Austria – Around the World from A to Z – A
Austria – Around the World from A to Z – A
Starting with Austria, this year, Kaz Custom Travel will take you on a journey around the world from A to Z, virtually that is, until we can travel again. Throughout 2021, we will feature a different destination around the world corresponding with a letter of the alphabet. We hope to feature one destination a week, but due to time constraints and our work schedule, it may be less often. Our goal is to provide you with some travel inspiration as we share a few titbits about each destination, a few travel tips, fun facts and foodie ideas, as well as safety and sustainable tourism insights, for when we can travel again.
Schonnburg Palace, Vienna, Austria
So, let me introduce you to the wonderful Alpine country of Austria
Located in the centre of Europe, Austria is a landlocked, mountainous country, bordered by 8 countries: Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
Austria is a small country, about twice the size of Switzerland, and slightly smaller than the US state of Maine. The pear-shaped country is only 600 km long and only about 280 km at its widest.
Once part of the Habsburg empire, Austria is a modern country with a long and diverse history. Created as a prefecture of Bavaria in 976, Austria originally consisted of two provinces, Upper Austria and Lower Austria. Established as the Republic of Austria in 1918, the country now consists of seven more provinces: Styria, Carinthia, Salzburg, Tirol, and Vorarlberg (all of which pre-date 1918), plus Burgenland and Vienna, which were established after World War I (source: Country Studies).
For centuries, Austria was exposed to and influenced by multiple cultures from various parts of Europe including Italy and southern Germany. This is evident in both its architecture, such as the beautiful baroque style in such buildings as the Schönbrunn Palace (pictured below) as well as in its varied traditional cuisine.
The main language spoken in Austria is German, with much of the country speaking a Bavarian dialect. Some minorities also speak Hungarian, Slovenian, Croatian andTurkish.
Austria’s capital is Vienna, where around 20 percent of Austria’s population live. Many tourists are drawn to Vienna for its historical architecture and monuments, particularly near the Danube river, and for its music and culture. Vienna is an imperial yet modern city, famous also for its coffee houses, cozy wine taverns, and Viennese charm and hospitality. But there is more to Austria than Vienna.
Mountainous landscape near Innsbruck Austria
Why visit Austria?
First of all and especially if you’re travelling solo, Austria is a safe country with a reliable infrasructure, and is renowned for its inviting and friendly hospitality. Austrians enjoy, what they call, Gemütlichkeit, a relaxed lifestyle in which they enjoy the good things of life. If you visit Austria, you can’t help but experience Gemütlichkeit as well.
Austria also offers great value for money, a great combination of long cultural history and incredible unspoiled nature, including beautiful Alpine mountains and meadows, lush forests, crystal clear lakes, waterfalls, and rivers, including the famous Danube that flows through Vienna, Linz and Krems. Austria also has 10 World Heritage sites on the UNESCO list, including the Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn in Vienna (pictured earlier).
Due to its location in the heart of Europe, easy access from most European cities and its small size, Austria is a great destination to visit if you’re short on time. Being such a small country with a good road and rail network, it is easy to explore many of Austria’s cities as well as its beautiful countryside in just a few days.
Austria can be explored as a stand alone destination or as part of a multi-destination European vacation. Austria is included on many Danube River Cruise itineraries with stops in Vienna and Linz and excursions to Salzburg.
Whether you enjoy relaxing out in nature or you’re an adrenaline junkie, you’ll never be short of things to do in Austria, no matter what time of year.
In wintertime, you can enjoy nature on the Alpine slopes skiing, snow boarding or snow shoeing, and in summertime you can enjoy the mountain slopes hiking, biking or on a picnic by cable car, or even go swimming in one of the many swimmable lakes.
Whether you prefer to be inside or out, if history and architecture or culture and food are more your thing, you can stroll through Austria’s historical city streets, visit museums, galleries, enjoy a coffee at a traditional coffee house or a beer at a tavern, or attend a cultural or music event.
