Catching a train to Hallstatt, Austria

While this visual story can be viewed on any device, I highly recommend viewing on a laptop or larger screen to get the full experience of the media. The details are in the pixels.

Where the fixation began

More than two decades ago, I saw an HBO mini series that changed my life. Band of Brothers, a ten-part series about WWII, is still one of the most realistic and terrifying depictions of the second great war ever made.

If you haven’t yet seen it, just know I’m disappointed in you.

However, as a recap, the series follows Easy Company of the American 101st Airborne Division as they drop into Europe and fight the German war machine from the beaches of France, into Holland, Belgium, and eventually making their way into Germany and Austria—through to the end of the European Theater portion of the war.

In the final episode of the series, you can catch a glimpse of the spectacle that is Austria. The entire episode was filmed around Zell am See in the western part of the country.

When I initially saw this series, I was 15 and had never really traveled anywhere—not even within the USA. However, I was absolutely infatuated with the depth of the region and tried to learn as much as I could about this topographic Elysium. Visiting Austria was something I knew I had to do, since the entire country looked like an alpine paradise. One town in particular caught my attention—a quaint little mountain town called Hallstatt.

After 20 years, I finally had the opportunity to adventure there.

A quick teaser

The story within offers many details of my travels from Vienna to Hallstatt via many still images and video clips. If you prefer a brief visual synopsis, I offer you a video that documents the entire trip in a mere 4.5 minutes.

The Best Journeys Begin with A Good Friend & a Train

An ÖBB train rests on its tracks in Austria
An ÖBB train rests on its tracks in Austria

My pal Filipe, whom I’ve worked with for nearly 9 years, fell victim to my pleas for an adventure companion. Even though we’re each native to countries divided by the Atlantic, I’m fairly convinced we were separated at birth. In addition, Filipe is an expert navigator of the world. In his previous life, he was probably a cartographer.

Be sure to read Filipe’s more interesting side of the story, on his blog Mutelife, where he shares even more great images and video.

So anyway, Filipe being the fantastic human that he is, agreed to fly in for a weekend trip to Hallstatt with me, immediately following an international holiday with his family. (Lena, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry I stole your husband, but we have to share.)

I was pretending to be paparazzi as Filipe photographs some snowy mountains overlooking Obertraun, Austria
I was pretending to be paparazzi as Filipe photographs some snowy mountains overlooking Obertraun, Austria

Vienna to Hallstatt

Initially, I thought that travel to Hallstatt was going to be more difficult than it was. Turns out, the journey from Vienna to Hallstatt was a mere ~4 hours via train with one connection and a short bus or taxi ride to Hallstatt from Obertraun, Austria on the other side of the lake.

Since I was in Vienna for a work conference, there weren’t any viable excuses prohibiting me from visiting my childhood dream.

A map of the train routes from Vienna to Hallstatt, Austria
A map of the train routes from Vienna to Hallstatt, Austria
While on the train south, simply continue 2 more stops to Obertraun. Then a quick bus ride will get you to Hallstatt on the west side of the lake.
While on the train south, simply continue 2 more stops to Obertraun. Then a quick bus ride will get you to Hallstatt on the west side of the lake.

3 Easy Steps to Traverse Austria:

  1. Take a train West from Vienna to Attnang-Puchheim station.
  2. Take a second regional train South from Attnang-Puchheim station to Obertraun, Austria.
  3. Take a quick bus West from Obertraun to Halstatt.
    • At just 3km, you could walk this last part if you’re feeling silly.
    • Alternatively, jump off the train at the Steeg-Gosau station north of Hallstatt Lake (Hallstätter See) and take a longer bus ride South to Hallstatt.

Shout out to the folks who designed the transit system in Austria. Finding our train and specific car was extremely easy thanks to a great UI. The trains are also extremely well designed and very clean. ❤️

A photo of the interface to track your train
A photo of the interior of a train car in austria

The Charming town of Hallstatt

I’ve heard from friends in Europe that Hallstatt gets overrun by tourists every year. Enough for the locals to erect no trespassing signs in many languages that can be seen all over the town’s private parts. Even a replica of Hallstatt was built in China about a decade ago—that’s how beloved this place is.

However, when Filipe and I soared into town on on the backs of the lack-of-sleep gods, there was practically no other humans there. You’ll see in the media below that there were only a handful of people within the town during our stay.

The mountains surrounding Hallstatt were shrouded in clouds as snow gently kissed the town
The mountains surrounding Hallstatt were shrouded in clouds as snow gently kissed the town

Our accommodations

By the grace of the universe, we found a sensational private cottage nestled in the village. This gemstone of a shelter was called Hallstatt Hideaway, and they just so happened to have our selected night unaccounted for.

