If you love winter sports or simply need a break from beach vacations, the landlocked nation of Austria is the perfect destination. Home to approximately 9 million people, this German-speaking nation is packed with more world-class ski resorts, breath-taking mountain views and historic architecture than its famous apple strudel has raisins.
Vienna is Austria’s largest city and was the royal home of the Habsburg dynasty that once ruled all of Central Europe. Annually at the top of Mercer’s “Most Livable Cities” list, Vienna is technologically advanced and rich in some of the most gorgeous architecture in Europe. The best way to experience it all is to walk it – just make sure take frequent coffee breaks. You can take a deeper dive into Vienna in our previous article, as we’ve already investigated this amazing city of music, food and art here. In fact, we ‘re still trying to dig our waistlines out the avalanche of pastries we ate!
Divided by the Salzach River and sitting on the border next to Germany, Salzburg might be one of our favourite European cities because of its sheer beauty and the “storybook” romantic charm of its pedestrian-only Aldstadt (Old City). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Aldstadt’s cobblestone streets are lined with beautiful baroque architecture, including a multitude of shops whose hand-crafted signs make you feel like you stumbled into an Alley from Harry Potter. It’s that charming.
Salzburg is famous for being the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Music lovers will want to see Mozart’s Geburtshaus (birth home) and Wohnhaus (residence). Equally inspirational is the city’s most important sacred building, Dom zu Salzburg (Salzburg Cathedral), a showpiece of the Salzburg skyline with its signature green dome and dual towers. Baby Mozart was baptized here in case you’re thinking of converting.
For a different kind of religious experience, you must try Austrian beer. As the second-largest per capita beer drinkers in Europe, Austria is fanatical about its brewskis. The Stiegl Brauwelt Beer Museum will slake your thirst for brewing knowledge, but for a more “interactive” experience, head to Augustiner Brau, one of the best places to drink in all of Bavaria in our opinion. Built in 1621, this monastery-brewery serves what might be the best beer in the world – perhaps owing to the monks’ devout vows to obey a much higher authority. On your way to the brewery, we recommend first stopping for some fantastic wild boar sausage or Schnitzel at Barenwirt, because an empty stomach is no way to partake of Augustiner’s monastical nectar as it can pack a devil of a punch.
Equally powerful and literally dominating Salzburg is the Hohensalzburg, a hilltop castle that is more than 900 years old. It’s a walk well worth the effort to travel back in time and wander the confines of this immaculately preserved fortress. If that weren’t enough incentive, the views of the city and the surrounding Alps from Hohensalzburg are fantastic.
Since Salzburg just whet your appetite for the mountains, it’s time to make your way to the Salzkammergut region and the impossibly cute 16th-century village of Halstatt, nestled on the shores of the lake of the same name. Another UNESCO Site, this idyllic resort town may look like a Hansel & Gretel postcard, but it’s also profoundly historic.
Surrounded by a serene blue lake, luscious green hills and snow-peaked mountaintops, Hallstatt is the oldest continuously inhabited village in Europe and home to the world’s first salt mine, which made the town extremely wealthy. The Hallstatt Salt Mine tour is fascinating and worth the visit. Ride to the top of the mountain to find the mine entrance as well as enjoy the view from the amazing UNESCO Skywalk.
For a culinary perspective, we strongly suggest you try the famous, local “lake to table” whitefish. In particular, stop in at Goiserer Mühle, which also is renowned for its Lake Hallstatt char in a mountain-salt crust.
While most summer tourists enjoy the spectacular scenery and food, others come for the area’s outdoor activities like hiking, horseback riding, bicycling. In winter, the priority is always on skiing and snowboarding at the nearby Dachstein Krippenstein resort.
When winter sports are your passion, one of the most famous destinations in the world is Innsbruck, the capital city of Tyrol and two-time host to the Olympic Games (1964, 1976). Innsbruck is home base to what is commonly called the Olympia Ski World, a group of nine resorts, including Patscherkofel and Muttereralmbahn both of which cater more to beginner and intermediate level skiers. Nordkette, Axamer Lizum and Kuhtai are better for advanced to expert level Alpiners and snowboarders. Many ski experts feel Kuhtai, Austria’s highest ski destination, is the best value for your money and rate it the #1 overall resort in Europe.
Innsbruck has lots to offer in terms of après-ski activities as one of Austria’s most scenic cities. The 18th century Baroque Innsbruck Cathedral adds to the city’s visual beauty as well as its history with the only four-octave collection of bells in Austria. If that rings your chimes, you’ll want to visit the Grassmayr Bell Museum and Sound Room (Glockenmuseum und Klangraum), a family business that has been casting bells since 1599. A small suggestion: while it sounds exotic, skip the Golden Roof, which turns out is just a gold-plated, copper awning. Not worth the effort in our opinion.
Summer travellers will not be disappointed in the incredible mountain biking and anglers will be truly impressed with the fishing throughout the region known for its trout, grayling and char. If dangling bait on the end of a fishing line sounds exciting, perhaps you’ll want to try it yourself and try the bungee jumping at Europa Bridge.
We’ll freely admit Austria has more incredible places to visit than we can cover here, but we’re more than confident we’ve pointed you toward an unforgettable adventure of a lifetime. So take the leap today and book your Austrian vacation today with ENTERTAINER getaways on your ENTERTAINER app! You’ll get to enjoy your vacation with up to 60% off your hotel stay!