Updated: Jan 20, 2021
“Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” ~Gustave Flaubert
Do you have a bucket list? Hallstatt should be on yours...and here's why.
Hallstatt has been on my bucket list for a long time. This trip, everything fell in to my lap, I rented a car and took the plunge. I knew that if I didn’t go, I would later regret it. Thank goodness I followed my instinct and came upon this gem of a lake village. #iaminheaven
Hallstatt is famous for a few things: the lake views, the salt mine (one of the oldest in the world, along with the oldest wooden staircase in the world), the homes stacked on the hill, the Charnel House, the cascading flowers from the balconies, and the 5 Fingers panoramic viewpoint.
Located on the Hallstatter See and with the backdrop of the Dachstein, this village is steeped in history. The houses, along the See, are clustered from the strasse up the mountain. Standing on the strasse, if you look up, you can almost experience a crick in the neck. The homes are built in to the mountain so tightly, but beautifully carved. The one way to view all the homes, is to go up and walk along the rooftops on the old street.
The success of the village began in the Bronze Age where salt was discovered and mined.
Go in to one of the many shops along the See and you can buy the therapeutic salt which has been mined since prehistoric times by one of the oldest salt mines in the world.
If you have 24 to 48 hours in Hallstatt, here is a run down of the things to see and do.
I did run out of time and wasn’t able to see everything.
Day 1: When you arrive in the morning:
Walk the Strasse along the water’s edge. From one end to the other measures to about a mile (probably less). At the far end of Hallstatt, turn around and take the famous Hallstatt postcard picture. (At the moment, the church is under renovations so there is scaffolding raised. The picturesque view is still quite spectacular.)
There are homes and businesses along the strasse so be aware of noise levels.
Along the walk, you will pass many shops, restaurants, and lodgings. This first walk is to become familiar with your surroundings. Take a look at all the buildings. See how they are built in to the mountainside. All are original dwellings. The wood you see on the homes is from the 16th century.
A fire raged here on September 20, 1750 that started at the bake house, and demolished the lower levels of many structures along the strasse. Most of the stone you see on the bottoms are from the renovations done after the fire.
I find this fascinating because if you look at the homes, they look as if they were built yesterday. I was told by owner of the AirBnb where I stayed, that if you look at the homes and it has a wood structure, then that is the original wood and predates the 1750 fire. If there is stone at the base of the building, then that was placed/built there after the 1750 fire.
Still, the structures that you are looking at are over 200+ years old. I am amazed at the craftsmanship and how well-built all the buildings are on this mountainside.
As you are walking back from the postcard picture, look up. St. Michel’s Kirche. Follow signs throughout the village for the kirche, the bone house (charnel house) and the cemetery.
If you are heading up to the church, you are in the right direction. I got turned around a few times, out of breath, looking for the charnel house. It is behind St. Michel’s. Step inside the Pfarrkirche, built in the 15th Century, which has most of the original features including the carved Virgin Mary. I noticed that the church itself has a damp feeling, almost like stepping in to an old building that has been closed off for years. I didn’t stay in here long as I wanted to find the beinhaus.
Walk outside. If you are in the smaller cemetery, keep walking around to the other side and head to the back of the larger cemetery. In front of a small domed building, you will see a small ticket office. Pay 1.50 euros (for the charnel house) and you’ll be given a script in your native language.
Step inside the small vaulted building to view 1300 painted skulls. Most are painted with the name, date of death, and how the person died; a tradition that began in the mid 1700’s. The cemeteries were limited.
What I was told was that when a person died, they were buried in the cemetery and cared for by family members. After 10 years, the family exhumed the body and carefully took out the bones, washed them in certain chemicals and let them cure in the sun for a certain amount of time.
Once the skull was bleached by the sun, it was painted and then placed in the beinhaus. The empty grave didn’t go left unused. Another family placed their deceased in the grave and after 10 years, the process started again. This continued for hundreds of years.
The last skull was placed in 1995 since many are now opting for cremation. The feeling is pretty overwhelming but worth it.
Market Square. Be ready for the selfie, along with 100’s of other tourists doing the same thing.
The buildings’ pops of pastel color surround the center. Walk up through the center, pick a direction and just stroll. The alleys, the twist and turns will lead you either up (be prepared for lots of steps) or in the other direction and sit by the waterside with the swans. Either direction is peaceful. Take in the pace of the village: slow.
