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Sitting right in the heart of central Europe, Austria is a country that delights travelers with its Alpine mountains and grand Imperial heritage. And although it is quite a small country in the scheme of things, there are a lot of places to visit and things to do. With a trip to Austria you can spend your time exploring stunning cities full of culture, swimming in crystal clear lakes, or skiing down epic mountain slopes. Narrowing down what to do in Austria can be a real challenge, so we’ve decided to help you out by collecting all the best places to visit in Austria in one place. These are all the places you need to know about when planning a visit to this beautiful country.
A natural place to start when you visit Austria is the country’s capital city, Vienna. Once the heart of the Habsburg Empire, this grand city with its traditional architecture and sophisticated Viennese coffee houses sure looks the part. Vienna is home to some of the best known tourist attractions in Austria, including many elegant royal residences like Schönbrunn Palace and Belvedere Palace. Other striking landmarks in the center of the city include the Rathaus and Vienna State Opera, plus St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Karlskirche which are both equally as impressive. As a city of culture, you’ll find many museums scattered around Vienna, the Albertina art museum and the Art History Museum are two of the city’s finest. On the lighter side of things you’ll find quirky buildings like the Hundertwasser House and the delightful Prater amusement park.
For a complete guide to the city, make sure to take a look at our detailed Vienna itinerary.
Famous for its connection with the Sound of Music, the city of Salzburg is easily one of the best things to do in Austria for tourists. The Mirabell Palace Gardens is where you’ll want to go to see one of the filming locations of the Sound of Music. But there are also many other captivating places to see in the Old Town, especially Getreidegasse with its antique store signs. Salzburg is also famous for being the birthplace of renowned composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and you can see the house in which he was born, as well as the Mozart Residence where the family lived and a large statue of the man in Mozartplatz. The city’s sense of culture extends beyond music though, with a great selection of museums over in the DomQuartier by the city’s majestic cathedral. Watching over it all is Hohensalzburg Fortress, a mighty castle full of history that defines the city’s skyline.
Heading to Salzburg on your trip to Austria? Don’t forget to take a look at our Salzburg itinerary for suggestions on what to see, where to stay, and so much more.
Another major city in Austria that travelers won’t want to miss is Innsbruck, which is out in the west of the country. Surrounded by the Alps, Innsbruck is a destination that combines winter sports with distinguished imperial architecture. Down in the city’s Old Town is a selection of fine historic landmarks tied to the old Habsburg dynasty, with the elaborate Golden Roof, the city’s most iconic landmark thanks to over 2,000 gilded tiles on its roof. Innsbruck’s Old Town is also home to its very own Hofburg Palace, a former imperial residence, and the gorgeous Gothic Hofkirche. Otherwise, you can just roam the medieval Old Town and admire the scenery of these historic buildings which sit along the Inn River with the snow-covered Alps popping out beyond the rooftops. Above Innsbruck are the ski fields of the Nordkette mountain range, accessible from the city center via funicular in just 20 minutes.
Few places are as famous in Austria as the fairytale village of Hallstatt. Sitting between lakes and mountains in the Salzkammergut region, this small village is adored for its enchanting scenery. On a walk through the village you’ll find on one side swans swimming around the pristine lake, and on the other quaint alpine houses. After exploring the town and finding its iconic viewpoint, you’ll have no trouble believing that Hallstatt is one of the best things to see in Austria. But there’s actually much more for tourists here, starting with the Bone House, a small ossuary full of human bones inside St. Michael’s Chapel. Up in the hillside above town you’ll find Skywalk Hallstatt Viewpoint, which offers incredible views of the Hallstätter See and the nearby Dachstein Mountains. Finally, there’s the Hallstatt Salt Mine where visitors can delve down into the world’s oldest salt mine.
