In Werfen, there are the largest Ice Caves in the world. That’s why Werfen is one of the most popular day trips from Salzburg. But while the ice caves are the main attraction in Werfen, the first thing you will see when you arrive in Werfen is the Hohenwerfen fortress.
Placed on a hill in the middle of the valley, the Hohenwerfen fortress dominates the area’s appearance. You will see it first thing when you get off the train and every step on the way to the Ice Caves. But would I recommend you to visit the Hohenwerfen fortress?
With this article, I will prepare you for your visit to Werfen and try to help you decide whether you should include the Hohenwerfen Fortress on your day trip from Salzburg.
What’s the Hohenwerfen Fortress about?
The Hohenwerfen Fortress calls itself an event fortress. That’s what it is. The highlight has always been the bird show. I remember the falcons vividly from my childhood days. Nowadays, there is a unique audio guide for children, a rally quiz, and several games in the yard of the fortress. If you visit the area with children, the fortress is a must.
The only way to explore the Hohenwerfen fortress is a guided tour, which is included in the entrance fee. It’s great to have a guide, but you can’t move freely. You have to follow the guide and the group. The museums are limited, making the Hohensalzburg fortress a better place if history is what you want.
The History of the Hohenwerfen Fortress
The Hohenwerfen fortress dates back to the same period as the fortress in Salzburg. Historians assume that it was built in the year 1077. At that time the investiture controversy between the pope and the Emporer about the appointment of bishops was in full swing.
Because Salzburg was on the side of the pope while most of its neighbors were allied with the Emporer, the archbishop began eagerly building fortresses. Among those fortresses are the fortress in Werfen as well as the fortress in Salzburg.
Hohenwerfen as a Film Location
With the hype for the movie, Werfen officially opened a Sound of Music Trail a few years ago. That trail leads you to the meadow where Maria taught the children during their picnic to sing the Do-Re-Mi. The path is easy to hike and would be an alternative or addition to the fortress visit. It lets you experience authentic Austrian countryside. From the meadow, you overlook the valley and the fortress.
Take a look at the movie scene to know what I mean.
The 1968 movie Where the Eagles Dare with Clint Eastwood was entirely filmed in Werfen, at the Hohenwerfen fortress, and in the surrounding mountains. If you haven’t seen it yet and are going to visit the Hohenwerfen fortress, maybe you should watch this World War II thriller before your visit.
How to get to Werfen from Salzburg by public transport?
Werfen is located about 55 kilometers south of Salzburg. Salzburg lies on the foot of the alps, and by going to Werfen, you take the most direct way into the mountains.
To get from Salzburg to Werfen, you take the S3 or the regional train REX. The S3 departs every half an hour, and the REX also leaves frequently. There is no need to reserve a ticket ahead of time. Just get to the station ten minutes early and buy a card from the machine.
The ride takes you in 40 right into the heart of the alps in 40 minutes. That alone is worth the trip. But the main reason to go to Werfen is the ice caves. If you don’t know about the Ice Caves yet but are planning a day trip to Werfen and the fortress, I recommend you read this article on the Ice Caves in Werfen.
How to get to the Hohenwerfen Fortress?
There are two ways to get to the Hohenwerfen fortress from the train station. The first option is to take the funicular, and the second option is to walk from the train station.
If you arrive by public transport from Salzburg or you return from the Ice Caves and visit the Hohenwerfen fortress before returning to Salzburg, walking is the better option. From the station, you anyway have to walk for about half an hour. On the way to the fortress, there is a crossroads where you either head to the left, to the funicular or the right, along the footpath.
You won’t save time by taking the funicular, but if you are not pre-booking your ticket online, you save four euros by taking the footpath. If you get your ticket online ahead of time, you save half a euro by walking instead of taking the funicular. The funicular ride is also not as spectacular as the one in Salzburg, but the footpath through the forest and the gates of the fortress is pretty.
