What I think of Hallstatt?

“You must Travel to Hallstatt because it is declared the most beautiful village in the world.” Many people around me said this when I left to Austria with mom for 15 days. Most people know Hallstatt as a beautiful wallpaper material for computers or Instagram.

As an Indian history buff, I am not Winston Churchill’s fan. But the first thing that came to my mind while wandering in Hallsatt was his words –

“Perfection is the enemy of progress.”

Winston S. Churchill

So this post gives you an honest reality check that helps you decide if you should travel to Hallstatt or not.

Why is Hallstatt popular?

Imagine a pretty Alpine village; you probably visualise multicolour timbered cottages, cobbled avenues, and tree-covered mountains by the sparkling lake with white swans gliding. Plus, you even picture a stone church with a tall steeple- This is the exact description for Hallstatt with zero exaggeration – Hold on for a few minutes before you pack your bags to get there.

Why is Hallstatt famous?

Cograilway moving uphill on the steepest slope of Hallstatt surrounded by thick vegetation

Let us forget the visual drama for a while and go back in time, precisely 7000 years ago. Because the archaeological excavations have retrieved a hoe that dates back to 5000 BC in Hallstatt. But let us restrict ourselves to 1500 BC as of now. That is when organised salt mining was happening in this small alpine town of Austria. So Hallstatt is famous for its salt mine and archaeological excavation.

The Romans ruled and used the salt mines. And Bohemian kings later took over it later . During the 12th century, the “signature structure” of the town, the stone church of St Michael with an impressive tower, was built. The village is so beautiful that the catacomb and cemetery here give you a more romantic vibe than the spooky ones!

Where do you fly to get to Hallstatt?

The nearest airport to Hallstatt is Salzburg airport. But, surprisingly, Slovenia’s capital city, Ljubljana’s airport, is closer to Hallstatt than Vienna’s.

How do I get from Hallstatt to Salzburg on a day trip?

The best way to get to Salzburg is by public bus – Take bus 150 from Salzburg to Bad Ischl. And then a train to Obertraun. A ferry from there takes you to Hallstatt. This may sound complicated. But with train and bus stations located next to each other, you won’t struggle.

Is Hallstatt worth visiting?

Yes and No both! I will tell you why.

When I was in Salzburg, my mother kept asking when we were going to Hallstatt. My Travel Plans often revolve around famous places, and I explore some off-beaten places on the beaten path. So I don’t label myself “Complete offbeat traveller.” And I can’t stand “over-touristy” places. So to travel to Hallstatt, I was sceptical as I had heard too much about it. The pictures on the internet looked too perfect. But my mother wanted to go there badly.

Traunsee Vs Hallstatt

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

I wanted to visit Traunsee as I had read very few articles on Traunsee. Falling for the peer pressure, I started reading about the history of Hallstatt sitting at a cafe in Almkanal. The salt mining history intrigued me. If so many people go there, they can’t be wrong. Did I skip Giza just because everyone goes? No right? Let us travel to Hallstatt, we said to each other.

The History buff and Hallstatt.

I wanted to learn about Hallstatt beyond taking Instagram-worthy pictures. So when I expressed my concern to our hotel receptionist in Salzburg, she suggested we take a day trip from a famous bus tour. Because they don’t just take you and dump you there. But also narrate stories and explain the facts on the way. Awesome route, historical facts and not worrying about getting from place A to B sounded like a great plan, and I booked the bus tour.

Let us Travel to Hallstatt.

After wandering and shopping at Grunmarkt, we went to Mirabelplatz to catch our bus to Hallstatt. The cute older man Sam with hair as white as silver foil, checked our pre-booked tickets. And got us seated. I am hardly used to big bus tours. It isn’t that I hate it – I prefer to travel individually or in private time like I did in Egypt. The big bus of 50+ passenger bus wasn’t my thing. But the organiser looked promising.

The delay in boarding by fellow passengers

You can’t expect all 50 to be on time. After some delay, the bus left Mirabelplatz. Sam began to narrate with his introduction and pointing at a building near Mirabelplatz. He said, “Einstein lived in that building for a month and completed the most important research of his life there.”

