Views of Lake Zell against the Austrian Alps
Austria Europe

One Week in the Austrian Alps

January 11, 2019

I spent 9 days in the Austrian Alps just at the start of the fall – it was magical! It reminded me that the best holidays are the ones where you slow down, base yourself in one place, and try not to only check off “must-see’s” in big cities. I struggled to find a good itinerary for a week in Austria, so I hope that the one below helps you with your perfect one week in the Austrian Alps!

Choosing a place to stay:

The best way to do a one-week trip in the Austrian Alps is to choose one town, and stay there the entire time. This is so much more relaxing than lugging your bags around to a new place every other day! You can take day trips to other cities, and still have some time to relax and really make that town your home. Not to mention the little Alpine towns are a lot more adorable than the cities anyway!

We chose to stay in Zell Am See, a popular winter and summer destination. The town is set against the Austrian Alps, with the beautiful Lake Zell in the center, where you can go boating. It’s a perfect balance: a town with a population of only 10,000, yet popular enough with tourists that it’s not so quiet. I think it depends on the vibe you’re looking for. This was perfect for me! I wouldn’t have wanted to stay in a bigger city like Salzburg or Innsbruck which is swarming with tourists, or something too small and quaint where you can barely find coffee shops or activities to keep you occupied. Zell Am See was just the right amount of off-the-beaten-path!

Me at Lake Zell against the Austrian Alps

How beautiful is this town?!

Depending on what you’re looking for, here are some other options for towns to base yourself in:

Bigger towns: Salzburg, Innsbruck

Quaint, yet touristy: Hallstatt (absolutely gorgeous but perhaps not much to do beyond a day or two)

Small towns, off-the-beaten path (yet not completely remote): Kitzbuhel, Alpbach, Saalbach-Hinterglemm, St. Gilgen, Kaprun (Zell Am See’s sister town)

Itinerary for One Week in the Austrian Alps

You can choose to edit this itinerary as you see fit. My itinerary included a mix of busy day trips and relaxing days in Zell Am See. You can certainly do more of one or the other, and I’ve included alternate options too!

Day 1: Settling in

Depending on the town you select, you will spend your first day driving in and settling down. Since we were staying in Zell Am See, the closest international airport was Munich. We rented a car, and drove the 2-hour distance to cross over into Austria. The rest of the day was spent unwinding, exploring the beautiful town, and planning out the next few days.

Day 2: Salzburg

Drive to Salzburg early in the morning. If you’re staying in one of the Alpine towns, this should be under 2 hours. You want to try and get there by 10am so you have a good chunk of the day to explore.

Me on the love lock bridge at Salzburg, overlooking the river

My favorite thing to do in any European city is to take a free walking tour. Unfortunately, outside of Vienna, this isn’t a thing in Austria! Can someone please capitalize on this idea and start a free walking tour company?! Since we only had about 8 hours to explore the city, we decided to be conventional tourists and pay 19 euros for a walking tour. Was it worth it? Perhaps not. But when you’re traveling with a family of 9, it’s hard to get everyone to move from one spot to the next so a tour is sometimes the best option. If you’re traveling in a smaller group though, I’d recommend picking out a few spots from below, walking around the city and soaking in its essence, while stopping at coffee shops and peeking into souvenir stores.

  • Mirabel Gardens of Sound of Music fame
  • Getreidegasse and Linzergasse (the cutest and most famous shopping streets)
  • Hohensalzburg Castle – this castle sits on a fortress; take a funicular railway from just behind the Salzburg Cathedral and experience some spectacular city views
  • Old Town

Avoid the Sound of Music tour – it’s just a tourist trap, and there are better ways to spend your time understanding and experiencing Salzburg!

Sunflowers against the Austrian Alps

Day 3: Grossglockner Alpine Road and relax in Zell Am See

This drive along the rocky mountainous landscape is considered one of the most scenic drives in Austria. While I didn’t necessarily think it was scenic (the terrain was pretty rocky), it was a thrilling ride. The roads are constantly winding and you get some spectacular views of the Alps (i.e. photo ops!). You end up at the top of the mountain and can choose to go up to an observatory deck, or simply pick up some food at the café. There aren’t any vegetarian options here except fries and steamed veggies, so don’t plan on having a meal here.

Me on the Grossglocker Alpine Road in the Austrian Alps

Grossglockner mountain silhouettes

Since this drive won’t take you more than a few hours, you have plenty of time to go back home and relax. Enjoy the town you’re staying in. If you’re in Zell Am See, spend the afternoon renting a boat and paddling along Lake Zell. It’s one of the most stunning lakes I’ve ever seen (probably more than Lake Bled, which we went to later on the trip).

Boating along Lake Zell

Boating along Lake Zell looked a bit like this 🙂

Day 4: Innsbruck

If you’re staying in the Alps, this is under 2 hours as well! Depending on the route you choose, you can opt to stop at the Swarovski Crystal World (20 minutes outside of Innsbruck). There’s a museum that costs 20 euros, and a gift shop that’s free to enter. If, like me, you’re not too keen on crystals – skip this and head straight to Innsbruck.

