Explore Austria

Austria Travel Guide

Landlocked in the heart of Europe, Austria runs from the Alps in the west down to Vienna and the Danube in the east. For six centuries it was the heart of the mighty Hapsburg Empire, which at its peak included what is now Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic along with much of Romania, Bulgaria and the Balkans. The country's imperial inheritance is particularly striking in the grand buildings and cultural institutions of the Baroque-flavoured capital, Vienna, resplendent with palaces and captivating churches, cosy coffeehouses and inns, and grand ballrooms where Strauss waltzes still draw dancers onto the floor.

Another of the great classical composers spawned by Austria was Mozart, born in Salzburg, a beautiful historic city where stunning Baroque churches rise up against the backdrop of the Austrian Alps. The Alps stretch west to Switzerland and in winter skiers come from all continents to carve the slopes and experience the charm of the alpine villages and their welcoming inhabitants.

The appeal of Austria may lie in its preservation of a romantic classical past, but this does not mean modern Austria has stood back from development. Behind the stunning scenery and antique architecture a vibrant industrial and commercial society goes about its business in the cities and towns. Austrians work hard, but they also know how to play hard. Austrian hospitality and cuisine are legendary. From a cruise on the magnificent Danube River to a cycle tour through the Alpine meadows, or a breathtaking day's sightseeing in busy Vienna, visitors to Austria find it impossible to fit in a dull moment.

The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. For most nationalities, passports are required to be valid for three months beyond period of travel. We always recommend that passports be valid for six months from the departure date.

Hofburg

Address: Innerer Burghof 1, Kaisertor Vienna

Admission: €12.90 (adults), €7.70 (children 6-18); other concessions available. Price includes audio guide. Daily 9am to 5.30pm (September to June), 9am to 6pm (July to August).

Telephone: (0)1 533 7570

The Hofburg Palace, or Imperial Palace, was the home of the Austrian Hapsburgs for 600 years. The first fortifications were erected by King Ottakar Premyst in the 13th century and were added to by every generation until it became the monumental structure it is today. As well as housing the president's offices, the palace now encompasses 22 separate museums, the National Library, a 14th-century Augustinian church, the famous Spanish Riding School and the Royal Chapel, where every Sunday the Vienna Boy's Choir sing Mass (they have performed for the Royal Court since 1498). It will be impossible to even catch a glimpse of everything on display at the Hofburg, so visitors should be selective. The most popular of the museums is the Kaiserappartements, which takes visitors on a tour of the Kaiser's imperial apartments, the Sisi Museum, and the Imperial Silver Collection.

Situated in the Hofburg Palace, the royal library of the Habsburgs dates from the 14th century and is among the oldest and finest libraries in the world. The six million items stored in the library include papyri, manuscripts, ancient and rare books, maps, globes, portraits, music, photographs and graphics. The Grand Hall is a palatial room topped by a dome, designed in the Baroque style, and is decorated with statues and exquisite frescoes and is regarded as one of the most beautiful library rooms in the world.

Spanish Riding School

Address: Michaelerplatz 1 Vienna

Admission: Prices vary according to season, attraction and seating options; see website for details. Daily 9am to 4pm. Performances Fridays 9am to 7pm. Check the official website to confirm show times.

Telephone: (0)1 533 9031

The Spanish Riding School of Vienna is the oldest surviving riding school in the world where classic dressage is still practised in its purest form. This Institute was founded in 1572 and named for the Lipizzaner horses, which are of Spanish origin. The Imperial Court Stud was originally situated near the village of Lipizza (hence the name of the horses) but since the collapse of the Danube Monarchy in 1920 they have been bred at the Federal Stud in Styria. The horses perform their tricks in the Winter Riding School, which was commissioned by Emperor Karl VI. Performances take place between February and June, September and December but are in high demand and booked up months in advance (details on their website). The easiest way to see the horses is during their training sessions. Tickets are only available at the door, and cannot be booked in advance. Situated in the stables is the Lipizzaner Museum, which displays the history of the school.

