Werfen is a small town 40 km south of Salzburg. Werfen is easily reachable by S-Bahn trains from different train stations in Salzburg. The train journey takes around 55 mins one direction in S-bahn. There are faster train options (IC, REX, RJ, EC) also available for commuting between Salzburg and Werfen, and frequency of trains is quite good.
The Werfen town is situated in the Salzach river valley. The Salzach river is a right tributary of the Inn river which eventually joins the Danube river. The river is an integral part of the town not only in shaping it’s geography but also in the life of the people settled in this river valley. The two major tourist attractions in this town are the Eisriesenwelt ice caves and the Hohenwerfen Castle. The castle and the mountain range with Eisriesenwelt ice caves can be seen clearly from the bridge in front of the railway station.
A stroll through the beautiful town will take you through the picturesque beauty of the villages by the side of Alps. The houses which stand on the sides of the mountain slopes along with the beautifully decorated gardens paints the picture of a paradise. Austria has many such small towns in the Salzburg river valley and throughout the Alps mountain regions.
The tickets to visit the Eisriesenwelt caves can be purchased online and the ticket comes with the instructions on how to reach the caves. The shuttle bus to the caves are 10 mins walk from the main train station. The shuttle bus takes the visitor up to parking at the Visitor center at 1000 meters above MSL.
The visitor center has automated check-in point to scan the QR code on the ticket. The total journey to the caves and back from the visitor center can be divided into :
- 20 mins walk up the mountains from the visitor center to the lower cable car station
- 3 mins journey in the cable car or two hour hike up the mountain to upper cable car station
- 20 mins hike to the entrance of the cave
- 10-15 mins waiting time at the entrance of the cave
- 70 mins visit for inside the cave
- 20 mins walk down to the upper cable car station
- 3 mins journey in the cable car or one hour hike down the mountain to the lower cable car station
- 20 mins walk to the visitor center
The total time needed is around three hours with cable car and around six hours without cable car.
The Tennen mountains or Tennengebirge is a rugged mountain range, located 30km south of Salzburg. This mountain range is part of the Northern Limestone Alps and is heavily karsitfied region. The local carbonate strata extend from the Triassic period to the Jurassic period. The base region is formed with a thick series of Triassic dolomites with a thick Dachstein Limestone on the surface. While the dolomites are exposed only in the southern part of the mountain range, the bulk of the plateau is made up of the karstified Dachstein limestone. The mountain range has many caves including the Eiskogelhöhle , Ariadnahöhle, Obere Kemetsteinhöhle, Cosanostraloch-Berger-Platteneck Höhle system, etc. Many caves are not explored yet.
“Surface karst is composed of poljes, dolines formed at the beginning of the Pliocene karstiﬁcation. Since its inception, it has had a signiﬁcant fluvial effect. With the Pliocene uplift, the rivers flowed further away and the karst became an autochthonous system. The uplift is proven by the vertical development of underground networks. ”
Telbisz T, Tóth G, Ruban DA, Gutak JM. Notable glaciokarsts of the world. In Glaciokarsts 2019 (pp. 373-499). Springer, Cham.
The mountain has many interesting vegetation and flowers. The vegetation cover decreases significantly as we climb up the mountain.
The first visitors to the ice caves had to climb up a very precipitous and exhausting path. A large section of the climb is reduced by the cable car. Within a few minutes the cable car takes you from an altitude of 1076 meters to 1586 meters above MSL.
The hike from the upper cable car station to the entrance of the ice cave is through rugged terrain. Some parts of the trail has roofed sections due to the danger of falling rocks. It is recommended not to wait in the open sections to avoid rocks falling.
Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves
Eisriesenwelt means “the world of the ice Giants” and is one of the most famous ice caves in the world. The cave is located in the Hochkogel mountain in the Tennengebirge. The underground The Cosa-Nostra-Bergerhöhle cave system is 42 kilometers long. The Eisriesenwelt cave section open to the tourists is roughly one kilometer segment of this cave system and attracts thousands of tourists every year. The entrance to the cave opens onto the western face of the Tennengebirge, which is about halfway up the steep cliff. The entrance is at 1640 meters above MSL.
