St Wolfgang and the Wolfgangsee are a favourite destinations for visitors to the Salzburg area.
The Schafberg mountain railway attracts visitors eager to take the steam train journey up to the stunning views from the top station.
And the frequent excursion bus trips from Salzburg make the most of the ‘Salzburg Lake District’ and its connections to history and music.
Although the Wolfgangsee has no connection to the Sound of Music (despite what some tour guides might maintain), the real White Horse Inn in St Wolfgang is the setting for the popular Broadway play and film of the same name, which helped popularise tourism to the region.
Despite the busy nature of the area in high season, there is plenty of interest for those who are looking to get out and about in the area.
History of Lake Wolfgang
A village called St Wolfgang dates back to the era of the Middle Ages and the saint himself, although it is highly likely that fishermen and farmers lived in the area before the former Bishop of Regensburg retired to the Salzkammergut lakes.
Bishop Wolfgang moved to the monastery on the Mondsee towards the end of the 10th century, probably to remove himself from some of the political quarrels which high-ranking churchmen were liable to be involved with in those days.
He moved out to the lake that bears his name and lived in a cave on the Falkenstein (now actually part of the territory of neighbouring St Gilgen). This cave and the wonders that were supposed to have taken place here led to the pilgrimage route becoming one of the most important in Europe. In busy years, more than 300,000 pilgrims made their way over the Falkenstein to the lake. (The chapel which now stands on the Falkenstein was built in the 17th century.)
The church of St Wolfgang – at the end of the pilgrimage trail in what is now the village of St Wolfgang – was started in the 15th century and the famous carved altar also dates from that period.
Despite the fact that millions of pilgrims had taken the route to St Wolfgang over the years, the village suffered from the religious wars and the downturn in interest after the Reformation.
What gave it new life was the decision of the Emperor Franz Josef 1 to make the nearby spa town of Bad Ischl his summer residence. St Wolfgang became a fashionable excursion destination and, with the building of the Schafberg mountain railway at the end of the 19th century and the expansion of the hotel infrastructure, the village metamorphosed from a place of pilgrimage to a tourist destination.
These days St Wolfgang is probably the best-known of the Salzkammergut ‘resorts’, along with St Gilgen at the other end of the lake and Fuschl to the north-west.
Summer on Lake Wolfgang
Those who are looking to get out and about on the walking trails will find that the Schafberg itself has some quite challenging routes to the summit, with some stunning views of the Mondsee, Attersee and Wolfgangsee along the way.
Over on the other side of the lake, the pastures of the Postalm area offer generally easy trails, while the nearby peaks to the south of the lake have some surprisingly serious routes for those in the mood.
The hiking route between St Gilgen – to the north-eastern end of the lake – and St Wolfgang is part of an historic pilgrims’ trail (all related to the actual Saint Wolfgang, who was once a Bishop of Regensburg in Germany).
Out on the lake itself, there are plenty of opportunities for stand-up paddling, sailing and windsurfing, while a regular ferry service connects the villages around the lake shoreline.
Golfers can find nine different courses within easy reach, with the nearest being on the way from the Wolfgangsee to Bad Ischl.
Winter around Lake Wolfgang
The Postalm on the other side of the lake from St Wolfgang is the nearest ski resort. The small area offers a chairlift and some draglifts and is mainly suitable for beginner and early intermediate levels.
The Postalm with an altitude range of 1200m-1800m is also a favourite location for winter walking trails, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
The Advent period draws thousands of visitors to the seasonal markets in the three main villages around the lake. A platform out in the water features seasonal illuminations.
- the Schafbergbahn – a steam train and cog railway which winds its way from St Wolfgang to stunning views above three lakes
- the Postalm – Europe’s largest alpine pasture area above Strobl offers great opportunities for hikers in summer and winter
- the historic pilgrimage route between St Gilgen and St Wolfgang offers great views of the lake and an ancient hermitage along the route
How to get to Lake Wolfgang
The most straightforward ways to drive to the Wolfgangsee is from the north. The A1 motorway runs between Salzburg and Linz not too far away from the lakes. Those arriving from the Salzburg direction will probably use the Thalgau or Mondsee exits, while those arriving from the Linz side might prefer the route down past the Traunsee to Bad Ischl.
There is a more scenic and direct route on country roads from Salzburg, taking in Hof and Fuschl, while those who want to drive in from the south are likely to be using mountain roads over passes heading in the direction of Bad Goisern.
Nearest Airport to Lake Wolfgang
Salzburg Airport (60km) is the best option for those planning a trip to St Wolfgang, with bus connections through to the centre of Salzburg and then out to Strobl and St Wolfgang. Linz Airport (115km) is probably the next best option (although the choice of flights is not as great), with a train to Bad Ischl and then bus to St Wolfgang. Munich (235km) and Innsbruck (242km) airports are probably a little too far away, although both offer good rail connections to Salzburg.
Nearest Train Station to Lake Wolfgang
The closest train station is at Bad Ischl (7km), although those arriving from the north or west or into Salzburg airport may prefer to use the regular bus service from Strobl into Salzburg railway station.
Villages around Lake Wolfgang
The lake features three villages on the shore, plus a populated area along the main road generally referred to as Abersee.
St Wolfgang is the main tourist resort in the area. Some spectacularly misjudged development has spoiled the close-up look and feel of the centre in recent years, but it has some quieter areas out towards Ried. Still there is always plenty going on during the summer months and relative peace is only a boat ride or a short walk away. And the view of the village from the lake steamer or the mountain meadows still shows the lovely position which attracted visitors over the centuries.
Strobl, just around the lake from St Wolfgang, is the main traffic junction for this end of the lake. Here is where those heading for St Wolfgang and Bad Ischl turn off the main lake road, and the post bus service leaves to access Salzburg. It is less of a tourist centre and more of a ‘real town’ than its neighbour just around the lake – it was once a popular bathing resort.
St Gilgen tends to be thought of as the ‘unspoilt’ village on the lake, although it is actually the largest of the three. To be honest, it probably is just as busy as the other resorts, with roads offering access to the Mondsee and the Fuschlsee and the Zwölferhorn cable car heading up one of the nearby mountains, but probably a more attractive option.
Lake Wolfgang Accommodation Map
Some of the accommodation of all types is shown on the map below from our travel fulfilment partner Booking.com. The map can be zoomed in and out by using the ‘+’ and ‘-‘ signs to show more options. More information about the accommodation is shown by hovering over or clicking on the prices.