Salzburg is a city with a lot going for it. Those alpine slopes are so temptingly close by – perfect for some ski, apres ski or just a spontaneous toboggan ride. Spas, castles and culture are the ideal indoor options if winter in Salzburg gets a bit too chilly.
And then, of course, there are the Christmas markets. But you’re a travel-savvy gallivanting type who’s all too familiar with the festive fare European cities sling every Santa season. So we’re taking a look at the best alternative winter activities Salzburg has to offer. Pack your thermals, prepare to eat a lot of strudel and embrace the ruddy glow to your cheeks a winter weekend in Salzburg will bring.
Ice caves are impressive. On this we can all agree. As luck would have it, when it comes to ice caves, Salzburg is the place to see them. More specifically, it’s the place to see the world’s largest ice cave, the Elsriesenwelt. Pop on your ice shoes, accessorise your outfit with your head torch and get exploring. Though, you may want to carb load on some strudel beforehand. Always a solid move, but here you’ll really want the calories. There’s 40km of ice cave in total – though the tour keeps things to a manageable level. Along the 70-minute wander through the cave you’ll get the chance to see the natural ice sculptures, spikes, walls and ice melt. Plus your guide will give you the lowdown on how such an impressive cave was formed.
Orbzii tips: You’ll really need to have been clocking the steps up on your Fitbit for this one. You’ll be covering the equivalent of 134 altitude metres – or for a more relatable reference, schlepping up the stairs of a high–rise building. Photography in the cave is forbidden to keep everyone moving through the cave in a timely fashion. This spot gets busy in summer, and though a few icy shots on your Insta would be a bonus, the 70–minute tour doubles as a digital cleanse.
When you’ve been exploring a chilly city in a beanie and duffle coat, the warm and welcoming feel of a spa robe is just the ticket. And, really, only a sauna can really defrost you after a day spent sightseeing in a Salzburg winter. Happily, the city’s spas are just the place to unwind in.
For a very central Salzburg spa experience, the Hotel Schloss Mönchstein is the one. A very luxe, very stylish and very indulgent spot to spend your time in Salzburg. This hotel comes with a Michelin starred restaurant, so expect an exclusive and, dare we say it, a slightly expensive stay. Though, day visitors are welcome. And we’d say it’s worth splashing out to spend time in their wellness oasis. Don’t miss a dip in the heated infinity pool that overlooks the city.
If you want a central spa stay, with the grandness taken down just a notch, the Hotel Wolf Dietrich swaps Austrian glamour for a more restrained chic feel. You’ll still be getting a top–notch spa and hammam to use during your stay – along with an indoor pool too. Their spa area is a sleek and stylish spot that just invites relaxation.
If Salzburg’s ski and winter sports scene is a little too high octane for you, give this one a whirl. Salzburg’s sleigh rides are fairytale material. Comfy in the back of a horse drawn sleigh, you’ll be escorted through (hopefully) snowy scenes. Though, it really doesn’t matter if the snow doesn’t pitch up. These days, the sleighs have wheels – which keeps the sleigh rides moving through the seasons, and makes life easier for the horses.
Panorama Tours in Salzburg will whisk you into the Austrian mountains and pop you in a sleigh. Here, you’ll spend an hour – snuggled under some suitably warm blankets – taking in the Austrian winter scenery on the slopes. And when the sleigh ride’s over? It’s off to a traditional Austrian inn for some local cuisine and a warming beverage or two.
Salzburg Ski Resorts
A winter stay in Salzburg can be your gateway to some of Austria’s finest ski resorts. If you’re a regular on the slopes, you’ll have heard of the big hitters – Zell am See and Saalbach. But they’re both a fair drive from Salzburg. For some ski action closer to the city, Untersberg isn’t a bad shout. It’s only 10km away, but the skiing here is limited. Great if you just want to whizz down a few slopes before nipping back to the city for haute cuisine and a Mozart concert.
For full on Salzburg ski holiday action, without a long drive, Hintersee is just 30km away. Beginners will love Hintersee’s focus on beginner slopes. Around 70% of the ski area is suitable for anyone taking their first tentative steps onto the slopes. There are still some formidable sections of piste for experienced skiers, but you’ll be looking for a bigger snow park if you plan to ski for more than a couple of days.
If you’re up for a mini Austrian road trip, there’s another Salzburg ski area that might take your fancy. Almenwelt Lofer’s slopes are a family-friendly place to frolic in the snow. You’re looking at another whopping 70% of the ski area being devoted to beginners, but this resort has 46km of slopes to explore. Intermediate and expert skiers can still find plenty to challenge them. For families, the children’s area, plenty of in-season ski deals and a sturdy supply of artificial snow puts this on our Salzburg ski gem radar every time.
You’ve sleighed, spa’d and skied Salzburg – now it’s time to stroll. It goes without saying that the streets, Christmas markets and shops warrant a more than lengthy snoop, but don’t miss some of Salzburg’s top sights. If you’ve only got 2 or 3 days in Salzburg, Salzburg Castle is a ‘must see’. Hohensalzburg Fortress – as it’s more commonly known – looks down over Salzburg.
An imposing, and pretty hard to miss, sight in the city, climbing to the top of the fortress walls gives you an impressive view over Salzburg. If you thought the views of Salzburg’s snowy rooftops was impressive, you’ll be wowed by the interior of this 11th-century fortress. Rumour has it this castle’s got a few hidden secrets too. An ideal activity if the weather’s looking a tad too wintry for your liking.
Experience a Perchtenläufe
So far, everything on our list could easily be filed under light-hearted and whimsical. Time to open a new file, because a Perchtenläufe is about as far from whimsy as it gets. This borderline harrowing procession sees Salzburg residents celebrate a very pagan tradition.
Procession participants don wooden masks – usually depicting creatures, such as bears or wolves. So far, so alpine. Except these animals are fanged, spiked and dare we say demonic? Quite the spectacle and, as it usually takes place around Christmas, is quite the antidote to the sugary sweet, candy cane laden Christmas festivities.