Once part of a vast European empire, Austria today still mirrors the richness of its past glories. Vienna has long shined as a beacon of classical music, architecture, art… and pastries. Salzburg was the birthplace of Mozart and is home to a whole lot of beautiful buildings. And even though it’s a big part of what makes Austria genuinely great, this landlocked country is much more than history and pretty architecture.
Thanks to being mostly situated in the Alps, it is a very popular place with skiers and hikers with a whole lot of stunning scenery to soak up in. Charming towns tucked in sweeping green hillsides topped by craggy peaks lie in wait.
Pure mountain air and alpine resorts beckon. Austria is a showcase for just how beautiful mountain scenery, valleys and lakes can be. Here’s a look at the best places to visit in Austria:
The picturesque spa town of Bad Gastein is located in the heart of Austria’s High Tauern Mountains. Covered in lush forests and surrounded by steep, mountainous cliffs, Bad Gastein is known for its spectacular landscape and charming Belle Epoque architecture.
One of the most notable buildings in the area is the Grand de l’Europe Hotel. Perched on the side of the mountain slopes and towering over the city below, this 11-story hotel has been an iconic landmark since it’s construction over 110 years ago. The impressive Bad Gasteiner Waterfall is also a unique sight to see, as it flows directly through the middle of the town center.
Many people also come to visit Bad Gastein for the therapeutic thermal spring waters. Dozens of resorts and thermal baths in the area offer radon therapy, which is believed to treat issues related to the immune, musculoskeletal, and respiratory systems.
The largest lake in Carinthia, the Worthersee lies in the south of Austria at the foot of the Gurktal Alps and Karawanks mountain range. Due to its spectacular setting and scenery, it is a top-rated tourist destination. In summer, many people come to swim in the warm waters and bask in the Mediterranean climate.
The lake is surrounded by lush forests, which make for some fantastic hiking. There’s also a scenic bike path winding its way along the lakeside. The Worthersee is a great place to enjoy outdoor activities, with horseback riding, golf, and watersports.
While it was once known as ‘Austria’s Monte Carlo’ due to the Viennese nobles and bourgeoisie who vacationed here, it is now a more family-friendly destination. Along the shores of the lake, you can find everything from charming, picturesque towns to relaxing spas and pounding nightlife venues.
Austria’s second-largest city, Graz, is a lovely place to visit. It is set on the banks of the Mur River, with fertile farmland, lush forests, and rolling hills lying nearby. Due to its strategic location in the southeast of the country, the city has been fought over and ruled by everyone from the Romans and Hapsburgs to the Hungarians, Ottomans, and Napoleon.
Styria’s capital boasts one of the best-preserved historic centers in the whole of Central Europe. Baroque palaces and Renaissance courtyards are found alongside centuries-old churches and modern museums. At its heart is the tree-clad Schlossberg Hill, rising above the city with its iconic clocktower peeking out at the top.
Although it is steeped in history, Graz has a lively and youthful feel and a vibrant nightlife scene. Lots of bars, restaurants, and cafes cater to the large student population that attends the numerous universities and colleges dotted about town.
Snaking along the border of Austria and Italy is the Zillertal Alps. Home to towering glacial peaks, jagged mountain cliffs, and tree-lined valleys, the Zillertal Alps is one of the most impressive landscapes in central Europe.
There are more than 85 different glaciers in Zittertal, some of which stand over 11,000-feet above sea level. The Hintertux Glacier is one of the tallest and is open 365 days a year for both skiing and hiking. Due to its altitude, it’s one of the only two ski resorts in the world open year-round.
With hundreds of miles of outdoor trails, the Zillertal Alps is a popular destination for mountaineers, hikers, and backpackers. Beginner hikers can trek along the lower-level pastures, while more advanced hikers can opt for a long-distance hike through the High Alps Nature Park. The 30-mile Zillertal High Road is an alternative option for those who prefer to enjoy the landscape from the comfort of their car.
