Hallstatt, a small village in the state of Upper Austria and part of the Salzkammergut region is often called the most photographed village in Europe and the world. Lake and mountain views charm tourists all around the year but there are also many other things to see and do. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hallstatt knows how to treat travelers of all kind. You can book romantic winter holidays or photography trips to the roots of this beautiful European cultural village. In the morning, under 1000 citizens and just a few additional tourists make sure that you can truly enjoy the peaceful remote village.
When planning a stay here, you have to book accommodation early because there aren’t many places to stay in the small village. If you are late and there is no accommodation left, consider staying in close-by resorts. You can see it completely in just one day or alternatively you can use several days to discover all the beautiful streets and attractions. The town itself doesn’t have many attractions, but the architecture and locals make it worthy of visiting. The best time for trips is on early morning, because after 9am buses loaded with Chinese tourists (nothing against the Chinese) start to arrive and soon you have nowhere to step or sit down.
Hallstatt has gotten its place on UNESCO World Heritage list because of the important cultural scenery. The Alps, the lake and the tiny village make this place look like a scene from a fairytale. Officially it’s in the list because of two reasons: first, its unique local traditions and secondly, due to the outstanding scenery. Austria has a total of nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites and this is one of the most popular ones.
When you travel there, the important thing is, of course, to walk around and see what all the hype is about. On this list of things to see and do I’ll make you sure to enjoy the town completely and not to forget anything.
But before you get into the travel mood, you should definitely know some facts…
Hallstatt is more than just a pretty town. It’s actually considered to be the oldest still-inhabited village in Europe, dating all the way back to the Iron Age. In fact, the early Iron Age culture from 800 to 400 BC is known as the Hallstatt culture, an era marked by farming and metal-working, long-range trade with Mediterranean cultures, and the rise of elite classes and social distinction.
The word “Hallstatt” means “place of salt”. Why? It’s home to the world’s first salt mine. Thanks to the salt industry, the town quickly progressed and became wealthy. Salt has always been an important commodity, more so in the pre-historic times as it was used to preserve meat.
In recent decades, though, Hallstatt’s fame derives mostly from its natural beauty. Sandwiched between a lake and mountains (you could even say that it cuddles the lake), this perfect little town easily became a favorite tourist destination as well as a UNESCO World Heritage site I’ve talked about earlier.
The town may be compact –-you can walk from end to end in under half an hour – but there’s much to see within the town and in the surrounding area. And that’s what I’m going to talk about now.
First of all…
The Hallstätter See, a spectacular mountain lake in Austria’s Salzkammergut region, lies at the northern foot of the mighty Dachstein mountain range. Some 8.5 kilometers long and between one to two kilometers wide, the lake is up to 125 meters deep and is surrounded by steep wooded slopes that give it a fjord-like character. Of the lovely villages that dot its shoreline, the most popular are Obertraun, Steeg, and Hallstatt. The Hallstätter See is the most significant lake in the Alps in terms of history, and thanks to its many easily accessible beaches and stunning mountain scenery it has long been a draw for artists and outdoor enthusiasts, as well as those simply wanting some peace and quiet. Popular activities include fishing, diving, and boating on traditional flat-bottomed boats called Salzkammergut. The lake is also ringed by many excellent biking and hiking trails, some of which head up into the surrounding mountains. It’s also home to a variety of diverse flora and fauna, including many rare species in the wetlands and moors in the south and north, including native orchids, waterfowl, and fish.
The little market village of Hallstatt, one of the most attractive places in the Salzkammergut, is idyllically positioned on the southwest shore of the Hallstätter See. Taking its name from the nearby salt mine, the village is home to a variety of attractions, including the 15th-century Roman Catholic Ascension of Our Lady Church with its Romanesque tower, three fine winged altars, Late Gothic frescos from around 1500, and the fascinating Bone House with its collection of old skulls stored here due to a lack of space in the church cemetery. Also of note is the 18th-century Evangelical Church of Hallstatt with its slender spire. One of the most famous views of the old village is from the popular Photo Point in the Römisches district, just a short walk away from the historic Market Square. Here, you’ll find many other great reasons to stop, from its excellent terraced cafés and shops to the elegant Holy Trinity statue.
Really a number of excellent attractions in one, Hallstatt Salt World lies high above the town on the 1,030-meter-tall Salzberg (Salt Mountain). Accessible by cable car or a three-minute journey aboard the funicular railway, it’s well worth of visiting for the wonderful views from historic Rudolf’s Tower (Rudolfsturm), an old fortification built to defend the mines against invaders (now a restaurant and observation tower). Visitors should also check out the Skywalk, an incredible viewing platform extending over a sheer drop with Hallstatt 350 meters directly below. The star attraction, however, is the 7000 year-old salt mine itself. Highlights include the story of the preserved corpse found here in 1734 known as the Man in Salt, along with fascinating displays of ancient (and modern) mining methods, and a chance to visit the Subterranean Salt Lake. I would say kids of all ages, but after I saw it I have to say EVERYONE will want to try Mega Slide, Europe’s longest wooden slide (also underground).
Hallstatt is also home to the World Heritage Museum (Welterbemuseum Hallstatt) with its displays dealing with the rich history of both the village and its surroundings over the past seven millennia, from the earliest days of its salt mines to its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Other exhibits deal with later settlers such as the Celts, while the Studio of Epochs is a hands-on multi-media display of tools and artifacts from the village’s history. The other museum over there, the Prehistoric Necropolis, is built over an ancient burial ground and provides an close-up look at ancient burial places dating back between 5000 BC and 1000 BC (more than 4,000 people were known to have been buried here) along with artifacts, including grave furnishings from the Iron Age.
Walking around the town, spotting each of the mentioned sights and visiting all of the museums might take you two to three hours. So when you arrive around 7am, around 9:30 you should be ready to move to the second part of the village where railway to the Salt World is located. It’s about 2 minutes from the parking lot where all the buses stop so nothing complicated. This quarter is still relatively quiet and empty at that time and when going back down after some time…you’ll handle that few minutes in the crowd I believe. And voilà! Experiencing tranquil town was never easier, all you have to do is wake up a bit earlier 🙂