Hallstatt, Austria UNESCO World Heritage Site

There is a special place deep in the Austrian Dachstein Mountains, that has been frozen in time. A cultural and architectural time capsule. Hallstatt, Austria was publicly recognized for its beauty and historical importance in 1997 when it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Throughout history, Hallstatt was known for its salt production. It is home to the world’s oldest and longest operating salt mine. The Bronze Age salt mine is still in use today and tours are given daily. Hallstatt is the perfect place to go to delve deeply into Bavarian history and heritage. With over 800,000 visitors every year Hallstatt is making tourism part of their 21st century economy.

Getting to Hallstatt, Austria

Hallstatt is incredibly easy to get to by rental car. If renting a car is not your forte then you can also access Hallstatt by train/ferry and/or bus.

By car, you will find Hallstatt approximately 90 minutes East of Salzburg along the highway to Graz. To reach Hallstatt by train you will connect at Bad Ischl. You will take the train from Bad Ischl to Hallstatt Station where you will get on a ferry and cross the lake. This is a beautiful way to see many of the pristine lakes of the Salzkammergut. If you prefer roadways a public bus is also an option. The bus station sits directly outside of Hallstattt Train Station to return back to Bad Ischl.

There are daily tours available from Salzburg, but I promise, a day is not enough. Book your hotels or airbnbs as far in advance as possible. Because Hallstatt is fairly isolated, you will pay heavily to stay there in the village. Other accommodations are available in surrounding town, but only reachable if you rented a car.

Now days, you can prebook everything from hotels to bus tickets online. This is a circumstance that I would highly recommend doing all of those things in advance.

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A Slow Stroll Through Hallstatt

There is no wrong way to spend a day here, but one thing that everyone seems to do, a stroll through the streets. The architecture is astounding. Every turn and alley gives light to something unseen before. A new photo-op. A quiet breathtaking view. A waterfall brimming with glacial water. The magnificent shops and restaurants are worth stopping at. Apple strudel in the square. Creme stuffed pastries by the lake. Let’s not forget about the picturesque swans paddling along the lake’s edge with the Dachstein Mountains as a backdrop. It really doesn’t get any better than Hallstatt, Austria.

If leisure strolls are not your thing (though you should make time for it here); there are numerous other things to do. You can do a food and/or wine tour. Renting paddle boats and kayaks is also a wonderful option to get out on the water. This will also give you a much closer view of the castle Schloss Grub. The castle itself is privately owned and visitors are not allowed on the inside. Although, you can access the grounds via the East side of the lake’s hiking trail.
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As mentioned previously, the active salt mines are a wonderful way to spend a day. You can take an amazing tour deep into the mines. There are even internal slides to get from one level to another! There is also a wonderful local museum with 7,000 year old artifacts. You need at least two days to tour Hallstatt to its fullest potential.

Hallstatt and Food

Just go ahead and start saving up your money and fasting now. The FOOD is to die for. The amount of restaurants with views is amazing and there are no bad views. One of my favorite places did not have a water or mountain view at all, but a market or square view. Marktbiesel Zur Ruth is definitely the place to go for that afternoon coffee . . . and Strudel. You will not pick a bad restaurant, it isn’t possible. Follow your nose and stop frequently. If you are traveling with your family, I highly recommend stopping every hour or so and ordering one thing. This way everyone can try it. Most of your group will remain in the “I could eat” phase and you get to try so many more dishes!

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Best Time to Visit

There really is no “bad time” to visit the beautiful Hallstatt, Austria. We visited in late August and it was the perfect weather and temperature. I have also heard that if you are a winter sports type person that the winter months can give way to some pretty neat snow covered hikes. There are definitely more tourists during the summer months, but accommodations are fewer during the winter. Plan in advance and be flexible. Hallstatt is one of those places that you just have to see. Put it on your bucket list, bump it to the top and make it happen. Sometimes the greatest adventures and locations are not the easiest to get too. Hallstatt, Austria is one of those places. It will take some strategic planning on your part, but the result is so worth it. Hopefully, I’ve laid some of the foundational work for you. Get out there.

Hiking Samaria Gorge

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Beginning the Decent down into the Gorge

Hiking the Samaria Gorge on the island of Crete, Greece will go down in infamy as one of the crazier things I have asked my children to do. Until further notice, it will also be one of the most physically challenging things I have ever accomplished aside from childbirth. I am going to tell you this story in the hopes that you are inspired to push the comfort zone of your family and take your adventures to the next level.

