Everybody wants to go to Hallstatt. Everybody wants to be in Hallstatt.
When travel magazines plaster the postcard-perfect views of Hallstatt towns all over the place, selling its fairy tale like magical allure, everybody wants to be there.
Being there makes one realise that fairy tales can come to life, and that a simple Joe can also be part of the magical setting.
This magical salt town, tucked in between Hallstatt Lake and the alps, is by no means as accessible as Champs Elysee.
Ride Through The Mountains
Depending on your starting point, the journey time will vary. However, it can be assumed that no matter which major city in Europe you are coming from, you most likely have to transit at Salzburg. Following that, you take a 30-minute train to Attnang-Puccheim, to transit to a local train (more like an MRT) for another hour or so.
For N and I, we started our journey from Nuremberg (bad choice), transit at Munich (our focal city of the holiday) towards Salzburg. It was a bad choice to start at Nuremberg because Nuremberg itself is about 45 minutes away from Munich; add on transit time, a full hour or so of time was lost. Lucky for me, I booked the First Class ticket all the way to Attnang-Puccheim, because the local train did not have First Class cabin.
Our journey got off to a rather bad start, because at Munich, there was a family with YUGE suitcases (I doubt anyone human could lift them) were blocking the aisle, so much so I wondered if anybody missed the train because of them.
However, that cabin was a very nostalgic, as we shared the little cabin with another 2 lovely old ladies, whom actually did not know each other. Perhaps I will talk in details the train rides in another post.
The most boring part of the journey was the Attnang-Puccheim to Hallstatt leg, since I already had enough of the snowscape in the past hour or so. The train passed through quaint little towns, with cute cottages creeping up the slopes or lining by the side of the occasional lake.
Officially, tourists were advised to alight at Hallstatt station, and take a ferry across the lake (yes, Hallstatt train station is across the lake from Hallstatt itself). The ferry was timed to the train schedule, so that tourists could hop on the ferry after alighting from the train. I took a photo of the schedule for reference, but do note that it was for the winter.
The road down from the station to the jetty (yes, it’s a down slope) was paved, which was good for suitcases on wheels, but might be challenging for backpackers. Similarly, the slope was steep, so if you have heavy luggage, you won’t have sufficient time to hang around the area to take pictures (because you have to focus on pushing them luggage up slope! lol).
For the return trip, as mentioned, the ferry is timed to be in sync with the train. Just make sure that you remember to buy the tickets beforehand (I read that it’s risky to buy tickets on the spot, as Hallstatt station is just a cabin and is unmanned), and be early for your ferry ride (I witnessed people who missed their ferry, simply because they went to the toilet).
Speaking of winter, Hallstatt is almost closed during winter. To think that I had researched for lengths to find out what to do at Hallstatt, only to realise near the end of my research that, ya… the place was pretty much closed for the winter.
We arrived at 21 Dec (it was planned to sync with the other legs of the journey), and by then, everywhere was frosted over. However, I saw on Instagram a few days later that the Hallstatt was snowing. If you every want to see Hallstatt in snow / snowing, do plan your trip near and after Christmas instead.
That being said, N reminded me that if it were to be snowing, it would most likely be cloudy and misty, ie. we might not see much. I verified it from the Instagram pictures later on, but hey, do factor this in your trip! Although I won’t say it would snow all day or the sun won’t chase the fog away, there will still be a chance of a prolonged snowstorm. So if you do indeed want to chase snow, plan for a longer, albeit more leisure, stay at Hallstatt.
For me, I was satisfied with the frosting on the rooftop, roadside and basically every horizontal. I had a great combination of good views and clear skies, which made my photos turn out very well 🙂
A Walk In The Town of Hallstatt
As mentioned, all the frill activities in the town was closed for winter, but cafes and souvenir shops were still opened. This meant that a trip to Hallstatt in winter is strictly for sightseeing and shopping.
For N and I, we needed none of those frills!
We took the earliest bus (shall talk about this in my other post on my accommodation of choice at Hallstatt Lake) to Hallstatt, and marched straight to the other side of the town for the “Classic Village Viewpoint”. We overshot a little (reached the edge of the town where the Hallstatt tunnel was) and backtracked. However, we still spent a good half an hour or more at the place.
I digress to mention that it was really good that we decided to visit Hallstatt free-and-easy; online recommendations included staying at Bad Ischl and taking a day tour to Hallstatt. However, being on a tour meant stringent time limits. N and I could afford to wait out tour groups and take pictures in between the ‘peaks’, and I would not say that for tour groups!
We then went into the town for the planned walk. As it was darn cold at Hallstatt, we popped in several places to get ourselves warmed up. Popping into a store and a cafe was a good idea. Popping into Hallstatt Lutheran Church was not a good idea. The latter had no air conditioning and it was basically empty with nothing to do! lol
The next photo-point was all the way up the mountain side (on Google Maps, it was labelled cheesily as “Wonderful View”). Basically, once at the central plaza, take the street leading up and into the depths of the town. Near the top, after passing “Zauner”, turn right and up a flight of steps in between the houses. From there, just keep climbing wherever you can. Ultimately, you will have to turn left and climb some more. We stopped after the second climb (because the view was wonderful enough, but there was still more to go.
The last photo point was where we alighted from the shuttle, on the southern edge of the town (Hallstatt Lahn). Whereas the first point was a top-down view, this was a water-up view. This was nonetheless as scenic as the other photo points.