The Eisriesenwelt is a cave labyrinth with a total length of more than 40 kilometers. It was created over a very long time period. The first cracks and fissures in the limestone caves began to form during tectonic elevations about 100 million years ago. Chemical dissolution processes and water erosion across the millennia caused the subterranean cracks to increase, leading to the development of immense hollow spaces. Alpine caves are in a development process even today, even if many cave systems – including large sections of the Eisriesenwelt – are no longer changing significantly due to dehydration.https://www.eisriesenwelt.at/en/the-cave/science.html
This dry cave consist of vast sub-horizontal galleries filled with debris. There are also less common tubular passages with scallops. The main level, whose initial shape has been obscured by rock debris, varies between altitudes of 1650 and 1750 m. Lateral tubular labyrinths are located in the range of 150 m both above and below the main cave axis. Steeply inclined tubes links the different sections of the cave.
Cave ice can be formed by a variety of processes. The Eisriesenwelt is a dynamic ice cave. This means that the cave galleries and fissures form a link from lower entrances to higher openings, which – like a chimney – allow the passage of air. Depending on the outside climate, the temperature inside the mountain is either cooler or warmer, causing an air draft from top to bottom or vice versa due to the specific weight differences of the air. In the winter, when the air inside the mountain is warmer than outside, cold air enters into the passages and cools the lower part of the cave to below zero degrees. This means that the melting water entering the rock fissures in the spring and dripping into the cooler areas of the cave will freeze, forming the spectacular ice sculptures in the interior of the mountain.https://www.eisriesenwelt.at/en/the-cave/science.html
There is no natural lighting inside the cave. Open flame lamps to carry inside the cave for the light. The cave entrance has a door which is kept closed during the summer except for the entry and exit of tourists inside the cave. The cave is open to visitors from May to October. The entrance of the cave is kept open during winter, when the icy winter winds blow into the cave and freeze the snow inside. Heavy wind gushes into the caves when the doors are opened. There are 1400 steps inside the cave (700 up and 700 down) to visit the cave. The inside of the caves are at sub-zero temperatures even during the summer days. Appropriate winter clothing and shoes are necessary while visiting the caves. The visit inside the cave is guided and the tour is available in both English and German.
The Eisriesenwelt greets its visitors with a huge entrance hall with ice stalactites and ice stalagmites. There are ice towers and frozen rivers in the cave. As we move further we see an ice embankment, a hall with an ice organ, a palace and much more. The beautiful ice formations are mesmerizing. It takes one’s imagination to assume shapes to the formations. While one could imagine a mammoth with some of the ice formations others could see a hanging boat instead.
The Hohenwerfen Castle is a medieval rock castle in Werfen. The castle was build in 1077 by Prince Archbishop Gebhard to fortify the Pass Lueg.
One of the absolute highlights of Hohenwerfen Castle is the impressive birds of prey show staged by the historic regional falconry center. Falcons, vultures, eagles and other local birds of prey show their flying skills several times a day and give an insight into the great century-old art of falconry.https://www.salzburg-burgen.at/en/hohenwerfen-castle/falconry-exhibitions-history/falconry/
‘The Legend of Jackl – Wizards and Witches in Salzburg’ is an exhibition that illuminates one of the darker chapters of Salzburg’s history, highlighting the practice of sorcery down the centuries. Between 1675 and 1679 Salzburg’s royal court prosecuted the alleged sorcerer, Jakob Koller, and his followers. 198 people of all ages were accused of having practised witchcraft, many of whom were tortured for their confessions – and 138 were executed. An entire floor of the castle has been devoted to these past events.https://www.salzburg-burgen.at/en/hohenwerfen-castle/falconry-exhibitions-history/exhibitions/
- The genesis of the Tennengebirge karst and caves (Salzburg, Austria) – https://digital.lib.usf.edu/content/SF/S0/05/24/82/00001/K26-02033-v64n3-Audra.pdf
- Notable Glaciokarsts of the World – https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-97292-3_9
- EISRIESENWELT Scientific Background – https://www.eisriesenwelt.at/fileadmin/pdf/013_science_01.pdf