Are you planning a trip to Salzburg and are looking for day trips? The Salzkammergut, Lake District, is one of three main areas to visit on day trips from Salzburg, and this article will tell you everything you need to know about the town of St Gilgen in the Lake District.
If you were looking into the lake district, you have probably heard of Hallstatt. Hallstatt became the most popular day trip from Salzburg. For many people, Hallstatt is the reason to visit Salzburg. But in the Lake District, where Hallstatt is, there are many places with the same charm.
St Gilgen is one of them.
What’s on in St Gilgen?
I see St Gilgen, however, as the entrance to the Salzkammergut, Lake District.
If you go to Hallstatt, you pass by St Gilgen by bus, and if you want to go to St Wolfgang by boat, the port is in St Gilgen. Other than the ship to St Wolfgang, you can take a cable car up the Zwölferhorn, a 1500 meter high mountain behind St Gilgen from where you overlook all of the Lake District.
Other than that, you won’t find spectacular attractions in St Gilgen except for the natural beauty of the lake district and a few minor sights.
This article is about the boat and the cable car but also about these minor sights.
What to see and do in St Gilgen?
You find these attractions in St Gilgen on the way from the cable car, where the St Gilgen bus terminal is, to the docks where the boat to St Wolfgang leaves.
1. Taking the Zwölferhorn Cable Car
The Cable Car to the top of mount Zwölferhorn is the highlight of St Gilgen. Until 2020, the Zwölferhorn cable car was one of the oldest cable cars in the world and the last of its kind. In January 2020, they, unfortunately, took the old cable car down.
The new cable car is supposed to open in autumn 2020. When that happens, I will visit and write an entire article on the new cable car.
Only a few months before they took it down, I discovered the old cable car. I had often heard about it because every Korean tour group went to Zwölferhorn, before or after I guided them in Salzburg. Without even considering, I assumed the Zwölferhornbahn in St Gilgen is a tourist trap.
Not even close.
On my mission to see and do everything in the Lake District, I took the cable car for the first time.
When it started, I began to think it was a death trap instead of a tourist trap, but luckily, I got used to the squeaking noise on the 16-minute ride and relaxed my way up to 1522 meters above sea level.
On top of the mountain, you do not only see Sankt Gilgen and lake Wolfgang, but you can see far into the Lake District, into upper Austria, and to the Dachstein mountain range near Hallstatt. From one of the viewpoints, you can see the uninhabited nature behind Zwölferhorn mountain. Something I didn’t expect.
So definitely recommended.
There was also a restaurant with reasonable prices and not too many tourists, but we have to see how the new cable car will be. While the old Zwölferhornbahn was able to transport 250 people per hour, the new cable car will be able to carry 1800, so it should be in the interest of the operator to flood the site with tourists.
Anyway. Whenever the new Cable Car is ready, you will find a link to an article about the new Zwölferhorn cable car in St Gilgen.
2. Mozartplatz – The Main Square of St Gilgen
Mozartplatz is the main square of St Gilgen. For the main square, Mozartplatz in St Gilgen is a modest place, but there are a few details I would like to point out.
First of all, you will notice the Mozart statue depicting him playing the violin in front of the Rathaus. Mozart never actually visited St Gilgen, but at our next attraction, you will find out why St Gilgen’s main square is named after the musical genius Salzburg is famous for.
Rathaus, by the way, means town hall and this building is still the town hall today.
Gasthof Zur Post (guest house to the post office) is the building opposite of the Rathaus with the impressive 300-year-old painting of a hunt. That guest house was not only a tavern but was part of the mail delivery and the public transport. Back when horses delivered the mail. Gasthof Zur Post was the building where the mailman and his horses, as well as travelers, stayed. A typical inn.
Nowadays, Gasthof Zur Post is far from a typical inn. It’s a four-star hotel and one of the more fancy places to stay in St Gilgen. More about hotels in St Gilgen and when you should consider staying in St Gilgen overnight in the last chapter of this article.
Mozartplatz is also the place if you would like to enjoy some Apfelstrudel or other Austrian sweets. Cafe Dallmann is famous as well as infamous. Renowned for their exquisite cakes and desserts but notorious for being rude. Look at their Google Maps reviews. It’s also a little pricey, and the coffee is average, but with all that considered, it’s still worth the visit.
3. The Parish Church of Saint Egidius
If you read some of my articles, you maybe know that I am an advocate of going to churches. Not for religious reasons but because churches tell you about the history of a place. If that’s what you are into, they can be like museums.
The church of St Gilgen is no exception.