Austria is an especially ideal destination for music lovers. Many classical composers, as well as modern ones, were either born in Austria or made their home here. There are many monuments, museums and events in Austria’s main cities celebrating the musical works of these famous composers.
Driving the high Alps in Salzburg province Austria
A few travel tips for Canadians travelling to Austria
As a Canadian, you will need a passport that is valid for at least 3 months to travel to Austria (although I recommend you make sure it’s valid for at least 6 months).
Austria is a member of the Schengen area, which means in addition to a Canadian passport, if you’re visiting Austria (or anywhere else in the Schengen area) for 90 days or more, you’ll need a Schengen visa.
If you are staying less than 90 days, you do not need a visa, however, from 2021, in addition to your passport, you’ll need to apply for an ETIAS before you arrive if you don’t already have one. An ETIAS is valid for five years, so you can revisit Austria and other Schengen member countries multiple times during a five year period without having to apply for a new one.
If you enter Austria from one of the other 25 Schengen countries you do not need to present your visa, ETIAS or passport again (except under certain circumstances) but you must carry them with you when you travel between countries, whether Schengen or otherwise. You never know when you may be asked to prove you have one.
Austria is also part of the Economic and Currency Union which means the Euro. If you’re travelling to or from another Euroepan Union country, you’ll only need one currency. Don’t forget to purchase some before you leave Canada instead of in destination, and I recommend doing so from a bank instead of using your credit card at the airport or in destination, otherwise you’ll pay interest on the entire balance of your credit card.
If you’re entering Austria by rental car from another country be sure to display a Motorway Vignette (toll sticker) on the inside of the car’s windshield. You should be able buy these at any Austrian gas station, but do so ASAP! If you’re renting a car from within Austria, it should already be displayed, but check with the rental company first to make sure.
3 cities you should visit if you go to Austria
When you think of Austria you might automatically think that the capital city of Vienna is the place to go. However, there are three other cities you should visit, if you go to Austria.
Salzburg – Austria’s Capital of Music
If you love art and music as well as history and architecture, then you must visit Salzburg while in Austria. Located in the province with the same name, around 2.5 hours from Vienna, Austria’s fourth largest city is also Austria’s capital of music and is one of the best places in the world to go if you’re a music fan, especially the classics.
Birthplace of the famous classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, you’ll find his birthplace, now a museum dedicated to his life and work, and monuments around the city, as well as events, celebrating his life and contribution to the music world.
The hills also came alive with The Sound of Music in Salzburg, where it was the backdrop for the classic movie. You can take a guided The Sound of Music tour or travel independently visiting various film locations.
Salzburg is also home to the world-famous Salzburg Festival of classical music, which takes place every summer, as well as Salzburg Culture Days, a music festival that takes place in autumn at various locations throughout the city.
Salzburg is also ideal if you love architecture and history. With its elaborate Baroque architecture, Salzburg has earned the nickname “Rome of the North” and its historic city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.
Explore the city’s historic centre and you will discover several examples of a European ecclesiastical city-state with many intact buildings and monuments, both ecclesiastical and secular, that date from the late Middle Ages to the 20th century.
Must-sees in Salzburg are Hohensalzburg Fortress, Mozart’s Birthplace which is now a museum celebrating the composer’s life, and Mirabell Palace and Gardens.
Innsbruck – in the heart of the Alps
With mountains as its backdrop, and the imperial elegance and beautiful Baroque and Gothic architecture of its Old Town, Innsbruck is another city worth exploring. But Innsbruck is not just for lovers of architecture and history.
Innsbruck, the capital city of the province of Tirol, is a must-visit city for both nature lovers and those who want to immerse themselves in Austrian Gemütlichkeit. In Austria’s fifth largest city, you’ll not only discover a unique combination of history and nature, you’ll experience the warmth and friendliness of its people too.
Located in the west of Austria, in the northern Alps, it’s about equidistant from both the German and Italian borders (about 40 minutes), less than two hours by train from Salzburg or Munich, Germany, and 4 hours 15 minutes from Vienna. Popular with skiers, Innsbruck is actually a year-round destination, so you can enjoy everything the city and its surrounding mountains have to offer during the summer and shoulder-seasons too.
