Hallstatt is the quintessential Alpine lakeside burg, its pretty houses and slender church spire clustered along the lakeshore against a spectacular backdrop of mountains. Hugely popular with day-trippers from Salzburg, it’s a place with fewer than 800 inhabitants – some would call it a village – yet it sees up to 10,000 tourists a day, or around a million visitors a year.
Last month, around 100 residents blocked off access to the town for a period. They argue that their hometown has simply become too busy, too noisy and swamped with tour buses. They’ve called for the daily number of visitors to be capped, and a ban on tour buses entering the town after 5pm. “Radical frontiers for mass tourism,” read one protestor’s placard.
It’s not the first time concerns have been raised by Hallstatt’s residents: recently, they put up a wooden “anti-selfie” fence, which effectively spoiled the view people had traveled for. The move, however, backfired on social media, and the fence was later removed.
A must-visit selfie stop off
A Unesco site since 1997, Hallstatt is home to some of the oldest salt mines in the world, with a history stretching back 7000 years. Its use as a filming location for the popular Korean TV drama Spring Waltz, which first aired in 2006, catapulted it to fame in Asia – and in 2012 a full-sized replica of the town was opened in China’s Guangdong province. With its proximity to Salzburg, Hallstatt is now a must-visit selfie stop for many travelers to the region.
The flip side to the recent local opposition, of course, is that Hallstatt depends on the revenue from tourism – there’s no local industry as such, and unlike the resorts in the surrounding Dachstein mountains, it’s not a ski destination.
A 2024 European Captial of Culture
In 2024, 23 towns, villages and other locations across the Salzkammergut will become a European Capital of Culture. The designation includes Hallstatt – it would be impossible to exclude it – which means the town will inevitably see an additional influx of visitors next year. Those who want to avoid the crowds might consider going outside the main peak season. Spring and autumn are great times to visit the Salzkammergut.
To skip the crowds in Hallstatt, consider these towns instead
Here’s a simple secret: you only have to go a very short distance from Hallstatt to find yourself in another, frankly just as beautiful, Austrian lakeside town, set amid exquisitely beautiful mountain scenery – with a fraction of the number of visitors. With its 70-something picture-perfect lakes, the Salzkammergut certainly has no shortage of beautiful alternatives to Hallstatt.
Altaussee is an almost impossibly beautiful spot, its glittering lake (Altausseer See) surrounded by a wall of mountains perfect for easy walks and challenging mountain hikes alike. (You might recognize the far end of Altausseer See: it was a filming location for the 2015 James Bond film Spectre.) Altaussee is only a couple of stops past Hallstatt on the train from Bad Ischl, followed by a short bus journey from Bad Aussee – but it’s much, much quieter. Not far from Altaussee is one of the two famous salt mines in the area, where tours tend to be less busy than those of the mine in Hallstatt.
Just 45 minutes from Salzburg on the #150 bus to Bad Ischl, the picture-perfect town of St Gilgen stands on the shore of Wolfgangsee, a lake stretching below the steeply pitched slopes of Schafberg. Ferries run to the town of St Wolfgang, from where a mountain railway carries passengers up Schafberg.
On the lake of the same name, nearby Mondsee looks out onto lower, rolling hills, and has a nicely preserved old town center, not to mention a hugely impressive church – best known as the filming location for the wedding scene in The Sound of Music.
Also just a short bus ride from Bad Aussee, Grundlsee is larger than Altausseer See, and a popular spot for a refreshing swim and pedal-boat rides – and more of those incredible mountain views. A short stroll leads to the more secluded Toplitzsee, where traditional flat-bottomed wooden boats take passengers out onto the lake.
The elegant spa town of Bad Ischl was the summer residence of Emperor Franz Josef for many years, and still has something of an imperial air. This harks back to a time when this town, rather than Hallstatt, was one of the most desirable places to be seen not just in the Salzkammergut, but in the Habsburg Empire.