Home to lavish baroque buildings and the soaring mountains of the Alps, Austria is one of Europe's most popular holiday destinations. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the endless opportunities to hike in the summer and ski in the winter, while foodies can indulge in strudels, schnitzels, and the world-famous coffee culture. Visitors can also take in a performance at one of the country's lavish concert halls, soak in soothing thermal spas, or visit the tranquil vineyards and sample world-class wine. There's no shortage of things to see and do in Austria, but here are the places we think everyone should visit.
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As the imperial capital of the country, Vienna has some big shoes to fill. However, its majestic baroque architecture, lively cultural scene, and cozy coffee-house culture ensure that it more than lives up to anyone's expectations. Visitors can admire the artwork in one of the city's many museums, spend the afternoon in one of the opulent coffee-houses, or tour important landmarks like the Schloss Schönbrunn and the Belvedere Palace. It's also worth making time to take in a live music performance; sometimes called the City of Music, Vienna has something to offer people of every age and musical inclination.
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Famous for being the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the shooting location for The Sound of Music, Salzburg boasts a picturesque old town that looks like something straight out of a storybook. The many stunning baroque buildings have earned the old town the honor of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site; visitors should take special care to visit Festung Hohensalzburg, the largest intact fortress in Central Europe. Thanks to its history, the city also has a wonderful arts and music scene; it hosts approximately 4,000 cultural events every year, including the highly acclaimed Salzburg Festspiele.
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Nestled in a tiny valley and surrounded by towering mountains on every side, Innsbruck is a quintessential Austrian mountain town. The area has a long history of hosting winter sports competitions and is renowned for its ski resorts, which draw throngs of visitors during the colder months. There's plenty to do during the summer as well; visitors can hike through stunning alpine meadows or take the cable car up the Nordkette mountain range. It's worth spending some time in the town itself as well; the late-medieval old town boasts beautiful architecture as well as plenty of coffee shops and restaurants.
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Set in the High Tauern mountains, Bad Gastein first rose to fame because of its bubbling natural hot springs. Believed by some to have miraculous healing properties, the thermal waters can be enjoyed at many of the town's spas and resorts. The impressive Gastein Waterfall is located right in the center of the town, surrounded by gorgeous Belle Époque buildings and enticing fir forests. Although the area is most popular with tourists who come to ski during the winter season, there are plenty of excellent hiking opportunities to be found here during the warmer months.
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The former summer home of Emperor Franz Josef I, Bad Ischl has been a fashionable spa resort since the 19th century. Today, visitors can enjoy a massage at one of the resorts or warm up in one of the many thermal spas or saunas. Another highlight of the town is Kaiser Villa, a beautiful neoclassical structure that served as the summer residence of the royal family for many years. Visitors looking for a bit of nature can take a cable car to the top of majestic Mount Katrin or stroll up to the wooden lookout tower on the southern side of the town.
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Located on the shores of Lake Constance, Bregenz offers incredible views of Germany, Switzerland, and the Alps. A promenade runs along the waterfront, making an excellent place for a stroll, and the city itself is full of admirable art and architecture. Visitors often take a cable car to the top of Mt. Pfander, where they can take advantage of the many hiking trails or enjoy a meal with a view at the mountaintop restaurant. The city also hosts the famous Bregenz Festival during the months of July and August, which is well worth attending for the opera, the orchestra, and other cultural events.
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Despite its small size, Eisenstadt has a rich history and is the former home of the famous 18th-century musician and composer Joseph Haydn. Esterhazy Castle is one of the city's main landmarks, and it boasts one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world. The historic old town offers a pedestrian-only area filled with stores, cafes, and restaurants, and there are more than enough museums in the downtown core to keep history buffs entertained. The area surrounding Eisenstadt is a well-known wine-growing region; it's worth making a day trip here to see the vineyards and sample the delicious food.
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A leafy green university town with connections to big names like Erwin Schrödinger and Nikola Tesla, Graz is the second-largest city in Austria. The beautiful old town is the heart and soul of the city, and thanks to its Renaissance courtyards and baroque palaces, it has been named a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. A forested hill known as the Schlossberg sits in the center of town; visitors can reach the top by foot, by cable car, or by glass elevator. The hill is home to the city's symbolic clock tower and offers panoramic views of the city.
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9.Grossglockner High Alpine Road
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Starting at the base of the highest mountain in Austria, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road leads right into the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park. The road winds past alpine meadows, thundering waterfalls, imposing cliffs, and snow fields that remain frozen even in the middle of summer; thiry-six carefully engineered bends provide excellent lookout points over the most scenic spots. Visitors will eventually end up at the large Pasterze Glacier, where it's possible to take a 30-minute stroll to the glacier or join a guided tour. Once at the glacier, visitors can choose to either turn around or continue to Salzburg.
