If you're looking for somewhere special in Austria, Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut region is it. Sitting by the calm waters of Lake Hallstatt, this town isn't just another pretty place — it's so special it's been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. And once you're there, the unique Hallstatt culture is everywhere: in the design of the houses, the streets, and the way locals greet you.
While you could do a quick day trip from bigger cities like Vienna or Salzburg, take your time and spend a few days here.
Wondering what to do in Hallstatt? From peaceful boat rides on the lake to exploring chilly ice caves and strolling around to discover local shops and eateries, there's a long list of things to do in Hallstatt that'll make your trip memorable.
1. Venture to the Five Fingers
What is the five fingers point? Well, if you're near Dachstein and Hallstatt, it's a must-visit spot! The Five Finger Point is a famous viewing platform in the area and offers some amazing views. You can reach it from Obertraun village. You have two choices: hike up to Krippenstein or ride the cable car. If you're using the cable car, there's a neat spot to check out some caves on the way (more on that in another article). Once you're at the Krippenstein cable car station, it's a chill 30-minute walk to get to the viewpoint.
Now, let's talk heights. The 5 fingers mountain platform sits at 2,035 meters above sea level, and trust me, looking down into a 400-meter-deep abyss is not for those who are scared of heights. The view? Picture-perfect! From there, you see Lake Hallstatt, which looks similar to Norway's fjords.
The platform, known as the fingers of the mountain, has five different levels, each 4 x 1 m. Every platform has its cool twist. One's all glass – so you feel like you're floating! Another has a big fancy frame that lets you capture a unique view of the Hallstatt World Heritage site.
Oh, and a cool fact: these ‘5fingers' light up and shine until midnight. So, even at night, you can see them lit up from far away.
2. Visit The Dachstein Ice Cave
The Dachstein Ice Cave, nestled close to Hallstatt, is nature's grand exhibition. Visitors are greeted with an artful blend of ancient ice and rock. Imagine looking up and seeing icicles that resemble sparkling chandeliers combined with towering ice columns and delicate curtains.
Reaching the cave is an adventure in itself. First, there's the cable car ride to the phase I stop. From there, a short walk leads to the cave's entrance. A quick tip for first-time visitors: pack warm clothing. The cave's temperatures hover just above freezing.
Open from May to October, the Dachstein Ice Cave offers a unique experience for all who visit. And for those around in August, there's a special treat – the annual Musical Ice Concert Series. Just think of the acoustics with musicians playing inside one of the largest ice caves in Austria.
A guide will likely share the cave's origin story. The entrance, being the warmest, lacks the icy spectacle found deeper within. As guests venture further, the temperatures drop, and the icy realm unfolds. This natural wonder was formed millions of years ago when water from a vast European sea began seeping through the ground, gradually sculpting this vast underground chamber.
Deeper inside, the true icy spectacle reveals itself. Majestic ice formations, some dating back 500 years, fill the caverns. Among these icy giants, one stands out, soaring to 8 meters. This awe-inspiring formation results from the seasonal ebb and flow of melting and freezing snow, accumulating about 30,000 cubic meters of ice within the cave.
Although the Dachstein Ice Cave spans a vast 2.7 km, visitors typically explore around 900 meters of it. For many, the climax of the visit is the mesmerizing multimedia light show within the Dachstein Giant Ice Cave. As beams of light play on the ice, it illuminates in a spectrum of colors, creating an unforgettable visual experience.
For those looking to witness one of the most iconic ice caves in Austria, a visit to the Dachstein Ice Cave near Hallstatt is a must.
3. Check Out the Hallstatt Salt Mine
If you love history, then the Hallstatt Salt Mine is somewhere you should visit when you are in Hallstatt. This mine has been around for over 7,000 years, making it one of Earth's oldest known salt mines.
The real charm of this ancient mine? It’s packed with surprises. Tools from the Iron Age, an impressively preserved salt man from the 18th century, and even a pick made of staghorn from 5,000 BC have been discovered here. These finds tell a rich story, revealing that Hallstatt was a significant hub way before the era famously named after it – the Hallstatt Era.
If you decide to embark on the Hallstatt Salt Mine Tour, be prepared for an adventure! Alongside the history, there's a mix of fun and exploration. You'll slide down authentic miners' slides, marvel at Europe's oldest wooden staircase, and experience a ride on a unique miners' train. As you journey through, there's an underground lake to discover and real salt blocks you can touch and feel.
Interestingly, the salt from this mine still plays a crucial role today. It's transformed into brine and supplied to villages, continuing a tradition that's been alive for millennia. Whether you're a history buff or just looking for an exciting outing, the salt mines in Hallstatt are a gem in the heart of Austria's salt mines landscape.
4. Explore Lake Hallstatt
There are plenty of activities around the lake, and we could write an entire article about it. Here are a few things you could choose to do.
Walking and Hiking
Stroll, hike, or run; there's something for everyone at Lake Hallstatt. A 22.7km trail snakes around the lake, offering unparalleled views and plenty of picturesque spots for that perfect snapshot. Use this map to guide your journey and spot some local wildlife.
