If you’re a fan of picture-perfect little European towns, then I’m sure you’ve stumbled across a photo of this one before. It was actually once dubbed the “most beautiful lake town in the world,” and today, it’s arguably Austria’s most photographed village. Built along the western shore of a mountain lake, the town consists of idyllic half-timbered structures. It’s located in a region rich with history and is part of a larger UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape. Welcome to Hallstatt, Austria!
Have I convinced you to go? If you’re still hesitant, scroll down and take a look at the photos.
Hallstatt is a popular day trip destination for travellers who are also visiting Salzburg, Vienna, or Munich. However, the drive to Hallstatt from Salzburg takes at least 45 minutes. The drive from Vienna takes 3 hours and 30 minutes, and it takes at least 2 hours and 30 minutes to reach the village from Munich (…I’ll get to the trains later). Therefore, paying a visit to Hallstatt requires some planning.
I visited Hallstatt last July, and at that point, I hadn’t taken my road test yet. Without a license, I knew that in order to get to Hallstatt, I would have to either take the train or the bus. Honestly, I almost didn’t visit Hallstatt because I felt bogged down by all the extra-planning I suddenly had to do on top of the trip planning I had already done. Honestly… I probably wouldn’t have forgiven myself if I hadn’t visited this enchanting Austrian village.
So, in order to make your travel planning as simple as possible and prevent you from skipping a trip to this stunning destination, here’s Snow to Seas’ guide for planning the perfect day trip to Hallstatt, Austria.
Please note that parts of this post will focus on visiting Hallstatt from Salzburg since I travelled to and from Salzburg in order to visit the village.
Getting to Hallstatt
As mentioned at the start of this post, Hallstatt is accessible by car regardless of which direction you’re coming from.
Hallstatt.net has put together detailed driving instructions, and you can check them out by clicking here. If you arrive by car, you may have to walk 5-10 minutes from the parking area in order to reach Hallstatt’s “downtown” area.
The page linked above also provides an overview of Austria’s mandatory highway tolls. If you are considering driving to Hallstatt, I highly recommend that you check the page out.
By Train (Bus Details Included)
Hallstatt has a train station, so it’s possible to reach the village by rail. However, the station is located on the other side of the Hallstatt Lake, so you have to take a small ferry from the station to reach the village. Nevertheless, arriving by train and taking the ferry gives you the fantastic opportunity to admire Hallstatt from afar and capture some incredible shots of the village including surrounding landscape!
The ferry usually crosses the lake once every hour and costs 2.50 Euros each way. I also recommend waiting for the ferry at it’s departure point (in Hallstatt) 10-15 minutes before it’s set to leave…it’s kind of a small ferry…
If you plan on travelling to Hallstatt from Salzburg, you should know that there is no direct train. The journey takes just over 2 hours and you have to switch trains.
BUDGET TIP: Alternatively, you can take a bus from Salzburg to the Bad Ischl train station and then hop on a train for the remainder of the journey. This route takes a little bit longer than taking 2 trains, but it is significantly cheaper.
To search for train times and fares to Hallstatt (within Austria or even from Munich), you can visit ÖBB’s, the Austrian national railway company’s, website (click here to visit). Keep an eye on the transportation icons for each scheduled journey – some journeys include buses.
What to do in Hallstatt
Walk Around Hallstatt
Hallstatt’s picturesque architecture is one of the major reasons visitors are attracted to the village. When in Hallstatt, go and explore its main streets and side streets.Walking around the downtown area really is an attraction on its own. You’ll be in constant awe of the charming colourful and wooden homes.
The rooftops of Hallstatt’s city centre.
An adorable little shop selling equally adorable little soaps (and loads of salt too).
Hallstatt seriously makes you feel as if you’ve entered some perfect, little fairytale village.
If you’re on the hunt for some lovely restaurants and cafes, visit Hallstatt’s Market Square.
The Market Square
Visit the Waterfront
Hallstatt was built on the shores of Hallstatt Lake (Hallstätter See). The village and lake are surrounded by the Dachstein Salzkammergut Mountains. Visiting the waterfront gives you the chance to admire the village’s geographical location and the village itself.
Rent a Swan
It would be pretty ridiculous if you would be able to temporarily rent a live swan. So to clarify any misconceptions, when I say, “rent a swan,” I’m actually talking about a swan-shaped pedal boat.
Though to be honest, Hallstatt does feel like a village from another world where magical things can happen, so I wouldn’t be surprised if any of you thought I was talking about a real swan at first. I probably would have.
