There are many reasons why Austria, a country in central Europe, is regarded as to be amongst the top touristic destinations. The following five seem to feature regularly:
• Music: This is the country in which music is integrated into the very soul of its inhabitants. This is the world of Strauss, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, and other well-known composers, with the capital Vienna regarded as the World Capital of Classical Music. Just think of the waltz or the operetta, the Vienna Boy’s Choir, the Vienna Philharmonic, the Von Trapp family in the Tyrol Alps in The Sound of Music, the typical folk music, and the unique yodeling still to be heard at different venues, and you will be transported to Austria.
• Breathtaking scenery: The natural beauty is perhaps the major draw-card for tourists: snow-capped Austrian Alps with lush valleys and serene lakes dotting the country, picturesque villages and impressive ski resorts, ice caves and crystal caverns, a country where outdoor activities like hiking, cycling or skiing are at the top of the list, with a continental climate of hot summers in the eastern regions, and long, cold winters in the Alps.
• Architecture: Medieval fortresses, castles, churches and monasteries, spectacular palaces, historical and art museums as well as stunning modern buildings abound. Accommodation can even be found in many of the castles.
• Food and drink: Some of the local specialties are internationally known, such as Wiener Schnitzel or Apfelstrudel, but food lovers have to taste the true flavours of Austrian cuisine in its home country. Add to this other delicacies, such as the Sachertorte chocolate cake paired with Viennese Coffee, or a glass of the Grüner Veltliner from one of the 1 500 wineries in Austria, after a sumptuous meal, just to name a few, and it can be understood visitors talk about their awesome culinary experiences.
The Republic of Austria gained independence in 1918. It lies in the heart of Europe, bordering countries like Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Czech Republic, Italy, Slovakia, Liechtenstein and Slovenia. It has a diverse landscape of fertile Danube valleys and sloping hills in the east and north, and Alpine mountains and valleys in the west and south. The population of about 9 million is concentrated in the Lowlands in the eastern Danube region, with Vienna as the country’s capital.
Like other European countries it has a turbulent history dating back from prehistoric times. The Romans dominated the region from about 200 BC, with the Danube valley region known from the first century AD as “Ostarrici” (region in the east). Germans entered from about the 2nd century AD, from which the German name “Österreich” hails, so that the entire country itself today eventually became known as Austria.
The German Babenberg family reigned until about the 13th century, after which the Habsburgs took over until their dynasty was ended after World War I, when the country gained independence in 1918 as the Republic of Austria. During the intermitted years different wars have been fought, such as against Turkey. The spark for WW I originated in Austria, when the heir to the throne of the then Austro-Hungarian monarchy, namely Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in June 1914 in Sarajevo, followed by a declaration of war against Serbia, which soon led to other countries joining one after another.
Like all European countries Austria is easily accessible by all relevant modes of transport.
• The main airport is at Vienna, but others like Salzburg or Linz are also accepting international arrivals.
• An extensive rail network ensures seamless entry, whilst European bus services are also available.
• It is just as easy to enter by car along its excellent highways.
• Ports and harbours like Vienna, Krems, Linz, and Enns welcome visitors entering along the Danube.
When to go
Choosing the best time of the year to visit a country depends on the preferences of the travellers – whether they aim at outdoor experiences in winter or summer, or opt for a self-drive tour around the country, etc.
Broadly speaking, summer stretches from April to October, with winter from November to April. But there are also marked climatic differences between the mountainous and lowland regions.
High seasons are during mid-summer, from May to September, and mid-winter from December to November. The in-between seasons, spring and autumn are obviously less crowded, as well as cheaper.
We’ve already mentioned the excellent road and rail network, so that traveling either by way of public transport, or self-driving is easy.
But public parking space in the large cities poses a problem for self-drivers. However, public transport, like trams, buses, underground lines or suburban railways are mostly readily available.
Designated cycling lanes make this type of transport easy in many of the cities and large towns.
Top sights not to be missed
A number of different lists of top attractions can be compiled, but the following are all must-sees:
Towns: Undoubtedly Hallstatt, the ancient village which developed due to the salt mine (some say the oldest in the word) of ages ago. Archaeological remains dating back to the Bronze Age are to be seen in its Wolrd Heritage Museum.
The entire Hallstatt and the surrounding region had therefore been declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
But what makes Hallstatt such a spectacular destination is its breathtaking setting: clinging to the steep edge of the Dachstein Massif, on the edge of the beautiful Hallstätter See (Lake), as well as the ancient town itself with buildings up to the water’s edge, and narrow streets above the roofs. Photographers regard a picture of Hallstatt from a certain viewing point as to be amongst the most stunning of any town in the world.
Cities: Innsbruck’s Medieval Altstatt (Old Town) with its famous Golden Roof on a three storey balcony on the central plaza, the Gothic Town House Helbling from the 15th century, and numerous café’s and inns with outdoor seating; Salzburg’s DomQuartier (Cathedral District), a complex including the Residence of the archbishop with its ornate rooms,
the Cathedral with treasures of 13 centuries in its museum, and the Monastery of St. Peter, the oldest in German speaking countries;
the impressive Zeughaus (armory) in Grazz, the world’s only original historic armory, containing thousands of weapons and other military equipment dating back to the 15th century;
Vienna’s Ringstrasse (Circular Street) with its wealth of museums and other impressive historic buildings.
Castles and Palaces: Castles:The Hohensalzburg Castle, in Salzburg, central Europe’s best-preserved and largest fortress; Burg Hohenwerfen set dramatically on a promontory in a valley north of Salzburg;
the huge Hochosterwitz Castle in the Carinthia region, on top of a 160 m high hill, to be seen from afar. Palaces: The stunning and luxurious Hofburg Imperial Palace, and baroque Schönbrunn Palace, both in Vienna
Passes: The Grossglockner High Alpine Pass along the Grossglockner Mountain, at nearly 3 800 m the highest in Austria, is not only an engineering feat, but one of the most spectacular in Europe.
Top sleep and eat secrets
Different types to suit every expectation are available all over Austria, with some of them quite special.
• Skiing and hiking chalets, from basic to luxury, from small to large.
• Zimmers (Rooms), also advertised as Zimmer Frei (free room), are rooms rented out in their houses by families. This is a type of accommodation bringing the traveler in close contact with daily life of the inhabitants.
• Traditional Inns, especially in the Tyrol region, not only offer good accommodation, but often an abundance of regional cuisine.
• Schlosshotels (Castle Hotels), mostly in fortresses on hilltops, or even baroque palaces and hunting lodges offer a variety of charming and historic experiences.
• Kinderhotels cater for families with children. They have fully trained staff who could look after the children, should the parents have other commitments.
• Apart from these the normal variety of hotels, small to large, standard to luxurious are everywhere available.