The Hallstatt-Dachstein Salzkammergut area has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List with the following inscription : “Human activity in the magnificent natural landscape of the Salzkammergut began in prehistoric times, with the salt deposits being exploited as early as the 2nd millennium BC. This resource formed the basis of the area’s prosperity up to the middle of the 20th century, a prosperity that is reflected in the fine architecture of the town of Hallstatt.”
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 spectacularly picturesque, due to its location on a narrow rocky west bank of the Hallstätter See with the sheer rising mountains behind it. Considered by some to be one of the most beautiful places on earth, Hallstatt is sometimes called “the pearl of Austria”.
During the “off season”, few shops and restaurants are open, and in some periods it might even be difficult to find a place to stay. Advance reservations would help ensure acceptable accommodations and avoid a worrisome search for an open hotel.
To get there by train is most scenic indeed. From the main line between Salzburg and Vienna (2-3 trains per hour), get off at Attnang-Puchheim. Take a connecting train from here towards Bad Ischl and Obertraun (trains are sometimes labelled “Stainach-Irdning”). Get off at the Hallstatt station which looks more like a halt in the wood, and find yourself – on the other side of the lake with a gorgeous view on the town. A regular ferry service will meet each arriving train and take you to the town across the lake (price: €2.40 one way). One of the best views of Hallstatt is from this ferry ride across the lake, especially in the morning when the sun is turning the town orange and yellow. Beware the weather: in winter the lake may freeze, hence no boat. In this case, ask at the station or the train conductor.
When leaving, the boat takes you back to the tiny train station, where you may take the train back to Attnang-Puchheim and transfer to your next destination. The boat meets each train leaving the station, and the schedule is posted at the boat dock, or it also is available at tourist information. The tourist information office can provide further information about train schedules since the train station is likely unmanned (and it is across the lake). Buy your tickets at the vending machine at the station (but only with cash) or in advance – this is a self-service line and you have to get a ticket before boarding. Arriving at Attnang-Puchheim, check the departures screens for your onward journey. But be prepared, the transfer may be fast, as Attnang-Puchheim is not a big station, and the passing trains will not stop for long.
If you are based in Austria and want to visit Hallstatt in only one day, a cheap option is the Einfach Raus Ticket (€32 for up to 5 persons), allowing unlimited train rides throughout Austria for a whole day (from 09:00 to 03:00 the next day). You can only take regional trains (R or REX), but fortunately such trains circulate on most lines in Austria. The train from Attnang-Puchheim to Hallstatt is of course a regional train too.