Hallstatt was one of the places that I'd seen photos of online but never really thought we'd ever make it to. It's not a big town by any stretch of the imagination (less than 1,000 people, I think), meaning it wouldn't be a destination for us in and of itself, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's a popular day trip from Salzburg. Thus, when we decided to spend time in Salzburg over Christmas, we built in some time for checking out this tourist mecca.
With such a small population, you might think that the town itself might be quite small - and you'd be right! - but Hallstatt actually packs a decent punch with its mountainous surroundings and lakeside setting. There are a few main things to do while in town, and we were able to do some of them.
Definitely take a thorough walk along the main street and branch off onto what back streets you can find for the views and the traditional Austrian homes. Also be sure to visit the two churches in town (both free and very small). We tried to take a hike on a trail just above the town, but found the path a bit snowy/muddy at points - judge for yourself based on the season and your desired adventure level (find out more about the hikes starting out in town from the Tourist Office where we got some good info as well as maps). When the weather's good, check out the Skywalk, which (allegedly) offers awesome views over the town, lake, and mountains. This was on my list, but we ended up skipping it as we weren't willing to shell out €16 per person for the funicular up and back down, but if you hike up, the Skywalk is free! Unfortunately, conditions weren't good enough for the hike during our visit at the end of December.
D - When visiting Hallstatt, it quickly becomes apparent (if you pay attention) that even though the town is probably mostly sustained through tourism, they're a bit uneasy about the whole thing. Like perhaps tourism to them is a necessary evil in order to preserve their tiny town and provincial way of life. I'm 100% certain that this uneasiness has been caused by loud, obnoxious, and over-zealous tourists swarming into town like locusts day after day for decades. So when you walk around town you see signs that say things like "remember that people live here," and "no-drone zone." It kind of reminded me of the town of Oia on Santorini, where tourists gladly and regularly trespass on locals' balconies (and rooftops) to snap the perfect picture under the doctrine of YOLO.
All of this uneasiness made for a somewhat awkward interaction when Shannon and I were traversing through some of the winding back streets of Hallstatt exploring. We turned down one street, then another, then up one staircase, then another in search of the prettiest views in town. We came to one of the many forks and I suggested that we go up another staircase. I started following this guy up but then when he got to the top he just turned around and stared at me. It was only then that I saw the private entry sign he was pointing to. Oops! He probably thought I was just another disrespectful tourist (rather than just a somewhat disrespectful tourist). Fortunately, we didn't get booted out of town or anything, I just apologized, tried to convey through the language barrier that I didn't know, and we went on our way.
And now, a most important part. How did we get to Hallstatt? Many day trips are as easy as hopping on a train or a bus in one city center and arriving an hour later in another. However, Hallstatt is not one of those cases. I'd read online about how there are a few choices, but the cheapest (read: almost always the route we take too) way involves a bus, a train, and finally, a ferry. We took bus 150 from the center of Salzburg to the town of Bad Ischl (where the first four photos below were taken, and also where we got some pastries for breakfast - it's a really nice little town!). We had to wait a little while in Bad Ischl, but like I mentioned, it's not a bad place in and of itself, plus we had to buy our train tickets from the station there (also where the bus had dropped us off) before taking the train to the Hallstatt railway station. From this point, we walked down some steps to a dock where we waited to board the ferry, our final step of the (all-morning-long) journey. In all, it cost us just under €20 each, one-way. If all that feels a bit too confusing, this is the guide we roughly followed (keep in mind that it's a few years old, so prices have increased slightly and times are similar but not identical).
A final fun fact for you: Hallstatt has been recreated, yes, the entire town of Hallstatt!, in the Guangdong province of China. Hallstatt, Austria is popular with Chinese tourists, but not all of them can make it all the way to the middle of Europe, and now they don't have to! This $940 million recreation has made it possible for them to experience the magic within their own country, so next time you say you're going to Hallstatt, make sure you specify which one! ;)