Small but perfectly formed, Austria effortlessly moves from cresting Alpine mountaintops to waltzing through imperial Vienna.
From winter sports to summer lidos, cultural extravaganzas to seasonal cuisine Austria is brimming with things to see and do. Whilst the lure of snow-capped mountains, Christmas markets and spiced hot wine make winter a definite draw, don’t limit yourself to the cold months. An Austrian holiday is something to write home about at any time of the year, and we don’t just mean the sinful but delicious Sachertorte.
PLACES TO VISIT
Oh Vienna! With streets and squares overflowing with palaces, galleries full of Klimt originals, concert halls and opera house where the sound of Mozart fills the room, you could be in for a culture overload. But fear not, Austria’s capital also boasts edgy markets, retro cafés and new-wave design studios.
Let’s not forget the coffeehouse culture and expansive parks along the Danube, because if you’re going to indulge in a Viennese whirlwind trip, you’ll want to experience every aspect of this cool and majestic city.
The Altstadt (old town) looks much as it did when Mozart lived here 250 years ago. Your eyes follow the landscape upwards from the fast-flowing Salzach River to the domes and spires of the cities churches to the impressive clifftop fortress and the mountains beyond.
Salzburg has a wonderful arts scene, mouth-watering food, beautifully landscaped parks and quiet side streets. During the quiet of late afternoon, classical music floats from open windows. During winter, Salzburg’s Christmas market creates a truly magical atmosphere.
The capital of the Tyrol region is quite simply jaw dropping to see, as spikes of rock from the Nordkette range scrape the sky. The mountains are so close in fact, you can travel from city centre to 2000m above sea level in minutes.
Innsbruck is a microcosm of Austria, with its late-medieval Altstadt with grand Habsburg palace and baroque cathedral. The Olympic ski jump with big mountain views bridges the gap between the town and nature, while Swarovski’s Crystal Worlds bring a touch of bling to the party.
Astride the River Mur, Austria’s second-largest city is its most relaxed. It has a Mediterranean, laid back atmosphere courtesy of its proximity to Italy, which is also reflected in the Renaissance courtyards, mixed with Baroque architecture and modern design.
There’s a youthful energy here too, with a lively creative scene of inspiring showrooms, independent shops selling fashion, jewellery and ceramics and a student-fuelled nightlife. For foodies, it’s Austria’s culinary capital with farmer’s markets and diverse restaurants.
THINGS TO DO
Smooth pistes, deep powder and warm hospitality makes Austria the go-to destination for the winter sports of skiing, snowboarding tobogganing and Nordic skiing. Away from the mountains, the ice rinks and horse-drawn sleighs offer an alternative to the slopes, as do the Christmas markets with warm scent of cinnamon filling the air.
Check out Austria’s top ski resorts, here.
The crystal clear water of mountain lakes with warm summers and idyllic alpine backdrop make Austria’s lidos a must for summer holidays. Lake Zell, for example, boasts beautiful lake promenades and three lidos for relaxation, swimming and family fun. Excellent swimming and usually with activities such as kayaks and paddle boarding, few will be bored here.
Hiking & Biking
When the snow has melted and the mountainsides are washed with pale green grass and dots of pastel flowers, it’s time to pull on the hiking boots or slide onto the saddle. The Austrian Alps are blessed with numerous routes for either activity. For those who enjoy their hike to last longer, the alpine huts are a godsend. Many of the huts are a place to enjoy homemade and homegrown products, as well as find refuge. Enjoy schnapps with a kick, cheeses, meats and breads from locals keen to share their kitchen prowess.
For those who like to combine a little retail therapy with their holiday, Austria will not disappoint. Every city has its own quirky flea and street markets, from Vienna’s Naschmarkt (a culinary delight) to the festivities at Salzburg’s Residenzplatz Market. Also in Salzburg is the Getreidegasse, an elegant shopping street echoing the atmosphere of centuries past.
FOOD & DRINK
Austrian food has moved on from dumplings that could sink a battle ship and schnitzels the size of a small island. The Austrians have embraced the Slow Food movement and the seasonal dishes are full of flavour. The wine is refreshing and, of course, we can’t forget the famous coffee culture. Slice of cake and a frothy coffee against a Baroque background, anyone?
Check out some of Austria’s dishes and beverages.
Apfelstrudel – Flaky pastry lined with apple filling spiced with cinnamon, sugar and raisins.
Austrian Beer – The Austrian beer is of a very high quality. Märzen is light in colour with a balanced flavour and lighter in hops; Pils is similar to Czech beer which is hoppier and full-strength, whilst Zwickel is an unfiltered beer, which looks cloudy because of the yeast still in the beer.
Belegte Brote – Mini, open sandwiches prepared with a variety of toppings this is an Austrian classic. They tend to be very colourful and served with a choice of beverage, be it tea or beer.
Kaiserschmarrn – A meal fit for kings. Fluffy shredded pancakes topped with jams, sweet sauces, fruit compotes and caramelized dry fruits.
Käsespätzle – Austria’s better cousin of the American ‘Mac and Cheese’, it is a soft egg noodle with a generous helping of cheese. A crisp white wine goes well with it.
Knödel – This dumpling can be both sweet and savoury. The savoury Knödel are served as a side dish or meatballs in soup, while one version of the sweet Knödel made with plums.
Most – Many wine producers make Sturm (see below) and Most during wine fermentation. Most is almost pure grape juice and a refreshing drink.
Sachertorte – Chocolate cake invented by Franz Sacher in 1832 for Prince Metternich in Vienna. It is one of the most famous Viennese culinary specialties. Enjoy in authentic surroundings at Café Sacher in Vienna.
Schnapps – Distilled spirits normally made from apricots, cherries, or pears. It acts as a digestive, to be drunk after a meal.
Sturm – Sturm is a super young Austrian wine that is more like grape juice than wine. Be careful though, it slips down very nicely but does contain alcohol. It may catch you by surprise.
Tafelspitz – Rustic and hearty, tafelspitz is beef boiled in a broth of vegetables and spices, served with minced apples and horseradish or sour cream with chives.
Tiroler Gröstl – This rich dish is simple and consists of is a pan-fried dish of potato, chopped beef or pork with lots of butter and onion. Often topped with a fried egg.
Topfentascherl – A pastry filled with curd and loaded with fruit, very often apricots, plums and bananas.
Vienna Sausage – A pork and beef sausage it’s similar to a Frankfurter. Parboiled and smoked at low temperatures, it is found in main dishes or simply fried and served in a hot bun.
Wiener Schnitzel – An Austrian national food. Breaded and fried pork, usually served with a side of fried potatoes and sour cream and onions.
Wine – Austria has a lot of good quality wine and produces great reds and whites.