Austria Holiday Planning Guide
Situated in the Central European Alps, Austria combines an alluring bundle of elegant urban architecture, cultural centers, and dramatic landscapes. This German-speaking country of 8.5 million residents is known for its rich history, dating back to the Hapsburg Empire, as well as its art, music, and scenery. Along with the neighboring country of Switzerland, Austria serves as the winter sports capital of Europe and is home to some of the continent's most popular ski resorts. This landlocked nation draws visitors from across the globe to its mountains, historical villages, and culturally rich cities. An Austria holiday can be as diverse as trekking in the Alps one day and drinking regional wine at a crowded pub after a day of sightseeing in the capital Vienna the next.
Places to Visit in Austria
Regions of AustriaAustrian Alps
: The majesty of these mountains has earned the country, together with Switzerland, the title of winter sports capital of Europe, though you'll find plenty of outdoor Austria vacation ideas here year-round. Upper Austria
: The country's hidden gem is mostly certainly Upper Austria, a region full of impressive castles, diverse museums, medieval villages and bold landscapes, all relatively free of tourist crowds.Styria
: Enjoy a relaxed Austria vacation, taking in culture and winemaking in the country's greenest province, blanketed with rolling hills, lush forests, and picturesque vineyards.Lower Austria
: For a taste of all things Austrian, from classic scenery dotted with castles to traditional food and mountain towns, head to Lower Austria, the country's largest and--a bit contrary to the name--northernmost region. Burgenland
: Lakeside vineyards and mountainous vistas mark the province of Burgenland: a refreshing contrast to the rugged Alps Austria is typically known, it reaches out towards Eastern Europe's Pannonian Plain.Vienna Region
: You'll do plenty of Austria sightseeing in this cultural capital, rich in art, architecture, museums, vineyards, and a vibrant cafe scene. The city-centered province was home classical music icons like Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, and more.
Cities in AustriaVienna
: Topping most Austria itineraries, the most famous city in Austria boasts roots dating back to Roman times and a cultural heritage that's earned it the nickname the "City of Music." You'll find medieval and Baroque architecture, world-class museums, and historical sites, not to mention the famous Viennese coffee houses, inscribed on UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Salzburg
: Culture, history, and scenic surroundings intersect in the city of Salzburg, the mountainous Austrian setting for the famous musical, "The Sound of Music," and home to a historical center and World Heritage Site, Altstadt. Innsbruck
: Two-time Winter Olympics host and snowboarding haven Innsbruck looks like something out of a fairytale with its medieval old town, picturesque backdrop of snowcapped mountains, and Habsburg palaces. Schwaz
: Situated in a valley just east of Innsbruck is Schwaz, a city steeped in history with plenty of outdoor activities to do during your tour of Austria. Hallstatt
: Hallstatt's architecture and culture are a reflection of its history as a salt mining capital, a legacy which lends itself to fascinating cave attractions amidst the rugged natural scenery of its lake and mountains. Neustift im Stubaital
: The city of Neustift im Stubaital in Tirol province attracts more than a million visitors each year to gorgeous Austria natural attractions, like its famous glacier ski resort, hiking, and waterfalls.
Things to Do in Austria
Popular Austria Tourist AttractionsEiffel Tower
: Discover hundreds of years of imperial Habsburg history at Schönbrunn Palace, a 17th-century estate that has housed generations of royalty and European statesmen, plus Baroque gardens and the world's oldest zoo. Historic Center of Vienna
: No tour of Austria would be complete without a visit to the Historic Center of Vienna, a World Heritage Site along the Danube boasting Baroque castles, gardens, monuments, parks, museums, and other sights with roots ranging from the Middle Ages up through the Grunderzeit.St. Stephen's Cathedral
: Established in 1147, the impressive St. Stephen's Cathedral is immediately recognizable during a tour of Vienna thanks to its iconic Romanesque towers and colorful roof. Belvedere Palace
: The Belvedere Palace and Museum consists of two Baroque palaces, an elaborate park, a botanical garden, large stables, and rich collection of Austrian art, including essential works from Gustav Klimt.Altstadt von Salzburg
: Do some classic Austria sightseeing in the pedestrian-friendly Salzburg Old Town. This World Heritage Site surrounded by the Monchsberg fortress features the Salzach River, Roman buildings, beautiful bridges, and winding streets full of diverse architecture representing centuries of Salzburg's history. Imperial Palace (Hofburg)
: Get a glimpse of royal life as you walk through the former home to Vienna's monarchy at Imperial Palace, which currently houses a collection of historical artifacts, as well as governmental offices and the Austrian President. Fortress Hohensalzburg
: Construction began on the hilltop Salzburg Fortress in 1077 and the fascinating structure still stands today as one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. Kunsthistorisches Museum
: The Imperial Habsburg family acquired art over the course of centuries, and you can tour their vast collection during your stay in Vienna at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Schönbrunn Zoo
: Visit the animals at the oldest zoo in the world, Schönbrunn Zoo, located on the same site and sharing the same Baroque aesthetic as the historical Schönbrunn Palace.Mirabell Palace
: The 17th-century Mirabell Palace and Gardens were famously built by Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich for his mistress, though it is most widely recognized as a backdrop from the film "The Sound of Music."