In just 20 minutes, a cable car ride will whizz you from the city centre to 2000 metres up the mountain, where you’ll be immersed in pure Alpine nature and where the views are breathtaking any time of year.
In winter, if you’re a ski enthusiast, the surrounding mountains provide access to 13 ski areas with 308 km of pistes, but in the summer months, these same mountains provide an abundance of hiking and biking trails as well as swimmable lakes for you to enjoy yourself outdoors in nature.
For the less energetic, you can hire a ready-made “backpack” picnic and take one of the cable cars up the mountains to enjoy a leisurely picnic and a stroll in the blossoming meadows.
Even if you don’t ski, a must do experience from May until October is watching ski jumpers during their summer training at the Bergisel Olympic Ski Jump Tower.
In the city, some must see places to visit are the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl) in the Old City, Ambras Castle with its stunning gardens, tiny waterfalls and free-range peacocks and Swarovski Crystal Worlds, a museum featuring amazing crystal and other art exhibits.
Schlossberg, Graz, Austria
Graz – Austria’s Capital of Culinary
The third city in Austria worth a visit is Graz, a young, vibrant city with a Mediterranean vibe where locals enjoy Gemütlichkeit every day.
If you’re a fan of design, culture AND cuisine, then Graz is the place to go. Located in the southeast of Austria, the capital of the province of Styria and Austria’s second largest city is also a UNESCO City of Design, a European Capital of Culture (2003), and Austria’s Capital of Culinary.
Graz is a city with diverse architectural styles including Italian Renaissance and gothic, so if you’re a fan of architecture and history, you’ll enjoy exploring the older areas of the city. But if you’re a foodie, you’ll be in heaven. As Austria’s Capital of Culinary, it is one of the best places to visit to explore Austrian cuisine.
In the heart of the city, you’ll discover the farmers’ markets where you can try a range of delicious fruits and vegetables. All over the city, you’ll find plenty of restaurants and cafes serving meals prepared using regionally sourced and seasonal products. But no matter what you fancy eating, you’ll find a restaurant to satisfy your appetite. Tip: try pumpkinseed oil – many restaurants have dishes that include the local delicacy.
A must do experience in Graz is to stroll through the historic city centre, a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. The city is famous for the Schlossberg clock tower, and another must do experience is to climb to the top of the Schlossberg hill to see the clock tower up close. Right behind the tower you’ll find a restaurant, where you can enjoy fantastic views over the city while eating breakfast or lunch.
Another interesting sight worth checking out is the beautiful Landhaushof, not only for its stunning Italian Renaissance architecture, but for the unusual and ingenious double spiral gothic staircase.
Mountain trail, near Lech, in the Arlberg, Austria
Go off the beaten track in the Arlberg
If you’ve had enough of sightseeing in Austria’s cities, then it’s time to go off-the-beaten track, and the Arlberg is the perfect place to do just that.
The Arlberg is a mountain range in Austria’s west, between the provinces of Vorarlberg and Tirol. It is well known among winter sports enthusiasts. Located 100 km from Innsbruck, here you’ll find Austria’s largest ski resort. But the Arlberg is not just a winter destination.
In the summertime, the off-the-beaten track region is ideal for nature lovers. Five picturesque alpine villages, St. Anton, Lech, Zürs, St. Christoph, and Stuben (Austria’s smallest hamlet with only 80 inhabitants), are nestled in the valleys and on the lower slopes. The villages offer rustic accommodation and food, as well as a base for mountain exploration on foot, by bike, car and cable car.
A cable ride to the summit of the Valluga, which at 2,809 m (9,215 feet) is the highest peak in the Arlberg, is must do experience. Cable cars starting in St. Anton take you to a 360 degree platform at the top, where the panoramic view of the Alps is simply breathtaking. You can see all the way to Italy, Switzerland and Germany!
