Hallstatt, a picture-perfect, storybook village on Lake Hallstatt’s western shore in Austria’s mountainous Salzkammergut region is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful places in Austria. The lakeside town with almost 800 residents, whose streets are lined with what can be described as gingerbread houses, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We had seen many photos before our visit, and thought, it’s hard to believe this place is real, but after seeing it for ourselves, yes indeed…it is real!
The big draw of course is the village, set between the stunningly beautiful lake and the majestic mountains. There are numerous cafes and shops set along the main street, which is mostly a pedestrian walkway, except for the occasional local driving through on their way to making their deliveries. 16th-century Alpine houses and a few restaurants can also be found on the narrow streets and numerous alleyways.
When is the Best time to Go to Hallstatt?
Although we visited in early September, we could see that Hallstatt would be charming anytime of the year. The summer months are beautiful with average temperatures in the mid 20’s Celsius, spring and fall are in the low teens, while during the winter months, the temperature is generally single digits. Each season has its own appeal in this fairy-tail village.
Many will say the best time to visit is in the summer between June and early September, when the streets are bustling with people. We spent four nights there and were lucky the weather was beautiful through most of it, except for the last afternoon, where we had a little bit of rain. During the day the tour buses appeared so it was fairly busy, but most tour groups who are just stopping off briefly in Hallstatt remain in the main square with a brief detour beyond the church. Once you get beyond the church, it feels like a different town as it’s so much quieter, so it’s advisable to manage your day accordingly. The evenings are very peaceful once all the tour buses leave.
Best Things to do in Hallstatt
There is plenty to see and do, from visiting historical sites and cultural attractions to enjoying the natural beauty of the area. Here’s a list of things we really enjoyed and would recommend.
Viewing the picturesque historic center of Hallstatt is still one of the best things to see, but it can be one of the most crowded parts of this stunning village. However, even with the crowds it’s just as picture perfect as you might imagine; here you’ll find many of the late Gothic houses that define Hallstatt’s iconic architecture, restaurants, cafes, hotels, a bar and a number of souvenir shops. Throughout the year, a number of different events such as concerts, and cultural events and of course the Hallstatt Christmas market, are hosted here.
It’s a great place to get a scoop of ice cream, or pastry and sit back to take it all in. If you are staying overnight in Hallstatt, a great time to enjoy the square is in the early morning or later in the afternoon.
Hallstatt Salt Mine
Dating back over 7,000 years, the salt mines in Hallstatt are considered to be some of the oldest in the world and are the reason why Hallstatt has UNESCO recognized status.
The salt mine can only be visited on a tour which lasts a little over an hour. Before the tour starts, they provide you with a coverall suit to protect your clothes for when you slide down the free-falling slides (there are only two and are quite fun, easy for all ages). You are timed on the last slide and of course you can purchase your picture to show everyone back home!
To get there, take the funicular or alternatively you can hike (it’s roughly a one-hour hike). Budget about 2.5 hours of time, including the tour and the round-trip ride on the funicular. It costs €34 per person for a round trip on the funicular and the salt mine tour. It’s worth the outing, we thoroughly enjoyed it. Learn more on the official website.
Note that if you’re visiting the Hallstatt Salt Mines during the peak season, you should book your tickets in advance as it fills up for the day.
Those looking for a breathtaking Alpine panorama of the region of Hallstatt should consider visiting the Skywalk above Hallstatt which offers stunning views of the entire Dachstein Salzkammergut region. Please know that the platform sits 360-meter-high in case you’re sensitive to heights.
It is in the same area as the salt mines, so you can either hike up or take the funicular.
There are many opportunities for hiking, whether it’s for a short hike on the mountain above the village to the Muhlbach Waterfall or longer hikes for the adventurous. There is a trail that leads to the Echern Valley glacier garden with glacial potholes and Waldbachstrub Waterfall.
Dachstein Ice Cave
The Dachstein Ice Cave (Dachsteinhöhlen) which lies high above the Trauntal valley was formed by water that seeps into the cave through cracks and joins in the cliff. Even though the outside temperature can be above freezing, the caves themselves retain very cold air which allows the seeping water to freeze into magnificent ice shapes.
