Often called “the prettiest village in Austria”, Hallstatt is a must-see when traveling around Austria. The picturesque town between the lake and the mountains draws millions of tourists from all over the world every year. Why? Let’s take a look at the top 5 places to visit in Hallstatt, as curated by yours truly.
If you're already ready to start planning your Hallstatt trip, click on over to my detailed planning guide: Dachstein + Hallstatt 3-day itinerary. It'll lead you step by step, complete with hotel recommendations, trip times... the works!
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My absolute number one thing to visit in Hallstatt is the Salzwelten, in other words, the salt mine. It’s the oldest salt mine in the world with a 7,000-year history. The “white gold” was so essential for the development of this region they named it after it. Salz means salt in German, therefore the Salzkammergut region, the city of Salzburg, or the Salzberg mountain (don’t confuse the berg meaning hill or mountain with burg, a castle). Back to the mine.
The tour begins with a train ride inside the caves, which is an exciting experience in itself. We got the helmets and raincoats and rode through very narrow spaces for about a kilometer (0.60 mi) down to the heart of the mine. There we came across the oldest wooden staircase, used by miners almost 3,000 years ago. Then the tour continued with a 2 km (1.3 mi) long exhibition and archeological excavations.
Karin in the Hallstatt Salt mine
The most bizarre thing is there are several long wooden slides down from the individual floors. It’s super fun if you don’t have to continue working there all day. We felt a bit like in the dwarf mine in Lord of the Rings, but it was thrilling and educational. From my point of view, one of the best places to visit in Austria.
Tip: Wear warm clothes and sturdy shoes for the visit. The temperature inside the mine is around 8°C (46°F) and the tour takes 90 minutes.
Image Source: Official Facebook page of Salzwelten
One of the best things to do in Hallstatt is climb up to the Hallstatt Skywalk. Or, if you’re coming back from Krippenstein Ski Resort (the next item on this list) and you’re done with hiking for the day, you can of course catch a lift on the Salzbergbahn cable car, that will help you conquer the 838 m (2,750 ft) elevation in no time. Once you get out of the train, cross the suspension bridge leading to Rudolf’s tower (looks more like a villa than a tower, but ok), and right under the tower, you will see the viewing platform.
Austrians seem to be quite obsessed when it comes to viewing platforms hanging over the valley in thin air. On the other hand, I must admit, the scenery is always breathtaking. In case you’re afraid of heights just forget about the vast space under your feet and admire the view of the lake clutched in between the majestic mountains. Ironically, it’s maybe even more impressive in foggy and rainy weather. It gives this UNESCO view a mysterious and mythical touch.
From there, you can follow the “Path through time”, the theme path leading across the burial grounds, with information panels on the way.
Like in a fairytale
In case you are looking for a wholesome dining experience in Hallstatt, the Rudolfsturm Restaurant will be the right option. The food is alright, the service might be slower sometimes, but the captivating views over the valley will make this a top experience. It’s like dining in an eagle's nest... just more hygienic and comfortable.
We felt like we hit the jackpot when we booked our hotel, COOEE Alpin Hotel Dachstein, so I can wholeheartedly recommend it to you for this itinerary, too. It’s very Austrian still but manages to keep its décor modern and not tacky (and that breakfast with a view... !).
Not exactly in Hallstatt, but close enough. The entire region of Hallstatt-Dachstein/Salzkammergut is on UNESCO's list as a cultural landscape, so there’s a lot to explore. As you may already know if you've read some of my other articles, I hate crowds and I prefer nature to big cities. But Hallstatt is a tourist mecca in most parts of the year, gets crowded as heck (with impossible parking, may I add), so I suggest running to the hills.
Route from Hallstatt to Krippenstein Ski Resort parking
On the other side of the lake lies Obertraun village and over the village, there is a large cave complex inside the Krippenstein mountains (a popular ski resort in winter). There is a huge Mammut cave, one of the largest karst caves in the world, the Koppenbrüller cave with an underground lake, and Giant Ice Cave (I already covered this one in the article about 11 Top Tourist Attractions in Austria). Roam the caves and sink in the mysterious atmosphere of the underground kingdom.
Continue up from the caves by cable car (or by foot) to reach the 5fingers viewing platform. Located over 400 m (1,312 ft) drop, it offers a spectacular overview of Hallstatt, the Hallstättersee, and the mighty mountain range. There are 5 different viewing platforms (hence 5 fingers) followed by a UNESCO World Heritage spiral on the peak. From the Welterbespirale platform in 2,100 m (6,890 ft), you get a 360° view of the Dachstain and Salzkammergut region. And if it’s still not enough for you, you can choose one of the official Dachstein hiking trails. As you can see, the view was magical even in bad weather.
What a beautiful view...and the 5fingers
Speaking of rainy days, time for the ultimate creepy tour. On the hill over the city, the Catholic Ascension of Our Lady Church guards the ancient cemetery. As you can see immediately, the cemetery is rather small. So, the residents decided to make an ossuary in the small chapel of St. Michael to store the remains of their ancestors. In fact, in Europe, places like these are not unusual because there’s usually limited space to store the dead and as we know, people will always be dying. Ossuaries to the rescue!
You may have seen the Catacombs of Paris or the Ossuary in Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic. The Hallstatt ossuary is quite small compared to those, but they took it to another level by painting designs on the skulls. In the Beinhaus (as the locals call it), there are more than 1,200 skulls and around 600 of these are hand-painted with names and ornaments on it. Because all the residents are familiar with this necessary custom, they can express their wishes regarding the design and style once they’re to be moved from the grave to the ossuary.
This small town gained its glory mainly for salt mining. The ancient tribes were working in these mines 7,000 years ago, which means the mines are older than the Egyptian pyramids! About the mines later, now let’s talk about the people and the culture. In the World Heritage Museum Hallstatt, you can explore the artefacts from those times to more recent history. The interactive exhibition leads you through the ancient way of living to geological facts about that area. Don’t expect a modern science miracle, however, it’s a decent option for rainy days.
Tip: Don’t even think of booking the ticket in advance. The official websites of the museum are approximately the same age as the mines and all in German only. At least I translated the öffnungszeiten and eintrittspreise for you. Call me a fairy godmother.
Another cool tip for rainy days: Just a few steps from the museum, across the little square, there is a sports equipment store. And no, I’m not telling you to promote the shop. There’s an excavation site under the store which is freely accessible. It was discovered by accident when the owner of the house wanted to build a boiler room under the store. The archeologists and students from the University of Vienna were summoned to explore the site and today you can see a number of excavation pieces and ancient walls from different parts of Hallstatt's rich history.
So, are you convinced about visiting Hallstatt and the whole Dachstein are yet? If so, head on over to my 3-Day Dachstein and Hallstatt Itinerary. It'll take you from Hallstatt to the Ice Caves to some of the most epic viewpoints in the region. What are you waiting for? Book that hotel! (Let me just share this one, because I'd stay there again in a flash: COOEE Alpin Hotel Dachstein... you're welcome).
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