Karlskirche

Address: Kreuzherrengasse 1 Vienna

Admission: €8 (adults), free for children under 10yrs. Concessions available. Monday to Saturday 9am to 6pm, Sundays and public holidays 12pm to 7pm.

Karlskirche is the most outstanding Baroque church in the city and its 236-foot (72m) high dome, flanked by two columns, forms a dramatic landmark on the Viennese skyline. The church was commissioned by Emperor Charles VI, after the Black Plague that swept through Vienna in 1713, and is dedicated to the saint Charles Borromeo who was revered as a healer for plague sufferers. The lavishly decorated interior includes frescoes and visitors can get a closer look by taking the elevator to the roof, which is included in the entry fee. Although the lift carries visitors most of the way up, there are some steps to be climbed to get to the very top of the dome.

Schönbrunn Palace

Address: Schönbrunner Schloss Strasse 13 Vienna

Admission: Grand Tour with audio guide: €16.40 (adults), €10.80 (children aged 6-18). Various other tour options available. 8:30am - 5:30pm April to June, 8:30am - 6:30pm July to August, 8:30am - 5:30pm September to October, and 8:30am - 5pm November to March.

Telephone: (0)1 8111 3239

The magnificent Schönbrunn Palace was used as the summer residence of the Hapsburgs from the 18th century onwards. Set among superb gardens this vast, symmetrical structure is everything you would imagine an imperial palace to be. A tour of the palace offers visitors the chance to view the superb assortment of Baroque and Rococo State Rooms and to admire the famous ceiling frescoes of the Great Gallery and the Hall of Mirrors where Mozart once played. The vast gardens are popular with locals and tourists alike, and include a zoo, a maze and labyrinth, the Privy garden, and the Gloriette with viewing terrace. Also within the grounds, the Orangery plays host to classical concerts during the summer season.

Giant Wheel

Address: Prater 90 Vienna

Admission: €9.50 (adults), €4 (children 3-14), concessions available. Open daily but hours vary seasonally, see website for details.

Telephone: (0)1 729 5430

One of Vienna's most recognisable landmarks, the Giant Wheel is located in a large wooded park and playground known as the Prater. It was built in 1897 by an English engineering firm and is the only one of its era still standing (the Ferris wheels in Chicago, London, Blackpool and Paris have long since been destroyed). The wheel with its 15 gondolas takes twenty minutes to manoeuvre around and offers magnificent panoramic views of the city. Cautious visitors need not worry about the age of the Giant Wheel - it has been very well maintained over the decades! This is a fun attraction for the whole family and will delight children.

Belvedere

Address: 27 Prinz Eugen Street Vienna

Admission: €20 for a combination ticket, giving access to upper and lower Belvedere (adult), children free. Concessions available. Daily 10am to 6pm; lower Belvedere and the Orangery open until 9pm Wednesdays.

Telephone: +43 1795 57 134

The Belvedere consists of two splendid rococo mansions, designed in the early 18th century, which face each other across formal, sloping grounds offering excellent views over the city. From the outside it is Vienna's finest palace complex, built by Prince Eugène of Savoy, the famous general who saved Vienna from the advance of the Ottoman Empire. The museums in the two palaces house some of Vienna's most renowned art galleries, offering excellent examples of Austrian art from the middle ages to the present day. Their displays include an unrivalled collection of paintings by Klimt as well as famous works by Schiele and Kokoschka, Renoir and Monet. The Medieval and Baroque works are presented in the Lower Palace where many rooms have been preserved in their original state.

Vienna State Opera

Address: Opernring 2 Vienna

Admission: Combination tickets for tour and museum are available and come at varied prices, check website for details. Concessions available. Guided tours are offered Tuesday to Sunday; check dates and times online or via telephone

Telephone: (0)1 51444 2250

The Vienna State Opera performs a repertoire of nearly one hundred operas, operettas and ballets every day from September to June. The opera house was founded in the early 18th century (it was rebuilt in 1955 after being all but destroyed in 1945) and makes for a romantic and regal setting in which to enjoy the performances. As seating tickets are not easily available, an alternative is to buy standing-room tickets, which are well priced and can be purchased on the same day (but expect long queues). The State Opera collaborates closely with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and their famous New Year concert requires advance bookings of up to one year. The building is beautiful and of interest in itself, even if visitors are unable to catch a show.

