The Pearl of Austria - Lake Hallstatt
From the first time I saw an image of Lake Hallstatt I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I could feel the almost eerie calm of the deep dark water and when I closed my eyes I could envision myself there floating in the middle of the lake on a boat in the windless quiet. A place where fairy tales are born... a prince riding along the river’s edge in search of his lost princess. At least that is what my mind conjured up as I dreamed about this place. There is something magical in the images of Lake Hallstatt that captured my soul and this is how it got on our list of places to visit in Europe.
Hallstatt was the site of an early Iron Age culture from 800 to 400 BC, which is known as the Hallstatt Era. Hallstatt is considered to be the oldest still-inhabited village in Europe. In addition to its ancient history, Hallstatt is wedged between sheer mountains and Hallstatter See and is self labeled as the “Pearl of Austria”.
The village of Hallstatt itself is very touristy with shops and restaurants that attract tour buses each day during the season. Obertraun, the village on the east side of the lake is far less touristy and a weekend destination for those living in cities like Munich or Vienna. It’s homes adorned with flowers in the window boxes and neatly stacked piles of wood ready to burn sitting next to most of the village homes. A small number of local restaurants with hearty Austrian food and your favorite mass of beer. There are only a few ways in by road and there is also train service from Vienna or Salzburg. The train station is on the eastern side of the lake which requires train arriving passengers to take a ferry across to the village of Hallstatt.
There are numerous things to do in the area. We rented a cabin in Obertraun for our stay which was both modern and rustic with all of the amenities that we needed and views of the mountains that we will never forget.
Interesting Facts about Lake Hallstatt
- Lake Hallstatt is a lake in the Salzkammergut area of Austria and is named after Hallstatt, a small market town on the lake, famous for its salt mining since prehistoric times and the starting point of the world's oldest and still working industrial pipeline – for brine to Bad Ischl (since 1596) and further to Ebensee. Until the 19th century, it was only possible to reach Hallstatt Village via boat or narrow trails.
- Lake Hallstatt surface area is approximately 3.30 square miles and its maximum depth is 125 metres. It is a popular destination for tourists, especially scuba divers. The lake's primary inflow source is the Traun River.
- Salt has been mined in & around the Salzwelten Salt Mines for over 7,000 years and the entire area is part of the UNESCO World Heritage region of Hallstatt Dachstein Salzkammergut.
- It’s A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lake Hallstatt is 310 kilometers southwest from the Vienna International Airport (via the S-6 autobahn), and 70 kilometers southeast of Salzburg. It is surrounded by beautiful mountains (The Dachstein massif) and the entire area is scenic. Click the map link above to view the Google Map.
A look at the map will show you that there are 3 possible routes to get to Lake Hallstatt, ie; (1) Depart the Vienna International Airport and head west on the E-60 / A-1 a drive of 318 kilometers. (2) Take the S-6 south, a drive of 301 kilometers and this is the route that we took. Or (3) take the E-60 west to route 25 and go south to the 117 / 146 / 145 to Obertraun. This is a drive of 315 kilometers.
You could consider going to Hallstatt via train; From either Salzburg or Vienna you would take an Austrian National OBB train to Attnang-Puchheim where you would then transfer to the local REX train toward Hallstatt. The Attnang-Puchheim train station is 50 minutes from Salzburg and 135 minutes from Vienna. We did not see any auto rental places in the village, so without a car you would have difficulty getting around the area!
Lake Hallstatt Village
It looks like a 'living postcard', pretty from just about every possible angle. This was the farthest north spot we walked to in the village, and we noticed this "lookout point" where we could look back along the lakeside at the village.
You have probably seen this view if you have ever seen any Lake Hallstatt images, which was another reason we felt we had to get this picture! This is almost at the northern end of the village, and off in the distance the shore line you can see is where we parked.
Cabin Exterior View
Really nice sized, quiet and comfortable. We made really good use of that great patio area! Cold beers and an awesome view of the mountains.
There were several other cabins near ours, and a farm was on the northern side of the cabin. Yet we never saw anybody, nor heard any noise. This area is quite a way from the typical touristy areas, so we never saw anyone that wasn't a local.
Cabin Interior View
The cabin had everything we needed to make our stay comfortable; small kitchen but fully equipped, small washing machine, dishwasher and even a small TV.
The best thing of all about this cabin, was that it had a good air conditioner and since it was very hot each day (the heat wave was in full swing), it felt great to be able to come home and enjoy a bit of cool air!
Our Rental Cabin View
This is the view from the cabin we rented in Obertraun. Five Fingers is the mountain to the right, and the Dachstein Krippenstein cable car is in the center of this image.
Obertraun Bicycle Trail
It was hot that morning, and because there were so many steep hills, we stopped for a drink of water. The bicycle route going north from Obertraun is a really nice trail, with it's own bridges. This trail is also known as "Eastern Shore Cycle Path" and is just one section of the Salzkammergut Cycle Way which passes through this "Land with 76 Lakes", and covers a total of 184 kilometers.
