Traveling Europe and find yourself in need of a break in Austria? Hallstatt is an idyllic lakeside village touted as one of the most romantic and peaceful spots in all of Austria. In other words, a top destination for any honeymoon tour of Europe. Don’t worry though if your Facebook relationship status reads as “single.” People have been reveling in the glory of the Hallstatt Lake for nearly 9,000 years, and there’s something here for everyone. When you arrive, you’ll find not just a cultural and historical wonder, but also a dazzling, picturesque, “pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming” place that just goes to show that sometimes the best things in life come in tiny packages.
Make your way up the mountain to the oldest salt mines in the world, then enjoy the beautiful town that was built from millennia of harvesting the mines’ famous “white gold.”
Morning: Take a tour of Hallstatt’s famed salt mines
The first miners in the world began with nothing more than a stick of fire and a pair of cow-hide leather shoes to back them up. Luckily, times have changed a bit. You’ll be asked to dress in your “protective miner gear” then march some 3.5 football-field lengths into the mountain, before sliding to the first stop. Literally. The best part of the tour isn’t learning about the formation of the mines millions of years ago, watching the cavernous light show, or even seeing the oldest European staircase (3100 years old!). Nope. It’s sliding 34 kph down two giant slides before headed back up into the daylight.
Afternoon: Stroll through town towards Charnel House
Considering Hallstatt is only 1.5km long, it’s fairly easy to traverse through the trinket shops and cobblestoned streets in one afternoon. Luckily, the salt mines lie at the southern edge of town, meaning all you have to do is hop on the main riverfront promenade, keep the Hallstatt Lake to your right and straight on ‘til morning. You’ll meander up the historic Seestraße street past traditional Austrian restaurants and darling trinket shops, mosey across Marktplatz, spot the spire of the Lutheran Protestant Church of Christ, and continue all the way up to the Charnel House in St. Michael’s Chapel. The creation of the house of bones was the city’s response to an overcrowded graveyard, so beginning in 1720, the graves were opened, and the skulls and large bones were removed, cleaned, and bleached by the sun. Skulls were then decorated with the family name, date of death, and floral motives before being put on display in the fascinating room, which is easily Hallstatt’s most unique landmark.
Evening: Cool off on the Hallstatt Lake
They say that a trip to the lake should be at the top of your bucket list…and considering that arrival by ferry is one of the few ways to get to Hallstatt, it’ll be pretty easy to check that off. The stunning 8.6 km2 beauty is visible from almost every cobblestone and corner in the petite, picturesque village. That said, the best way to enjoy Hallstatt Lake’s entrancing sparkle is not by land, but rather by sea. Kayaks, swan boats, motorboats, paddle boats, wooden boats, excursion boats…if it floats, you can probably rent it. Just make sure to keep your steady land legs under you at all times, as the glacial waters are never more than a chilly 70° F.
Adventure awaits! Escape to the ice caves and waterfalls before relaxing on a lakeside terrace with a traditional Austrian meal.
Morning: Venture to the Dachstein Ice Caves
Hopefully you packed your winter hiking gear! The Dachstein Ice Caves are one of the coolest (pun intended) wonders around Hallstatt, and it would be a shame to travel all this way and miss the famed rope bridge and light show. When you’ve warmed up a bit, you can take the cable car up the mountain another couple thousand feet to explore the ice sheets and breathtaking view over the Hallstatt Lake and surrounding region at the Five Fingers lookout point.
Afternoon: Hike to the Waldbachstrub Waterfall
If you’re thinking “But…this is vacation. Physical exercise is not on the itinerary,” you’ll just have to make an exception. Plus, does it really count as exercise to enjoy a jaunt through the shaded woods, listening to chirping birds and the babbling stream, before arriving to a majestic waterfall without even breaking a sweat? While you’re out there, you might as well venture another 15 minutes to the Glacier Garden, where you can revel in the wonder of 12,000-year-old ice pools.
Evening: Enjoy traditional Austrian fare at a lakeside inn
The only proper way to finish 48 hours in Hallstatt is with a traditional Austrian dinner at a lakeside inn. Hallstatt is famed for its fish, fresh from Hallstatt Lake. If seafood doesn’t suit your fancy, try enjoying a schnitzel, spätzle, or goulash soup from any of Hallstatt’s family-run inns. There you have it. The perfect end to your perfect lake town vacation!