Hallstatt, Austria: Salt Mines, Swans, and Bones

Many seasoned world travelers consider Hallstatt, Austria to be the quintessential picture-perfect small town. More than one visitor has had to pinch themselves when they stumble upon this stunning town which is surrounded by towering mountains and located on the shores of a placid alpine lake. One glance at the serene streets of Hallstatt will convince you that you have traveled back in time, or perhaps materialized in a carefree dimension where life is sweet and simple.


Photo via Flickr

Hallstatt is home to a skywalk which offers a panoramic view of the city’s distinctive buildings and magnificent mountains. Visitors can access the skywalk by going on a moderately strenuous hike, or by paying a small fee to ride a funicular up the side of the mountain. For those who are wary of heights, strolling through Hallstatt’s Old Town allows visitors to admire quaint buildings adorned with blooming flowers and verdant vines. Those who walk near the shoreline of Lake Hallstatt may spot a white swan or two gliding across the water.

Salt mining has been an important part of Hallstatt‘s economy for several thousand years. Visitors can take a tour of one of Europe’s oldest salt mines, and learn about ancient salt mining techniques. A guided tour of Hallstatt’s salt mines offers a glimpse into deep tunnels which have stood for centuries. The salt mines of Hallstatt are also home to one of the oldest man-made staircases in Europe.

Over the bridge to the salt mine

Over the bridge to the salt mine.
Photo by Johann G/Flickr

Like many other European towns which have been continually inhabited for centuries, Hallstatt is home to an ossuary full of tightly stacked human skulls. The Hallstatt Charnel House—which is located inside of St. Michael’s Chapel—features over 600 painted skulls. The skulls are inscribed with names and bright flowers. Historians are unsure why the people of Hallstatt chose to decorate the skulls of their deceased loved ones. Most researches believe that Europeans employed ossuaries to store bones when they ran out of space to bury their dead below ground. Many historians think that decorating the skull of a loved one was a way to honor a deceased family member after their remains were relocated from their initial resting place.

Hallstatt is home to several boat rental companies. Visitors can cruise Lake Hallstatt for a striking view of one of Europe’s most charming, memorable towns. Travelers can rent a row boat, paddle boat, or motorboat. There are also larger boats which offer guided tours which introduce visitors to Lake Hallstatt’s diverse wildlife and unique history.


Hallstatt may be small, but there is no shortage of things to see and do. If you’re a history buff who loves sky-high mountains and pristine mountain lakes—a visit to Hallstatt is a must. You don’t have to visit a bustling big city to be charmed by Austria’s beauty. Small towns like Hallstatt which have thrived for centuries have a special vitality that will inspire you long after you leave. A leisurely afternoon spent roaming Hallstatt’s serene, Shire-like streets may convince you to ditch big city life and embrace small town living.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *