Austria places to visit and places to explore. This mountain-topped nation in the very heart of Europe is unsurprisingly one of the continent’s top draws. From it soaring alpine glaciers to its charming Tyrolean towns of timber cottages and flowing bougainvillea; from the old imperial palaces of the Habsburgs to the gorgeous lakes of the Salzburgerland, the castles of Styria to the student streets of Graz, there’s plenty to see and do in stomping ground of strudel and schnitzel.

Austria places to visit
View from Leopoldsberg, Vienna | © Thomas Fabian/Flickr/CC BY SA

Vienna

Grand and imposing Vienna is every inch the capital forged by the Habsburg crown. Imbued with the Baroque beauty of the Hofburg at its heart, the Old Town unfolds in a medley of cobbled streets and stony squares. The history is modern too, with cafes where Freud and Trotsky – and even Hitler – would once have rubbed shoulders beneath the vaulted Art Deco ceilings, not to mention art galleries bursting with the likes of Klimt and Picasso. Vienna is – of course – also Europe’s coffee culture king, with underground drinking houses and alfresco espresso terraces aplenty, all balanced out by loads of super-cool student dives along the streets of Neubau and the Danube Canal!



Austria places to visit
Festung Salzburg, Salzburg | © Alexander von Halem/Flickr

Salzburg

Ah Salzburg; uber-romantic Salzburg. Once the seat of Austria’s great independent dynasties, the town has flitted between Austrian and Bavarian rule in its time. Hence the dramatic looks: the mighty Salt Castle crowning the hill like a medieval limpet; the grand Baroque downtown where Mozart would once have trod; the babbling Salzach River, trickling under the arched bridges and past the bustling promenade of the central city, its wine bars and Stiegl taverns. Yep, this one’s simply not to be missed!

Austria things to see
Stiegenkirche in Graz | © Bernd Thaller/Flickr

Graz

Austria’s student town extraordinaire (it’s estimated that just under 50,000 students call this one home during term times) is a place of red-tiled roofs and old Slavic charm. The second-largest city in the nation, Graz sits in the valleys of Styria, on the bends of the Mur River as it meanders down from the snowy tops of the Julian Alps in Slovenia and Croatia. Inscribed by UNESCO, the Old Town hides plenty of sights, like the elaborate Glockenspiel and the Schlossberg on the hill. But it’s the life of Graz that really draws the crowds, ticking over in Austrian beer halls and bubbling up from the lively Kombuese hole-in-the-wall in the park during the warmer months. Nice.

Austria Places to Visit
Linz ’11 | © oliver.sch▲ller/Flickr

Linz

Famed for its huge Old Town (marked as the Altstadt on local maps), Linz rarely fails to impress visitors with its layers of ancient, medieval and Baroque styles. First founded by the Romans, it flourished as an industrial center in later centuries, while churches like the spiked Postlingberg and the New Cathedral (the largest in all of Austria) belie its pious and zealous past, too. Darker episodes see Linz as a onetime hotbed for Nazism; a period now being dealt with head-on.

Austria places to visit
St Anton | © BenFrantzDale/Flickr

St Anton am Arlberg

Ski town, mountain resort, hiking mecca and more, St Anton am Arlberg is unquestionably one of the real jewels of the Austrian Tyrol. Some say it was here that the very practice of downhill skiing was born, way back in 1901, when the first alpinists headed for the mighty peaks of the Verwall and the summits of Gampen and Kapall – now two of the most accomplished ski areas in the country, nay the Alps! But it’s not all about the faultless powder of the Arlberg region. The town, despite a drive towards the luxury side of things in recent years, still oozes an authentic Tyrolean charm, its wooden cottages sprouting bougainvillea and meadow flowers beckoning as the walkers descend in the spring. Yep, this one’s an undisputed must on this list of the top 10 Austria places to visit!

Austria places to visit
Bad Gastein | © VillageHero/Flickr

Bad Gastein

Hidden away down a steep-sided valley in the impossibly picturesque Salzburgerland, Bad Gastein is a masterpiece of the Belle Époque. Grand and imposing high-rises ooze elegance and charm on every corner, while the great peaks of the Hohe Tauern National Park (home to the Grossglockner, Austria’s highest mountain) soar on all sides. But it’s not the Alpine scenery that this one’s best-known for, although that is fantastic. Instead, it’s the spas and mineral springs. Since the Middle Ages, the spot has been famed for its healing waters, and the likes of Sisi and King Faisal all flocked to bathe and recuperate!

Austria places to visit
Innsbruck | © Leo-setä/Flickr

Innsbruck

The notches on Innsbruck’s Alpine skis bely no less than two Winter Olympics (a rare honour) and more than 600 years as the Tyrolean capital. Maximilian I of the Hapsburgs resided here once, and palaces and gorgeous churches like the Hofkirche, the St Jacob Cathedral and the House of the Golden Roof all shot up in his wake. Today, the town does well to fuse the modern and the classic, with Zaha Hadid’s iconic Bergisel ski jumping course on the horizon, and Irish bars and university clubs and Austrian beer halls all peppering the center. The Patscherkofel ski area is also just a stroll from the town!

Zillertal Valley | © Crabs Move Sideways

The Zillertal Valley

Plugged at the Italian end by the mighty post-3,000-meter-high pistes of Hintertux (perhaps Austria’s single best glacier for skiing), and peppered with countless little timber Tyrolean villages, the Zillertal Valley is a picture of Alpine perfection. Most will head for Mayrhofen and Fugen; towns nestled below the pistes of the Zillertal Arena ski area and boasting some of the best après in the country. However, there’s also the likes of Finkenberg here, complete with hearty Austrian taverns and beautiful views over the mountains that rise up against Italy to the south. (This one’s a real fav among Austria places to visit for winter sportsters!)

Austria places to visit
Salzkammergut | © Jorge Cancela/Flickr

Salzkammergut

Austria’s lake district extraordinaire is a place of mirror-like mountain waters and romantic medieval towns set high between the ridges of the Dachstein Mountains. Fairy-tale to the T, the UNESCO region sprawls out from the pretty city of Salzburg and includes the gorgeous town of Hallstatt – a half-timbered place of cobbled streets and church spires that’s recently become doubly famed as not only one of the most legendary Austria places to visit but also the home of some of the country’s oldest prehistoric archaeological finds! Other major draws include the mountain-shrouded Wolfgangsee and the crystal-clear waters of the Fuschlsee (easily accessible from Salzburg if you’re eager to do a spot of lake hopping away from the castle of the salt kings!).

Austria places to visit
Schmittenhöhe – Zell am See | © Cristian Bortes www.eyeem.com/bortescristian/Flickr

Zell am See

Last but most certainly not least on this list of the top Austria places to visit comes the glorious Zell am See: a paradise for Alpine lovers the world over. Nestled just off Austria’s central valley, this sparkling mountain lake sits in the shadow of the Kaprun glacier – the perennially snow-mantled Kitzsteinhorn, complete with countless black and red ski runs. But winter sports aside, Zell am See is a traveler’s mecca any time. Camp grounds and hiking routes pepper the banks and run deep into the Kitzbuhel Alps. There are canoes and sailing on the lake, and the pretty street of Dreifaltigkeitsgasse is just a picture of Austrian charm!




We know this list ain’t exhaustive. If you’ve moved sideways like a crab into any others, we’d love to hear your suggestions for Austria places to visit in the comments below. We try to go there at least once a yaaarr!