Discovering the ice giants
Situated above Werfen and about an hour from Salzburg, Eisriesenwelt is ranked as one of the top seven sites to see in Austria. Once thought to be the entrance to hell, Eisriesenwelt, or the “World of the Ice Giants,” is the world’s largest ice cave and a perfect weekend getaway for servicemembers and their families.
The community of Werfen kept Eisriesenwelt hidden from outsiders for hundreds of years. That was until 1879, when Anton Posselt, a scientist from Salzburg, entered the cave and discovered its magnificent terrain. Throughout his time in the cave, Posselt kept records of his findings and experiences, which were later published in an Alpine Associate newsletter. Soon after his findings were published, the cave drifted back into the darkness for another hundred years. Coming across Posselt’s records, Alexander von Mörk, a local speleologist, took it upon himself to educate the Werfen community about Eisriesenwelt’s wonders.
Along with some fellow pioneers, Mörk began taking expeditions into the cave. These voyages enabled Mörk to expand his knowledge about Eisriesenwelt and encourage outsiders to explore the cave. Some of these individuals included researchers Friedrich and Robert Oedl and Walter Czernig; during their time exploring Eisriesenwelt, the Oedls and Czernig examined its unique composition.
Like other caves of its kind, Eisriesenwelt’s shape is constantly changing. Throughout its existence, chemical dissolution and water erosion have transformed the cave into a distinctive structure, which Posselt described as an “ice cone.”
Eisriesenwelt is known as a dynamic ice cave. Similar to a chimney, a dynamic ice cave allows air to enter the cave, which is then pushed throughout the structure. The airflow enters various crevices, which helps the cave remain at a chilling 32 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Since Eisriesenwelt remains cool throughout the year, tourists are encouraged to dress in winter attire during their visit.
Entering the spotlight
During its peak of popularity, Eisriesenwelt began attracting travelers from all areas of Europe. The Eisriesenwelt foundation soon initiated improvement projects to accommodate the throngs of tourists.
In 1924 the Eisriesenwelt foundation installed wooden planks around the cave. These planks enabled visitors to wander through the cave and get an up-close look at the icy structure. However the deepest parts of the cave were still inaccessible, so in 1953, the foundation installed a road. The road was replaced in 1955 with a cable car. Today visitors have the option of exploring the cave’s paths with the help of a guide, by themselves or by cable car.
After exploring the cave, visitors are welcome to have a quaint meal at one of the four on-site dining facilities.
The Oedl House offers indoor and outdoor seating, and the Zaismann Restaurant has outdoor seating and a view of the Hohenwerfen Castle. Both restaurants serve traditional German cuisine and beer.
For a smaller meal, consider dining at the visitors’ center or the Wimmerhütte, which is near the parking area. The Wimmerhütte is the perfect spot for individuals who prefer to enjoy the Austrian scenery without traveling into the cave.
Something for everyone
Whether you are looking for a way to cool down during the summer months, or want to explore one of Mother Nature’s great wonders, Eisriessenwelt is sure to satisfy. The cave is open May to October and offers daily tours. Children and family packages are also available. Be sure to check their website for hours and prices.