A book featuring Hallstatt Hideaway
A photo of the rustic bed at the Hallstatt, Hideaway
The beds were cozy AF
A photo of a perfectly picturesque window
A perfectly picturesque window in the front of Hallstatt Hideaway
Moss line the stone walls of the entrance to Hallstatt Hideaway.
Moss and ferns grow out of the wall near our place
A photo of the kitchen and the wood stove at Hallstatt Hideaway
The Hideaway has a unique cylindrical woodstove

The folks at Hallstatt Hideaway were incredibly warm and the place was beautiful. It even offered a brilliant little wood stove to help keep the place extra cozy. And no, this is not a sponsored blog post, we actually paid them for the room. I’m bad at business, what can I say?

The village

Hallstatt was even more majestic than I imagined. Every centimeter of the town was unique. Expanded upon over centuries, even the moss on the stone walls were elder to the country I call home. The snow dusting the architecture made this quaint hamlet look like a Disney film.

A photo of the rooftops of Hallstatt, Austria
A soft coating of snow slept on the roofs of the homes within Hallstatt
A glimpse of the mountains shrouded in fog through some houses in Hallstatt, Austria
Small glimpses of the landscape can be seen betwixt the homes in the steep cliff
Some flowers bloom among the cold and snow in Hallstatt, Austria
Brave flowers withstood the late winter snow
A shallow river runs through Hallstatt, Austria
A shallow river can be found in the town
A photo looking up at a lodge built into the steep mountain clips
Throughout the town, buildings can be seen missing their front yards
The iconic town of Hallstatt, Austria, as seen with snow blanketing it
A photo of a sign in Hallstatt, Austria.
We didn’t bother to translate it, but this was our favorite sign in town
Snow falling on a waterfall that flows through the town of Hallstatt
A slender waterfall casually cascaded amongst the buildings in town
A historic cemetery rests above the town of Hallstatt
A historic cemetery rests above the town of Hallstatt. No living present.
A tree grows up the side of a home in the village
Due to limited space, locals in Hallstatt, have trained trees to grow up the sides of homes. Genius
Filipe, crouching like a tiger, on a pier at the edge of the lake, photographing the mountains surrounding Hallstatt Lake.
The sun shines on Hallstatt Lake through a break in the clouds
The clouds occasionally broke to let the sun shine on Hallstätter See
A view of how vertical this mountain town is
The homes throughout Hallstatt are built like stadium seats
Evangelische Pfarrkirche Hallstatt, the iconic church, towers above the local homes
Evangelische Pfarrkirche Hallstatt, the iconic church, towers above the homes in Hallstatt
Photos of the rooftops in Hallstatt
Each roof in town is entirely unique, but equally good at captivating me

Hallstatt in the shadows

Later that evening, we ventured back out to photograph the night life. By nightlife, I mean empty streets and glowing mountain views. Did I mention nobody was there?

A photo of the town of Hallstatt at night. The town lights cast a glow on the mountains surrounding Hallstatt Lake.
The town lights cast a glow on the steep cliffs, adding to the geological depth of the area.

Combined with the light of Hallstatt, the nearby town of Obertraun illuminated the entire valley and mountainscape. Into the night, trains could be seen zipping around the curves of the stone giants towering over these villages.

A night photo of a train traveling around a mountain on the other side of the lake
Trains ran through the night around Hallstatt Lake

This is Jerry the cat. He was a jerk on a mission and ignored us. In a town that sees nearly 1 million tourists a year, can you blame him?

Jerry has had enough of the tourists bullshit

What a better way to end a full day of shooting than with a good beer and a schnitzel? By the way, the restaurant was also empty.

My camera, beer, and a restaurant's menu
I had to let my camera dry on the table as we grabbed some Radlers before dinner
A plate of schnitzel in a restaurant in Hallstatt, Austria
The schnitzel at the brewhouse was great, and blanketed some roasted potatoes

We ended the night with a fire, a makeshift charcuterie board, and a couple of episodes of a wonderful travel show: Booze Traveler with Jack Maxwell. Jack is one of my idols who led me to a life of wanderlust. Right up there next to Anthony Bourdain.

My boots dry by the cylindric wood stove at the Hallstatt Hideaway
The wood stove was crucial in keeping us toasty in the chilly evening
A photo of some snacks and Filipe watching the show Booze Traveler
I secretly got Filipe hooked on Booze Traveler

The salt mines & a view from the peaks

The next morning, we set out to take the funicular (cable tram) up the side of the mountain and explore Salzwelten, a local active salt mine.

I’m terrified of heights, but decided to ignore that fear for a bit
A photo of tourists walking into the Salz welten mine shaft
We finally found all 20 of the tourists, eagerly marching into a live mine shaft
A photo of the entry way to the mine getting smaller and smaller
The entryway of the salt mine kept getting smaller and smaller, like a scene from Willy Wonka
Filipe and myself riding a miner cart
ps. we are children
Tourists watching a historical video of the salt mines
My first experience watching a documentary whilst 300 meters into a mountain
A photo of an illuminated mine shaft
Austrians know how to decorate their mine shafts

In the Salzwelten, there are a few slides in the facility that used to help expedite miner travel throughout the caverns. Apparently, when I go down these aforementioned slides, I look like a deceased human traveling at a rate of 20.5 kilometers per hour. Fastest cadaver in Austria. That’s got to be a Guinness world record, right?

