You’re in the midst of your Euro Trip planning and you know you want to visit the picturesque village of Hallstatt while you’re in Austria, but you run into a dilemma – do you go for a day, or do you stay overnight? Is it worth spending a precious night in the town or is a daytrip from Salzburg or Vienna sufficient? In this post, I’ll cover what you can expect in Hallstatt and give you my recommendation.
As background for those of you that may not be familiar with Hallstatt, it is a small town in the middle of Austria, just southeast of Salzburg and west of Vienna. The town is situated in the middle of the country and sits along the shores of Hallstatter See Lake. Up until the 19th century, the town operated the salt mines which ran its economy, but since the mines were exhausted, the town had shifted to cater to tourism (although you can still visit the mines). Beginning in the mid-2000s, the town was featured in several prominent TV shows, which resulted in a boom of tour groups placing Hallstatt on its itinerary. Today, there are estimated 10,000+ tourists visiting the small town every day.
The entire town is just under 60 square kilometer (~23 square mile), and has buildings built on various slopes that mirror the mountain landscapes flanking on all sides. You can literally walk from one end to the other at a brisk pace in under an hour, and be able to quickly window shop the collection of small shops and vendors catering to tourists. There are a few restaurants and hotels / inns lining the shores, but the selection is limited in all honesty.
So why are people flocking to this place? Well for one, there is this iconic shot of the town with its church steeples along the calm lake waters, surrounded by snow capped mountain peaks. Not surprisingly, this view has earned the town the unofficial title of “The Most Instagrammable Town in the World,” and the adoration of millions of travelers around the world. But of course, that fame results in crowds. The iconic photo shoot location has numerous signs that kindly ask visitors to respect the residents in the area, which is still difficult to do when there are 100+ people lining up to get that perfect shot. It inevitably means having others in your photo, feeling rushed, and the sad realization that this beautiful town has become a cheap tourist attraction.
Going back to the original dilemma, I believe an overnight stay in Hallstatt is the superior option. First, despite the small set of accommodation options, there are some great hotels such as Seehotel Gruner Baum, which is where we stayed. We liked this hotel because 1) it was close to the ferry you take to get into the town (assuming you took the train and not a tour bus), 2) the well-appointed rooms (with saunas!) have an absolute stunning, unobstructed view of the lake and mountains, and 3) it houses one of the few full service restaurants that operate all day. The hotel was a bit short on outlets, but that is fairly common in Europe and we usually travel with this handy adapter that solves the problem for us.
Second, the best photo opportunity will be when the crowds are not around, which is very early in the morning (before 7am) and towards dusk (after 3/4pm). But since all tours arrive at noon and leave after a couple hours, you would have no chance to take decent photos, especially in other picturesque (but not as popular) parts of town (see below).
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, staying overnight will allow you to take the town in its pure form rather than as a commercial entity – which in my view creates a magical experience that will remain forever in your memory, not just in your Instagram feed.