Even before moving to London, I followed tons of different travel blogs on Instagram. From couples backpacking around the world to high profile bloggers staying at the most luxurious resorts; and although they all have different styles & preferences, I noticed there was one location that was always being overlapped, and that was Hallstatt, Austria. From pictures it literally looked like a village straight out of Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, almost like it couldn’t be real. I knew I had to see it in person and luckily didn’t have to do much convincing with Joe, so we booked it over a bank holiday weekend and tagged on a couple days in Salzburg as well.
Hallstatt is said to be the oldest inhabited village in Europe with archaeological artifacts dating back to about 500 BC! It is the most charming, picturesque lakeside town, literally built into the side of mountain. It is super tiny, with local residents totaling under 1,000. Hallstatt put itself on the map when the world’s oldest salt mine was discovered between the 7th and 8th centuries. The salt mine brought tons of jobs and commercial opportunity to this tiny town and it continued as a growing business throughout the middle ages in to the industrial age in the 19th and 20th centuries. After the wars, these mines were not able to keep up with modernization and unfortunately were shut down. But enough history for now, let’s get going on what we did in this beautiful little place.
I’ll start off by saying that getting to Hallstatt is not easy. But I honestly think that was a reason that pushed me to want to go even more. It’s just under two hours from the Salzburg airport, depending on how many transfers you need to make. There are a combination of buses, trains, and ferries that will get you there, and based on the time of departure, taking four buses might be shorter than one train and one bus. Once we got to the main rail station in Salzburg, we stopped at information who were extremely helpful in helping us get to Hallstatt as simply as possible. They printed us a list of transportation options for the following two hours, with a breakdown of each bus or train number and also even gave us a sheet for coming back on Sunday, which was so helpful to have ahead of time. Our route had us taking one train and three buses which I know sounds exhausting, but it was actually very easy (minus one hiccup). The train ride was only about 20 minutes, and a beautiful ride through rolling hills. The next bus was pulling up just as we arrived… almost too perfect. It seemed like most of the people taking the bus (all 5 of them) were locals, commuting to or from work. I’ve never seen anything like it though – these buses go through the open roads of rural Austria. They are what we would think of as country roads – pretty much empty except for your occasional village, with no big buildings or industrial areas. Pretty neat that people living in these more desolate areas still have access to public trans! Anyway, our next stop was a transfer in Sankt Koloman, a pretty good size commune that felt more like a ghost town. They have your quintessential alpine buildings and market square, but we barely saw a soul. I guess it was the middle of the day on the a Friday, but it felt pretty eerie. But next bus arrived as scheduled, and we were off. The next place we got off was pretty much a ski town in the middle of no where. Another young guy got off as well – turns out he was a student studying abroad in Germany from UPenn, who was also on his way to Hallstatt. As I was running around snapping pictures and Joe and him were chatting away, we somehow missed our connecting bus 😦 Remember that hiccup I mentioned? We literally saw a bus across the street from where we got off and saw it was going in the direction we just came from, so subconsciously dismissed it – but unfortunately, that was the one we needed to catch and sadly realized that 15 minutes too. This was another zombie town with absolutely no one around, but luckily we found an info stand open not too far away. There would be another bus in about an hour but not going exactly where we needed – luckily the right direction though. Bus comes, we get on, la la la, we get off, take lots of pics & wait for the next bus. After our mistake, we had to take 4 buses, but thankfully the last one was only and 8 minute ride. We FINALLY arrived at Hallstatt Lahn around 4pm – only about 1.5 hours later then expected (ugh!), but it was an absolutely stunning afternoon and as soon as we stepped off that bus, we both agreed it was totally worth it. This bus stop leaves you at the very beginning of town and has an amazing view of the village. Between the late afternoon sun and gorgeous blue-green of the lake, it couldn’t have been a more beautiful welcome to Hallstatt.
We strolled along the main “road” in town – much more of a pedestrian street as they limit who can access the road by car and when. Much to our surprise, there were TONS of people around… Hallstatt was bumping! It felt very surreal to be walking through a town that seriously looks like a children’s fairy tale book. Candy coloured buildings, white lacing, flowers just starting to bloom for the spring; it was pretty perfect. They also had these flat trees that would grow along the buildings, which I was of course mesmerized by and took pictures of every one we found. After some research it looks like there is a technique to this called ‘espalier’ which means the tree is cut and “trained” to grow this way. Check out my pictures below to see what I mean.
We booked our accommodation in Hallstatt pretty late, so admittedly had trouble finding a place to stay. We ended up in our first hostel-like situation, which was truly pleasant and even a bit relaxing. The place was called Café zum Mühlbach. I’m sure you’re all thinking, cafe? Yep. We stayed on top of a really cute, family run restaurant that includes two floors of guest housing above the floor that they live. We had a really good sized room, with a balcony that gave us a clear view of the lake and mountains. Our floor included two shared bathrooms/showers which I was very skeptical about…. But they were pristine (!) and we never even had issues waiting to use the facilities. It was a really interesting place and I would highly suggest it to anyone looking for affordable housing & authentic experience.
We were staying basically right on the Marktplatz, the main central square of Hallstatt. Hotels, restaurants, and shops in an array of colours with a lovely fountain in the center. It literally looked like a postcard! One thing we wanted to do while there was rent a boat and see the town from the lake. It was only €15 to take a motorized boat out for a half hour, so we agreed this was a must do. It was SO COOL! We got to cruise along the shore and had awesome views of the town and all the way up the mountain. Hallstatter See is actually a huge, beautiful lake surrounded by the Dachstein Mountains. It was insane how peaceful it was once you went out to the middle of the lake, further from the shore. It was sooo silent and you literally felt like the only people in the whole entire place! We had so much fun driving around, Joe even let me take the wheel for a few 🙂 After our ride we kept walking along the main road until we reached the end of town. This is where everyone takes the shot of Hallstatt, so after a quick modeling session, we were on our way. It was the perfect afternoon getting acquainted with this dreamy little locale. We went for an early dinner at the Heritage Hotel, a lovely spot right on the lake. We kicked off our first official meal in Austria on a high note with our new favourite, Garlic Soup. Guys, this is an Austrian specialty that I have to say you haven’t lived until you try. It’s basically a cream based soup of milk & butter, flavoured with 10+ cloves of garlic. It also comes with some croutons on top to help soak up every last bit! I would like to attempt the recipe, but don’t think I could make it as well. Needless to say, we were exhausted after our full day of travels & gluttonous meal, so we retired to bed in preparation for a big day ahead.