Anyway, during the spring and summer months (April 1st – September 30th), it is possible to rent pedal boats and motorboats from the Hallstatt waterfront. You can use them to cruise around the lake at your own pace. We chose the swan pedal boat since we didn’t intend on covering a large distance. We also just really wanted the opportunity to take photos of Hallstatt from the water (the ferry had moved too quickly for our liking earlier that day). All in all, there was really nothing more relaxing than slowly drifting around the lake and dipping our feet into cool lake water on a hot summer day.
Just taking our swan out for a ride…
Views of Hallstatt from the lake.
Visit the Catholic Church of Hallstatt
You can find Hallstatt’s Catholic Church slightly above the main part of town. Even though the church has undergone restoration work, parts of the original structure are estimated to be nearly 900 years old.
Can you pinpoint Hallstatt’s Catholic Church? Hint: it’s the largest building you see.
Next to the church, you will find St. Michael’s Chapel, and can you guess what you will find inside? I’ll cut to the chase: inside the chapel you will find a collection of over 600 decoratively painted skulls (alongside even more unpainted ones).
Overall, skull painting is a cultural tradition that comes from the eastern Alps (Hallstatt sits in this region). Due to the steep and rocky land found in these areas, grave sites were limited and many had to be reused. When bones were moved from their original resting place, skull painting would help retain the individual’s identity.
I skipped out on the macabre that day, so here’s a photo of the painted skulls courtesy of festland (via pixabay, license).
This year (2017), Hallstatt’s “bone house” will be open every day from 10:00 to 18:00 from May 1st to October 30th. Admission is 1.50 Euros. (It had shorter opening hours in March and April, but March is long gone and April is just about over…so hey!).
Alternatively, you can walk around the Hallstatt cemetery found beside the Catholic Church. Even today, a grave can be reused every 10 years.
The Hallstatt Cemetery.
Visit the “Skywalk”
After spending hours walking around and snapping photos of the old town, lounging by the waterfront, renting a swan, and enjoying local beer, we ran out of time and didn’t get the chance to visit the Skywalk. If I were to go back to Hallstatt, visiting the Skywalk would be the first thing I would do (…you know me and my bird’s-eye-views).
The Skywalk is a viewing platform built over 300 metres above Hallstatt. It’s THE place to get exceptional views of the Hallstatt-Dachstein-Salzkammergut region. You can access the platform by taking the funicular from Hallstatt (16 Euros to ascend and descend), or you can take one of the hiking trails from the village below (free).
The Skywalk. photo credit: Honza Soukup via photopin (license)
A slightly elevated village view from one of the smaller streets behind the village centre – a good place to catch some stunning views if you don’t have time to visit the Skywalk.
Visit the Salt Mine (Salzwelten)
If you’re a fan of history and in the mood for a bit of adventure, you can also take a guided tour of Hallstatt’s Salt Mine. Salt mining in the area began thousands of years ago, and the salt mine is responsible for the village’s prosperity. If this doesn’t sound intriguing enough, mine slides and an underground railway are part of the tour.
Inside the Salt mine. photo credit: Cha già José via photopin (license)
Similar to the “Skywalk,” you can access the mine by taking the funicular. For more information about the salt mine, you can visit its official website by clicking here.
If I get the chance to visit Hallstatt again, the salt mine will be my second stop after the “Skywalk.”
Sleeping in Hallstatt
Spending a night in Hallstatt on a budget, unfortunately, isn’t really a thing. I’m assuming this is why Hallstatt is such a popular day trip destination.
Overall, Hallstatt is a tiny village, so there aren’t too many accommodation options. Hostels are actually nonexistent. If you’re adamant about spending a night in the area (and I can’t blame you – the region is stunning…), then looking into renting a room in a guesthouse will be your most affordable option. Of course, there are quite a few magnificent hotels located in the area too.
If you aren’t keen on spending many hours on the road in one day and you’re on a budget, you can consider staying in one of the towns close to Hallstatt. For example, Bad Goisern and Obertraun have many affordable accommodation options and are only a 5 – 10 minute train or bus ride away.
Hallstatt is a dreamy little town. The crisp mountain air is invigorating, while the small village vibe can make you unwind, relax, and take it easy for a moment or two. Of course, if you have a taste for adventure, Hallstatt is more than ready to cater to that too!
Ultimately, the village’s architectural perfection and mesmerizing geographical location casts a powerful spell. Mesmerized by it’s beauty, you’ll be wanting to go back again and again.
Do you have any tips or tricks for planning the perfect day trip to Hallstatt? Feel free to share them below!