St Gilgen became prominent in the middle ages because St Wolfgang, on the other side of the lake, became one of the most significant places for pilgrimage in Europe. From St Gilgen, pilgrims took the boat to St Wolfgang.
To me, St Gilgen still feels like the entrance to the Lake District. A place of passage.
The church you see today was built at the end of the 18th century. Saint Egidius is another name for Saint Giles, and that’s the saint who gave Sankt Gilgen its name. There is, however, no direct connection.
St Giles came from Athens in Greece and moved to France, where he performed miracles, but his grave in France became another popular place for pilgrimage in Europe.
Like in most churches, you find the patron Saint with their attribute on the altar. Saint Giles is often portrayed with an arrow. That’s because he retreated in the forest in France for many years, where his only company was a deer. When one day hunters showed up to chase the deer, Saint Giles caught an arrow instead of his friend. That’s how he became disabled and the Saint of the disabled. Here at the parish church in St Gilgen, you can also see the deer at the main altar.
Did you know that Mozart’s maternal grandmother came from St Gilgen, and his sister later moved there? That is the reason why there is a Mozart square, and our next stop will be the Mozart house of St Gilgen.
But first I want you to take a look at the plaque at the entrance of the church.
It indicates that Mozart’s grandparents and his sister got married here, his mother was baptized in St Gilgen, and his grandfather and his brother in law are buried at the cemetery behind the church. Despite all of that, Mozart never visited St Gilgen.
A look at the cemetery is also recommended before continuing to the Mozart house.
4. The Mozart House in St Gilgen
Just before arriving at the lake, you will see the Mozarthaus Sankt Gilgen on the left side. Before reaching the Mozart house, you also notice a beautiful fountain on the left side. A child is holding up a round object from which the water for the fountain flows. That’s supposed to be Mozart’s mother.
Her father, Mozarts grandfather, Wolfgang Nikolaus Pertl, was the administrator and judge of St Gilgen. Mozart’s first name Wolfgang was chosen because of him.
Mozart’s grandfather built the Mozart house in St Gilgen. Building it, however, plunged him into debt. Therefore, when he died unexpectedly, he left his wife and his 4-year-old daughter, Mozart’s mother, in poverty. Speculation goes so far that they say Mozart inherited his inability to handle money from his grandfather.
Even if Mozart never met his maternal grandfather.
Mozart’s grandmother moved to Salzburg with her daughter. They lived in poverty, but Salzburg is where Anna Maria Pertl, Mozart’s mother, met Leopold Mozart and became Anna Maria Mozart. They had seven children together, of which only two survived. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart became the musical genius while his sister’s faith was different.
When Maria Anna Mozart (Nannerl), Mozarts sister, was a child, she traveled together with her father and her brother and performed as well. However, it was not appropriate for an adult woman to perform in public at that time. Unlike her brother, Nannerl always obeyed her father. Therefore Nannerl settled for an arranged marriage.
Interestingly she married the man who had the position of her deceased grandfather and moved to the same house in St Gilgen. The man she married, Berchtold von Sonnenburg, was 15 years older and already had five children she had to watch out for from that moment on.
When her husband died, she immediately moved back to Salzburg, where she taught music.
5. Take the Wolfgangsee Boat Tour and the Schafberg Steam Train
From the Mozart house in St Gilgen, it’s only two minutes walking to reach the port.
Ironically the best thing to do in St Gilgen is leaving. Despite the Zwölferhornbahn, the most fantastic thing you can do is take the boat to the other side of the Wolfgangsee lake to St Wolfgang.
In St Wolfgang, there is the valley station for the Schafbergbahn, the steepest steam train in the world and generally one of the oldest mountain steam trains in the world. Their earliest locomotives are more than 100 years old, and the steam trains take you up to 1700 meters above sea level where you overlook all of the Lake District.
The Schafbergbahn would be my favorite thing to do in the lake district, but it’s also the most expensive. In 2020 the ship and the steam train are €55,- but if you are not on a budget, it’s worth the money. By the way, there is a hotel on top of the mount Schafberg.
You could reach St Wolfgang directly, but if you are coming from Salzburg by bus, there wouldn’t be a point. The Schafbergbahn alone would be €40,80 in 2020, and you would need another bus ticket when you change the bus in Strobl.
If you travel by car from Salzburg, you could go directly to St Wolfgang, but you would miss out on St Gilgen and the boat ride, and the surcharge for the boat, if you take the train anyway is affordable. If you are wondering what else to do in St Wolfgang, you might want to read this article, and if you go for the Schafbergbahn, here you find out how to take the Schafbergbahn and what to expect.