- Guided Tours – Are you curious about the history of Lake Hallstatt? Then, hop on a guided Hallstatt Lake tour. With seasoned skippers at the helm, you'll learn tales and legends of this ancient lake.
- DIY Adventures – For those with an adventurous spirit, why not steer your boat? Lake Hallstatt boat rental options are plenty. Whether you're with family or with that special someone, you can find all the details you need here.
- Kayaking – Glide silently through calm waters, reaching spots a regular boat can't. Rent a kayak and feel a deeper connection with nature.
Lake Hallstatt's pristine waters are refreshing on a warm day. Whether you're an avid swimmer or just looking to splash around, designated spots are perfect for everyone. Check out this handy guide for a list of the top spots, including some hidden gems.
5. Rudolph’s Tower & Skywalk
If you're hunting for that ‘must-do' experience in Hallstatt without burning a hole in your pocket, the Hallstatt skywalk is your answer. Located atop the Salt Mountain, or Salzberg as locals call it, sits Rudolph’s Tower.
This historic structure dates back to 1282, with roots tied to Duke Albrecht I of Austria. It wasn't just a fancy residence but served as a protective shield for the hard-working salt miners of the region. Duke Albrecht named it in honor of his dad, Rudolf I, marking the beginning of the mighty Hapsburg empire's reign.
Fast forward a few centuries, and after surviving fires and the sands of time, this tower got a makeover. By the 1960s, it transformed into a restaurant. So, while munching on local delights, you can soak in panoramic views of Lake Hallstatt and the picturesque village below. Imagine dining with such a backdrop!
But the real showstopper? The Hallstatt skywalk viewpoint. It's not for the faint-hearted, but oh, the thrill! It feels like walking in the sky, 1148 feet above ground, providing a bird’s eye view of Hallstatt’s rooftops. Think of it as hovering above a postcard-perfect scenery.
Getting there is an experience in itself. Forget the strenuous 1-hour mountain hike, and instead, we recommend you hop on the modern glass funicular lift. This 3-minute ride isn't just a shortcut; it's a visual treat, offering glimpses of the landscapes below.
6. Make a Stop at Hallstatt Market Square
This is located in the embrace of Old Town; it serves as both a historic and vibrant hub for locals and visitors alike. As you stroll around, you are drawn to the colorful buildings that echo tales of early Hallstatt. This was where the salt brine journeyed from the hills, fishermen showcased their lake catches, and traders struck deals with their boat-laden goods from neighboring areas. A tragic fire in 1750 reshaped the square's identity, giving birth to the robust stone structures that now stand in harmony with the older wooden homes.
We recommend grabbing a coffee, sitting on a bench, and people-watching. The Holy Trinity fountain silently witnesses countless tales in the square's heart. From delightful eateries to quaint shops, a slice of Hallstatt's life awaits at every corner. And if you're in luck, you might stumble upon the festive allure of the annual Christmas market, the electrifying Krampus run, or the melodies of traditional Summer concerts.
The square isn't just a place; it's an ever-evolving event that changes every season. Spring heralds the revered Hallstatt Corpus Christi procession, where, blessed by good weather, celebrations spill onto the lake. Summer serenades with concerts by the Saline band, cultural nights, and the much-anticipated children's party in July. But as winter blankets the town, the Market Square weaves magic, especially during Advent. The Hallstatt Christmas Market, glowing on the 8th of December, wraps everyone, young and old, in a warm, pre-Christmas embrace.
7. Visit the Hallstatt Museum
We've added the Hallstatt Museum to our Frugal Expat list. For around 10 euros, you can learn about Hallstatt's history from the Stone Age to now.
A special burial ground in Hallstatt gave us the term “Hallstatt Culture”. The museum in the town center shows old items from this time, telling stories of trade and art.
The museum uses videos, simple 3D displays, and holograms to make the past interesting and easy to understand. It's a good deal for those wanting to learn without spending too much.
8. Hallstatt Bone House
The Bone House, located in the lower part of Saint Michael’s Chapel, stands out as one of the most unique places in Hallstatt. Going back to 12 AD, when there wasn't enough space in the local cemetery and the Catholic Church didn't allow cremation, people in Hallstatt came up with a solution. They would bury their dead for 10-12 years, dig up the bodies, clean the bones, and keep them in the Bone House. This made space in the cemetery for new burials.
This chapel, built in the 1100s, is by Hallstatt’s main Catholic Church. It became the permanent home for these bones, turning into a small ossuary or bone house.
Remember to check out the small cemetery before the Bone House when you visit. It's on a raised area by the church. With unique wooden and iron markers and colorful flower decorations, it adds to the overall experience.
Hallstatt is a great place to visit, with so much to offer. It can be even more special when you go at the right time. There's history, nature, and many activities to enjoy. If anyone has questions or wants tips for their trip, they should drop a comment below.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.