If there is one village that best embodies Austria, it is Hallstatt. This Upper Austrian town, inhabited by less than 800 people, is nestled on the shores of a lake, sits beside snow-capped mountains and forests, and the houses have a delightful Alpine architecture. Everything a traveller expects to find in Austria, therefore, it is not surprising that it is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Not for nothing did UNESCO put it on the World Heritage list, with the official designation ‘Hallstatt-Dachstein / Salzkammergut cultural landscapes’.
The other side of the coin is rather obvious: Hallstatt suffers from overtourism, i.e. tourist overcrowding, with estimates of between 10,000 and 30,000 visitors a day, so many for a village of 800 inhabitants that the local administration has decided to limit the number of incoming tourist buses to 54 a day, with priority given to organised groups with hotels booked for the night.
But if you manage to visit Hallstatt out of season, in spring or early autumn for example, you can enjoy this incredible place to the fullest, take pictures of enchanting views that have made the rounds around the world, and experience the village like one of the locals. In any case, whatever season you decide to visit, make every effort to sleep in Hallstatt. In the evening, when the throngs of daily tourists have gone, you will be able to stroll through the village streets in relative peace, and enjoy this beautiful Austrian village to the fullest.
There are so many attractions in and around the town that it is a shame to arrive in Hallstatt and leave after only taking time for a photo: here are the best ones.
The first thing to see in Hallstatt is … Hallstatt! As a small village, there is little point in talking about the old town and its suburbs, so get lost in its narrow streets, visit the central Markplatz square and walk along the lakeside promenade. Stop to admire the typical alpine-style houses with balconies overflowing with flowers, and enter the shops selling local products and souvenirs.
Just a 10-minute walk from Markplatz will take you to the city’s most famous photo point in the Römisches area. Finally, the 19th-century Hallstatt church, with its high bell tower, is worth a visit from inside and out.
The Salzwelten, or ‘salt world’, is a complex of tourist attractions located at an altitude of over 1,000 metres, not far from Hallstatt. It can be reached by cable car or funicular railway, and the first thing you should not miss once you are there is the Skywalk, a viewing platform with a breathtaking view of Hallstatt, 350 metres below. If you are still in the mood for views, head for the Rudolfsturm, or ‘Rudolf Tower’, an old fortification built to defend the mines from invaders. Today, its job is simply to be a restaurant, and at the same time a wonderful viewpoint.
The main attraction of the Salzwelten, however, is the Hallstatt Salt Mine, where deposits of the precious substance date back as far as 7000 years. The guided tour will introduce you to the world of salt, giving you the opportunity to observe the body found here in 1734, known as the ‘salt man’, and to learn about salt mining during the mine’s history. Don’t miss the underground salt lake, and especially Europe’s longest wooden slide: a good 64 metres, built entirely underground.
Lake Hallstatt, or Hallstätter See in German, is the lake the town overlooks. Approximately 8.5 kilometres long and no more than two kilometres wide, the lake is up to 125 metres deep and is surrounded by forests and mountains, reminiscent of a Norwegian fjord landscape. Apart from Hallstatt, other lovely villages bordering the lake are Obertraun and Steeg. In summer, it is also possible to go swimming, although the experience is reserved for the bravest of the brave given the uninviting temperatures. It is much easier to relax in the sun at one of the beaches, which are easy to reach, kissed by the never-too-hot sun and equipped with all amenities.
Lovers of the outdoors and sports can then take advantage of Lake Hallstatt for fishing, boating or swimming. It is possible to hire a pedalo to explore the lake as much as possible, or electric boats – motor boats are prohibited. Those who wish to visit the lake from other perspectives can then walk along the many paths around the lake, some of which climb up to the surrounding mountains.
The Dachstein Salzkammergut, part, together with Hallstatt, of the UNESCO World Heritage list, consists of a series of Alpine peaks with altitudes ranging from 2,000 to almost 3,000 metres. Of these, the highest isHoher Dachstein4 at 2995 metres. In winter, it is a popular skiing destination, while in summer, tourism is based on walking and hiking at altitude. There are also some glaciers, such as Grosse-Gosau and Hallstätter, while for those who don’t want to work too hard, there are several cable cars that go directly up to the heights to admire fabulous views, often from specially built platforms.
Enjoy the view from Five Fingers5 (‘five fingers’), a series of five small platforms resembling the fingers of a hand, which seem to float in the air suspended over 100 metres above the ground. Each of them has a different design and offers different perspectives.
The mountains surrounding Hallstatt are also famous for the Dachsteinhöhlen, or Dachstein ice caves, a network of caverns up to 1,200 metres deep. You will find an underground world of ice sculptures, huge icicles and frozen waterfalls.
Don’t miss the Mammuthöhle, the ‘Mammoth Cave’, a series of tunnels formed by an ancient river flowing underground. It is possible to visit the Dachstein caves on a 90-minute guided tour , where you will learn more about the effects of climate change and a series of interesting geological exhibits.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
Hallstatt stretches about one and a half kilometres in a north-south direction on the shores of its lake. The centre is more or less in the middle, and it is of course here that we recommend sleeping, to have all the sights and amenities of the village at your fingertips. Move to the northern or southern ends if you are looking for a little more peace and quiet, but in any case, don’t expect to find yourself alone.
Hallstatt is located in the Upper Austrian region, just over an hour east of Salzburg . From the city of Mozart, it is easy to reach by driving eastbound on road 158 to Bad Ischl, and then turning south along road 145, for a journey of about 70 kilometres. The car is the best way, although there are also buses from Salzburg or Vienna, but the journey is considerably longer.
It is also possible to get to Hallstatt by train, either from Salzburg or from Vienna; the train of the Austrian company OBB to take is the one to Attnang-Puchheim, where you have to change and board the local REX train to Hallstatt. The Attnang-Puchheim station is 50 minutes from Salzburg and 135 minutes from Vienna.
What's the weather at Hallstatt? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Hallstatt for the next few days.