Hallstatt, Austria is one of those idyllic towns that ends up on those “must-see-before-you-die” lists as being one of the most beautiful towns to bless this planet. And rightly, so! It has just been one of those towns I saw over and over again on all forms of social media, with picture perfect captures and I couldn’t wait to go one day, aching in my travelous heart until the itch had been scratched.
Located in a remote part of Austria along the banks of the Hallstätter See in the Salzkammergut region, this tiny town has managed to survive through centuries of isolation thanks to the salt that has been mined here even as early as 3000 B.C., making it the world’s oldest salt mine. Hallstatt became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997
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We had originally planned to use our tickets to go up the Jennerbahn at Königssee, but the weather was incredibly foggy and it would have been impossible to see anything. So, we decided to make a last minute, sporadic decision to drive the extra hour across the border from Germany to go to Hallstatt in the Lake District of Austria. And it turned out to be the best decision EVER! Not only was the town already incredibly picturesque, but autumn had already begun to set in, adding to the majestic beauty of the town.
Hallstatt is considered to be Austria’s most instagrammable town and it is not an exaggeration and often touted as Europe’s MOST beautiful village and with that kind of reputation, it’s hard not to get your hopes up and hoping it will live up to its expectations. But have no fear, it is everything and more!
Until the 19th century, they say that you couldn’t reach the town other than by boat or trails that run above the town in the mountains. Today, you can not drive IN the town, but you can drive through a tunnel behind the town and come out on the other side where you can find parking and walk into town. But this was not how I wanted to have my first glimpse of the town.
So, we drove halfway around the lake, to park on the other side in the small village of Obertraun and take the Hallstatt boat across the lake. We had gotten out to ask the hotel Haus am See where we could park and she said parking was free here and the hotels don’t mind you parking anywhere. The boat dock was right behind the hotel so we quickly grabbed our stuff and hopped on the boat within 5 minutes!
I could hardly contain my excitement as we slowly made our way across the lake. With each minute that passed, the town came closer and closer into view, displaying a bunch of houses clustered together along the shores of the lake. It’s hard to believe that such a dreamy town could possibly even exist and you might have to shake your head in disbelief just to make sure it’s not a film set! Hallstatt is without a doubt one of the most beautiful autumn destinations in Europe, covered in fall foliage at every turn! This was an autumn lover’s paradise!
The boat drops you off right in the center of the town, next to the Evangelical church and below the Pfarrkirche that towers over the town. As you make your way into the town, you’ll find a variety of shabby chic shops, cafes and restaurants.
Within a few feet, you immediately find yourself in the city’s main square which left me breathless with the shock of the beauty in person. I.could.not.stop.taking.pictures!! It was absolutely stunning! The main square though is one of the top sights to see in Hallstatt as being the prettiest in the town!
The town has managed to maintain its classy, historic city full of hotels and houses built into the side of the mountain and the town only seems to bloom under the beauty of endless fall foliage surrounding the houses.
We walked another few feet and were surprised to see that there was a waterfall, flowing behind the houses only to discover that the water then flows through the town before making its way to the lake.
Before we managed to get very far, we found ourselves enjoying lunch along the banks of the lake on under a canopy tree, well into its autumn bloom decorated with unique looking tree lamps and is considered to be one of the best places to eat in Hallstatt! Here, they serve traditional Austrian cuisine which included gulasch with knödel and spätzle!
We meandered, wandered and strolled our way through the town, taking an endless amount of picture perfect pictures every five feet. And all along the way, we were greeted one after another of what seemed like an endless amount of swans.
One of my favorite parts of the town was actually just a simple staircase with the phrase “Time Travel” written in multiple languages with a few sporadic autumn leaves laying on the steps…plus a few more I added! I’m a bad tourist and didn’t take the time to find out why these steps were here, however, I do believe there was a museum near here. Nonetheless, it’s one of the unique sights to see in Hallstatt!
We reached the end of the town, nearest the Salzwelten cable car before turning back around and heading in the other direction and climbing up some of the paths that lead to the Pfarrkirche (Parish Church) that is perched above the town that we saw as we came in on the boat. It’s a pretty easy walk up with just about two dozen steps or so before you come upon a small tunnel and then emerging at the foot of the church.
The Pfarrkirche dated back to the 15th century with an amazing wooden alter piece of the Virgin Mary. It is a simple church and much of the woodwork inside is still the original.
The church is surrounded by a cemetery so beautiful, it was almost impossible to think that it actually is one. Austrian cemeteries are always so beautiful and this one reminded me of another cemetery I walked through in Salzburg.
Also near the church and by the cemetery is the Beinhaus – a chapel which stores over 1,200 skulls, painted with floral designs with the name, date and cause of death. 10 years after the funeral and the body had decomposed, the remains were moved to the chapel to make room for the next coffin. Needless to say, I did not go in. I simply wandered around the cemetery and enjoyed the view over the lake.
Just below the church and to the left is a great place for a photo op with the town as a backdrop. It offered a great view of the Evangelical church as well as many of the houses below.
My favorite part of the afternoon came when we were waiting for the boat to come to take us back across the lake when I spotted one lone swan swimming near many of the houses and I captured one of my favorite pictures while he was ruffling his feathers.
We did not need more than 4 hours to see the whole town. There is still plenty more that we want to do and we intend to go back and stay longer. Across the lake, on the boat ride back to the car, we spotted the Hallstatt Castle, which seems to be privately owned and is not open to the public.
Even after having written this blog, I am still in awe at the beauty that is Hallstatt! I have been to many picturesque towns in Europe that all have a fairy tale dream feeling to it like something right out a book. But Hallstatt was different. There aren’t enough words in the dictionary to describe the beauty of the town and pictures can only show you so much. It is definitely one of those towns that belongs on those “must-see” lists because you’ll never appreciate the beauty by just looking at pictures!
Many people might ask “When is the best time to visit Hallstatt?” and while I have not been during all four seasons, I would definitely say visiting Hallstatt in Autumn is a top contender followed by the magical season when white shimmery snow blankets this already dreamy town!
Things to know about Hallstatt:
- Hallstatt is extremely touristy and popular with Chinese tour groups and many restaurants and shops also display signs in Chinese.
- Visiting in Autumn means that the there are less tourists visiting and therefore a bit more peaceful, but I can imagine how much more crowded it gets during the summer.
- Accommodation and dining options are limited as it is a rather small town with just over 900-something people. Booking in advance is highly recommended!
- A day is all you need to explore Hallstatt as it is small enough to technically explore within a few hours!
Check out my list for the Top 10 Most Adorable Towns in Europe!
Things to do in Hallstatt:
- Salzwelten Cable Car – takes you to the world’s oldest salt mine and offers a panoramic view over the town.
- Dachstein Ice Cave (Dachsteinhöhlen) – One of the largest ice caves in the world
- Punt (Fuhr) across the Lake – take a ride in one of the traditional salt boats across the lake during the summer.
- For more check out the Hallstatt website!
If you’re interested in visiting Austria and are looking for more information, I highly recommend using the DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Austria! Without these guides, I would be lost! This is my travel Bible!
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