Austria is a country rich with history, beautiful places, traditions and activities that are distinct to the area. Along with neighboring Switzerland, it is the winter sports capital of Europe.
However, Austria is just as popular for summer tourists who visit its stunning palaces and lake side villages and hike in the magnificent scenery of the Alps.
Then, of course, there is the little matter of the Grossglockner Alpine Road, arguably the most scenic drive in the world and Eisriesenwelt, the largest ice cave in the world.
Throw in Krimml Falls, world-class cities like Vienna and Salzburg and a musical heritage that includes Mozart, Strauss and Schubert, and you have one of Europe’s finest tourist destinations.
In order to help guide you in building a list of things to do, below are some of the top tourist attractions in Austria that are sure to make your trip extra special.
20. St. Wolfgang
St. Wolfgang is a beautiful market town within Salzkammergut, Austria’s famous Lake District. Nestled on the scenic shores of Wolfgangsee Lake, it features several colourful houses along its picture-perfect shoreline and 1783 meter-high Mount Schafberg that towers imperiously above it.
You can get to the top of this mountain by riding the quaint cog Schafberg Railway. Make sure this is one of the first things you do on arrival at St Wolfgang, as you will enjoy spectacular views of seven separate lakes.
Situated just a stone’s throw from Salzburg, the town is also home to the impressive Mirabell Palace. This palace features beautiful grounds that you can walk around. Fans of The Sound of Music might recognize the fountains here as they feature in the film.
19. Schloss Esterhàzy in Eisenstadt
Eisenstadt is a charming city which serves as the capital of Burgenland. Located near the Hungarian border, it is worth coming here for the magnificent Esterházy Palace.
The most distinguished building in the city, the palace boasts beautifully manicured gardens and houses several significant cultural treasures privately collected by the Esterházy family – who owns the property.
Visitors can partake in a self-guided or guided tour of several rooms within the palace, which feature priceless artworks and furnishings. They can also walk within its immaculate grounds and visit its gift shop and wine museum.
The palace is also home to an excellent interactive exhibition showcasing the work of the composer Joseph Haydn. The stunning Haydnsaal concert hall also hosts world-class classical music performances.
18. Krimml Falls
Even in a country blessed with outstanding natural beauty the Krimml Waterfalls manage to stand out.
Totaling 380-metres, the spectacular cascade is the highest and arguably the most beautiful waterfall in Austria. To visit it you will have to head to the High Tauern National Park within Salzburg State. Once there you should make your way to the charming village of Krimni, which you will find on the Krimmler Ache river.
Starting from the Krimmler Ache valley, the picturesque waterfall plunges into three separate sections. The top and bottom sections are both roughly 140 meters in length each, while the middle section is 100 meters. To get better views of them a path leads you to each of these different sections.
17. Hochosterwitz Castle
For those who enjoy medieval architecture, Hochosterwitz Castle is a must-see destination.
The notable landmark sits on a towering dolomite rock close to the Sankt Georgen am Längsee in Carinthia. But it is so prominent you can see it up to 30 km away on a clear day.
Although privately owned, the public can visit parts of the castle between Easter and October.
Extending for 620 meters, you will navigate 14 gates along its walkway that protected it from attack back in the day. Once you get there, you will see several artworks, weapons and exhibits.
They include an 8-foot-tall set of armor worn by Burghauptmann Schenk. A larger-than-life character believed to have been the inspiration behind Gregor Clegane, The Mountain, in ‘Game of Thrones’.
Located west of Vienna, the historic city of Krems marks the point where the blue Danube and the Krems rivers converge at the beginning of the Wachau Valley.
Krems boasts a historic city center, and the pedestrian friendly layout encourages exploring the ancient city gates and the castle called Gozzoburg. Besides these things to do, Krems has a reputation for its impressive wine industry, and many visitors come to explore exactly that.
The Weinstadmuseum is a wine-focused museum in the center of town, and there travelers can get great recommendations for local wineries and tasting rooms dotted throughout Krems and along the banks of the Danube.
15. Eisriesenwelt Cave
Over in Werfen, about 40 km from Salzburg, resides the Eisriesenwelt cave.
Nestled within Hochkogel Mountain, it is the world’s largest ice cave, stretching for 26 miles along the Alps’ Tenneggebirge section. Translating, quite aptly, as ‘World of the Ice Giants’, the ice and limestone cave is only sheathed for its first 960 meters in ice. But thankfully, this is the section that is accessible to the public for viewing.
