When you think of Austria, you don’t hear the town “Saint Gilgen” as much as the big giants like Innsbruck or Salzburg. Neither did I until I saw Wolfgangsee lake on my way to Hallstatt. This post shows you why travelling to Saint Gilgen was the best decision I made during my 15 days Austria trip.
Is St Gilgen worth visiting?
Before knowing the answer, you need to know what Salzkammergut is. Austria is famous for its natural beauty. Tyrol is for mountains, and Salzkammergut is the “Land of lakes”, with more than 60 lakes in the region.
Is Salzkammergut a city
No. It is a region that belongs to 3 provinces, including Salzburg. Out of many villages, Saint Gilgen is one town- Not just a town but a pretty town that lies on the banks of lake Wolfgangsee.
I won’t claim Saint Gilgen as a “Hidden Gem”, But it is less crowded than many other famous lake towns of Salzkammergut. Rather, we are surrounded by beautiful houses with balconies full of flowers and Lüftelmalerei (Alpine mural art). You can get as lazy as you want besides the lake. Or be hyperactive by hiking, paddling, yachting and paragliding. If you love strolling, there are easy hiking trails and lovely streets adorned with gorgeous bungalows and pastures.
How many days to spend here?
I made a day trip from Salzburg to St. Gilgen by arriving at 9 & left at the turn of last but one bus. I wish I had stayed here overnight. With the Lakes & mountains, you will remain energized here for two days. But Salzkammergut has many more lake towns. So, moving to another pretty lake town is a better plan after two days.
What are the best hotels to stay in Sankt Gilgen?
Consider staying in Saint Gilgen as a cheaper alternative to Salzburg if only you have a car because there are dozens of pensions and luxury resorts on the hilltop.
Best time to Visit
The beauty of Saint Gilgen lies in the lakes & mountains. So June to August is the best time.
How do I get from Salzburg to St Gilgen?
Renting a bicycle or car is a great way to visit Saint Gilgen. Mind that there is no train between these two places.
What is the cheapest way to get from Salzburg to Sankt Gilgen?
The 40-minute trip from Salzburg to Saint Gilgen is easy by bus. Bus No.150 from Salzburg to “Bad Ischl” passes through Saint Gilgen. It’s a regional bus, so the “Salzburg card” isn’t valid. Instead, I bought a day ticket for 13 Euros for the two of us. Without a day ticket, it cost us 28 Euros to and fro.
Heads up: Bus timings vary concerning seasons and weekends. Therefore, have the bus time downloaded to avoid last-minute mishaps.
Where to get off the bus to reach Wolfgangsee lake?
If you are going to Saint Gilgen for the first time, It is best to get off at the Pollach stop at the village top so that you will have the most stunning view of blue Wolfgangses lake from above. Then, walk down to the town once you have intensely etched that panorama in your mind.
Like us, if you have seen the lake from the previous day, it is better to get off the bus at Raiffeisenplatz near the Zwolferhorn cable car. It is super convenient to get around the town from here.
Many tourists get off at Fuschl Brunnerwirt to see around the Redbull factory and visit the small lake Fuschl to take a hike of 10km to Wolfgangsee.
What is Saint Gilgen famous for?
As soon as I entered the cable car lounge area, the giant poster on the wall flashed – “St. Gilgen International School.” Later I learnt that it is one of the most famous boarding schools globally. Many tycoons kids study here – Of course, who doesn’t want a picturesque lake and an alpine hill as a background when they study?
But, as a tourist, you can do many things in Saint Gilgen during the day trip.
Ten Best Things to do in Saint Gilgen during summer are :
1. Wander in the town
The little town of Saint Gilgen is unique because you can’t pinpoint a particular historical attraction here. Small museums and houses surround the Rathaus ( city square). I don’t even remember their names, but the charm it creates when everything comes together is what I don’t forget ever. The real alpine feel came with large mansions with a sloped roofs and painted facades that take you back in time. The trickling fountains, blooming flowers by the windows, and flags hung make you wonder (and thank god) why not many tourists flock here as they do to Hallstatt.
Once you are at the town square, walk towards the east and take a lot of deviations from the main street. There are many cute little shops all around. Ultimately when you see a carpet of bright turquoise on the horizon, you feel the cool breeze. Sit by the tree neat Mozarthaus where composer Mozart’s mom was born and his sister settled later. At this point, deciding if the little town is prettier or the lake is hard.
