Austria’s oldest and probably the most photographed village is steeped in fairytale charm. In fact, Hallstatt is so pretty that the Chinese even made a replica of it! And who can blame them? Tucked away between the towering Dachstein mountains and the tranquil Hallstatt lake, the atmospheric backdrop and unspoilt scenery of the village lends it an air of old-world romance. Travel here and you simply can’t go wrong with photography in this post-card pretty village, even if you tried.
The husband and I took the train for a day trip from Salzburg. As the train chugged along in the Alps, we felt like we were being transported an alternate, magical universe. The ferry is timed to match train arrivals bring in the many travel and photography addicts. As we get near, every camera phone on the ferry is whipped out for the perfect shot – this is material for serious insta envy!
The residents must have thighs of steel here, with all the climbing involved. But with Baroque houses nestled in the mountains, shimmering lake and serene allure, is it really a shocker that a million tourists travel to this this wee village of 800 inhabitants every year?
Here is how to make the most of your travel to one of the loveliest places we’ve ever visited (and probably the most romantic as well!).
Hallstatt Market Square
With a pretty market square that looks like it’s made from chocolate, it’s a great start for a perfect selfie or some serious photography. With cafes, bars and restaurants, the market square is also the venue for concerts and the Christmas market. It’s hard to imagine that this pretty square with its Holy Trinity statue was burnt down in a fire on September 20, 1750.
The catholic parish church
This pretty church adds to the romantic, post-card effect greatly – it dates back to 1181 and was daringly built in the late Gothic times high up on a rock with a steep drop and in 1505, finally morphed into the church as it stands today. This is where salt miners and the salt lords worshipped and the church has two aisles – used alternately by Catholics and Protestants. Also a great vantage point for photography.
Go around the church and via its picturesque cemetery (it’s funny to say that, but everything is great for photography in this village!) This church of skulls was a highlight of our trip – the charnel house or ‘Bone House’ in St Michael’s Chapel has is home to 1200 skulls – 600 of which are artistically painted. The exquisitely detailed artwork on each carefully bleached skull was fascinating.
Why preserve and decorate skulls? Given that the village isn’t exactly sprawling, there is limited room for graves. So, when a grave was reused for a new burial, the skull or bones were transferred to the charnel house as part of a second funeral. The identity of the dearly departed was preserved by decorative paintings, inscriptions and sometimes, the names or initials.
Hallstatt Salt Mine
We took a tour of the salt mine – frankly, the husband was more keen, I’ve never been entirely comfortable in underground spaces. I’m glad to say that I was persuaded for I am a convert. First up, the five-fingered view point offered the most incredible panoramic view of the lake and the mountains, perfect for some incredible photography. This is one of those rare moments where you find yourself in perfect harmony with yourself, your partner and your life.
Take the funicular up to the salt mine and the views get even more spectacular (if that’s possible!). There’s a little wooden train in the mine, whooshing down slides to go to the lower levels, imaginative use of multimedia storytelling on the salt mine tour. There’s even a man preserved in salt here! We ended up marvelling at the slick way the tour was designed to talk about… well, salt.
For centuries, locals here traded a sought-after commodity found deep below the surface: salt. Here you can find a subterranean salt lake and the mummy of a prehistoric miner who became preserved in salt.
Way back, Emperor Franz Josef and his Elisabeth arrived here on the day of their engagement. We totally get why – for the charm is irresistible. Whether you’re single or with your partner, romance is definitely in the air – and the Chinese knew it!
- The best photography vantage point is from the ferry on the lake.
- You can drive – but we recommend the eco-friendly and scenic train option for travel to Bad Goisern, Gosau, Hallstatt or Obertraun to reach the village.
- Explore via the hiking trails or take a mountain bike – travel around the region is incredibly activity and photography friendly.
- If you want to avoid the tourist rush in the summer, winter is just as pretty – if not more magical. Snow capped peaks, festive Christmas markets and more make it worth braving the temperatures and for perfect photography.