Undoubtedly, Hallstatt in Upper Austria’s Salzkammergut district is one of our favourite places on Earth. This was one of the highlights of our holiday in Austria. The quintessentially Austrian BC village of Hallstatt is truly enchanting. Even now, I often keep dreaming of Hallstatt, which seems to me as a fairytale destination. Living in Hallstatt is something you must experience. A hush-hush half-day-trip from Salzburg, as many tourists would do, doesn’t do justice to this beautiful place on Earth. You have to “live” there to feel what Hallstatt is all about. You have to witness the sunrise and the moonlight, and the hypnotising sound of the church bell, as you absorb the vibe of Hallstatt.
We rented a car from Vienna to Hallstatt, as we wanted to experience the picturesque route more closely. Otherwise, trains depart regularly from Vienna and Salzburg. From Salzburg or Vienna, you have to change train once in Attnang-Puchheim. From there, there is a direct train to Hallstatt. From the station, one can take a ferry to Hallstatt Markt. Note that only local cars or vehicles are allowed to enter Hallstatt village. Other vehicles can only come upto the parking area or P1. From the parking, either you have to walk down to the village or you take a local taxi.
In Hallstatt, the Village Centre is an interesting place where the locals meet. This Village Centre as well as the whole of Hallstatt village has few different restaurants to choose from. Visit the UNESCO Hallstatt Cultural Heritage Museum. Although it is a small museum, it is very interesting because it shows the history of Hallstatt, displaying 7,000 years old facts. Go see the Beinhaus or the “Bone House” if you are willing (and brave). Here you will see decorated skulls and bones of the Hallstatt people who died long back.
In one sentence, Hallstatt is stunning and timeless. Being a popular tourist destination, it is crowded with tourists all the time. It is mainly a summer destination as it is close to the lake, but winters can give you a snow-clad landscape that’s equally splendid. We had the opportunity to spend three nights near the Hallstatt Lake in the romantic Hallstatt village. Our hotel (Heritage Hotel, Hallstatt) was rustic, yet very comfortable and luxurious. There was a private balcony which had the astonishing lake view. The restaurant was near the lake, and one could stay there forever I guess. We used to sit for hours there, enjoying the silence of the picture-perfect surroundings, watching the beauty of the lake (Hallstättersee) and myriad tourists passing by. In Hallstatt, we loved the lake, the mountains, the Alpine houses, the people, the food and everything in between.
Food was a bit expensive, but very flavourful and fresh. We had Trout almost every day, caught from Hallstatt Lake. The quality of meat was also excellent. Here is the picture of authentic Hungarian Goulash that we had at Cafe Derbl. (A separate post is coming up on what to eat in Austria.)
We did the one-hour Boat Trip around the lake and took many pictures of Hallstatt from different points. This is a must-do activity here.
The Hallstatt skywalk Welterbeblick is a viewing point up in the mountain, where you can go by a cable car. The skywalk platform is 360 m (1,181 ft) above the ground, and protrudes 12 m (39 ft) from the mountain. From there, the whole village of Hallstatt and the lake look magical. We stayed at a nearby café up there for an hour, and settled ourselves with hot cappuccinos while the kids had delicious hot chocolate. Don’t ask how many pictures we clicked there!
In Hallstatt you will probably never be bored. Besides visiting the historical church there, you can go hiking for amazing views of the Hallstatt Lake. You can go to Dachstein by cable car and visit the Dachstein Five Fingers (Krippenstein) and the gorgeous Ice Caves. While the ice in the Dachstein Eishöhle Ice Cave is believed to be just 500 years old, the Mammuthöhle Cave doesn’t have ice as such, but is in the list of the deepest and longest caves in the world. Hallstatt is known for its age-old Salzwelten Salt Mine (mining started from 2 millennium BC), dating back to prehistoric times. It is the oldest salt mine in the world!
Climbing the Dachstein Salzkammergut to visit the Five Fingers viewing point is like a cakewalk. The cable car will bring you to this point in no time. But then a bit of a walk has to be done, until you reach the thrilling Five Fingers. In late April, the walk was really pleasant, with snow everywhere. As the day was sunny, we actually were feeling quite warm inspite of the snow all around. The Five Fingers point (shaped like a palm of hand with five fingers extending outwards) is a great place to capture Salzkammergut’s bird-eye view through the lens. The view from there is breathtaking on a clear day. Luckily, we visited there on a pretty clear day.