For those not keen on heights, there are lots of activities in the villages. In St. Anton, for instance, you can go off the beaten track at the old Gand mines (which only opened in 2020) where you can explore the walkable tunnels. Or enjoy nature in the thick fir forests of the mystical Verwalltal valley, or take a drive to Stuben and stroll through the serpentine streets of the tiny hamlet and enjoy a rustic lunch surrounded by stunning mountain views. In St. Anton, you’ll also find the ski museum, where 100 years of ski history and memorabilia is displayed.
If you prefer more energetic activities, the Arlberg offers many options such as hiking the Verwalltal and/or Moostal valleys in St. Anton, renting a mountain bike to explore the nearby forest and/or mountain trails or, if you’re with kids, family fun can be had zip lining up in the trees. Lech Zürs is a paradise for hikers, with a series of hiking trails that take you up and through the mountains, including one that ends at the serene Korbersee lake, voted Austria’s most beautiful place in 2017.
St. Jakobus am Simmel Chapel, Vorarlberg, Austria
Located near Hochkrumbach and Warth, a few kilometers from Lech, in the Arlberg.
When is the best time to travel to Austria?
Austria is a year-round destination, so it doesn’t matter which time of year you visit, there is always something to do. However, depending on your interests, your preferences and where you plan to go, there are some specific times of the year when you may wish to visit (or not as the case may be).
The summer months (from May) are great for lakeside holidays, and for hiking and biking. However, if you don’t like crowds and waiting in line, you may wish to avoid the cities during July and August which are their busiest time of year due to the hot, sunny weather as well as the number of music festivals.
For a quieter, more relaxed visit to the cities, the shoulder seasons (April-May and September-October) are the best times of year to visit for sightseeing. And of course winter is a great time for skiing and other winter sports. For something more festive, visit in between mid-November and Christmas for the fabulous Christmas markets.
- If you’re a music lover, the end of January is one of the best times to visit Salzburg, Austria’s capital city of music. This is when they have Mozart Week with events and concerts celebrating all things Mozart. (Mozart celebrates his birthday on January 27th.)
- Another good time to visit Salzburg if you’re a music lover, is March/April for the Salzburg Easter Festival. The festival includes various concerts and other events. But you will need tickets, so purchase in advance.
- If you love nature, gardens and flowers, be sure to visit Salzburg in April or May when the magnolias are in full bloom!
- In the summer, Graz and Styria are host to Styriarte – a classical music festival focussing on older classics – but Styriarte also holds other events throughout the year, so check out their calendar and be sure to book tickets in advance.
- May to June is the time to visit the UNESCO Capital of Design for Design Month when the town hosts a series of design events, such as exhibitions, workshops and lectures. Check their website for the exact dates.
- The second last weekend in August is a great time to visit if you’re a foodie. Graz, the City of Culinary, holds its Long Table of Graz, when 700 guests dine together outside in the city centre. You will need tickets so be sure to book in advance.
- Be sure to visit Austria between mid-November till Christmas for the Christmas markets. You’ll find these in all the major cities and many of the smaller ones.
- The winter, of course, is the best time to visit Austria for skiing and other winter sports and activities, but be sure to visit Innsbruck between May to October to watch ski jumpers practice at Bergisel Olympic Ski Jump Tower.
Crystal clear reservoir, summer meadow flowers and majestic mountains.
A few fun facts you may not know about Austria
Did you know, Vienna is the only city with a cuisine named after it?
Viennese Cuisine (Wiener Küche), which is influenced by Italian and French cuisine, dates back to the end of the 18th century.
Do you know, the best way to experience “Gemütlichkeit?”
The best way to experience Austria’s relaxing way of life is to spend a few hours sipping coffee in one of the country’s many traditional coffeehouses (Kaffeehaus).
Did you know, Austria’s tap water is safe to drink?
Austria’s tap water is said to be some of the best in the world. Yes unless stated otherwise, water can be drunk from any tap in Austria.
Did you know, during the summer you can swim in a forest swimming pool?
Yes, on the banks of the Lech River, in the Arlberg, there is a swimming pool surrounded by forest and mountains that is open during the summer.
Did you know, you can take your own personal guide to Vienna with you?