Although it’s the second largest city in Austria, Graz is a destination that many travelers underestimate. But there’s actually plenty to see in this historic cultural hub in the country’s southeast. The most iconic landmark in Graz is it’s symbolic Uhrturm clock tower which watches over the city from Schlossberg, where you’ll find superb views out over the city. Down in the heart of the city is Graz’s UNESCO old town which is full of Renaissance and Baroque architecture centering around Hauptplatz. Other interesting attractions in town include the special double spiral staircase in the Burg castle, the impressive collection inside the Styrian Armoury Museum and the Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II next to Graz Cathedral. Then there’s the modern side of Graz which includes landmarks like the man-made Murinsel Island and the bizarre Graz Art Museum, who’s nickname is the ‘The Friendly Alien’.
For even more information on Graz, take a look at our comprehensive Graz itinerary.
6. Grossglockner High Alpine Road
Those on a driving holiday through Austria who are looking for a scenic drive should make sure the Grossglockner High Alpine Road is part of their itinerary. Grossglockner, the tallest peak in the country, is one of the must sees in Austria and you’ll enjoy a fantastic view of it on this drive. In fact, you’ll be surrounded by incredible alpine scenery on this windy drive that takes you over the highest paved mountain pass road in Austria. The Grossglockner High Alpine Road starts out in Bruck and follows the Fuscher Valley up to the village of Heiligenblut only to head back down again into Carinthia and Tyrol. Along the way you’ll make your way through 36 bends and reach altitudes of over 2,500 meters – making this route popular with motorcyclists. If you’re after one of the most beautiful pass roads in Europe, this is the drive for you.
7. Zell am See
Combining lovely lakeside scenery with ski slopes, Zell am See is a destination popular with tourists year round. One of the best towns in Austria for outdoor activities, here you have both the lake and mountains at your disposal. The best way to start a visit to Zell am See though is to explore the town and particularly take a walk along its beautiful lakefront esplanade. The other things to do in Zell am See depend on which season you’re there in. During winter, the lake freezes over and becomes suitable for ice skating and you can take ski lifts up to the slopes on nearby Schmittenhöhe Mountain. Come summer, you can take boat rides and go swimming out on the lake, or take to the many hiking trails which lead up into the mountains above Zell am See.
8. Bad Gastein
Hidden away in a valley among the High Tauern Mountains lies the spa town of Bad Gastein. Relaxing should come easily thanks to the fresh mountain air, thermal hot springs, and the sounds of the Gasteiner Waterfall roaring nearby. Throughout Bad Gastein you’ll see elegant Belle Epoque buildings and villas that reflect its history as a popular spa retreat from the 19th century. And while you can spend your time here soaking in local hot springs, whose thermal waters are rich in minerals and radon. Bad Gastein is also a base for all sorts of outdoor sports, including hiking and biking in summer, and skiing in winter. Plus don’t forget the mighty Gasteiner Waterfall which you can visit by following the Wasserfallweg path. It’s said that the mist from this waterfall even gives the town’s air a healing quality.
You really have your pick of lakes when vacationing in Austria, but one that’s hard to beat is the Wolfgangsee in Salzkammergut near Salzburg. This serene lake makes for a perfect getaway thanks to its gorgeous turquoise waters, local towns, and surrounding mountainscapes. Visiting the Wolfgangsee you have your pick of towns like St. Gilgen, St. Wolfgang im Salzkammergut, and Strobl, each boasting charming traditional buildings. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the lake and the crystal clear water, whether it’s cycling along its banks, swimming, or renting a boat for the day. Finally, there’s the towering mountain of Schafberg that overlooks Lake Wolfgang which is not to be missed. Whether you hike up or take the special rack railway to the top, you’ll be amazed by the 360-degree views of the region’s many other lakes and mountains.
10. Wachau Danube Valley
The Danube River flows right across Austria and arguably its most captivating stretch is the Wachau Valley. This section of the Danube River, which flows between the towns of Melk and Krems, is crammed with attractions of all kinds, making it a major player for tourism in Austria. Starting up one end with Melk, you should allow time to explore the colossal and lavish Melk Abbey which dominates the town. From there, follow the river by boat, bike, or car to stop in at historic sights like Schönbühel Castle and the ruins of Aggstein castle.Soon enough you’ll reach the picturesque town of Durnstein, which lies under the castle ruins where Richard the Lionheart was held prisoner. Durnstein is also a great place to sample the valley’s local produce, which includes apricot liqueur and saffron. At the far end of Danube lies Krems and Gottweig Abbey, both of which make quite the impression.
