Offering an abundance of cultural, historical, natural and culinary experiences at every turn, Austria is one of Europe’s best and most rewarding travel destinations. Its compact size and kaleidoscope of highlights appeal to young and old alike, families with kids in tow and newlyweds looking for romance. With a thriving café culture, fantastic shopping, excellent dining and oodles of outdoor spot options, Austria is certainly an interactive place to visit.
Here are the Top 10 Best Travel Destinations in Austria you shouldn’t miss.
The grand dame of European architecture is as stunning today as she’s always been. Vienna, revered by artists, aristocrats and even us mere mortals for centuries on end, is an exceptionally beautiful city. With wide boulevards, manicured gardens and quaint cafés, this is one modern city that seems totally unbothered by the passing of time. The formidable Austro-Hungarian Empire may be but a faint memory in history books but, in Vienna, their legacies still shine resplendently. Some of the most magnificent royal palaces in the world are found right there. From the imposing Hofburg Palace, for centuries the headquarters of the royal family, to the Baroque wonders of Schönbrunn, the splendid gardens of Belvedere and the breathtaking beauty of the Vienna Opera House (at night, particularly) are just a few things that make Vienna a photographer’s and sightseer’s dream city.
Not just a springboard for travels through Austria but the highlight of the country’s historical and cultural soul, Vienna is certainly deserving of ample time.
Postcard-perfect Salzburg is an absolute feast for the eyes although most first-time visitors only include it in their itinerary as it is the renowned birthplace of Mozart. Indeed, you will find many of the highlights in town pertaining to the famed composer, from the house where he was born to the one in which he grew up, the Mozart Square and an infinite array of Mozart memorabilia and souvenirs – including the very delicious Mozart balls. Yet even though Mozart may entice you to visit, it’s the beauty and charm of the riverside city that’ll convince you to stay, just one more day.
The UNESCO-listed historic centre is a maze of cobblestone streets, museums, art spaces, cafés and resplendent architecture. The hilltop Hohensalzburg Castle boasts phenomenal city views of the picturesque city and the commanding mountain peaks which surround it. If you can, plan a visit so you can attend the yearly Salzburg Festival in summer and you’ll see the city come alive with daily music and theatre performances, and a healthy tourist international crowd. When you visit, don’t forget to spend an entire afternoon meandering through the glorious gardens of the 16th-century Mirabelle Castle, it’ll be time well spent.
3). Zell am See
For a country chock-full of stunning Alpine destinations, it’s a wonder we could pick just one. But we did. Zell am See is an absolute treasure and the entire area surrounding the town and lake seems like a hybrid between Europe and Asia. Crystal clear turquoise waters lap on the shores of a charming town, itself set on the base of a snow-peaked mountain that looks like it popped out of a fairy-tale book. In Zell am see, you can fish, ski and cycle, depending on the time of year you visit. And you can also choose a lakeside restaurant for a hearty meal and a chance to sit back, relax and enjoy the stupendous views.
One of Austria’s several winter sports destinations, Innsbruck is an incredible mix of all that makes Austria so very special. The city centre is a sophisticated hub and between the ornate facades of the centuries-old buildings peek high mountains – the Nordkette Alps – just begging to be climbed, hiked and skied. Get totally lost in Altstadt, the historic quarter, and you’ll see remanence of the imperial time as well as the Ancient Roman Empire. And when you’re ready to stretch your legs, discover why this city hosted two Olympic Winter Games and why it is rated one of Europe’s best winter sport meccas.
Although it can be said that the best of Innsbruck is in winter, visiting in summer I also idyllic. Stroll along the Inn River, explore the cobbled laneways and their historic Gasthofs, visit the Hofburg Palace and climb the 148 steps of the City Tower for brilliant views.
5). Achen Lake
The largest lake in the Tyron region of Austria is framed by a chain of striking mountains that make up some of the best scenery in the European Alps, With 5 characteristic villages providing excellent base points for outdoor adventures, Achen Lake is ideal for those who want to immerse themselves in pristine Austrian nature. As a favoured local holiday destination, Alchen offers brilliant family vacations, hiking, mountain biking, rock-climbing and plenty of water sports in summer, not to mention wellness retreats for blissful R&R. In winter, the whole Alchen region becomes a magnet for cross-country skiers the world over.
