The village of Hallstatt, with its narrow and often steep streets, gave its name to one of the most important eras of prehistory. Some 2,000 graves of prehistoric people, half of them cremated, have been excavated in the area, which Austrians refer to as a "cradle of civilization." Many of the artifacts excavated here dating from Neolithic times are displayed in the Prähistorisches Museum, Seestrasse 56 (tel. 06134/828015). The cremation graves have revealed artifacts that indicated the existence of a ruling class. Apparently the burials continued to about 350 B.C., the late Iron Age. The museum is open May to September daily 10am to 6pm, October and April daily 10am to 4pm, and November to March Monday and Tuesday 11am to 3pm. Admission is 8€ ($13) for adults and 4€ ($6.40) for children.
The center of this beautifully situated village, with views of the Dachstein mountain massif, is the Marktplatz (Market Square), which contains some 16th-century buildings.
You can visit the Pfarrkirche (Parish Church), which is situated within a churchyard bordering the dark waters of the lake. The house of worship is a large structure from the latter part of the 15th century. Visitors can also go to the Chapel of St. Michael, a Gothic church next to the parish church. The cemetery was so small that this karner (charnel house or bone house) had to be used as a burial site starting in the 17th century.
The Salt Mines in Salzburg
Northwest of Hallstatt is one of the most distinctive geological formations in the region, Salzwelten/Hallstatt (tel. 06134/8251; www.salzwelten.at), which is not to be confused with Salzburg, the city. Miners have been hauling vast quantities of salt out of the mountain for centuries; the mines are still active and visitors can tour them to get insight into the amount of work needed to create and run a modern mine. Teams of archaeologists have accumulated many rare objects from the debris left by former miners.
To reach Salt Mountain from Hallstatt, take an uphill ride on the cable car that departs from the western suburb of Lahn, a 5-minute walk from Hallstatt's railway station. In May and from mid-September to mid-October, the funicular runs daily from 9am to 4:30pm; from June to mid-September, it runs daily from 9am to 6pm. The only way you can visit the mines is as part of a guided tour, which is 22€ ($35) for adults, 13€ ($21) for children ages 7 to 15, and 11€ ($18) for children ages 4 to 6; children under 4 are not admitted. The price includes round-trip transfers on the funicular. From May 1 to May 24 and from mid-September to late October, tours are conducted daily at frequent intervals, from 9:30am to 3pm. From May 25 to September 13, tours are conducted daily from 9:30am to 4:30pm. The mines are closed from late October to April 13. Although tours of the mines take only 50 minutes, you should allow 2 1/2 hours for the full experience.
There's a restaurant and snack bar with a terrace and a belvedere for taking in the view. Hikers can go all the way from here to the Iron Age cemetery, an approximately 1 1/2-hour trip. If you ask, the tourist office will outline a series of hikes in the area. One that goes along the Echerntal to Waldbachstrub, at the top of the valley, has lovely waterfalls along the way. You can also climb to the Tiergartenhütte, which has a small inn, and on to the Wiesberghaus, 1,885m (6,184 ft.). After that, only the hardy continue to the Simony-Hüttee at 2,205m (7,235 ft.), where there's another small inn lying at the foot of the Hallstatt Glacier. From Simony-Hüttee, mountain climbers can summit the Hoher Dachstein, the loftiest peak in the massif (2,995m/9,826 ft.); the climb takes 3 1/2 hours.
The Dachstein Ice Caves, Dachstein Bahn, A-4831 Obertraun, are among the most spectacular natural sights of Upper Austria. To reach them, drive to Obertraun, 6km (3 3/4 miles) east of Hallstatt, where a sign in the vicinity will direct you to the lower station of the cableway that takes you to the caves. The cableway deposits you at the intermediate platform (1,351m/4,432 ft.) on the Schönbergalm. From here, it's about a 20-minute walk to the entrance to the caves. A round-trip ticket costs 14€ ($22) for adults and 7.70€ ($12) for children.
Among the many attractions is the Rieseneishöhle (Giant Ice Cave), where even in summer the temperature is about 30°F (-1°C). Be sure to dress for the cold. Among the ice cave's breathtaking features are the frozen waterfalls. You'll also see the so-called King Arthur's Cave and the Great Ice Chapel. The ice cave is open from the first of May until mid- to late October daily from 9am to 4pm; a guided tour is 8.80€ ($14) for adults and 5.20€ ($8.30) for children. If you also want to visit Mammoth Cave, a combined ticket is 14€ ($22) for adults and 7.60€ ($12) for children. Mammoth Cave has large galleries (subterranean passageways) cut through the rock by ancient underground torrents. It takes about 1 1/2 hours to go on a guided tour of these caves. You're allowed to visit only a small part of the cave network, which totals 37km (23 miles) in length, with a drop of 1,180m (3,871 ft.). For information, call tel. 06134/8400.
From the Schönbergalm station, you can go by cableway to the upper platform at a height of 2,111m (6,926 ft.). This is the Hoher Krippenstein ★★, which offers a panoramic view of the Dachstein massif. A chapel erected in the 1950s commemorates the accidental deaths of 13 teachers and students that took place here. The cableway operates every 15 minutes daily from 9am to 4pm. In summer, don't be surprised if there's a line. From Krippenstein you can take a cable car down to Gjaidalm (1,793m/5,883 ft.).
Other Natural Attractions
The region around Hallstatt is riddled with geological oddities, including caves, caverns, and glaciers whose ice never melts. A local cavern that's particularly easy to visit is Koppenbrüllerhöhle (Koppenbrüller Cave). Within its bowels, there's a raging underground stream whose activity causes continual erosion (and enlargement) of the cavern. The local municipality views it as a natural wonder and, as such, maintains a series of underground catwalks and galleries that you can walk along.
The easiest way to reach the cave is by car or taxi, but it's also accessible via trains, about three a day, that pull into the local station, Koppenbrüllerhöhle, after a 15-minute ride from Hallstatt or a 5-minute ride from Obertraun. There's a hotel, the Gasthaus Koppenrast, nearly adjacent to the railway station, which serves as an additional landmark for motorists. From here, you have to walk for about 15 minutes across well-marked trails to reach the cave. One-hour guided tours are conducted from early May to late September daily from 9am to 4pm for 7.50€ ($12) for adults and 4.40€ ($7) for children.
A final option for natural sightseeing is to check out the view over the steep and foreboding south wall of the Dachstein. For the best outlook, take the Gletscherbahn cable car uphill to an alpine plateau known as Hunerkogel, site of a hotel with its own cafe and restaurant. To reach the base of the Gletscherbahn cable car, drive for 16km (10 miles) along Route 166, following the signs to Ramsau (which you'll pass through) and Schladming, which lies across the border from Upper Austria, in Styria. The 12-minute cable car ride operates year-round daily from 8am to 5pm, with the exception of annual closings between November and Christmas and from early April to mid-May. At the upper belvedere (the above-mentioned Hunerkogel, 2,696m/8,845 ft. above sea level), you'll enjoy a panoramic view that includes the Grossglockner Pass and the Salzkammergut Alps, and a sweep of the Schladminger Gletscher, where some hardy locals sometimes ski on rock-strewn, granular snow even in midsummer.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.