The epic 30-mile journey down Grossglockner Road is easily considered the most scenic road trip in Austria. The road starts in Bruck and travels towards the magnificent 12,461-foot Grossglockner, Austria’s tallest mountain. The winding road also goes through Hochtor Pass and across the Alpine divide at 8,200 feet above sea level, boasting breathtaking views of the dramatic valleys and mountains along the way.
With plenty of hairpin turns, Grossglockner Road is a thrilling adventure for drivers and passengers alike. However, it’s also a popular destination for hikers, thanks to the multitudes of trails and paths that lead around the mountain.
Some of the most popular hiking routes are along Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe lookout point. Enjoy panoramic views of Grossglockner from the Gamsgrubenweg path, trek up to the icy glaciers on the Pasterze Glacier path, or embark on a long-distance journey into Slovenia and Italy on the Alpe Adria Trail.
Nestled in the heart of the Tyrolean Alps, St Anton am Arlberg is one of the most popular ski resort towns in Austria. The entire region is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, featuring an extensive ski area that caters for a mixed level of abilities.
The 9,215-foot Valluga Mountain is a highlight for skiers and non-skiers alike. Visitors can reach the summit by two aerial tramways – known as the Vallugabahns – while enjoying magnificent views over the awe-inspiring Lechtal Alps.
Although most people associate St Anton am Arlberg with winter, it’s also a popular summer destination. Once the snow melts, the grassy meadows and lush, tree-lined forests are ideal for hiking, cycling, and mountain biking.
Surrounded by the snow-covered mountains, the town of St Anton am Arlberg is also charming in its own right. Despite its compact size, St Anton am Arlberg has plenty of traditional restaurants and cozy cafes.
Austria’s Wachau Valley is a scenic 18-mile stretch of dramatic cliffs, rolling hills, and picturesque vineyards. Situated along the Danube River, Wachau Valley is located in the state of Lower Austria, which is actually in the northeastern part of the country.
The Wachau Valley is one of Austria’s smallest but most important wine regions. There are several vineyards dotted along the river, many of which produce the famous Grüner Veltliner and Riesling grapes.
One of the most visited towns in the valley is Dürnstein, which is home to the Dürnstein Castle. It was here that Richard I of England was held captive by Duke Leopold V during the Third Crusade in 1193.
The best way to explore the valley is by bike, and you’ll find paved biked paths on both sides of the river. Besides a visit to Dürnstein, it’s also worth stopping by the charming towns of Melk, renowned for its beautiful Benedictine abbey, Krems, Willendorf, and Spritz.
Tucked away in an idyllic valley among the majestic Kitzbuhel Alps, the alpine city of Zell am See is as picture-perfect as they come. The small city is set on the shores of a vividly blue lake, from which it draws its name, with cosy chalets and flower-filled meadows coating the slopes.
While hiking, cycling, and watersports are popular in the summer, the winter months see skiers and snowboarders descend upon the town due to the marvellous mountains and ski resorts nearby. Although it is small, its quaint centre is well worth exploring at any time of year for its cosy alpine look and feel. One of its most famous attractions is the Romanesque St. Hippolyte’s Church, with an elevated walkway that dates back to the early 16th century.
Due to its stunning setting, Zell am See is a popular tourist destination. It’s also an important transport hub for the rest of the Salzburg region. The towering Mount Grossglockner – the tallest mountain in Austria – lies nearby. From the town, many people drive along the spellbinding High Alpine Road running below it.
Located in one of the most visually arresting settings imaginable, Innsbruck lies on the banks of the Inn River, with 2000-meter-high mountains rearing up around it. While the awe-inspiring scenery and landscapes are what many people come for, the city itself offers an intriguing mix of history, culture, and architecture.
Innsbruck’s strategic location among the Alps saw it become an influential centre of European politics and culture under the Counts of Tyrol and Emperor Maximilian I. As such, beautiful buildings such as the Baroque Saint Jacob Cathedral, Renaissance-style Hapsburg Imperial Palace, and 16th century Schloss Ambras can be found scattered around its medieval old town.
The ‘Capital of the Alps,’ as it is also known, has lots of brilliant hiking trails for visitors to explore, and skiing is a must in wintertime. From the center of the city, you can take the Nordkettenbahnen cable car to the top of Nordkette mountain, which offers phenomenal views of the city below and the breathtaking scenery around it.
