Traditional valley villages hugged by the mighty Alps neighbour lake districts filled with the glacier waters of the snow-capped peaks; urban centres showcase a history spanning the ancient Romans to the royal Habsburgs. Visit for high adrenalin adventures in a country half-draped in countryside, or city-hop from the world’s most liveable capital (we’re looking at you, Vienna) to musical and mountain-side metropolises.
Current travel restrictions and entry requirements
Travellers arriving in Austria no longer need to present “3-G” proof (Getestet, Geimpft, Genesen / Tested, Vaccinated, Recovered). Austria’s nine federal provinces have their own rules – across all, FFP 2 masks are no longer mandatory when in shops and using public transport, with exceptions in Vienna, where the use of FFP 2 masks remains compulsory on public transport and in pharmacies. Children under six don’t have to wear masks, and those aged six to 13 can wear a regular mask.
Best time to go
Christmas markets open by mid-November, with those in Vienna and Salzburg the biggest and most popular. Skiers can enjoy the Alpine pistes from November to April – although year-round skiing is possible at the Hintertux Glacier in Tyrol.
Cities go quiet in the summer months as locals head off to the lakes and the cooler altitudes of the peaks. Festival weeks covering gastronomy and the arts typically occur in spring (May/June) and autumn (September/October) – a prime time to travel for Austria’s cultural calendar and a temperate climate in which to enjoy wine hikes and Alpine adventures.
Top regions and cities
More than its Habsburg heritage, monuments like the Hofburg Palace, Spanish Riding School, Stephandom and Schloss Schönbrunn are a top draw. Historic charm and 100 or more museums are complemented by the city’s green credentials, including 13 hiking paths through surrounding vineyards and woodland, fairground time in the ‘green lung’ of Prater Park and Donaukanal (Danube Canal) beach bar hangouts. Venture into the bohemian 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th districts that circle Vienna’s Unesco World Heritage-listed historic centre, where independent and boutique businesses and a booming gastronomy scene are breathing new life into lesser-frequented corners of the city.
Bike, hike, and wine taste your way through a Unesco World Heritage-accredited stretch of the River Danube. It’s a one-hour train ride from Vienna to Krems, where you can embark on a scenic journey towards Melk, known for its elevated Monastery. Weave through the stone wall vineyards, pretty villages, medieval fortresses and hilltop ruins on a path parallel to the water, stopping to sample the year’s Grüner Veltliner and Riesling harvest along the way.
Salzburg and Salzkammergut
The birthplace of Mozart, the film set for the Sound of Music, the origins of the Christmas carol Silent Night and the stage for the internationally acclaimed Salzburg Festival – Salzburg is a city that knows and loves its music. Spend time in its baroque centre and walk the elevated pathway around the Mönchsberg mountain. Take the Sound of Music Panorama Bus tour as you sing through the city’s highlights, including the Mirabell Gardens, and head out into some of the mountainous lake vistas of the Salzkammergut beyond Hallstatt to see if the hills truly are alive.
Zell am See is a 90-minute train journey south of Salzburg, making for an easily accessible gateway to the Austrian lake region. Swim and boat in the calm waters, take in panoramic views from the Kitzsteinhorn glacier and drive the Grossglockner High Alpine Road that connects the states of Salzburg with Carinthia as its snakes through Austria’s oldest national park: Hohe Tauern National Park.
Innsbruck and The Tyrolean Alps
At the base of the Nordkette mountains, the pastel-hued Innsbruck – the capital of Tyrol – is encased by mountain walls giving this Habsburg prestige city a unique setting. Look out for the futurist Zaha Hadid-designed cable car stations to climb the Nordkette Mountain for the prime panorama viewpoint before wandering along the candy-house-lined Inn River below. Watch professional ski jumpers hurl themselves off the Bergisel Olympic Ski Jump and be dazzled by the sparkle of Swarovski Crystal Worlds. Tempted by the peaks? Innsbruck is a perfect base for visiting the Kitzbühel Alps region to its east and St Anton (the birthplace of skiing) and the James Bond film set of Ötztal to the west.
Best under-the-radar destinations
Vorarlberg – the westernmost state of Austria – doesn’t get half as much attention as its Alpine neighbour state of Tyrol, but it should. The high peaks and pristine pistes of Lech-Zürs are connected to St Anton am Arlberg in Tyrol via lift, creating Austria’s largest ski area. High mountain lakes anddeep canyons attract adrenalin junkies, while the skies play host to paragliders. Follow some of the 12 trails through 13 villages in the Bregenzerwald to learn how new builds and village bus stops have been designed to keep in harmony with the environment.