Hohensalzburg Fortress

Address: Mönchsberg 34 Salzburg

The 11th-century Hohensalzburg Castle stands on a rocky outcrop approximately 394ft (120m) above the city. Although originally built by Archbishop Gebhard to repel attacks from the neighbouring Bavarians, the present-day fortress was largely rebuilt in the early 16th century by Archbishop Leonhard Von Keutschach, who added the grand state apartments. Visitors can walk around the courtyard and outskirts of the fortress at no cost unless they take the guided tour around the state apartments. The tour finishes at two small museums (this is optional) that display a selection of weapons, uniforms and armour together with instruments of torture - such as the Schandmasken - which petty criminals had to don as punishment for their crimes. The castle can be reached by funicular or by a walking path.

St Peters Abbey

Address: Salzburg

If you only have time to visit one of Salzburg's many lovely churches, make sure its the 9th century St Peter's Abbey Church (Stiftkirche St Peter), one of Salzburg's most impressive Rococo buildings. The Peterskirche was built at the beginning of the 18th century, on the foundations of the former church, which was founded in 792. The ornate interior is more impressive than the exterior, with high marble pillars and a magnificent frescoed ceiling. The ancient catacombs that were carved into the rock face by the early Christian inhabitants are accessible only through a short guided tour, which is well worth the effort. The caves, only partly used for burial purposes, include two rock-hewn chapels.

St Stephen’s Cathedral

Address: Stephansplatz Vienna

Admission: Free admission to the cathedral. All-inclusive Cathedral Tour: €17.90 (adults). Other packages and concessions available. Daily 6am to 10pm (from 7am on Sundays). Various guided tours take place daily.

Telephone: Guided tours: (0)1 5155 23526

The cathedral is one of the city's most recognisable symbols and the massive south tower, standing at 445 feet (136m) tall, is a dominant feature on the Vienna skyline. The 343 steps can be climbed for a fantastic view over the city. St Stephan's Cathedral is the most important religious building in the city and is one of the greatest Gothic structures in Europe. It has been in a state of continual preservation and repair since its original construction in the 12th century due to fire, city sieges and bombardment. The cathedral is built of limestone and has an ornately patterned and richly coloured roof covered by glazed tiles. The interior is rich in wood carvings, sculptures and paintings and has numerous chapels and altars, as well as the catacombs, which can be visited on a guided tour. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was married here, had children baptised here, and his funeral was held in the Chapel of the Cross.

The Albertina

Address: Albertinaplatz 1 Vienna

Admission: €12.90 (adults), concessions available. Children under 19 free. Daily 10am to 6pm (until 9pm on Wednesdays).

Telephone: (0)1 53483 525

The former Hofburg residence today houses one of the largest and greatest graphic art collections in the world with drawings, old master prints and modern graphic works. The museum explores the development of graphic arts since the 14th century and there are more than 60,000 works on show, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Manet, Picasso and Cezanne. The Albertina is also one of the most beautiful examples of classical architecture in the world. There is a pleasant cafe for refreshments. The museum is beautifully conceived, with each room decorated to complement the art on display.

Museum of Fine Arts (Kunsthistorisches Museum)

Address: Maria-Theresian Platz Vienna

Admission: €15 (adults), children under 19 free. Concessions available. Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm (until 9pm on Thursdays).

