Eisriesenwelt is a short 50-minute drive from the city of Salzburg in Austria and is one of the most amazing natural phenomena I have ever seen. The cave is located at the top of Hochkogel Mountain, 5,384 ft (1,641 m) above sea level, and contains over 26 miles (42 km) of natural limestone and ice mazes. Eisriesenwelt is explored entirely by a gas lantern, which is like taking a step back in time! It is an absolute bucket list item.
Eisriesenwelt is only accessible by a guided tour that lasts about 90 minutes and includes 1400 stair steps inside the cave. To get to the top of Hochkogel Mountain where the tour begins, there are two options: hike the entire way up or complete the hike/cable car combo. To hike the entire way is a very difficult 4.3-mile trail with an elevation gain of nearly 2,300 feet and takes at least 130 minutes to complete. The hike/cable car combo includes about 40 minutes of hiking along with a short 3-minute cable car ride.
The path from the cable car to the entrance of the cave has some incredible features, including the option to walk through the mountain or take the mountain view around. I highly recommend the hike/cable car combo unless you are up for the challenge of the trail. Just remember that you will have an additional 90 minutes of walking within the cave.
Once we arrived at the entrance of the cave, my fiancé, Corey, and I were handed a gas lantern since there is zero light inside. We stood outside a large manmade door and were given the warning that our lanterns might go out after stepping into the cave. The ice cave remains below freezing year-round, and with the difference in temperature outside, gusts of wind up to 62 mph (100 kph) can be felt when entering the cave! The draft shoves you through the doorway. Once our lanterns were back up and running, we could see flickers of light against the ice that filled the cave along with the staircases that are built into the ice.
The tour of Eisriesenwelt only brings you through a fraction of the cave but is a breathtaking experience. Eisriesenwelt is a relatively new find, discovered in 1879, and remains largely unknown with only 200,000 visitors a year. Compare that to Stonehenge in England which was first excavated in the 1620s and now has over 1 million visitors a year.
Eisriesenwelt was first discovered by Anton von Posselt-Czorich from Salzburg but he was only able to make it 656 ft (200 m) into the cave because of the steep ice formations. Anton passed in 1911, and Alexander von Mörk continued Anton’s research in 1913 but died in 1914 during WWI at 26. Alexander’s last wish was to be placed inside Eisriesenwelt, which was granted. His body is entombed inside the ice cave, and we were able to view this memorial site during our tour. It wasn’t until 1920 that Eisriesenwelt became a tourist site and in the 1950s the cave became more accessible with the addition of the cable car and better roads.
Going into this guided tour, I was a little disappointed because of the photography restriction. No photography is allowed according to their website, however just before we entered the cave, our guide informed us that he would make an exception because of the smaller tour sizes they had that day! All of the photos you see in this article were taken by me during our tour of Eisriesenwelt. Even if you are unable to take photos, Eisriesenwelt is an experience you will never forget.
Before this trip, I would have never guessed that the largest ice cave in the world was in Austria. The ice cave does take some effort to get to but the path and cable car only add to the experience; you are surrounded by beautiful mountain views and a fantastic hiking trail that truly immerses you in what Austria has to offer. In all, Eisriensenwelt needs to be at the top of your list when visiting Austria! It is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The cable car/cave tour ticket prices are cheaper online than at the entrance. Other ticket options include only the cave tour (no cable car), or only the cable car (no cave tour). These two ticket options are only available in person, not online. There is a restaurant just off the top of the cable car, Eisriesenwelt Restaurant, that has fantastic views of the mountains and the town of Werfen. The restaurant is the perfect spot to relax with a beer. There are also opportunities for snack purchases at the parking lot entrance and just before the cable car.
When is Eisriesenwelt open? The ice cave is a seasonal attraction and is only open May thru October.
How long to spend at Eisriesenwelt? 3.5+ hours
How much does it cost? Combination tickets, available online, that include the cable car and ice cave tour are: Adults €35, Youth (15-18) €25, and Children (5-14) €19 (Updated 2023 prices)
Where to purchase tickets: eisriesenwelt.at/
Need to know: Eisriensenwelt is not for those with certain physical disabilities. You must be able to complete at least 40 minutes of moderate hiking, stay standing for 90 minutes, and climb 1400 steps. There is no opportunity to sit down in the cave.
The ice cave is always below freezing. I highly recommend warm clothes and gloves. The gas lanterns are metal and very cold to hold on to once you enter the cave.
Wear shoes with good traction. The staircases in the cave are wet.
Bring a water bottle. You will not have access to water when in the cave.
Don’t let the pictures in this article deceive you, the cave is DARK! The only light while walking through the cave comes from the small flame on your lantern. The guide will light up the area as you come upon the different ice features.
Where to stay: I really enjoyed my stay at Der Burgblick in Werfen. This hotel included breakfast and cost about USD 110 for one night (October 2021). The rooms have a fantastic view of Hohenwerfen Castle.
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