In case you arrive by car, it’s a different story. The parking is where the funicular is, and you should only hike if you would like to be physically active or want to save money. In that case, the best thing you can do is prepurchase your ticket online on the Hohenwerfen fortress website and, thereby, only spend €0,50 on the funicular.
What’s the entrance fee for the Hohenwerfen Fortress?
In 2020, the entrance fee for the fortress Hohenwerfen, for an adult, is €12,50 without the funicular. With the funicular, the entrance fee is €16,50, but that can be reduced to €13,- by prepurchasing the ticket online. Tickets for children are less expensive and group tickets for a family with up to three children for €30,- are the least costly.
Things to do on the Hohenwerfen fortress
The must-do things on the Hohenwerfen fortress are the falcon show and the guided tour. The tour is the only way to go into the history of the fort, and the falcons are shows with actual birds of prey, a spectacle of nature.
With the guided tours, you enter several rooms of the fortress beginning with the church and ending at the bell tower. The tour is entertaining with your guide dressed in a medieval costume and fully engaged in his role. Unfortunately, the guide only speaks German, and to get an English tour, you get an audio guide.
The other museums revolve around the Clint Eastwood movie and other small topics, but there is no way to go deep into history.
For children, on the other hand, there are plenty of things to do. There are games in the courtyard, during the guided tour a special audio guide is provided for the kids, and a kind of scavenger hunt is available at the ticket counter.
Furthermore, you should check the Event Calendar to find out if anything special is happening when you visit Hohenwerfen.
As an event castle, the Hohenwerfen castle would even be available for your event. They rent out several rooms of the fortress for any kind of concert, meeting or celebration. You could rent parts of the castle for weddings or as a filming location in case you are producing a movie.
Is the Hohenwerfen Fortress worth visiting?
In case you travel with children or money doesn’t matter, definitely go for it! The Hohenwerfen fortress is excellent for children, and if you are in the area for the Ice Caves, you will have time also to visit the fortress the same day. If you do so, however, make sure the falcon show is on. The falcon show is the highlight of a visit to the Hohenwerfen fortress.
There are two or three shows daily. It’s best to visit the Ice Caves as early as possible and arrive at the fortress for the last falcon show. Here you can check the schedule for the falcon shows.
If you travel on a budget, without children, and visit Werfen from Salzburg for the Ice Caves and feel like you should either go for the fortress in Werfen or for the one in Salzburg, I would recommend visiting the fortress in Salzburg instead. There is more to the Hohensalzburg fortress than to Hohenwerfen.
You get the best views of Werfen on the way to the Ice Caves or from the Sound of Music meadow. In Salzburg, the best views are from the fortress. Furthermore, there are several fascinating museums in the Salzburg fortress, while in Werfen, a guided tour is the only way to explore the fortress.
Where is the meadow from the Sound of Music?
The Sound of Music meadow became the third attraction in Werfen beside the fortress and the Ice Caves. It became an official tourist attraction in 2015 for the 50th anniversary of the movie. The hike to the meadow is an alternative to the fortress in case you are on a budget and visit the Hohensalzburg fortress anyway.
The trail begins in the center of Werfen, and it takes about an hour to reach the exact spot where the picnic scene and the Do Re Mi took place. There are several stops with information and games, and you might even meet a cow or two. From the Sound of Music meadow, you have the perfect view of the valley. The Hohenwerfen fortress, embedded in the landscape, looks it’s best from that spot.
Is the Hohenwerfen Fortress open in Winter?
The Hohenwerfen fortress is closed in winter, not because it’s inaccessible but rather because of the lack of tourists. The Ice Caves are inaccessible in winter; therefore, not many people come to Werfen at that time of the year.
The Hohenwerfen fortress is normally visited after the ice caves. The Ice Caves are the main attraction in Werfen. With children, the visit to Hochwerfen is a must. If you are on a budget and anyway visit the fortress in Salzburg, you could skip the one in Werfen. Instead, you could go on a hike to the Sound of Music Meadow, where you get the most fantastic view of the area and the Hohenwerfen fortress.