Preparing to Hike the Samaria Gorge

The Samaria Gorge, is one of the more challenging Gorge hikes in all of Europe due to many factors. The length of the Gorge (16km) which is 10.3 miles. The accessibility of the Gorge. And the weather, plays a huge factor in your hiking experience. all of the traveling to get to the Gorge may be for not as it is closed frequently due to weather.

It may be of no surprise to many of you, that I took very few preparations. . . My children and I had been walking everywhere for over two months. We were well conditioned in that sense, but we had done no “formal” hiking training. Because the kids and I had been living in Greece a natural adaptation to your environment occurs.

Greece is rough terrain all the way around. Nothing about Greece is easily accessible. Because of that reason alone, millenia’s worth of Greeks have built their homes, temples, churches and villages into the rocks and mountains. You get used to it, but luckily we had experienced this for a couple of months before the Gorge hike.

I also planned our Gorge hike around my mother’s visit. She has always wanted to hike it as well and a second set of adult hands was the best preparation I could give myself.

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Things Needed to Improve your Experience

  • Ankle supporting hiking boots. The only shoes that we had at the time were Keen brand sandals that did not support our ankles at all. That is by far the part of me that hurt the worst in the days after.
  • Pack Food. There are almost zero resources within the Samaria Gorge National Park. There are no food or drink vendors until the very end. Once you’ve actually left the Gorge and you begin the 2km walk to the closest town.
  • Time Management. Plan on the hike taking you 7 to 9 hours to complete. This is especially important if you are planning on catching the evening ferry leaving Agia Roumeli.

The Logistics of the Samaria Gorge

After having experienced it first hand, the getting there and back aspect of the hike is the most challenging part. The Samaria Gorge National Park, begins in the tiny village of Omalos which is most easily accessed by public bus. The bus leaves the Chania bus station at 7am and that is the only bus heading to Omalos daily. With this restrictive schedule the absolute earliest you could begin your hike is at 9am.

Because the Samaria Gorge is nestled deep in the White Mountain Range it creates its own lovely weather (insert sarcasm). It rains there a lot. Many tourists attempt to hike the Samaria Gorge and make it to the entrance to find that it has been closed for the day due to weather. This is how we began our hike.

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We were lucky, in that the park only delayed its opening that day. We were able to begin hiking shortly before 10am. Because I was hiking with small children the delayed start posed other concerns. The Samaria Gorge ends in a very small village called Agia Roumeli. Agia Roumeli is only accessible via the gorge and by boat. There are no feasible roads leading to it. Therefore, if you cannot complete the hike by 5pm you will miss your one and only chance to leave Agia Roumeli for the night. Which is on the 5:30pm ferry.

There are numerous hotels that you can book if you book early in the hiking season (May 1 to October). You pay heftily for these hotels as they are well aware that you have no other options. Given that the bulk of my party’s members were under the age of 5, I got a hotel room in advance.

The gorge spits you out at the Libyan Sea and it is absolutely stunning.

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Leaving the Gorge

When you complete the Gorge, or get rescued by a Donkey, you eventually make your way to the ferry. The ferry is packed to standing room only with people. That ferry takes you to a parking lot where you catch your 6pm bus that takes you back to Chania. I highly recommend staying the night in Agia Roumeli. Enjoy the small population of people (200) that live there year round. The beautiful, but cold, Libyan Sea is an amazing added bonus.

The Samaria Gorge Hike Worth It

I tend to live by the mentality that there are few things in life, when done with conviction, that are not worth it. It was AMAZING. My children surpassed my expectations entirely. They didn’t just surpass them, they astounded me. On at least three occasions someone fell and bled. There was an obvious need to constantly push everyone to eat quickly. To take a fast break, so as not to get rescued out of the Gorge when the 5pm close of the park expired.

The moment that we walked out of the Gorge into the Libyan Sea will be remembered forever. My barely four year old became the youngest person to ever complete the Samaria Gorge hike. I did it, with an 18 month old strapped to my back. It was so worth it! Within 24 hours of our journey down the Gorge, our four-year-old asked to do it again. There are no plans to do it again any time soon. Someday I would like to do it again and do it even better. Get out there, your children will surprise you and best of all, you will surprise yourself.

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