Yes, if you plan to visit Vienna, be sure to download the IVIE app, before you go. The app is your own personal guide to Vienna, which allows you to search for specific tourists sights or discover new ones. The app provides tidbits on each site as well as addresses, contact information, and a map so you can find your way.
If you plan to stay a while you should also purchase the Vienna City Card, which will give you access to unique experiences, exclusive admissions, as well as discounted experiences, and culinary moments.
Why foodie lovers will love Austria
If you’re a foodie, many of Austria’s cities offer an abundance of restaurants serving any type of food you might be looking for including local cuisine.
However, here’s a little tip. If you want to immerse yourself in the Austrian way of life outside the main cities, head to any rural area and look for the classic Austrian “Gasthaus.” Similar to a pub or an inn, these establishments serve traditional Austrian fare and you’ll experience an abundance of the Gemütlichkeit that Austria is known for.
Here’s a few traditional Austrian foods to try while in Austria:
- Wiener Schnitzel: a breaded and fried veal escalope
- Kaiserschmarren: chopped pancakes, which legend has it were Emperor Franz Joseph’s favourite
- Dumplings in all their variations, both savoury and sweet
- Käsespätzle: a type of pasta topped with cheese and crispy onions
Korbersee Lake, the Arlberg, Austria
Voted Austria’s most beautiful place in 2017.
Austria and travel safety
Not only does Austria have some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, but when it comes to safety, Austria is one of the safest in the world.
In 2020, according to various sources, including this one, Austria was number five on the the list of top 10 safest countries in the world, ahead of Canada (6), Japan (7), Slovenia (8), Singapore (9) and Noway (10).
Only Denmark (4), Portugal (3), New Zealand (who slipped down to the number two spot in 2018 due to the terrorist attack in Christchurch) and Iceland, which took the top spot in 2019 and 2020.
Another source ranks Austria as number 4 ahead of Denmark, followed by Canada, Singapore, Czech Republic, Japan and Switzerland. Despite the slight differences in ranking (probably due to different safety criteria used by the sources), Austria ranks extremely high.
One of the main factors that has contributed to Austria being a safe country to both live and visit is its extremely low crime rate. Other factors include the various safety and security protocols and laws in place. In addition, there is a general lack of political instability, which is probably due in part to its higher educated workforce and wealthy economy which have created a higher standard of living.
Nevertheless, when travelling to Austria, you should still take precautions to ensure your own safety especially if travelling solo.
Zürser See, near Zurs, the Arlberg, Austria
Hiking trail through the mountains passes by the beautiful lake.
Sustainability is second nature in Austria
Like many countries around the world who are making efforts to prevent climate change, Austria is doing its part. When it comes to sustainability, its overall goal is to be climate neutral by 2040, ten years ahead of the European Union’s goal.
Indeed, in a country where getting outdoors in nature is an important part of life in Austria, sustainability is an intrinsic part of the Austrian mindset. Evidence of Austria’s dedication to being a leading eco-friendly country, can be found in a number sustainable tourism and transportation initiatives.
These initiatives include organic farming practices in the valleys and farm to table gastronomy in the hospitality industry, new accommodations built in accordance with ecological construction, renewable energy sources being used to power ski lifts in the mountains and electrically-powered buses and trolleys in Salzburg, free public transport at ski resorts as well as across the country, and car free zones in Innsbruck’s inner city and Graz Old Town.
According to tourism Austria, these initiatives have not been introduced to attract visitors, but because “coexistence with nature is a way of life.” For tourists to Austria, making memories that leave a positive environmental impact is simply an added bonus.
So if you are looking for sustainable travel experiences and want to support a tourism industry that supports sustainable practices, Austria is an ideal destination. Even on an urban adventure, you can immerse yourself in nature in the many parks in and around Austria’s cities including Vienna, Salzburg and Graz.
Sources: Austria Tourism, Schengen, ETIAS Europe, UNESCO, Country Studies, Vor Arlberg, Passion Buzz, World Population Review. All photos via Pixabay.