The Austrian Alps are a seriously underrated destination that often take a back seat to the more famous French, Swiss and Italian Alps. But breathtaking scenery, including giant mountains, quaint traditional villages and crystal clear lakes make the region the perfect place for an unforgettable trip.
Wondering which part of the region to visit? Then the Zillertal Alps are a great place to start. With world class ski slopes in winter, and summer activities like checking out the exceptional hiking trails, the region has something for everyone.
Zillertal, Austria is the perfect place to immerse yourself in nature and enjoy an exhilarating adventure holiday. Or you could take it more relaxed and enjoy wellness and spa activities, swim in the Zillertal See, and return home feeling refreshed and revived.
6 Fun Things to do in Zillertal
Check out all these fun activities you can do when you visit Zillertal. Some of the activities are seasonal of course, but there’s plenty to do whether you visit in summer or winter.
1. Bike and hike to the Schleierwasserfall in Hart im Zillertal
Just the hike to the Schleierwasserfall in Hart im Zillertal is pretty short, but it's actually part of the larger “Natur Erlebnisweg” Or Nature Experience Path. The entire path consists of two round walks – one of 2 km and one of 2.5 km.
We biked to the start of the waterfall hike with mountain e-bikes (bliss!) from Fügen.
The easiest way to find the start of the hike is to go to the Gasthof Almdiele inn at Wasserfallstraße 36 in Hart im Zillertal. Across from the Gasthof, you'll see a big map of the region including the waterfall, as well as signs toward “Schleierwasserfall”.
From there, you head a bit into the woods and follow the path upward. It's a wide and easy path to walk, but it does go up quite steeply and you'll ascend a little more than 100 meters from around 600 meters elevation to about 750 meters elevation at the top of the route.
If you're coming with kids and have a stroller, there's a path for strollers too but I think it would be very hard to take as it's not paved and pretty steep too. It would be better to carry small children.
You'll quickly see parts of the waterfall on your way up and you'll notice that it always goes down a bit, is then stopped by a little platform, goes down a bit more etcetera. At the top, there's a sign in German explaining that this waterfall used to cause quite a bit of havoc and once even killed 10 people because of all the debris it took down. It was then decided to “break” the flow of the waterfall by building in the platforms (which look completely natural, by the way).
When you're at the top of the waterfall, you'll see why it's called “The Bride's Veil” as the water flow is narrow at the top but then falls open like a veil when it's splashing down. That water flowing down is super clear and clean, so you can use it to refill your water bottle.
The hike down follows the same path as the hike up. Along the way, you'll get some nice views of the valley.
2. Hike along waterfalls
When I visited Zillertal, I took a guided tour to two waterfalls to learn about them. One was the Krimml waterfall and the other the Schleierwasserfall. The latter one, I hike to together with my guide Rasmus. We drove to the bottom of the Hintertux cable car station where our hike to the right of the big parking lot started. There's a sign pole indicating different routes.
The one we took is the Schleierwasserfall (yes, another one!) – Weitental – Tuxerjochhaus route. The actual end of the route is at the Sommerbergalm mountain hut, where you can take the cable car up to the glacier or back down to the valley. You can also hike down on the opposite side of where you came from, which would be another about a 2-hour hike.
As you can see, the route we took is supposed to take 3.5 hours (the website even says 4), but we did it in 2 hours and 50 minutes. I'm moderately fit as in that I can walk a lot and for long, but I do struggle with my breathing when going uphill a lot, and this hike goes uphill quite strongly, especially for the first 4 of the total of 7.2 km.
What the total elevation is, depends a bit on what source you use, but you'll make a descent of between 800 and 900 meters and a descent of about 275 meters. The descent is mostly the walk down from the Tuxerjochhaus to the Sommerbergalm at the end of the hike.
The first part of the hike goes along a rather narrow but perfectly safe path between the trees. It's the toughest part of the hike in terms of how much it goes up, but at no point did I suffer from my fear of heights.
You'll get some stunning panoramic views of the valley when you start and then again at a later point higher up, where you can also sit down on a bench to catch your breath.
