7 Things to Do in Bad Ischl: A Travel Guide to the Imperial Spa Town
Nestled in the picturesque Salzkammergut Lake District in Upper Austria lies the historic spa town of Bad Ischl. Once the summer refuge for the Habsburg emperor, the town exudes an imperial vibe with its grand buildings and opulent architecture. It was also popularised by Doctor Wirer, who praised the healing effects of the town’s thermal water, and now the high-end spa has become a tourist destination.
But Bad Ischl is most interesting as a hub for exploring the Salzkammergut Lake District. Bad Ischl is in the most central location and offers train and bus connections to most places in the Salzkammergut. Furthermore, Bad Ischl is the biggest town in the Lake District, offering more budget-friendly accommodation compared to smaller yet more popular places like Hallstatt. A visit to the quaint town of Hallstatt, one of the popular day trips from Salzburg, often requires a change in Bad Ischl.
While a quick stroll through Bad Ischl is recommended, taking extra time to soak in the atmosphere and a cup of coffee and explore the surroundings or even staying in Bad Ischl overnight is well worth it. In this article, I will tell you about the best things to do in Bad Ischl in the Salzkammergut and give you guidance on how to visit Bad Ischl.
The 7 Best Things to do in Bad Ischl
Let’s take a look at the things to do in Bad Ischl, listed in the order of priority according to the amount of time visitors have to explore, as per my recommendation.
1. Walk the Town of Bad Ischl
Are you ready to explore the charming town of Bad Ischl? If you are in Bad Ischl for a stopover on your way to or from Hallstatt and have an hour to spare, let’s take a walk! Bad Ischl is full of attractions waiting to be discovered.
While the Kaiservilla is a must-visit attraction in Bad Ischl, visitors should keep in mind that it requires a significant amount of time. To fully appreciate the former summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I, you need to join a guided tour and also want to take a leisurely stroll through the extensive park. Therefore, for those with limited time, it might be necessary to prioritize other attractions.
However, don’t let the Kaiservilla overshadow the little details that make Bad Ischl so charming. As you explore the town, take the time to appreciate the stunning architecture of landmarks such as the Postoffice, the Trinkhalle, the Leharvilla, and the Kongress & Theaterhaus. These buildings not only boast magnificent beauty but also bear witness to the rich history of the town.
As you meander through the streets of Bad Ischl, you’ll quickly notice that it’s like the countryside equivalent of Vienna. The buildings, streets, and overall atmosphere exude a quaint charm with a hint of grandeur. And to ensure that you won’t miss a single detail, I have created a self-guided walking tour of Bad Ischl, complete with a suggested route and information on must-see spots and lesser-known gems.
Let’s begin our walking tour at the train station, the starting point for most visitors arriving in Bad Ischl. This tour is designed to take you through the heart of the historic center of Bad Ischl, passing by several fascinating landmarks.
While these landmarks are all historic, you don’t need to enter any of them to appreciate their beauty and significance. Instead, take your time exploring the little details along the way and immerse yourself in the unique charm of this lovely Austrian town.
- Bad Ischl Post Office – Located in the heart of the town, this charming 19th-century building is a masterpiece of architecture and a popular photo spot for visitors. I love shooting it together with the Trinkhalle, our next stop.
- Trinkhalle – This elegant structure was built in 1829 and was once used as a spa house. The building is a prime example for imperial architecture, and nowadays houses the tourist information of Bad Ischl.
- Leharvilla – Once home to the famous composer Franz Lehar, this villa offers a glimpse into the life of the famous artist and is a fascinating piece of history. The Villa is a museum but I recommend to admire it from the opposite side of the river.
- Nepomuk Statue – Located on a bridge at the river, this statue is dedicated to Saint John of Nepomuk, the patron saint of Bohemia, and is a perfect spot to take a rest and appreciate the views.
- City Museum Bad Ischl – Explore the history of Bad Ischl in this museum, which houses a collection of artifacts and exhibits showcasing the town’s rich past.
- Kurpark Bad Ischl – This gorgeous park offers a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of the town. Take a stroll and enjoy the picturesque scenery or hop on the Imperial Train to further explore Bad Ischl.
- Lehartheater – Known for its acoustic excellence, this theater is a unique piece of architecture, and it has hosted several world-famous opera performances.
- Hotel zur Post – This charming hotel, like most of the important buildings in Bad Ischl, dates back to the 19th century and has played an essential role in the history of Bad Ischl.
- Parish Church Bad Ischl – This stunning church features a mix of architectural styles and houses several valuable pieces of art, including stained glass windows, sculptures, and paintings.
