I love Hallstatt. And with each visit, I find even more ways to enjoy it. Here are a few tips (which are going into the upcoming edition of our Rick Steves Vienna, Salzburg & Tirol guidebook) that I picked up on my latest trip.
I’m a stickler for eating well. (Not necessarily expensively…just well.) I see each meal as an opportunity to create a memory. And in Hallstatt, I enjoyed a twofer: delicious lake fish with grand lake views. This is the little gravel-covered pier at Gasthof Simony’s restaurant — one of a few fine options along the village lakefront. I was in town during an early-summer cold snap. Not every restaurant had their outdoor seating open, but I was perfectly comfortable in my down vest. In these situations, it’s fine to ask politely if you can sit outside. And when it’s this uncrowded, you can pretty much take your pick of tables. This one will do nicely…
One of my favorite experiences in Hallstatt was riding the funicular up to the mountaintop above town, where they’ve opened a new panoramic viewpoint. You can tiptoe out onto this “Skywalk” and stand high above the village and the glorious Hallstättersee — immersed in 360 degrees of alpine splendor.
After enjoying the viewpoint (and touring Hallstatt’s newly updated salt mine experience), I hiked all the way back down to town on the loooong, steeply switchbacked trail you see in this photo. It was a knee-challenging, vertigo-inducing 45-minute hike…and worth every step.
The salt mine that gave rise to Hallstatt 7,000 years ago is still in operation. And partway down the hillside, at the entrance to an abandoned mine shaft, a poignant little monument honors retiring miners — who hang up their hardhats, permanently, on their last day of work. Each one is labeled with a date and the words letzte Grubenfahrt — “last descent into the mine.”
Farther down, the trail passes over a waterfall as it tumbles out of the mountain — offering a unique perspective on Hallstatt’s mostly vertical stream.
From Hallstatt, I side-tripped to the Dachstein mountain area (about a 10-minute drive away). A cable car whisked me high above the clouds, then I hiked even higher to reach these permanently frozen ice caves. On the frigid but fascinating tour, I clambered through countless caverns and saw many dramatic formations.
The Dachstein cable car continues even higher, to the rooftop of the Salzkammergut — ringed by other snow-covered peaks.
At the end of the day, I enjoyed the Dachstein experience, but I’m not convinced the side-trip was worth the investment of time and money. Hallstatt’s own little lift (mentioned above) brings you not only to a fine viewpoint, but also to a fun salt-mine tour that’s basically redundant with the ice caves. If you’re tight on time, choose either Hallstatt’s salt mines or the Dachstein ice caves — and for my money, Hallstatt is the better value.