A few years ago, whilst looking for somewhere to stay in Austria after seven weeks on the move, we came across a little piece of paradise quite by accident. Our criteria was fairly simple – all we wanted was somewhere to chill out and relax for our last week away but it had to be somewhere that the kids could be occupied too!
Scrolling through a list of place names, we came across Zell am See, and it turned out to be a great choice because there are lots of things to do in Zell am See, Austria to keep the whole family amused.
So, after driving around Europe for seven weeks in 2000, we arrived in Zell am See and our love affair with this little piece of paradise began! So much so, that in 2014 we returned to this picture postcard Austrian town for the fourth time.
Situated about half way between Innsbruck and Salzburg, Zell am See (and its sister town, Kaprun), is probably most famous for its winter sports. The Schmittenhohe towers 2000 metres above the town, and not far away, the giant Kitzsteinhorn rises from the ground near Kaprun.
These mountains are a magnet for skiers and snowboarders, and are dotted with runs to suit all levels. More about skiing in Zell am See later.
But arriving in Summer, we were to experience Zell am See’s summer delights. The town itself, with a population of around 10,000, is situated on beautiful Lake Zell, hence the name, which, in German, means Zell on the lake.
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Things to Do in Zell am See
Said to be one of the warmest lakes in Europe as it is fed by an underground spring rather than melting snow, Lake Zell is the town’s showpiece and is a great place to unwind. Spending time by the lake is one of the best Zell am See summer activities.
Surrounded by the towering peaks of Schmittenhohe and Kitzsteinhorn, the picturesque lake is also one of the cleanest in Europe.
One of the busiest places in town in summer is the Lido, right on the lake. It features swimming pools, waterslides and a large lawn area, and is THE place to be seen if you are a teenager in Zell am See during the summer!
The mini golf course next door is fun for all ages.
A great way to enjoy the beauty of the lake surrounds is by strolling or cycling along the lakeside promenade.
You can circumnavigate the lake by foot in around three hours (it’s a 12 kilometre circular loop) via the promenade on the western side and a footpath on the eastern side. Cyclists will need to ride on the road on the eastern side of the lake but the traffic is not too busy and you’ll pass through a few of the other villages perched on the lake’s shore.
Lake cruises are popular, as are a range of water sports, with windsurfers, Stand Up Paddleboards, pedalos and electric boats available for hire.
In winter time the lake often freezes, so whilst all cruises and watersports cease, it does provide a glistening, icy vista.
Golf at Zell am See
Golfers can play the two picturesque 18-hole golf courses on the highest golf facility in the Austrian Alps.
Zell am See town
The township itself is a traditional Austrian village and the traffic-free Alt Stadt (old town) is a great place to stop for a coffee and watch the world go by. Best of all, it’s just a few hundred metres from the lake.
Whilst you sit and sip your daily coffee, Zell am See’s oldest building, the Kasternerturm, will have you in view. Thought to be built before the year 1000, the tower now houses the town’s museum. Just across the square, St. Hypolith’s Church, dating back to the 11th Century, stands proud
The centuries old buildings in Stadtplatz now house hotels and restaurants, and in summer, a traditional market every Friday is a great place to stock up on local produce and enjoy a Bratwurst and beer.
The Zell am See shopping options are plentiful, too. There are a wide range of fashion, sports and souvenir shops to browse through, as well as shops selling tradition Austrian produce. Bike hire and outdoor equipment is also available at numerous locations in town.
Zell am See’s town centre is also home to a couple of good sized supermarkets, bakeries, butchers and plenty of cafes and restaurants.
There’s also an ice rink and indoor pool which are especially popular on rainy days.
The Zell am See Tourist Information office should be your first stop for brochures and maps on the area.
Enjoying the great outdoors
To really get the feel of the Alps, take a cable car to one of the surrounding mountains and enjoy a stroll along gorgeous alpine paths. The National Parks are abundant with wildflowers and even in summer, you’ll still see snow on the peaks.
Zell am See’s ‘local’ mountain, Schmittenhohe, becomes a hiker’s paradise in summer. A cable car whisks you up to the summit where you can choose from a number of walks suitable for all levels of fitness. And if you need a rest, the views from here over Lake Zell are superb.
From nearby Kaprun, (eight kilometres from Zell am See), you can also enjoy magnificent views from the summit of the Kitzsteinhorn.
The Peak World 3000 platform, an observation platform connected to the roof of the summit station – at 3,000 metres – provides panoramic views of the Eastern alps, whilst from the National Park Gallery platform you can admire the beauty of the Grossglockner peak and the highest mountains in Austria
Thermal Spa Resorts in Zell am See – Kaprun
For a day of total indulgence and relaxation, head to one of the wellness resorts in Zell am See or Kaprun.
Tauern Spa World in Kaprun is a huge wellness complex that features 11 indoor and outdoor pools, 10 saunas and steam rooms, and a children’s spa, as well as activity and relaxation programs.
Enjoy superb views of the picturesque alps as you soak all your cares away.
Day trips from Zell am See
You could probably sit and enjoy the local sights for days on end but if you do want to venture a little further afield, Zell am See is well situated to explore nearby cities and natural wonders.
Only an hours’ drive away, Salzburg is a great day out with its history, Baroque architecture, beautiful palace and great shopping.
Further reading: How to spend 24 hours in Salzburg
If you have your own wheels, a must-do is a drive on the Gross Glockner High Alpine Road, a magnificent, panoramic road that twists and turns its way across the Alps in the Hohe Tauern National Park.