2. Enjoy Zaunerstollen at Konditorei Zauner
A stop by Konditorei Zauner is the second most important of the things to do in Bad Ischl. A visit to this charming pastry shop is a must, especially if you have an extra half-hour to spare during or after completing the walking tour. The pastry shop is basically on the way and not far from the train station on Bad Ischl’s main road.
Konditorei Zauner is a traditional Austrian Coffee house. But the real star of the show at Konditorei Zauner is their famous Zaunerstollen, a creation of this particular café. Among the ingredients in Zaunerstollen are nougat, hazelnuts, and chocolate, among others. Though it’s served in small pieces, a single slice is hearty enough to satisfy even the biggest sweet tooth.
Konditorei Zauner is not just any pastry shop, it’s a k.u.k. certified confectionery shop. During the Habsburg monarchy, it was one of the few places permitted to serve sweets to the imperial court. This history only adds to the charm of a visit to Konditorei Zauner and is one of the many reasons it’s considered a must-visit in Bad Ischl.
3. Explore the Kaiservilla Bad Ischl
While it’s enough to walk Bad Ischl for an hour and have a piece of Zaunerstollen on the way, no visit to Bad Ischl is complete without a visit to the Kaiservilla, the former summer residence of Emperor Franz Josef and Empress Elisabeth (better known as Sissi). Emperor Franz Josef famously described the grounds of the villa as “heaven on earth,” and I can understand why. Although the declaration of war was signed there in 1914, ultimately leading to the downfall of the Habsburg monarchy, the villa, and its extensive garden remain a stunning example of the era’s grandeur.
As you tour the Kaiservilla, you’ll see the interior furnishings in their original condition, from the hundreds of vows hanging on the walls to the desk where Franz Josef signed the declaration of war in 1914. You won’t find a better representation of the Habsburg monarchy than the Kaiservilla, making it an essential stop on any trip to Bad Ischl.
While the interior of the villa can only be seen on a guided tour and taking pictures is prohibited on the tour, visitors are free to explore the Park, which offers picturesque walking paths and views, along which you come across places like Sissis teahouse, nowadays a photo museum. The villa is still owned by Habsburg descendants, who reside in half of the house, while the other half and the garden are open to visitors. Notice that the Kaiservilla is closed in winter, and make sure to check the Kaiservilla’s website for tour availability and opening times before planning your visit.
4. Take the Cable Car to Katrin Mountain
If you spend an entire day in Bad Ischl and, therefore, have half a day for another activity, one of the most exciting activities is taking a ride on the Katrin cable car to the top of Katrin Mountain. The cable car journey takes just 15 minutes and offers stunning panoramic views of the seven lakes and the surrounding mountain range.
As someone who always loves to see things from above, the Katrin cable car is a must-try for any visitor to Bad Ischl. The cable car, which dates back to the 1950s, takes you 1400 meters above sea level, almost 1000 meters above the town of Bad Ischl.
To reach the valley station of the cable car, you can take a 20-30 minute walk from the town center or drive. Once you arrive, you’ll find the prices and timetable for the cable car. Interactive stations are installed along the way for added entertainment during your ride.
For those who love a good hike, the starting point for a hike up the Katrin mountain is the same as the cable car. The hike takes about 2-3 hours to reach the top, climbing 1000 meters in altitude. It’s a challenging hike, especially for those who are not used to hiking, but the reward at the top is well worth it. At the top, visitors can enjoy a restaurant serving traditional and seasonal food and a range of hiking trails. And if the hike back down is too much, you can always take the cable car back down to the valley station.
5. Visit the Sirius Lookout Tower
If you’re feeling adventurous and up for a hike or are looking for a fun and family-friendly activity in Bad Ischl, Siriuskogel is a great choice. Originally named Hundskogel, which means “dogs hill”, it was later given the more attractive name of Sirius, after the main star in the constellation Great Dog. While it may not be a challenging mountain, the 100-meter climb to the top offers a stunning view of Bad Ischl.
Located in the southern part of the town, the tower is perched on a hill and surrounded by lush forestry. The short but steep walk to the top is an enjoyable and interactive experience, with stations and a hermit rock along the way that offers fun facts and activities.
The cable car that once serviced the hill is no longer in operation, but the walk to the top is a fun and easy hike that almost anyone can complete. Once you reach the summit, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of Bad Ischl and the surrounding countryside, including the majestic Mount Katrin. The observation tower provides an unrivaled panoramic view of the area, while the restaurant at the top serves up delicious beer and food. There’s also a children’s play area, making it a great spot for families to relax and enjoy the view.
