Who else loves to travel during their birthday? In the days leading up to my special day, we were touring around the idyllic town of Salzburg, Austria. Justin and I decided to rent a car to take a day trip from Salzburg to the picture perfect town of Hallstatt. However, just a day before our journey, we were warned by an acquaintance that Hallstatt in June was insanely crowded.
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While I’m able to tolerate crowds in order to see touristy places (I get it, it’s a popular place for a reason!), there are so many other towns in Austria that are absolutely stunning that don’t have the hoards of people. The night before my birthday, I scoured Google Maps to find the best day trip from Salzburg: towns within a short driving distance of the city that I’d never heard of that looked pretty. Without much time to research, those were my deciding factors.
We decided to venture out on a day trip from Salzburg that allowed us to pick up the rental car at a reasonable hour, sleeping in a little bit and having breakfast at our apartment in Salzburg. Then, we’d spend some hours out and about at our destinations, and return back to Salzburg for a delicious vegan meal for dinner.
Justin and I chose to visit two fairy tale Austrian towns: Mondsee and St Gilgen. Both are pretty little towns on lakes with picturesque views for days. Here’s how to take one of the best day trips from Salzburg to Mondsee and St Gilgen.
Day Trip From Salzburg to Mondsee
First step on your day trip from Salzburg, make the short drive from Salzburg to Mondsee. It only takes about a half hour to drive to the village of Mondsee via the A1. Park your car at the free parking lot, Parkplatz Süd, near Seepromenade Mondsee. By the way, we were very fortunate to have an upgrade on our rental car to a luxury vehicle!
If you’re thinking about traveling to Mondsee or St Gilgen without a rental car, you can go there by taking the bus. Check out bus timetables and buy tickets in advance at the Salzburger Verkehrsverbund GmbH website.
Wander Around the Village of Mondsee
The village of Mondsee features rows of brightly painted buildings in an array of pastel colors. Beyond the colorful buildings, you can admire a backdrop of towering mountains in the distance. We thoroughly enjoyed taking a stroll through town, stopping for a coffee at Cafe Frank (Marktplaytz 2). They have a small patio on the street outside of the cafe where you can enjoy the views and watch people go about their days.
If you’re looking to have lunch in Mondsee, I recommend stopping at the Krone Hotel restaurant. They have vegetarian and vegan options available on the menu, clearly marked. You can find dishes like smoked tofu with veggies, pak choi and potatoes in a coconut cream sauce, pasta with spinach, and a sweet potato ginger soup.
Visit the Mondsee Cathedral (Basilika St Michael)
This cathedral might look familiar to you. That’s because it’s from The Sound of Music! This is the church where the wedding of Maria and Captain Von Trapp took place. You can actually visit Basilika St Michael on this Sound of Music tour to popular filming locations around Salzburg and beyond. If you happen to be in town, feel free to walk into Basilika St Michael to experience this beautiful cathedral. It is one of the oldest abbeys in Austria and it has such spectacular architecture to admire. Whether you’re a fan of the Sound of Music or not, the village of Mondsee and the Mondsee Cathedral make for a wonderful day trip from Salzburg.
Explore Lake Mondsee
You can’t visit the town of Mondsee without visiting Lake Mondsee. While it’s possible to take a boat cruise on Mondsee Lake, as well as renting canoes or kayaks, we decided to stay on dry land this time. Justin and I admired the scenery from the shore, which was crazy pretty. There are views of tiny colorful houses dotting the shorelines with massive mountains surrounding the lake. For those seeking water activities during Salzburg day trips, Lake Mondsee is where you’ll want to be.
Salzburg Day Trips: St Gilgen
Continuing on our day trip from Salzburg, we enjoyed a scenic drive from Mondsee to St Gilgen, which takes about 15 minutes. The village of Sankt Gilgen in the Salzkammergut region lies by the Wolfgangsee. The number one attraction in St Gilgen is the Zwolferhorn Cable Car up the Zwölferhorn Mountain. However, the village of Sankt Gilgen itself is not to be missed.
