The idea to visit Hallstatt (and Austria in general), came about via a rather unusual means: Instagram. As a photographer who enjoys shooting landscapes, I mostly follow accounts that claim to post “most amazing places in the world!”, “wonderful pictures of planet earth!” etc. Superlatives aside, I would often see photos of a small town perched on the edge of a lake, with an imposing mountain backdrop. It looked almost computer-generated…does a place like this really exist? After a bit of research – and digging through Instagram comments to find the correct answer – I finally found the name of the evasive location: Hallstatt, located in Austria. Time to start planning!
To start with, I had to travel to Salzburg, as I deduced that this is the easiest “large” city to start from. Getting to Salzburg – and Austria in general – is rather simple, so don’t let the remoteness put you off. I was already visiting Vienna / Wien before visiting Salzburg, so all I had to do was take a cross-country train to Salzburg, and plan my trip from there. If you’re located in mainland Europe or the UK, there are some airlines that fly directly to Salzburg, so you can skip the train part.
To give some perspective as to where I am
On the chosen morning of my Hallstatt trip, I arrived at the Salzburg station bright and early, full of excitement and a sense of adventure – it’s hard to not feel excited when you’re heading out to explore a new location right? However, this sense of excitement faded a small bit when I realised that I couldn’t find the first bus I was meant to catch, and saw it departing at the last minute all the way across the other side of the station. Well, time to wait another hour then (let that be a warning: the bus only departed once an hour, and it departs from an area just outside of the station). Eventually, I boarded the right bus, took a seat, and set about creating a playlist to keep me occupied for the drive. If you want to have a fool-proof way of finding out which bus to catch, use my guide below – or just follow all the other tourists. There were plenty.
Step 1 – Bus 150 from Salzburg station to Bad Ischl
Step 2 – Bus 542 heading to Gosnau. This bus has a stop a few miles outside of Hallstatt, the driver will often announce to get out here if you’re changing to Hallstatt
Step 3 – Bus 543 towards Hallstatt. You’ll get out only after a few stops, and it’ll be fairly obvious where to disembark
Recommendation: On the drive, get a window seat on the left side of each bus. You’re going to be presented with some of the most picturesque scenery that Austria has to offer. The right side usually just has a cliff face to look at – boring.
View of the town from the south, only a few steps away from the bus stop
A little over two hours later, the village of Hallstatt came creeping around the corner. This last bus drops you pretty much in the middle of the village, just a few feet from the lake waterline. Hallstatt is, let’s be honest, quite small. As of 2016, the population is less than 800 permanent residents, and it’s possible to walk the entire village in about 10 minutes. While there isn’t much to do in the way of tourist attractions in the actual village, the experience alone is worth it.
Made a friend while walking around. He left when he saw I had no food
I decided to firstly walk along the main path leading to one end of the village, and take a few of my own photos from the infamous viewpoint. Getting there involved walking through what I guess is the official centre of Hallstatt, which is nothing more than a statue and some benches surrounded by restaurants and shops. For a wonderful summer day, Hallstatt was actually quite empty, but I didn’t mind that. It allowed me to explore and wander at my own pace, not having to worry about any unintentional photobombs.
Yes, I know, every man and his dog has taken photos at this location, but it’s the easiest and best location for photos. This sentiment was shared with other tourists who had also clearly only arrived with one intention – take a photo at this spot, and move on. However, I sat here for a good hour, just admiring the view of a place I’d first seen on a random Instagram page. It’s actually pretty crazy to think that this entire moment in time was happening thanks to a photo that caught my attention on an image-sharing platform one night. Modern technology hey?
Imagine living here, and being able to walk out on that balcony every morning.
Scenic gazing complete, it was time to see what else I could do. I soon discovered that there was a funicular railway that takes you to the top of a hill, overlooking the village and lake – perfect for a good birds-eye view.
After paying the steep fee for a return trip – pun intended – I found myself on a long silver platform, perched out over the abyss in a rather precarious manner. I don’t really have a fear of heights, but it was a little uneasy standing up here. I snapped a few quick photos, and then retreated back to more solid ground. There’s also a restaurant up here, but the food prices alone were enough to make me lose my appetite. The schnitzel did look good though – if you’ve tried it, let me know.
Nestled a bit further back in the hills, there’s a building housing the entrance to the Salzwelten – the world’s first salt mine. Hallstatt is historically famous for salt production, making the region very wealthy in ancient times. Nowadays, salt production is essentially zero, and the village thrives off tourism instead. Visitors have the option to go on a tour of the mines, and since there are essentially no other tourist-type activities to do, I decided to go see what the tour was about.
I should also add the prices here for those who are curious: funicular round trip and mine tour cost a total of €30 per adult.
There were about 20 people on the tour, and it soon became evident that I was the only one who didn’t speak German. Not wanting to hold the tour back, I remained quiet when the guide asked if there were any English speakers visiting, and then proceeded to issue a long list of safety instructions – in German. While this was slightly awkward, I have enough of an understanding of German to survive the tour, as well as just laughing whenever the rest of the group laughed. I can assure you, there were clearly plenty of good jokes.
The tour took about an hour, and involved walking deep inside the bowels of the mountain to view the equipment and techniques that miners used to extract salt in historic times. In addition to the displays and exhibits, you also get to fly down a few long wooden slides, which was quite an experience. And upon completion of the tour, you’re gifted with a small bottle of your own salt from the region to take home. Tasty.
Computer generated recreation of an ancient staircase inside the mine. I was certainly impressed at the detail of the tour
Tour done, it was time to head back down the funicular and take a final slow wander around the village before hopping on the bus. Doing the whole Hallstatt experience in one day is very easy, and that includes the travel time there and back. Also, getting back to Salzburg was pretty simple – it’s just your original journey, but in reverse. The buses back seemed a little more empty than the ones on the way there, but I wasn’t complaining – plenty more room for my rather tall frame to stretch out and admire the scenery. Thanks Austria, for creating Hallstatt.
While the photos I take are usually enough in the way of memories, I decided to purchase a piece of Hallstatt to bring back home with me, in the form of a fridge magnet. It serves a good purpose holding up the menu for the takeaway restaurant outside my estate. The salt bottle is still…somewhere.