I’ve been pinning pictures of Hallstatt on my “Bucket List” board on Pinterest for years. In our guidebook, I underlined Hallstatt and wrote “THE place” next to it. On Instagram, I told people it’s “the reason we went to Austria.”
That’s a lot of hype. And Hallstatt totally lived up to it!
The Lonely Planet guidebook describes the Salzkammergut region like this: “A wonderland of glassy lakes and craggy peaks, Austria’s Lake District is a long-time favorite holiday destination. The peaceful lakes attract visitors in droves, who come to boat, fish, swim or just laze on the shore. With pastel-hued homes, swans and towering mountains on either side of a glassy green lake, Hallstatt looks like some kind of greeting card for tranquility. Now a Unesco World Heritage site, Hallstatt was settled 4500 years ago and over 2000 graves have been discovered in the area, most of them dating from 1000 to 500 BC.”
Sounds amazing, right? And it was. I was a bit worried the pictures were doctored or the views could only be seen from high hotel rooms that we wouldn’t have access to. But my worries were set at ease when we arrived and the town was just what I hoped it would be.
The drive from Vienna to Hallstatt took a bit longer than expected (about 2 hours total) and when we arrived it was raining and misty. I couldn’t help but remember the time we went to the Dragonback Rice Terraces in Guilin, China, and couldn’t see a thing because of mist! Luckily we were staying the night near Hallstatt so there was plenty of time for the mist to pass, which helped me table my fears.
We parked and Lila ran through the crowds (of mostly Asians) to get a closer look at the majestic swans that graced the town’s lake. The rain was coming down, and though Lance and I had rain coats, Lila didn’t. With no umbrella, that meant we all were getting drenched, especially her. So we stopped in for lunch at an outside waterside restaurant that had heaters and views. This turned out to be one of my favorite meals of the trip, mainly because of the surroundings and overall mood of excitement we all shared. We ordered two sausages, Wiener schnitzel and fries. I remember the condiments that came with the wurst were so thick, creamy and delicious.
Afterward we wandered through the town taking pictures and occasionally stepping into shops to get out of the rain or going to the bank to exchange money. We found the viewing area that offered the best and most popular views of the town, and decided that the mist just added more magic to the mountains. The photos actually turned out great because of the muted lighting!
It was so fun to wander up the hills on little pathways that divided the town’s homes. The crowds started to thin out and it felt like we were exploring on our own. Despite being wet, we were all so happy to just be outside and in this beautiful place. It really was one of my favorite destinations. Unfortunately, the townspeople didn’t seem to love having so many tourists. The population is in the 700s. We were surprised at the amount of “No photos” and “Do not disturb” signs, as well as the local cars that would race through the pedestrian-only walking streets, sometimes even bumping into oblivious tourists!
The next day we bought breakfast at a local grocery store and then walked through the town again for more exploration and picture taking. I’m so glad we spent the night and were able to come back the next day when it wasn’t raining. It took away the stress we might’ve felt if we’d been rushed to hurry on to our next destination.
We stayed at the Seehotel am Hallstätter See in nearby Obertraun. I originally worried about staying outside of Hallstatt, but it worked out just fine. With our own car, it took us five minutes to get from one place to the other. The hotel listing description made the place sound kind of dumpy, but I took a risk and it turned out better than expected. The hotel was actually recently renovated, and our room was modern, clean and even aesthetically pleasing. Though small, the bed was up high enough that our suitcases fit underneath. A crib for Lila fit at the foot of the bed (and eventually in front of the door), as did a small table and chairs and an armoire. In some ways, the place felt like a hostel. It cost $130 a night (we only stayed one).