I loved exploring the west side of the town too. They are closer to the mountains than the lake. The houses still have cute balconies and sloping roofs but less painted facades and a surplus of gardens in the front yard.
2. Swim and sail in Wolfgangsee lake.
Firstly, pack your swimsuits if you are going to Saint Gilgen in the summer. The Wolfgangsee lake is refreshing, and I regret not carrying mine. Nevertheless, I got into the water wearing my cotton dress, which could dry in 30 minutes of the beaming sun. There are ducks, swans, and fish touching your foot when you dip your foot in the lake.
Can you swim in Wolfgangsee?
Yes! You can and you must. If you are a swimmer, you can go beyond dipping your foot and swim for a while. One or two boats may pass by every 45 minutes, but you will swim in peace.
There is a place for boat rentals and kayakers for those who want to go on a little adventure. So take one and sail the way you want. You are never too far from the bank to rest. Because Wolfgangsee lake is 11km long and 2km wide.
3. Take the Cable Car ride.
I always love seeing the world like a bird. The part of the world you see feels like a magical land when it is patched with a blue lake and rolling green of various shades stretching to infinity, as it happens in Saint Gilgen. If you have time, you can hike up to the mountain. Or take the cable car to zwoelferhorn from Saint Gilgen to witness that magical land. Buy an ascend+descend ticket and get into the cabin. When the ride begins, you see the lake moving away as you enter the valley.
The loud cowbells keep ringing often. The adventurous hikers and tired enthusiasts look like ants from above. Then you see birds by the side of paragliders. Once you are at the top, the whole valley opens like a world you have never seen. I thought the hilltop was a dead end until I saw signposts showing the direction of hiking trails.
4. Hike in the hills or go on a nature walk.
Reaching the top of Zwoelferhorn is like opening a wardrobe for various outfits. From easy to difficult, there are many trails here. Or you can sit in one of the spots and watch the clouds pass by. It isn’t just wolfgangse and St Gilgen you see here. The view opens to many things, from unoccupied meadows to lazily grazing cows.
What can you do in St. Gilgen for free?
The best part of hiking trails in Austria is they have hut cafes at the end and beginning of every path. From chilled beer to apricot juice, cheese and tomato with olive for snacks, these hut cafes feel like heaven after a wholesome hike.
Sometimes, these cafes also play traditional music with accordion. So besides a fantastic view of the alpine mountains comes good food and great traditional music.
Can you walk around Wolfgangsee?
If you are in “Let us go easy ” mode, you can choose to walk by Wolfgangsee lake. The simplest way finder is to follow the waterfront along the lake. You find decked walkways with wooden handrails at times. The east of the lake takes you to Furberg. It is easy to get lost in the woods here. But the cold breeze always directs you towards the lake sidewalk. Don’t worry about where to find the best view – I never found one boring spot along the lake shore!
A small cliff neat Hochzeitskreuz seemed to be people’s favourite place to jump off into the water!
5. Slide on a summer toggoban with a panoramic view of the lake.
If you are in the Salzkammergut region in summer (May to October), you are in for a treat to be a kid and slide away! Summer toboggan runs in Strobl’s town, facing the eastern end of Wolfgangsee lake. The metal slide is at least a kilometre long. Once you pay for the ticket, get a seat and sit on the slide. You are pulled up like how cable cars are pulled up. You see nothing but forest while you go up. Then, get up and switch to the descend slide with your sledge. It is like a geared vehicle. You push the stick on the front seat and slide faster like a rocket. If you pull the stick towards you, you enjoy the scenery of the lake slower and have more Serotonin than Adrenaline.
Most often, this is considered for kids. But I wonder why! This is an enthralling experience, irrespective of your age.
Heads up: They operate only in summer. Opening hours vary each month.
The last ride ticket is given 30 minutes before the closure time.
Reaching Summer toboggan in Strobl
You see the bus stop (Gschwendt Landauer) opposite Summerside.
It is a dummy bus top! I don’t know why. So none of the 150 route buses stopped there. The actual bus top (Gschwendt Simonbauer) is 1.3km from the summer slide. – You will thank me for this most valuable information if you are using public transportation like us and are about to catch a last but one bus on the weekend!
