Austria: Salzburg, Hallstatt, Melk and Vienna

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Intro to Austria

Austria is a landlocked country in central Europe. It’s best known for its beautiful Alpine scenery, heavy Germanic influence, great skiing, the Habsburg’s, and The Sound of Music. Modern day Austria was once part of the powerful Habsburg Dynasty and Holy Roman Empire. Its capital, Vienna, also served as the Hapsburg capital for over 400 years. During this time Vienna was built into a grand city. In the 18th century Vienna (and other cities around Austria) were amongst the finest cultural hot-spots in Europe, where rooms full of aristocrats in powdered wigs were serenaded by the sounds of Mozart and Beethoven. When the Habsburg Dynasty fell at the end of WWI, modern Austria was officially born.

 

When we went

September 2011. The itinerary was: fly to Berlin (2 nights), fly to Salzburg (1 night), train to Lake Halstatt (2 nights), train to Melk (1 night), train to Vienna (2 nights), fly home with over night layover in Amsterdam (1 night).

 

Accessibility

Vienna has some non stop flights from the U.S., figure 8.5 hours from New York. Vienna for a long weekend is stretching it unless you really love classical music. Anything outdoors in Austria is worth it, whether its skiing, hiking, or just enjoying the Alps. Vienna is best as the ending or beginning of a week in Austria. Consider flying into (or out of) Milan or Munich on the other end of your Austrian trip.

 

What we did

 

Salzburg

Salzburg is the home of Mozart and The Sound of Music.  It is also quite possibly the most beautiful baroque city north of the Alps. Be warned, we came in September and there was already snow on the mountains making a chilly 2 night stay. We arrived into Salzburg in the evening and had to find something to eat.  We walked just outside of the old town to visit an old monastery, Augustiner Braustubl, that operates a beer and food hall in its basement and outdoor beer garden. Austrian food is similar to German.  Pretzels are big and there is lots of alpine cheese and pork.

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Dinner at the Augustiner Braustubl, a monk run beer garden walking distance from the center of Salzburg.

 On our one full day in Salzburg (and one full day is enough), we went explored the city’s market, hiked up to the Hohen-Salzburg fortress high on the city’s hill and explored the cobbled lanes of the old town. Don’t miss Getreidagasse, an old shopping lane off the main cobbled lane..

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Cheese market in Salzburg

 

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The Sound of Music was filmed at several locations in and near Salzburg.

 

Hallstatt

From Salzburg we took a train into the middle of Austria to the lakes district and its prettiest town of Hallstatt.  The town of Hallstatt sits alongside a lake of the same name.  The train station is across the lake so there is a little ferry that awaits every arriving train to take you to the town.

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Hallstatt is so beautiful the Chinese built an exact replica of the city…..that’s actually true!

 

While we haven’t seen every alpine village, we can’t imagine that any could be cuter than the town of Hallstatt.

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Hallstatt town center

 

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Hallstatt, Austria

 Aside from enjoying the pleasant little town, the one thing everyone needs to do is a hike around the lake.  Early in the morning, we took the ferry back across the lake to the train station.  We started our 9 mile hike by following the lake shore into the forest, under waterfalls, alongside cow fields, and through charming villages.  At about the halfway point, there is a little town called Steeg which makes a great lunchtime stop.

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Alps on your right, cows to your left. The path around lake Hallstatt.

 On the southern bank of the lake the terrain is flat and the trail leads you north through pastures where you are sure to be serenaded by the bells of grazing cows.  The trail on the western bank is higher up in the woods and further away from the lake.  Walking back into the town of Hallstatt, you are actually following an ancient salt trail, which is what attracted people to this region in the Bronze age.

 

Hiking along cow pastures in the Austrian Alps

Hiking along cow pastures in the Austrian Alps

Wachau Valley

The Wachau valley, along the Danube river in northern Austria, is known for its many wineries using the Gruner Veltliner grape. Many of the towns and vineyards are laced to together by bike paths. We spent a day peddling from Melk east to the town of Krems. While biking in either direction is relatively easy there is slight downward slope that makes going east (towards Vienna) that much easier.

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Biking in the Wachau region

 

Biking through the quaint towns along the Danube

Biking through the quaint towns along the Danube

September was an ideal time for this part of the trip. The weather was perfect (long sleeve shirt, no jackets), and the harvest had just finished up. We coasted from winery to winery paying one euro per small glass. Somewhere between our starting point in Melk and final destination of Krems we had a most perfect lunch of wine, schnitzels, and wieners under a chestnut tree in a medieval courtyard.  There is also a chance to park your bike and hike up to the ruins of Durnstein Castle.

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A perfect place for a brat and (another) glass of wine.

 

Vienna

Instead of biking back to Melk from Krems we took a train with the bikes, dropped them off in Melk, then got back on the train and headed for Austria’s capital city of Vienna. It was a little bit of backtracking but helped maximize site seeing time in Vienna.

