Ice Caves, Salzburg
Visited on a weeklong trip to Austria, Oct 2013. The caves were due to close soon, and the brochures in our Schloss made it seem a good day trip option on an open day. First of all, it is quite a trek getting to just the visitors center, long switchback unpaved roads at time, scenery is beautiful so this can be overlooked. Get to the visitors center, and to the ticket counter. Be prepared to shell out 20 Euro a person for the entrance and tram ride. They informed us that they had lockers as we had brought some gear (nothing extensive, camera bags, backpacks) for an additional cost, we declined as we intended on using our equipment. After two very long uphill hike’s (one to the tram, one to the cave) on very uneven, and gravelly trails, we finally get to the mouth of the “ice caves” to which we are greeted for the first time with a giant sign “No Photography Allowed in the Cave”…. After hiking all the way up with our gear, you think someone would have mentioned this??? We questioned why to the single (very rude) guide, and he said it was from the flash, and it would affect the ice, I saw that as reasonable but had tripods for long exposures with no flash, still denied…. Then our group of about 20 people met, at the very unpleasant smelling door to the cave, and are all handed…get this… OPEN FLAME METAL LANTERNS…. Which apparently does not affect the ice? Inside the cave, it was chilly, to be expected, and not lit at all, very dark (not the luminous glowing ice sculptures shown on the brochures, and the 5 euro postcards in the gift shop) My party was the last few in the group (we think as an elderly woman was left on the initial stairs inside the cave, in the pitch black, as she was “winded” (tour guide decision). And were trying to take it all in, as we were hurried through the different parts of the cave, they lit up small portions of the ice and caverns using nothing more than red hot phosphorous which slowly burned itself out into the 2 foot piles of phosphorous ash below them after so many visitors are shown the areas (way to clean up after yourselves) The whole cave is single file, so by the time we got up to the part the guide was talking about, we had but 10 seconds to look before the single guide, very rudely on several occasions angrily came up to us and very sarcastically announced the whole group we were holding them up, and at one point, my group inquired about specific rock types in the cave and the entire tour was answered with a loud, and very obnoxious “I don’t answer questions of people that hold up my tour”….. So at this point we just gave up, and went about walking, to just keep up, and interestingly enough when you attention is not being focused on the “tour highlights” you become more aware of your footing, or better yet the lack of such… and here is the fun part… The ice caves are only open during the summer and early autumn as in the wintertime, they have to prop open their man-made door to the cave entrance to allow the water to freeze inside the cave, and the door when closed in the summer, eliminates much of the heat that would melt the ice more rapidly…. Yet, as I was watching my footing, under some of the longer sections of plank we were on, I noticed more and more pvc water piping following the extent of the tour…. And in my experience with this, I highly doubted it was drainage, but rather flow….most likely to pump water into the caverns to create the “marvelous ice shelves”.
Overall: overpriced, hurried and rude tour of what is most likely mostly manmade ice sculptures. Brochures do claim it is the world’s largest ice cavern, it doesn’t say the world’s largest NATURAL ice caverns, and the tour guide will not answer this question….. Save your money, and get some bratwurst. Completely disappointed!!!! Zero stars….
This is not an activity for the not so fit as it involves freezing temperatures (even in August) and some very treacherou and slippery trekking. If however, you think that you can handle all this and are prepared to make the effort, you will not be disappointed. The Ice Caves stretch for 42 kms but only the first km features the sculptures and figiures. Werfen is easily reached by train from Salzburg but there are a number of day tours frm Salzburg available which may be more practical for some. There is a steep cable car which takes the visitors up to the Caves. Fee for the Cable Car and enrance to the Caves is not cheap by any means. But the experience is unforgettable.
It definitely IS an effort to climb up and see the caves. However, IMHO anyone is in reasonably good health can do it - and it's worth it. "Reasonably good health" doesn't mean "in good shape". My wife and I were certainly NOT in shape - as well as many others who hiked to the caves. I mean that you don't have a condition in which your physician would disallow the physical effort.
What is involved?
Once you reach the visitors' center/ticket office (either by bus from the lower parking lot or by driving yourself 5 km up a narrow, winding - but good - road), you have to walk up a relatively steep, but good, uphill path for 15-20 minutes to the cable car. If you are really in bad shape, just take your time. Then after the 3-minute cable car ride, you must walk another similar 15-20 minutes uphill path to the entrance of the caves. Again, you may take your time. Then you join the 1 hour guided tour. This is the most difficult part for two main reasons:
(1) You have to go up about 700 stairs during the tour, albeit with short rest stops along the way, and -
(2) You have to go at the pace of the group which, in most cases, is OK - albeit a big effort.
I certainly don't want to discourage anyone - no need to. I'm just trying to tell you what it's like. :)
What to wear?