We all got excited and tried to spot the exact building sitting in the moving bus. Many even came to the other side of the bus, pushing us to take a photo until Sam laughingly said, “You bought my words? “

We left Salzburg and the real stories continued. Mom and I were excited to listen to new things. But the learning was often interrupted by fellow passengers non-stop giggling and talking. There are 50 more people who have paid the same amount I paid. So how can I ask them to shut their mouth so that some of us who are genuinely interested in listening to Sam can hear? Somehow, we signed Sam that we can’t hear him properly.

Finally, he made a loud and strong announcement with his mike, saying, “I hope you will get the value for your money by this tour that includes my narration. So I wish to be the only one who talks when I hold the mike. And the rest can share their stories once I am finished.

Who invented the salary?

The narrative was engaging – How the word salary came from Roman soldiers who were paid in salt instead of money. Stories of Salt mining in Austria, the Aldi supermarket chain took over Hofer in Austria and so on. We passed by Plainfield, where the world-famous electronic music festival happens every year. I have never attended this kind of show. But looking at the rolling hills and meadows, I could imagine how excited and enchanted the music lovers would be in such an exotic location.

We crossed the Red Bull factory and some beautiful houses decorated with deer antlers as we got closer to Saint Gilgen. The loud talks were getting louder until the blue carpet of wolfgangse lake appeared floating in the sky. Who calls it a lake???? It is so large that it feels like an ocean.

Can you swim in Wolfgangsee?

The first sentence most of us on the bus asked Sam was this, and the answer was Yes (in summer)! A quick stop there made me sure that I must spend a day by that lake in the coming days.

How is the drive from Salzburg to Hallstatt?

Salzburg to Hallstatt’s journey is mesmerising throughout. We descended and entered that charming village of Saint Gilgen. The depth of blue was different when we got closer. But it’s charm remained the same. It was playing hide and seek between the tiled sloped roof houses. The other side of the road had tall mountains, cows grazing on top, and meadows beside roads. The cowbell sound was so loud that we could hear it from the bus!

Small villages, dairy farms, grasslands with hay wrapped, and even an Orchid farm went by. Meanwhile, a huge signboard saying summer slide passed by, and I remembered Rick Steves gliding on sit. The tourists kept walking from one side of the bus to the other to capture something with their phones! Especially whenever wolfgangse lake appeared, they didn’t hesitate to push the person sitting by the window.

Reaching Hallstatt

The bus took a left turn at a T-Junction by the side of river Traun. We could see the church tower on the horizon a few minutes later. The bus stopped, and the “pfsssst” sound of the bus was followed by over-enthusiastic tourists chatter. Some of us waited until the people were in a rush to get off the bus.

There was an old couple who seemed to be frightened by the madness happening on the bus. We couldn’t understand each other’s words because we didn’t have a common tongue. But the expressions on our face was identical.

Can you walk around Lake Hallstatt?

Yes, you can walk, and I thought I would see the glittering lake and alpine houses like a magic wonderland as soon as I get out. Instead, all I saw were people flocking the lake! Not exaggerating; we could see the lake like seeing through peephole -Between the narrow gaps of two bodies.

Somehow making our way through the crowd, we followed Sam to the saltmine cable car, where everyone was rushing. Finally, we got into the cabin with four other quieter humans. Perhaps this was the most peaceful moment after some 30 minutes of menace in an alpine village that was supposed to be beautiful.

I was witnessing the beauty from above. We always refer to heaven above us. But at Hallstatt, we felt the heaven was beneath us. The funicular stopped after probably 8 minutes of the blissful journey, and the frantic tourist menace continued at the train station. Most were in a tizzy to see everything as soon as possible. Finally, all of us headed to the skywalk.

How do I get to Skywalk Hallstatt?

Once you exit the funicular station on top, you can either climb the staircase or take an elevator to get to the Skywalk.