6. Visit the Eurotherme Bad Ischl Spa
Looking for a place to unwind and relax? Look no further than the Eurotherme Bad Ischl. If you have more than a day in Bad Ischl or even an entire day to dedicate to wellness, the thermal spa resort, located in front of the train station in Bad Ischl, offers a diverse range of activities and facilities that are sure to soothe your mind and body. For just €24,50 (in 2023) for a whole day visit, you can take advantage of the lazy river, warm brine pool, whirlpools, outdoor lounges, and sauna and upgrade your visit with spa treatments and massage services.
And if you want to make a longer stay out of it, the Eurotherme Bad Ischl also offers accommodations. The accommodation is expensive compared to some of the budget options available in Bad Ischl, but The spa is conveniently located right in front of the train station, making it easy to get to and a great base for exploring the Salzkammergut area.
7. Take Day Trips from Bad Ischl
While Bad Ischl is often included in day trips from Salzburg, it’s also often overlooked as a mere transfer point to the more popular destination of Hallstatt. However, Bad Ischl is a hidden gem that can serve as an excellent hub for exploring the charming Salzkammergut region. Rather than simply passing through, consider making Bad Ischl the base for your Salzkammergut adventures and discover the beautiful surrounding villages. Some of the places to visit from Bad Ischl include:
- Hallstatt: Austria’s most famous lake district town is on many travelers’ bucket lists. Here you can explore the UNESCO-listed Hallstatt region, visit the stunning Dachstein Krippenstein, and take a guided tour of the Salzwelten Hallstatt salt mine. While Hallstatt is 3 hours from Salzburg, it’s only 30 minutes by train and boat or bus from Bad Ischl.
- St. Wolfgang: A charming village located on the shores of Wolfgangsee, where you can take a boat ride or stroll through the town’s narrow streets to enjoy the beautiful views of the lake and mountains. It’s just a 30-minute drive from Bad Ischl by bus 546.
- Gosauseen: Considered to be one of the most beautiful spots in Austria, Gosauseen Lakes offers breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and glaciers. You can hike around the lakes and further up the mountain and can take a cable car. It’s also only a 30-minute drive from Bad Ischl by bus number 542.
- Gmunden: This charming lakeside town is home to the famous Gmunden ceramics and offers stunning views of Lake Traunsee. It’s a 40-minute train ride from Bad Ischl.
- Altaussee: This picturesque village is home to the Altaussee Salt Mine, where you can learn about the history and importance of the world’s oldest seasoning. It’s a 30-minute drive from Bad Ischl. I would only recommend Altaussee if you are driving. Even if the place is close to Bad Ischl, it’s still complicated to reach by public transport.
All these places are easy to get to from Bad Ischl by car, and there are direct public transport connections to most of them. But this is only a small selection of a plethora of places to visit in the Lake District. If you want to learn more about the Salzkammergut and plan your trip, be sure to check out my Salzkammergut travel guide for insider tips and recommendations.
What to Consider When Traveling to Bad Ischl
How to get to Bad Ischl from Vienna or Salzburg?
If you’re planning a trip to Bad Ischl from Salzburg, the best way to get there is by bus 150. This direct bus route takes around 1.5 hours to reach Bad Ischl. It’s worth noting that this bus route is also used as a transfer for those heading to Hallstatt. To avoid overcrowding, it’s recommended to catch the bus from the train station rather than from Mirabell square, especially during peak season. Otherwise, you might end up standing the entire trip.
If you’re traveling from Vienna, you can reach Bad Ischl by train. You’ll first take a train along Austria’s main train route between Vienna and Salzburg and then transfer to a train to Bad Ischl in Attnang Puchheim. This train ride is a scenic one, with beautiful views of Lake Traunsee along the way.
Food: What type of cuisine can I find in Bad Ischl?
Bad Ischl is a bigger city and offers various cuisines. When visiting Bad Ischl, you can expect to find traditional Austrian cuisine, including bakeries and coffee shops like the aforementioned must-visit pastry/coffee shop Zauner. If you are looking for traditional Austrian food, I recommend the k.uk. Hofwirt. But in Bad Ischl, you will also find less traditional and more exotic foods, from Asian restaurants to western-style fast foods like burgers and pizza. One of my favorite restaurants in Bad Ischl, which serves kind of Austrian fusion food, is the Spoarherd Gastropub. I usually only eat once at each restaurant to try as many as possible but came back three times to enjoy more of their delicious dishes.
Bad Ischl: Accommodation
Bad Ischl offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit all budgets. Hotels range from budget-friendly options with basic amenities to high-end luxury hotels with extensive leisure and spa facilities. Self-catering apartments provide a great way to explore the area, while camping and caravan sites let you enjoy the great outdoors. Hostels are a great way to meet other travelers and are a great budget-friendly option. There are also a number of bed and breakfasts that offer a unique stay, as well as private vacation homes if you’re looking for more space and privacy.