Nestled high into the Austrian Alps on the shores of a shimmering lake, Hallstatt, Austria is a Christmas fairytale come to life. The town is a living embodiment of those Christmas villages your grandmother builds every year, complete with tiny Christmas trees, snow-topped spires, and a chapel full of skulls — you know, the usual accoutrements.
Hallstatt is a charming destination for holiday travelers looking to frolic in the snowy mountains of Austria. Throw on your fluffiest scarf, grab a mug of mulled wine, and discover why Hallstatt should be on your Christmas wish list this year.
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Hallstatt dates back to 500 BC, when some lucky explorers discovered that the area was sitting directly on top of a coveted natural resource: salt. The world’s first salt mine was built, and residents have enjoyed well-seasoned food and luxurious baths ever since. Despite its long history, what you’ll see in Hallstatt today was only built about 700 years ago — relatively young, by European standards.
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Village Across the Lake
If you arrive by train, entering Hallstatt is as magical as the town itself. You’ll first glimpse the spired roofs of Hallstatt from the tiny ferry (whose name is Stefanie) as you cross the lake towards the majestic, snowy mountains.
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Hallstatt is a quiet little village, but if you crave excitement, there are a few activities you can do nearby. Dachstein Krippensteinoffers skiing, snowboarding, snow-shoeing, paragliding, and — if you’re some kind of Olympic athlete who enjoys scaling snowy mountains in your free time — ice climbing. If you’re not half White Walker and you’d prefer to re-enact scenes from Frozen, head to the Giant Ice Cave for less terrifying adventures — there’s no chance of running into the Night King there.
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Goulash & Dumplings
Playing outside in the snow can work up quite an appetite! Hallstatt has plenty of comfort food for wintry days, like this delicious bowl of goulash served with traditional Austrian dumplings at The Bräu-Gasthof, a 700-year old brewery that also happens to be one of the best restaurants (and guesthouses) in town.
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If you’ve got no choice but to visit Hallstatt on a day trip, here’s another tip to avoid the crowds: start climbing! Walking through town, you’ll come across several little staircases that lead up the mountain that this little village is built into. Climb them, and you’ll soon find yourself above the crowds and exploring some cozy, quiet, blissfully empty little paths. Hallstatt is full of tiny paths and little corners to explore, and the crowds tend to stay down near the main road. Plus, continuously climbing tiny staircases will help you stay warm.