Head south to Graz, where Mediterranean vibes meld with Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque architecture and al fresco dining culture to make you wonder if you’re still in Austria. The ‘Friendly Alien’ art museum, Murinsel glass island on the river and lively arts scene are just some of the highlights that led to the city being awarded Unesco City of Design status. Looking for adventure? The 170m slide down from the highest point in the city – the Schlossberg (castle hill), where you’ll find the city’s Clocktower – is the place to start.
The southern side of the Austrian Alps is also called the sunny side as it gets100 hours more sunshine per year than the northern Alps, yet this state still sits in the shade with foreign visitors. Carinthia is home to the Gerlitzen Alpe, where you can ski at the borders of Austria, Italy and Slovenia, and the Alpe-Adria-Trail that connects the three countries is for those looking for more leisurely, non-Alpine hiking. Summer is prime time to visit, with warmer bathing lakes like Weissensee, Millstätter See and especially Wörthersee attracting the chic crowd.
Best things to do
Adventure in nature
Austrians, even city-dwellers, like to make the most of nature. Every region has a series of hiking and biking trails, with mountainous areas upping the ante with speed-fuelled mountain karting and adrenalin circuits for river canyoning and Via Ferrata rock scrambling. Test your fear by walking on Highline179 – Austria’s longest suspension bridge in Tyrol that’s 140 metres long and 114 metres high, dangling between a castle and a fort.
Cities and towns ramp up the festive charm from November with dozens of Christmas markets chock with handicrafts, hot Punsch (punch), trinkets and tasty treats. Vienna’s Viennese Dream Christmas Market at the Rathaus (City Hall) and the majestic Schönbrunn Palace draw the crowds. Salzburg’s iteration in the city centre dazzles at the foot of theHohensalzburg fortress, which also hosts a market in its courtyard. Graz, Linz and Innsbruck also light up their main city squares with beautiful booths during the festive season.
Summer cultural events
Austrian cities play host to several revered cultural events from July to August. The 90-year-running Salzburger Festspiele (Salzburg Festival) showcases classical music concerts, opera, drama and dance on stages city-wide. Vorarlberg’s Bregenzer Festspiele (Bregenz Festival) hosts orchestras, shows and musical theatre and is famed for the designs on its floating stage on Lake Constance, and Vienna’s City Hall square transforms into an open-air cinema for the Vienna Music Film Festival. Find a spot on the hillside and enjoy the free Summer Night Concert of the Vienna Philharmonic at Schönbrunn Palace that takes place a little earlier, typically in June.
Austria’s ÖBB and WestBahn rail services connect the cities to major lake towns and mountain valleys. The fastest trains from Vienna to Innsbruck take as a little as 4 to 5 hours one way. Local bus services operate in most areas, including the smaller Alpine villages.
How to get there
The cheapest and quickest way to Austria is on a budget flight to Innsbruck in the west or Vienna in the east. A longer but more sustainable alternative is to take the Eurostar to Paris and jump on an ÖBB Nightjet train overnight, arriving at Salzburg at 7.30am or Vienna around 10am. Trains run every Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday – see nightjet.com. Alternatively consider one of the long-distance European buses that go to Vienna – see Flixbus.co.uk.
Many regions have a tourist card for around €25 which is often included when you stay at a local hotel or other accommodation for at least two nights – it’s always good to check. It offers discounts on museum entry, activities and excursions and typically gives you free access to cable cars and public transport.
What’s the weather like?
You can experience all four seasons in Austria, although the climate varies from different ends of the country. Vienna and eastern Austria are comfortable in spring, but the hot summers see locals take off to more temperate climes during July and August. As you move towards the western alpine regions with higher altitudes,winters are longer with less rain – perfect conditions for snowsports.
What time zone is it in?
Austria is in Central European Time, GMT+1.
What currency do I need?
What language is spoken?
German is the official language in Austria, although Austrian German has some differences, so switch Guten Tag for Grüss Gott when saying hello andyou’ll be off to a good start. English is widely spoken in cities and major tourist hubs elsewhere you might find some Austrians are hesitant to speak English – but don’t take it personally.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies