If you google images of “Austria”, the first ones that you'll get are from Hallstatt, one of the most beautiful small towns in the Alps and an Austrian pride that attracts numerous tourists every year. Hallstatt has become extremely popular in the last couple of years, so I decided to visit it and see what all the fuss is about.
Hallstatt is a small town with less than 1000 inhabitants scenically placed between the Hallstätter See and Dachstein Massif. It lies in the Salzkammergut region (meaning “salt demesne”) full of salt mines. Hallstatt is known for its production of salt, which you can check yourself in the Hallstatt Salt Mine.
Even the name of the city is linked to the salt production since Hallstatt comes from “hal”, a Celtic word for salt. The town was declared the World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997.
How to get to Hallstatt from Salzburg
There is a road leading from Salzburg to Graz that passes through Hallstatt. The wide Lake Road has been built as late as 1964 (since more than half of the locals were against it) digging a tunnel through the Hallberg. Before the 19th century, one could reach Hallstatt only on bridleways or by boat from the other side of the lake. We traveled to Hallstatt the old-fashion way – by bus, train, and boat.
We sat on a bus n.150 from Salzburg Main Train Station to Bad Ischl. After a 1,5-hour panoramic ride through beautiful Austrian hills and picturesque lake towns, we arrived in Bad Ischl, a spa city in Upper Austria. We had half an hour to explore this small town. We walked along the River Traun and had photos with an old railway wagon.
The train from Bad Ischl took us to the Hallstatt train stop. We were in the middle of the mountains and wilderness. No house was at the train stop, no station, just a railway. The only path available led to the dock where we had to buy a ferry ticket (6€ both ways) towards Hallstatt on the other side of the lake.
The boat ride was pleasant and perfect for taking photos of sunny Hallstatt from the lake. From the distance, we saw the tower (unfortunately, under reconstruction) of Evangelical Church of Hallstatt, the landmark of the town, as well as traditional wooden houses with balconies covered with flowers.
The ticket from Salzburg to Hallstatt cost us 36€ altogether. I was impressed by the Austrian preciseness. Every ferry from Hallstatt was synchronized with a train that would lead you back home. It was not possible to miss the train. Even the bus in Bad Ischl was waiting for us on the way back since we had only 2 minutes to change transportation.
What to do in Hallstatt
When you get off the ferry, you can either go left or right. We decided to turn left and start our visit near the 19th-century Evangelical Church of Hallstatt. Why evangelical and how did the church come into existence?
In the 16th century, the people of Hallstatt accepted the Reformation teachings of Martin Luther, but they struggled through centuries to preserve their new-born religion. Protestants were persecuted by the counter-reformation Catholic forces and 300 people from Hallstatt and neighboring towns were transported to Transylvania in 1734.
In 1781, the “Edict of Toleration” of Emperor Joseph II allowed Protestants to practice their religion and three years later they've built a house of prayer. Today's Evangelical Church of Hallstatt, the landmark of the city, was built in 1863 in the Neo-Gothic architectural style. Today the church houses various cultural events.
We continued walking through the narrow streets with colorful houses, occasionally turning into small alleys leading to the lake shore. There were a few fancy restaurants and cafés with white tablecloths, uniformed waiters, and palm trees at the lakefront, as well as some hidden corners to admire the beauty of the lake.
Our next stop was Market Square, one of the most picturesque spots in town. In 1311, Hallstatt got its rights as a market town. The local salt traders began to dry salt from the mines and pack it into wooden containers to sell it afterward.
The containers were transported on barges on the River Traun and empty barges were used to transport food and wine to the Salzkammergut region on the way back. The profession of salt traders ceased to exist in the mid 19th century, but you can still buy some salt and salt-based products as a souvenir from the stands near the Market Square or in Salzhaus shop above the square.
The Market Square, dating from the 14th century, is a slightly uphill square surrounded by colorful traditional houses with flowery windows and balconies. In the middle of the square stands the statue of the Holy Trinity from the 18th century.
If you go uphill from the Market Square, you'll reach a smaller but also interesting Upper Market Square. A narrow uphill passageway will lead you to the stream and a charming waterfall Mühlbach. The path to the waterfall was unfortunately closed while we were there.