How to get to St Gilgen from Salzburg?
Getting to St Gilgen is easy. To get to St Gilgen, you take bus number 150 from the central train station in Salzburg. The train station is where the bus starts. You could also take bus 150 from Mirabell square, but because of the popularity of Hallstatt, it often fills up at the station.
The ride from Salzburg to St Gilgen costs €7,- one way (in 2020) and takes 47 minutes. You get the ticket from the bus driver or in the ÖBB App, but as long as you have cash, the bus driver option works, and the price is the same. Also, there is no point in getting a return ticket. The cost would be the same.
In case you want to get something from the Spar supermarket or you want to visit the tourist information in St Gilgen for whatever reason, you get off at the St Gilgen Hollweger stop. Otherwise, you get off at St Gilgen Busbahnhof (bus station). St Gilgen Busbahnhof is at the valley station and 5 minutes walking from all the other things to do in St Gilgen.
Another option is to get off bus 150 in Fuschl and walk from Fuschl to St Gilgen in about 2 hours. That’s if you want to go for a relaxed walk through the Austrian countryside. Here is an article to help you decide if you would like to walk from Fuschl to St Gilgen.
When is the best time to visit St Gilgen?
The best time to visit St Gilgen is summer or in the month of December. Summer because the best thing to do from St Gilgen is the boat to St Wolfgang and the steam train to the top of the mountain and they are not always operating. Check the seasons on the Website.
The second best time to visit St Gilgen is in the month of December, before Christmas. Simple reason are the Christmas markets.
The Christmas markets in St Gilgen and in St Wolfgang are the some of the best around Salzburg.
Where to eat in St Gilgen?
There is only one restaurant I can recommend in St Gilgen. That’s not because there are no other good options but because I haven’t tried any of the other restaurants in St Gilgen.
Wirt am Gries, however, is good enough to search no further, if you are looking for authentic Austrian food. It’s only a minute walking from Mozartplatz, the main square of Saint Gilgen, and for such a touristy town, the service, as well as the food, is outstanding.
And if you are wondering what to eat, just choose whatever sounds appealing to you or whatever Austrian dish you haven’t tried yet. If you haven’t had any Austrian food yet you could go for Wiener Schnitzel, if you are a vegetarian, try some Kasnockn and if you are longing for sweets, choose Kaiserschmarrn.
And then read this article, if you would like to know more about Austrian food and the best Restaurants in Salzburg.
Hotels in St Gilgen
If you would like to spend more than a day in the lake district, St Gilgen would be a great place to stay. From here, it takes less time to reach Hallstatt, the Zwölferhorn cable car is only a few minutes walking, and the town of St Wolfgang is a boat ride away.
Hotels in St Gilgen, depending on the season, would be the same price or slightly cheaper than in Salzburg.
Jugendgästehaus St Gilgen – Budget Accommodation
This youth hostel in St Gilgen only opened its doors in 2018 and is the most inexpensive place to stay in St Gilgen or anywhere in the area. Especially for what they offer. The guest house is right by the lake, and I mean it. You can walk from the guest house across a field and right into the lake as if it belongs to their garden.
A breakfast Buffett is included in the price, the newly renovated building is in good condition, and there are dorms as well as private rooms available. Prices are the same as in Salzburg, but in Salzburg wouldn’t find the same comfort and the amazing location for the price.
Gasthof zur Post – Luxury Accommodation
Gasthof zur Post is the historic building I mentioned on Mozartplatz. While the location in St Gilgen is not as crucial because it’s tiny, it’s certainly a plus to be right at the main square, in front of the Mozart statue and the Rathaus. Furthermore is the building seven hundred years old but newly renovated. A great combination, in my opinion.
The prices are high but usually slightly cheaper than the same category, a four-star hotel in Salzburg would be. For food, I would still recommend the Wirt am Gries I mentioned before.
Pensions and Apartments in St Gilgen
If none of these two options attract you, there are several apartments and pensions on Booking.com. I don’t know anything about these other options, but all of them are rated around 9/10 on booking.com, and the standards in a rural place like St Gilgen are usually high. Go for any of them, and I am sure you will have a great stay.
The main things to do in St Gilgen are taking the boat to St Wolfgang or the cable car up Zwölferhorn. Most of the attractions in St Gilgen are on the way from the cable car to the shores of the lake which is a distance of 500 meters and can be visited in an hour or two.
However, St Gilgen can also be the ideal base for your further explorations of the lake district or even to stay in a picturesque Austrian village and only visit Salzburg on a day trip.