Flushing, New York
My girlfriend and I are doing a few days in Prague, a night in Cesky Krumlov, and then heading towards Vienna and Budapest. We have time for another small town for a night or two, and have been looking at Salzburg and Hallstatt on the way to Vienna. Which is the most worthwhile for a night or two stay? Hallstatt looks beautiful and relaxing, Salzburg strikes me as more touristy.
Salzburg is definitely going to be easier to reach. Hallstatt is tiny and back in the mountains a bit further, so more of your time will be spent just getting there. Full disclosure, I lived in Salzburg for a while, and therefore love it. Yes, it can be touristy. No denying that. However, it is unassailably beautiful and no one will force you to go on a Sound of Music tour. :) My suggestion is to skip anything SOM- or Mozart-related (concerts, museums) because those are the most prone to drawing flag-waving tour groups. Go for beers at Augustinerbräu - Kloster Mülln, hike up Kapuzinerberg or Mönchsberg, wander down Linzergasse and around the Altstadt, grab lunch from a market vendor on Universitätsplatz, dip into a traditional restaurant for dinner (skip St. Peter Stiftskeller, though). Hallstatt is also remarkably beautiful and a place that I unreservedly love, but don't be fooled into thinking that it is any less popular with tourists. There's a reason they built a complete replica in China. There's more stuff about Salzburg on my blog (link in profile), including an interview I did on the Amateur Traveler podcast.
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Hi Brian! That is so exciting you are stopping in Salzburg during your journey to Vienna. My husband and I actually live in Salzburg (we moved from the USA about 3 months ago). And we've been to Hallstatt! Both are incredible places, full of SO much history.
Salzburg is hard to do in a day, and Hallstatt is typically a day trip for most from Salzburg. If you are deciding between the two, you should 100% choose Salzburg. I would say spending 2 nights at minimum here is a must. Otherwise, you may not get a real feel for the city. There is SO much to see and do here - we usually recommend 3-4 days to see everything, since there is a lot just outside the city too. With 2 days, you can definitely do some damage, though! It is a place where tourists visit, but I would say it's definitely not touristy, especially if you explore beyond just the typical spots. There is so much character here, that you will not find in Vienna, since Vienna is a bigger city and more metropolitan. Hallstatt is beautiful, but it's a long journey, and VERY dependent on the weather.
So, when deciding between the two, Salzburg is definitely your best bet!
Enjoy your visit!
Hey Brian, I would definitely go to Salzburg and from there go by train or bus there. Hallstatt indeed is lovely and amazing, but be aware that it is super touristy as well. At one point there is also not much left to do in Hallstatt. If your girlfriend and you are into walking and hiking, sure go there, but if you want to do something go for a drink or just simply wonder around. Go Salzburg.
There is no doubt that Hallstatt is incredibly pretty, the Lake there providing a beautiful backdrop to a scenic village. And there isn't any doubt at all, that Salzburg can get way crowded in the summer time. The Festung Hohensalzburg is an amazing example of a medieval fortress, however, if it is super crowded, it isn't exciting dodging the tourists!
Another interesting place for you to consider, would be Eisriesenwelt, it is on the way to Salzburg, it is only 72Km from Hallstatt, and it is a great example of an ice cave. Take a look at the Google Map, and you will see what I mean.
As Gina pointed out, Austrian beers are excellent, just as good, if not better, than some German beers.
All in all, and I have to admit that I am very fond of Salzburg, I think you would have a lot of fun in Hallstatt and Eisriesenwelt.
Have Fun !
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