Salzburg may be the second most famous Austrian city after Vienna, but it’s just a stone’s throw away from some of the countries most spectacular natural wonders. The Austrian lake district is one of them. St Wolfgang, a small village nestled on the shore of Wolfgangsee Lake, is a great example. Spend the morning hiking, walking along the lake or, take a steam train to the top of a mountain, or head to one of the restaurants and cafes overlooking the water. In this article, I will tell you how to best spend your time in St Wolfgang.
When is the Best Time to Visit St Wolfgang?
Autumn and spring are the best times to visit for many reasons. This applies to most places in Austria. In spring when the days get longer and nature awakens, or in autumn, when the leaves change their colors and fog settles on the lake, memorable moments are guaranteed. But.
While winter is inconvenient, dark, and cold, there is nothing like the Austrian Christmas spirit. And even when Christmas is over, there are upsides to the beginning of the year. Snow is more likely in January and February, while these are the lowest of season, and you might have the otherwise touristy St Wolfgang all by yourself. And while July and August are most certainly busy, there are upsides when the weather is more stable and the days are incredibly long.
Thus while autumn and spring are the best times to visit St Wolfgang and the Lake District, seasons in Austria change everything, and the best season to visit depends on your wants and needs.
Here you find an article with all of my thoughts on when is the best time to travel to Salzburg and Austria.
What to see and do in St Wolfgang?
The features of these Salzkammergut places are always the same. The beautiful scenery on the lake with the mountains and the many traditional, often cute houses lined up on the shore. St Wolfgang is no exception, but there are a few extraordinary things to do in St Wolfgang. That’s what I want to tell you about.
Wolfgangseeschifffahrt Cruise on Lake Wolfgangsee
The boat ride on Wolfgangsee is possible from most places along the lake. That’s because the boats circle back and forth between towns. The first place you reach with a boat dock when coming from Salzburg is St Gilgen. That’s why I like to regard St Gilgen as the entrance to the lake district. In fact, it was the entrance for the pilgrims to St Wolfgang for centuries. The boats on the lake are nothing new.
Now, when you travel to St Wolfgang by public transport from Salzburg, and you want to take the boat, I recommend getting off bus 150 in St Gilgen. That way you don’t have to change buses in Strobl. While the bus would be less expensive than the boat, the boat is only a few euros more but adds a lot to your experience. There is also a way to walk from St Gilgen to St Wolfgang or the other way around and only take the boat one way. More on that below.
Schafbergbahn Cog Railway Mountain Train
The Schafbergbahn Mountain Train is not only the best thing to do in St Wolfgang but one of the best things in the lake district area overall. The Schafbergbahn is a steam train from the imperial times before the first world war. It’s the steepest steam train in Austria and takes you to Schafberg mountain’s peak, to an altitude of almost 2000 meters above sea level. It’s an expensive activity, but it’s worth the experience if you can spare the cash. There is nothing comparable.
If you are still wondering where to stay in the area, you might want to consider the hotel on top of mount Schafberg. For reservations, you have to call or email them, and it’s not the most charming accommodation around, but nothing can beat the sunrise and the sunset on the mountain.
By the way, the Cog Railway and the boat on Wolfgangsee are operated by Salzburg’s electricity company. Therefore, you get a combined ticket for the ship and the steam train in St Gilgen at the docks. Here is an entire article about the Cog Railway and how to take it.
St Wolfgang Church and the Altarpiece
Traveling in Europe, you find churches and castles everywhere you go. After a while, many international travelers feel like they have seen it all. This may be true in many places, but not in St Wolfgang. The gothic church of St Wolfgang is a must-see. That’s mainly because of its altarpiece. The winged altar of St Wolfgang is widely considered the most beautiful of its kind. Let me tell you its fascinating story.