For children, we heard that there is a decent play area somewhere too, though our kids were so occupied with nature and its beauty that they never wanted to go there. Feeding the swans was the activity that our kids really enjoyed. There was a bevy of hungry and very friendly swans who came to the tourists standing near the lake, for food. Swan-feeding (with dried croutons or fresh bread, boiled potatoes, etc.) is possible even if you grab a lakeside café, but don’t go overboard. We actually fed the swans while eating our own dinner by the lake. They seemed to like the country-style bread and boiled potatoes a lot!
Hiking in the nearby mountains of Hallstatt as well as Rock Climbing are popular activities here. Even chilling out for hours by the lakeside and doing nothing is something that tourists love to do in this romantic paradise.
What to see in Salzkammergut?
Think of the most beautiful pictures that you saw in fairytale books as a child. If you thought that such beauty could never exist, you must pay a visit to Salzkammergut. While you travel through this area, every now and then you will find peaceful lakes surrounded by mountains and villages. Although people say that the period between July and September is the best time to visit Salzkammergut, even the month of April had beautiful weather to enjoy the outdoors.
Hallstatt is tiny part of the district of Salzkammergut in Austria. The Salzkammergut district is absolutely wonderful, having around 76 Alpine and sub-Alpine lakes! The best way to explore the district is by hiring a car or a bike, so that you can stop at any place and soak-in the surroundings at your own pace. Cycling and hiking are very popular in this district, because of its stunning natural beauty. Be it the blue lakes, lush green valleys, the tall mountains or the fairytale villages dotting the hills, Salzkammergut has so much to offer that one trip is just not enough!
Great Ski resorts, Thermal spas and summer sports are other main attractions that make Salzkammergut a preferred destination.
For the sake of the best view of the entire Salzkammergut, we strongly recommend to experience a toy train ride (operational since 1893) up to the Schafberg Mountains and back. The steepest steam cog-railway in Austria starts from St. Wolfang and takes around 35 minutes to reach an altitude of 1,190 m up to the summit (at 1,783 m). The steam engine covers a distance of 5.85 km and is amongst the oldest working engines in the world. The view from the summit is extraordinary. This summit or the SchafbergSpitze is the point from where one can see the many lakes, such as the Wolfgangsee, Irrsee, Mondsee and Fuschlsee. Photographers, this place is a must-visit! Apart from a panoramic view of the lakes, there are many mountain ranges that you can see if the sky is clear: right from the Dachstein Mountains to the Watzmann Mountains.
On another day, we drove to the five main lakes (from Hallstatt): the Traunsee, Altaussee, Mondsee, Wolfgangsee and Attersee. The Traunsee Lake is the deepest lake in Austria. It is probably one of the most beautiful lakes too! We passed Traunsee Lake en route Vienna to Hallstatt by car. Since it is a large lake, lots of water sports are always happening there, such as Diving, Sailing, Kite Surfing, Kayaking, etc.
At Mondsee town, it was a bit chilly, but cosy. The beautiful Mondsee Lake was the perfect place to relax. I was appropriately jealous of the locals here, who have such a pretty village to stay by the lake. Mondsee even boasts of the very famous St. Michael Church (Basilika St. Michael), where the “Sound of Music” wedding scene was shot. This late Gothic church is the second biggest church in upper Austria that became Basilica.
Not only that, there is a pretty little train which carries tourists and locals in and around Mondsee village. How cool is that! You can get down anywhere you like: near the lake, in front of the church or near a café.
We had a lovely view of the village of St. Gilgen, which lies on the shores of Wolfgangsee Lake.
The village is shown in one of the opening shots of the Sound of Music film. The typical Baroque-style onion-shaped church spire and was once home to Mozart’s sister Nannerl. It is here in St. Gilgen that the popular Christmas market is held every December.
One must visit Gosau too, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful places in Austria. We also went to a village called Bad Ischl. Kaiservilla is in Bad Ischl where Emperor Franz Joseph’s summer palace is still there. Bad Ischl was the Emperor’s spa town, where he had saltwater swimming pools way back in 1854. Another Spa town is Bad Aussie, which is also nice.
Salzkammergut is huge and the natural beauty is beyond comparison. We could have spent an entire month there, exploring the villages and lakes in more detail. Each lake and each village is unique in its own right. If you are visiting Austria, take out a few days just to visit the Salzkammergut district!
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