Spectacular alpine panoramas, lakes and postcard-perfect villages: The Salzkammergut, shared between Upper Austria and Styria, is one of the most popular regions in Austria – and an UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, too. Discover the most beautiful viewpoints, the cutest towns and the quirkiest sights with our guide.
Gaze at Colorful Skulls in Hallstatt
Nestled between the Hallstatt Lake and the Dachstein Mountains, the village with its picturesque pastel-colored buildings is the most photographed mountain-side spot in Austria. Hallstatt only has 750 inhabitants but attracts more than 70,000 visitors a year. Fun fact: A bunch of Chinese architects fell head over heels in love with Hallstatt and built a replica in the Guangdong province in 2011.
Explore the car-free village center center, then head to Hallstatt’s quirkiest sight, the “bone house” in St. Michael’s Chapel. Due to lack of space, graves were frequently recycled from the 16th century: Once a body was decomposed, it was dug up again and the skulls painted (men’s with ivy and oak leaves, women’s with floral designs). In the “bone house” you can see more than 600 colorful human remains. Entrance is 1.50 Euro ($ 1.75).
Explore the World’s Oldest Salt Mine
Ever since the Bronze Age, salt was quarried in the region—and the world’s oldest mine is only a short cable car ride from Hallstatt. The “Salt Worlds” take you back to the very beginning of mining some 7,000 years ago. Outfitted with a helmet, you'll go more than 400 meters below ground and explore the hand dug tunnels. Highlights include a mine train, an underground cinema and a salt lake. Admission costs 30 euros including the funicular. Warm clothes are essential!
Back on the surface, enjoy a panoramic view over Hallstatt Lake and the mountains from the “World Heritage Skywalk.” Hallstatt’s newest attraction 350 meters above the village is only a stone’s throw from the mine.
Tour the Spectacular Dachstein Caves
The Dachstein, at a height of 9,826 feet (2,995 meters), is one of the tallest landmarks in the Salzkammergut. It’s fascinating to just marvel at it from the distance. But it’s even better to see its insides. Its two caves are within walking distance and can be reached by cable-car from Obertraun.
The Giant Ice Cave is the more spectacular one. Its 500-year-old ice forms a mountain up to 26 feet (8 meters) high. Walk through the cave while the ice around you is immersed in colored light and music. The highlight is a 98-foot-long (30-meter) rope bridge that will give you chills (and not just because it’s cold!).
The Mammut cave is one of the largest karst caves in the world. Tours take you through the passageways illuminated by laser installations. Especially impressive is the projection of a medieval church window emerging from the cliff. A ticket for both caves is 40.30 euros for adults.
Enjoy a Breathtaking View From the 5fingers
If you are afraid of heights this might not be your cup of tea. But if you are up for an adrenaline rush, the 5fingers viewing point is a must. Reaching out like a hand over five platforms more than 1,300 feet (400 meters) above ground, it offers unbeatable panoramas over Hallstatt, the Hallstatt Lake and the Salzkammergut. And if you seriously want to challenge yourself, one of the “fingers” is entirely made of glass! The platform is illuminated at night which makes it Instagram-worthy both from the top and the valley.
Take the cable car from Krippenstein and walk the Experience Trail about 20 minutes up.
Learn About Gustav Klimt at His Favorite Vacation Spot
Gustav Klimt was Viennese, but his most famous landscape paintings were inspired by the Attersee Lake. From 1900 to 1916, the artist spent his summers here. Today visitors can walk in his footsteps. Opened on Klimt’s 150th birthday, the Klimt Center in Kammer-Schörfling features a multimedia exhibition on Klimt’s life and works as well as original memorabilia (like a postcard he wrote to his muse Emilie Flöge).
Nearby is the 30-minute Klimt Artist Trail where you will learn more about the painter while enjoying the lake views. Afterwards, hop on a boat and see for yourself why Klimt loved the region so much.
Tour a Ceramics Factory in Gmunden
Gmunden is a cute town with its own castle on a tiny island (Schloss Orth), waterfront promenades and a yacht marina. While celebrities such as Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms and Kaiser Wilhelm were frequent visitors in the past, it’s now a popular weekend getaway for fashionable Salzburgers. It got world famous thanks to its ceramic factories. Every piece is handmade and makes a perfect souvenir. Visit the Gmundner Keramik Manufaktur and learn all about the traditional craft. You can even paint your own cup (workshops can be booked online).
For a bit of a different ceramics experience, head to the quirky Klo & So Museum, an exhibition entirely dedicated to toilets.
