Hallstatt is a picturesque lake-side village in Austria that has become so popular that the Chinese created a replica of it. Nestled in the Salzkammergut Mountains, Hallstatt is a stunning natural escape for those who prefer mountains and lakes to art museums and skyscrapers. Visiting Hallstatt can be complicated, which is why many people go there on organized day trip tours, but perhaps there are better ways to get the most out of the town.
Is it worth staying overnight in Hallstatt or is a day trip enough?
Hallstatt is pretty time-consuming to get to unless you have a car, which is ironic because Hallstatt is carless. From Vienna, it takes about 4 hours with one train connection, not including the ferry or bus that you need to take from the Hallstatt train station to the city. From Salzburg, it takes about 2.5 hours and also requires two connecting train routes. Few people want to make that trek for just a day trip, so naturally, they resort to going on guided day trips.
The bus tours are convenient (although pricey) in that they get you to the town for a few hours of sightseeing. So if your intentions when visiting Hallstatt are just to get a couple of the famous shots of the small town among the mountains, then this may be enough time.
However, if you really want to enjoy all the beautiful hiking, attractions, and general relaxation to be had along the lake, an overnight stay may better serve you. It’s likely that you will be scrambling to do everything in the 2-3 hours you’ll be given to spend in Hallstatt on a bus tour. This is compounded by the fact that you’ll be arriving when most of the lines are longest for anything like the funicular to the salt mine.
On the other hand, if you stay overnight (either in Hallstatt or anywhere along Lake Hallstatt), you can arrive first thing in the morning to the attractions that are likely to be crowded and be finished before the crowds descend on the city. Staying at least one night can give you far more time to leisurely enjoy the town.
Avoiding crowds and winter weather
Given its popularity, Hallstatt has been almost entirely ruined by tourism. Hallstatt is an extremely small village, so it kind of loses its charm when you’re seeing it with 17,000 other people at the same time. This makes lines for everything fairly long. It ruins beautiful photos, and moments that could otherwise be peaceful. Obviously, it also makes things far more expensive. During summer peak season, you should expect massive crowds and accompanying price-gouging on everything from food to hotels.
On the other hand, going to Hallstatt in the winter can be a handicap. Though the roads to Hallstatt are accessible year-round, there are many attractions that have reduced hours or that are closed altogether. Perhaps the best way to visit Hallstatt is between March and April and between October and November, before winter weather starts interfering with your travel plans.
Things to do in Hallstatt
Given enough time, there are plenty of things to do to spend a quality day or two in Hallstatt. Some of these activities take half a day all on their own.
Hallstatt’s High Valley
Though beautiful in and of itself, one of the best things to do in Hallstatt is see it from above in the Hallstatt High Valley. This area has several attractions rolled into one, though they can each be done individually or all together.
Salzbergbahn funicular and Hallstatt Skywalk
The Salzbergbahn funicular takes you up to the high valley in just a couple of minutes, granting you access to the Skywalk and getting you close to the salt mine. The entire area at the top of the funicular provides incredible views. In addition to the Skywalk itself, which is a triangular photo point with a panorama of the alpine lake and mountains down below, you can hike a bit around the wooded area or sit down for a meal or refreshments at Restaurant Rudolfsturm, which is guaranteed to have some of the best dining views you’ve ever seen. The round trip on the funicular includes access to the Skywalk and the surrounding area, which you can learn about using the Salzwelten Audio Guide App.
Hallstatt Salt Mine
Hallstatt High Valley also has the entrance to the Hallstatt Salt Mine, the oldest salt mine in the world, where you can go deep underground and learn about mining history. You can add a visit to the salt mine to your funicular ticket, but beware that the tour is timed. The actual tour of the salt mine is 90 minutes, because it’s in both English and German (though there is a lot more information presented in German), but this does not include time you’re waiting to get into the funicular, the 15-20 minute walk from the top of the funicular to the mine entrance, or the time it takes for everyone to don an appropriate suit for the tour. The tour includes a mine car ride and a few slides you can go down in addition to informative videos along the tour route. Even if you don’t do the salt mine tour, buying salt from Hallstatt is a great souvenir for yourself and friends.
In all, doing the salt mine tour, comfortably exploring the high valley including the Skywalk, and getting back down on the funicular (which can also take some time during busy tourist season) can take up to half a day, which may be more time than you have if you’re there on a day trip. If you’re in Hallstatt for a couple of days, you can dedicate plenty of time to this area without having to cut your time exploring the town short.
Boat on Lake Hallstatt
There are several ways to see Hallstatt from the lake and get a closer view of some of the other villages on the lake like Obertraun and Steeg. Renting your own boat allows you to go wherever you like at your own pace for an unforgettable tour of Lake Hallstatt. You can rent a motor boat, a paddle boat (including swan-shaped boats), and rowing boats. Boats are rented by the hour from the lake promenade.
However, you can also use the ferry service, which is far more affordable and regularly connects Hallstatt to other points around the lake. For example, if you arrive by the train, the Hallstatt train station is actually across the lake from the town. You can take a short ferry ride each way for just a few euro that will get you to Hallstatt itself and allow you to see Hallstatt from the lake. Alternatively, you could walk along the southern part of the lake about an hour to get from the train station to Hallstatt.
Hallstatt itself is an idyllic lake village where you can spend an hour or all day depending on what kind of traveler you are. There are dozens of little shops among the cute alleys, a couple of small churches and even the Welterbemuseum where you can see exhibits about salt mining, ancient weapons, and pottery.
Another major draw in Hallstatt is the Charnel House, the ossuary located in St. Michael’s Chapel, where you’ll also find a small cemetery. Skull painting was a common practice in the 19th century, which involves leaving names, initials, and other decorative markings on skulls before transferring them to the ossuary or charnel house. There are over 600 painted skulls in the Hallstatt ossuary.
Don’t forget to walk over to the Hallstatt Viewpoint at the very edge of town, where you’ll find the iconic postcard view of Hallstatt that is all over the internet.
Entering Hallstatt, you’ll notice a small waterfall that is also visible beyond the painted houses when you’re down in Hallstatt. From Hallstatt, you can reach the waterfall by stairs that take you up to the road level, where the waterfall begins. It’s a short but pleasant hike that may not be as crowded as other areas of town and can gave you a bird’s eye view of the town that’s not quite as high as the Skywalk.
Though it may be considered overrated by some due to the hype that surrounds the tiny town, Hallstatt does impress and the stunning views of the mountains and the lake will not be easy to forget.