To get to the cave, you will have to hike and then ride a cable car to its entrance. However, once you are there, you will be able to go on a guided tour that showcases a host of captivating frozen waterfalls and ice formations, much of them by candlelight.
14. Vienna State Opera
In Vienna’s inner city is the Ringstraße, or Ring Road, along which countless landmarks are found. Just one of these landmarks is the Vienna State Opera House.
The structure itself was constructed in the 19th century in a Neo-Renaissance style. Marble staircases and painted ceilings make this is a truly grand destination. After bombing in World War II, the structure was rebuilt to be true to the original style.
While a tour of the building is wonderful, what is even better is attending a musical performance or even a ball, many of which are held annually at the Vienna State Opera.
See also: Where to Stay in Vienna
13. Mirabell Palace
The Mirabell Palace in Salzburg, known to the locals as Schloss Mirabell, is a beautiful early 16th century structure built by Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich for his mistress. Considerable renovations in the 17th century mean that the palace now boasts a baroque interior with countless embellishments.
The interior is laden with marble, stuccoes and enormous frescoes on the walls. The Marble Hall is noteworthy for being among the most picturesque wedding spots in the city. Outside, the gardens are every bit as impressive, and the sculpture collection is world-class.
In the heart of the Salzkammergut Mountains is one peak called Schafberg. This mountain is part of the Limestone Alps, and it boasts a truly incredible view overlooking the Wolfgangsee Lake.
What makes Schafberg a top destination is that it is easily accessible with a steam railway. Known as the Schafbergbahn, this train chugs from the town of St Wolfgang all the way to the mountain’s summit. Featured in the Sound of Music, the railway is an iconic attraction that shouldn’t be missed.
11. Hohenwerfen Castle
Whilst visiting the Eisriesenwelt Cave near Werfen, you should take the opportunity to check out the Hohenwerfen Castle too.
Flanked by the Tennen Mountains and the Berchtesgaden Alps, this impressive medieval rock castle enjoys a spectacular position overlooking the Salzach valley from atop a 623-metre precipice. Both of which provide a breathtaking backdrop.
Visitors can enjoy a guided tour of the castle or take in one of the many birds of prey demonstrations they run. Children can also partake in a fun rally quiz or enjoy medieval games like archery, bowling, walking on stilts or throwing rings.
Built over 900 years ago, you may recognize the fortress for its prominent role in the films Where Eagles Dare and The Sound of Music.
10. Zell am See
If you want to go skiing, there is no better place to do it in Austria than at Zell am See.
This beautiful lakeside town offers more than 80 miles of powdery slopes for visitors to enjoy.
Irrespective of whether you are at a novice, intermediate or professional level, there is a suitable slope for you. For those who prefer cross-country skiing, there are 125 miles of pristine trails to explore.
Zeller See, the lake around which the city city exists, is blue, clear and the picture-perfect example of an Alpine lake.
A network of lifts and trails from the town takes you up to the Schmittenhöhe mountain. Via them, you can access the summit of the spectacular Kitzsteinhorn glacier, where the Gipfelwelt 3000 panoramic platform will provide you with incredible panoramic views. These include Grossglockner mountain and Hohe Tauern National Park.
9. Melk Abbey
Presiding over the quaint town of Melk, which lies within the Lower Austria region, the Melk Abbey is a culturally significant place to visit.
A Benedictine abbey that dates back to the 11th century. It sits on a craggy outcrop that presides over the Danube river. The abbey is notable for housing the final resting places of Saint Coloman of Stockerau and various members associated with the House of Babenberg – the country’s first prominent ruling dynasty.
Since the 1100s, the abbey has also run an acclaimed monastic school. Alumnae have included composers Gregor Werner and Carl Zeller, painters Albert Paris Gütersloh and Leopold Blauensteiner and poet Friedrich Halm.
If you want to learn more about its legacy, hour-long guided tours are well worth booking.
8. Seefeld in Tyrol
Another excellent spot for skiing in Austria is the Alpine town of Seefeld.
Found in the Tyrol region, it lies on a spectacular plateau that sits high above Innsbruck. Ringed by the Karwendel and Wetterstein ranges, the area is renowned for its world-class cross-country skiing.
It is a regular on the World Cup circuit and hosted events at the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976. However, far from being an elite venue, it has plenty of flatter areas for beginners to find their feet.
Away from the slopes, the town has other things to do and enchanting landmarks. These include a small baroque 1600s church – the Seekirchl – which features an onion dome. There is also an eye-catching hilltop circle of 12 huge stones representing the apostles.