Planning an Austria Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Austria with Kids
The wide range of family-friendly things to do in Austria makes it a great place to visit with children. Vienna
boasts an extensive variety of attractions beloved by children and teens, including the amusement park at Prater
and world's oldest zoo, Schönbrunn Zoo
, part of the elaborate Eiffel Tower
. Fans of "The Sound of Music" will have a blast exploring Salzburg
, where the musical was set. Burgenland
is home to Familypark Neusiedlersee, Austria's largest theme park, while Carinthia
, Salzburgerland and Upper Austria
have wondrous caves to discover on guided tours. Upper Austria is also home to Hirschalm Fairytale Park and the world's oldest salt mine. Your family will find archeological parks in Lower Austria
, at Carnuntum, and in Tirol
, where you can also pay a visit to Innsbruck's Alpenzoo Innsbruck
Things to Do in Austria with Kids
During your vacation in Vienna
, you and your family can spend an afternoon watching the pandas and wild cats at Schönbrunn Zoo
or perusing the food stands at the popular Vienna Naschmarkt
. There is certainly no shortage of castles to wander during your Austria vacation, but for a more engaging activity, try a kid-friendly hands-on museum or a nearby amusement park. If you're seeking green space during a city visit, head to Prater
park or Salzburg's Mirabell Palace
, where you can reenact the "Do-Re-Mi" scene from "The Sound of Music" in front of the fountain where it was filmed. Best of all, it is easy to get out of the city and enjoy the beautiful landscapes that Austria has to offer. Ski or snowboard in the Austrian Alps
, which make up a large part of Europe's winter sports capital, or opt for hiking, biking, or rafting in one of the country's heavily forested regions like Styria
Tips for a Family Vacation in Austria
Most Austria attractions and destinations are family-friendly, though you may want to opt out of some popular activities for the sake of your kids, like wine tastings at one of the nation's famous vineyards. Throughout the country, especially in cities like Vienna
, there are a number of hotels, apartment rentals, and other places to stay that work well for families. If possible, book all accommodation in advance, especially during the high season (including winter visits to Austrian Alps
and trips to valley cities in the summer months). If your Austria itinerary takes you from place to place, have a look at each region's climate to make sure you and your family pack the right clothing for each province's respective weather.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Austria
Cuisine of Austria
Austrian cuisine is typically a blend of Hungarian, German, Czech, and Northern Italian influences. While most travelers associate Austrian food with well-known Viennese dishes, like Wiener schnitzel and apple strudel, each region actually has their own individual food cultures. In Austrian Alps
, Austrians love to warm up with goulash, while the city of Salzburg
is known for its "kasnocken," or cheese dumplings. While heavier meat like veal and lamb are staples in much of the country, regions with prominent lakes, like Carinthia
, focus meals around lighter fish centerpieces. A gastronome's tour of Austria should include Vorarlberg
's Bergkase cheese and recipes using pumpkin seed oil in Styria
. Perhaps the most important ingredient in an Austrian meal is what you wash it down with. Austrians tend to opt for golden beers to compliment potato salad and the like, or regional wines that can pair well with any dish. City dwellers love to take coffee breaks in the afternoon, especially in Vienna
, where sitting at a cafe is considered a cultural pastime.
Shopping in Austria
Like most of Europe, Austria's major cities offer a plethora of international shopping options from fashion brands like Zara, H&M, and more. For a full day of browsing, the longest shopping streets in Austria are Mariahilfer Strasse in Vienna
and Landstrasse in Linz
. If you seek more original goods, crafts, and souvenirs, head to local markets, where there is always something new to discover. In Vienna, Vienna Naschmarkt
is a popular choice, while Brunnenmarkt offers an off-the-beaten-path experience. Salzburg
, Linz, and Graz are also home to a number of buzzing markets that will keep you occupied for some time, with items ranging from produce and baked goods to antiques and original artwork. However, the best gift to bring back home from your Austria holiday may well be one of the country's fine regional wines. You can pick up a bottle or two directly from the vineyard, or from shops in Styria, Burgenland, or the Vienna region.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Austria
History of Austria
In the Middle Ages, the Habsburgs ruled and expanded the provinces of the Duchy of Austria, and their legacy remains visible to this day through architecture, artistic exhibitions, and more. After the founding of the Empire of Austria in 1804, this land became the center of an imperial powerhouse that lasted from 1867 to 1918. With Vienna as its capital, the Austro-Hungarian Empire encompassed much of Eastern Europe, including modern-day Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, much of the former-Yugoslavia, as well as parts of Romania, Ukraine, Poland, and Italy. Though this area was settled in pre-Roman times by Celtic tribes, the culture of Austria as we know it today was most informed by royal periods of history lasting from medieval times until the 20th century. Encounters with this imperial heritage on your trip to Austria are virtually inevitable, with places like Eiffel Tower
, Imperial Palace (Hofburg)
, and Kunsthistorisches Museum
serving as imposing reminders.