It is zero Celsius inside (32 F). Everyone has their own tolerance of cold. I saw people in short-sleeve shirts and shorts (DEFINITELY NOT RECOMMENDED!) as well as people with winter jackets, hats, gloves, and scarf. Decide according to your tolerance of that temperature. I would recommend at least a good windbreaker with long-sleeved shirt or sweater - and and good, closed walking shoes are a must. An important tip: Wear gloves! Even if you personally don't need gloves at that temperature, you will find them very useful as the railing you must hold on to when climbing the steps in the cave are metal - and VERY cold. Your hands will be frozen by the end of the tour if you don't wear gloves.
A plus going up to the caves: You get a great view of Hohenwerfen - the castle on a cliff overlooking the town of Werfen.
What if I can't visit Eisriesenwelt?
There is another popular ice cave, also in the Salzburgland area - Dachstein, just east of Halstatt. This cave is significantly easier to do, although it still requires some effort. This cave is also quite impressive but in a different way so you can visit both if you want, as I did.
Caves are an excellent activity for days of bad weather.
There are several different places you can take excusions or tours to, this include:
Sound of Music Tour - takes you to all the places used in the area for the film.
Ice caves - Caves made entirely out of ice.
Salt mine - As above but with salt.
National lake District
Eagle's Nest - Hitler's holiday home where he spend about a third of his time.
A place to avoid unless you are extremely fit. It is up a cliff face with sheer drops and at an altitude of 5628 ft - Jungfrau in Switzerland is 3120 ft and is reached by a railway. Within the ascent you have 2 x 20 minutes walk and then the ice caves. Cable cars looked small. Not to be recommended for anyone with health problems i.e. asthmatic, diabetic, arthritis etc. Website tends to gloss over the real dangers. Looking at it I would imagine that getting medical assistance could be difficult.
My brother and I started from Salzburg and took the train to Werfen (about 30 miles south). We then rode the shuttle bus, which you can catch at the train station in Werfen. It only goes about 3 miles, and ends at the the Wimmer Hütte. From there, you take a 20 minute walk to get on the cable car, for the 3 minute (1500ft climb). The cable car holds 15 people, but try to stay by a window because the view is wonderful! It's too bad you can only enjoy it for 3 minutes! If you're energetic, you could walk instead (takes about 90 minutes), but I recommend the cable trip! The last step is another 20 minute (fairly steep) walk up the path to the cave entrance. Definitely bring shoes with good tread and warm clothing or layers... it's chilly inside (0°C/32°F)! We bought a combo ticket for 17 euros each, which included the cable car and a guided tour through the cave, which was very informative. If you're anywhere near Salzburg, it's definietly a great experience! It was amazing to see all the interesting ice formations inside, including "the Elephant".
Wow, this was a great experice. There are many hotels and hostels that give great deals on tours to the ICe caves. Now, I went to see this with sandals...sicnce it was warm in Salzburg...so plase make sure you take something to keep you warm.... as it is freezing in side the cave. The best is the view from the top. the cable ride is also pretty cool. So if you are in Salzburg, dont miss the ice caves...its definetly worth a visit. (the whole trip only would take half a day)
Situated high up on in the mountains outside to small town of Werfen sits the Eisriesenwelt ice cave. Approximately a 30 minute drive from Salzburg, you can reach the area by bus or through a tour company. The caves are the largest ice caves in the world and they do not disappoint. Everywhere you look there are enormous columns of ice rising from the floor, sheets of ice seeming to derive from the rocky cave walls and frozen underground lakes and rivers. The tour is approximately 1 hour in duration and involves many many stairs, not to mention to 15 minute hike upwards from the car park. Tours are also conducted in multiple languages. Recently the famous elephant ice formation crumbled and is no more but in its place now stands the polar bear. Within the cave also rests the ashes of the man who originally discovered the caves.
South of Salzburg near Werfen is an extra ordinary find. The ice caves' story is facinating and the experience totally memorable. I traveled there this last time with my entire family, including my 80 year old parents. The hike was a bit much for them at that altitude but we just took our time and got through it.
While in the area of Salzburg, we visited the Eisriesenwelt, home of the world's largest ice cave. Since it is in the Alps, we had to take Europe's steepest cable-car ride to reach the cave. And of course, when you are in the Alps, the scenery is always breath-taking.
During the actual tour inside the cave, which lasted about an hour, a guide explained to us the details of the icy formations. When I was there, I saw massive polar bear- and elephant-shaped ice structures; however, they are constantly changing, as the ice melts in the spring before freezing anew in the fall.
Tours seem to be easy be book: I met some fellow Canadians who said they heard about the ice cave from their youth hostel in Salzburg in the morning.
You need to walk about 10 minutes to the cable car station. To look around the caves you need to take the guided tour. It’s a fascinating trip. Some areas are quite steep and the steps are not very big, so walking boots could prove a bit cumbersome, trainers might be easier. The metal handrails are extremely cold to the touch so it is worth taking gloves. You’ll need reasonably warm clothing. The view from outside the caves is gorgeous. Anyone really afraid of heights might find the walk a bit scary but it is fenced off and appears to be very safe.
Eisriesenwelt (Ice Caves) in Werfen
The climb to the cave entrance is great although pretty hard work for an old fat guy! The view of Hohenwerfen is incredible and the farther up you go the better the view.