The skywalk revealed heaven even better. We vehemently declared that mother nature is grinning at her best here. Meanwhile, a pack of selfie-takers came with their metre-long sticks shouting, screaming, and taking selfies! So we knew we had to walk ahead and find a better place to relish.

Uphill walk to Hallstatt Salt Mine

The way to salt mine isn’t easy. So the crowd moved to the cafe nearby. Mom and I began climbing until we reached a water spout near the palaeolithic burial ground. Then, staring at the skeleton on display and observing the clay pots beside it, we decided to sit by the fountain to escape the tourists. 

Is Hallstatt Austria touristy?

Already you may know the answer, but the worst part is yet to come. After wandering at the top of Hallstatt for probably 40 minutes, we came down by funicular. To exit the station, you must go through the souvenir shop as big as a mini supermarket with salt lamps, fridge magnets, and T-shirts stocked up! I love souvenir shops, but nowhere have I been pushed and shoved like this!

We both took deep breaths and decided we would find a calmer spot to enjoy Hallstatt despite being overcrowded. Of course, for that, you need a full stomach. So somehow managed to grab a falafel wrap in one of the crowded corner shops. When we stood in line, I observed – You name an ethnicity, you find it among the Hallstatt crowd. So I don’t blame any particular race here – I could identify Telugu, Arabic, Korean and German. All were over-excited to be in the place of their dreams, and their tones reached the highest note while talking. A beautiful place like Hallstatt inculcates mob mentality, even among the finer tourists.

Where is the best view for Hallstatt?

As travellers, we all want to have a nice frame captured. So did I! But once I was in Hallstatt, we wanted a small corner where we wouldn’t get swamped. Like anyone else, we first thought of going to the village square from the food kiosk after checking out the view near the parking area, which is the most famous point. Trust me, mom and I had to push people to get to the lakefront. There were at least 20 tripods and infinite tourists! Somehow mom could make a place for herself by the lakefront beside a tripod stand. Sitting by the bund, she said

“I am done with people – I will sit here. I don’t think I can get pushed by people anymore. This view is beautiful, and there are white swans, also. Suppose you want to move around. I am going to settle here until we leave.”

Where can I walk in Hallstatt?

When there are fewer people, you can walk around anywhere, especially the town square at Marketplatz. It is a lovely square surrounded by traditional houses having balconies and flowers – But when I went there, I guess it was the peak hour! 

Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

Halstatt square with fewer tourists -Dimitry Anikin was fortunate

 People were posing for pictures everywhere. Pretty girls were twirling their flowing gowns. There was a line for particular spots where handsome men tried to pose like models. Then some fitness freaks were trying various yoga poses too! The middle-aged uncles and aunties’ favourite pose was – Titanic!

Where do you take pictures in Hallstatt?

Trust me, nowhere in Austria was I worried about my belongings. But the crowd density here made me cling to my camera back and phone. Within a few minutes, I was back to mom with a sad face!

Surprisingly, mom found her to be content. She said she had already asked two or three photographers to move their tripods a bit so that she and her new-found friend from Tamil Nadu could sit together and watch the lake. While I talked to them, an unknown wannabe photographer set his tripod, and the camera strap fell onto my mother’s head.

Before hating such a beautiful place, I knew I had to make peace with Hallstatt. So I continued on my journey to find a place to admire Hallstatt.

I looked around and headed toward where hardly anyone was heading.

Clueless and restless – I walked swift to the east. Sun was harsh, and very few people were on that road. Hardly one or two bicycles passed me. Within a few minutes, there was a transition! I could hear streams and ducks quacking instead of humans babbling. The water splash from boat rowers and small kids giggling in the stream filled my mind with the hope of finding some peace. Finally, I could see the typical Hallstatt timber houses nearby. Some houses had probably 20 deer antlers. Their gardens were prettier with more creepers. Swift turned to saunter. Most houses were pensions, and some owners were busy mowing the lawn.

Finally, I reached a spot – There were tourists, but they were not loud. Instead, they were sunbathing or taking a short swim in the cold lake water and sipping their beer.

Can you swim in Hallstatt lake?