Meander off the main road and walk up and around the cobbled streets. Walk along the path above Hallstatt and the rooftops. Notice the vines and the flowers that glitter the hard gray stone walls. #iminapostcard
Stop along the strasse and have a freshly baked Schaumrolle. Oh. My.. They are a flaky hollow pastry log filled with light and fluffy egg whites and sugar. Yes. Please. This is a must!
Walk to the end of the strasse and follow the signs for the salzwelten (salt mines), one of the oldest in the world, since 3000B.C. (Tip: before going to the salt mine, buy your tickets online at https://www.salzwelten.at/en/hallstatt/. You can buy the Funicular, skywalk and salt mine tour. It costs 34.00 euros.
Also, when you buy ahead of time, you beat all the lines and are considered “VIP”. I can dig it!
The funicular is a two minute tram that takes you to the top. (Wear good walking shoes, there is quite a hike to get up to the salt mine and back as well. These Uggs were great because they also protected my ankles.)
From there, follow the signs to the skywalk or straight to the tour.
The skywalk isn’t for the faint of heart, but the views may change your mind. If the weather is cooperating, you have a terrific panoramic view.
Head to the tour.
You will be given a thick shirt and pants to wear over your own clothing.
(The salt mine’s temperature is roughly about 50F/10C degrees year round.
It gets a bit chilly down there but the layers of clothing and walking makes up for it.
The tour itself takes about 90 minutes and is quite entertaining.
The best part: you slide down two wooden slides!
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” ~Oliver Wendell Holmes
A huge attraction for this tour is the wooden staircase. Located at the end of the tour and behind glass, is a wooden staircase that is rumored to be the oldest fully preserved wooden staircase in the world, dating back to around 1344 B.C.
(Important note: if you are at all claustrophobic, this is NOT the tour for you.
The tunnels get narrower and narrower as you walk through and with the lights, there is a bit of a strobe light effect.)
After the tour is done, or before you start, stop in to the Rudolfsturm Restaurant (history) for some great wiener schnitzel and dark beer.
Oh yeah.. The views are out of this world. (Tip: no need to tip after your meal, the % is already included in the price).
If weather is permitting, take a boat ride/ferry around the lake. The ride takes 30 minutes. You can also rent a motorized boat for 30 minutes or 1 hour. Most are posted along the strasse.
Time for dinner? Try the Brauhaus. The cheese dumpling soup is always delicious.
Side note: When I arrived at my AirBnB, the host told me that after 6:00pm, the tour buses leave. It’s like you have all of Hallstatt to yourself. She wasn’t kidding. The buses left with the hordes of tourists, and the quaint little village was mine… ALL MINE!
DAY 2: Take in the Panoramic Views
Ready for an adrenaline rush? Not for the faint of heart. I sat on my balcony and spent 30 minutes trying to talk myself out of going to: the Five Fingers. I am terrified of bridges and high open places. I stood up, brushed off my nervousness and decided to go. I conquered my fear.
Drive towards Obertraun and follow the signs for Wanderwelt Dachstein Krippenstein to take the cable car for the 5 Fingers panoramic lookout.
The cost for the cable car ascent and descent, plus 5 fingers is around 30.00 euros. You will take two cable cars for the 5 Fingers. Once you get out of the car I suggest using the toilet since you will be gone for a few hours.
From the second cable car to the 5 fingers is about a 30 minute light stroll. Wear sturdy shoes.
If you get winded, there are benches along the walk. Take water. Take a snack. Take your rosary and pray. I did. #lordhelpme
As I walked closer, I enjoyed the benches, willing myself to walk closer to the 5 Fingers lookout.
Once you reach the lookout, there are 5 “fingers” which make the best panoramic pictures. Incredible.
Take a picture with the photo frame.
The air is clean. The views of Hallstatt from above are amazing. This is a MUST if you are visiting Hallstatt. #ontopoftheworld
Once you are back in Hallstatt, go shopping. Get your souvenirs bought before you head to dinner.
Try Gasthof Simony outside by the water for dinner. Face Hallstatt for breathtaking views of the village.
That was my two days in Hallstatt. I enjoyed walking the strasse the most. If I had more time, I would have taken the boats out on the water but, honestly, the best part of the day was when the village was quiet. The air was clean and fresh. It really clears the mind.
This is a village to slow your pace. Sit and people-watch. Laugh at the tourist taking wacky selfies. Walk along the water with the swans.
Hallstatt is high on my list to return to again with my family. There is much to see and do and at the same time, it’s a great place to unplug.