Austria’s sumptuous scenery, impressive history, and friendly culture intertwine to create an absolutely outstanding travel destination. Its cities—the largest are Vienna, Graz, Linz, Salzburg, and Innsbruck—are some of Europe’s most beautiful, while charming Alpine villages, seemingly untouched by time, await in the highlands. Some of Austria’s top tourist attractions include Mozart’s Salzburg birthplace, the astounding hilltop Hohensalzburg Castle, the postcard-perfect village of Hallstatt, and Vienna's Hofburg Imperial Palace and Schönbrunn Palace. Austrian cuisine is a great—and often decadent—way to experience the culture. Vienna's Hotel Sacher is world-famous for its Sachertorte, an elegant, multilayered chocolate cake embedded with jam. (The hotel keeps mum on the 182-year-old recipe.) Even better known is Wiener Schnitzel, Austria’s national dish, ideally accompanied by a stein of good Austrian beer. Meanwhile, the Danube Valley marks one of Austria’s most notable wine-growing regions, known for its dry whites.
Austria's cultural legacy is nothing if not impressive. The Hapsburg dynasty – along with Austria's privileged positions in the Holy Roman Empire and later in the Austro-Hungarian Empire – led to a patronage so immensely rich that when describing Austria today, one can't help but think of superb Rococo palaces, the waltz, Mozart, Strauss, Haydn, Liszt, Schubert or choral groups like the Vienna Boys Choir. While classical music first truly spread its wings during Vienna's Golden Age, Austrians today
love classical music, opera and dance, and incorporating a concert or performance during your trip to Austria is highly recommended!
With its abundance of cultural gems to consider, it's hard to make mention of a small few. That being said, several outstanding cultural attractions include Mozart's Birthplace (Geburtshaus) in Salzburg, St. Stephan's Cathedral (Domkirche) in Vienna, Melk Abbey, the Residenz Palace in Salzburg, the Museum of Fine Arts (Kunsthistorisches) in Vienna, and the Hofburg in Vienna – the Hapsburgs' famed Winter Palace complex which houses the magnificent Imperial Treasury, the Imperial Apartments and the famed Spanish Riding School.
Possession of so many foreign territories during the reign of the Hapsburgs led to the existence of a melting pot of cultures in today's Austria, and one of the best ways to experience this blend of cultures is to go out for dinner. There are traces of Balkan, Jewish and Italian influences in many Austrian dishes. For example, you will probably taste a little paprika brought over from the Ottoman Turks, and you'll likely see lots of Hungarian dishes, with goulash being a popular dish served throughout the country.
Austrian cuisine tends to be rather rich and heavy, and there are many regional specialties. However, when traveling anywhere in Austria you're likely to see dishes like Wiener Schnitzel, dumplings, boiled beef, fluffy pancakes and out-of-this-world pastries like apple strudel. Truth be told, the Austrians might just be the best bakers in the world. It's fun to try their many varieties of cakes – with the chocolate Viennese Sachertorte probably being the most famous – in one of Vienna's many coffeehouses.
People have been producing wine in Austria since the Roman times, and today many Austrian wines are internationally renowned. Most Austrian wine is produced in the east – some right in Vienna's outskirts. A particularly fun way to try Austrian wines is to visit the
or wine taverns located in Grinzing near the Vienna Woods. And if you're not a wine fan, Austria also produces some very good beers with pale lagers being the most prevalent.
For a nation slightly larger than South Carolina – the Central European, Alpine country of Austria counts a considerable number of neighbors: Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. And for travelers, its convenient location makes it easy to pair Austria with the beautiful German state of Bavaria, with the historic towns of Southern Bohemia in the Czech Republic, with the spectacular Dolomites mountain range in northeastern Italy, or with the pristine lakes of Slovenia. Most popularly, a travel itinerary featuring Austria's elegant capital city of Vienna very often also includes the capital cities of the Czech Republic and Hungary: Prague and Budapest.
That being said, in no way are we suggesting that there isn't plenty to keep you in Austria during your entire vacation! After all, this is Hapsburg country: a storybook land filled with mountain villages hidden high in the Alps, dense woods, thermal lakes, postcard-perfect vineyards, elegant cities, charming ski resorts, and fantastic castles. While often not bursting at the seams with tourists, the mountainous country of Austria is a paradise for skiers and hikers as it truly is home to some of Europe's most beautiful landscapes. Many of us can recall some of Austria's scenery in
The Sound of Music
when Fraulein Maria spins gleefully round and round in a magical, mountainous meadow just outside of Salzburg; don't judge, you may end up doing it too once you've seen the views! Particularly scenic parts of Austria to visit include the Wachau, a very pretty and historic area found along the Danube river valley (between the riverside towns of Melk and Krems) and the breathtakingly-beautiful Hallstatt-Dachstein Alpine landscape; both are official UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Largest cities: Vienna, Graz, Linz
Other great places to visit in Austria: Krems, Innsbruck, Salzburg (including its stunning Lake District: Salzkammergut)
Austria's fascinating history is a hard thing to condense. Lengthy, colorful and at times tragic, Austria has played host to an array of groups, families and infamous individuals including the Romans, the Babenberg dynasty, the Hapsburgs, Empress Maria Theresa, her daughter Marie Antoinette, Adolf Hitler, Sigmund Freud, Empress Sisi and the Archduke Franz Ferdinand – whose death ignited World War I. The rulers of Austria saw their reigns span across many parts of Europe – into the Netherlands, Northern Italy, Croatia, Bohemia, Hungary and Spain. The Romans, Slavs, Germans and invading Ottomans have all played a role in the country's history.
Having once housed many of Europe's most enlightened and powerful rulers, it will come as no surprise to anyone that Austria today is a wonderland for history fans wishing to explore its abbeys, palaces, churches, convents, castles, historic theatres and elegant opera houses. We recommend you visit Schonbrunn Palace (the Hapsburgs' summer palace – located just outside of Vienna), the Hofburg Palace in Innsbruck, the salt mines in the village of Hallstatt, and Esterhazy Castle in Eisenstadt. It's also worth noting that the entire historic centers of Vienna, Salzburg and Graz are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites.