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Sarah ClarkPhotos Wikipedia and the Austrian Tourist Board

Sibertal Langer See

Photos - click to enlarge.


Austria is undoubtedly a very beautiful country, not to be overlooked in favour of its larger neighbour, Switzerland. A country of contrasting landscapes, from the stunning heights of the famous Alps to the Danube Valley, Austria is probably as famous for its classical music history, buildings and museums as it is for the scenery and famous ski resorts.

The Strauss Monument in Vienna

Austria is justifiably proud of its famous residents- after all, not only was it the birthplace of greats such as Mozart, Strauss and Schubert, but psychologist Sigmund Freud was also an Austrian.

The architecture of Austria owes much to the influence of the Habsburgs, who dominated central Europe for seven centuries, and the capital Vienna features the double whammy of some stunning baroque churches and a beautiful backdrop of mountains.

Austria is right there at the heart of Europe, and has borders with Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, Slovenia and Italy. Within the country, you’ll find a plethora of forests (Nearly half of Austria is covered with forest) heath land, mountains and rivers, and a diverse landscape that is roughly divided into five areas - the Eastern Alps, the Alpine and Carpathian Foothills, the Pannonian Lowlands, the Vienna Basin and the Granite and Gneiss Highlands or Bohemian Massif.

The Karlskirche in Vienna

Austria is lovely at any time of year, but as the seasons do play a major part in what you can do while you’re there. If you’re looking for an outdoorsy break, summer is the best time to enjoy things like mountain biking, walking and swimming in the lakes, but if you’re a skier it makes sense to travel in the winter. There are plenty of festivals across Austria, all year round, and most of the music festivals are held between May and October.

If you’re hoping for warm weather, you’re more likely to be lucky between April and October. July and August can be a little too hot, and some of the famous tourist attractions are closed during these two months, like the opera, the Spanish Riding School and the Vienna Boys’ Choir. June or September are best for a city break.

Austrian History
Austria is a land that has been ruled by many since the original Danube settlers. The Celts, Illyrians, Romans and Bavarians have all taken their turn, then the two dynasties - Babenburg and Habsburgs left their mark on the country. The Habsburgs reigned in Austria for around 640 years and created the famous Austro-Hungarian Empire in1806. Their reign was only brought to an end by World War I.

The Foreign Ministry in Vienna

Austria was of course invaded and occupied by Hitler during the Second World War, and he persecuted the resident Jewish community. After the Holocaust, Austria's Jewish community did its level best to rebuild itself, although even now the Jewish population is still a lot smaller than it was prior to the Second World War Austria was liberated by the Allies in 1944. The country joined the European Union, and also signed the Schengen Agreement, in 1995.

The official language of Austria is German.

Getting There
Vienna Airport is 18 kilometres southeast of the city. Airport buses run between the airport and the South Train and West Train Station, and local rail (S-Bahn) services also run to the city centre. There’s also a City Airport Train which travels express from the City Airport Terminal located at Vienna Mitte. Taxis are also on hand.

Innsbruck Airport is 5.5 kilometres west of the city, with bus services every ten minutes to the city centre, and taxis are available.
Salzburg Airport is 4 kilometres west of the city, with a connection to the main railway station via bus line 77 or by train. Taxis are available, and some of the bigger hotels offer courtesy coaches to guests.

Klagenfurt Airport is around 4 kilometres from the city. Bus and taxi services are available.

For the latest visa requirements visit

Austrian food and drink
The food in Austria is strongly influenced by the cuisine of southeastern Europe, namely Hungary, Serbia, and Romania. Austria is well known for producing some particularly mouth watering desserts and cakes, so if you have a sweet tooth you’ll be well catered for. Coffee is also a national obsession, and many an afternoon can be whiled away in a cafe.

Some of the national delicacies to try include Palatschinken (Austrian pancakes), Apple Strudel, one of the 60 versions of the torte or Mehlspeisen – Austrian cakes and pastries. For the non sweet-toothed, the schnitzel is also delicious.

An example of the excellent Wiener Schnitzel

Most Austrian restaurants have some kind of waiter service, as do most bars and coffee houses. Restaurant bills usually include a service charge of 10 to 15 per cent but it’s considered normal to leave another five percent as a tip. The drinking age is 16 for beer and wine, and 18 for spirits.

The Austrian currency is the Euro. All of the major credit and debit cards are accepted in the bigger cities, but smaller shops and some smaller hotels won’t accept them, so it’s wise to check as some hotels insist on bills being paid in cash. For current exchange rates visit

Traveller’s cheques are also accepted, and to avoid being hit with high exchange rates, it’s advisable to take them in Euros, US Dollars, or Pounds Sterling.

Banks are generally open from 8:00 am - 3:00pm (with half an hour for lunch) apart from Thursdays when they sometimes stay open until 5:30 pm. Some of the provinces have different banking hours too. If you’re looking to change some money, it’s worth also knowing that exchange counters often stay open at airports and at railway stations from the first to the last flight or train, weekends included.

Shops in most of Austria are normally open until 6:00 pm Monday to Friday, and 5:00pm on Saturdays. You can claim your VAT back if you’ve travelled in from outside of the EU, as long as the goods you buy cost more than EU, on goods with a value exceeding 75 Euros. You need to fill in some forms when you buy the goods, and you can reclaim up to15 per cent of the purchase price.

Some stalls at Vienna's Naschmarkt

If you’re shopping for good quality souvenirs, Austria is renowned for good handbags, glass and chinaware as well as specialist winter sports equipment.
Vienna is a charming place for a shopping trip, with its wide range of markets being a major tourist draw. The most popular Viennese market is probably the Naschmarkt, a vibrant market packed with fruit and vegetable stalls and lively banter. It’s also surrounded by shops and places to stop for a bite to eat. The Naschmarkt is located between the Linke and Rechte Wienzeile Streets and is open Monday to Saturday. Bargain hunters should then head towards the Flohmarkt (Flea Market), which is found right at the end of the Naschmarkt, on Saturday mornings. There are interesting stalls there – second-hand clothes and some unusual things too. Nearer to Christmas you’ll find the Christkindlmarkt in front of the Rathaus.

Apart from the markets, the most interesting place for a spot of retail therapy in Vienna is the inner city, an area criss crossed with narrow streets and elegant facades. For bigger shops, head off to the pedestrian zones on Kärntnerstrasse and Graben, and you’ll find Haas Haus, full of exclusive shops.
If you’re in Salzburg, the nicest place for a unique shopping experience is the lovely Old Town, crammed with over 400 individual shops and boutiques. You can pick up everything there from designer gear and jewellery to books and traditional souvenirs – you could spend hours browsing the shops along the narrow lanes and the charming squares in Salzburg's historic centre.

The Getreidegasse

The Getreidegasse is the most famous shopping lane and there are plenty of refreshment stops there. Salzburg’s street markets are not to be missed, either. The Green Market and Wiener Philharmoniker Gasse are open daily for local foods, flowers and craft items, and on Thursdays there’s another popular market called the Schranne, which is well worth checking out too.

What to Do in Austria

The Austrian capital city is Vienna, a gorgeous city that combines the ancient and the modern with style and panache. Some of the most famous areas include the Museums Quartier cultural district, which manages to mix the history of the old Spanish riding stables, along with the city's largest baroque facade, with more contemporary museum architecture.

The Parliament Building in Vienna

Albertina is the largest of the Hapsburg residential palaces, and to this day it boasts one of the largest graphical collections in the world, including works from Dürer and Klimt. On permanent display are collections that cover everything from French impressionism to German expressionism and Russian avant-garde. Well worth a visit for any art-lovers.

The Hofburg palace is home to the Austrian president, as well as the location of a dozen museums, an international conference centre, the chapel in which the Vienna Boys' Choir sings and the hall where the Lipizzan stallions perform. Not visiting the Hofburg when you’re in Vienna would just be a waste, really. If you want to, you can also take a tour of the Imperial Apartments, which include Franz Joseph's and Sisi's (Empress Elisabeth's) private rooms, as well as the great audience hall and more. The Sisi Museum and Austrian National Library are a couple of historical gems also to be found there. Meanwhile, while we’re on the subject of palaces, the Schönbrunn Palace is Vienna's answer to Versailles and was used the Habsburg summer residence from the 18th century until 1918. At present, 40 of the state rooms are open to the public. The gardens are absolutely beautiful too, all landscaped in a baroque style. Both the Schönbrunn Palace and its gardens are included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum was constructed to house the Imperial Hapsburg collections which have since expanded. Galleries at the museum include antiquities, Egyptian-Oriental and Coin collections, while the Gemäldegalerie features some famous works by Old Masters including Dürer, Raphael, and Rembrandt. Some of the works of Hieronymous Bosch - and others – are on show in the internationally renowned Akademie der bildenden Künste, and there are a further 50 museums to choose from in Vienna, including the Natural History Museum. On the site of the former imperial stables, the grand MuseumsQuartier is one of the biggest cultural complexes in the world, with the Leopold Museum and MUMOK, the Museum of Modern Art. It’s a great place to chill out for a few hours, complete with cafes and places to eat while you decide where to head to next.

The Spanish Riding School

The horses of the Spanish Riding School have been at the Imperial Stables for over 400 years, and they are still a major tourist attraction. Visitors flock to see them in action during regular morning training sessions, which take place between 10:00 am and 12:00 noon from Tuesday to Saturday. You can get tickets for sessions, and get to watch the performances which feature classical dressage exercise set to music, but you can only buy them on the door, and on the day of your visit. If you want to see actual performances, you’ll need to book well in advance as these sell out extremely fast. The season runs from March to June and from September to December.

