Austria Travel Guide

Austria Travel Guide

The location of Austria contributed not only to multiculturalism of this country, but to its popularity among a large number of travelers. Located between the Lake Constance and Lake Neusiedl, Austria is even smaller than Texas. A variety of landscapes could be found here, as well as villages with picturesque nature, the glaciers of the Alps, and of course, historical monuments of vast cultural heritage.

Austria provides opportunity for those fond of hiking, bike riding on mountain trails… and, yep, sailing yacht, windsurfing, scuba diving, while skiing is available all year round. You don’t have to travel far to find what you need, as Austria is a small country with an excellent transportation system.

So if you ever wanted to visit Grossglockner Peak (which has its top at a height of 3798 meters above the Adriatic) the public transportation will get you as high as 2576 meters above sea level, but some buses might be cancelled during winter time, so it should be checked in advance.

The entire territory of Austria is made up of 9 federal states. They differ one from another by nature, cultural traditions, way of life and a number of sights. Vienna is a traditional residence of the emperors that began to acquire the exquisite beauty on the days of the early Habsburg Monarchy. The city is surrounded by the Vienna Woods and a huge recreation area.

The easternmost Austria province of Burgenland is famous for its fertile lands that stretch along Lake Neusiedl. This is the only steppe lake in Central Europe. A huge Neusiedler See Seewinkel national park can be found here with great amount of rare bird species.

Lower Austria, a third federal state, is a land of world-famous vineyards. These terraced vineyards are located on large hills and represent one of the natural attractions.

The northern part of Lower Austria is covered with ancient forests while many of local myths and legends are associated with these forests. Another place that is worth visiting here is Wachau valley that was formed by the Danube river. With two ancient abbeys of Melk and Gottweig, Schallaburg Castle, the remnants of Burgruine Aggstein castle and numerous old towns, the entire valley was inscribed as “Wachau Cultural Landscape” in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites.

Styria, the fourth federal state, is famous for its lakes and mountains in the Salzkammergut region with its vast forested areas, for which it is also known as “the green heart of Austria”. Styria is a land of many mountain peaks, including The Dachstein, that covers an area of around 20×30 km with dozens of peaks above 2500 m, while the highest located in the southern and southwestern parts of the state.

A part of the Salzkammergut region situated in Upper Austria belongs to the fifth federal state. It attracts travelers by the amazing combination of nature and historical monuments. A town of Bad Ischl was a residence of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife, Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Moreover, it is famous for its mineral springs and spa. Northern part of Upper Austria is a forest region that provides opportunities for hiking and cycling, not to mention, admire picturesque views of Linz.

Carinthia, the sixth and southernmost federal state of Austria, is famous for its lakes: Worthersee, Ossiachersee and Millstätter See. Grossglockner, the highest peak in Austria could also be found here.

In case you want to combine enjoying Austrian nature with listening to classical music than Salzburg is the place you should definitely visit. High Tauern national park along with the eponymous city of Salzburg, the city where Mozart had spent his childhood, create an amazing mix of music festivals held annually and a range of guided tours and hiking tours lasting from half-day up to several days are offered regularly. In winter (from the middle of December to Easter) the national park is available with the rangers on snowshoe hikes.

Tyrol is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts. It has literally everything a curious traveler may need: lovely parks and nature reserves, historical sights and architecture, modern entertainment centers and museums. Tyrol is good at any time of the year. In winter, it accommodates numerous travelers at ski resorts, while summer provides opportunities for hiking and relaxing stay. If you have decided to start with Innsbruck, you should not miss Alpine zoo, Renaissance castle of Ambras and the medieval castle of Hofburg. Spanish Hall in Ambras castle is now known as a place where annual classical concerts take place. If you prefer exploring nature make sure to visit the lakes of Tyrol. Achensee, Pillersee and Schwarzsee, each of these lakes represent a great subject to discover. In my opinion, the most picturesque lake in Eastren Tyrol is Tristachersee, hidden among the trees it located just 4 km away from the city of Lienz. Tyrol has numerous castles and fortresses to discover as well.