6). Krimml Waterfalls
Austria’s highest waterfalls are a force of nature, plunging over three tiers and 380m. This is a glacial waterfall and a spectacular one at that, set amidst the splendours of the Hohe Tauern National Park. The hike to the top of the falls makes for an easy half-day outing, starting from the picturesque town of Krimml, which is only 2 hours’ drive south of Salzburg and easy to include on a visit there. Note that if you do intend to hike to the top, and not just admire the falls from the base, you should pack suitable hiking shoes as the track can be quite slippery. Don’t even think of coming here and NOT hiking to the top! The views of the valleys and the waterfalls are simply outlandish from up high.
7). Bad Gastein
Austria’s reputation as a wellness destination is well known within Europe, yet there are many foreign visitors who are oblivious to this most delectable highlight of the country. Bad Gastein is arguably the most popular thermal spa town of all and conveniently located just south of Salzburg. Even if you were to look past the fact that the setting of this town is out of this world – nestled deep in a valley between mountains of dizzying heights – you won’t be able to walk past the therapeutic spas. Revered for its luxury hotels and holiday villas, the verdant mountain slopes that frame it and the resplendent architecture, Bad Gastein is one of those towns you’ll find impossible to leave. Whether in winter or summer, a visit here is immensely rewarding, with a heart-stopping pedestrian suspension bridge, waterfalls and plenty of opulent spas to keep you hooked for days on end.
8). Hallstatt Salzkammergut
With over 7,000 years of illustrious history on its back and a prestigious reputation as a rich salt-mining town, Hallstatt is pure Austrian perfection. It may not surprise you to know that this is a UNESCO-listed treasure, yet not only for aesthetics and history. Behind the town, among the seemingly endless Dachstein Mountains, hides one of Europe’s most extensive cavern systems. The Dachstein Caves are bona fide ice palaces, formed over the course of millions of years and comprising frozen waterfalls, caverns up to 1km in depth, and fascinating rock formations. The natural, historical and cultural attributes have ensured the entire Dachstein Salzkammergut region of Austria be bestowed the UNESCO heritage listing. Visits to the caves are allowed between April and October each year but the Panoramic Skywalk with its glass floor and mind-boggling views, is open all year round and accessible by cable car.
9). Grossglockner High Alpine Road
It may seem peculiar to include a road in the top 10 best travel destinations in Austria but then again, the Grossglockner is more than ‘just a road’. Used in Roman times and rediscovered with the advent of motor vehicle touring, this brilliant stretch of winding bitumen would have to gift some of the most phenomenal Alpine views in all of Europe. The wonderful aspect of the Grossglockner is that it extends for barely 20km and transports you through superb scenery before – quite literally – bringing you face to face with Austria’s tallest peak, Hohe Tauern, before plummeting you through another insanely beautiful valley. Being as it is only 20-odd km long it means the Grossglockner can be driven over, and over and over again. Pure self-drive holiday magic. The road’s perimeters are at Helligenblut and Bruck, the latter only 100km southwest of Hallstatt.
10). Hohenwerfen Castled
If there is one thing which the Germans and Austrians of yesteryear shared, it was a penchant for building eye-popping mountain-top castles, right in the middle of nowhere. When you visit Austria, you can’t miss seeing one. Hohenwerfen is a stunning medieval gem, set 600m high on a rocky cliff overlooking the sleepy town of Werfen, in the heart of the Berchtesgaden Alps, only a half-hour drive from Salzburg. Dating back to the 11th century and showcasing the austere architectural style of its time, Hohenwerfen was initially used as protector of the Salzburg Archbishop, going on to serve as a residence and military base of the Salzburg Royal Family, a state prison, a WWII training camp and even as the backdrop for the do-re-mi scene in The Sound of Music. In more modern times, Hohenwerfen has become one of Austria’s most unmissable tourist destinations.
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