Hot Day to Ride
Most of the bicycle trail went through heavily forested areas like this, occasionally the trail would parallel the lake and we frequently had great views of the lake and the village.
As we proceeded north, we crossed bridges and cross trails and the occasional steep set of hills which were challenging on such a hot day. We had originally intended to ride to the next village, but we used so much water that we had to change our plans and return earlier than planned.
You can see in this picture how sweaty I am? The bikes we rented were not great road bikes, so our pedal effort was high and when you combine high temperatures with high pedal effort, you get sweaty results!
Lake Hallstatt Village Main Street
There is only one main street in Lake Hallstatt village, and no cars allowed unless you live here, so walking about is easy. Lake is on the right as we walked north into the village. It is unlikely that you could get lost in this village! We were there early to where a lot of the shops were not yet open, but since our goal was to explore the village and the lake views, we didn't mind. Once we had walked as far north as possible & turned around, some shops were open on our way back through the vilage.
Evangelische Pfarrkirche (Evangelical Parish Church)
Found this picturesque church at the northern end of the village, with the Heritage Cafe & bar on the right side. Doesn't this village look like something that Disney would have created?
Village Marktplatz Area
Very few side streets in this village, this is the Marktplatz with a pretty fountain and shops. We were there early in the day, and most shops were not yet open. By the time we departed the village, everything was in full swing driven by the number of tourists that had arrived.
Dachstein Giant Ice Cave Entrance
Our visit to the Dachstein Giant Ice Cave required a drive from Obertraun to their parking lot, where we jumped onboard the cable car. This brings you to the mid-point station where you get off the cable car and follow the sign up the mountain side to the ice cave entrance.
The proper Austrian name for the ice cave is "Dachstein Riesen-Eishöhle" and the cable car is "Dachstein Krippensteinbahn 1". The "one" designates the cable car from the parking lot to the ice caves and of course "2" designates the cable car from the ice cave area to the top of Five Fingers.
Hiking up to the Ice Cave entrance
The cable car from valley floor up to the Ice Cave area was quick & simple, but the walk up to the ice cave entrance was very steep! Here I was admiring the fact that they had thoughtfully provided places for one to stop and catch their breath!
Warning: The walk up to the ice cave entrance is very steep, so if you are not in good condition perhaps you should not visit here.
Meanwhile in the Valley Below
During the walk up the steep hill (the Ice Caves are at 4,613 feet above sea level) to the ice cave entrance, we stopped to catch our breath and noticed that we could see the cable car station below us. That cable car in the picture is headed up to the top of Five Fingers.
Into the Ice Cave
Click here to read more about the Dachstein Giant Ice Cave. See how everyone is dressed? It is seriously cold inside, yet outside it is hot & muggy, so the cold felt very good. When I said "seriously cold inside" I meant every word, everything inside is frozen solid ice and the temperature descends quickly the farther you go into the cave.
The Pre-Tour Lecture
This is our Dachstein Ice Cave tour group, marching along the trail listening to our tour guide describe what we are seeing. This was early in the tour, the really icy part of the cave is further ahead of us.
We had not yet begun to realize how cold the cave was going to get, but we soon found out!
This picture demonstrates how cold it is inside the cave, everywhere you look is solid ice and the temperature was near 30 degrees farenheit.
Deep in the Cave
As our tour group descended deeper & deeper into the ice cave, it felt like we had somehow gone to the North Pole - ice covered every square inch!
There were a lot of these "ice tunnels" as we trekked further into the ice caves, not sure how they were created but they were very deep!
The End of our Ice Cave Tour
I'm not sure whether we are all admiring the beautiful view of the lake, or perhaps we are all just thawing out after being inside the ice cave? In either event, the view was stunning and everybody stopped for a few minutes to remove their heavier clothing because it was much warmer outside!
The mid-point station is where the Dachstein Giant Ice Cave is located, this is the final cable car up to the top. Not everyone went to the top as some families were only interested in the ice cave. We felt we had to partake of the entire experience, as we might never get back here!
Once the cable car has arrived at the top, and you have exited, you will wind your way over to the observation area via this path.
Five Fingers is southeast of Lake Hallstatt, so the village is actually around the corner of that mountain n the left center of this image. We are walking along the path to the observation platform and continuing to be amazed at the views in the areas below.
Click here to view a Google Images set for the Five Fingers area.
The Valley below Five Fingers
Once you reach the top of Five Fingers and exit the cable car, the observation platform is approximately a 1.5 kilometer walk. Along the way, the views of the lake and the valley below are amazing. As you can see in this picture, the cable car continues onward (Dachstein Krippensteinbahn 3) to a ski area named Gjaid Alm.
