HALLSTATT - AUSTRIA
Without a doubt, Hallstatt in Austria is one of my favourite places we have visited and this is a big call I realise, as I always say we have no favourites as each place is so different to one another, but Hallstatt is at the top of the list. This could also be as it holds a special place in my heart, but that is another story!
Hallstatt is a little town of incredibly breathtaking views situated between Salzburg and Graz, in the Salzkammergut Lake Region of Austria. It’s considered to be one of the oldest still inhabited settlement in all of Europe, Hallstatt is also a UNESCO heritage site. In spring, summer or even covered in snow, you cannot deny how simply incredibly beautiful Hallstatt is and definitely worth a visit if you’re in Austria.
See our recent winter trip back to Hallstatt here.
We always drive whilst in Europe and thankfully have seen some amazing cities, towns and landscapes because of where the roads take you through, however not all of us are confident or feel like jumping in a car whilst on holidays especially on the other side of the road! If you’re interested in driving, maybe have a look at our ‘driving in Austria’ post.
Most people will fly into Munich or Salzburg, although we would suggest Munich if you wish to hire a car as hiring from Germany tends to be a bit cheaper and allows you to drop in other country/cities depending on the car rental company. Driving from Munich it is approx 2.5 hour drive and quite a scenic one at that! I would definitely suggest and consider to leave very early and make your day a full ‘day trip’ since you pass through a couple places that you should spend some time at.
When leaving Munich you will drive past Prien Am Chiemsee (see here for our visit), and also quite close to Berchtesgaden (see here for our visit). Both can be done in a day or 2 if you decide you want to explore a little more.
Also as you may know already Salzburg is quite close to Hallstatt in Austria, approx 45m – 1h drive away only. If you decided you can also base yourself in Salzburg and train / drive to Hallstatt for a day trip if you chose to, but we think staying somewhere with a lake view and waking up to that gorgeous lake in Hallstatt is worth staying for!
Don’t forget St Wolfgang is near by also and we have also visited many times as this area (in fact most of Austria) are some of our favourite regular places of visit. Taking in mind that you have planned for Hallstatt only, keep to Hallstatt and if you have any free time or want to spend a few short hours you can take a quick trip to St Wolfgang, St Gilgen and the other Salzkammergut areas that surround Hallstatt.
For the train, its a little more difficult but also quite simple at the same time. Follow this link to the Hallstatt Information Page which will guide and help you through on how to get there by either Bus or Train. Expect about 2.5 hours by train and a little less by Bus. Alternatively you can do a day trip with tour groups that you can book online with or from your hotel.
When you do arrive in the town, get down to the Hallstatt Info Office at the beginning of the town and get yourself a map and some brochures to decide where you’ll start for the day. Don’t worry, if you miss out on something you’ll just have to come back and visit again!
[divider]ATTRACTIONS IN HALLSTATT?[/divider]
So you have arrived or planning to go but you’re wondering what is there to do? The main attraction is actually the town itself, picturesque, quiet, charming and full of character. Be sure to take a look at the houses on the main road, you will see decorative windows with beautiful colourful flowers (season dependent) including dried flowers and even a cat run or two! You can also jump on a ferry and cruise across to the other side of the lake to take some more pictures and relax on the water. They also allow you to hire small electric boats that you can take out on your own.
Explore the worlds oldest Salt Caves / Mines on a tour at the top of the mountain of Hallstatt, get on the Ferry and head across the lake as mentioned above, get up to the Skywalk to see a panoramic view of Hallstatt & surrounds, walk through the passageways in the town, visit the Churches, Chapel and Beinhaus (bone house), or get a bit more cultural and visit the local museum near the town square.
The Salt Caves / Mines are over 7000 years old and is the place where the legendary ‘man in the salt’ was found in 1734. The guides all speak English very well and we found to all be quite good and enjoy their job which as we all know makes such a big difference. Apparently this is where the ‘man in the salt’ was found in 1734 (a corpse preserved in salt was discovered right in a salt deposit, described as “pressed flat and tightly grown into the rock, clothing and his tools were strange but all very well preserved – hey its a part of history!) Inside the cave obviously you’ll find salt, quite a lot of it and even an occasional miner on the entry as a small part is still active! They only allow guided tours and this costs 22€ for adults which includes the return trip on the funicular. Tours go for just under an hour but we would suggest to expect about 3-4 hours in total if you intend on taking some photos up top, eating or even just wondering around exploring so best plan your day prior to see what you would like to visit.
Grab the Salzbergbahn funicular at the end of the town near the shops (check your map, its walking distance, everything is). Get on the Salzbergbahn Funicular and enjoy the beautiful panoramic trip on the way up (and down).
It might be worthwhile doing the Salt Mines initially after breakfast, followed by maybe lunch, a visit to the Churches, Chapel and Cemetery with a nice afternoon ride on the Ferry before relaxing for a nicer dinner on the water on the lake front.
Visit the Salzwelten webpage for further information.
The main highlights in the cave are the 2 long “miners” slides , one of them 64m! (pictured above) I have to admit, i ran back up the top and went down 3 times in total! There is also a subterranean salt lake that they have colourful lights & lasers throughout – the water is so still and clear it just looks like a kaleidoscope mirror as you can see in the image below. A little cool mine train takes you out, and then its time for lunch maybe at Rudolfsturm (Rudolf’s Tower) which was previously a medieval tower in the late 13th century but now turned into a Restaurant with a view that is absolutely incredible as you can see below.