Visitors can experience for themselves this natural wonderland deep inside the mountain, although you are not able to explore the cave on your own, you must take a tour which lasts about 50 minutes.
If you don’t have a car, there is a local bus that you can catch at the main Hallstatt Bus Station just South of the village center. It does a loop between Hallstatt Gosaumühle – Hallstatt Lahn – Obertraun Dachstein and back about once an hour. You pay the driver and the cost is approx.€2 per person.
Once the bus drops you off, you’ll have to buy a ticket from the Dachstein Visitor Centre for the cable car ride and Ice Cave tour. There are several ticket options to choose from, we only had time to see the Ice Caves, but you can buy tickets for Mammoth Cave (Mammut) and the Five Fingers lookout as well.
When you get off the cable car, you will be pointed in the direction of the Ice Caves. It’s a short walk (20 minutes) up to the caves, and although the path is paved, it is up the side of the mountain so wear good walking shoes and take water!
It is cold inside the cave as you would expect, around -2 C, so bring a warm jacket. There are a lot of steps to climb as you make your way through the cave, so again, wear good shoes, flips flops won’t cut it.
Once you’ve finished the tour, you’ll exit the cave and be treated to spectacular views of Hallstatt Lake and the valley below.
A ticket for the cable car ascent and decent and the entrance fee to the cave is €36.30 per person.
The Beautiful Hallstatt Lake
Rent an electric boat and cruise the Hallstatt See (lake), to get an incredible panoramic view of the village. The fresh air on the water, complete with graceful swans, the uninhibited sunshine and the beautiful nature on the fjord-like lake between Bad Goisern and Obertraun is total and pure relaxation. On a clear day there is nothing quite like it and one of the most popular pastimes on Lake Hallstatt.
There are several places along the main street where you can rent boats; rental of a 500-watt electric boat costs €22 per hour.
Church of Christ
Protestants built a prayer house in the 18th century, without a church tower or bells. About 60 years later the parish then built a gorgeous rectory with a church tower and bells. This building is the beautiful and much-photographed Church of Christ which is adjacent to the boat dock.
Parish of the Assumption
Located on a hill (Kirchenweg Street) behind the boat dock, The Parish of the Assumption is the church for the Roman Catholic worshipers. Over several centuries this church was modified and extended. The church has a double winged altar, which is one of the four most important altars in Upper Austria, and an adjacent cemetery.
As you might imagine, prices are a bit elevated in Hallstatt, so come ready to spend a little more on food if you intend to have lunch or dinner or if you’re fortunate enough to stay a day or two.
Many of the restaurants feature great Austrian meals and if you choose the right location, many have an incredible view along the lake.
For a quick dining experience, there is a kebab hut (Karmez Kebab Cart) right next to the boat dock, that serves the most amazing kebabs. On a beautiful day, grab a seat, buy a kebab and maybe an adult beverage and enjoy the incredible view of the lake.
More to see
We love to explore and with Hallstatt’s narrow streets and little alleys, there was plenty to see. We ventured down narrow alley ways one evening and came across some wonderful pubs and restaurants and some of the most amazing buildings and archways which made for great photography.
How many days do you need to visit Hallstatt and is it worth staying overnight?
Hallstatt is a great village. For the best, unrushed experience, we would definitely recommend at least a one-night stay but if possible, we’d suggest spending two nights. Staying overnight gives you the ability to be in town in the evening and the early morning hours, which are the best times to explore Hallstatt virtually crowd free before the tour buses show up.
We wondered if planning a four-night stay was too long, but by this point we had been travelling for a while and looked at it as a great opportunity to recharge. With the hiking opportunities and various things to see, we had no trouble filling our days.
Is Hallstatt Safe for Tourists?
Given that Hallstatt is relatively small we found it extremely safe even when walking the streets and alleys late at night.
Getting to and Around Hallstatt
Coming from Salzburg Bahnhof it takes roughly 2 to 2.5 hours, plus time for the ferry across the lake (the train station is located on the other side of the lake). The ferry service times their trips around the train schedule, so you’ll only have to wait a few minutes if it’s not already there. You pay (€5 round trip per person) the ferry driver and can purchase your round trip ticket if you wish, although it’s not necessary. Once in Hallstatt, everything is within walking distance except as previously mentioned, you will have to take the bus to the Ice Caves.