Describing Hallstatt as “a picturesque lakeside town” as we, admittedly, were about to do, would be a huge understatement.
Compared to the reality of the scene, the adjective “lakeside” is about as lackluster as it gets. Standing on the shore of Hallstätter See, surrounded by stone cliffs and beautiful wooden structures that somehow, despite enduring centuries of harsh weather, are just as vibrant as they were when they were first constructed, is an experience that no image, no matter how enhanced, can truly capture. Hallstatt’s nested configuration is accented by the towers of the Lutheran Protestantand Catholic Parish Churches,which draw the eye upward along the steep slopes of the Alps to the sky above. The town is indeed closely linked to the mountains themselves, as its history was shaped by the salt mining industry. Check out the history of saltmining at the Hallstatt Museumor take a cable car up to see the salt mines themselves.
Hallstatt sits on the southwestern bank of Hallstätter See, which itself is located in southwestern part of Austria. The small town hugs the lake pretty closely, with the city center and promenade—the most tourist-dense region—literally sitting on its shore. For this reason, the water is the simplest way to orient yourself in town. It is almost always visible between buildings, above buildings, or right in front of you. Hallstatt’s main street, Seestraße, intersects with major thoroughfare Hallstättersee Landesstraße (and by major we mean you’ll maybe pass a dozen other cars while following it) near Marktplatz, the town’s main square.
Getting to Hallstatt is easiest by train. Trains stop at many towns surrounding the lake; Hallstatt’s station is across the lake from the town itself. A ferry runs back and forth between the station and the center of town, and is both a convenient and fun way to start your visit (€2.50 one-way). Buses also loop from Hallstatt back and forth between Obertraun and Bad Goisern.
Walk! Apart from bus and ferry services to get in and out of town, walking is your best option, and it’s half the fun of visiting the town. Bicycles are a hassle to navigate in the city center, but can be great options for exploring the promenade, nearby beaches (the best are on the southernmost tip of Hallstätter See), or surrounding region.
Café zum Mühlbach
($$) Oberer Marktplatz 53; 0676 534 85 19; open Tu-Su 10am-7pm
Entrées €5.50-13.30, fresh fish €18-20; cash only; vegetarian options available; limited wheelchair accessibility
Just slightly off Seestraße,Café zum Mühlbach offers a handful of quick-seller menu items—burgers, pizza, pastries, and beer—alongside fish, caught fresh from the lake daily. The patio seating spans the width of multiple buildings, creating its own de facto square on the small, quiet street. As for the pizza, the crust isfluffy and delicious, but for a cheese pizza, the amount of cheese is admittedly borderline paltry, not the gooey cheese-laden dairy swamp we prefer.