Austria was once part of a mighty empire, which the Habsburgs ruled over from Vienna for some seven centuries. Although Austria today is just a fraction of its former glory, it still maintains its rich cultural and artistic heritage. Vienna is one of Europe’s most attractive cities, combining historic sites with a vibrant creative scene. The city is justifiably famous both for its classical music pedigree and for its elegant grand balls. With two-thirds of the country’s landscape shaped by the Alps, Austria is paradise for anyone eager to explore the mountains—or nature in general. Some of the world’s top ski resorts can be found in the western part of the country. The regions around the Danube, as well as south of Vienna, are known for their many family-run wineries. Austria is also a leader in the farm-to-table movement, and has over 20% of its agriculture, and more than 20,000 farmers, committed to organic farming.

Austria castle at sunset



When’s the best time to go to Austria?

Temperatures in spring and fall are usually milder, making it a great time to visit. Winter sports are a major draw to the resort towns in the Austrian Alps, and the skiing is consistently ranked as some of the best in the world. The season lasts from December through late March. Vienna and Salzburg tend to be more crowded in July and August, and during major festivals. Temperatures vary by region and elevation, but averages do not climb above a comfortable high 70s in Vienna during summer.

How to get around Austria

Vienna can be reached via direct flights from several North American cities, including New York (JFK and Newark), Washington D.C., Miami, Chicago, and Toronto, though it is often practical to fly through Munich or Zurich—especially for a trip to Austria’s western provinces. Smaller airports in cities like Salzburg, Graz, Klagenfurt, and Innsbruck can be easily reached. High-speed trains connect Vienna and Salzburg with cities like Munich and Zurich. A hydrofoil travels between Bratislava and Vienna on the Danube. U.S. visitors can stay up to three months with just a passport, after which time a visa is required. If you are entering Austria using a rental car, make sure there is a Vignette (toll sticker) affixed to the windshield.

Cities in Austria are linked by a fast and efficient rail system, with Vienna to Salzburg taking as little as two-and-a-half hours. To explore large towns and cities, public transportation (bus and tram), biking, or walking is best. Driving on Austria’s highways requires a toll sticker—available in ten-day, two-month, and twelve-month increments—which can be purchased at gas stations, post offices, auto clubs, and even in neighboring countries. Renting a car is another great way to explore rural regions and high Alpine routes.

Food and drink to try in Austria

Austria’s cuisine reflects heavily on its imperial past, with influences from Hungary, Italy, and the Balkans. Classic dishes like Tafelspitz (beef, root vegetables, and sauerkraut), Wiener Schnitzel (veal cutlet, flattened and fried), and Gulasch (rich meat stew, often with paprika) can be found throughout the country, while every region is proud of their speciality dishes. But, let’s face it, the major food draw is really the delectable cakes and pastries, including the famous apple strudel and Sachertorte. You’d be forgiven for not knowing that Vienna is the only world capital producing significant quantities of wine within its city limits. White wines dominate the vineyards of the Wachau Valley, while reds prevail in Burgenland and Styria.

Culture in Austria

Some consider Vienna the cultural capital of Europe. The city has been synonymous with the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Strauss, to name a few, as well as painters like Klimpt. Elegant balls, nights at the Vienna State Opera (one of the world’s best), and hours spent in coffeehouses are quintessential Vienna. The 640-year legacy of the Habsburg dynasty, which officially ended in 2011 with the death of Otto von Habsburg, can be found throughout the city. Oh, and let’s not forget the Boys Choir. Austria has nine inscriptions on the UNESCO World Heritage List: Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, the Historic Center of Vienna, Wachau Cultural Landscape, Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps, Historic Center of Salzburg, Hallstatt-Dachstein/Salzkammergut Cultural Landscape, Graz Historic Center and Eggenberg Palace, Fertö/Neusiedlersee Cultural Landscape, and the Semmering Railway.

The year waltzes in with Vienna’s Ball Season in January and February, during which time “Fasching,” Austrian Carnival, also begins. The world famous Salzburg Festival takes place July–August, culminating with a performance of Hugo von Hoffmannsthal’s Everyman. Summer sees a variety of music festivals, from classical to rock (Nova Festival) to avant-garde (Styrian Fall), as well as wine festivals extending into the fall. Austria’s Christmas markets round out the year. Vienna alone lights up with 20 official Christmas markets selling seasonal gifts, decorations, and sweets.