The federal state of Vorarlberg in Austria, which borders with Germany and Switzerland, is one of the smallest in the country. However, it sees almost as much crowds on its peak season as Tyrol and Salzburg do. Vorarlberg is a land of old towns, ski resorts, mountains and incredible Lake Constance (Bodensee). During winter time this land is all about skiing, alpine slopes and fluffy snow, all kinds of entertainment that fits any budget. Despite its modest size, Vorarlberg offers a range of excursions and abundance of sights. Such cities as Bregenz and Bludenz should be on your bucket list if you visit Vorarlberg. Otherwise, if you go skiing, consider these ski resorts: Lech Zürs am Arlberg, Oberlech, Montafon, Bregenzerwald, St. Anton am Arlberg and St. Christoph am Arlberg. The last two are the iconic ski resorts known worldwide.

Climate in Austria

Austria is country of moderate continental climate that is influenced by the Atlantic sea. Temperature and precipitation depend on how high the region is, as well as its location. That is why it is so important to stay informed about the weather forecast, snow depth and the risk of avalanches, it is also crucial not to neglect the warnings of the local rescue team. Winter in Austria is the most favorable time for outdoor sports, but the weather in the Alps might be unpredictable. Even during summer highland tours you should definitely have proper clothes in case of sudden cold or strong wind. The ski season in Austria starts in December and lasts until early May or early June (in the highlands).

Food culture in Austria

Austrian cuisine is very traditional and, at the same time, differs from one state to another. Local cuisine is considered one of the most diverse in Europe, since it absorbed the Celtic, Italian, German, Hungarian, Slavic and Mediterranean recipes. Usually Austrian cuisine is known as Viennese cuisine emphasizing the dominant role of the capital, where food traditions melted together as if in the pot. Despite the outward similarity, food traditions in Austria differ one from another. People from the Danube valley prefer greenery and snacks while in mountains, they eat hearty meals. In Lower Austria fruits and vegetables are in favor, in Burgenland – fish and pepper (a clear Hungarian influence).
Coffee is an integral part of the local cuisine. It is believed that this drink came to Europe from Austria, and it was in Austria when it first became not just a tonic, but the national drink, turning a process of drinking into a ritual. Visiting coffeehouse is a part of the Austrian way of life, a spot to handle meetings and share news, an excellent eatery for a light breakfast or lunch, with alcohol, who knows. It is common to find in local coffee shops, that have its own design and charm, at least 30-50 varieties of coffee, each is prepared strictly according to standards.

Most restaurants serve lunch from 12:00 to 14:00. A fixed percentage service charge of 10-15% is usually added to bills. If you satisfied with the service you may round up your bill.

Visa Issues

No visa required for EU citizens or US citizens.

Austrian currency

The national currency is the euro. The national currency is the euro. All foreign convertible currencies, traveler’s checks could be exchanged for euros in all banks and post offices at the commercial rate.

Most exchange offices near railway stations and airports may set an extra fee for exchange operations. Austrian banks are open on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8.00 to 15.00 and on Thursday from 8.30 to 17.30. In most hotels, restaurants and shops in Austria you can use a credit card.

Getting around Austria on Public Transport

There are many discounts for getting around by railways, subway (U-Bahn) and buses when you buy multipass cards or travel with a group. Cards like Vienna pass will allow you to get to Schönbrunn Palace, Schönbrunn Zoo or Leopold Museum for free. Children up to six years may travel free of charge. Kids from 6 to 15 years old buy tickets up to 50% cheaper. If you travel more than 101 km and have your ticket properly validated, you can interrupt the trip and continue it later.

Austria has one of the most developed rail networks in the European Union. Traveling by train might be cheaper when you have discount and usually more convenient. The total length of the railway network is more than 6000 km. that covers all major cities. High-speed, long-distance trains are EC (OEC), IC (OIC), D, ICE. S-Bahn (suburban trains) network of trains that operates within most big cities in Austria.

The fare depends on the distance, travel class, number of people and the ticket type. One-way trip in Austria is cheaper than in Germany, but there is not many discounts available. If you intend to make several trips in Austria, the best option would be to get a ticket, which will cover all these rides. As in any other European country, you should keep in mind the class of the carriage you got: class is marked outside and inside the car, on the train’s doors. Railroad car could be divided into the first and second class. The first class is not much different from the second class – it usually has a secluded space, less seats, it may have a table, and the more important it not that crowded. All trains are equipped with comfortable seats and a toilet. Some trains may allow smoking on board.

Two major airlines in Austria are Tyrolean Airways (Austrian Arrows) and Rheintalflug.