Five Fingers Observation Platform
Even though the hike to reach this platform was decidedly a steep downhill hike, getting here provides you with a stunning view of the valley & lake below. It is probably best to not stand on these platforms if you have a problem with heights!
The Valley below the Observation Platform
To the side of the observation platform, we noticed that we could see down into the valley and see Obertraun below us. It is not easy to tell from this picture, but our rental cabin is in that group of buildings. Five Fingers is 6,916 feet above sea level so the views seemed endless - and since the valley below is at 1,683 feet above sea level we felt like we were flying!
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Hallstatt Village Houses Decorations
Like we said previously, the entire village is like a living postcard. This is a typical Austrian home, with numerous flowers in window flower beds. Note that the first floor is a set of shops, the floors above are where the shop owners live.
The houses in the village march up the hill behind the village, and at the top of this hill is the salt mine. You get these unique views as you hike through the village, you must be looking about you constantly, as these kinds of photogenic scenes are everywhere!
Quickest way across the Lake
There were docks in a number of areas in the village, and these people had just departed
the dock area we were about to arrive at. Not sure if they were a private party in a boat, or
whether this boat was taking people across the lake to Obertraun Beach.
The Railroad station is on the eastern side of the lake as well, so this boat could have been either going to pickup train passengers, or taking passengers to the train station.
This is a family owned & operated restaurant, with outdoor & indoor seating and they have a menu that is incredible. Their beer selection was quite good, included Weiss Bier, and the service we received was top-notch. We had some of our favourite German dishes there, and wound up eating several dinners as the food was excellent!
The outside seating area which on a nice day was an excellent place to enjoy a cold beer! In fact on nice days at meal times, it is going to get crowded because this is a popular place to eat & drink.
If you are ever in this part of Austria, do yourself a favor and try to have a meal here and you will be glad you did. We have seen several reviews of this restaurant that were not consistent with the experiences we had, so we have no idea what took place or why. Our suggestion? Try the restaurant and see for yourself.
To visit their website click here. Please note that all of these images are the property of the Gasthof Hollwirt. Please also note further that they are a hotel as well as a good restaurant, so if you are looking for a nice place to stay where you can see the things we saw - investigate these guys.
Seecafé Obertraun am Hallstätter See
This restaurant is located on
the Obertraun Beach with a stunning view of the Lake and Hallstatt village on the
western side of the lake. We spent some time on the Obertraun Beach, for example,
after our bike ride we came back to the beach to soak away our tired leg muscles
(the Lake is incredibly cold for a Floridian!). At approximately 40 degrees farenheit the
lake water was quite a bit better than caffeine!
You cannot see it in this picture, but the bicycle trail we followed to get to the Obertraun Bicycle Trail is behind the Seecafé.
Warning: Due to its proximity to Obertraun Beach & because there are very few places to eat or get a snack nearby, this restaurant can get seriously crowded when the weather is nice!
Our Cabin Rental Neighbor
Our neighbors next our rental cabin have made keen preparations for winter and it is no doubt a safe bet that they are ready for the cold! This kind of "winter preparedness" was to be seen throughout the area, as the permanent residents made sure they had a good supply of firewood for the next winter.
Hallstatt Village from the Obertraun Trail
We took this picture during our bicycle ride on the Obertraun trail going north along the eastern side of the lake. Since the bicycle trail was parallel to the lake for a few miles, the views of the Hallstatt village were constant!
Lake view from Obertraun Beach
This is another view of Lake Hallstatt from Obertraun Beach, where the Village of Hallstatt is just to the left in this picture. The lake was
very chilly as it is fed from mountain runoff water via the Traun River - but as you can see - it was very tranquil.
Water temperatures typically do not exceed 73 degrees farenheit, so a swim in that kind of environment is better than a cup of coffee!
As you can see on this page, we saw a lot of the area and had a huge amount of fun exploring, however, we did not manage to see or do everything that can be found in Lake Hallstatt. Below are some good links for you, however a Google Search would give you the ability to access even more information.
- Just Traveling Thru European Travel Tips
- Just Traveling Thru Travel Planning Tips
- Lake Hallstatt article on the "Wikipedia" site "
- Lake Hallstatt History on the "Hallstatt" site
- Lake Hallstatt Information on the "Hallstatt" site
- 12 Top Tourist Attractions in Hallstatt on the "Planet Ware" site
- Top 10 things to do in Lake Hallstatt on the "Big Boy Travel" site
- Visit the World's Oldest Salt Mine
- Google Search Results list for places to eat in Lake Hallstatt
- Google Search Results list for accommodations in & near Lake Hallstatt
- List of bicycle trails around Lake Hallstatt
- Things to do & see in & around Hallstatt
- Youtube Search Result list for "Hallstatt Austria"
- Amazon Search Results list for "HallStatt Austria"
- Hallstatt Activities on the "Get Your Guide" site
- Visit our Youtube Channel
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