The environs of Salzburg are incredibly scenic. The area is a setting of old castles, charming villages, glacial lakes, salt mines, ice caves, and some of the most panoramic alpine scenery in Europe. But before heading to Land Salzburg, here are a few attractions right on the city's doorstep.
Hallein & The Dürrnberg Salt Mines
The second-largest town in Land Salzburg, Hallein, once a center for processing the salt from the mines of Dürrnberg, was a prize possession of the prince-archbishops of Salzburg. Today you pass through this industrial town on the Salzach River on the way to the Dürrnberg mines. The tourist office, Mauttorpromenade 6, A-5400 Hallein (tel. 0662/88987330), is open Monday to Saturday 9am to 6pm (until 7pm July-Aug).
On the north side of the Hallein parish church are the former home and tomb of the man who composed the music for Mohr's "Silent Night," Franz-Xaver Gruber, a schoolteacher who died in 1863.
The Dürrnberg salt mines (Salzbergwerk Hallein; tel. 06245/835110; www.salzwelten.at) are the big draw. This popular attraction is easily visited on a day trip from Salzburg. On guided tours, visitors walk downhill from the ticket office to the mine entrance, and then board an electric mine train that goes deep into the caverns. From here, tourists go on foot through galleries, changing levels by sliding down polished wooden slides before exiting the mine on the train that brought them in. An underground museum traces the history of salt mining back to ancient times.
To get to the mines, you can either drive to Hallein from Salzburg or take a train there from Salzburg's main railway station (they depart throughout the day at 20-minute intervals). From a point just in front of the railway station at Hallein, you'll then board a bus for the ongoing 12-minute ride to Dürnnberg. (Be warned in advance that the buses are less frequent than the trains -- they depart every hour, 55 min. past the hour, throughout the day.)
Tours of the salt mines and the lectures that precede them last about 90 minutes each and are conducted from April to October daily 9am to 5pm, November to March daily 11am to 3pm. Admission to the mines costs 17€ ($27) for adults, 10€ ($16) for students and children 7 to 15, and 8€ ($13) for children 4 to 6. Children under 4 are not admitted.
If you embark upon this adventure from Salzburg's main railway station, you can buy from any ticket counter a combined ticket for round-trip transport on the train and the subsequent bus to Dürnnberg, with admission to the salt mines included, for 26€ ($42) per adult.
The Ice Caves of Eisriesenwelt
Some 48km (30 miles) south of Salzburg by train is the "World of the Ice Giants," the largest known ice caves in the world. The caves, opening at some 1,678m (5,505 ft.), stretch for about 42km (26 miles), although only a portion of that length is open to the public. Fantastic ice formations at the entrance extend for half a mile. This underground wonderland is lined with amazing ice figures and frozen waterfalls. The climax of this chill underworld tour is the spectacular "Ice Palace."
Please keep in mind that a visit to this spelunking oddity is recommended only for those who are quite fit and hardy, and is not suggested for elderly travelers or small children. You'll be walking down narrow, slippery passages.
To reach the Eisriesenwelt, begin by heading for the hamlet of Werfen, which is located approximately 24 miles (40km) south of Salzburg. The village of Werfen is also the home of Castle (Schloss) Hohenwerfen (tel. 06468/7603), which was founded in the 11th century and frequently reconstructed. One of the most important castles in Land Salzburg, it's visible for miles around. You can get to Werfen by driving along the main A10 highway (the Tauern motorway), or by taking a train from Salzburg's Hauptbahnhof to Werfen station.
From the village of Werfen, you'll drive up a steep and narrow 6km (3 1/2-mile) access road, following the signs to Eisriesenwelt, which leads to a high-altitude parking lot. If you don't have a car, there's a local bus service (the Eisriesenwelt Line; tel. 06468/5293 for information). For a fee of 3.50€ ($5.60) per person, it will haul you along the above-described 6km (3 1/2-mile) road. Service is provided only between May and October at 8:20 and 10:20am, and 12:20 and 2:20pm. It's often more convenient to pay around 11€ ($18) to hire any of the local taxis in lieu of waiting for the bus, and hardy hikers sometimes opt to walk the steep incline to the above-mentioned parking lot. If you opt to hike, know in advance that the altitude from the debut to the end of your climb will rise from 488 to 915m (from 1,601 to 3,002 ft.) -- it is very steep indeed.
Once you reach the parking lot, expect an additional, relatively easy 20-minute mostly shaded uphill hike to reach the cable car which hauls you vertiginously upward to the entrance to the caves. If you opt to avoid the cable car in favor of walking, expect to spend 90 sweaty minutes with sweeping views. Even if you do opt for the cable car, you'll face an additional 20-minute climb from the top of the cable car to the entrance to the ice caves.
There's a cafe and restaurant en route within a woodsy-looking building, the Dr.-Friedrich-Oedl-Haus, located at 1,568m (5,144 ft) above sea level. Supervised tours of the inside of the caves generally last 70 to 80 minutes, and cost 8.50€ ($14) for adults, 7.50€ ($12) for students, and 4.50€ ($7.20) for ages 4 to 14. The caves are open only from May to October, with tours beginning each hour on the half-hour between 9:30am and 3:30pm (until 4:30pm July-Aug). A combined ticket for round-trip access on the cable car, with a tour of the caves included, costs 19€ ($30) for adults, 17€ ($27) for students, and 9.50€ ($15) for children ages 4 to 14.
From Werfen, allow about 6 hours for the entire trip. Dress warmly and wear shoes appropriate for hiking. Even if you don't want to go underground, consider the trek from Salzburg to the mouth of the cave for the scenery.
Eisriesenwelt Werfen is entered at Wimmstrasse 24 (tel. 06468/5248 or 0662/842690; www.eisriesenwelt.at).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.