Telephone: (0)1 525 24 0

The Fine Arts Museum across from the Hofburg Palace houses many of the art collections gathered by the Habsburgs and is one of the foremost museums of fine arts and decorative arts in the world. The magnificent building is crowned with a 197-foot (60m) high dome, while the inside is sumptuously decorated with marble, gold leaf and stucco ornaments, a fitting home to the formidable artistic treasures collected over the centuries. The collections range from Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman relics to medieval art, and Renaissance and Baroque paintings. The museum faces the Natural History Museum across the Maria-Theresian Platz, which has an identical exterior.

Haus der Musik

Address: Seilerstätte 30 Vienna

Admission: €13 (adults), €6 (children 3-12); other concessions available. Daily 10am to 10pm

Telephone: (0)1 513 4850

The House of Music is an interactive, high-tech discovery museum devoted to music and is located in the former Palais of Archduke Charles. Four floors take visitors past the music and memorabilia of the great composers who lived in Vienna, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert, and allow visitors to discover the top musicians of today, as well as explore the future of music on computers. Visitors can conduct an orchestra, listen to what an unborn child hears in the womb, or paint a musical picture. The museum was awarded top prize for its innovative design and allows visitors to experience music using the senses of sight, sound, touch and hearing. A glorious combination of fun and education!

Natural History Museum

Address: Maria-Theresien Platz Vienna

Admission: €10 (adults), children under 19 free. Concessions available. 9am - 6:30pm Thursday to Monday, 9am - 9pm Wednesdays, closed Tuesdays.

Telephone: (0)1 521770

The impressive Natural History Museum is situated within a neo-Renaissance building that is identical from the outside to the Fine Arts Museum opposite. It is the third largest natural history museum in the world and has some of the oldest exhibits, including early Stone Age artefacts. Visitors can travel through the planet's history ranging from the diversity of nature to the origins of culture. Guided tours, lectures and workshops on a variety of interesting themes are offered regularly at the museum.

Mozarts Birthplace

Address: Getreidegasse 9 Salzburg

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756 at his family's home in Getreidegasse. The house has since been converted into a museum displaying exhibits which include the violin played by Mozart as a child, his concert violin and clavichord, a pianoforte and various portraits. The museum was first opened in 1880, by the International Mozart Foundation, and restored in 1994. It is now said to be one of the most frequently visited museums in the world. Tours of the museum are available but need to be arranged in advance. A basic tour of the exhibition takes about an hour. The museum provides a fascinating introduction to the Mozart family and how they lived, as well as detailing the early life of Wolfgang Amadeus.

Salzkammergut Lakes

Address: Salzburg

The Salzkammergut is a lake area spanning Upper Austria, Salzburg and Styria, and was formerly home to the salt mines of the Hapsburg Empire. The many lakes and mountains in the region lend themselves to a variety of activities such as water sports, golf, cycling and hiking, as well as relaxing at the beautiful shore and hillside retreats. Take some time out to enjoy the local (sugared pancakes with raisins), (gingerbread) and (doughnuts), and the spectacular scenery in one of Austria's most lovely regions. Parts of the region have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, including the towns of Hallstatt, Obertraun, Gosau and Bad Goisern.

Schloss Kleßheim Palace

Address: 2.5 miles (4km) west of Salzburg in Wals-Siezenheim Salzburg

Dating as far back as the 17th century, Schloss Kleßheim Palace was used by Adolf Hitler during World War II and today serves as a casino with an elegant atmosphere and beautiful gardens. The palace also featured in the 1965 film The Great Race starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Peter Falk. The casino holds some historical interest because of the association with Hitler during the war, and the eagles displayed at the palace entrance are reminiscent of the Third Reich. However, the main appeal is the chance to gamble and party the night away in style! Check out the official website listed below to see what the casino offers, including the glamorous restaurant options.

Wiener Prater

Address: Wurstelprater 9 Vienna

This large public park is a great place for families to enjoy a day in the sunshine. Stroll along the Hauptallee where chestnut trees line the way, or visit the Planetarium and the Prater Museum, both located inside the park. The Wiener Prater also has a small amusement park with a Ferris Wheel, a rollercoaster and a number of other fun rides and diversions, as well as food stalls and games booths. There is plenty of open space here for kids to run around and the cheesy, innocent fun of the amusement park is enjoyable for the whole family. Entrance to the park is free, but individual rides must be paid for.