Spend your time in the Old Town, along the Inn River (you can even bike if it’s a nice day), and do some café-hopping.

Posing against the Austrian Alps

Driving through the Alps looks a bit like this!

Fun facts: while in Austria, you must try the Sacher Torte – arguably the world’s best chocolate cake. Sadly, it has egg so I can’t attest to the accuracy of this claim. What I can tell you though, is that there’s an original Sacher Café in Salzburg and Innsbruck, so definitely hit one up for an original Viennese coffeehouse culture (it’s one of the first coffee houses in Vienna) with plush red velvet chairs and bow-tied waiters. Here are some fun facts about this cake: the recipe (that was created in 1832) has 34 steps, but to keep the recipe a secret, chefs only work on a portion of it! The original recipe is kept in a safe, and very few people have ever seen the entire thing.

Coffee and apple pie at Sacher Cafe in Innsbruck

Coffee and apple pie!

Day 5: Munich

We were lucky to be here during Oktoberfest, so it was a very different day from how you’d otherwise spend your time in Munich. If you’re visiting any of the other 50 weeks of the year, Munich is a great combination of culture, history, architecture and big-city vibes, with some great walking tours, biking options and offbeat experiences.

The Oktoberfest tent atmosphere in Munich

The amazing Oktoberfest tents!

Offbeat Munich: Ice surfers at the English Garden

The very cool ice surfers of Munich

Day 6: Rest day – Zell Am See

After a few hectic days of driving and sightseeing, we really wanted to take a day off and enjoy the beauty of a small town. We spent the day wandering the streets of Zell Am See, and rented bikes to cycle around Lake Zell. There are a ton of bike rental spots – it’s best to stop by the concierge of Grand Hotel (right by the lake) and ask them for options. Different rental shops are open at different times of the year.

Biking around Lake Zell in Zell Am See

Day 7: Lake Bled, Slovenia

I was most excited about this day! We were driving a little under 3 hours to cross over to Slovenia – a country that had been high up on my bucket list for a while. Sadly, we only got to spend 5-6 hours here so I cannot wait to come back and explore the entire country.

The gorgeous panoramic views of Lake Bled Slovenia

Lake Bled is the first thing you think about when someone mentions Slovenia, right? You’ve probably seen those dreamy blue photos, with a castle sitting in the middle of a lake. Let me set your expectations a little bit. It did not take my breath away (I know, I was bummed too – I was really looking forward to it). I actually thought Lake Zell was more beautiful. However, the town of Bled was really cute and had we spent a night here, I can imagine enjoying exploring it.

If you’re short on time, you want to stroll around Lake Bled for a while. You also have to get up high to one of the vantage points for an iconic Lake Bled photo. If you’re traveling with older people, then it’s easiest to pay the 9 Euro entrance fee for Bled Castle, which offers some great views. If you’re looking for something a little more offbeat, less crowded, and cheaper, try one of the many hiking trails by the lake (which are all numbered). The most popular is #6 Ojstrica but there are many other options too.

Photographing Lake Bled from atop

Grab a meal at Pizzeria Rustika or Public & Vegan Kitchen. Everyone will tell you to have the famous Bled Cream Cake when you’re visiting – the best part about Public & Vegan Kitchen is they make a vegan version of this cake!

Final tip – if you’ve got some time, also try visiting the less popular, but equally charming Lake Bohinj. For more on Slovenia, check out my favorite bloggers, Bruised Passports.

Day 8: Hallstatt

Okay. Hands down – one of my favorite towns! I’ve visited a lot of European towns over the years, but Hallstatt really stands out. I had heard a lot about this tiny Austrian village, and it was every bit as charming.

Main market square in Hallstatt

HOW cute?!

With a population of only 800, Hallstatt is the oldest medieval village in Europe that’s still inhabited (7000 years compared to Rome’s 2000). It’s been given UNESCO World Heritage status, and attracts almost 10,000 tourists a day during the summers. Lucky for us – we visited in the fall, and while it certainly wasn’t empty, it wasn’t too crowded either. We could really experience the magic of the town for what it was.

There isn’t much to do here. Just walk around. The best tip I can give you is to take any one of the stairs leading up, and walk around there. Not many people venture up, and you’ll really have a piece of the town to yourself.

Sitting by the church in Hallstatt

Rent a boat on Lake Hallstatt – there are many boat rentals along the lake, so find one with a short queue! Also check out the Bone House, which contains over 600 artistically decorated skulls. If you’re interested, you can take the funicular up to check out the world’s oldest salt mine. If you do, go to the Skywalk for some great views of Hallstatt. I preferred using my time to stroll around and explore the town instead.

Postcard views of Hallstatt

Day 9: Zell Am See/Departure

Spend the last day relaxing in Zell Am See and packing up!

That’s it – my one-week itinerary for the Austrian Alps! If you have more time, you can add on the other towns I mentioned earlier. You can also drive to the Bavarian Alps! I’d love to hear from you if there are any Austrian towns you particularly loved and would recommend!

Views of Lake Zell against the Austrian Alps