When gothic art went out of fashion in the Baroque period, gothic artwork was considered not only old-fashioned but even ugly. Gothic art was, therefore, not only removed but often also demolished. The altar of St Wolfgang, however, was already considered a masterpiece at that time that they didn’t want to remove it. Nevertheless, they wanted a new baroque altar and therefore kept both altars until today.
Furthermore, the church of St Wolfgang is a pilgrimage church. The legend of Saint Wolfgang says that Wolfgang, who came to the area around the year one thousand, lived as a hermit on the village’s mountain. He threw an ax from the mountain and promised to build a church where the ax would fall. This church is the church of Saint Wolfgang. Supposedly, the devil helped him build the church, which he promised the first living creature to enter the church. Saint Wolfgang tricked the devil.
The first creature to enter the church was a wolf. Saint Wolfgang was canonized soon after his death, and not only the town but the whole lake got his name, and the place became one of the most important European pilgrimage places in the middle ages.
Local Craftsmen Stores in St Wolfgang
Touristy towns are often filled with souvenir shops offering expensive crap, cheaply produced in some faraway country. That’s not the case in St Wolfgang. St Wolfgang is well known for its local craftsmanship. These locals do not only handmake traditional Austrian goods of the highest quality but sell them at their only little shops. You can imagine that this makes for a unique shopping experience. St Wolfgang might just be the best place to get all your souvenirs and gifts. From awarded spirits to gingerbread and woodwork.
These craftsmen are also one of the reasons why the Christmas market in St Wolfgang is known to be one of the best in all of Austria. Their Christmas market stands comprise the same traditional goods as most shops in the center of St Wolfgang.
Advent Magic in St Wolfgang
This is, of course, a seasonal thing to do in St Wolfgang, but for some, the markets are the reason to visit the area and St Wolfgang in particular during Christmas. Wolfgangsee lake is famous for Christmas, and St Wolfgang is the epicenter of the lake district’s festive spirit. Some might even say that the Christmas market in St Wolfgang is the most beautiful in Austria. While that is a matter of personal taste, there is no arguing that St Wolfgang is worth visiting when you are in Austria to experience the traditional Christmas spirit. The craftsmen mentioned above and their offerings are one of the reasons. After all, it’s about the market.
But St Wolfgang goes above and beyond during this time of the year. They have the worlds largest floating Christmas candle on the lake; in the evening, the town is entirely lit by candles and Christmas decoration, craftspeople are performing their craft on the market square and in the streets, and you will get to see one of the most impressive nativity scenes with live sized figures.
Here is a video of a Slovenian couple visiting several Christmas markets in Austria, including the Christmas market in St Wolfgang and Salzburg. They do a great job of showing what it’s like. Slovenians also know about Christmas markets. That’s why I value their opinions.
Things to do near St Wolfgang
St Wolfgang is located in the heart of the Austrian Lake District called Salzkammergut. That’s why it’s not only a great place to visit but also serves as a base for many other activities and places to visit.
The Pilgrimage over the Falkenstein
While St Wolfgang is accessible by bus from Salzburg, with the option to get off in St Gilgen and hop on a boat, there is another possibility. One that I would recommend if you like hiking. You can get off the bus in St Gilgen or park there if you are traveling by car and then walk along the lake’s northern shore. That will take you to the Fürberg Inn. After Fürberg, you need to master a steep slope of 200 meters of altitude to the Falkenstein, and that’s the only physically challenging part of the way.
The Falkenstein rock formation is the place where the legend of Saint Wolfgang originated. As a place of worship already before Christianity, the rock is believed to have been Saint Wolfgangs resting place and the place where he made his deal with the devil. The church on Falkenstein is built into the rock, and as a part of the pilgrimage to the town of St Wolfgang, the church has a bell you can ring when you pass by.
Hike Schafberg Mountain from St Wolfgang or St Gilgen
I told you about the Cog Railway before. Well, the railway is not your only way to the peak of mount Schafberg. The obvious alternative is a hike. The hike is not technically difficult but physically challenging. When you hike Schafberg from St Wolfgang, the hike is shorter but steeper.