Sidenote: Rasmus told me it's actually best to keep breaks under 3 minutes to keep up muscle and heart rate momentum.
When you've reached the tree line, the landscape opens up and you'll be close to your first goal on this hike: the 40-meter high Schleierwasserfall. It's quite impressive as the water splashes a little bit onto the path.
There was a lot of water flowing when we were there and we got sprinkled on, but not soaking wet. If the weather's bad and you don't want to take the risk, make sure to bring a rain jacket. The part of this hike where you can get wet is just a few meters, though.
When you've passed the waterfall, you really reach alpine land and the path opens up onto a wider gravel road. Keep your eyes open here because this is where the marmots live. We spotted quite a few of them and heard and saw them whistle too.
When they whistle, they stand up on their two back legs and make this loud whistling sound to alert other marmots of our presence. If you didn't know it was a marmot, you'd think it was a bird.
They're pretty used to people and Rasmus showed me some videos he made of marmots coming up really closing to him. We only spotted them from further away.
We also saw black sheep and if you're lucky, you might spot a chamois too.
When you're at this point, you can keep following the path until you reach the Tuxerjochhaus and from there onward to the Sommerbergalm, or you can leave the path to your right at one point and follow a more narrow, steep and rocky path over the mountain. We first took the hard road, but then followed the road for the last part when it crossed the path again a bit higher up.
Once you reach the Tuxerjochhaus, you can head straight down to the Sommerbergalm or you can first hike up the Pfannköpfl, a top at 2,388 meters high. There's no real path going up, but it's supposed to be a pretty easy climb.
I have to admit that by the time we got there, I was a bit done with climbing and ready for lunch, so we headed straight to the Sommerbergalm from where we took the cable car up to the Tuxer Fernerhaus for lunch.
Good to know
You absolutely need proper hiking shoes for this hike. While the gravel road at the top can be done in sneakers, the first part of the hike can't. Well, you could try it, but I wouldn't recommend it. It's rocky, uneven mud ground.
I also recommend bringing layers, especially if you want to go up to the glacier afterward. As you ascend quite a bit during this hike, the temperature can shift and if it's windy, it can get chilly.
I wore two hiking tops on top of each other and was sweating almost the entire time while I think it wasn't even 20°C, but I sweat easily when I hike. The moment we sat down to have a snack, I cooled down quickly as well.
There are some benches along the way, but not that many. So if at any point you get hungry and need to eat NOW, just go sit on a rock :D
Want to more info about the Krimml Waterfalls? Check out this post
3. Have lunch with a view at the Wirtshaus am Tuxer Ferner
We didn't go back down after our hike but instead took the cable car from the Sommerbergalm up to the Tuxer Fernerhaus. In summer, it's a self-service-only restaurant but in winter they also offer table service. My lasagna was massive, hearty, and just what I needed to re-energize after our hike.
There should be a great view from this restaurant as well, but when we were there it was so foggy that we couldn't really see far. So if you get up there on a clear day, let me know how it was!
4. Spend a day at the Hintertux Glacier
There are a lot of things to do in Hintertux, and especially at the Hintertux Glacier, which offers snow fun all-year-round. You can go hiking, biking, take the kids to one of the many playgrounds or crawl through the Spannagelhöhl, the largest mountain cave in the Central Alps.
I was interested in the water-related activities and so we went on a hike to some waterfalls and checked out the “Natur Eis Palast” or Nature's Ice Palace at the top of the glacier.
5. Take a VIP tour in the Hintertux Ice Palace
At the top of the Hintertux Glacier, you can visit the Natur Eis Palast. It's an ice cave inside the glacier discovered by a man called Roman not too long ago. He created a route through the glacier by hand and organizes visits from a little container right next to the Panorama Terrace, which you can see from the cable car station.
I have to say I was a bit worried about visiting the ice palace as it has gotten some mixed reviews on TripAdvisor. The negative reviews mostly talked about it being a bit dangerous, with slippery floors and ladders, as well as it being a bit cramped inside.