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Sometimes known as the "three-state mountain," Hoher Dachstein is situated at the border of Upper Austria, Styria, and Salzburg and is the second-highest mountain in the Northern Limestone Alps. At 2,995 meters high, the top of the mountain offers panoramic views over the peaks of the Alps that extend as far as the Czech Republic and Slovenia. The mountain is very popular with rock climbers, but there are plenty of things for non-climbers to do as well, including the suspension bridge, the Skywalk viewing platform, the enchanting Ice Palace, and the breathtaking Stairway to Nothingness, which ends on a vertigo-inducing glass platform.
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With an impressive drop of 380 meters, the Krimml Waterfalls are the highest waterfalls in Austria and the fifth-highest in the world. The waterfall has three tiers, the lowest of which has a drop of 140 meters and can be reached by foot in 10–15 minutes from the village of Krimml. A 4-km trail leads all the way up to the highest tier; the hike takes approximately 1.5 hours and there are plenty of observation platforms along the way. The trail is open from mid-April to late October, and a small entrance fee is charged.
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Also known as the Bodensee, Lake Constance straddles Germany, Austria, and Switzerland and is the third-largest lake in Central Europe. It's an excellent destination at any time of the year; summer brings the opportunity to go for a boat trip, lounge on one of the many beaches, or cycle along the shore, while winter visitors can relax in one of the thermal baths, visit a Weinfest, or spend the afternoon in one of the many castles. Due to the lake's unique location, visitors can start the day in Austria, pass through Switzerland in the afternoon, and make it to Germany in time for dinner.
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The lowest point in Austria, Lake Neusiedl is a steppe lake notable for receiving more than 2,000 hours of sunshine per year. The lake is especially popular during the summer months, when warm waters and gentle winds create the perfect conditions for swimming, windsurfing, paddleboarding, and sailing. Visitors who would rather stay on dry land will be delighted by the cycling trails around the late; twenty-nine different routes span almost 1,000 km, and it's even possible to circle the lake entirely. The region is also known for offering excellent birdwatching opportunities and many acres of idyllic vineyards.
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14.National Park Donau Auen
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Covering 93 square kilometers of wetland in Vienna and Lower Austria, the National Park Donau Auen was established in 1996 and is an important habitat for many different species of mammals, birds, and plants. More than 100 different species of birds can be spotted in the park, making it an excellent destination for birdwatchers, but other popular activities here include kayaking, horseback riding, bicycling, and hiking. Guided tours are available, but a network of clearly marked trails makes it easy to explore on your own. Visitors can also take boat trips from Salztorbrücke; these last approximately 4.5 hours and must be reserved in advance.
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15.National Park Gesause
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Established in 2002, the National Park Gesäuse encompasses jagged limestone peaks, alpine meadows, and thick spruce forests. The mighty Enns River runs through the park, making for stunning scenery and excellent rafting during the summer months. The park is home to six mountains greater than 2,000 meters in height, which attract rock climbers in the summer and ski touring enthusiasts in the winter. There are also more than 100 km of well-marked hiking trails in the park; most of these require good physical fitness and proper equipment, but the Rauchboden and Ennsboden trails offer a gentler walking experience.
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16.National Park Hohe Tauern
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Almost 1,800 square km in size, National Park Hohe Tauern is the oldest and largest national park in Austria and arguably the most impressive. This is where you can find the country's tallest mountains, largest glaciers, and most beautiful forests, and it's also notable for being home to more than half of the animal species found in Austria. There's an excellent network of well-marked trails, and experienced hikers and mountaineers should have no problem exploring the park on their own, but visitors can also take advantage of the wide variety of tours offered by highly qualified park rangers.
Kirchplatz 2, 9971 Matrei in Osttirol, +43 6562 40939
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17.National Park Kalkalpen
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Boasting the longest natural stream system in the Eastern Alps, National Park Kalkalpen is a true haven for nature lovers. The park is home to two different mountain ranges: The Reichraminger Hintergebirge and the Sengsengebirge. There are plenty of trails perfect for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding during the summer; many of these become snowshoeing trails and downhill skiing routes during the winter. The park also has several visitor's centers, a lodge built in 1907, and a 21-meter-high view tower that can be accessed by foot or by chairlift and offers wonderful panoramic views of the surrounding area.
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18.National Park Thayatal
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Tucked away in the far northwest of Austria, National Park Thayatal is the country's smallest national park. However, the park also contains one of Central Europe's most biodiverse valleys. More than 90% of the park is covered by forest, and almost half of the 3,000 plant species that occur in Austria can be found here. A deep canyon cut by the Thaya river runs right through the park, making for dramatic landscapes and interesting rock formations. Cycling and hiking are the two most popular activities for visitors, and the park is happy to offer informative guided walking tours.
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19.Neusiedler See - Seewinkel National Park
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Situated between the Alps and the Little Hungarian Plain, Neusiedler See - Seewinkel National Park encompasses a diverse range of environments, including wetlands, meadows, salt ponds, and reed beds. Because of this diversity, the park is home to a rich variety of plant and animal life, including approximately 340 different species of birds. The park is especially popular with birdwatchers, but there are plenty of walking trails that everyone will enjoy. Visitors can also take one of the many guided excursions offered; these are available in different languages and can be tailored to suit the specific interests of a group.
