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Winter in Hallstatt, Austria

Hallstatt in winter: A fairytale town in the Austrian Alps

I visited Hallstatt at the very beginning of 2014, and I just realised that I’ve never written about it.

That backpacking trip through Europe took me to a ton of amazing locations. Hallstatt stands out in my memory as one of the best places on our itinerary for travel photography, and I have to say, I was glad to have the chance to experience this destination in winter.

If you don’t know much about Hallstatt, the lowdown is that it’s a tiny and super photogenic town in the Austrian Alps which has become popular with tourists over recent years. It frequently lands a spot in online lists of the prettiest, most fairytale-like destinations in Europe. With a history dating back thousands of years, it’s a place that appeals to both the younger and older crowds and it draws visitors from all over the globe.

I’ve heard that Hallstatt can get fairly busy during the summer months, but I found it to be pleasantly quiet when I visited in winter. There were a handful of other tourists around though it felt like we had the town mostly to ourselves. I also thought the dusting of snow on the mountaintops made it look extra picturesque, which is something only possible to see outside of peak season.

If you’re planning a trip to see this adorable alpine settlement during the colder months, here’s all the deets on my experience visiting Hallstatt in winter!

How to get to Hallstatt:

Catching the ferry from Hallstatt Bahnhof to Hallstatt town
Catching the ferry from Hallstatt Bahnhof to Hallstatt town

Driving to Hallstatt:

Hallstatt is about 1 hour and 15 minutes drive from the city of Salzburg, or about 3.5 hours from Vienna. The drive up through the Alps is super pretty and is an attraction in itself–you’ll no doubt want to take photos of the scenery along the way.

If you’re driving into Hallstatt, you may find it difficult to navigate by car. There’s not a ton of parking and the narrow streets are tight for vehicles. The easiest option is to park in one of the Parkplatz P1 or P2 lots on the south end of town and walk the rest of the way in.

Buses, trains, and ferries:

There are a handful of public transport options for getting to Hallstatt. You can travel by bus which takes around 90 minutes, or via the slightly slower train and ferry which is what I did when I visited Hallstatt in winter. The train drops passengers off across the lake at Hallstatt Bahnhof station, where you then transfer to a ferry which takes you across to the town.

The OBB transport website (which is not particularly easy to use but has all the relevant info) will show you all the public transport options for getting to Hallstatt. You can book tickets online in advance, or at Salzburg Hauptbahnhof station via the OBB counter or ticket machines.

Walking through the streets of Hallstatt
Walking through the streets of Hallstatt

Hallstatt tour options:

If you’re short on time or are confused about getting to Hallstatt on your own (totally understandable if this is the case!), you can book a half-day tour to Hallstatt from Salzburg which operates year-round. This option will allow you to see the major sites with 2.5 hours in town, and includes transport there and back.

You can also see Hallstatt from Vienna. A full-day small group tour to Hallstatt will pick you up from accommodation in the city and take you out to the Alps with a few stops along the way. You’ll get 3.5 hours in Hallstatt including a walking tour of the town and free time to explore.

Looking over the rooftops towards the Lutheran Church in Hallstatt
Looking over the rooftops towards the Lutheran Church

Tips for visiting Hallstatt in winter:

Hallstatt is a great place to visit in winter as you’ll get to see it without a ton of tourists, though it does have a few downsides. There’s not a huge amount of sunlight during the winter months as the mountains surrounding the town are rather tall and block out much of the light. December and January are also fairly rainy months so there is usually some cloud cover at that time.

The temperature can be pretty cold (obvs!) as Hallstatt sits up in the Alps. The average low is about -3°C and the average high is around 4°C. Make sure you dress appropriately, especially as you’ll be spending a few hours outside while exploring the town, and make sure your footwear is suitable for icy surfaces.

Keep in mind that some attractions will be closed in winter. Even though there was still a trickle of tourists flowing into the town in January, we found that only a few cafes and restaurants were open. The Salt Mountain Funicular was also closed, which was a little disappointing, though I’m unsure whether that’s always the case in winter or whether we were just unlucky.

It’s not really worth staying in Hallstatt overnight (unless you are interested in winter sports, in which case you can visit the nearby Dachstein Krippenstein ski resort). Summer visitors could find enough activities to justify an overnight trip, but unless you’re planning on doing some winter hiking in the snow, then I’d say you don’t need to stay. A day trip from Salzburg or Vienna should be sufficient enough for walking around the town and getting some gorgeous photos.

Things to do in Hallstatt in winter:

Winter in Hallstatt, Austria
Hallstatt as seen from the Village Viewpoint

Go to the Village Viewpoint for a photo

You may as well do the popular Hallstatt photo spot first so that you can move on to exploring the town at a relaxed pace afterwards. This postcard view of Hallstatt with its glistening lake and spectacular mountain scenery is what you’ll see on almost all advertisements for Hallstatt–I even used it as the cover photo for this post!

The Village Viewpoint is located just north of the town centre. If you walk along the lakeside road from the ferry terminal, it will take you straight there. On arrival you’ll find an iconic scene that looks gorgeous when the conditions are right. The view looks south towards the town skyline with the Lutheran Church prominent in the foreground and a lovely reflection in the lake’s surface.

Hallstatt Central Square (Marktplatz)
Pastel buildings surrounding Hallstatt Central Square

Stop at the Central Square

The Central Square (Marktplatz) is the heart of the town and is a place where locals meet to socialise. The middle of the square features a Statue of the Holy Trinity monument, and super adorable heritage guest houses with pastel colours and wooden balconies line the edges of the cobblestone plaza.

This spot is where we found one of the few open cafes in winter. It usually holds a Christmas market during December, so if you’ll be visiting in that time, be sure to stop for some Christmas market treats!

Views of Hallstatt from the Parish of the Assumption Church
Graves in the Friedhof Hallstatt Cemetery
Top: Views from Parish of the Assumption Church / Bottom: Graves in Friedhof Cemetery

Visit Parish of the Assumption Church

After the Village Viewpoint, I thought that the Parish of the Assumption Church had the next best views in Hallstatt. Located on hillside just up from Marktplatz, the church has a fantastic vista over the town centre from its balcony.

I’ve always remembered this place as having one of the most amazing graveyards in the world. Beside the chapel is the Friedhof Hallstatt Cemetery which holds wooden graves with tiny A-frame roofs to hold off the snow, all looking out towards the lake and mountains. If you were choosing where to be buried, this cemetery definitely tops the list as the most scenic place to settle after you go.

At the back of the cemetery there’s also a teeny bone ossuary, sort of like the Kutna Hora bone chapel but just a smidgeon of the size and with a collection of creepy decorated skulls.

Looking north along Lake Street in Hallstatt
Looking south along Lake Street in Hallstatt
Top: Looking north along Lake Street / Bottom: Looking south along Lake Street

Walk along Lake Street

Lake Street (Seestraße) is a pretty street with views out over lake. This road will get you from the northern part of town to the southern end, and along the way you’ll see cute boat houses, a small jetty protruding into the water, photogenic houses, and probably some swans.

I came across a cat and was super happy about that, too. I won’t pass up a chance to pat a kitty on my travels.

Ducks on Hallstatt Lake seen from small island
Ducks on Hallstatt Lake seen from small island

Head out to small island

Once you’ve reached the southern end of town, you can venture out over a wooden walkway that connects the shore with a tiny island. This scenic spot has a park that overlooks the lake and mountains, and has views back towards Hallstatt. If the lake isn’t frozen, then you might even see some ducks gliding along the water. It’s a great spot for getting some photos for your social media feed.

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