From Schafberg, bus number 546 leaves every hour. We took an expensive taxi and made it to the place last minute! We would have taken more rides if we had arrived earlier.
6. Take a walk in Strobl.
After devouring delicious food in SSaint Gilgen hotels like Gasthof Zur Post, you can’t stop wondering where their fresh ingredients come from. Plus, when you drive to Hallstatt from Salzburg, passing by Strobl, you will notice farms and pastures. Though it was an accidental discovery, I am glad we could visit a small farmhouse, Leitnerbauer.
Sunday evening isn’t a good time to bother Austrians. But I did and could get a glimpse of a small home-run farm here. Their cheese and cheese products are great. Strobl by the main road has dozens of farmhouses like this and is a nice place to wander around before ending your day at Saint Gilgen.
7. Go Paragliding.
One thing I regret not doing during my 15 days Austria trip is not paragliding. I stood in front of the Fly Tandem office, wondered if it was under my budget for 15 long minutes, and walked away. I wish I had planned better so I could spend money on paragliding!
What to do in St. Gilgen on a sunny day?
Fly! You need not be a certified paraglider because it is tandem flying. Suppose the weather is good enough, and you are moderately fit; you are good to fly along with the trained paraglider! So when you plan to go to Saint Gilgen, don’t make a mistake as I did. If the view from Zwolferhorn was so amazing, how great it would be when you fly like a bird!
8. Explore markets.
The small town charm is their little markets. It feels homely as sellers are friendlier. There are dozens of shops in Saint Gilgen that sell you pretty drindl and antiques. Some tacky shops can be ignored when the town is that pretty. Their weekly farmer’s market happens every Saturday. We were fortunate to be there on that particular Sunday when there was a nice flea market!
Cheese to fresh honey, ceramics to clothes, freshly baked cakes to ice creams, there was a lot to see and shop in Saint Gilgen markets. Most clothes we found were made in Italy or India.
9. Cross the lake to the other towns by boat.
The beauty of Saint Gilgen is you aren’t just close to the Wolfgangsee lake, but also many more towns. So take the boat service when you want to see other towns and don’t want to walk. The open deck at the highest level of the boat is the best way to soak in the sun (especially if you have dipped in Wolfgangsee in your streetwear).
The slow sail is super relaxing, and it is fun to watch all kinds of enthusiasts passing by – You see people jumping off the small cliff at Hochzeitskreuz. The yachts pass by. Humans stand like storks on the stand-up paddle boards and sail with such poise. Kayakers, peddlers, canoe sailers – You see all possible water adventurists here.
There are seven landings on the Wolfgangsee boat service. Each town has a dozen pensions, and hut cafes are a great place to walk around.
10. Take Schafberg train
There are scenic train rides throughout Austria. But it gets exciting when the scenic train ride comes with a steep hill. The excitement doubles when the journey ends with the amazing view of four pristine turquoise-coloured lakes. – Schagbergbahn does all this for you.
Things ot keep in mind before taking Schafbergbahn to avoid disappointments.
- Taking this train journey on a cloudy day is useless.
- Be specific while you buy tickets at Wolgang. Otherwise, you will lose time at the top buying a descend ticket.
- The view of the four lakes together is above the railway station. A 10-minute hike shows you the real heaven
- There are two restaurants for snacks. If you have an ascend+descend ticket bought, you won’t have time to eat here.
- If you want to capture the photo of the train moving uphill, you must go hiking. The train stops at only one point midway for a few seconds.
Schafbergbahn: How to Take the Cog Railway
Schafberganahm covers around 1.2m over 6km. The steepest ascent is 25.5 %- meaning that on a distance of 100 metres, the railway moves some 25.5 metres upwards. There is no electricity involved. All energy is generated with partly historic steam- or diesel engines. The train you ride now are replicas of the steam engine built after 1992. The two steam engines built in 1893 are on exhibition and run on specific dates only.
At Wolfgangsee lake, you buy a ferry+train ticket and wait for the next available ferry. Usually, the train and ferry timings are matched. To avoid overcrowding, you are given a train ticket for a specific time. So once you get off at Schafberg, head to the railway station immediately. Pick a window-side seat and enjoy the steep journey with views of meadows and forest for the next 35 minutes.
Once you are there, the rewarding view of four lakes awaits you.
Would you visit Saint Gilgen after reading our post? Let us know in the comment section below.