In my opinion, this area of town looks like a nice place to spend the night in a pension, grab a coffee or have lunch.
Hallstatt may seem like a town with only one street along the lake, but if you climb any of its side alleys uphill, you'll find yourself in a labyrinth of streets. Every one of them will surprise you with its own fascinating scenery.
You can even climb on the cliffs above the rooftops of wooden houses south from the Market Square. There is a small footpath uphill from where you'll have close access to the traditional houses with tools hanging from the wooden walls, as well as the great views of the lake and the Evangelical Church of Hallstatt.
At the southern end of the historic town, you'll find a small hot-dog stand and the only supermarket in town (we were there on Sunday, so the supermarket was closed). Behind the supermarket, there is an entrance to the Hallstatt Salt Mine, the world's oldest salt mine.
The salt mining in Hallstatt began about 7000 years ago between the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age. In the mines, you can learn more about workers' daily life in the Bronze Age watching the “Bronze Age Cinema” 400 meters below ground. The movie will also show you the oldest wooden staircase in Europe, discovered at the beginning of the 21st century.
The Hallstatt Salt Mine is a huge mine with 65 kilometers of tunnels (more than 22 km are walkable) and 21 tiers. Currently, it has 39 employees who produce about 80 m3 of brine per hour. There is a funicular that will take you from Hallstatt to the top of the Salzberg mountain and into the mines.
The price of a funicular round trip and the guided 70-minutes tour of the Hallstatt Salt Mine cost 34€. With your ticket, you'll have access to another interesting attraction, “World Heritage View” Skywalk lookout platform at 360 meters above the Hallstätter See, as well as an ancient burial site.
The archaeologists have discovered more than 1000 burials in the salt mines of the area, which led them to the conclusion that life in Hallstatt existed already in the prehistoric period. The special Hallstatt culture lived there from 1200 BC until 500 BC, mostly during the Bronze and Iron Age, and you can see its traces in the Hallstatt Salt Mine.
On the hill in the northern part of Hallstatt stands a Catholic Parish Church of Ascension of Our Lady from the 15th century. The church and a small cemetery are scenically placed on the hill from where you'll have a marvelous view of the Hallstätter Lake and the Old Town of Hallstatt.
The church is worth a visit because of its interior with Late Gothic frescoes and interesting cemetery full of wooden “roofed” graves around the church.
The most unusual tourist attraction is the 12th-century chapel of St. Michael. Inside the chapel, there is an ossuary with one of the largest collections of skulls painted with flowers, names, and dates, a practice typical among the Alpine regions. The admission price to the ossuary is 2€.
If you want to know more about the history of Hallstatt from its earliest settlements until its UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1997, visit the World Heritage Museum (Welterbemuseum Hallstatt) south from the Market Square. The entrance fee is 10€.
Where to eat in Hallstatt
As for the food in Hallstatt, there are two possibilities. If you don't have much time and want to grab something quickly, you can choose between few fast-food stands (one in the dock and one near the supermarket at the southern end of the city). They mostly sell burgers, fries, fried meat or even the whole chicken. There is also a stand with sweets similar to Italian cannelloni on the lake promenade.
However, if you want to sit and eat your lunch enjoying the view of the lake, you can choose between various restaurants along the promenade. There is a “fancy” restaurant with palm trees Restaurant am See, Bräu-Gasthof with Chinese lanterns on the terrace, Café and Restaurant Bacht's Polreich, and many others.
We chose a simple terrace café and fast-food restaurant on the lake promenade and had great food for decent prices. I had a large portion of fried fish for 11€ and my friend had goulash for less than 7€.
Hallstatt is a unique town, whose beauty attracts many tourists, especially from China and other parts of Asia. Because of the Hallstatt's popularity among the Chinese, they've decided to take a bit of the Alpine scenery and fairy tale-like houses and build a copy of this gorgeous city in China. The Chinese Hallstatt is located near the town Luoyang, about a 2-hour ride from Hong Kong.
We've spent a nice Sunday in Hallstatt, enjoying the sun and the gorgeous Alpine landscape. We walked among picturesque wooden houses with flowery balconies and climbed green hills crisscrossed by a wild stream.
I'm glad that I got the chance to experience this fairy tale called Hallstatt and I would definitely visit it again.