The southernmost state in the country, Carinthia has always stood a little apart from the rest of Austria due to its mountainous topography that has somewhat cut it off from the rest of the nation. As such, there is quite a different look, feel, and identity to many of its wonderful medieval towns and villages.
Blessed with some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable, the state is an absolute treat to travel around. Wherever you go, you’ll find towering mountain peaks, sweeping valleys, and glimmering alpine lakes, with an accompanying range of outstanding outdoor activities for you to enjoy.
The breathtaking Hochosterwitz Castle lies atop an outcrop of rocks in the middle of a plain, with majestic mountains all around it. As you can imagine, the scenery is marvelous, and the castle itself certainly plays its part in the dramatic image; a series of walls and crenelations wind their way up the side of the mount until they reach the domineering fortress at its summit.
Built sometime before 860 AD, which is when written records first mention it, local legend has it that Hochosterwitz Castle has never been conquered – it’s easy to see why once you pass through the 14 fortified gates yourself and see that each is more well-defended than the last.
In the castle itself, there are lots of interesting artifacts, paintings, and armor on display, and the view from the walls of the surrounding countryside and mountains is astounding.
Almost fjord-like in appearance, the dark blue waters of the Millstättersee are one of the most popular attractions in Carinthia. During the summer, its lakeside towns of Millstatt, Seeboden, and Radenthein-Dobriach attract crowds of people with the wealth of water sports and recreational opportunities available.
Sparkling in the sun, the vast lake lies amid some beautiful scenery, with forest-coated hills and mountains lining its shores. Due to all the natural wonders on show, visitors can go swimming or boating on the lake, hiking or mountain biking in its surrounding forests, or simply enjoy a picnic on the lakeside while taking in the majestic views.
Nestled in a glacial valley amongst the Gurktal Alps, Bad Kleinkirchheim is a popular spa town and ski resort that offers the perfect combination of rest, recuperation, and rigorous exercise. As it is set in quite a secluded spot, the nature surrounding the town is very pristine and untouched; hiking or mountain biking through the endless forests really is a treat.
In winter, Bad Kleinkirchheim has an entirely different look and feel to it, with lots of amazing slopes and pistes for you to ski down and numerous chalets and ski lodges to stay in. Regardless of what time of year you visit, the lovely spas and saunas are perfect for relaxing in, and the scenery remains jaw-dropping in all seasons.
The capital of the state, Klagenfurt am Worthersee is a delightful place to spend some time; it has a lively feel, with a beautiful old town for you to explore. Alongside its iconic and impressive Lindwurm landmark in the shape of a dragon, the main sights are Minimundus and the huge Europapark.
While the former boasts lots of miniature versions of buildings and monuments from around the world, the latter features beautiful green spaces and a bathing complex. In addition, there are a number of interesting museums scattered around town. Its proximity to the Worthersee and the Karawanken mountain ranges means there are also loads of great outdoor activities and outstanding natural sights to discover.
The oldest town in the whole of the state, Friesach dates back to sometime before 860 AD, which is when written accounts first mention the settlement. As such, historical sights abound, with the ruins of Petersberg Castle just one of the town’s many highlights, as well as a delightful old moat surrounding its historic center.
Set in a beautiful valley with rolling hills and verdant forests all around it, Friesach is a delight to explore. The best time of year to visit is in July when the town hosts an unforgettable Middle Ages festival. Everyone dresses up in costumes, and the whole place is only illuminated by firelight as people celebrate their rich heritage and culture.
Lying in an absolutely gorgeous valley at over 900 meters above sea level, the sparkling waters of the Weissensee cut through the rocky mountains of the Gailtal Alps that surround it. As such, at first sight, it looks very much like a fjord. The highest swimmable lake in the country, Weissensee’s glacial waters are invigoratingly refreshing to swim in.
Many visitors choose to go on hikes around the surrounding area, as there are lots of fantastic views to soak up. As it is quite undeveloped, the natural features are untouched and unspoiled. Seeing the forest-coated mountains and hills reflected in its crystal clear waters is a majestic sight that you won’t forget anytime soon.
Dating all the way back to the 11th century, the historic town of Gmund is a quaint and laidback place to visit. This charming village is located in a very picturesque setting – in a valley among mountains, hills, and forests. Overlooking the old town are some fascinating 13th-century castle ruins for you to explore.
Its charming center is surrounded by centuries-old city walls with lots of great architecture and beautiful old buildings on display. Despite its small size, Gmund certainly packs a punch for visitors. There are several lovely art galleries and studios for you to wander around, with the sculpture garden and Pankratium particularly fascinating to check out for the interesting and unique artworks on show.
Taking you on a winding and unforgettable journey through the mountains, the Villach Alpine Road (as it is known in English) remarkably has 116 turns for you to navigate, as well as seven hairpin bends. While the drive can be a bit hair raising at times, the spectacular scenery you’ll be blessed with on the way is out of this world. The endless panoramas of mountains, valleys, forests, and hills stretch away almost endlessly before you.
One of the best viewpoints during the trip is at the Rote Wand lookout platform, where you can see the Alps and Alpine lakes sparkling before you. As you drive along the road, there are loads of scenic spots where you can stop off and go for a hike in the surrounding countryside. Pack snacks and drinks for a picnic, because you’ll want to spend as much time in this gorgeous setting as possible!
The largest lake in the whole of Austria, the Wörthersee is a very popular tourist destination. In summer, hordes of people flock to its scenic shores to go swimming in the inviting waters. Due to the amazing scenery surrounding the lake, it is a magical place to holiday, and there are plenty of great paths and trails for you to cycle or hike along.
In addition to this, its small lakeside towns each have their own look, feel, and identity; some of them are ideal for a quiet getaway, while others have lots of bars and nightclubs for you to let loose at. With horseback riding, golf, spas, and watersports all on offer, the Wörthersee really does have something for everyone in the family to enjoy.
Surely one of the most beautiful roads in the world, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road is an absolute treat to drive along, and you won’t ever want the journey to come to an end. Named after the highest mountain in the country, the route takes you through the 2,500 meters high Hochtor Pass. As you go, you’ll pass an endless array of towering, snow-capped peaks, each more majestic than the last.
Weaving its way through scenic valleys and along steep mountainsides, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road offers a dazzling array of breathtaking views; you’ll almost certainly find yourself stopping time and time again to take photos of the fantastic panoramas before you. Just make sure the road is open, which is normally from the beginning of May to the end of October.