Taxis are relatively inexpensive in small towns, but may cost a lot in major ones. Usually all taxis are metered and their drivers are courteous. Taxis charge extra fee for luggage. I still think that the best option for exploring old Austrian cities would be by public transport as many sights could be reached by bus or tram, which are inexpensive, fast and you don’t have to pay extra money for parking.

All major lakes and rivers, like the Danube, are navigable. River cruises along the Danube starts on Easter day and lasts until the end of October providing a chance to visit the nearby countries. Most cruises along lakes last from May to September.

Shopping in Austria

Shops generally open Monday to Friday from 8.00 till 18.30, while some of them may close for lunch break. In major cities with many tourists, shops usually work Monday to Friday until 21.00. Shops at railway stations and airports are operating until the end of peak hour, usually until 23.00. Cigarettes could be purchased in tobacco shops (Tabak Trafik) and in vending machines. Hotel, restaurants and coffee houses sell tobacco at a higher price.

Health Insurance in Austria

There are no free medical services and hospitals in Austria, so to avoid troubles, travelers should get travel insurance before they go. The cost of insurance depends on trip duration.

Traveling with Pets

In case you travel with your pet you should get rabies vaccination certificate and German certified translation. Pets should be vaccinated not less than 30 days prior to entry and no more than one year prior to departure. All dogs using public transport must be muzzled.

Top Things to Do and See in Vienna

Vienna is the capital of the Republic of Austria since 1918. Its history dates back to the Roman military camp that was founded to protect this land. By the mid V century the Roman Empire was falling apart, and the Roman legions have left this area. Vienna was first mentioned within the Salzburg Annals as Wenia in 881, while 1137 is known as the year when Vienna first city named. As a residence of Austrian dukes Vienna was known since the middle of the 12th century.

Be sure to visit the Belvedere Palace. Known as a project of architect Johann Lucas von Hildebrandt, this Baroque palace complex was built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy near the gates of the old city. Upper Belvedere was built by Hildebrandt in 1721-1722 to accommodate festivals and events. Upper Belvedere is a gallery to enjoy the largest art collections of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka as well as Waldmuller and Hans Makart.

Karntnerstrasse Street is one of the most important shopping streets of the old town. Recently, it has become a pedestrian zone. Since time immemorial, it has been one of the best shopping streets in the world and was named to honor the state of Carinthia. This street has long been a favorite place for watches and jewelry lovers. Large department stores are located on the Mariehilfeshtrasse shopping street. Numerous restaurants, shops and eateries fit any budget. All shops are closed on Sundays.

National Theater (Burgtheater) is one of the most important German-speaking scene since its foundation in 1776 and the second oldest theater in Europe. Tours are one hour long. The adult ticket price is 7 Euros, seniors 6 Euros, students and children 3.50 Euros. Tours take place daily at 15.00 and include narratives about the history, architecture and behind the scenes operations. Mon-Thursday is the time for German tours with an English summary. Friday-Sunday the tours are conducted in German and English. The tour guides will separate the group before the tour begins. No registration is required and ticket sales at the box office are available 15 minutes prior to the guided tour.

A few kilometers west of the center of Vienna, the spectacular Schonbrunn Palace (Schloss Schonbrunn) was built in the early 18th century in a beautiful park-like setting and remains one of Austria’s leading attractions. The palace’s history goes back further, to 1569, when Emperor Maximilian II acquired a small summer palace in a converted mill on this site. The spectacular park around Schonbrunn Palace covers an area of 500 acres and was laid out in the 18th century in Baroque style. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, its numerous gardens and outbuildings make it a wonderful place to explore.

In the Ephesus Archaeological Museum you can enjoy the replica of the ancient city of Ephesus having the size of 8×4 m, which gives an idea of how once important commercial and cultural center of Anatolia looked like.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum is one of the world’s foremost fine arts museums, enriches any Vienna itinerary, no matter how short your visit is. A collection of world-famous arts by Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder could be found there.

Another sight that attracts travelers is the Imperial Crypt beneath the Capuchin Church. Widely known to be a last refuge for 149 persons of the Habsburg family, including 12 emperors as well as 19 empresses and queens. The magnificent double sarcophagus of Maria Theresia and her husband, Emperor Franz I. Stephan von Lothringen, is a work by Balthasar Ferdinand Moll.

The Vienna Opera House has a world-wide reputation for its first-class opera performances and is also known because of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. A night at the State Opera is one of the most impressive events any visitor to Vienna can experience. The building, erected in the mid 19th century was badly damaged during the Second World War and restored in 1955.