I need to work on my form when descending slides in salt mines

The view of Hallstatt from above

Since our scheduled train departure time was fast approaching, we beat the other tourists out of the salt mine. We were then gifted with a striking view of the town and lake below.

A photo of some of the steel metal bridges above the town of Hallstatt
I would pay a substantial fee to stay in this building high above the town
A view of the lake down in the valley
Snowflakes continued to fall through breaks in the cloud cover
A striking view of clouds breaking above the mountain
The sun came out to say hello before we descended down the mountain
A view of Obertraun seen from the top of the mountain behind Hallstatt
Seeing the lake & Obertraun from above was breathtaking

Shortly after seeing God, we descended the mountain on the funicular, grabbed our bus to Obertraun, and before long we were back on the train to Vienna.

24 hours in Hallstatt was one hell of an experience.

Until next time my friends. Thanks for following the journey.

Filipe and myself being cheesy and taking a selfie in Hallstatt, Austria

ps. It took me about 8 hours to assemble this story. Let me know what you think of the format in the comments below, I’d love to hear from ya.


14 responses to “Catching a train to Hallstatt, Austria”

  1. Noah Avatar

    Wow! You left no stone unturned. Great reference for anyone planning/interested in visiting this part of the world. Wonderfully depicted examples of the craftsmanship and the surrounding creation. I’m surprised you bothered to come back home.

  2. Filipe Varela Avatar

    Best adventure ever, Jeff! Beautifully captured and recounted here as well.

    Love the way you told the story and mixed images, videos, different layouts, captions, etc. Just lovely. Makes me go right back to that place.

    It’s probably worth noting that one could take the train up to the Hallstatt stop, on the right side of the Hallstätter lake, where they would find the boat station (Hallstatt Schiffstation). From there it would be a quick ferry ride to Hallstatt town. We didn’t have that luxury though, since the ferries were out of service for almost the entire month of February. Luckily, that only made our adventure better!

    Thanks for inviting me along and let’s do it again soon!

    P.S.: Lena asks where our next adventure will be and tells me she’s really excited about it!!!!11

    P.P.S: I might have made that one up.

  3. Bernie Reiter Avatar

    So glad you enjoyed your trip, and love your photos, Jeff! My dad lives in the area, so I would often change trains in Attnang-Puchheim when visiting him. It’s true that Hallstatt sees a lot of tourists these days and trains can get pretty cramped, but I think you really picked a good time of the year!

    1. Jeff Golenski Avatar

      We kept saying to each other “can you believe people actually live here?!” such an incredible region of the world! And you’re right, I’m really glad we went in winter. Judging by what the locals were saying, it’s too insane come summer. I’m glad they get a little down time. ps. Good to hear from you Bernie!

  4. Ilona Avatar

    Wow, I am absolutely in love with this post! Every part of it is just perfect. The photos are stunning, your sense of humor is impeccable, and your writing style is so easy to read – I could have spent hours going through it all.

    I’m already looking forward to your next post. You have a real talent for creating content that brings such good feelings and inspiration. Keep them coming, please!

    Thank you so much for spending the 8 hours for assembling this post – totally worth it!

    1. Jeff Golenski Avatar

      Aw thanks Ilona! Means a lot! I won’t let you down!

  5. Simon Keating Avatar

    Absolutely gorgeous; thanks for sharing the trip with your amazing skills! Feels like I was nearly there. Putting on my list of places to visit.

    1. Jeff Golenski Avatar

      Thanks my friend! Highly recommended!

  6. […] 🌟 Please check out Jeff’s wonderful post that recounts the experience much better than I ever could: Catching a train to Hallstatt, Austria. […]

  7. Robert Felty Avatar

    Fantastic post Jeff! I think my high school German teacher got me interested in visiting small countries when she showed me slides of Liechtenstein. I finally got there in 2020 (after staying a couple nights not too far from Hallstatt in Radstadt) . In 2018 I visited Andorra (which is also a great sarcastic and critical play by Swiss author Max Frisch). In 2022 I visited Malta. A trip to Cyprus was cancelled unfortunately. I am hoping to get to San Marino and Monaco sometime as well. So that is my strange travel destination fantasy.

    I did want to mention that the cylindrical stove is pretty common around Germany, so it didn’t strike me as unusual. These are called “Speicheröfen” (saving stoves). They have a snaking tube pattern in the top which helps keep the heat in longer. Mine at home is a built-in one, so it is not cylindrical. These are also sometimes called “russian stoves”.

    1. Jeff Golenski Avatar

      This is awesome, thanks for chiming in Robert! I’d love to see some of your trips! Do you document them on your family blog? I haven’t seen them

      Also, awesome to know about the cylinder wood stuff. It’s a design that just makes sense. Great use of space.

      1. Robert Felty Avatar

        I should have included links to begin with.

        Radstadt (also nearby Wild Waters)
        A whole bunch of posts about Malta

  8. Javi Loureiro Avatar
    Javi Loureiro

    This was great to read, Jeff! What a nice trip you had!

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