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St. Stephen’s Cathedral

Vienna still looks like the grand city it was when the Habsburg empire ruled much of the known western world. You’ll need at least one day to explore St. Stephens Cathedral (above), Schonbrunn Palace (below), and the Hofburg Palace. After a busy sightseeing day try and get dinner at a Heuriger, a kind of wine garden restaurant out on the outskirts of town. We took the tram out to a heuriger named Schubel-Auer Heuriger in Nussdorf.

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Schonbrunn Palace

Sights

Hohensalzburg Fortress; Salzburg. A short hike up from the old town is the imposing fortress that once defended it.

St Sebastian Cemetery; Salzburg. Baroque cemetery featured in The Sound of Music.

Salzburg Cathedral; Salzburg. Beautiful baroque church in the middle of the old town.

Hiking in Hallstatt; Hallstatt. Hiking around the lake as described above.

Melk Abbey; Melk. Massive abbey overlooking the Danube River and town of Melk.

Kunsthistorisches Museum; Vienna. Great collection of Habsburg art including a fabulous Bruegel exhibit.

Hofberg Palace complex; Vienna. Includes the treasury, imperial apartments and new palace museum.

Schonbrunn Palace; Vienna. Summer residence of the Habsburgs. As European palaces go, this is second only to Versailles.

St. Stephen’s Cathedral; Vienna. The gothic cathedral in the center of Vienna.

 

dining

Schubel-Auer Heuriger; wine garden restaurant on the outskirts of Vienna in Nussdorf; Vienna

Restaurant Braugasthof; Hallstatt

Hotel Restaurant zur Post; Melk

Danieli Ristorante; Italian dining on a cobblestone street; Vienna

Gasthaus zum Wilden Mann; Salzburg

Augustiner Braustubl; Salzburg

 

Hotels

Goldengasse Hotel; Salzburg

Gasthof Simony; Hallstatt (grandmotherly with lake views); also has a lakeside terrace restaurant

Gastho Goldener Stern; Melk (offers bike rentals too)

Pension Aviano; Vienna

Pension Suzanne; Vienna

 

2 thoughts on “Austria: Salzburg, Hallstatt, Melk and Vienna

  1. Yvon says:

    Hi MR and MRS!

    I’ve happen to chance upon your blog (very well traveled) and found a similar route which I’m planning for my trip to Austria in a month’s time.

    I’m planning for a solo trip by train or bus from Vienna (2 days) – Melk (1 day) – Hallstatt (1 day) – Salzburg (1 day) and from Salzburg back to Vienna for an international flight.

    Your itinerary and photos look terrific!

    I would like to find out if it is recommended to spent 2 nights in Hallstatt and skip Melk. Because the view in Hallstatt is v captivating! But I wonder if it is a wise decision to skip Melk. Hope to hear from you soon!

    Cheers
    Yvon

    • [email protected] says:

      Hi Yvon,
      Thanks for reaching out! Our trip to Austria is one that I’d love to do again. It was such a fun and relaxing trip with amazing landscapes (…and beer and wine)! Hallstatt was probably the highlight. The town is straight out of a fairytale. While there isn’t a whole lot to do in the town, other than taking in atmosphere, we found the hiking options to be very appealing. One day we took the ferry back to the train station and walked around the lake, via lunch in Steeg, returning to Hallstatt. And on the second day we hiked back into the really thick woods (think Hansel and Gretel) behind the town. While we didn’t go to the salt mines they too are a popular attraction. The hiking in general was easy, no steep climbs or anything like that, mostly just flat surfaces. The walk around the lake was quite serene and the views of the surrounding mountains were spectacular. There is also the ever present sound of alpine cowbells, depending on the season.
      As for Melk, we didn’t choose it because we wanted to see the town. The abbey is nice but the town is a perfect starting off point for a slow and lazy bike ride through the Wachhau valley wine region, which stretches between Melk and Vienna along the Danube River. Renting a bike in Melk was easy and the ride towards Vienna is slightly downhill the whole way (after crossing the river at Melk). Just a little ways outside of Melk the ride is mostly confined to quiet bike paths and winds its way through charming little towns and through the vineyards. Even better are the numerous wineries along the way, providing a perfect excuse to hop off your bike and have a drink (or a meal) in a leafy beer/wine garden.
      Squeezing in both for a day is probably a little aggressive. If you’re choosing between the two I’d pick based on which activity you’d rather spend the day doing, hiking along an alpine lake, or biking through wine country. You may want to consider the time of year too. If it’s the height of summer an easy bike ride with frequent wine breaks under shady trees could be the preferred option.
      One caveat on Melk is that we did have to bring the bikes back to Melk, which was kind of annoying since we were on our way to Vienna. I don’t remember exactly which town it was (Krems?) but somewhere close to Vienna we just hopped on a train and returned to Melk.
      You could also add the Melk day to your Vienna itinerary. Possibly even renting a bike in Vienna and then take the train to Melk, then glide back to Vienna (or to Krems and then train to Vienna)….if you want to squeeze in the Wachhau Valley (note: that would be a full day).

      Hope this helps!
      Happy travels,
      N & M

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