A Guide to Austria: What to Do and Where to Stay

by Becki Enright in Destination Guides

Austria is more than its world-renowned ski, Habsburg Dynasty backdrops and the beloved Schnitzel. Start with the metropolis of Vienna and add musical Salzburg, mountain set Innsbruck and Graz, combined with the vineyards of the Wachau Valley and the central lake district Salzkammergut. A trip to Austria is not complete without time spent in the western Alps, whose famed alpine ski runs turn into some of the country's most beautiful hiking and biking trails in the summer.

The best places to visit in Austria

Vienna

Vienna Skyline

The skyline of Vienna

Synonymous with its Habsburg Empire sights from palaces to imperial crypts, find time to explore the modern metropolis and its green spaces. Spend time in the MuseumsQuartier, a cultural and culinary hub that includes the contemporary art museum Mumok, and join locals socialising in specialty coffee shops or winding down the day on the street art clad and bar lined Donal Canal. Le Méridien Vienna places you right in the heart of the historical centre and districts of interest.

A city surrounded by vineyards, the 19th district is where you'll find the most scenic and accessible Heurigen (wine taverns), best enjoyed after strolling some of the 240km of the Vienna city hiking paths.

The Wachau Valley

Dürnstein

Dürnstein is a small town on the river Danube

The Danube valley and UNESCO World Heritage Site features village topped rolling hills, fortress ruins and stone stacked vineyards. Follow one of the 14 Wachau World Heritage Trail paths on foot or set out on stage five of the Danube Cycle Path that runs parallel, connecting the historical towns of Krems and Melk, with Dürnstein and Spitz in between. The summer months are perfect for sampling the jams, juices and sweet treats from the apricot (Marille) harvest. Stay in Hotel Imperial, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Vienna - The Wachau Valley is an easy day trip from the capital.

Salzburg and the Salzkammergut

Salzkammergut lake village

Salzkammergut lake village is a fantastic summer retreat

The fortress topped, musical metropolis of Salzburg is known as the birthplace of Mozart and Sound of Music film locations. But do not miss the largest ice cave in the world or the adjacent lake district and summer retreat of Salzkammergut.

The jewel lakes of Attersee, Fuschlsee, Mondsee and Wolfgangsee are dazzling displays of emerald greens and cyan blues, hugged by peaks and interlaced with quaint villages and forest hiking trails. The Sheraton Salzburg-Fuschlsee Hotel Jagdhof is one of the best places to stay to begin your lakeside adventures.

The Alps – Vorarlberg to Tirol

Lech

Lech is a world-renowned ski area in the Alps

Enjoying the Austrian Alps is not confined to the ski season, putting Vorarlberg – the westernmost state of Austria and neighbouring Tyrol on the map for visitors all year round.

Lech is Vorarlberg's world-renowned ski area – a verdant, manicured hiking haven in the spring and summer months. In the Bregenzerwald, accessible from the adjacent region of Dornbirn and the Four Points by Sheraton Panoramahaus Hotel Dornbirn, hike village to village on trails of alpine art and design. Narrowing down where to go in Tyrol can be tricky, but start in its Nordkette mountain enveloped capital, Innsbruck.

It's the perfect place for old town historical sightseeing and a gateway to gondola-connected alpine resort regions such as Sölden, which featured in the James Bond film, Spectre, and the Kitzbühel Alps for the quaint towns of Kufstein and Kitzbühel.

What to eat and drink in Austria

Austrian Wine

The history of Austrian wine making stretches back some 2,000 years, with award-winning Grüner Veltliner, Riesling and Gelber Muskateller white wines and Zweigelt and Blaufränkisch reds being some of the most known varieties. Sample the best wine in the Vienna vineyards, tavern hopping on the South Styrian Wine Road, the prairie towns of the eastern state of Burgenland and the Wachau Valley in Lower Austria.

Alpine Cheese and Käsespätzle

This fuelling alpine region dish of small egg noodle pieces and melted mountain cheese (Bergkäse), topped with crunchy, caramelized onions, curbs the craving of those who have expended energy up in the peaks. It's one of the best dishes to try in Vorarlberg, especially at the mountain huts of alpine farmers and family cheesemakers on the KäseStrasse Bregenzerwald (Bregenzerwald Cheese Route).

Wiener Schnitzel

Wiener Schnitzel

No trip to Vienna is complete without trying Wiener Schnitzel

You can't visit Vienna without eating the large, flattened, thin, bread-crumbed, pan-fried veal of the Wiener Schnitzel served with a side of traditional potato salad. Figlmüller is argued to be one of the best places to eat for Schnitzel, but Restaurant Meissl & Schadn has one of the tastiest in the city and has an open window front with the chef's preparation process on display.