So how was it? I absolutely loved it, but I also think I got lucky. Let's go over everything.
To get to the entrance of the ice palace, you need to descend along a rather steep slope. As I went on an afternoon in June, the temperature was above zero and the snow was rather mushy, which meant that it was a bit hard to get down, but not really slippery. I can imagine that it can be harder when things are icy in winter, or when you have mobility issues.
It's true that inside, the floor is rather slippery. While you do walk on mats and the temperature in the cave is a constant 0°C, we bring heat inside through our bodies causing things to melt, which means that, especially in the afternoon, some of that meltwater can cover the mats slightly, making them slippery. I never really felt like I was going to fall, though.
I'd been worried about my fear of heights as I'd seen in photos that there are ladders you need to climb to get from one level to the other, but the ladders really only were about 6 feet/2 meters high and well-attached, so that wasn't a problem. But again, if you struggle with mobility issues, this might not be a good tour for you.
Lastly, I didn't feel claustrophobic inside but I do have to say we got really lucky as we were the only two people taking the last tour of the day. Roman told me that in summer, groups can consist out of 20 people and I can imagine that if you're walking through the narrow halls in a row of 20 people, that feels uncomfortable. It would probably also make it hard to hear the guide, which brings me to…
The tour itself
The whole ice palace is operated by only three men: Roman and two guides/helpers. Our guide was Paul, a young Englishman who moved to Zillertal a few years ago and who clearly was in love with his workplace. He told us about the glacier and the ice cave with a twinkle in his eyes and enthusiasm in his voice, excitingly answering all of our questions. We learned about the history of the Nature Ice Palace and the plans they have for the future.
Paul also talked about ice crystals, scientific research being done in the cave and even which celebrities have already visited. It was a fun and educational tour and we owe the success of our visit largely to Paul. A good guide can really make or break an activity like this.
The boat tour
Aside from the regular tour, there are a few special things you can do inside the ice palace, such as a photo shoot, ice swimming, stand-up paddleboarding or – what we did – a little boat tour.
If you break it down, the boat tour doesn't consist of much. You get into a rubber boat that's being pushed by the guide down a little lake and then back but uhm helloooooo, you're on a boat INSIDE a glacier, 30 meters below the surface!
So yes, I was excited. Also, did I say there were color-changing lights? Because there were. And if I remember correctly from the tour, it's also the longest route you can take in a boat inside a glacier in the whole wide world. That alone makes it cool. But maybe I'm just easily pleased.
So what is this cave all about, really?
Roman was a member of the mountain rescue team when he discovered a crevasse on top of the Hintertux Glacier. He descended into it and discovered naturally excavated rooms of ice underneath the slopes. Thanks to his knowledge of the glacier and his experience in the mountains, he got the right to start the Natur Eis Palast here, which now consist of hand-carved halls as well as naturally made rooms.
The biggest hall is 15 meters high and lies about 25 meters below the ski slopes.
The palace has been open for about 10 years now and in high-season, it's a popular attraction and groups can get quite big. Off-season, when I visited, is actually perfect as groups remain small and you get to enjoy the palace rather at your own pace.
Since it's opening, it's been enlarged and made increasingly accessible to the public – though, like I said, it's still best to only visit when you have good mobility as you'll need to climb up and down some small ladders.
Every day, Roman or one of his colleagues needs to pump melted ice out of the halls and make sure that the ceiling remains high enough for everyone to pass through, as the water that was once snow and ice slowly raises the floor.
It was pretty interesting to hear Paul share how they maintain the glacier and how the weather outside affects the work they need to do to keep it proper on the inside.
Please note that my photos don't do this place justice. It was pretty dark inside and to take great shots, you really need to bring some more professional equipment than I had with me when I visited.
Check the website for up-to-date information on opening times and prices. At the moment, the Nature Ice Palace is open all-year-round, every day of the year, under all weather conditions. It was €21 for the 1-hour VIP tour including the little boat trip.
You can only pay cash here.
You can get there by taking the Gletscherbus 3 from the Sommerbergalm cable car station.
Make sure to wear sturdy, waterproof boots (hiking boots are best) and warm clothing as it's a constant 0°C inside. You'll get a helmet before you enter the palace.
Visit the Panorama Terrace for a breathtaking view
The Terrace on top of the Hintertux Glacier, at a whopping height of 3,250 meters, supposedly offers an amazing 360° view of the region and famous landmarks such as the Grossglockner, the Zugspitze, and the Dolomites. Unfortunately, when we were there, it was super foggy and cloudy on top of the mountain and we could only see a few meters in front of us.
Good to know
You can access the platform with a wheelchair or baby stroller.
Get there by taking the Gletscherbus 3 from the Sommerbergalm cable car station to the Gefrorene Wand, the highest station in the region
How to get to Hintertux Glacier
So where is Hintertux exactly? Well, it lies about 175 km south from Munich, southwest of the Austrian Gerlospass and southeast from Innsbruck in the Tuxertal, very close to the Italian border.
5. Catch your lunch at the “Bochra See” in Stumm
The “Bochra See” is one of those small places that will stay with you forever not because it's so spectacular, but because of the feeling you get when you're there. This manmade fishing lake lies at the end of the road through the village of Stumm and when I visited, you couldn't find it on Google Maps yet.
As the taxi dropped me off, I was immediately welcomed by the owner, Martina, and Jacob (let's call him that, because I'm ashamed to admit I forgot his name), a local who just loves the place and drops by daily for a coffee, a chat, and to help out.
Martina didn't speak any English and so she'd enlisted the help of Martin (also not his real name), a 19-year old studying for his final high school exams who appeared happy to take a break from his books to show me how to fish. We grabbed a line and after a couple of tries, I had the hang of it.
Hold the line. Open the thing. Throw the line. Close the thing. Wait.
Don't ask me about technical terms because really, who needs them for a few hours of relaxed fishing?
After a good throw, we let the line rest in the water to lure some fish while Martin told me more about the lake, his plans after high school and how he never wants to leave Zillertal. We chatted about the Austrian school system, the mountains, how climate change is affecting winters in Austria and much more.
The 12 years of age difference between us didn't seem to matter much and I was glad to have a companion while the line refused to show a sign of life.
A sturgeon of about a meter long kept swimming along the shoreline, as if it wanted to come out and play. Later he was joined by two others. Gorgeous animals but none of them swam toward our bait.
And then it happened.
A pull. A wiggle. We caught a fish!
Martin grabbed the fishing rod while I grabbed my phone to film as he tried to reel in the fish. It wasn't that big – about 40 cm or so – but boy, did it put up a fight! It pulled and wiggled and turned until…
Literally. It had broken the line.
“What an asshole”, Martin exclaimed, and it was weird to hear such strong words coming from someone who'd been so soft-spoken up until now. Yup, it was a crappy move by the fish, but I was still excited that we'd actually managed to get something on our hook.
We grabbed a new line and tried again as a group of school children arrived. They got a tour around the lake, took a group photo on the little peninsula and finished their trip with an ice cream while we waited and continued our conversation.
I thought I'd find it a bit boring, the waiting, but instead, I experienced the peacefulness hobbyist fishers often talk about. Being in such beautiful surroundings with the sun shining down on us didn't hurt either.
Martin told me that sometimes, there are up to 20 people fishing around the lake and many more who just come to watch them and enjoy a little downtime.
At the Bochra See – named after the family that owns it – locals also come to buy smoked fish to take home or to have as a lunch right on the spot. Aside from the main lake, there's also a smaller pond from which Martina can just catch some fish to prepare or to move to the main lake if needed.
She doesn't smoke fish every day, though, so if you want to make sure you can have some for lunch, it might be best to drop by the day before and ask.
You can already guess that even though I didn't end up catching anything that day, I didn't go hungry either. After we'd put away our fishing rod, Martina brought us the most beautifully prepared “appetizer” consisting out of cucumbers, carrots, radishes, cured meats, grapes, and cheese. It would've been enough as a meal, but then came then came the smoked fish.
