Bad Ischl feels to me like the capital of the Salzkammergut Lake District. It isn’t. The Lake District extends over the provinces of Salzburg Land and Upper Austria, all the way from Salzburg to Hallstatt, and of course does not have a capital. But Bad Ischl was the summer resort town for the Habsburg emperor during most of the 19th century and up until the first world war and still has a strong imperial vibe to it.

Also, Bad Ischl is different from the other Lake District towns and villages in that it does not have a lake, but Bad Ischl is a city rich in history and culture. Therefore, there are lots of things to do in Bad Ischl. The abundance of culture has also spilled over into the culinary arts with the world-famous confectionery Zauner or into the spa culture since that’s what Bad Ischl was already about under Emporer.

To me, Bad Ischl served as a hub for exploring other places in the Salzkammergut, since in Bad Ischl you, other than in Hallstatt or other smaller places, you can find budget accommodation. In this article, you will find out about all the worthwhile things to do in Bad Ischl as well as in the surroundings.

1. Bad Ischl Kaiservilla

the Kaiservilla is the best of the things to do in Bad Ischl

If you are into history, the visit to the Kaiservilla, the imperial residence, is one of the obligatory things to do in Bad Ischl. The villa was a wedding gift to emperor Franz Josef I on the occasion of his marriage to Elisabeth from Bavaria, better known as Sissi. The residence was described by emperor Franz Josef as “heaven on earth” and extensively used, especially during the summers, before the declaration of war was signed there in 1914 which ultimately sealed the downfall of the Habsburg monarchy.

The residence is still owned by the descendants of Franz Josef, who live in half of the house while the other half and the large garden are open to visitors. I once met one of them in the garden. As I was equipped with large lenses, he mistook me for a paparazzi and wanted to see my pictures before he began to ramble about the trees and the soil in the garden.

The interior of the villa can only be visited on a guided tour on which photographs are unfortunately prohibited. All the interior furnishings from the hundreds of vows hanging on the wall to the desk where Franz Josef signed the declaration of war are still present in the original. I have never visited a place where you get a better idea of what the Habsburg monarchy must have been.

Opening Times: In November and December, the Kaiservilla is only open on the weekends, and in January, February and March it’s not open at all. The rest of the year the Kaiservilla grounds are open but the tours are not always on. Visit the Kaiservilla website to find out if the tours are taking place when you are there.

Tickets: There are tickets for the Kaiservilla with and without the tour, but as I mentioned, you can only see the interior of the villa on the guided tour, so it is highly recommended. Tours start every hour and take about 45 minutes.

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2. Salzkammergut Spa: Eurotherme Bad Ischl

Bad Ischl is a historic thermal spa town. It became popular among the elite of the Habsburg empire including the empower himself because of one man, doctor Wirer who praised the healing effects of Bad Ischls water. Nowadays we are not that convinced anymore but nowadays Bad Ischl features a high-end spa whos positive effects for body and soul we don’t doubt. Now, Bad Ischl is only one of many places in Austria that offers a great spa experience, but if you are thinking about dropping out for a day to enjoy the Sauna, the pools, and a massage, it’s up at the top with the best spa places in Austria.

The Eurothermen Resort is right in front of the train station Bad Ischl, in the central location, which is especially convenient since Bad Ischl is a hub for travel all over the Salzkammergut area. The Bad Ischl therme is an actual resort, so you could even book your accommodation at the spa but that’s a bit pricey. The entrance fee for the spa at €24,50 (in 2022) for the whole day, however, is moderate compared to other spa places in Austria. You could of course also get a 4-hour ticket and relax in the evening after roaming around town or the surroundings.

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3. Bad Ischl Katrin – Bad Ischl Cable Car

Whenever possible I like to see the places I visit from above. In Bad Ischl, you have serial options to do so and the Katrin Cable Car might be the best one. In 15-minutes the historic cable car from the 1950s takes you to 1400 meters above sea level which is almost 1000 meters above the altitude of Bad Ischl.

The valley station of the cable car is located about 2 kilometers outside of Bad Ischl. The best way to get there is on foot which takes you about 20-30 minutes. Here you will find the prices and the timetable for the cable car.

If a hike is on your personal list of things to do in Bad Ischl, you can also just hike the Katrin mountain. The starting point for a hike is the same. You start the hike at the valley station of the cable car and it takes you about 2-3 hours to climb the 1000 meters in altitude. That is exhausting, especially if you aren’t used to hiking, but if it gets to be too much, you can always take the cable car down instead of hiking.

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4. Siriuskogl

From Bad Ischl, the mountain or hill I would choose to hike is Siriuskogl. It was originally named Hundskogel (dogs hill) and only given a more attractive name as summer resorts in the Salzkammergut arose: Sirius is the main star of the constellation Great Dog.