Ride the St Gilgen Cable Car
The St Gilgen cable car runs all year long, whether its the summer or the winter. While we visited during the spring, I’m sure that the mountain views look absolutely stunning all covered in snow. Riding the Zwolferhorn cable car is a must do activity when you’re in St Gilgen. The journey is just as enjoyable as the views from the top. The length of the cable car is 2740 meters, and it takes about 15 minutes to reach the top. During the summer months, you can even go paragliding from the top (if you dare!).
There is a small restaurant at the top of the mountain with bathroom facilities. Please note that there aren’t any vegan items on the menu at the restaurant. I’m not even sure that they serve any vegetarian food either. But, there is a small coffee shop inside the cable car station if you’d like to have a hot beverage for your journey back to St Gilgen.
One more thing that I’ll add: it gets cold at the top of the mountain! Even wearing a hoodie, I found it to be quite cold in June. Pack something warm to wear, even a light jacket, if you decide to take the St Gilgen cable car. Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip up the Zwolferhorn mountain and it makes for a worthwhile day trip from Salzburg. For prices and hours, please visit the Zwolferhorn Cable Car official website.
Be Charmed by the Village of St Gilgen
Once you come back down from the Zwolferhorn mountain, take a stroll through the cute village of St Gilgen. There are adorable wooden and half timbered houses, little parks, and souvenir shops to explore. We couldn’t resist buying one of those cute little cuckoo clocks! Aren’t they adorable? If you don’t find yourself in St Gilgen, here are authentic German cuckoo clocks from one of the oldest manufacturers in Europe.
Best of all, there aren’t any crowds here at all. In fact, I’m not sure that we bumped into a single other tourist during our stroll around town. While you might think that Hallstatt looks like a picture perfect postcard (yes, it does!), St Gilgen is just as beautiful and not as frequently visited.
While you might be hard pressed to find a vegan meal in St Gilgen for the time being, there’s an ice cream stand offering vegan treats down by the lake. IceZeit (Ischlerstrasse 399) has six flavors of vegan ice cream and vegan cones including coconut pineapple, strawberry, mango, lemon, chocolate ginger and seabuckthorn.
Visit Wolfgangsee, St Gilgen’s Lake
As you’re walking around town, wander down to Wolfgangsee, the lake by St Gilgen. You’ll be treated to more spectacular views in a peaceful and serene setting. You can also participate in water sports on the lake, like kayaking and paddle boarding. It’s also possible to rent a boat there, too.
Where to Stay in Salzburg
When recommending the best place to stay in Salzburg, I really couldn’t imagine staying anywhere other than the Salzburg Place to Stay apartments. It was like having our own little home right in the heart of Old Town. We could walk right from the apartment down cobblestone streets into the historic heart of Salzburg. From the window of our apartment, we admired stunning views of the cathedral and beyond.
The apartment is clean, cozy, and quiet. The home itself is 500 years old, but newly renovated, for the perfect combination of old world charm and modern living. It has a separate bedroom and kitchen with everything you’ll need to cook your own meals, if you choose to do so. Behind the building, you have access to a private garden. Beyond the garden, you’ll spot one of the most famous monuments in Salzburg, the Salzburg Fortress (Hohensalzburg).
We loved spending three nights at Salzburg Place to Stay and easily could have moved right in if they let us! Be sure to book your stay at Salzburg Place to Stay apartments, and please feel free to read more reviews from fellow travelers.
So, have we inspired you to visit two of the prettiest towns in Austria? There was barely a tourist in sight when we traveled to Mondsee and St Gilgen, even on a gorgeous June day. It was certainly a birthday to remember! It’s the perfect day trip from Salzburg. Be sure to visit Mondsee and St Gilgen, Austria before they become discovered by the masses.
Looking for more beautiful places to visit in Austria? Check out our one day itinerary for Innsbruck, Austria.