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Also known as the Lake District, Salzkammergut is home to rolling hills, soaring mountains, picture-perfect valleys, and impressive alpine lakes. In fact, 76 spectacular lakes can be found here, the most beautiful of which is arguably the Hallstätter See. There are plenty of hiking and cycling trails for people of most abilities, including the popular Ausserland – Salzkammergut trail that winds around six of the lakes. The region also offers a lively cultural scene and plenty of charming towns, including the historic village of Hallstatt, which is on the list of UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Sites.
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21.St Anton am Arlberg
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Frequently referred to as one of the best ski resorts in the world, St Anton am Arlberg is known for its excellent snow and lively nightlife. The resort boasts almost 100 chairlifts that bring skiers up as high as 2,811 meters, and there are runs suitable for people of all ability levels. Although the town is primarily a ski resort, there's plenty to keep non-skiers entertained as well, including luxurious spas, an indoor rock climbing center, and plenty of excellent restaurants. During the summer, hikers and mountaineers flock to the region to take advantage of the natural beauty and excellent trail system.
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Easily accessible from Vienna, the Vienna Woods are a popular recreation destination for people living in the city as well as for visitors. Designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 2005, the region is home to approximately 2,000 species of plants, 150 species of birds, and a good number of endangered animals. The park offers tours to introduce visitors to the numerous habitats and animals found here, and there are plenty of well-marked walking trails. The area can be reached either by car or by using Vienna's public transport system, and visitors should plan to spend at least half a day here.
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Straddling the banks of the picturesque Danube river, Wachau is known for producing some of the best dry white wines in the world. The region is also home to a large number of impressive medieval fortresses, monasteries, and castles, and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its natural beauty and cultural importance. Wachau is located only an hour or so from Vienna and it's possible to visit the area as a day trip from the city; many different companies offer extensive tour packages that include a boat ride along the river.
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Tucked away in a scenic location between mountains and hillsides, Wörthersee is probably the most popular lake in Austria. The sheltered location of the lake means that it reaches temperatures as high as 26°C during the summer, making it ideal for swimming and other summer watersports. There are plenty of companies offering boat tours of the lake and its three islands, and several towns and resorts are located along the shores of the lake. The northern shore is easily accessible by public transport from Vienna, and it's possible to bicycle around the entire lake by following a 50-km circular trail.
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25.Zell am See
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Surrounded by the breathtaking Salzburg mountains, Zell am See is one of the most picturesque alpine cities in Austria. The region is a nature lover's paradise; winter brings the opportunity to enjoy the 80 miles of local ski slopes, while the warmer summer months are perfect for swimming in the incredibly blue waters of the Zeller See or cycling along the tree-lined paths by its shores. If you're looking for something more relaxing, it's easy to spend a pleasant afternoon wandering through the picturesque city center, which is studded with brightly colored chalets, cozy cafes, and excellent restaurants.
25 Best Places to Visit in Austria
- Vienna, Photo: Courtesy of A. Karnholz - Fotolia.com
- Salzburg, Photo: Courtesy of mRGB - Fotolia.com
- Innsbruck, Photo: Courtesy of Simon Dannhauer - Fotolia.com
- Bad Gastein, Photo: Courtesy of Frozen Action - Fotolia.com
- Bad Ischl, Photo: Courtesy of franke182 - Fotolia.com
- Bregenz, Photo: Courtesy of Jan Schuler - Fotolia.com
- Eisenstadt, Photo: Courtesy of pure-life-pictures - Fotolia.com
- Graz, Photo: Courtesy of Boris Stroujko - Fotolia.com
- Grossglockner High Alpine Road, Photo: Courtesy of bigy9950 - Fotolia.com
- Hoher Dachstein, Photo: Courtesy of christakramer - Fotolia.com
- Krimml Waterfalls, Photo: Courtesy of BJFF - Fotolia.com
- Lake Constance, Photo: Courtesy of puchan - Fotolia.com
- Lake Neusiedl, Photo: Courtesy of pruscha - Fotolia.com
- National Park Donau Auen, Photo: Courtesy of grafxart - Fotolia.com
- National Park Gesause, Photo: Courtesy of ksl - Fotolia.com
- National Park Hohe Tauern, Photo: Courtesy of naturenow - Fotolia.com
- National Park Kalkalpen, Photo: Courtesy of visualpower - Fotolia.com
- National Park Thayatal, Photo: Courtesy of montypeter - Fotolia.com
- Neusiedler See - Seewinkel National Park, Photo: Courtesy of Gu¨nter Menzl - Fotolia.com
- Salzkammergut, Photo: Courtesy of mRGB - Fotolia.com
- St Anton am Arlberg, Photo: Courtesy of corradobarattaphotos - Fotolia.com
- Vienna Woods, Photo: Courtesy of visualpower - Fotolia.com
- Wachau, Photo: Courtesy of visualpower - Fotolia.com
- Worthersee, Photo: Courtesy of milda79 - Fotolia.com
- Zell am See, Photo: Courtesy of mRGB - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of JFL Photography - Fotolia.com