Austria has always held a special place in my heart since my very first visit. I love the lakes and mountains and the crisp alpine air and my Austria holidays always include a stay beside one of the beautiful mountain lakes.
Over the years I have been fortunate to visit a number of beautiful lakes in Austria including Zell am See and Achensee (which is Austria’s largest lake), but the lakes around Salzburg in what is known as the Salzkammergut region, are, in my opinion, some of the best Austrian lakes to visit.
In this article, I’m sharing my picks for the best places to visit in Austria for a memorable Austrian lakes holiday. These lakes are just a few of the 50 or so lakes in the Salzkammergut lake district close to Salzburg.
This guide contains my top picks found in the Salzburg lake district, and all are also serious contenders for Austria’s best lakes. Also covered is what you should know about the pretty towns and villages dotted around the shores of each lake.
I encourage you to include at least one of them in your itinerary when you visit Austria. Mountains, sparkling green lakes and chocolate box villages make these some of the best places to visit in Austria.
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Wolfgangsee (Lake Wolfgang)
Austria has many beautiful lakes and Lake Wolfgang is no exception. Stretching around ten kilometres from east to west, there are three main towns on Lake Wolfgang which lies at the foot of the Schafberg (Sheep Mountain).
Like most of the lakeside towns in Austria, outdoor pursuits are plentiful at Lake Wolfgang. I first visited the Austrian lake district as it was the start and end point for a self-guided cycling tour my husband and I did (which I wrote about here), however if you’d prefer your Austria vacation to be more relaxed, Lake Wolfgang is perfect for you, too.
One of the best ways to visit the towns on Lake Wolfgang during the summer months is to catch the regular ferry which departs at least four times per day from Spring through to Autumn.
Winter is also a fantastic time to visit Wolfgangsee. Austria’s Christmas celebrations are legendary and there’s no finer example than in the towns around the lake when the Wolfgangsee Advent festival is in full swing. One of the highlights is St. Wolfgang’s 19-metre tall floating lantern which lights up the lake.
Find out more about Christmas at Wolfgangsee in this article.
One of the most popular resort towns in all of the Salzkammergut lakes, St. Wolfgang offers something for everyone.
The busy little Austria lake town is home to a great variety of shops and hotels, restaurants and cafes serving delicious traditional Austrian food. There’s even a Christmas shop which is open all year round. Quaint cobbled streets lined with frescoed buildings add to the town’s charm.
Sitting right beside the lake, the Pilgrimage Church is well worth a visit. The church’s spire can be seen from afar but it’s the famous Pacher Altar, created in the 15th century, which is the real drawcard.
Another well-known building in town (at least with German-speakers) is the Hotel Weisses Rossl which was made famous by the movie “Im Wiessen Rossl am Wolfgangsee”. Its lakeside terrace restaurant offers superb views across the lake.
For even better views of Wolfgangsee, as well as nearby Mondsee and Attersee, you can’t go past a ride on the cogwheel railway to the Schafberg (Sheep Mountain).
The Schafbergbahn is Austria’s steepest cog railway with a gradient of up to 26% and has been in operation since 1893. In around 35 minutes, it transports passengers from St. Wolfgang to the Schafberg summit at 1783 metres above sea level.
Up here, the views are breathtaking.
Trains operate daily from mid May until the end of September.
Given its proximity to Salzburg, St. Wolfgang is popular with day trippers. A number of day trips from Salzburg are available (click here to browse the options) but if you have your own car, it takes less than an hour to drive from St. Wolfgang to Salzburg and vice versa.
Where to stay in St. Wolfgang
Hotel Peter (4* hotel)
Overlooking Wolfgangsee, Hotel Peter offers a selection of rooms and suites all with lake views and balcony, with some two bedroom suites available for families.
Located on St. Wolfgang’s main street (one way traffic only), the hotel is just a couple of minutes’ walk to the centre of town. Guests can dine in the either the modern tavern, Paul de Wirt restaurant or, in fine weather, on the terrace. Traditional Austrian fare is the speciality.
The hotel has its own private lake pier just 5 minutes’ walk from the hotel. Click here to check current prices.
Browse more hotels and apartments in St. Wolfgang by clicking here
Apartments in St. Wolfgang – Should you prefer to stay in an apartment, I can highly recommend this stunning lakefront apartment. I spent five nights here and loved it!
The small village of St. Gilgen, at the northern end of Wolfgangsee lake, is famous as the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s mother, Anna Maria Pertl. Her home, which features a lovely frescoed wall, is close to the lake and can be visited during the summer.
Beside the house is a statue of the famous composer and a fountain featuring his mother.
The pretty town features a number of souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants, as well as a lido (lakeside swimming area) which opens during the summer. Be sure to look out for the Town Hall with its pretty facade.
Towering over St. Gilgen is the local mountain, the Zwölferhorn (Twelve Horn), at 1522 metres. Many skiers and snowshoers spend their holidays in St. Gilgen as the Zwölferhorn is great for winter sports as well as hiking in the warmer months.
If you’re driving near St. Gilgen, you might see the distinctive red and yellow gondola cabins overhead as the cable car line passes over the main road! The Zwölferhorn Mountain Cable Car is open year round. Click here to visit the official website.
Strobl is another small Austrian town on Lake Wolfgang that is worth a visit. Plenty of lakeside activities are available and just out of town you’ll find the Summer rodelbahn, a luge track that winds its way down a steep hill.
This small town offers a timeless charm characterised by a blend of historic and modern architectural styles. In one place, visitors can see traditional Austrian country houses, contemporary hotels and impressive Art Nouveau homes.
The Strobl area is also famous thanks to Bad Ischl, an Austrian spa town nearby. Once Bad Ischl became well known, Strobl also morphed into a sizable resort attracting well-heeled visitors from all over the land. Now, various events are held here all year round.
Strobl highlights also include the Postalm, Austria’s biggest alpine pasture. The area is also abundant in pristine beaches plus the local hiking and skiing trails, which are set among the natural landscape surrounding the town.
Where to stay in Strobl
The 4* Hotel Brandauers Villen Superior is one of the top rated hotels in Strobl. > Click here to check current prices.
Traunsee (Lake Traun)
Traunsee holds the title of Austria’s deepest lake, thanks in part to its idyllic position at the foot of the Traunstein massif.
Surrounded by lush meadows and forests, there are ample opportunities to enjoy bike rides or walks in Traunsee, as well as the many water activities on offer.
In winter, the popular Feuerkogel ski area attracts to families to Traunsee lake. Austrians come here for skiing and snowboarding.
Gmunden is a larger town at the northern end of Traunsee. Once a commercial salt city, today it is one of the most popular Austrian lakes resorts and is highly regarded as a wellness centre.
The town’s long lakeside promenade comes alive in summer with ice cream sellers and souvenir vendors touting their wares, but this doesn’t diminish the beauty of the town.
Gmunden is famous for the ceramics that have been produced in the town for over 500 years. With their distinctive green and white pattern, a piece of Gmunden ceramic makes a unique souvenir of your visit. The Gmunden Ceramic shop is open 6 days a week and factory tours are also available.
There are numerous sites in Gmunden that are worth a look including the Town Hall, the Parish Church – which has three naves dating back to 1301 – and the ceramic fountain on Rinnholz Square, which features a man carrying a lump of salt.
One must-visit site is that of Schloss Ort, a 15th Century castle built on a tiny island. The castle is reached by walking across a 123-metre wooden bridge. Exhibitions are often held in the castle and it’s a popular place for weddings.
Water sports, such as windsurfing and water skiing, are popular on Lake Traun, and the large lido (lake swimming pool) is suitable for all ages.
From Gmunden, boats sail to Ebensee at the southern end of lake where you can catch a cable car to Feuerkogel year round, or return to Gmunden.
Where to stay in Gmunden
Other towns on Traunsee that you might like to visit include Ebensee and Traunkirchen.
Attersee (Lake Atter)
Attersee lake, Austria, is the largest of the Salzkammergut lakes, and is one of the best lakes in Austria for windsurfing, water skiing and sailing, thanks to its warm water and reliable breezes.
Attersee, which is sometimes referred to as Kammersee, is also one of the best swimming lakes in Austria and is popular with divers due to its unusually clear water.
Schorfling – Seewalchen
The twin towns of Schorfling and Seewalchen are ideally situated at the northern end of Attersee. Both are popular summer resorts offering heaps of lakeside activities but culture vultures are well catered for, too.
At Kammer-Schorfling, art lovers can visit the Gustav Klimt Gallery. The famous Austrian artist holidayed on Lake Attersee for many years and it was here that he created many of his much-loved landscapes.
You can retrace Klimt’s footsteps with a walk along the Klimt Artist Trail and admire the bronze bust of him which sits on the lake shore.
The Gustav Klimt Zentrum is open between 1 May and 30 September.
Other small towns and villages cling to the shoreline around Lake Atter including Attersee (the town), Nussdorf and Steinbach.
Hallstatter See (Lake Hallstatt)
Nestled at the foot of the Dachstein, Hallstatter See is widely regarded as one of the prettiest lakes in Europe. The Hallstatt-Dachstein region became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1997 and it’s not hard to see why.
Much-photographed, Hallstatt is a postcard-perfect village on the edge of Hallstattersee (Lake Hallstatt) and is undoubtedly one of the best lakes in Salzkammergut.
For a small Austrian village there are plenty of highlights which include the colourful houses and buildings, the lovely town square and of course the stunning water views.
While the incredible scenery is what attracts many first-time visitors to Hallstatt, people return here year after year once they discover the town’s unique blend of attractions.
Hallstatt is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site, and a popular inclusion on many an Austrian itinerary. During our visit, however, a highlight was the fact that many day-trippers departed before sunset, leaving us to explore in peace while enjoying the silence.
It’s fun simply to wander around town, stopping to browse in the shops or for refreshments at the cafes, and you can also discover a couple of interesting churches and the somewhat macabre bone house, where about 1,200 painted skulls are on show.