When you hike from St Gilgen, the hike takes longer but is less steep. However, you hike Schafberg, overcoming the 1200 meters of altitude is exhausting if you are not used to hiking.
If that’s okay with you, the hike is an excellent idea and one of the best hikes in the area. It will take you anywhere from 3 to 6 hours one way, depending on your speed and how many breaks you take. Same as with the Cog Railway, you might want to consider staying at the hotel on top of mount Schafberg. You can also take the Schafbergbahn down on the same or on the following day but be aware that the one-way ticket is unreasonably expensive than a return ticket for the steam train.
Rent a Bike and Cycle around the Lake
One of the best ways to explore the surroundings of any place is by bike. By bike, you are faster than on foot, but not as disconnected from your surroundings as by car. Cycling around Wolfgangsee is not precisely possible since there is a steep incline to Falkenstein between St Gilgen and St Wolfgang. You can, however, bridge the missing piece with the boat. You almost go all the way around the lake and then take the boat from Fürberg to Ried or the other way around.
SeeBike is a company for Ebike Rental right in St Wolfgang, and Radhaus is a company to rent a bike in St Gilgen or Strobl. St Gilgen is a great place to rent a bike. Especially if you get to St Wolfgang by public transport, you want to get off bus 150 in St Gilgen, cycle the lake, visit St Wolfgang on the way, and then return to St Gilgen when finishing the circle. Strobl also works well because bus 150 goes straight to Strobl, and there is no need to changes buses or take the boat, but St Gilgen would be the most efficient place to start since St Gilgen is the first bus stop on Wolfgangsee when coming from Salzburg.
More Things to do near St Wolfgang
The truth is that the Salzkammergut Lake District is a treasure chest. It stretches over upper Austria and Salzburg Land and is dotted with lakes, mountains, and charming villages. You can spend weeks in the area around St Wolfgang without running out of things to see and do. Hallstatt, the UNESCO world heritage village of Bad Ischl, the former imperial town, are just two examples of places worth visiting in the area. Here is an article that sums up the places to visit in the lake district.
How to get to St Wolfgang from Salzburg
To get to St Wolfgang by public transport from Salzburg, you take bus 150 from the Salzburg train station or Mirabell square. You then either change to bus number 546 in Strobl or get off in St Gilgen and take the boat to the other side of the lake. While the boat costs a few euros more, it gives you the chance to explore St Gilgen. Furthermore, a boat ride in itself is worth embarking on for more than mere transport as you can imagine.
If you have a car to get from Salzburg to St Wolfgang, you can drive directly to St Wolfgang. St Wolfgang is located on the lake’s northern shore, but there is no road in the north. Therefore, same as the bus, you drive around half of the lake before you get there. This makes for a very scenic journey.
Once you arrive in St Wolfgang, there is a large paid parking area before the town.
Alternatively, you could park in St Gilgen and take the boat. But in my opinion, St Gilgen is not a must, if you visit St Wolfgang anyway. If you want to take the boat, you can take a boat tour in St Wolfgang instead of using the boat for transportation from St Gilgen. If you want to visit St Gilgen, you can stopover for an hour on your way to St Wolfgang or, as I mentioned, park in St Gilgen and use the boat for transport like you would do when traveling by bus.
Where to Eat and Drink in St Wolfgang?
One thing I like about my home country is that there are almost no tourist rip-offs. While restaurant food is not overly cheap, it is never outrageously expensive or unfairly priced to the tourist. Quality may vary and friendliness too, but especially the latter is often also a cultural difference. Therefore, my recommendations are not that important but here are my personal favorites.