At the summit, you come face to face with Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner (3,798 metres), towering over the Pasterze Glacier, one of Europe’s longest and most impressive glaciers.
You can take a funicular or walk down to the glacier where you can walk upon the frozen ice. A unique experience!
Keeping to the ice theme, the Eisriesenwelt (Ice Caves) are located near Werfen, just over an hour from Zell am See.
The caves take a bit of an effort to get inside (a 20 minute uphill walk, a ride on Austria’s steepest cable car, at 70 degrees, and then another ten minute walk), but the ice formations inside are worth the effort.
Despite being around minus 1°C inside, climbing the paths that take you along some of the 42 kilometres of ice caves, soon warms you up.
>> TIP: Allow plenty of time for your visit as the queue for the cable car ride can be long. <<
Europe’s highest waterfalls, Krimmler Falls, are 55 kilometres away.
One activity popular with the whole family is the Saalfelden Rodelbahn, just 15 minutes from Zell am See. The 1.6 kilometre luge track includes 63 bends as it winds its way down the hillside, and kids are well catered for, too, at the bottom, with an animal farm.
Just 55 kilometres away is the lovely town of Kitzbuhel, one of Austria’s most famous ski resorts. A visit to the Old Town, with its gelato-coloured buildings, is a must.
Zell am See and Kaprun ski area
The Zell am See – Kaprun region is famous for alpine skiing and snowboarding and boasts 62 slopes stretching over 138 kilometres.
As well as runs for all levels of skier and boarder there are also three freeriding and freestyling snow parks, as well as Austria’s biggest super pipe.
Cross country skiers, tobogganers and winter hikers are also well catered for, and guided snowshoe and Nordic walking tours are offered.
Like to spend Christmas in Zell am See? Head to my article Best Places to Spend Christmas in Austria for more info!
The ski resorts of Zell am See – Kaprun are: Schmittenhohe (Zell am See) at 2000 metres (lifts operate from end of November to mid-April), Kitzsteinhorn Glacier (Kaprun) at 3,029 metres (lifts operated all year), and Maiskogel and Lechnerberg (Kaprun) which are perfect family skiing areas (lifts operate from early December until mid-April).
A new project has just been completed which connects the Maiskogel and Kitzsteinhorn ski areas via cable cars from the town of Kaprun all the way up to the mountain station on the Kitzsteinhorn.
The first leg of the project was completed in 2018, when the 10-person MK Maiskogelbahn gondola lift opened for business. In 12 minutes it takes passengers from 768 meters to 1570 meters up the mountain, and can carry about 2800 people per hour. With it, the new Kaprun Centre valley station opened in the town and acts as the gateway to the mountain and includes a ski store and rental location.
The new 3K-Konnection cable car from Kaprun to Kitzsteinhorn opened on 30 November, 2019. It travels at 8 meters per second up from 1570 meters to 1975 meters up the mountain, and take about 10 minutes to ascend. It will be able to carry about 2,700 people per hour to the mountain station on the Kitzsteinhorn where the ski season lasts from October until early summer and it’s always snowy!
A free ski bus service operates between Zell am See and Kaprun at regular intervals.
Read more about skiing at Zell am See – Kaprun in this article.
Where to Stay in Zell am See
There is definitely no shortage of Zell am See accommodation so you have plenty of choice when planning your holiday in Zell am See.
Hotels in Zell am See
Many of the Zell am See hotels offer both half- or full-board options. This means your nightly rate includes either two or three meals per day, however you may find some that only include breakfast.
One of the most famous hotels in Zell am See is the stately Grand Hotel, (click here to check current prices) located on its own peninsula jutting into the lake. There are a few Zell am See hotels on the lake but this one, in my mind, wins hands down for position.
The impressive looking hotel certainly boasts the best location in town but is on the higher end of the price scale. If your budget doesn’t stretch to the Grand, you can still enjoy a meal or a coffee in the hotel’s picturesque gardens overlooking the lake. The hotel dates back to 1876 and is one of the landmarks of Zell am See.
Zell am See also has its share of Wellness Hotels which feature spas and thermal pools.
Zell am See apartments
Apartments are a great option if you prefer to have the flexibility of self-catering. Zell am See again offers many choices.
(You can read my review of the Grand Hotel and the Zell am See apartment I have stayed in here.)
Zell am See Camping
For travellers that prefer camping, Zell am See is home to Panorama Camp, whilst there are two other camping parks, one at each end of the lake.
With plenty of things to do in Zell am See for the whole family, this is one place worth considering for your next Austrian holiday. Small enough to have that ‘village’ feel but big enough to offer all the facilities of a larger city, you won’t be disappointed with Zell am See as a holiday destination.
Where is Zell am See?
The Zell am See – Kaprun region is situated in Salzburgerland, Austria. It is 97 kilometres from Salzburg, 143 kilometres from Innsbruck and 168 kilometres from Munich.
Getting to Zell am See
Zell am See is easily accessible by train. The Salzburg to Zell am See train journey takes around two hours, and the fastest train from Munich to Zell am See takes two and a half hours.
The Innsbruck – Zell am See train service takes around one hour 50 minutes.
All services operate multiple times each day.
If arriving by car, Zell am See is approximately two hours from both Innsbruck and Munich, and one hour 15 minutes from Salzburg.
Since my family’s first visit to Zell am See in 2000, we have returned a further three times. I encourage you to also visit and experience the many things to do at Zell am See, Austria.
For more Austria travel inspiration, read our Austria travel guide.
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