If fun fairs are your cup of tea, head to Prater, Vienna's most popular fun fair. You can enjoy a great view over Vienna from the Vienna Wurschtlprater – the famous giant 200 feet high Ferris wheel, or just relax in the Prater, which is close to the city centre. Kids might also enjoy the Lilliputian Railroad (Liliputbahn), the amusement park line that runs along a gauge of old steam trains.

Salzburg was Mozart’s birthplace and the culture of the city is understandably entwined with music and the arts. Well known for cultural events (over 4000 every year) and for hosting some of the most important music festivals in the world, it’s fair to say that Salzburg is a very musical city.

The Mozart House and Museum

Mozart's family lived on the third floor of the Hagenauer House in the 18th century, and the musical genius was born in the house in 1756. Today the house has been converted into a museum, and features some really interesting memorabilia and other exhibits such as Mozart's childhood violin and several of his other instruments.

The Residenz are the former official apartments of the Salzburg prince archbishops, and they currently house an impressive complex of buildings, including the Residenz Gallery, which showcases several masterpieces including works from Rembrandt, Rubens and Brueghel.

Salzburg Cathedral remains one of the most significant pieces of early baroque architecture in Europe, and has a musical background (of course) as the cathedral contains the font in which Mozart is said to have been baptised.

One of the many vistas in Donau-Auen National Park

Donau-Auen National Park
The Donau-Auen National Park is the last remaining patch of European rainforest, and a stunningly pretty wilderness that provides the perfect habitat for a vast range of animals and plants, some of which are protected species. The park is in an area of outstanding natural beauty between Vienna and Bratislava, and encompasses the free-flowing waters of the Danube.

If you’re lucky while you’re visiting the higher regions of the park, you could come across the occasional mountain goat or sheep and the lower regions are also home to ibex, chamois, deer and plenty of birds. If you’re an active type, you can try out one of the many sporting activities on offer in the park – there are more than 450 kilometres of ski and snowboard slopes as well as a vast network of nature trails. You can take one of the many guided walking tours through some of the areas, or go for a boat trip through the park. Later on, you can visit the schlossORTH National Park Centre in the town of Orth.

The old Elephant House at Hellbrunn Zoo

Hellbrunn Zoo
Just outside Salzburg, Hellbrunn Zoo is home to over four hundred animals. The zoo houses all the animals in as natural an environment as possible, and features a jungle house, big cats, and griffon vultures that fly freely.

Eisriesenwelt Caves
The Eisriesenwelt Caves are the largest ice caves in the world, and worth seeing just for the ice formations which include gigantic columns, waterfalls and amazing glaciers. The caverns are buried deep beneath the mountain wall that flanks the valley south of Salzburg, and the caves stay completely frozen all year round - even in summer it barely gets above freezing, so you’ll need to get wrapped up.

Inside the Eisriesenwelt Caves

The Swarovski Kristallwelten (Crystal Walk) Visitor Centre
If your idea of beauty is jewellery-centric, you will know the Swarovski name – for anyone with more than a passing interested in all things crystal, this could be the place to stop. The Swarovski Kristallwelten visitor centre features some breathtaking sights, in the Crystal Planet, Crystal Dome, Crystal Meditation, Crystal Theater, Crystal Calligraphy and the Ice Lane.

Innsbruck and The Tyrol

The roof tops of Innsbruck

Innsbruck is the the Tyrol’s capital, located in western Austria. It is positioned in the broad Inn Valley and surrounded by high mountains. Innsbruck is full of historical buildings including its very own 12th-century castle. If it’s views that you’re more interested in, take the funicular to Hungerburg and then the cable car to Hafelekar for some stunning scenery at 2,334 metres (5,928 feet).
The Tirol, Austria's most mountainous province, is in the western part of the country between Italy and the Southern part of Germany. The gorgeous scenery has made it into one of Austria′s most touristy areas, as have the famous ski resorts.

Exciting Skiing in Zurs

Better off skiers might opt for the glamorous and expensive resort of Kitzbühel, while the serious ski-pack head for the Arlberg area and frequent the legendary resorts of St Anton, St. Christoph or Pettneu. In terms of sightseeing, Kufstein is stunning, with a beautiful castle nestled in the centre of a valley.

For information about weather conditions visit

Austria is truly a classical gem in the midst of many other countries which have left their influence on this small, but perfectly formed, beauty of a country. Austria has such a broad appeal – nature lovers and sports enthusiasts love the fresh air and exquisite scenery, while culture vultures appreciate the cities. And the cakes are simply delicious too...

For more information and regular updates on festivals and events visit

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