ice caves requires three walks of over 2 hours in total. The first two will get you to the mouth of the cave, with a cable car ride in between. The last is the cave tour which covers about 2 km.
While the hiking trails on the way to the caves are wide and even, it is mostly uphill. Inside the cave, there are 700 steps to climb (up and down in total) – in a single file and by lamplight only. You should seriously consider if you’re fit enough to cope before entering the cave.
What are the Werfen Ice Caves ticket options?
|Ticket||Adult||Youth (15-18 yrs)||Children (5-14 yrs)|
|Cave tour + cable car||€39||€27||€19|
- Note that online tickets are slightly cheaper.
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