Hallstatt’s other attractions include the skywalk and 5fingers viewing platforms. You can also hire a boat or book a cruise on the lake during your visit.
With easy access from Hallstatt to the nearby salt mine, ice caves and Dachstein holiday mountain, it’s a great place to visit on a day trip from Salzburg (find out more by clicking here) or, even better, to spend a few days.
Best places to stay in Hallstatt
My choice is either of these 4-star hotels:
- Heritage Hotel Hallstatt – check current prices here
- Seehotel Gruner Baum – click here for current prices
Just five kilometres around the lake from Hallstatt lies Obertraun which is the closest town to the Dachstein ice caves.
Obertraun is popular during both the warmer and colder seasons, as active sorts descend on this small Austrian town to ski and snowboard, swim or kayak across the lake or to take to the hiking and mountain biking trails that criss-cross the area.
Mondsee (Lake Mond)
Another of the beautiful lakes near Salzburg, Mondsee is one of the largest lakes in the Salzkammergut region and is said to be the warmest.
The Austrian lake town of Mondsee was once home to the country’s oldest monastery (founded in 745 AD) but today its most famous site is without doubt St. Michael’s Basilica.
This beautiful church, which stands in the centre of the town, was built in the 15th century in the gothic style, became famous as it was the setting for the wedding in the movie “The Sound of Music”.
The ‘Wedding Church’, as it is commonly known, is the most visited church in Austria with more than 200,000 people visiting it every year. It’s become a modern day pilgrimage site for fans of the movie who often spend their holidays in Mondsee just so they can visit the church.
Whilst the exterior of the Basilica is impressive – the twin towers reach 52 metres – it’s the interior that will take your breath away. The three-aisled church is ornately decorated with a gilded altar, painted ceiling and jewelled statues.
Entry to the Basilica is free (donations are welcome) and you can visit daily from 9am to 7pm.
Mondsee is an old market town and the historic centre, with its colourful buildings and cobbled streets, is the perfect place to sit and take in the beauty of the Basilica.
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Lake Mondsee during Advent, the annual Advent Market is held in the square at the front of the Basilica.
Just a few minutes’ walk from the town centre is the sparkling lake where’ll you find plenty of water activities to keep you occupied, a large swimming area and numerous cafes and restaurants.
Where to stay in Mondsee
Top hotels in Mondsee include:
- Iris Porsche Hotel and Restaurant > Click here to check prices.
- Hotel Krone > Click here to check prices.
- and Schlosshotel Mondsee > Click here to check prices.
Fuschlsee (Lake Fuschl)
With a shore length of less than ten kilometres, Fuschlsee is one of the smaller lakes in Salzkammergut, Austria but that doesn’t mean it lacks appeal. This is the place to visit if you want to stay at one of the quieter lakes in Austria lake district.
Fuschl am See
Just 25 kilometres from Salzburg, Fuschl am See is a lovely village with a population of just over 1,000. The pretty town centre offers a few shops and services and numerous places to stay.
A number of lakeside hotels line the shore, where there’s also a small sandy beach, a jetty and a large swimming complex. Watersports are popular activities in summer whilst it’s possible to ice skate on the lake during the winter months.
A relaxing way to appreciate the beauty of the lake, is to take a stroll on the walking path that circles the lake. At the far end of Fuschlsee, at Hof bei Salzburg, you’ll come to Schloss Fuschl, a former hunting lodge dating back to 1450.
Now a hotel and spa (it’s one of Marriott’s Luxury Collection Resort & Spa hotels), it’s worth a look around the gardens even if you can’t afford to stay the night!
Where to stay at Fuschl am See
5-star hotels at Fuschl am See
Hotel Schloss Fuschl Resort and Spa (at Hof bei Salzburg) – click here to check current rates
- Sheraton Fuschlsee-Salzburg Hotel Jagdhof (at Hof bei Salzburg) – check current prices here
- Hotel Seerose – check current prices here
Austrian Lakes map (Salzkammergut lakes)
How to get to the Austrian Lakes
The Austrian Lakes are located to the east of Salzburg. Most, if not all, of the towns mentioned above are accessible by public transport.
Larger towns generally have railway stations but those that don’t are often serviced by Post Bus, the public bus service. Timetables can be found on the Austrian Railways website.
There’s also a Hop on Hop Off bus service which operates daily between late March and late October and from Thursday to Sunday during Advent (late November to Christmas). Commentary is available in 13 languages. Click here to purchase tickets.
The green line travels a circular route every 90 minutes from Salzburg to Fuschlsee, Wolfgangsee and Mondsee with a total of ten stops en-route.
The red line – which connects with the green line – travels from St. Gilgen to St. Wolfgang with numerous stops en-route.
If arriving by car, I suggest making a base at one of the lakes and visiting the other lakes on day trips. All of the lakes are within an easy drive of each other.
For more Austria travel inspiration, read our Austria travel guide.
This article was originally published in 2015 but has been updated and republished.
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