Minopolis – City of Children

Address: Wagramer Straße 2 Vienna

Admission: Open Fridays from 2pm - 7pm. Saturday, Sunday, Public and School Holidays from 10am - 6pm.

Telephone: 0043-1-319 15 71

Minopolis is Europe's first theme park featuring a city that was specifically designed for children, with buildings, doors, cars, etc reduced to children's size. Children can pretend to be adults and go about their daily life in the city if Minopolis working as whatever their hearts desire - a journalist, fire-fighter, policeman, doctor or dentist. Children can discover their dream jobs in a fun and safe environment. There are more than 80 professions for children to try their hand at. The theme park is designed with children aged between four and 12 in mind. Although a visit is lots of fun for kids, they also learn a lot about life in a safe and friendly environment, where they are under the supervision of trained coaches, most of whom are qualified teachers.

Freud Museum

Address: Berggasse 19 Vienna

Admission: €10 adults, €4 children 12-18; other concessions available. Daily 10am to 6pm.

Telephone: +43 (1) 319 159

One of Vienna's most famous residents, Dr Sigmund Freud revolutionised the study of psychology with his ideas. Though many of his theories, once wildly popular, have been discredited, the term 'Freudian slip' and other ideas are still widely known and debated today. The Freud Museum in Vienna houses a number of antiques and mementos of the good doctor inside the offices he practised in from 1891 to 1938. Guided tours are available, and the museum has a gift shop offering photos and other memorabilia as well as books written by Freud. This attraction will be very exciting for those interested in the great man and his work, and it will provide a good introduction for those unfamiliar with Freud.

Swarovski Crystal World

Address: Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse 39 Salzburg

Guarded by a water-spouting giant, Swarovski Crystal World is one of the most popular attractions in Tirol. The museum is underground, featuring 14 interconnected rooms with an eclectic multimedia gallery showcasing dazzling work by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali and Marc Chagall, among others, all featuring the distinctive glint of the famous Austrian crystals. Another popular sight is the largest crystal in the world, located in the first room. Just a 15-minute drive from Innsbruck, and less than two hours drive from Salzburg, Swarovski is a popular excursion from both cities. The Swarovski Crystal World gift shop has an equally sparkling array of souvenirs available at lower prices than in town, with the opportunity for a tax rebate for foreign visitors.

Hietzinger Bräu

Address: 1130 Wien, Auhofstraße 1 Vienna

Food Type: Local

This award-winning restaurant stays true to its traditional values and is somewhat of an institution when it comes to Viennese steak restaurants. The tasteful décor and impeccable cuisine ensure that this eatery stays within the top ranks of Vienna's dining scene. The (boiled beef) is without a doubt the most famous choice of beef and is the flagship dish of this restaurant. The beef is served in the traditional manner - in beef soup, with apple and horseradish, roast potatoes and chive sauce. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended.

Café Central

Address: Herrengasse 14 Vienna

Food Type: Café

Café Central is probably one of the most famous cafes in the world due to its high profile clientele during the history of Vienna, which included famous artists, writers and intellectuals such as Lenin and Trotsky. The grand, cathedral-like setting with its marble pillared hall and soaring ceiling is a fine setting for the excellent coffee and Apfelstrudel that they serve up, along with an assortment of other desserts and pastries for tea. Light lunches are served and the menu includes a variety of provincial dishes and Viennese specialties as well as salads, soups, sandwiches and vegetarian dishes. Piano music plays daily from 5pm. Open daily from 10am.

