About 4 years ago, I saw a gorgeous picture of Hallstatt on Instagram and I fell in love instantly. Never had I seen such magical pictures of a place and I couldn't wait to travel there and see it with my own eyes. I wanted to see it in the winter, covered with crisp white snow and when I planned my trip to Austria for Christmas, I prayed to have the perfect day in this fairytale town. I visited Hallstatt from Salzburg as a day trip, and it was one memorable day! The entire journey was phenomenal and not only did Hallstatt live up to every little expectation I had from this romantic town, it made it to the top of my 'most charming cities I've ever been to' list.
How to get to Hallstatt from Salzburg
The best way to get to Hallstatt is by driving there and it takes less than 1.5 hours. However, if driving is not an option, there is an equally convenient way to get to Hallstatt from Salzburg by using the public transportation, although it takes slightly longer. You can get a bus from right outside Salzburg Hauptbahnhof (main train station) to Bad Ischl (there's one almost every hour) and the journey takes 1.5 hours, dropping you right in front of the train station at Bad Ischl. Within 5-7 minutes, you will board from here the train to Hallstatt which takes about 30 minutes.
The train drops you off at the ferry station right across Hallstatt. From here, you can board a ferry (€4 return ticket) which takes just about 5 minutes to cross the lake and drop you off at Hallstatt town. If you're planning to only visit Hallstatt from Salzburg as a day trip, then it is best to leave early morning to be able to make the most of your day in Hallstatt.
What to do in Hallstatt
Hallstatt is a very small town, also known as the Pearl of the Salzkammergut. It is a sleepy little lakeside town, nestled between mountains and hardly commercialised. Although there are several hotels here, there are fewer cafes and restaurants and not really much to do except just enjoy the lovely views of the lake and the mountains. The most distinct building here is the cathedral, with its slender tower rising tall amidst the smaller pastel-coloured houses. The town is home to less than a 1,00 people but has become one of the most popular tourist destinations. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Visit the Market Square
This is where you will find the most cafes, restaurants and little shops selling souvenirs. I was lucky to land here on a day when it was snowing, the atmosphere was extraordinary and the views exceptional! The place was not as crowded as it probably is in the summer, which added to the romanticism of the experience. Within the town itself, the best way to explore the area is to simply walk around.
Stroll around the lake
As you walk around the lake, you will see the houses of the town stacked one on top of the other, with their roofs covered in snow and the mountains in the backdrop. The calm waters of the lake and the ducks swimming in them peacefully is such a great sight! Unfortunately, in the winter months, very few cafes are open on the lakeside. However, some hotels have restaurants on the lake such as Seehotel Grüner Baum and enjoying a meal there is a superb experience.
Walk to the most photographed spot
There are ample pictures of Hallstatt from one particular spot and I had to find this spot. Although most of the lively action happens on the left side of the town as you get off the boat at the pier, this photograph spot is to the right side of the pier, where there are no cafes and restaurants, only houses. The road begins to ascend and as you gain some height, the trees clear out to provide one of the best views of the town. Hardly a 5-minute walk from the pier, you'll know you're at the right place when you see all the crowds gathering here for the perfect picture.
Visit the Museum
Hallstatt was a famous salt mining town and the museum is an interesting one that tells you about the history and the archaeological finds discovered over the last few years, dating as far back as the stone age. Exhibits from the local salt mines and from the burial grounds as well as cemeteries in the area adorn the museum.
Take the funicular to World Heritage Skywalk
You can take the salt mine funicular from the middle of the town to this pointy glass observation deck that provides sweeping views of the lake and town. Some people choose to hike up to this point (it takes about 1.5 hours), however, the funicular is the easiest and fastest way to get to this observation point. There is also a cafe at the top. Do not forget to check the timings of the funicular (it usually doesn't go after 4 pm).
Enjoy gorgeous vistas from Parish of the Assumption
A short climb within the town will bring you to the Parish of the Assumption. Staircase covered by a thatched wooden roof will bring you to a vantage point which offers stunning views of the Hallstatt church, the gorgeous houses and the lake. The Parish itself is interesting, housing a bones chamber or 'ossuary' and the gothic architecture is particularly interesting.
Note: The Salt Mine and the Ice Caves are closed in the winter. However, if you're travelling in the summer, these two attractions might interest you as things to do in Hallstatt in the summer.
If time allows, you must spend a night in the town to be able to make the most of your visit here. However, if you're planning to spend only the day here and return to Salzburg/ Vienna by night, then make sure you catch the last ferry out. Visiting Hallstatt from Salzburg is the most convenient as the journey is shorter and extremely scenic. If you're in Austria, I would highly recommend a visit to Hallstatt.
Also visiting Vienna? Read here on What to do in Vienna in winter.