Things to do in Hallstatt
- Walk around the charming town. Sip a drink or grab some lunch at one of the many lakeside cafe’s and restaurants
- Visit the world’s oldest salt mine.
- Even if you don’t have time to visit the salt mine take the funicular and take in the spectacular views from the viewing platform better known as Hallstatt skywalk
- Rent a boat or a canoe and enjoy a ride across the Hallstatt lake
- For the mountain lovers there are plenty of hiking options around the village. Get some maps at the tourist information office and check on the hiking conditions
Hallstatt is an uber-picturesque town in Austria that cradles along a lake to which it lends its name as well. Surrounded by the massive Dachstein mountains this Unesco Heritage town is a visual treat to the sore eyes. It regularly features on the list of most romantic towns in Europe and many such similar lists. Unfortunately due to this status, post card perfect Hallstatt is not much of well kept secret.
Being a travel geek myself, i had seen numerous pictures of Hallstatt on different lists and had made a mental note of visiting this fascinating town someday. The minute we narrowed in on Austria as our holiday destination, i knew i somehow had to fit Hallstatt into our 2 week Austrian itinerary. We drove to Hallstatt from St. Gilgen which was our base in Salzkammergut. We were actually driving to Zell am Zee which was our next base and en-route we were making a day trip to Hallstatt. As we drove closer to this region we could catch glimpses of the lake and the majestic Dachstein mountains from the winding roads. It felt as thought the mountains were narrowing closer towards us and I was brimming with excitement at this sight. Upon reaching the village, we decided to first visit the Hallstatt salt mines due to the rainy weather and reserve the town exploration for the afternoon.
We walked into the heart of the town from the north side of the lake as we had our lunch in the non-touristy part of the town. The popularity of the town was staring at us in our face, in the form of all the tour buses waiting in the parking area along the lake. We walked closer to the lake along the boardwalk which seemed to be inundated with a lot of happy Japanese tourists. I was curious to know if there was some good photo op that i was missing. As i walked closer i realised it was this family of swans that was holding the attention of all the tourists. Needless to say everyone was busy taking pictures and selfies. So i had to patiently wait my turn to capture some shots. From this side of the lake i could easily see the old town with its towering church spire. I enthusiastically pointed out to Sridhar, “look that is where we have to go. That is the place that is featured in all those postcards”.
You don’t really need a map in Hallstatt. There is just one road that takes you into the heart of the old town. We walked along watching all the shops and restaurants along the way. Soon we reached the main square and the church. Past this is the ferry stop. Ferries keep plying the lake continuously so it is indeed possible to go to close by towns by a ferry.
Hallstatt is such a tiny village that it is possible to walk the entire stretch in half hour. That is if you can stop yourself from making any stops to take pictures. An impossible task for me :). The town has only about a 1000 inhabitants. But it is well known since time immemorial due to its vicinity to the salt mine. Hallstatt has the oldest salt mine in the world and salt has been mined here since the prehistoric times. “Hall” actually means salt in celtic. The town in turn has benefited immensely throughout history due to its much valued “white gold” reserves which they traded far and wide in Europe. It was a thriving community in its hey day and in turn has given its name “Hallstatt culture” to one of Europe’s oldest civilizations. The historical wealth of the village is easily reflected in its buildings and colorful alpine houses with their well tended flower boxes hanging from their windows and balconies. Although in the present times, i believe it is tourism that contributes to the village’s prosperity. With its old world charm and unique scenic location it attracts a lot of day trippers, specially from Asia. At least that was the case the day we were visiting it. In fact, i read on the internet that China has built a replica town of Hallstatt complete with its church and wooden alpine style houses and its even called by the same name. Looks like Hallstatt has marketed itself well in Asia :).
We decided to give our legs some rest and hopped into a charming konditorei, Maislinger for some cake and coffee. I didn’t really fancy the local cake variety that i chose but nevertheless the break was refreshing.This cosy place also had tons of baked goods to grab and we couldn’t resist ourselves from stocking up for our drive ahead. After the coffee break we took some more time to explore the side streets of the city and take tons of photos. All the tour buses leave in the afternoon and the town quietens a bit. We were happy that we stayed a bit longer and got to explore the town at our own pace without bumping into tourists all the time.
You can also visit the charnel house or ‘bone house’ in St. Michael’s chapel. This region has the history of skull painting and in the bone house you can find a huge collection of painted skulls. When the graves were to be reused for a new burial, the skull and bones were transferred to the bone house as part of second funeral. The family of the deceased then commissioned an artist to paint the skull to preserve the identity of the family member. Although it is an interesting concept we decided to skip this attraction and instead spend as much time possible enjoying the majestic scenery that surrounds Hallstatt.
It was starting to get dark now and with a heavy heart i bid good bye to this scenic town and we set out on our drive to our next destination, Zell am Zee.