The minute we saw pictures of Hallstatt, this little town made its way to our bucketlist. Needless to say, our trip to Austria just had to include Hallstatt! The town is so pretty that the Chinese have recreated the place in China… and a lot of Chinese come to Hallstatt to see the ‘real deal’!
Besides being an extremely pretty town, Hallstatt has the world’s oldest salt mine, which is over 7000 years old. If manmade structures do not interest you, the town is also home to the Dachstein ice caves which will let you appreciate Nature’s artwork.
While most people make a day trip to Hallstatt from Vienna or Salzburg, I would suggest that you spend at least one night in this pretty little town. A day trip here is too rushed and allows just enough time to have lunch, walk around the town and take a boat ride. Hallstatt has so much more to offer! So, here is a mini guide to help you plan your time is Hallstatt better.
Hallstatt is well connected to Vienna (~4 hours) and Salzburg (~3 hours) by train. Regardless of the station from where you commence your journey, you should disembark at Hallstatt Station. From there, hop on to a ferry called Stephanie which will take to Hallstatt Markt, that is close to the town centre.
From Salzburg, the train route would be: Salzburg – Attnang-Puchheim – Hallstatt Station – (ferry) – Hallstatt Markt
From Vienna, the train route would be:
Vienna-West-Train-Station (Wien-Westbahnhof) – Attnang Puchheim – Hallstatt Station – (ferry) – Hallstatt Markt
Vienna Main-Train-Station (Wien-Hauptbahnhof) – Leoben – Stainach Irdning – Hallstatt Station – (ferry) – Hallstatt Markt
We had rented a car the day we landed in Austria and were staying in Melk (2 hrs from Hallstatt) on the day prior to our Hallstatt trip. We had a hearty breakfast in Melk and left at about 9 am. The road trip was fun… it was green all around… little wooden houses dotted the rolling hills. It was just like the Bollywood movie ‘Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge’!
We stopped at least half a dozen times to click pictures, run around in the open grasslands and act silly. Considering that we took so many breaks, we reached Hallstatt by noon, well in time for lunch.
Best time to go
Summer months of June, July and August are obviously the best months to go to Hallstatt, as is the case with most of Europe. The sky is blue and the lake is serene. Blowers bloom and birds chirp. Sitting by lake with a hot cup of coffee is a delight. If you are a water baby, you can dunk yourself into the waters and feel at home. If you want to avoid the touristy summer time, the shoulder season of May and September might be good to visit as well, though it is colder during these two months.
While winter months might add a different feel to the whole place, with winter markets selling christmas decorations and mulled wine adding warmth to a cold winter evening, jumping in the lake might not be a great idea during these months. The skies would be grey, unless you are lucky to be there on a particularly sunny winter morning.
Where to stay
There are a lot of cute and cosy B&B and boutique hotels in Hallstatt town. However, most of these are expensive and get sold out at least a couple of months in advance during high season. The town centre looks live and vibrant, with plenty of restaurants and shops. However, during the day, it is pretty crowded with day tourists.
On the other side of the Hallstatt Lake, is another small town called Obertraun. This town has a lot of boutique hotels with gardens by the lakeside and rooms with balconies overlooking the lake. This area is a little more affordable than Hallstatt town and is a little quieter as well. We didn’t see any day tourist around and though that this was the perfect place to enjoy natural beauty in solitude. It takes 15 – 20 min to get to Obertraun from Hallstatt Town by car. We would love to stay here again whenever we do visit Hallstatt. Click here to see our review on Hotel Am See.
What to see/What to do
Soak it all in
Really, just soak it all in! Do nothing! Take a glass of wine and sit by the lake side. Nibble on some cheese. Watch kids kayaking and tourists drift by in boats. Potter around, shop for souvenirs, smell the flowers and imagine what it would be like to stay in this pretty little town forever.
We were in Hallstatt for one day only and had to put an end to ‘doing nothing’ within a couple of hours. Ankur just didn’t want to let go off this perch by the lake!
If you do feel like stretching your legs, walk upto the view point. Stop at the church for a few minutes and take a look at the Bone House (read further). Continue walking to get some stunning views of the city. Its best to get to the view point early in the morning to get the perfect shot for your picture album.
Visit the Salt Mines
Salt is what made the little town of Hallstatt home to the rich and famous. The salt in Hallstatt is mined and obviously, is not sea salt that we consume these days. It is sea salt that made its way under the earth’s strata during continental drift. It is old….really really old! It is pure mineral salt that has been buried under the surface of the earth for thousands of years. The salt mine tour gave us the entire story about when and where did the salt come from, how it was mined in the past and how it is done today. We even got to ride on the miners’ train and slide down the wooden slides that once upon a time, were used in mining operations! This was one activity that we enjoyed the most during our entire trip and highly recommend it. Here is the link to a video tour of the Hallstatt Mines or Selzwelten, as they are locally known.
The entrance to the mines is access by taking a funicular from the base station. The views of the view point are breathtaking. I just could not stop clicking. I went shutter crazy… my phone, Ankur’s phone, the DSLR… zoom in, zoom out, videos! You get the gist of it…I really went shutter crazy!
Click here to visit the website of the Salzwelten at Hallstatt to check the timings and ticket prices.
Dachstein Ice Caves
Caves hadn’t charmed us until we went to the crystal ice caves in Iceland last year. Since then, we have been wanting to explore a little more of what sleeps under the surface of the earth. The ice is formed by water which seeps from the Dachstein plateau down into the cave through small cracks and joins in the cliff. When outside temperatures lie above freezing but the caves still contain very cold air, the penetrating water freezes and forms magnificent ice shapes which define the magic of the giant Ice cave. You really need to be here to see how big these ice ‘sculptures’ are… over 10 meters tall!
For those who love caves, acoustics and music, plan your trip such you can attend the musical concerts in the cave (typically, in August). While the ice caves are the most popular tourist attraction, there is a view point called ‘Five Fingers’ that offers almost a bird’s eyeview of the Hallstatt Lake. For those who enjoy caving, there is an option to spend more time and explore the Dachstein Mammut Cave. This attraction is open during summer months only. Click here to know more about the Dachstein Ice Cave and plan your trip.
If its raining and you cannot venture out much, how about visiting the ‘Bone House’? Do so only if you have the nerve to look at hundreds of skulls and believe that you will still be able to sleep at night! Hallstatt is home to the largest collection of skulls! When an existing grave was reused for a new burial, the skull or bones were transferred from the grave to the charnel house or ossuary as part of a second funeral. The identity of the deceased family member was preserved by decorative paintings and inscriptions. The Bone House is located inside St Micheal’s Chapel and has over 600 painted skulls, mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Hallstatt seemed like a picture perfect town while we walked hand in hand on the lakeside. It looked even prettier when we looked at it from the lake! Paddling the swan shaped boats and being right next to the real swans made us feel closer to nature!
Where to eat
There are plenty of restaurant in Hallstatt and some in Obertraun. Most of them have a few vegetarian dishes on the menu. Our favourite place was Brau Gasthof, a lively lakeside restaurant that served excellent vegetarian food and wine. In case you want to try an authentic Austrian dessert, their dough ball with butter and poppy is highly recommended.
Hallstatt is a must see town and should be on your Austrian itinerary. Don’t rush and try to do everything… see, explore, smile and make new friends! Let the travellers’ tribe grow!