Ski Resorts in Austria

Solden

85 km away from Innsbruck there is a nice valley of Otztal. Solden ski resort became famous for its three peaks, with the total height of more than three thousand meters. These peaks, also known as the “Big Three” are great for beginners or intermediate skiers, as they are extensive with high altitude change. Three imposing three-thousanders which are accessible by cable car networks, interconnected and that surround the entire area like three giants: Schwarze Schneid (3,340 m), Tiefenbachkogl (3,309 m) and Gaislachkogl (3,058 m). But not only pistes attract skiers from all Europe, Solden has the reputation of being a huge party-region with a wide range of apres-ski venues and rich nightlife. Solden has about eighty eateries. Holidays in Solden could be affordable as in addition to five-star hotels, two-star hotels can also be found here. Another way to spend time in Solden is hiking along the mountain paths or trails.

Seefeld

Located 15 minutes away from Innsbruck by car. The ski resort consists of two zones: the high zone at 2200 m above sea level. This zone includes quite extensive trails with the sun illuminating slopes here in the afternoon. Trails of the higher zone await you to be at least an advanced skier. The lower zone or Gschwandtkopf, located at a height of 1500 m provides great opportunities for skiing for novices and intermediate skiers. There are just three pistes – two short ones marked blue and red, and a long one marked red, you can pick up more speed if you want, but should know when to stop as the piste ends near the road. At the end of the track there is a nice restaurant. In addition, Seefeld is the capital of the cross-country skiing in Austria, trails located here saw the 1964 Olympics. Most pistes are in excellent condition with restaurants, bars, shops and a brewery nearby. The service here might be a bit overpriced.

Innsbruck

There are several nice slopes around Innsbruck. One of them is Stubai Glacier. Open all year round, this ski resort provides steep slopes at the height of 3200 m. The glacier is located at the end of the Stubaital and about one hour away from Innsbruck. It gives the whole Stubaital the backbone of good snow. You can find a ski bus route through the valley you can start in the morning in the Schlick and end you day on the glacier. The “Wilde Grubn” is really long. And even backcountry skiers will find some cool runs there.

Axamer Lizum is a place which hosted the 1964 Winter Olympics. If you live near Innsbruck, it may be another one convenient place for skiing. To get to Axamer you can by riding a free shuttle bus from the railway station, which passes through the city, so you can hop on it from any convenient stop. You can get at the top by chairlift or cable car, which is much faster. During weekends the slope might be overcrowded, especially in the morning. All the novices should keep in mind that skiing here requires at least a minimum level of training as even the easiest ski slope may end up with a drop. All the skiing trails are well-equipped while for skiing alternatives there are many itineraries off-piste. After skiing, there is a cafe with panoramic views  where you can enjoy jaegartee.

Ischgl

Ischgl ski resort located about 100 km away from Innsbruck near the Swiss border. The heights up to 2800 m. Even though this is a bit overcrowded place I liked the piste that descend down to the Elizabeth arthotel. These are quite long trails with nice infrastructure and optimally groomed slopes. At the top of the mountain there is IDALP with many trails for novice, IDALP is almost always overcrowded. I think that some skiers will find worth visiting blue slopes near Samnaun, long ones, but with annoying chairlift on your way back. Mind that it might be quite windy here. Ischgl provides quite extensive ski area with a lot of ski runs. The main apres-ski is near Elizabeth arthotel.

Kitzbuhel

Located 105 km away in the direction of Munich, Kitzbuehel is an iconic ski resort. One of the most expensive ski resorts with a paid parking lot near the cable car. It offers various runs for any skill level. Even the world-famous downhill ski race track The Streif can be tackled in winter by most intermediate skiers. Even though most shops here are also quite expensive I’d recommend visiting this ski resort at least once.

To Salzburg with kids

TO SALZBURG WITH KIDS

City holidays with kids are incompatible concepts. That is major opinion, but not for Salzburg residents. Visiting museums or a walk throughout the old town, exploring the Hohensalzburg fortress or enjoying operas. Whatever your choice is it will become an adventure.

To vienna with kids

TO VIENNA WITH KIDS

Vienna is worth seeing at any time of the year. But surely summer months are more preferred. Spring and autumn are the perfect time to travel to avoid crowded city.

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