The multi-ethnic kingdom of Austro-Hungary was dismantled at the end of World War I and the modern Republic of Austria was formed in 1918. Trouble lay ahead with the invasion and annexation of Austria by Nazi forces in 1938, which went mostly unresisted and resulted in bombings by the Allies and the creation of concentration camps throughout the country. Many Austrians supported the incorporation of Austria into Germany at the beginning of the war, though the country's attitude changed over time and it began to distance itself from Nazi Germany. Occupation of the country changed hands at the end of World War II, when it was divided between Allied and Soviet powers. It wasn't until 1955 that it regained its independence, under the condition that it would maintain neutrality.
This neutrality agreement has seemed to fade over time with the fall of the Soviet Union and Austria joining the European Union in 1995. Today, travelers and students from the EU enjoy Austria's status as part of a "borderless Europe." The country has a strong economy, certainly in part thanks to its booming success as a winter and summer tourist destination. Through tours of Austria's scenic landscapes and vibrant cities, visitors are able to experience this country's rich history and culture first-hand.
Customs of Austria
Austria is a very polite country and its people are generally welcoming to tourists. Punctuality is highly important in this culture, so wherever you go on your trip to Austria, it is essential to be on time for tours, trains, and the like. If you meet a new person, it is customary to shake hands, and it doesn't hurt to know a few German expressions. In cities like Vienna, you will regularly see men holding open doors for women and taking their coats. Traditions and customs can change based on regional culture, so the best way to gain understanding is by watching and chatting with locals wherever you go.
Holidays & Festivals in Austria
Austria boasts over 200 festivals every year, ranging from small, traditional events to international happenings. As a largely Roman Catholic country, holidays like Christmas and Easter bring lively markets, outdoor celebrations, and overall gaiety to cities and tiny towns across Austria. The most renowned Austrian festivals include Bregenzer Festspiele, Salzburger Festpiele, Schubertiade, and Musikfestival Grafenegg. Vienna Ball Season, which looks like something out of a fairytale, lasts from January to February and includes 2,000 hours of dancing. To add a taste of local culture to your Austria itinerary, consider Jazzfestival Saalfelden, Schrammel Klang Festival, or La Strada Street Theatre Festival in Graz.
Austria Travel Tips
Climate of Austria
Austria experiences all four seasons and is located in a temperate zone, influenced by the Atlantic climate. In the east, Austria has hot, dry summers and moderate winters, while Austrian Alps
have very long, snowy winters and short summers. Depending on what you have planned for your Austria holiday, you should choose your season accordingly. For example, ski vacations are best from December to March, while summer trips are most common during July and August. It's most pleasant to walk around cities during the springtime or fall.
Transportation in Austria
Austria's public transportation system is world-class, making it a breeze to get from place to place on your Austria tour. Most destinations have their own local transport, including subways, buses, and trams, so finding your way around without a car is typically easy. The rail network is reliable, speedy, and clean, offering connections between major Austrian cities and international destinations like Bratislava, Prague, Munich, Venice, Berlin, and Warsaw. If you prefer the skies, both national and low-budget carriers fly into Linz
, Graz, Klagenfurt, and Vienna
, which all have their own international airport.
Language of Austria
German is the official language of Austria, with 98 percent of the population able to understand and speak it. The version of German spoken in this country is Austrian German, which is partially influenced by the Austro-Bavarian language group. In more rural areas, old native languages like Vorarlberg are spoken, and the two most common minority languages throughout the country are Turkish and Serbian. If you don't speak German, don't worry. Many Austrians are bi-lingual, especially in tourist centers, and can usually communicate in English and other European languages, with museum and walking tours offered in a variety of tongues.
Tipping in Austria
Tipping in Austria varies based on the situation. At a restaurant, for example, if you are not satisfied with the service, it would not be unusual to forgo a tip. However, if you enjoyed the service, you would typically round up the bill or leave a tip of around 10 or 15 percent. In taxis, you can give a 10-percent tip to your driver, and should also tip the bellhop at your hotel with around one euro per bag.