If ever there was a postcard-perfect town, it’s Austria’s Hallstatt. Pastel-coloured houses overlook a shimmering lake framed by soaring, green mountains that create an impossibly pretty scene. Winter in Hallstatt is so visually spectacular that it’s often compared to the fictional Arendelle in the movie, Frozen.
Despite attracting a flurry of fans to its mythical spires in a blanket of snow, the rumour that it provided backdrop inspiration for the movie isn’t true (it was mainly influenced by the wintry landscapes of Canada and Norway).
Still, it gives you a good idea of the surreal beauty that awaits.
Hallstatt at Christmas is a wonderland of twinkling lights and icicles sparkling from the roofs of quaint wooden houses. To add to the picture, it’s nestled in the Salzkammergut region east of Salzburg, a UNESCO-listed area surrounded by lakes and Alpine mountains for thrilling winter sports. Pack your warmest woollies and get set to enter a real-life, winter fairy tale destination.
Things to do in Hallstatt in Winter
You’ll find an array of enchanting options for what to do in Hallstatt in winter. Not least of all is simply curling up in lake view cafes with hot chocolate and apple strudel. Then, rug up for outdoor adventures and history-hopping on a backdrop of awe-inspiring scenery.
STROLL THE SCENIC STREETS
One of the best (if most obvious!) things to do in Hallstatt in winter is to simply take a stroll through the picturesque streets. The town is small and very walkable, but be prepared for many stairs and slopes if you want to get away from the crowds and explore the hilly backstreets.
Marktplatz is where you’ll find the giant Xmas tree (that’s still up in January), and you can venture up and into many of the back alleyways from there. If you’ve got your camera with you you won’t want to put it down as you discover every picture-perfect corner of this fairytale town. Don’t forget to take a walk away from the town, along the waterfront promenade to get another perspective of the lakeside settlement too.
Have your camera at the ready for epic views from the Hallstatt Skywalk. You’ll hop on the Salzbergbahn funicular for a short ride that takes you 838 metres up the mountain. Located in front of the picturesque Rudolf’s Tower, ‘World Heritage View’ is the nickname for the lookout platform.
=> If the funicular is closed, as it often is from early January, you can walk up to the Skywalk instead. Just keep in mind that it can get extremely slippery when there’s ice on the path! Some of the track has handrails, but not everywhere, and there are some steep drops, so it’s not something I’d attempt with children if there’s ice about.
Walk out for 12 metres onto the free-floating structure to the tip. Astounding, panoramic views of the lake, Alpine peaks and the village nestled into the hills completely surround you. After you pick your jaw off the floor, walk across the scenic bridge to Rudolf’s Tower for a bite to eat at the restaurant. Tours of the famous Hallstatt Salt Mine also depart from here, however, check opening times as the site closes at scheduled times in winter.
ALTAUSSEE SALT MINE
If you can’t experience a Hallstatt mine tour in winter, go deep underground at the nearby Altaussee Salt Mine for a 2.5-kilometre walk through subterranean treasures. Guided by lamps, you’ll traverse tunnels of pure rock salt with walls that glitter in the light. At around 700 metres below ground, discover the Barbara Chapel created by miners in 1935.
More excitement awaits with the miners’ slides, zipping you down to a subterranean salt lake. Still and flat in a cave, the lake is the focal point of a fabulous light and sound show. Afterwards, check out the Fortune of the Art exhibition to learn about the history of the mines in the exact spot where Nazis once stored stolen art.
GET THE POSTCARD SHOT
If you’ve ever seen a picture of Hallstatt in Austria, you’ve no doubt seen this ‘postcard’ shot. Wondering where to take it for yourself? Simply pop “Classic Village Viewpoint” into Google Maps and it’ll take you right there!
Sure, it’s a somewhat unoriginal angle, but when something is this pretty, why not take a pic as your own personal souvenir! Looking for a more original angle? Walk to the other side of the village, and take a photo of the town from Badeinsel Hallstatt. Or climb up to the Skywalk and take in the bird’s eye view instead.
ST MICHAEL’S CHURCH & THE BONE HOUSE
Among the most fascinating Hallstatt winter activities is a visit to the Bone House at St Michael’s Church in the historic centre. The chapel dates back to the 12th century and contains an eerie collection of around 1200 human skulls, 600 of which are hand-painted and arranged into family groups. It’s a tradition that originated in 1720 and the time of death is recorded on each skull.
As the story goes, cremation was once prohibited and the town’s graveyard was too small. Therefore, graves were reopened to create space. The skulls were cleaned and left outside in the sun for bleaching, then painted with wreaths of flowers to symbolise flowers on graves.
To this day, people can request to have their skulls placed in the Bone House ten years after burial. Outside, you’ll see neat rows of gabled wooden graves covered with colourful flowers in the cemetery.
THE HALLSTATT MUSEUM
With finds from the burial ground in the high valley to everyday cultural items, historic treasures displayed at the Hallstatt Museum help you step back in time from the Stone Age to recent history. This isn’t a dusty old museum that makes the kids groan either, with holographic and three-dimensional displays, along with video animations to keep history lively and interactive.
Delve into 7,000 years of life in the ancient salt mining town, including transformative events like the Great Fire of 1750. You’ll pop 3D glasses on to see a floating light sword and take a virtual flight over Hallstatt.
Opposite the museum, combine shopping for winter gear with a history fix beneath Janu’s Sports Shop, where archaeological excavations are located in the cellar.
WARM UP IN THE SHOPS AND RESTAURANTS
All manner of Austrian treats await in Hallstatt’s eateries, and with cosy interiors and traditional decor, they’ll lure you in from the chilly streets. Whether you’re after a quick bite, a full and filling meal, or a warming drink, there’s a restaurant or bar to suit every need and want.