Wiener Rathauskeller

Address: Rathausplatz 1 Vienna

Food Type: Local

The venue may be Gothic, sunk into the cellars beneath the historic town hall, but the style, atmosphere and cuisine are very up to date. This spacious eatery features various rooms furnished in different styles and can handle up to 1,100 people. The food can be described as 'modern Viennese', offering fare such as goulash, Wiener Schnitzel and apple strudel. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Café Demel

Address: Kohlmarkt 14 Vienna

Food Type: Café

Arguably the best of Vienna's 300-odd traditional coffee shops, offering their legendary confections and pastries, is the Café Demel. The café is best known for its original Sachertorte (chocolate frosted cream cake), but the rest of the range of sweet delights on offer is just as delectable. Demel also serves a large range of sandwiches and, of course, really good coffee. Open daily from 10am to 7pm. Vienna's other renowned coffee shop is Café Central near the Hofburg Palace, where Lenin and Totsky once met regularly.

Restaurant Imperial

Address: Kärntner Ring 16 Vienna

Food Type: International

The warm, cosy and classic style of the Restaurant Imperial lends itself perfectly to a stylish dining affair. The décor is tasteful and evokes a feeling of old-world charm while chef Hans Juergen Schauer creates delectable dishes such as fillet of turbot with goose liver and fillet of veal, or the old favourite, Wiener Schnitzel. Open daily for dinner. Reservations essential.

Motto

Address: Schonbrunnerstr 30 Vienna

Food Type: Fusion

This funky restaurant is stylish to the extreme, with quirky red and black decor and an eclectic menu that ranges from sushi to spaghetti. The restaurant expands in the summer with tables set up in the attractive garden. Motto has a reputation as a gay-friendly restaurant, and is open late into the night, closing at 4am.

Wollzeile

Address: Wollzeile 5 (St Stephansplatz) Vienna

Food Type: Local

When in Vienna do as the Viennese do and indulge in Wiener Schnitzel, the delicacy most associated with the romantic city. Reputed to serve the biggest and best schnitzel is Wollzeile, next door to St Stephen's Cathedral, a wine tavern where the long tables are always packed with hungry customers sampling the golden-brown schnitzels, that overhang the plate. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Wollzeile is closed during August.

Steirereck

Address: Rasumofskygasse 2 Vienna

Food Type: Local

Meaning 'corner of Styria' (a state in southeast Austria), Steirereck is one of Austria's top restaurants, featuring seasonal Austrian cuisine with a Styrian emphasis. The menu is small and changes regularly according to the freshest ingredients available, but everything is superbly prepared. Meals begin with freshly baked bread, and close with a selection of more than 60 cheeses from the restaurant's own cellar. Seasonal offerings might include gooseliver Steirereck, Styrian roast beef, lobster, lamb with crepes, rabbit with risotto or smoked monkfish. Dress is smart and reservations are recommended. Open Monday to Friday.

DO & CO

Address: Stephansplatz 12 Vienna

Food Type: International

Located on the seventh floor of the Haas Haus, Do & Co is the flagship restaurant of Do & Co International Hotel and offers the best views in town, situated opposite St Stephan's Cathedral. The cuisine is international, featuring mainly modern Viennese and Asian fare, but the extensive menu also covers South America and wider Europe. The menu covers 'Tastes of the World', 'Beef & Co', 'Kebab, Wok and Curries', 'Catch of the Day', 'Austrian Classics', and different kinds of sushi. Reservations are highly recommended, and dress is smart. Open daily from 12pm.

No vaccinations are necessary for business visits or general tourism in Austria. There is, however, a risk of tick-borne encephalitis for long-term visitors who expect to be visiting rural or forested areas in spring or summer. These travellers should consider vaccination and ensure they take precautions against tick infestation. Water and food are safe. Medical facilities are excellent. Medical insurance is advised unless from the UK - citizens of EU countries can get free emergency medical treatment at public hospitals in Austria on production of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).

It is compulsory that vehicles are driven with their lights on throughout the year. Smoking is not allowed in many public places.

A 10-15 percent service charge is normally added to hotel and restaurant bills in Austria, but it is customary to leave another five percent if satisfied with the service. It is common to give the money to the waiter rather than leave it on the table, but leaving small change for other service personnel is fine. Taxi drivers expect a 10 percent tip.

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