Touring Austria: Suggested Itineraries

Checking out all of Austria at once - including Alpine delights such as this one

Austria is not a very big country, but it is not that small either. Because of the Alps and its multi-ethnic past, it is very diverse both in cultural terms and in natural beauty. As with every place, the time you will want to spend travelling in Austria depends on your interests - some people do a "Europe in 10 days" trip with a day spent in Vienna.

The Gloriette in the parks of the Imperial Palace SchönbrunnSome people come for two weeks every year over decades and enjoy the same area for hiking or skiing. In this list of suggested itineraries, I will start with the assumption that you will do sort of a "experience the country" and "sightseeing" trip. I will not include time that you might want to spend for more "stationary" hiking, skiing or other activities.

Itinerary for travelling in Austria for 2-3 weeks

Overview: Vienna (2-3 days) - Wachau, Krems, Schloss Dürnstein (1 day) - Melk monastery, Mauthausen former concentration camp (1 day) - Hallstatt and the Salzkammergut (1-2 days) - Salzburg (1-2 days) - Nationalpark Hohe Tauern and Großglockner (1 day) - Innsbruck and Schloss Ambras Castle (1 day) - Bregenz, Lake Bodensee (1 day) - Carinthian lakes, Graz (1 day) - spas, wine and the Burgenland (1-2 days).

For a steady pace sightseeing trip that will give a decent overview on Austria (a well-balanced in-depth experience), I think a trip of two weeks with a rented car would be ideal. If you travel by public means of transport, you might have to add two or three days to this itinerary.

For practical reasons, I will start with Vienna: It is likely that this will be your point of entry (Vienna Airport in Schwechat is the biggest in the country). Furthermore, the most exhausting sightseeing is scheduled for the East. The West will offer more natural beauty and opportunities to relax, so start with the busy bits.

The Secession was a museum mostly for Jugendstil art. You can still see one of Klimt's masterpieces hereVienna, 2-3 days: Vienna was the heart of a massive Empire for centuries, but the most shaping period for the city centre was the 19th century. Spend the first day strolling in the historical "Erster Bezirk" (First District) and the Ringstraße to get a sense for the distances. Most attractions iwll be in this area anyway.

Visit the Hofburg Palace, go inside the treasury for an appetiser on Habsburg glory, go to the check out Heldenplatz Square, the Staatsoper (National Opera) the Spanische Hofreitschule the Parliament the Stephansdom, Vienna′s cathedral in the typical Germanic Gothic style. Stroll and stop by the occasional church, have a melange in one of Vienna′s traditional Cafés. On day two, go to the Schönbrunn Palace to make this day the ultimate baroque experience.

The former palace of the Habsburgs is among the most impressive baroque buildings of Europe. You can also go to the World′s second oldest Tiergarten Schönbrunn Zoo around the corner (it claim′s to be the oldest, but that is actually Salzburg) and see the Palmenhaus (a historic greenhouse). Back to the city centre, try to visit one of Vienna′s art museums, there are plenty to choose from (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Albertina or the new Museumsquartier are all top-places).

The Musikverein Concert Hall in Vienna

The Natural History museum is twinned with the Kunsthistorisches Museum and interesting from an architectural and content-oriented viewpoint. You might also want to get tickets for a concert or the opera. Potential day three could be dedicated to 1900 Vienna′s intellectual life: go to see Otto Wagner′s "Kirche am Steinhof" church to get a taste of Austrian Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) or the Prater area, the Naschmarkt food markets or the splendid Baroque Belvedere Palace and Gallery.

The Zentralfriedhof cemetery is also worth a visit, with the graves of famous musicians like Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Falco. Leave Vienna heading west and visit Krems in Lower Austria, and dive into the beautiful Wachau area, following the Danube. Schloss Dürnstein Castle is the scenic highlight of the day and a good spot to learn about Austria′s medieval history. You might want to stop by Schloss Schallaburg Castle, but don′t get an architecture-overkill, since there is more to come.

The next day, go to Stift Melk monastery, one of the most impressive Baroque ones in Austria and in typical Catholic-Germanic tradition. Move on from the peaks to the lows and go to the former concentration camp of Mauthausen. I discourage you from a visit with children. Not a "tourist attraction" at all, but a must-do for a thorough experience of Austria and its past.

Scenic Lakes and Mountains: Muste be the Salzkammergut

See the Abbey of St Florian near Linz. From there, go straight into Austria′s most scenic area, the Salzkammergut. Spend a day exploring Hallstatt, which celebrates itself somewhat pompously as a cradle of European civilisation. This UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site is scenic, full of history and local culture. You might want to go hiking for half a day or just relax. Another highlight not too far is the Dachstein with its ice caves. On the way towards Salzburg you can stop by the town of Mondsee.

The next day, move on to Salzburg, my hometown (1 or 2 days). Spend a day strolling through the historic Altstadt (said to be the biggest UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site) and check out Mozart′s birthplace, the cathedral, the monasteries St. Peter and Nonnberg and the castle. Especially with children you might want to go to the Hellbrunn Trick Fountains or the salt mines in Hallein, just South of the city. Don′t miss the Müllner Bräu beer halls.

If you can′t resist, do a "Sound of Music Tour" (most Austrians have not seen this movie). Head south and go along the Salzach valley to Hallein with its Salt Mines and enter the "real Alps" best experienced in the National Park Hohe Tauern. Go up the "Großglockner Hochalpenstraße" for some of Europe′s most stunning vistas and direct access to Austria′s highest mountain and glaciers.

Mighty mountains are best enjoyed in Tyrol

Go towards Tyrol with stop-overs in Zell am See and Krimml, to see the waterfalls. Spend the next day in Innsbruck, go up the Hafelekar for more impressive views and explore the Renaissance castle Schloss Ambras. The late medieval core of Innsbruck will put you back to Austria′s rise under Emperor Maximilian I. Move on to the Alemannic West of Austria, the province of Vorarlberg and spend a day hiking in the Bregenzer Wald (Bregenz forest), for example in the village of Schwarzenberg, and on the shores of Europe′s biggest lake, the Bodensee (Lake Constance).

Go back via Kufstein, where you might want to stop by at the castle, and move to Carinthia. Spend a day driving a lot, but stop by the lakes of Carinthia and Hochosterwitz Castle. Move on to Graz in Styria, stroll in the city centre and visit the Schlossberg mountain and castle. Drive into the Styrian hills (Oststeirisches Hügelland) around Leibnitz, Ehrenhausen and the "Road of the Castles" to learn about wine or stop by one of the many "Thermalbäder" (spas with hot springs).

From there, you can move on to northern Burgenland (on the border to Hungary) which will show you a totally unexpected Austria: flat plains and the Seewinkel area actually resemble Hungary and don′t match the stereotypical alpine image of Austria. Stop in Rust and St. Margarethen and see the old quarry, then go to the visitor centre of the National Park and go hiking.

Sunset over Lake Neusiedlersee

Visit a local vineyard for a tasting (they are normally free, but you have to organise it in advance and it would be rude not to buy at least some bottles) (one day). If you are into bird watching, you′ll love the place, it is one of Europe′s hotspots for birders. On the way back to Vienna, you can stop by the Nationalpark Donauauen.

If you want to stay in Austria for longer than two to three weeks, it is worth finding a base from which you can then do daytrips and experience a certain area in more depth; alternatively, you could also expand the "a bit of everything" schedule that I have suggested here.

Continue with my suggestions for a "One week trip to Austria"

Further Reading

Top-attractions of Austria

National Austrian Tourism Council

Explore Austria on Google Maps

Wikipedia on Tourism and Transportation in Austria

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