There are countless hiking routes in the surroundings of Bad Ischl, but Siriuskogel is more of a hill than a mountain and close enough to the village to have a great view over the town. If you would like to embark on a real hike, you might rather want to consider Katrin mountain, the one from the previous thing to do in Bad Ischl. Siriuskogel is actually only 100 meters in altitude but could also be reached by cable car.

The cable car, however, at least for a while was only used for the restaurant at the Siriuskogelwarte, the tower that’s visible from everywhere in town. The restaurant, if you would like to time your easy hike from Bad Ischl accordingly is really good and recommended.

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5. Coffee and Zaunerstollen at k.u.k. Konditorei Zauner

 Places like Vienna, Salzburg, and Linz had and still have k.u.k. confectionary shops (Konditoreien). What does that mean? k.u.k. stands for “kaiserlich und königlich”, imperial and royal, referring to the Habsburg monarchy. These places were Habsburg certified meaning they were the only ones allowed to serve sweets to the imperial court. Since the Habsburg emperor spent his summers in Bad Ischl, Bad Ischl of course needed one of these Confectionaries.

Therefore, Coffee and Cake is not just an option but should be on every traveler’s list of things to do in Bad Ischl. The choice of the cake is also simple at Konditorei Zauner. One of the creations of that specific pastry shop is called Zaunerstollen. Among the ingredients in Zaunerstollen are nougat, hazelnuts, chocolate, and more. Zaunerstollen is served in small pieces, but it is so hearty that a single small slice is enough to satisfy a glutton. Konditorei Zauner offers a traditional Austrian coffeehouse experience with its stunning interior and relaxed vibe. If you would like to know what Austrian coffee houses are like, I recommend this article on the Free Walking Tour Salzburg’s Blog.

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6. Bad Ischl Walking Tour

While the Kaiservilla, the spa, the Cable Car, and the Coffee at Zauner are obvious things to do in Bad Ischl, there are many small details that are not exactly things to do but rather things to notice. Even though you can head straight to Eurothermen or the emperor’s mansion from the train station, it is recommended to explore every corner of the town of Bad Ischl.

As you explore the city, pay attention to the architecture, such as the Postoffice, the Trinkhalle, the Leharvilla, the Kongress & Theaterhaus, and more. They all bear witness to the unique history of the place. If you have been to Vienna and think about the architecture, you will notice that Bad Ischl is like the countryside equivalent to that. Here is our self-guided walking tour of Bad Ischl with a suggested route, stops, and information about the things to see in Bad Ischl.

7. Taking a day trip from Bad Ischl

Bad Ischl is often visited on a day trip from Salzburg. Most often Bad Ischl is not even visited on a day trip, but Hallstatt is usually the final destination and Bad Ischl just serves as a transfer point. Bad Ischl, however, can also serve as a great hub for day trips to the surroundings of Salzkammergut villages.

You can find budget accommodations in Bad Ischl, as opposed to Hallstatt or other smaller, more popular places. I used Bad Ischl several times as a hub to explore the surroundings. Hallstatt, for example, would take you almost three hours from Salzburg, but staying in Bad Ischl lets you reach it in 20-40 minutes.

Salzburg works very well for day trips, however, if your day trips are focused on the Salzkammergut, then staying in Bad Ischl is a clear advantage. With Bad Ischl, you can access Lake Wolfgangsee, Hallstättersee, but also other lakes like Traunsee which would not only take longer but also be more difficult to reach from Salzburg. Here are a few ideas on day trips to take from Bad Ischl:

  • Day Trip to Hallstatt: Hallstatt is the most popular place in the Lake District and one of the most popular places in Austria overall. Hallstatt is known as the most photographed village in Europe and the Chinese even created a replica of Hallstatt in the province of Guangdong. Bad Ischl would anyway be your transit point when coming to Hallstatt from Salzburg but when staying in Bad Ischl, you only take the last part of the journey by either bus 542 and 543 or by train and boat.
  • Day Trip to Sankt Wolfgang: Sankt Wolfgang is a typical Salzkammergut village and one of my favorite places in the Salzkammergut Lake District. In Sankt Wolfgang, there is also one of my favorite activities in the Lake District which is the Schafbergbahn, a steam train taking you to 1800 meters of altitude. From Bad Ischl, it only takes you half an hour with a direct bus. If you are heading to Sankt Wolfgang, here is an article on things to do in Sankt Wolfgang on the Free Walking Tour Salzburg Blog.
  • Day Trip to Gmunden: Gmunden on Traunsee is just another example of places that can easily be reached from Bad Ischl. It only takes 40 minutes to reach Gmunden on a direct train from Bad Ischl.

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