Every once in a while, as a traveller, one feels exploring the vast outdoors. Away from the hustle and bustle of the cities, away from crowded beaches, parks & museums, the Alps is your outlet into that world. Austria offers a lot, but it’s the expansive Alps, which is what the country is most associated with – and for good reason!
“You are kidding me, aren’t you!” exclaimed Sandhya. “How are we going to see the Alps without a car!” I read a lot of blogs, before booking our holidays in Austria. Most of them went at lengths about itineraries that would satisfy every wanderlust, but the one thing common in all off those was that you had to drive. As much as we would have wanted to drive, we couldn’t get the required documents to rent one! But that didn’t deter us from visiting Austria and neither should you!
The plan was to go to Munich first (and witness the pseudo Oktoberfest as the real one was cancelled again due to COVID) and then go to Salzburg from there.
Munich is an amazing city – mostly known for Oktoberfest (see how you can plan your Oktoberfest trip here) , but there’s a lot to do besides that as well.
Driving in the Alps is an absolutely fantastic experience, but for whatever reason, if you don’t want to, let that not deter you from visiting one of the most beautiful parts of Austria – because this is Europe and we have a fantastic rail network!
Salzburg is a fantastic city and is a great base to see the sights that Upper Austria offers. There are plenty of places one can easily take a bus or train to go to, but for the sake of convenience, we would also recommend booking day trips, as the tour guides are actually quite good and give you some great tips about places locals frequent.
These are the day trips we would recommend from Salzburg which you can easily do without a car:
1. Hallstatt Day Trip
A really charming village, it also has a skywalk, which offers breathtaking views of the Alps. The 5-minute funicular ride was the highlight of our trip. The village itself is quite charming and you can easily spend a couple of days here, if you want to. The Hallstatt salt mines are also something that are quite famous, but we would recommend the one in Berchtesgaden instead.
How to Get There
By train : It will take you about 2 hours and 15 minutes and then a short 15-minute ferry ride. It is very clearly explained on Google Maps
By Bus and train: Take bus 150 from Salzburg to Bad Ischl and from there take the train to Hallstatt. This trip takes from 2 hours to 2 hours 40 minutes.
Hallstatt tour from Salzburg: We would recommend Get your Guide to book your day trips.
2. Dachstein Ice Caves & 5 Fingers
Just ahead of Hallstatt are the Dachstein Ice Caves, which wow visitors with ice sculptures. From here, you can also take the cable car, to head to the 5 fingers – another viewpoint offering panoramic views of the Alps.
How to Get There
From Salzburg catch the train ‘Obertraun Dachsteinhöhlen Bahnhof’. From there you will need to catch Bus 543 to the valley cableway station. This journey will take you around 2 hours and 50 minutes.
3. Wolfgangsee and Schafberg railroad
Austria is not short of beautiful lakes, but this one is not to be missed. The village of St Wolfsgang is another picturesque town that is sure to woo you.
How to get there
If you take bus #150, you can get off at St. Gilgen where you can head up to the cable car before hopping on the ferry to St. Wolfgang. The ferry ride will take about 50 minutes and the bus journey around 1 hour.
Berchtesgaden is actually in Germany (open borders are such a great thing), but very well connected to Salzburg. The main attraction are the salt mines. It’s not just one of those salt mine museums where a tour guide will bore you to death. It’s an 1.5 hr long tour where you are sent back to the days when miners used to mine salt using rudimentary techniques (the train ride, the slide and the use of technology to explain how salt is mined make it a worthwhile experience (pity we couldn’t record the boat ride – let us not get too much away!)
How to Get There
By Bus: Taking the #840 bus to Berchtesgaden Station will take around 45 minutes. From there, it’s just a 10 minute walk.
5. The Eagle’s Nest
The place where Hitler spent his summers. You’ll be treated to spectacular views over the peaks of the Alps. The place has something eery about it, likely because of it’s association with one of the world’s most evil dictators.
How to get there : We would recommend booking a day trip to this one instead of navigating by public transport. We liked the option that Viator provides.
6. The Konigsee
Again, something that is part of Germany, but easily accessed from Salzburg, Königssee – the king’s lake is one off the prettiest lakes in Germany.
While Salzburg offers a lot and is an excellent base for the above attractions, to immerse yourselves fully, you need to go to Tyrol – which is where you are right in the thick and thin of the Austrian Alps.
If you are into hiking, we would recommend going to Olpererhutte. The hanging bridge is often touted to be one of the most instagrammable places in the world. See for yourself and let us know 🙂
We have left a description in the post to help plan your trip. It is absolutely possible to do this without a car, so don’t be boggled down by not having one.
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Mayrohfen is a good base to do the hike and is also a lovely hamlet in itself. It is not the easiest accessible place but if you are happy with changing trains, it’s possible to reach with the help of a regional train and an alpine locomotive (which is an experience in itself)
Alpbach is known to be one of the prettiest villages in Austria. It is full of picturesque wooden farmhouses, fields of cattle and locals skilled in traditional crafts. If you fancy a taste of how Austria used to be and enjoying the experience of time standing still then Alpbach is the place for you.
How to get there
Take the S4 from Jenbach and change to the 4074 from Brixlegg. Takes about 2 hours but all worth it!
Innsbruck – the gateway to the Alps, needs a honorary mention here. It is a beautiful city that cannot be missed (especially as it’s so well connected to Salzburg and Vienna). From the Golden roof in the Old Town, The Imperial Palace, Maria-Theresien Strasse and to Sandhya’s delight the Swarovski museum.
The Alps is a dreamy destination for many people, but most people are discouraged by the amount of planning and traveling that is involved. It is something that needs to be done at a slow pace, but once you reach Austria, it will be a captivating experience nonetheless.
P.S. A lot of credit goes to a friend of ours, Amit Rathi, who preferred to drive and absolutely loved it (maybe something we would do next time – Austria is a great winter destination too, and we would love to go again). It is indeed a lot more convenient option, but as we said before, it is not the only option, so plan ahead and let us know how you got along with it!