Austrian Cakes

Austria knows how to make great cakes. Choose from the chocolate and apricot jam Sachertorte, pastry rich Apfelstrudel, cream-layered Esterhazy Schnitte, the pink iced square and rum dashed Punschkrapfen, or the current jam-filled Linzer Torte. Austrians usually break at 3pm for coffee and cake – a form of afternoon tea tradition. Try them for yourself amidst beautiful surroundings in the Garten Café at the Vienna Marriott Hotel. Located in the city centre, the hotel is close to many of the city’s famous attractions.

Kürbiskernöl (pumpkin seed oil)

The southern state of Styria's most famous food is pumpkin seed, a farm-grown specialty pressed into delicious Kürbiskernöl (pumpkin seed oil). A staple of the local diet, it's used in soups, as a salad dressing and even as an ice cream sauce.

Kärntner Kasnudel

Traditional Carinthian food

Carinthian Pasta, or 'Kärntner Kasnudel' is enjoyed in the sunny southern state

Best tasted in the southern, sunny state of Carinthia, Kärntner Kasnudel translates as 'Carinthian pasta'. The delicious pasta pocket filling is made with topfen (a cheese curd), mixed with mint and herbs, and covered in melted butter.

Top things to do in Austria

Innsbruck

Innsbruck's mountain viewpoint is complemented by the futuristic cable car that gets you to the high vista, designed by architect Zaha Hadid

Austria is famed for its scenery and there are plenty of vantage points from which to enjoy views of cityscapes and panorama mountain ranges. In Vienna, climb the St. Stephen's Cathedral South Tower for a lookout point over the historical centre.

Alternatively, choose the 150-metre high Danube Tower or take a turn on the Giant Ferris Wheel at Prater Park for a 360 degrees view of the entire city. It’s minutes away from the Courtyard Vienna Prater/Messe.

In Salzburg, the Hohensalzburg Fortress is the city's hilltop icon. The Hotel Goldener Hirsch, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Salzburg is located close to the funicular that takes you up.

In Graz, you can climb up the 260 steps up 473 metres to the clock tower on the Schlossberg hill. Innsbruck's mountain viewpoint is complemented by the futuristic cable car that gets you to the high vista, designed by architect Zaha Hadid. The Nordkette Cable Car is 10 minutes walk from AC Hotel Innsbruck. The Swarovski Crystal Worlds near Innsbruck takes you on a dazzling sensory overload with crystal exhibits and artworks in the Sparkling Chambers of Wonder.

Vienna is home to more than 100 museums, but Graz's 'friendly alien' takes centre stage – the 900-year-old UNESCO city centre is playfully interrupted by this futuristic, blue glob of the Kunsthaus (Art Museum). The sometimes overlooked city of Linz features the Ars Electronica Centre, one of the more interesting things to do here with its interactive visual media and technology arts exhibition space. It’s across the river from the old town and hotel Courtyard Linz.

Some of the unmissable things to do in Austria are for adventure seekers. The Grossglockner High Alpine Road is the highest mountain pass. It serves a scenic show of mountain plateaus and rolling hills on its winding journey through Austria's oldest national park - Hohe Tauern National Park – connecting the state of Salzburg with Carinthia. In winter, head to the largest connected ski area in Austria. The Ski Arlberg area has over 300km of slopes, connecting St. Anton am Arlberg to Lech am Arlberg and Warth-Schröcken.

Hidden gems in Austria

Highline179

Tyrol's Highline179 suspension bridge is one of the more unique attractions in Austria

An alternative day trip from Vienna, head out to Lake Neusiedl (Neusiedler See). The largest lake in Central Europe shares its waters with neighbouring Hungary. While more accessible by car, the lake is best seen on a boat trip that connects the tiny winemaking city of Rust to the waterside market town of Podersdorf am See, marked by its iconic red and white lighthouse.

Tyrol is where you'll find some of the more unique things to do. Cross the 114 metres high, 406-meter long, swaying Highline179 suspension bridge in Reutte connecting castle ruins to a Roman fortress. Or spend the day river rafting, ziplining, canyoning and bungee jumping at Area 47 in Ötztal. Graz recently upped the adrenalin ante with the opening of the world's tallest underground slide in Graz, which gets you down from the clock tower to the city in 40 seconds.

Go deeper

Austrian German is a little different to German, so learning the local lingo goes a long way. Basic Austrian greetings include Grüss Gott or Servus (hello) and Auf Wiederschauen (goodbye).





Published: July 26, 2022

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