The Other Side of the Hallstatt Lake
One of our plans was to take the ferry to Hallstatt station, so that we could take more pictures of the town from the lake. Our original intention was to do a turn, but we saw that there was an option for us to get off the ferry and proceed to a “suspension bridge” near Hallstatt station, and return to take the next ferry half an hour later. So we thought, why not?
The catch was that the ferry timing was not regular. For example, the ferry was to depart Hallstatt jetty at 30-min interval, but there was a gap at 12pm, which meant that we either had to stay there for 1 hour (I don’t know how interesting / boring it was over there) or to do a turn. Because of this, we decided to have lunch first, and take the first ferry after lunch time.
Ticket was bought upon boarding, and we told the captain that we wanted to take the round trip (I think we were the very rare few who did so, because he remembered us after that).
After alighting and climbing up the slope to the station, turn left and follow the railway. After a bend, there will be a fork where we went down a pathway that was actually a catwalk built onto the side of the cliff face. After another 10 minutes, we finally reached the ‘fabled’ suspension bridge, above which was a truss bridge where the train would run past.
You might ask, there are suspension bridges all over the world, what’s so unique about this bridge?
Well, this bridge suspends above the deepest point (125m) of the lake. Interesting, because I didn’t expect the deepest point to be near the edge of the lake!
The bridge was also very precarious (very much like that of Mary’s Bridge over Neuschwanstein Castle). I mean, just look at N’s expression when crossing the bridge!
The pathway actually led further down, but we had to return to the jetty to catch the ferry. However, we did manage to catch the train passing by above us!
Afterthought: It is actually better to stay 1 hour.
Fill Them Tummies
As mentioned, the town is practically for walking and sightseeing in winter. However, there were plenty of cafes to drop in for a cuppa or for meals. Those along the main street were decidedly too crowded for our lunch, so we walked around a bit and found a cafe just past the museum, along the way to the “Wonderful View”.
There were 2 spaces in the cafe, one sporting the display for their food, and the other plainly for dining. We were one of the first customers, so we had the whole dining area for ourselves for a good 15 minutes!
The options here were rather typical: schnitzel, bratwurst, chips and coffee. The portion or taste weren’t awe inspiring either, but since we were literally in a tourist trap that was Hallstatt in the middle of a lull season, the food that went into our mouths were just to help us survive the brrrrr freezing cold out there!
I am not sure how food was priced in the other cafes, but I found the cafe we were at to be rather pricey. We were even charged for 2 packets of Heinz chilli sauce, for 1 Euro each, so you get the idea.
A good alternative, though, was to pop by the supermarket just at where the shuttle bus stop was (Hallstatt Lahn). They don’t sell fantastic food, or hot food, but cookies, chips and cheese should be a good replacement for a pricey meal at one of the cafes! So, why not just leave the cafes for a sip of hot coffee to warm the mind?
p/s: I actually bought a bottle of caviar from this supermarket!
Buying Souvenirs at Hallstatt
I rarely talked about what to buy at tourist traps, because well, they are tourist traps. For me, I would get the usual fridge magnets, which are small and representative.
In Hallstatt, I will recommend buying the salt, since Hallstatt is a salt town.
I bought mine from a souvenir / sports store that is attached to a Swarovski store; this store is just around the corner from the central plaza. The salt comes in test tubes, and are meant for adding taste to food (as opposed to cooking). There were different flavours like lavender, chilli and hibsicus. Good for take-home souvenirs!
A pricier souvenir would be the bath salts, sold in little jars. You can also get unique wooden carvings that split up into different components, and then you place them back like jigsaw puzzles.
Verdict – Is It Worth the Effort to Go All the Way to Hallstatt in Austria?
Hallstatt… It really lived up to its name for making one feel like they have been transported from the bustling, senseless city. The timbre-framed houses, stone churches, climbing up the steep slopes of the alps…
They say it’s better to be at Hallstatt in summer, where you can go on tours in salt mines. I beg to differ.
In winter, the crowd is more palatable. The ambience of the town is wraps you so thick in its charm that every other fringe activity is redundant.
And that blanket of white everywhere just adds a little touch of heavenliness to the quaint little town.
What’s more to be picky about?
How to Get There
I bought our train tickets off the website: https://www.trainline.eu/, which offered a one-stop solution for tickets that are run by various entities and across EU borders.
I will recommend sparing those extra bucks to get the First Class tickets for the comfort and ease of mind. At the very least, get reserved seats, especially if you are travelling in a group!
Buy bread and finger food for the long journey ahead, especially as there might not be sufficient time for lunch at train stations. Pack a bottle of plain water too. The toilets in the First Class cabins are well-maintained. Do note, however, the Attnang-Puccheim to Hallstatt leg of train do not have toilets onboard.
If you are staying in Hallstatt itself, the train and ferry timings are synced, so there is no worry that you would miss either. Just don’t spend too much time taking photos!
If you are staying outside of Hallstatt like we did, do consider staying at Obertraun, which was just a 10-min free shuttle bus ride away.
Like My Review
If you find the tips helpful in deciding whether to visit this destination, or what to do when you come here, do go to Tripadvisor, search for “Zenov” and like my review.
Or, if you are planning for a trip to Bavaria this coming winter, do read my other posts, where I also visited Salzburg and Neuschwanstein Castle (the castle that inspired Disney’s iconic castle), while being based in Munich.
Till then, stay wanderlust!