Snow capped mountain peaks. A turquoise lake, sprinkled with graceful swans. Picturesque chalets nestled in the mountainside. Hallstatt, tucked away in the jaw-dropping Alps of upper Austria, is about as close to a fairytale town as you can get.
If you want to visit this magical village, here’s 8 things to do in Hallstatt, plus insider tips and tricks to make sure you have the most extraordinary visit possible!
How to Get to Hallstatt
Most visitors visit Hallstatt from either Salzburg or Vienna.
To get from Salzburg to Hallstatt, you’ve got a few options:
- Driving approximately one and a half hours by car. This is how my husband, Justin, and I got to Hallstatt and the drive was absolutely stunning.
Note, however, that parking is not quite as magical as the rest of the town, with just three dedicated parking lots for visitors.
- By bus, which takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes. You’ll need to transfer twice (Bus 150 to Bad Ischl, then Bus 542 to Hallstatt Gosaumühle, to Bus 543 to Hallstatt Lahn), but it’s pretty affordable at just 15€ each way per person and has views of the Alps the whole way!
- By Austria National OBB train, which, including the required transfer to another train and ferry, will take you about two and a half to three hours to reach the town. That’s right- you’ll need to take a ferry across the Hallstätter See (commonly referred to as Lake Hallstatt by tourists), as swans swim balletically around you, on this route.
Okay, well, I mean, I can’t guarantee the swans or anything, but this is definitely the most dramatic way to see Hallstatt for the first time!
- By tour! This tour would be a great option for a larger group or this option would be good if you’re short on time.
It takes quite a bit longer to get from Vienna to Hallstatt, approximately 3.5 hours by car and 4 hours by train (one way). From Vienna, I’d recommend either visiting as an overnight trip to Hallstatt or, for a day trip, going on a tour (I’m alllll about taking naps whilst on long tour group bus rides).
Things to Do in Hallstatt
So we’ve established this town is, like, mega cute. Otherwise, though, are you looking for what to actually do in Hallstatt? Let’s get into it!
1. Explore Old Town
Inarguably, one of the best things to do in Hallstatt is to wander around and explore the Old Town. With jaw-dropping views of the Hallstätter See, the towering Alps, and little wooden chalets built into the alpine slopes, this place seriously looks like something straight out of a Disney movie.
Be sure to stop by Seecafé Hallstatt, for a quick coffee on the most unreal patio of your life and pick up a pastry from Maislinger to nibble on as you wander the streets.
Tip: Downtown Hallstatt is basically one main street that stretches for six or so blocks along the lake. So it’s probably no surprise that things can get crowded real quick here. If you’re trying to avoid the crowds, there are tons of little streets and stairs heading up the hillsides that virtually no tourists explore- with arguably even better views than from the lakeside. So, quite literally, get off-the-beaten path!
2. Snap some photos
Did you even go to Hallstatt if you didn’t get that iconic photo?
There is one spot along the lakeside towards the north of the Old Town where you can get the picture perfect shot of Hallstatt, with the colorful little cottages lining the lake and the dramatic mountains towering beyond. The view is so famous, in fact, the point is saved on Google Maps as “Photo View.”
There’s also a viewpoint along the southern lakeshore that provides better views of the lake itself, aptly called the Lake Hallstatt Viewpoint (while beautiful, if you’re short on time, I’d personally skip this one!).
3. Visit the Hallstatt Ossuary
One of the most unique things to do in Hallstatt is hidden in the 12th-century chapel of St. Michael. What makes this church so special you might ask?
Well, it’s home to a charnel house (a building where skeletal remains are held), which now boasts the largest collection of painted human skulls in Europe.
Yes, that’s right- this fairytale town has a super old church with over 1,000 skulls neatly stacked in it, with over half of them painted with flowers, crosses, and letters. Turns out that skull painting was a common tradition amongst the eastern Alpine region of Austria of the 12th century!
The backstory here is that Catholics could only be buried in sanctified grounds, which were limited due to the expansive mountains and lakes in the region. Given the grave real estate issue (get it?!), remains would be dug up every 15 years or so and replaced with new dead bodies. The remains were then decorated and lovingly placed within the charnel houses, of which there are many scattered around Europe!
4. Get out on Hallstätter See
Hallstatt’s lake is massive, stretching 8.5 km long and up to 125 meters deep. With its steep surrounding mountains, it almost looks like a fjord you’d expect to see in Norway.
There’s plenty of ways to get out and enjoy the lake– a traditional flat-bottomed boat, paddleboat (there’s some that look like swans, guys!), or even electric boats!
5. Take in the views at the Skywalk
When you’re ready to escape the crowds of Old Town, head up to the Hallstatt Skywalk. This viewing platform juts out into thin air, approximately 350 meters in the air and provides a unique perspective of Hallstatt, with panoramic views of Hallstätter See and, beyond, the quaint towns dotting its shores.
