Must See

The Alps

The stunning Alps make up approximately 60% of Austria's surface area and gives the country its reputation as one of Europe's major destinations for winter sports. Try your hand at snowboarding, skiing, tobogganing, skating, curling or even just a sleigh ride.

The mountains also provide some great opportunities for hiking and walking, where you'll be able to enjoy stunning scenery ranging from glaciers and rocks to forests and green slopes. Footpaths are recognisable by the red-white-red markings displayed on rocks and trees; detailed walking maps can be obtained from the local tourist offices.

Carinthia

Home to the nation's tallest mountain, Grossglockner, Carinthia also boasts some famous lakes that reach 28°C in summer and become skating rinks in winter. They have earned the European Environment Award for their superb water quality. The area also has ten ski resorts with 1,000 kilometres of runs.

Graz

The capital of Styria, Graz, is one of the best-preserved city centres in Central Europe. Most of its important sights are within walking distance of the market square of the Hauptplatz. Attractions include:

  • the Landesmuseum Johanneum, a large complex of museums, which includes the Alte Galerie with some superb gothic paintings
  • the Mausoleum of Emperor Ferdinand II (begun in 1614)
  • the Neue Galerie in the Herbenstrein Palace, which displays 19th- and 20th-century paintings, including some works by Schiele and Klimt
  • the Kunsthaus - museum of modern art
  • the Dom (cathedral), a rare monument of Gothic architecture and featuring the oldest painted view of Graz
  • the Gemaltes Haus (painted house), in Herrengasse, which is totally covered with frescos painted in 1742 by Johann Mayer
  • the pedestrian zone of the old quarter
  • the Burg (castle complex), with its Gothic double staircase, built between 1438 and 1453 by Emperor Frederick III. The Burg remained the residence of the Inner Austrian Court until 1619. Today, it serves as residence of the government of Styria.
  • the Schlossberg (Castle Hill) which dominates the old town (475 m high) and is the site of demolished fortress, with views over Graz. There is a funicular railway (Schlossbergbahn) up the hill and the Uhrtrum (clock tower), the symbol of Graz is situated at the top.

Retz

This well-preserved medieval city in Lower Austria boasts subterranean wine-cellars, a Dominican church, well-restored medieval city walls and windmills.

Salzburg

Salzburg is an elegant city full of Baroque architecture, set against a striking mountain backdrop, which was used as the location for The Sound of Music. Largely pedestrianised, sights are in easy walking distance of the old city centre, which now has World Heritage Status. Highlights include the Domkirche (intended to rival St Peter's in Rome), the Peterskirche (St Peter's Abbey) and the Alter Markt (old market square).

The city is famous as the birthplace of Mozart, visitors may see his family residence (Mozart Wohnhaus) on the market square or visit his actual birthplace (Mozart Geburtshaus) in the Getreidegasse, which forms the city's main shopping street. Mozart is commemorated with the annual Salzburg Festival held in July and August, which provides a varied programme of orchestras, opera, singing and acting.

Buried deep beneath the mountain wall that flanks the valley south of Salzburg is the Eisriesenwelt (World of the Ice Giants) Caves. It is the largest ice cave in the world, extending more than 42 km into the interior of the mountain and covering an area of 30,000 square miles. The caverns near the entrance are lined with ice that reaches a thickness of 65 feet (20 metres), and the caves themselves are decorated with all kinds of ice formations including gigantic stalactites, stalagmites, domes, waterfalls and glaciers.

Styria

The region of Styria is a popular and attractive destination, with skiing possible all year round. The southern part of the region is home to a number of vineyards and pine forests, perfect for a summer hike.

Tirol

Set in the heart of the Alpine region, the mountainous province of Tirol boasts beautiful valleys, alpine pastures, mountain lakes forests and hamlets. Traditional Tirolean architecture is reflected in the castles, churches and villages.

The capital of the state is Innsbruck, which has twice been home of the Winter Olympics. An 800-year-old university town, it has a 12th-century castle and many fine buildings dating from Austria's cultural Renaissance in the 16th to 18th centuries. For stunning views over the southern Alps and town, visitors may take the funicular to Hungerburg and then the cable car to Hafelekar at 2,334m (5,928ft).

Upper Austria

Less well known to tourists, the region operates at a slower pace, and is ideal for restful holidays among the rolling plains, dense woodland and lush meadows. The region's capital, Linz, straddles the Danube, and any tour should include its 15th-century castle and churches.

Vienna

The capital city, Vienna, is home to some extremely rich and beautiful architecture; Schloss Schonbrunn, the sumptuous summer palace, rivals Versailles, and its landscaped park is home to Tiergarten Schönbrunn, the world's oldest zoo. The Ringstrasse forms the boundary of the elegant First District (the Innerstadt or Inner City), with its fine architecture, shops and hotels, much of it pedestrianised.

The city is home to many fine art collections, and over 50 museums, such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Natural History Museum. The internationally renowned Akademie der bildenden Künste features works by artists including Hieronymous Bosch. Visitors to the Kaiser-Appartements (Imperial Apartments) may see the Crown Jewels.

The Spanish Riding School in the Hofburg is famous for the white Lipizzaner stallions that perform exquisite dressage manoeuvres to Viennese classical music. They may also be seen at the stud farm in Piber, where they are looked after, trained and ridden.

Also worth a visit is the Riesenrad, a Ferris wheel at the entrance of the Prater amusement park. It was one of the earliest Ferris wheels, erected in 1897 to celebrate Emperor Franz Josef I's golden Jubilee. The Riesenrad famously appeared in the post-war film noir The Third Man, as well as the 1987 James Bond film, The Living Daylights.