11. Hoher Dachstein
While there are plenty of mountains to climb in Austria’s Alps, Hoher Dachstein is the best one to visit if you want to see glaciers. Hoher Dachstein is actually home to several glaciers including the Hallstätter Glacier, Großer Gosau Glacier and Schladminger Glacier. This mountain in the Northern Limestone Alps sits on the border of Upper Austria and Styria and at 2,700 meters, it is the highest mountain in either state. Upon reaching the top of Hoher Dachstein, you’ll find a nice variety of ways to enjoy the mountain views. From the thrills of the Dachstein suspension bridge, to the precarious Sky Walk observation deck, and the glass-bottomed Stairway to Nothingness, you’ll need to be brave to get the most out of your visit. Luckily, there’s also the Ice Palace with its intricate ice carvings that’s more enjoyable for those uneasy about heights.
12. Bad Ischl
At first glance, the town of Bad Ischl in the Salzburg region might look like yet another Austrian spa town. But thanks to its location and close ties with the Habsburg royal family, Bad Ischl is much more than it seems. The spa town sits neatly between the many lakes that lie around the Salzkammergut region, making it an ideal gateway for visitors looking to explore places like Hallstatt and the Wolfgangsee. And while Bad Ischl was and is a popular spa resort, it became even more popular when Emperor Franz Joseph l chose to have his summer residence there. Among the town’s various parks and spas you can still find the Kaiservilla which became the royal summer residence of the Emperor in 1854. Interestingly, it was from the Kaiservilla that Franz Joseph signed the declaration of war that began World War I in 1914.
13. Krimml Waterfalls
Austria has its fair share of waterfalls, and people traveling to Austria interested in seeing them should make sure that the Krimml Waterfalls are on their list. This is because these waterfalls in Hohe Tauern National Park are the highest in the country. The falls measure a total of 380 meters, falling across three tiers as they plummet down towards the village of Krimml. To see each stage of the falls you can take the 4 km long path which leads between the tiers, enjoying views from the different observation platforms along the way. Besides the waterfall views, the Waterfall Trail also takes you into the serene surrounding forest, creating a nice day out in nature.
14. St Anton am Arlberg
Skiing and Austria go hand-in-hand and many say that Sankt Anton am Arlberg is the best ski resort in Austria. In fact, this small village in the Tyrolean Alps is often credited with inventing the sport. You can learn about the history of skiing over at the Museum St. Anton am Arlberg, housed inside a traditional Alpine chalet. But chances are you’re more interested in actually getting out on the slopes. Whether you’re interested in skiing, snowboarding, winter hiking, or winter climbing, St. Anton am Arlberg is bound to deliver. Around the village you’ll find 305 kilometers of pistes and another 200 kilometers of off-piste itineraries, providing you with plenty of choice. And no matter how you spend the day, you have the fun après-ski scene to look forward to.
15. Hohe Tauern National Park
Austria is home to six national parks, with Hohe Tauern National Park being the country’s oldest and largest, making it another place you shouldn’t miss. What’s so great about Hohe Tauern National Park is the sheer diversity on display, both in terms of attractions, but also wildlife. Roughly half the species that exist in all of Austria can be found in the national park, including golden eagles, chamois, and marmots. There’s also plenty of incredible scenery to be seen among the park’s many valleys and alpine ranges, with the Krimml Falls and the Pasterze glacier two stand-outs. Hiking trails and bike tracks throughout the national park make Hohe Tauern a great choice for fans of the outdoors, with countless valleys and mountains to choose from.
That just about sums up the best places that Austria has to offer visitors. You’ll have a hard time fitting all of these destinations into just one trip, so why not plan two?