7. Hohensalzburg Castle
The Hohensalzburg Fortress is undoubtedly one of Europe’s best-preserved castles. A truly stunning piece of medieval architecture, visiting Hohensalzburg Castle is one of the top things to do in Austria.
Perched at an altitude of 506 meters atop the Festungsberg, this impressive medieval fortress lies in the heart of Salzburg. Covering an area of 250 metres by 150 metres, it is one of the largest of its type still standing on the continent.
During WWI, the castle incarcerated Italian prisoners of war. While in 1938, it housed Nazi activities before Germany annexed Austria.
You can get to the castle by funicular, which runs every ten minutes and only takes a minute to ascend to its hilltop. It features several notable points of interest, including a chapel, the Golden Hall and a bed chamber, which you can view on a guided tour.
6. Hofburg Imperial Palace
One of Vienna’s most stunning attractions is the Hofburg Imperial Palace. This is a complex that served as the official royal residence of the Habsburgs until the First World War.
The palace was built in stages, adding on places like the stables, the library and the Spanish Riding School as power and money accumulated for the Habsburgs.
From the entrance in the Michaelerplatz, visitors can tour several onsite museums and even get a look at former royal apartments as well as the glittering Imperial Silver Collection.
5. Innsbruck Altstadt
Surrounded by snowcapped mountains, Innsbruck makes you feel quite insignificant in the midst of nature’s striking Alpine mountain range. Said to have a duel personality, the area offers both pristine landscapes and a sophisticated urban center.
Altstadt, the medieval town of Innsbruck, draws you in with its unique architecture and many shops. While you are strolling the streets of the Altstadt you can visit one of its famous landmark, the Golden Roof.
This house was constructed for the Holy Roman Emperor, Maximilian I, and it was decorated with thousands of gilded copper tiles that create the appearance of pure gold.
4. St Anton am Arlberg
For some people, the ONLY place to go skiing in Austria is St. Anton am Arlberg.
A premier ski resort in the Tyrolean Alps, it is often referred to as the ‘cradle of alpine skiing’ because of its role in inventing the sport. Boasting a massive off-piste landscape, consistent deep snow and pure powder, you can conveniently get to the slopes of Rendl and Valluga by cable cars and lifts.
When not playing on the slopes, make a point to check out the Museum St. Anton, which provides a fascinating insight into how the local ski scene developed over the years.
At night, the village is also known for its bustling après-ski scene, which comes alive during live music performances.
3. Grossglockner Alpine Road
If you love going for scenic drives, then you should not miss the opportunity to cruise along the Grossglockner Alpine Road.
Austria’s highest tarmacked mountain road pass showcases the magnificence of the Austrian Alps through a 48 km toll road that features no less than 36 hairpin bends!
Undoubtedly one of the most scenic drives in the world, the landscape is truly mesmeric. Winding a stunning course through a rocky terrain of wine-bottle green alpine pastures, you will stop several times to take it all in.
Due to the weather, the Grossglockner Alpine Road is usually only open between May and October. Named after the highest mountain in the country, it connects Bruck in Salzburg with Heiligenblut in Carinthia. The road has a maximum elevation of 2,504 meters.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So the fact the Chinese have made a copy of the picturesque village of Hallstatt should give you an indication of its appeal.
Situated around the western shore of Lake Hallstatt, the village lies within the mountainous region of Salzkammergut. It is known for its Alpine houses dating back to the 16th century and the spectacular, subterranean salt lake at a primordial salt mine called Salzwelten.
A funicular railway will take you up there, as well as the Skywalk Hallstatt viewing platform, which showcases tremendous panoramic views. A trail will also take you to the Echern Valley glacier garden. There you can navigate glacial potholes and see the stunning Waldbachstrub Waterfall.
1. Schönbrunn Palace
In a city rich in history and cultural significance, the Schönbrunn Palace still stands out.
During the 1700s and up until 1918, it was the principal residence of the Habsburg emperors. It also held a prominent role as the focus of both Austrian and European court life.
Throughout the years, the likes of Maria Theresa, Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth lived here, evidence of which you can see during a guided tour.
Serving now as one of Austria’s main tourist attractions, you can visit 40 lavishly furnished rooms, all of which have a story to tell. They include the Blue Chinese Salon, Porcelain Room, Vieux-Laque Room and Gobelin Salon. The latter of which features exquisite Brussels tapestries.