It was delicious.
Just pure, smoked fish. No sauces or anything else to cover up its wonderfully smooth taste. I'm starting to drool a little just by writing about it. What a lovely meal!
And as I was eating, people kept dropping by to say hi, help a hand or have a coffee. What Martina created with the Bochra See is something truly special. It's not just a fishing lake. It's not just a little cafe. It's a place were locals and visitors alike can come together, break bread and share stories.
I wish her and hers the best for the future and recommend everyone to visit when you're in Zillertal.
If you want to go fishing at Bochra See, it costs €18 for a day. This includes the use of available fishing lines, buckets, nets and chairs as well as 1 kg of caught fish.
You can also drop by for a drink or just go for a walk around the lake and rest in one of the chairs or on one of the benches surrounding it. There's free parking right by the lake.
6. Check Out the Almatrieb Festival
If you visit Zillertal in summer, you need to check out the Almatrieb festival. It’s a beautiful chance to see some alpine animals as part of a traditional walk.
To find out more about this festival, check out this full post about it.
Where to Stay in Zillertal
There's a large choice of hotels in Zillertal, Austria. I stayed at the Aktiv- und Wellnesshotel Haidachhof Zillertal
This 4-star Fügen wellness hotel was my home-away-from-home for three nights. It's located right by the Fügen cable car station as well as the start of several hiking and biking routes. In winter, the free ski bus takes you to the Hochfügen ski area and in summer, regular hiking and biking tours are organized. The hotel even provides hiking poles and rucksacks.
It also provides yoga mats for those wanting to keep up their practice either privately or by joining one of the regular summer yoga classes by the outdoor pool.
If you feel like staying in, you can also use the wellness area with several saunas, a hot tub, a steam bath, a solarium, a large heated indoor pool, a large outdoor pool and a relax lounge. Massage and other treatments come at an extra cost. The hotel provides bathrobes and slippers for its guests.
There's also a playroom for kids and a billiard table and sometimes, the hotel organizes post-dinner activities like a casino night.
With a half board booking, you get an elaborate breakfast buffet in the morning, including freshly made coffee and eggs prepared on request. In the afternoon, there's a salad and snack buffet consisting of vegetables, tapas, fruit, and cake.
In the evening, dinner starts at the salad buffet and is then followed by a three-course meal. The first course is always a choice between a hearty and a lighter soup. For the main course, there's a choice between a meat, fish or vegetarian dish. In asparagus season, an asparagus dish is the fourth choice.
There are also always two options for dessert, but I've noticed that you could also ask for a plain ice cream if you wanted.
No heavy typical Austrian food here. The dsihes were always refined and I was still always full at the end of the meal :-)
The staff at this Zillertal wellness hotel is super friendly, super welcoming and spoke English fluently.
And the rooms?
As it was low season and the hotel wasn't fully booked, I was so lucky to get a suite. The hotel offers great views both of the Zillertal valley below and of the mountain. I'd definitely stay here again.
Want to stay here too?
Check here for more reviews, prices and availability.
How to get to Zillertal
If you're going to Zillertal from outside of Austria, you need to either fly or dry. While there are some train stations in the area, there's no way to really travel to all the places you'll want to go by train. If you fly in, you'll either need to book a transfer from the airport and then take taxis to get around or – much easier – rent a car.
For a good overview of your flight options, check Skyscanner.
For the best car rental deal, have a look at check RentalCars.com which compares more than 900 rental car companies and has a best-price-guarantee.
Don't forget travel insurance
Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. There are plenty of things to do in Zillertal which may come with a little risk. Travel insurance has you covered in case (part of) your trip gets canceled, you get sick or hurt abroad, and sometimes even when your electronics break or get stolen. I always make sure I'm covered on every trip I go on.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out SafetyWing. They offer super flexible plans that you can even sign up for while you're already on your trip. On top of that, they were the first travel insurance to cover COVID, and when I got COVID, they reimbursed all of my expenses without making a fuss. Their customer support team is great and I can personally recommend them.
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