When you return back down, grab yourself a drink and a bite to eat at one of the local shops (leberkase is our favourite Austrian/German snack food) and have a wonder through some of the souvenir shops, of course they will have your standard tourist items but you can even grab some local Salt to take back home in a variety of mixtures (actually quite nice, better than you’ll find in your own City). Be sure to take a good look at the buildings and houses there, all painted in beautiful colours, maintained well and most have the traditional Austrian flowers from each window in a range of beautiful colours. Oh, and you might notice what we did – these trees that literally grow only towards the house and not outwards, so unusual!
Yes its full of bones and you could say its a bit creepy if you want but this dates back to the 12th century and how have over 1000 skulls and more than half actually painted in type of flowery designs and stacked altogether in rows of next to kin with the actual date of decease written on them clearly. Read more on this here on the Hallstatt Page. Right about now you’re going ‘no thanks, ill pass’. Its all part of history and culture everywhere you are, take a few minutes to just have a read and look and its quite interesting and of course bizarre as well.
Walking down further you can head up to the beautiful Church and Hallstatt Cemetery (at the back of the Church). Am i obsessed with death? no.. they just have a cemetery and bone house, you’re there to see, photograph and learn about the town right? Go on, have a look as the Cemetery I have to say is so incredibly well kept with beautiful planted flowers and still a gorgeous view of Hallstattersee (Lake Hallstatt). Walk towards the Church posted up on the hill at the end of the town, the walkway up will be quite obvious but don’t be afraid to just ask someone for some directions as they have quite a lot of hidden walkways throughout the town which may confuse you.
We haven’t gotten the chance to get up to the Skywalk that is 350m above Hallstatt to which we could only imagine how stunning the view would be, but the last few times we were in Hallstatt it was being built, the serviced and then closed for winter. We’re not having any luck! However with this being said i would definitely suggest to get yourself up there and have a look at the panoramic views around Hallstatt. You can also hike up to the sale mines and sky walk if you’re feeling adventurous or enjoy a good hike, and this would take about 1.5 hrs and you decent via the ‘brine path’ (Soleweg) takes about the same time.
The only thing left is the walking tracks, for this i would suggest getting down to the Hallstatt Info Office at the bottom of the town and grabbing a map, you can walk for an hour or even for a full day but we would suggest as always good comfortable footwear, some snacks/food and water if you intend on doing so. Don’t worry, plenty of other locals and tourists go through these tracks so you won’t be on your own! Just keep a torch on hand in case you decide to go longer than intended (eg. forgot about the time!) And no, it hasn’t happened to us!
For the Ice Caves, we have another post here with more information. This is near by in Dachstein which is approx a 20m drive, i am sorry we couldn’t tell you how long by train/bus but have a chat to the Hallstatt Tourist Office in the town and they can help easily i am sure.
The Dachstein Ice Caves are something that we would definitely recommend if you have the time, in fact over the Salt Caves we would suggest this. The main attraction is the Rieseneishöhle (Giant Ice Cave) and it is simply breathtaking! You will walk through beautiful passageways to see frozen walls, formations, and also the Great Ice Chapel – a chapel that you can actually hire and get married in! They also do have the Mammoth Cave which i don’t remember if we visited or not as it was some time ago that we were there. The walk takes about 1-2 hours and only covers apparently a small area of the actual cave network (usual). Its apparent that the whole ‘network’ of caves is in excess of 30kms in length and drops down to about 3800+ ft.
Getting there, you will need to drive to Obertraun which is about 6-7kms away from Hallstatt. Don’t worry, theres signs which will show you where the funicular (cable car) is that takes you up to the caves. Once you are up there its another 20 minute walk to the entrance on the cave. A return trip on the gondola / funicular / cable way ticket is 14€ ($22) for adults. The cave entry fee is $9€ and they are only open seasonally between May and end of October.
Finally, note that tours only run from April to October (daily). Winter months they are closed to to access from the snow. Please also do not forget some sturdy walking shoes and warm clothes as its a little chilly inside.
[divider]HOW LONG DO WE STAY?[/divider]
Hallstatt is such an incredibly small town, so we would only suggest 2-3 nights to relax, see and enjoy it. We would recommend to combine Hallstatt with Salzburg and Vienna to see just a few of the highlights from Austria, some say these are the ‘3 highlights of Austria’ but for us there are so many highlights in Austria where do you stop! For the travellers who would like to include and see a little more within the same area lakes and mountains; you have the Salzkammergut Region just near by with further beautiful small lake side towns to visit – see here to have a look at our winter trip to St Gilgen (Salzkammergut Region) and surrounds.
[divider]WHERE TO STAY?[/divider]
There are plenty of hotels and pensions (bed & breakfast accommodation in Austria) to stay in within Hallstatt and near by. Personally we always enjoy staying in a pension as they are usually much cleaner, offer free wifi, nicer breakfasts!!, family owned (support small businesses!) and you often get to learn more about the town and spend time also with the B&B owner(s). Our suggestion is to get somewhere on the water as you can see below, or even in the main town – but don’t fear, if you can’t get something in Hallstatt you can stay near by and always visit!
Our hot shutterbugtravellers tip is to get onto google sites in the countries you intend on visiting, example Austria is www.google.at – the reason behind this is each countries google (Australia inclusive) control your results and only show what they think is relevant, and that is a problem since it does not show all available accommodation when searching for somewhere to stay.
Search for ‘Hallstatt Pension’ or whichever town you’re staying and you will find many to choose from. Bear in mind as we have mentioned above that these are family owned so many will not speak fluent English always. Luckily for us we speak a couple languages fluently, BUT! Many of these websites will be also available in English as well. For the adventurous travellers, email in English or maybe contact someone who can help in native language (italian, german, french whatever it may be to where you’re going). All bed & breakfasts we have stayed at we would rate better than most of the 4-5 star hotels we have stayed at over the years. Yes, it is a big call but we aren’t a fan of ‘paid service and happiness’ and rather real service and genuine people.