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This Snow Laden Alpine Village Is Like a Christmas Card Come to Life

Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht, Alles schläft, einsam wacht.

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.

Slide 1 Hallstatt Museum
PHOTO: Lia Garcia/Practical Wanderlust
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Hallstatt Museum

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.

INSIDER TIPTo learn more about the fascinating history of the area, spend an afternoon exploring the small but informative Hallstatt Museum.

 

Slide 2 Village Across the Lake
PHOTO: Lia Garcia/Practical Wanderlust
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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.

Slide 3 Frozen Waterfall
PHOTO: Lia Garcia/Practical Wanderlust
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Frozen Waterfall

Hallstatt is a quiet little village, but if you crave excitement, there are a few activities you can do nearby. Dachstein Krippenstein offers 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.

 

Slide 4 Resident Swans
PHOTO: Lia Garcia/Practical Wanderlust
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Resident Swans

There’s an unspoken rule that clearly states no destination can be a true fairytale village without swans. Hallstatt probably invented that rule—they’ve got plenty of majestic alpine swans.

 

Slide 5 Goulash and Dumplings
PHOTO: Lia Garcia/Practical Wanderlust
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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.

Slide 6 The Marketplatz
PHOTO: Lia Garcia/Practical Wanderlust
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The Marketplatz

At the center of town is the pastel-colored Marketplatz, the main town square. Spend some time exploring the streets connecting to the Marketplatz—you’ll find tiny little shops tucked away in alcoves and alleys, selling treats and trinkets.

Slide 7 Wooden Buildings
PHOTO: Lia Garcia/Practical Wanderlust
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Wooden Buildings

Hallstatt isn’t exactly a hidden gem. Tour buses full of day trippers from nearby Salzburg begin arriving at 9 a.m., and Hallstatt’s main street is filled with tour groups around midday. To avoid the crowds, plan to spend a couple of nights staying in town instead of taking a day trip. Early morning and late afternoon-evening are the perfect times to explore a quieter Hallstatt!

Slide 8 Hidden Staircase
PHOTO: Lia Garcia/Practical Wanderlust
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Hidden Staircase

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.

INSIDER TIPWear shoes that are snow-proof and ice-friendly. Although the main road is salted and cleared daily, the wooden staircases are covered in ice and snow, making climbing them a little bit treacherous without proper footwear.

 

Slide 8 Exploring Hallstatt
PHOTO: Lia Garcia/Practical Wanderlust
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Exploring Hallstatt

Spend a whole day wandering through town, making snow angels, gawking at mountains, befriending swans, buying handmade wooden ornaments and drinking Pinecone schnapps. Ahhh…it’s a Christmas dream come true.

Slide 9 Catholic Church Art Heist
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Lutheran Church

St. Michael’s Chapel, is home to the charnel house — aka the “Bone House.” True to its name, the quaint little chapel is home to over 600 lovingly decorated human skulls, products of a local interest in family skull painting developed in the 19th century. What an adorable hobby.

The tall spire of the Evangelical Lutheran Church is iconic to Hallstatt, but in the 1980s, the less iconic Catholic Parish Church next door stole the show and became famous for a very different reason: a mysterious art heist. Four Gothic paintings disappeared from the altar of Mary, seemingly vanished into thin air. The abducted paintings were finally recovered in 2017 and have since been restored to their rightful home. One can only assume that Carmen Sandiego is furious over the foiling of her devious plot.

Slide 10 Christmas Decorations
PHOTO: Lia Garcia/Practical Wanderlust
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Christmas Decorations

After a day of taking in this winter wonderland, get a fresh lebkuchen for dessert and try the local spirit: zirbenschnaps, aka Pinecone Schnapps. It tastes like Christmas and forests full of snowy pine trees and it will make your soul happy. We did mention that Hallstatt was a Christmas town come to life, didn’t we? Visit this Alpine village to discover its charm and rich, fascinating history.

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