I have wanted to visit Hallstatt, Austria, for a couple of years now based on some beautiful pictures I’ve seen and good feedback. We finally made it to that part of Austria in early September and I have mixed reviews as expected. I don’t typically write blogs on places that are mediocre or just a stop on our journey, but I feel like there needs to be some explanation because the pictures that are everywhere it seems of this town can be slightly misleading.
Hallstatt is in fact beautiful… if you can ignore the bus loads of what I might call fairly rude tourists. To start from the beginning, we drove in for the day from where we were staying in Schladming, Austria which was about an hour drive through some beautiful mountains and countryside. There are no vehicles in the town unless you are a resident or have a pass from your hotel there which does make for a nicer atmosphere. We had read numerous blogs and websites about the parking and knew there were several lots outside the city. Being that I am pregnant and have a somewhat limited tolerance for walking we had a backup plan… I had found a blog that said there is a secret parking lot inside the tunnel that goes around the town. Sure enough… there is. It’s totally unmarked and you have to go against a do not enter sign, but it’s there and it’s free with no time limit. It is located right below the waterfall above town and actually gives you some of the best views of the town and lake from that angle. From there it’s a very short walk down a set of stairs into the main section of the town. I would recommend a baby carrier rather than a stroller if taking this route however, our two and a half year old was much happier in that than walking the whole way down, although most of the town would be navigable with a stroller, minus a few places with stairs.
Hallstatt itself is very clean and nice; although any town with so many signs about do this and don’t do that in the public toilets turns me off a little. I get why it’s necessary but I just wish people would be more respectful so it isn’t needed. There are a few cute stores and we particularly liked one woodworking shop on the main street that had great deals for locally made items. It was also a nice change of pace for us because everyone spoke English, something we don’t run into in many of the towns we visit that are less touristy.
The main view of Hallstatt that is so famous is of the church with the mountains in the background and lake to the left. We were in town quite early (so early not a single place was open for coffee or a pastry at 9am) and found the “picture spot” that gives you that view. We were early enough in the morning there was only one other couple there but by the time we walked back by about 15 minutes later it was nearly full all along the rail. I have to admit, I was surprised to see a large parking lot area next to the church that seems to be photoshopped out or blurred in many pictures you see of the town. After getting our pictures, we walked around the town quite a bit and enjoyed the views from the Catholic church up the hill and also found a bakery that opened at 10 finally for a snack and some delicious hot chocolate in the main “square” area.
We like to travel to more touristy areas in the off-season to minimize our annoyance with the large crowds and I think we hit Hallstatt around the right time. It was certainly less crowded than it could have been, but there were still numerous tourists with their tripods blocking the small alleyways and walkways. I was particularly annoyed by two tourists that were blocking the main road with their tripod and taking pictures of a young girl who was updating the chalkboard outside of their restaurant under the supervision of her mother. There is a limit to what I can put up with, and this crossed it. Let the child and family run their business in peace and stop blocking the way of everyone else. Ok, rant over. There were certainly other things to see in the area such as the Salt Mines and there is a funicular you can take up the mountain over the town, however we decided to head back to our quaint little town we were staying in, Schladming, and enjoy the rest of the day there.
Would I go back to Hallstatt? No. Am I happy I saw it and was able to see it at a fairly slow time when the large tour groups were at somewhat of a minimum? Yes. Would I recommend it… possibly depending on the audience. If you are looking for a beautiful town on a lake in Europe with history, mountains and beautiful scenery then I would recommend the following long before Hallstatt (in rank order) – Orta San Giulio, Lake Orta, Italy; Cannero Riviera, Lake Maggiore, Italy; Evian, Lake Geneva, France; and Vitznau, Lake Lucerne, Switzerland.