Austria may just be the perfect country to visit. From the towering peaks of the Alps to the bustling, modern city centers, this country truly has it all. Where else in the world can you be skiing down the world’s most beautiful slopes and the next be browsing a fine art museum in one of the world*’s most modern cities?
Perhaps you’d like a taste of city life? In that case, head to Vienna for coffee and baroque architecture or perhaps to Linz’s modern student life and happening nightlife.
Or is getting outside more your style? Drive through the spine-tingling hairpin curves of the Grossglockner Alpine Road or head to one of the country’s many world-famous ski slopes.
If it’s a great dining experience you’re after, there are also plenty of options. Enjoy the rich, decadent wines of the Wachau Valley, the heady coffee in Vienna’s traditional coffee houses, or head to a Beisln (bistro pub) for a taste of fresh, hearty Austrian fare.
Small but full of life, Austria is paradise on earth – no matter what kind of vacation you’re after.
Sitting in a cafe and drinking an espresso is an official cultural pastime in Vienna, according to UNESCO. Take advantage of this and start each day out right. Then, after you’ve stuffed yourself with pastries and filled yourself with caffeine, take off on a self-guided tour through one of Europe’s most breathtaking cities. Austria’s capital (and the country’s largest city) is ripe for exploration thanks to its long history and cultural, political, and economic significance.
Located along the Salzach River, Salzburg is a true gem with the Altstadt’s towering domes and spires framed by the raised fortress and the even more intimidating mountains in the background. Salzburg is a truly magical city, particularly if one takes the initiative to venture beyond the tourist path. Sure, it’s the home of The Sound of Music and Mozart, but modern Salzburg is something to be treasured and enjoyed as well, particularly in regards to its art and music scene.
Hallstatt is hard not to fall in love with: from the blue waters of the lake to the soaring mountains to the charmingly pastel houses, Hallstatt is hard to beat. While its past was all about salt, its present and future is firmly planted in tourism. Chances are you’ll see far more tourists than locals when you visit, but the charms of Hallstatt and the ferry ride from the train station make the heavy crowds worth the hassle.
Innsbruck, coming from the German for “the bridge over the inn”, is the capital city of Tyrol in western Austria. About halfway between Munich and Verona, the city is located in a large valley between the mountains that make up a part of the North Chain. Innsbruck is well known for its winter sports and has hosted two winter Olympics. Unlike many other Austrian ski cities, Innsbruck is quite large at about 125,000 people and has plenty of other attractions aside from skiing.
05. Zell am See
Nestled next to the electric blue Zeller See, Zell am See’s cheerfully painted houses and snowcapped mountains are the very definition of picture perfect. You (along with over one million visitors from around the world) have endless opportunities to enjoy the perfect scenery: in the summer months, swim in the lakes or hike the many well- marked trails. In winter, ski the mountains and brave the epic Grossglockner Road. Start your adventures in the city’s miniature center and make your way ever upward.
06. St. Anton am Arlberg
St Anton am Arlberg is a formerly sleepy village turned renowned ski resort based at the foot of the 2810-meter high Valluga Mountain in the Alps and along the northern bank of the Rosanna River. Enterprising locals discovered the call of downhill skiing early on and in 1901 founded the first ski club in the Alps. So if it’s fresh powder, friendly locals, and plenty of fellow ski bums, St Anton am Arlberg is the place to be.
07. Seefeld in Tirol
No matter whether it’s during the summer or winter months, Seefeld in Tirol is a beautiful place to be. Located on a high plateau surrounded by the Karwendel and Wetterstein Alps, Seefeld in Tirol is unique among Austrian ski towns by placing much more emphasis on cross-country skiing rather than downhill. With over 270 kilometers of well-maintained trails throughout the region, it’s easy to see why fans of cross-country skiing consider this a must-visit location.
08. Grossglockner Alpine Road
The Grossglockner Alpine Road is the highest paved road in Austria. The road connects the city of Bruck with Heiligenblut via Fuscher Tori and Hochtor Pass. Named for Austria’s highest mountain, the road is a popular destination for tourists with a sense of adventure and a strong stomach. The twists and turns of the road are sure to delight – that is, if you can stop taking pictures of the natural beauty long enough to keep driving.
09. Wachau Valley
The Wachau Valley is a length of land where the Danube River winds its way towards Vienna and the towns are so idyllic it may seem like you’re in a theme park. The towns and area contained within the valley are some of the most popular tourist destinations in Lower Austria, attracting architecture and history buffs as well as wine lovers. In 2005, the valley was added to the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites for its architectural and agricultural history.
One of Austria’s top ski resorts, Kitzbuhel is a small town of 8,000 in the Kitzbuhel Alps. The Tyrolian town is popular year round thanks to its amazing views and plethora of nature-related activities. While skiing is important (in fact, the resort is known worldwide as one of the best), the town itself is a beautiful example of medieval architecture that is worth exploring after your adrenaline-filled adventure ends.
Mayrhofen is a small town in the Ziller river valley which sits between the Penken and Ahorn mountains. The town is located near the Hintertux glacier which, thanks to its position above the snowline, means that skiing is available all year. Today Mayrhofen is known worldwide as an amazing spot to ski and it even used to have a run on the World Cup Downhill circuit but was deemed too dangerous. Although Mayrhofen is primarily a ski destination, the area is popular for tourists all year long.
Alpbach is a small village in western Austria made up of 2,600 people located on a small plateau about 1,000 meters above sea level. Alpbach has been voted “Austria’s Most Beautiful Village” as well as “Europe’s Most Beautiful Flower Village” so you can be sure your experience will be one of unparalleled beauty. The village is known for its outdoor activities, so no matter what season you visit, be prepared to get outside and enjoy the fresh mountain air.
Eisriesenwelt – in German, meaning the imaginative “World of the Ice Giants” – is a totally natural limestone ice cave located 40 kilometers south of Salzburg. The cave is located inside the Hochkogel Mountain, a part of the Alps. Eisriesenwelt is well-known not only for its ethereal beauty, but because of its status as the largest ice cave in the world at over 42 kilometers long. The ice caves are located not far from the Austrian town of Werfen.
14. Hochosterwitz Castle
One of Austria’s most impressive medieval castles, Hochosterwitz Castle is located on a 160-meter Dolomite rock in Carinthia. At a height of 664 meters, the castle looks otherworldly and like something straight out of a classic film. Thanks to some intense care, the structure is incredibly well preserved, making it seem almost possible that you’ve been transported back in time. On a clear day, the castle can be seen from up to 30 kilometers away!
15. Hohe Tauern National Park
Often described as better than the Alps, Hohe Tauern National Park is one of Europe’s largest nature reserves with a total area of 1786 square kilometers. Most prominent is the 3798-meter-tall point of Grossglockner, Austria’s highest peak, which towers above everything else in the park. Made up of pristine lakes, massive waterfalls, glaciers, snow-topped mountains, and more, Hohe Tauern National Park is a must-do for every tourist with a love of outdoor adventure.