To reach the Skywalk platform, you can take the aptly named funicular up the mountain (€ 20,00 roundtrip) or climb uphill for approximately one hour.
6. Tour the Salt Mine
Fun fact: the world’s first known salt mine is located right here in Hallstatt. Pretty wild, right?!
For thousands upon thousands of years, this little discovery allowed the settlers of this valley to basically sit back, relax, and sell their precious salt for ridiculous prices to the rest of the world, who were hungry for deliciously seasoned foods (can you blame them?).
Today, you can still see where history was made by visiting Salzwelten Hallstatt. While a salt mine might not sound like your idea of a good time, this 7,000 year old relic’s got some tricks up its sleeves, like a salt mummy that was discovered in 1734 and Europe’s longest wooden slide, at 64 meters (all of which is underground).
Plus, in order to get to the salt mine, which stands at 1,030 meters tall, you’ll either need to take a cable car or a funicular, both of which provide breathtaking views of the surrounding Alps.
7. Get Your Adrenaline Pumping at Dachstein Krippenstein
For a totally different vibe, head outside of town a bit to this park situated in the glacier-capped Alps, ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 meters tall!
There are so many adventures to be had here, ranging from adrenaline inducing, like via ferrata in the summer and skiing in the winter, to more chill, like simply taking in the incredible views from the observation platforms or a gondola.
In fact, with plenty of outdoor adventures to be had (exploring ice caves! hiking! paragliding! snowshoeing!), you could easily spend an entire afternoon- or even more!- here.
8. Explore Nearby Charming Towns
If you have a bit more time around Hallstatt, I’d suggest taking a day trip to some of the other charming towns in the region, like:
- St. Wolfgang (about a 40-minute drive north of Hallstatt): The town is most famous for Pfarrkirche St. Wolfgang, a church built in the 1400s with an intricately carved Gothic altar and seemingly countless extravagant religious paintings and statues.
The town is also famous for the White Horse Inn, a hotel that’s been owned by the same family since 1712 and inspired an operetta. Truthfully, I know nothing about opera, but the hotel offers a frickin’ pool in the middle of St. Wolfgang’s fjord-like lake PLUS the world’s first floating hot tub. So count me in!
- Altaussee (about a 30 minute drive north of Hallstatt): More fun with salt! Altaussee is home to the largest salt deposit in Austria, with tours of the mine and a pretty interesting salt museum, including an exhibit dedicated to how the mine was used to hide artwork from the Nazis in World War II.
Come winter, Altaussee is also a popular skiing and snowboarding destination.
What You Should Know About Hallstatt Before Visiting
So I know I used the word “magical” a bajillion times throughout this article to describe Hallstatt, but the truth is, depending on how you visit this tiny town, that may not exactly be your experience.
I’d been wanting to visit Hallstatt for so long- in fact, I knew I had to come to this dreamy place the instant I saw photos of it. As it turns out, though, a LOT of other people feel exactly the same way.
We visited in the summer, which is peak tourist season for Hallstatt. We stayed overnight to get an early start in the morning and explore the town before the tour buses arrived. This period of time, with just my husband, me, and a bunch of picturesque gingerbread houses built into the slopes of the Alps, absolutely blew me away.
But, once 9 AM rolled around, the tour buses descended and the town seemingly instantaneously became packed with pushy and loud tourists. Hallstatt quickly felt less like a scene out of a Disney movie and more like a very bad summer vacation to Disneyworld.
Accordingly, I’d either recommend staying overnight to enjoy the town bright and early (especially in the summertime) and trying to visit during the off-season, like fall or winter.
Which brings me to…
Where to Stay in Hallstatt
- Seehotel Gruener Baum: This historic inn is located as close to the lake as you can possibly get, with balconies overlooking the water, an onsite coffee shop and free breakfast.
- Heritage Hotel Hallstatt: This hotel is perched on top of a hill and straight-up looks like a castle. With friendly staff and an onsite restaurant, this is a great option for your stay in Hallstatt.
- Bräu-Gasthof: If staying in a 700 year old former brewery sounds like your jam (I know it’s mine!), then check out this charming bed and breakfast, with winding staircases, traditional wooden architecture, and floors that have probably creaked for centuries.
How Long to Stay in Hallstatt
Listen, Hallstatt is teeny- you could easily walk from one side of the town to the other in about 20 minutes.
That being said, while you could easily see most of the highlights in half a day, I’d strongly recommend staying at least one night so you can see the town, perfectly serene, before the masses descend.
We were just here for one night and a day of exploring, and honestly, I kinda wish we had a little more time here (doing a via ferrata here sounds absolutely epic!). So if you’re interested in trying any of the outdoor adventures near Hallstatt, like skiing or exploring ice caves, I’d suggest coming here for at least two days.
Enjoy Hallstatt- this place is incredibly special (especially if you time your visit right!). Do you have any questions about visiting? Let me know in the comments below!