I could breathe in peace and could see Hallstatt like what the internet images showed. So I took out my shoes, left my camera bag unattended and went on to take a dip. That dip released all the rush stress since morning.

Like the other 50 tourists, I laid back on the grass after clicking probably two or three photos and filled my mind with the nicest vista until my mother called me back at around four, saying we needed to board the bus back in the next 15 minutes.

The summary of the story is –

Is Hallstatt a town or village?

Hallstatt is too picture-perfect village which is home to less than 800, but more than a million tourists visit each year. The bus tours make it easier for “social media-oriented tourists” Most of them (at least with whom I went) are very, very loud. After getting on the bus to get back to Salzburg, some even complained to Sam that the trip could have been for an hour so that they could see one more place on the way!

That half-day trip to Hallstatt felt like more of visiting an amusement park or a circus rather than experiencing the village.

Is one day enough in Hallstatt?

If you really want to enjoy Hallstatt as a small Alpine village, stay at least for a night so that you can enjoy and walk around the town early in the morning and later in the evening after the crowd leaves.

What is the most beautiful village in Austria?

I could have given you the answer if only I travelled throughout Austria at least for six months. Many award Hallstatt with this title. It could be if only humans were little responsible. So out of what I have seen in Austria, I call Kirchberg prettiest village of Austria.

When did Hallstatt become famous?

Going back to Salzburg was quieter than the morning. Most tourists snored, and some of us enjoyed the route that differed from the morning. There was no Wolfgangse lake on the way, but many smaller ski-resort towns appeared. Sam explained then that the tourist influx increased after Hallastatt got recognised as UNESCO Heritage in 2010. Later, a south Korean series was filmed, which brought thousands of Koreans and other south-east Asian tourists in big groups post-2013. Chinese liked the place so much that Chinese mining made a replica of Hallstatt in China.

Some even assume that Hallstatt inspired Arendelle from the famous movie “Frozen.” While the story revolves around Norway. No wonder I saw so many girls in cyan-coloured gowns. Post-trip, I found an article saying, “Hallstatt Wants ‘Frozen’ Fans to Let It Go”.

How can we prevent over-tourism?

In general, travelling in the offseason and visiting less known places is what tourists can do. However, before we travel, we must ask ourselves – why am I going there? If one considers the place Instagram fodder or a mere backdrop for Pinterest pins – Stop there. Not all are interested in history. But we all can afford to “ot behave like untamed animals, peeping into residents’ windows and spoiling their privacy.

There are plenty of public transport options – I wish I had used that instead of the tour. Although I may have learnt a lot from Sam, bus the day turned out to be chaotic.

The area may generate great revenue. But the town officials must plan to limit the number of guests arriving.

Does it mean we all have to become offbeat travellers?

It is not that I am an offbeat traveller. We have faced this rushing shoving at places like Oia in Santorini. Staying for six days in Santorini, we could escape the crowd by heading to the pristine village of Pyrgos.

Having a 9-5 job and travelling on a limited budget, we can’t afford to go on months together of travelling. But we do travel in the offseason. It is only Austria, where I travelled during peak season. Wachau valley was perfect, with fewer crowds. Even Vienna felt better than Halstatt. Having six days in Salzburg, mom and I had figured out when and how to escape the group by being early morning birds and evening hikers in the outskirts.

The Conclusion is-

  • I did everything opposite to what I usually do in Halstatt, like taking a bus tour!
  • I didn’t take public transport and reached Halstatt by 12.30 when tourists from all over the country were. It is not just tourists from Salzburg, Vienna and Graz. People make a day trip (rather than an hour) from Munich, Ljubljana. As I evolve as a traveller, I prefer spending longer time in a place. But, I made a few hour’s trips to Hallstatt.
  • Sometimes I find it is better to be crowded than deserted. But the crowd in Hallstatt – It is next level.

There is nothing wrong with Hallstatt – It is us who are wrong. I hope Hallstatt receives the right kind of tourists before it is ruined and its actual residents disappear!

Did I encourage or discourage you from travelling to Hallstatt? Let me know in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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