Dorfalm Alpine Hut Restaurant
Alpine pastures, so-called Almen, are summer residential and stables where shepherds live while they look after the cattle in the mountains. Since the mountains are nowadays more for hiking and tourism and less for farming, these alpine huts developed more into places to eat and drink for those passing by. That’s what Dorfalm tries to incorporate. Dorf means village, and the restaurant attempts to run a restaurant with a mountain hut-like atmosphere in the center of the village. Their food is decent, their prices, and according to my experience, friendliness is above average.
Where to find the Best Coffee in St Wolfgang?
If you know me, you know I am looking for the best coffee wherever I go. The place for the best coffee in St Wolfgang is no secret nor a matter of opinion. You find the best coffee in St Wolfgang at a place called Kaffeewerkstatt, meaning coffee workshop. The coffee workshop is a cabinet of curiosities in which you can linger. Like most of these kinds of cafes, there is plenty of choice for breakfast and other meals even though they come at a price.
Where to Stay in St Wolfgang?
St Wolfgang is a small, touristy town and ideal for a day trip from Salzburg. There is no need to stay in St Wolfgang for more than a day. However, if you want to stay in the lake district for several days without returning to Salzburg, if you want to experience the sunrise at the lake and the empty town in the morning, there are accommodation options. In fact, there many very well-rated accommodations in St Wolfgang will, and the cozy little village will serve as an excellent base for your stay in the lake district.
The White Horse Inn
The “Weisses Rössl”, the white horse inn, is far more than mere accommodation. It’s part of the distinct culture of St Wolfgang. The Weisses Rössl first became famous because of an operetta from 1960 by the same name. Even though the operetta wasn’t filmed on the premises, the clever landlady began passing off the hotel as the play’s location. That’s how the initial hype was created and still keeps going. The movie is a classic and the unrelated hotel in St Wolfgang as well.
The hotel is located right at the lake in the center of the village, with a terrace stretching into the lake. The hotel has four stars, an extensive wellness area, and a restaurant. The prices are in accordance with the hotel’s location and fame, but St Wolfgang is synonymous with the White Horse Inn for some people.
Vacation Apartment Kaffeewerkstatt
In the last section, I told you about the best coffee in St Wolfgang. The Kaffeewerkstatt also owns vacation apartments above the cafe, which you might want to check out. Besides having your coffee just downstairs in the morning, these are solid apartments for couples or the whole family. Some of them have a balcony, and all of them have a kitchen.
Bed & Breakfast or Bed & Bread Das Franzl
The Franzl is special. It’s located 5 kilometers from the center of St Wolfgang but still worth considering. According to the owners, it’s a fusion between modernity and tradition. While the place is a traditional farmhouse, the building has been renovated and equipped with designer and vintage furniture and decoration. Each floor has its theme, the garden theme to the tree zone and mountain floor. But that’s not all. There is a camping area where you could pitch a tent, rent a dome tent with a transparent roof, or even a tiny house.
In terms of food, “Das Franzl” came up with a new interpretation of B&B. In their case, it means Bed & Bread since their menu consists mainly of bread. That might sound bland, but it is far from it. Bread is perhaps the most traditional Austrian food. Most Austrians eat bread every day, much more so in the past than today. As a result, there is bread with all kinds of toppings. These toppings often come from the farm or alpine hut where they are consumed. Das Franzl also places great value on regionality, and while it is not a farm, it has animals such as alpacas and mini ponies.
St Wolfgang is one of the best places to visit in the lake district and the lake district is one of the best areas to visit on a day trip from Salzburg. The most prominent sight of the town of St Wolfgang is the Pacher Altar at the church, while the Schafbergbahn mountain railway and the boat cruise on lake Wolfgangsee are the main activities in St Wolfgang.
One of the best things to do in St Wolfgang, however, is visiting the Christmas market. It’s widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best Christmas market in Austria but that is obviously a seasonal activity. St Wolfgang is easily reached by bus 150 and 546, bus 150 until St Gilgen and then take the boat, or by bus 150 until St Gilgen and then take a 2-hour hike along the shore to St Wolfgang.