The best family activities in the Austrian Alps

Austria’s mountainous Grossarltal region is the perfect year-round destination for family adventures, whether you want to hike, ski, spa, or simply soak up the region’s rich culture and heritage.

With their spectacular castles, awe-inspiring scenery and wide range of outdoor activities — from skiing and biking to hiking and sledging — the Austrian Alps are a fantastic destination for family adventure.

Photograph by Getty Images
By Rudolf Abraham
Published 29 Jan 2023, 10:00 GMT

Nowhere quite matches the Austrian Alps when it comes to family adventures, with their seemingly limitless outdoor activities, striking alpine scenery and a tradition of warm, friendly hospitality. The Grossarltal region is particularly well pitched for travellers of all ages. Located just over 40 miles south of Salzburg, between the River Salzach and the soaring peaks of the Hohe Tauern National Park, the Grossarltal offers a wealth of family-oriented activities — including sun-drenched hiking in the summer and snow-sure skiing in the winter — entertainment and accommodation.

For children with boundless energy, there's no better way to explore these magnificent mountain landscapes than on foot. Austria is one of the world’s foremost hiking destinations, with an inexhaustible range of trails — from thrilling mountain routes to pushchair-friendly family strolls, and pretty much everything in between — and the Grossarltal is no exception. The area boasts almost 250 miles of marked hiking paths and over 40 mountain huts at which to refuel after a morning’s exploration. Younger adventurers can earn three different hiking badges on walks in the region, collecting stamps at various points along the trail. There are also guided walks and fairytale-focused routes for extra entertainment.

Alternatively, ramp up the adrenaline on the Grossarltal's some 100 miles of marked mountain bike trails, or at the 10,000m2 bike park, which offers routes of varying difficulty. Mountain bikes (including junior sizes) can easily be rented in town and at many hotels, with e-bikes available for those that might need a little extra oomph.

The UNESCO-listed old town of Salzburg has plenty of intriguing sights to explore, all overlooked by ...

The UNESCO-listed old town of Salzburg has plenty of intriguing sights to explore, all overlooked by the striking Hohensalzburg Fortress.

Photograph by Getty Images

In the winter months, SalzbugerLand transforms into a fantastic region for adventures in the snow, with a vast range of family-friendly ski slopes, cross-country ski routes, sledging, snowshoeing, husky sledding and starlit sleigh rides. The Grossarltal-Dorfgastein ski area is one of the region’s best, with its 45 miles of impeccably groomed slopes forming part of the huge Ski Amadé area — allowing access to a total 472 miles of skiing. With local hotels offering ski-out access, in-house rental services and excellent ski schools right on your doorstep, it’s the ideal spot for a first family ski adventure.

One such hotel is Das Edelweiss Salzburg Mountain Resort, an establishment with family at its heart — perhaps not surprising, given that 14 members of the Hettegger family are currently involved in running the resort. It’s a generational approach that feels all the more appropriate in a part of Austria so closely associated with the Von Trapp family from The Sound of Music. Karin and Hans Hettegger have been managing operations at Das Edelweiss since 2018 and have a strong passion for ensuring families can truly relax and enjoy the magic of the region.

Karin Hettegger's top family activities in Grossarltal

Karin Hettegger, one of the family members who runs Das Edelweiss Salzburg Mountain Resort

Karin Hettegger, one of the family members who runs Das Edelweiss Salzburg Mountain Resort

Photograph by Gustav Willeit

1. Find a fairytale castle

In a country with no shortage of spectacular castles, Hohenwerfen is among the most magnificent. Perched high above a bend in the River Salzach, the castle is home to one of the most breathtaking falconry displays you’re likely to see anywhere in the world — with golden eagles, huge bearded vultures and more, soaring against a backdrop of the Tennengebirge and swooping low over a spellbound crowd. Don’t miss the extraordinary ice caves across the valley too — a fascinating experience for children and adults alike.

2. Explore the city of Salzburg

You can’t visit the Austrian Alps without taking a trip to the picture-perfect city of Salzburg. In the exceptionally beautiful UNESCO-listed old town, you can marvel at Baroque architecture, palaces and gardens, explore the iconic hilltop castle and discover Mozart’s birthplace. Salzburg is a rewarding place to visit at any time of the year, but it’s at its most magical in winter, when choirs sing in front of the snow-dusted cathedral and cosy Christmas market stalls fill the cobbled streets and squares.

3. Enjoy aquatic adventures

After all this activity, head to one of the Grossarltal’s aquatic and wellness centres for a little relaxation and rejuvenation. The family mountain spa at Das Edelweiss Salzburg Mountain Resort, for example, has three pools with incredible panoramic views and a family-only sauna area. However, the crowning jewel for families is the large in-house aquapark. Spanning three levels, with five water slides ranging from a gentle 20m open slide to a 70m fully enclosed pipe slide and a 100m tyre slide, it’s ridiculously good fun for youngsters. There’s a comfortable ‘parent zone’ from which grown ups can keep a quiet eye on things, as well as a completely separate spa area for adults and daily in-house childcare. Worked up an appetite with all the adventure? Refuel at one of the resort's four restaurants, where options range from traditional cuisine to steak and sushi.

The spa and wellness area at Das Edelweiss Salzburg Mountain Resort offers varied family entertainment with ...

The spa and wellness area at Das Edelweiss Salzburg Mountain Resort offers varied family entertainment with spectacular alpine views. 

Photograph by Das Edelweiss Salzburg Mountain Resort

Plan your trip

To easily reach all these adventures, stay at Das Edelweiss Salzburg Mountain Resort in the heart of the Grossarltal. There are direct flights from the UK to Salzburg, from where you can take a train to St Johann im Pongau (journey time around an hour); bus 540 runs from St Johann im Pongau to Grossarl. Alternatively, travelling from London to Salzburg by rail takes as little as 11 hours.

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