Did you know that the largest ice caves in the world are located in a town called Werfen in Austria, less than an hour’s drive from Salzburg? The official name of the caves is Eisriesenwelt which means “the world of ice giants” in German, but many people simply call them Werfen ice caves. Eisriesenwelt is a cave labyrinth with a total length of over 40 kilometres making it the largest ice cave system in the world. There are three ways to get to Werfen ice caves from Salzburg: by car, by train, or by taking a tour. Let’s explore each of the options and their pros and cons in more detail.
Getting to Werfen Ice Cave from Salzburg by Train
There are several trains per day going from Salzburg to Wefen train station. You can take the S3 or REX train line. the journey will take about 40-50 minutes. One way ticket costs 9,30 euros. If you are traveling in a group of 3 or more, you can save some money by buying an “Einfach Raus” ticket. This ticket is valid for one day in entire Austria. You can take an unlimited amount of regional trains with this ticket. You can purchase your ticket either on OBB vending machines in Salzburg train station or online on OBB App.
Werfen to Ice Caves Visitor Center Shuttle Bus
The distance between Werfen train station and Ice Caves Visitor Center is 5 kilometers. If you are traveling by train you can either walk all the way up or wait for the regular shuttle bus to take you there. I do not recommend hiking all the way up to the Visitor Center. First of all, you will lose a lot of time (1-2 hours one way). It’s better to use the extra time to visit Hohenwerfen Castle. Secondly, there is no nice hiking path to the Eisriesenwelt visitor center from Werfen, only a concrete road for cars and buses. The good news is that the shuttle bus to the caves leaves several times a day. The bus leaves directly from the Werfen train station once an hour and takes about 15 minutes to reach the visitor center. The last bus leaves at 14:18 so you should plan accordingly. The bus ticket one way costs 4,5 euros and 8,5 euros for a return ticket. You can buy it directly from the driver.
If you miss the shuttle bus leaving from the train station, you shouldn’t panic. The same bus also stops at the bus park just a 5 5-minute walk from the train station (Gries Parkplatz). From this stop it leaves more frequently to the ice caves, approximately every 25 minutes. To get there go out the train station and cross the bridge over the Salzach River. After that turn right and walk along the river until you find the bus park.
You should take the same bus when going back to Werfen train station after visiting the ice caves. The bus goes down every 25 minutes. Remember the last bus to Werfen departs at 17:35 o’clock so you don’t want to miss this one. It departs directly from the car park in front of the visitor center.
Insider Tip: Please always keep small coins when traveling by bus in Germany and Austria. Drivers here don’t like big notes and don’t always have the change.
Getting to Werfen Ice Caves from Salzburg by Car
It is about 60 kilometers from Salzburg to the Werfen Ice Caves visitor center. The ride will take about 50 minutes depending on the traffic situation on the roads. The route from Salzburg to Werfen has tolls so you need to have a valid vignette. There is a free parking slot in front of the Eisriesenwelt visitor center but it gets filled up pretty fast. So you might have to park at Werfen train station and take a shuttle bus.
Getting to Werfen Ice Caves from Salzburg by Tour
Visiting the ice caves from inside without a tour is prohibited for safety reasons. Luckily there is a tour starting every 30 minutes and you can book your tour either online in advance or at the ticket office.
You have two options for choosing your tour:
The first option is to book a tour to Werfen ice caves from Salzburg where transportation will be included in the tour plus the entrance to the caves. Most of the tours from Salzburg also include visiting Hohenwerfen Castle.
The second option is to get to Werfen on your own either by renting a car or taking a train, and then buying your entrance tickets at the visitor center or online. The tour will be included in the entrance tickets, so you don’t have to buy it separately.
Even if you book your tour with transportation from Salzburg, your tour guide inside the caves will be the same in both cases. Only official tour guides employed by Eisriesenwelt are allowed to guide you inside. The duration of the tour inside the ice caves is 75 minutes. The first guided tours in the ice caves of Werfen took place in the 1920s, since then it has been one of the most popular day trips from Salzburg.
How to Buy Tickets to Eisriesenwelt
Due to limited capacity tickets to ice caves get sold out fairly quickly, that’s why you should book your tickets online in advance. Your ticket will be valid only for a specified time i.e. 10-10.30. If you miss the reservation time or buy a ticket on-site, you will only be able to enter if there are still some free slots available.
Insider Tip: The validity period only applies when you scan your ticket at the visitor center. Once you scan it, you don’t have to rush. You can enjoy your hike and if you miss the next available tour, you can chill out a the entrance to the cave for 30 minutes enjoying breathtaking views over the Salzach Valley and the Alps and simply join the next tour. Buying your ticket online is a few euros cheaper than at the visitor center. You can monitor the availability of tickets in real-time online if you don’t want to buy them too much in advance.
Getting from the Visitor Center to the Ice Caves
After the visitor center, you will walk approximately for 20 minutes until you reach the cable car station. On the way, you will have a few panoramic views over Salzach Valley and the Alps. There is a tunnel dug inside the rock for the shortcut. But honestly, when the weather is nice, it is much nicer to walk outside and enjoy the views. The path is well marked and there is no way to get lost.
Taking Eisriesenwelt Cable Car
Once you reach the cable car, it will take you all the way up to 1641 meters. From the distance, it looks very scary and steep but once you are inside the cable car you won’t feel it. It goes up very smoothly and slowly, so you will have enough time to enjoy the views. After leaving the cable car you will need to walk another 20 minutes until you finally reach the entrance to the ice caves. This part of the hike is my favorite because the views are just amazing. Plus you can already see the entrance to the ice caves from the distance. It’s basically a large hole in the cliffs like a big door inviting you to get inside. There is a bathroom somehow built inside the rock just in front of the entrance to the cave.
Inside the Ice Caves
Congratulations! You reached the entrance point to the largest ice caves in the world. What’s next? Wait for your guide dressed in red uniform to announce the beginning of the next tour. You can choose between English and German-speaking tours. Each tour lasts 75 minutes. Before entering the caves, every visitor gets a petroleum lamp because there is no artificial or natural illumination inside the caves.
During the tour, your guide will use phosphor to point out prominent ice sculptures to show their true beauty and explain how those ice giants have been formed over millions of years. You will walk 1400 stairs in total (not too steep except the last part), 700 steps up and 700 steps down. After 3-400 steps it gets very steep, like 60 degrees so you need to move here slowly. The tour and the hike to the ice caves are physically not very demanding. Most of the people can do it without any problem.
What to wear inside the Werfen Ice Caves?
The temperature inside the ice caves of Werfen is usually much lower than outside (except in winter months). Even in summer when outside is 30 degrees Celsius, it can be freezingly cold inside the caves. The temperature stays mostly at around 0 degrees. That’s why it’s very important to bring warm clothes, an extra jacket, gloves, and a hat. You can always take off the extra layers of clothing when you finish your tour and get outside the caves. Wearing sturdy shoes is also very important as it can be quite slippery inside.
Can you take your dog to Eisriesenwelt?
While officially it is not prohibited to take any pets inside the caves, I have to warn you that it is very dark and cold inside. You also have to walk 1400 steps in total, 700 up and 700 down. Your dog might get scared and get into a dangerous situation. Better to leave your pets outside the caves and get inside without them.
Are the Ice Caves Worth it?
It was my second time visiting the Ice Caves of Werfen and it was absolutely worth it. The views on the way up to the caves are absolutely breathtaking and once you enter the caves you are magically transported to the surreal world of ice giants and the underground world.