Explore the Kaiservilla in Bad Ischl
Gmunden’s biggest rival in terms of celebrities is Bad Ischl, the former summer capital of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. Members of the Viennese aristocracy were attracted to the spa village’s saline said to cure rheumatic disorders. Emperor Franz Joseph I described Bad Ischl as “heaven on earth.” When he got married to Elisabeth, better known as “Sisi”, he received the elegant Kaiservilla as a wedding gift from his mother. His summer residence for over 60 years, surrounded by a splendid park, is Bad Ischl’s top attraction. Admission to the house costs 15 euros.
After touring the couple’s private rooms, head back into the town center and stop at Café Zauner to taste the famous “Zauner Stollen,” a delicious blend of nougat grillage with wafers, hazelnuts and dark chocolate coating.
Gaze at the “Mountain of Treasures” in Altaussee
The Altaussee Salt Mine is Austria's largest still-operating mine. It rose to fame during the Second World War when Nazis used it as a hiding place for art treasures, many of them stolen from Jews. Towards the end of the war, 4,700 paintings were hidden in the mine tunnels. Experts estimate the value around 3.5 billion dollars. Adolf Hitler’s plan was to destroy the collection rather than leave it to his enemies. However, some courageous mine workers managed to thwart the plan.
The multimedia show “Bombing Michelangelo” inside the cave shows the spectacular mission to rescue the treasures. Other highlights include two slides leading to a salt lake and the mystical St. Barbara’s Chapel made out of pure salt. Some 700 meters below ground it’s a popular spot for couples to “tie the knot”. A cave tour costs 18 euros.
Visit Mondsee and the “Sound of Music” Wedding Church
Mondsee is a stunning alpine lake in the rock of the Drachenwand (“dragon wall”)—and a cute village, too. Only 18.6 miles (30 kilometers) away from Salzburg, it makes a popular day trip. The ancient town on the north tip of the lake features a busy market square, a scenic promenade and a medieval monastery. There’s also an open-air museum called Rauchhaus (“smoke house”) showing life on the countryside five centuries ago. Admission costs 4 euros.
Many tourists however come for Mondsee’s basilica St. Michael. The stunning yellow church dating back to the 16th century starred in the wedding scenes of “The Sound of Music.” Entrance is free.
Hike to the Lakes of Gosau
With mountains, forests, spectacular Dachstein views and two lakes, Gosau is a nature lovers’ paradise. Its excellent access to the Dachstein slopes makes it a popular winter destination whereas the rest of the year it’s perfect for hiking. Trails range from family friendly two-hour walks to full day tours, the most popular destinations being the nearby lakes, Vorderer Gosausee (a diving hotspot) and Hinterer Gosausee. There are several mountain huts along the way to rest, eat or even stay overnight. Put on your hiking shoes and enjoy!
Enjoy a Boat Trip on Wolfgangsee
You can take boat trips pretty much everywhere in Salzkammergut but Wolfgangsee has been an especially popular spot ever since the Habsburger days. Boats run frequently between St. Wolfgang, St. Gilgen and Strobl and you can visit all three villages in a day.
St. Wolfgang’s main attractions are its cathedral, a popular pilgrim site built in 976, and the luxurious spa hotel Weißes Rössl known from the tacky Austrian operetta “Im Weißen Rössl am Wolfgangsee.” St. Gilgen is famous for its connection to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: His mother was born here and his sister, Nannerl, married a local. The Mozarthaus runs an exhibition on Nannerl. Strobl doesn’t really have a standout attraction but its center nestled with 19th century villas makes a nice stroll.
Take a Cog-Railway up Schafberg Mountain
The Salzkammergut is all about views and one of the most stunning ones is from Schafberg Mountain. Overlooking shimmering lakes and the foothills of the Alps, you can see as far as Chiemsee in Bavaria on clear days. But the breathtaking 360-degree panorama is only half of the fun. Going up the 1.1 mile-high (1,784-meter) summit is an adventure of its own. The bright red cog-railway, the steepest of its kind in the country, takes you to the top in 35 minutes. It has been ascending from St. Wolfgang up the Schafberg Mountain since 1893. Alternatively, you can hike. Right at the summit you will find the Schafberg Hotel. Enjoy lunch with a view before making your way back down. Adult return tickets for the train are 36 euros.
Visit the Castle Ruin and Crime Museum in Scharnstein
Scharnstein is a tiny village in Upper Austria mainly known for its castle ruin. The fortress was built in the 12th century and burnt down in 1538. Only the tower remained intact. It’s a pleasant 20-minute hike up from the town center. The ruin itself is a perfect picnic spot.
Afterwards make your way to the Museum of Crime at Scharnstein Castle and explore Austria’s history of law and punishment from the 1500s. Ever wondered what it felt like to suffer in a dungeon? This is the place to find out! The museum is only open on weekends and entry costs 6 euros.