Most of Hallstatt’s shops are located on the main street, and although heavily catered towards tourists, there are a few treasures to be found among the mass. From handcrafted children’s toys to healing crystals, I’m sure you’ll find a little trinket to remind you of your trip to Austria’s fairytale village.
CATHOLIC CHURCH OF HALLSTATT
Built against the steep mountain slopes, the Romanesque Catholic parish church is a source of intriguing stories among Hallstatt World Heritage sites. For example, in the 1980s an Italian couple stole Gothic paintings from the altar. After a 30-year search, the works of art were finally found in a raid.
The picturesque church has been renovated over time from the 12th century and today’s version was completed in 2002.
Gear up for snowy action on a Hallstatt skiing holiday across no less than three ski areas within easy reach. You’ll navigate around 200 kilometres of pistes with conditions to suit everyone from kids to professionals. Krippenstein Freesports Arena features one of Austria’s longest ski runs, at a whopping 11 kilometres. You’ll move around on an ultramodern cable car, try snowshoeing along signposted hiking trails and dine at atmospheric mountain restaurants.
Just a 25-minute drive from Hallstatt, Loser Ski Arena offers a family-friendly piste, off-piste runs for free riders and jumps for snowboarders. Head to the Dachstein West region for a range of ski schools, children’s ski areas and the lovely villages of Gosau and Annaberg.
HALLSTATT WINTER HIKING
There’s no better way to explore UNESCO-listed nature than by donning snowshoes and hitting Hallstatt hiking trails. Snow-topped fir trees and glistening, frozen streams greet you along the Echerntal trail. Along the way, you’ll learn about flora, fauna and history via educational boards. The Experiences trail is a short, panoramic hike from the Dachstein Krippenstein cable car to the incredible 5fingers viewing platform.
Located on the shores of Lake Hallstatt, the charming village of Bad Goisern stretches from Hallstatt to Bad Ischl. A cleared winter hiking trail weaves along the Traun river and it’s a flat, easy walk for all ages. With streets lined by colourful gingerbread houses, narrow alleyways, steep staircases and countless viewpoints, Hallstatt Old Town features its own heritage walk that starts from the Tourist Office.
SPAS, HEATED POOLS AND SAUNAS
There’s no doubt about it, Hallstatt winter travel is ideal for pampering treatments at the region’s wealth of wellness centres. Spend a lavish day at the GrimmingTherme in nearby Bad Mitterndorf. The sauna village offers thermal baths with massage jets, plush lounge chairs with Alpine views and playgrounds for kids.
Head to the Gosau indoor pool to heat up with glass walls providing mountain panoramas. Splash out and book into Hallstatt spa hotels for treatments at your fingertips.
Christmas in Hallstatt
Lighting up the historic market square, the Hallstatt Christmas market is a charming event created by locals, for locals and visitors alike. You’ll enjoy live music from regional groups while shopping for arts and crafts at cute-as-a-button wooden stalls.
Sip zirbenschnaps, otherwise known as pine cone schnapps, take photos of the nativity scene and eat icing sugar-sprinkled pastries while you admire the Christmas tree.
Just up the road in Bad Goisern, the iconic Salzkammergut Krampus parade is a thrilling, unique display of sweet angels, scary devils and, of course, a gift-bearing Santa. In Austrian folklore, Krampus is a half-man, half-goat who chases the naughty children and offers plenty of laughs for adults during the Christmas season.
How Long to Spend in Hallstatt
Hallstatt is a popular day trip destination from Vienna or Salzburg. However, as you can see above, there are plenty of things to fill at least two days in Hallstatt. After that, you can move onto the surrounding areas for skiing or spas!
If you’re looking for places to stay in Hallstatt, I’d recommend the following (remember to book early as hotels fill up quickly!):
- Boutiquehotel Strand Hallstatt for a romantic retreat with modern comforts. Large lakeside rooms with balconies.
- Seehotel Grüner Baum for lakeside rooms and traditional Austrian hospitality.
- Hotel Seehotel am Hallstättersee to stay just outside town in a quiet environment. Family rooms available.
Getting to Hallstatt from Vienna
If you’re wondering how to get from Vienna to Hallstatt, it couldn’t be easier. For drivers, it’s around 300 kilometres on a mixture of Autobahns and scenic country roads. Allow around four hours, however, it’s possible to get there in three.
The fastest trains take just over three hours with around 15 departures each day. Buses are available with two or three different connections en route. Be aware that the trains drop you across the lake from the town, and there’s a small boat waiting which will ferry you across the lake.
Getting to Hallstatt from Salzburg
You’ll find plenty of organised day trip tours to Hallstatt from Salzburg. If you’re hiring a car, the drive is under an hour and a half, but leave extra time for spontaneous detours. There are several car parks in Hallstatt and although it does get busy, there’s enough capacity.
Trains take just over two hours, with about 12 departures per day. If you prefer the bus, you’ll need to swap connections two or three times, however, you’ll arrive in under three hours. It’s also easy to hire private shuttles to get you to Hallstatt from Vienna and Salzburg.
Related Reading: Salzburg in Winter
Top Tours to Hallstatt
As a true storybook destination, Hallstatt winter itineraries are imbued with magic around every corner. It’s hard not to simply stop, gawk and scramble for your camera with each step. However, with thrilling winter sports at ski resorts, historic treasures in the charming village and warm, quaint restaurants tempting you inside with Austrian comfort food, there’s plenty of things to do in Hallstatt in winter. Settle in, soak up the majestic Alpine views and launch into your own winter fairy tale.