I love Salzburg but I also have a special place in my heart for the loveliness that is Hallein. Here’s all the reasons why.

Hallein is just south down the river from Salzburg. It’s about 25 minutes by S-Bahn 3, shorter on a regional train and longer by Bus 160. My favourite way of getting there is to cycle down the cycle path that goes all the way from Salzburg by the river. It’s flat all the way and takes me on my terrible 30-year-old bike about 50 minutes.

Hallein itself has a population of about 21,000. The Altstadt/Old Town is on the west bank of the river. The whole town is built on salt: the Bad Durnberg salt mine sits high above the town and has been mined since Celtic times. The salt was transported down to town for purification in the salt pans before being transported downriver by barge, with the Prince-Archbishops in Salzburg taking their cut of course. This little town’s history can teach you so much about wider European history if you wander its streets and listen.

First, of course, you can visit the well-known Hallein Salt Mines and enjoy the underground tour in Teletubby mine clothing… but to be honest, I’ve been to three salt mines (Hallstatt, Berchtesgaden, Hallein) and I’ve done enough sliding down wooden beams. They all blend into one mildly interesting experience. If you want an outstanding salt mine experience, visit Wieliczka mines in Poland: that place changed my prejudice against salt mines! The best thing about Hallein’s mine is the Celtic village that sits outside it. I loved learning about Celtic life and the excavations that were made there, with the objects found being on display in the Celtic Museum.

Which brings us neatly to the Celtic Museum/ Keltenmuseum. It’s a snazzy modern museum by the river opposite Perner Island where the old Salt Works building hosts an incredible Christmas market. I find the museum lacks a coherent narrative and a wider comparative perspective, especially in relation to the Celts. But it’s a good introduction to the local history and the painted wooden panels about salt production are very instructive.

At the top of town, you’ll find a museum dedicated to Hallein’s other claim to fame: the Silent Night Museum. It’s seems like every corner of Salzburgland has a connection to this most famous Christmas carol. There’s a couple of museums, a fountain, a few preserved houses, churches, a cultural walk… They make the most of this one! Hallein’s claim to fame is being the place where Franz Xaver Gruber, the composer of the music, lived the greatest portion of his life and is buried. The museum is in his old house. It’s a little delight: a collection of his belongings and a good, not overwhelming, amount of information. Make sure to pay your respects at his grave outside and pop your head into the parish church opposite, where Gruber was organist.

All that cycling and learning has worked up an appetite! I try and get to Pan’s Cafe (Metzgergasse 9) before they stop serving brunch at 1PM. It’s all wonderful vegan and vegetarian dishes with fresh bread and coffee. If you just need calories quick, you can’t go wrong with Klappacher Bakery on the main Justin-Robert-Platz or La Cantina pizza at the top of the main pedestrian street. If you want something sweet, the place to be is Braun Konditorei. Enjoy their ever-changing counter displays and pick whatever delight takes your fancy. When you have room for ice-cream, the best place in town is Dolomiti, at the end of the main pedestrian street near the river.

Why not take that ice-cream and wander through town? I love exploring the narrow alleys and discovering canals. Try tiny Sch├Ândorferplatz leading to the impressively painted Rathaus/Town Hall or Augustinergasse and Krautgasse. Of course, there’s also plenty of hikes further out of town. A particular favourite is up Kleiner Barmstein for sunrise over the Salzach valley. You’ll need to get up early for that one!

Don’t leave Hallein without a souvenir. There’s always salt… but there’s also gin. Guglhof Brewery (Davisstra├če 13), on the other side of the river to the Altstadt/Old Town produces a wonderful gin, make their own fruit liquors and distill a whiskey from wheat grown above 1000m. They have a tasting room (why would you ever miss that?!) and used to do distillery tours in German but I can’t find reference to this now.

If locally distilled gin and whiskey can’t convince you of the delights of Hallein, I don’t know what will. But that’s okay, I’ll keep it as my secret hideaway!

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