See also: Top Innsbruck Attractions
Stretching from the city of Salzburg to the prominent peaks of the Dachstein Mountains, Salzkammergut is one of the most beautiful parts of Austria. Within its loosely defined confines are glimmering lakes, rolling hills, alpine valleys, and dramatic mountain ranges. Travelers who have seen the movie The Sound Of Music will know what this lake region looks like, because that movie was filmed in and around the city of Salzburg and the neighboring Salzkammergut region.
Wonderfully wild and untouched for the most part, Salzkammergut is a mecca for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, with hiking and mountain biking both popular pastimes. Many holidaymakers also come to enjoy swimming, fishing, and boating on reflective lakes such as Hallstatter See, Mondsee, and Wolgangsee – all of which are set amidst some stunning scenery.
While the region is sparsely populated, it boasts a long history dating back to Neolithic times and is named after the salt mines that dot the area. Pockets of civilisation can be found here and there. Charming lakeside towns such as St Wolfgang and the picture-perfect St Hallstatt are well worth a visit. Its spellbinding setting often sees the latter referred to as ‘the pearl of Austria.’
In addition, visitors can opt to relax and unwind at the spa town of Bad Ischl, venture underground to explore the Dachstein Ice Caves at Obertrau, or go paragliding from the lofty heights of Krippenstein mountain.
See also: Discover Salzkammergut
Situated in central Austria, near the German border, Salzburg is probably best known as the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Travelers come to Austria’s fourth-largest city to view the sights that inspired such unforgettable music. With its hill-topped medieval fortress, picturesque Altstadt old town and breath-taking Alpine scenery, Salzburg’s beauty is sure to enchant visitors in every season of the year.
Stretching along the banks of the Salzach River, Salzburg is a historic city that looks as if it was lifted out of a storybook. For those seeking to relive scenes from the 1965 movie “The Sound of Music”, must-see attractions include the 17th-century Baroque Mirabell Palace and Gardens, the gazebo in the Schloss Hellbrunn’s gardens and the actual von Trapp family home, which is now a hotel. Mozart aficionados can visit his birthplace as well as a reconstruction of his home, complete with period instruments, portraits and musical scores.
Rising 120 meters (400 feet) above the city, the Festung Hohensalzbury is a 900-year-old fortress built more for show than defense. Although most of the medieval castle’s artifacts were taken during the Napoleonic Wars, vistas from the fortress are its real treasures. Visitors can reach the castle by foot or by a quick ride in a 19th century funicular.
Whether rambling through Altstadt, the city’s old town, marveling at the abundance of Baroque architecture or relaxing in an open-air beer garden sipping a local brew, Salzburg is a travel destination that appeals to all the senses.
See also: Top Salzburg Attractions
Elegant waltzes and Johann Strauss immediately come to mind when one thinks of Vienna, the capital of Austria and its largest city; the city still holds more than 200 balls each year. But the city also is known for other classical composers such as Mozart, Brahms, Beethoven and Schubert.
Most of the main architectural sights are contained within the Ringstrasse, a circular road that marks where walls once enclosed the ancient city. The city’s architecture ranges from Gothic cathedrals to Art Nouveau exhibition centers, from Baroque palaces to modern art museums. Standouts include the 1400-room Schönbrunn Palace, the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Belvedere Palace, which features works by the city’s most famous painter, Gustav Klimt.
The city’s musical culture is just as varied. Visitors can watch the world-renowned Vienna Philharmonic perform at the awe-inspiring State Opera House or explore the new Vienna sound being pioneered by local DJs in the city’s hottest night clubs. From sausage and schnitzel to chocolate and cakes, culinary pleasures in Vienna are plentiful too.
Coffee houses are abundant in Vienna as well. Some have been in operation for hundreds of years. They not only offer some of the best coffee concoctions in the world but also provide places in which to pause, relax and take in the many sights of this scenic city on the Danube River.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Vienna
See also: Top Vienna Attractions