Local travel tips for Austria

Austria has nine provinces: Vienna, Burgenland, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Salzburg, Styria, Carinthia, Salzburg, Tyrol, and Vorarlberg. While German is the official language, there are regional dialects that German speakers from outside may have trouble understanding. In some cases, totally different words are used. The German Krankenhaus, for example, is Spital (hospital), and a Brötchen is a Semmel (roll). But language shouldn’t be an issue; English is widely spoken. Austria is a parliamentary democracy, and its national holiday falls on October 26—a day of free entry to state museums and many government buildings.

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Resources to help plan your trip
Salzburg has no shortage of atmospheric restaurants and shady beer gardens serving hearty sausages, schnitzels, dumplings, and potato dishes. Don’t skip these classics, but do save room for new arrivals that offer more creative and modern cuisine.
Austria’s capital was the seat of the Hapsburg dynasty, and its many historic sites and cultural institutions embody an imperial grandeur. The city is not, however, only a showpiece preserved in aspic, and alongside 19th-century wonders there are also contemporary museums and lively neighborhoods. Here are some of Vienna’s highlights, from Roman ruins to present-day treasures.
Whether you break for bubbly on the slopes, spend the day at a luxurious spa, or shop for one of the world’s finest watches, you’ll find the Alpine high life almost impossible to leave.
Whether you want to stay in a former palace, a stylish spot, or a more affordable option, Vienna has a hotel for every traveler. Many of the best options are also centrally located, putting you within walking distance of the city’s main attractions.
Mighty castles, delightful wines and a sunny countryside make Burgenland the best escape from bustling Vienna. Its gentle hills and plains are punctuated with an assortment of castles (Burgen), vineyards and shallow lakes that warm quickly in summer. With some 300 days of sunshine a year, Austria’s Burgenland is an important agricultural area, notable for a vibrant selection of wines like Blaufränkisch as well as a wide variety of rare tomatoes. Visit Burgenland to truly see the best.
If you only have 3 days in Vienna, you have to make it worthwhile. Few cities offer such a lively mix of history and culture. Vienna has become synonymous with music thanks to composers like Mozart, Strauß, and Haydn, and the influence of the House of Hapsburg can be seen in the Vienna’s incredible palaces, the Vienna State Opera, Spanish Riding School and plethora of Baroque architecture. Of course, Vienna’s famous coffeehouses & pastries make it worth a 3 day visit, at the very least!
Those ornate castles, picturesque abbeys, and clear mountain lakes don’t just exist in fairytales. They live in the Bavarian Alps. Just two hours from Munich, the 300-mile German Alpine Road winds along the Germany-Austria border from Berchtesgarden at Lake Königssee to Lindau at Lake Constance. Meadows, forests, and farm villages set the scene for this region’s old and enchanting way of life. Not to mention the 20 mountain lakes and 25 castles, palaces, and abbeys.
The Austrian Alps are a winter sports paradise offering some of the world’s best skiing and a winter wonderland. But you don’t have to hit the slopes at Kitzbühel or strap on the skates and glide over Lake Zell to have a great time in Austria during winter. Lower prices and fewer tourists make winter city breaks a bargain, while the charm of a traditional Austrian mountain resort is not to be missed. The amazing views of an Alpine winter can also be enjoyed from inside a luxurious spa as well.
Traditional villages meet luxury resorts in two of Austria’s most beautiful Alpine regions: Tyrol and Vorarlberg. Plush resorts like those at medieval Kitzbühel and St. Anton offer some of Austria’s best skiing in Tyrol, while Vorarlberg offers a more authentic experience with rural Austria, complete with traditional costumes and architecture. Western Austria’s largest city, Innsbruck, has a charming medieval old town, a lively student population and spectacular Alpine views.
With just one week, Vienna and Eastern Austria will give travelers a glimpse into the best of the country’s non-Alpine side, including Vienna’s Habsburg palaces and the castles and abbeys of the picturesque Wachau valley. Peer into Eastern Austria’s Gothic, Romanesque, and Baroque cathedrals. Sample your way through Vienna’s open-air Naschmarkt for Austrian-made treats. To round out your week, roam through the lovely Vienna Woods.
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