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17 Best Places to Visit in Austria

Written by Lura Seavey
May 7, 2020

There is hardly a spot in Austria that isn't worth visiting, either for its rich history or its breathtaking scenery, but some stand out above the rest. Many of the best places to visit are popular tourist attractions that take a day or more to fully explore, like many of the grand Hapsburg palaces of Vienna and Salzburg or the Benedictine Abbey in Melk.

Likewise, old city neighborhoods full of stunning Baroque facades and historic landmarks can occupy tourists for days, providing endless photo-ops, as well as shopping and dining.

Outside of the bigger cities, Austria has several regions that are full of cultural attractions and outdoor activities. Winter travelers can challenge themselves on the ski trails of Austria's Alpine slopes, and those visiting in the summer can even find a mountain lake that feels like the Mediterranean. Any time of year, tourists can admire the idyllic pastoral landscape dotted with traditional farmhouses.

Plan your sightseeing itinerary in this beautiful country with our list of the best places to visit in Austria.

1. The Museums of Vienna

Naturhistorisches Museum (Natural History Museum)

Long known as a cultural hub, Vienna boasts over a hundred museums and nearly as many art galleries, most of which can be easily accessed on foot within or near the city center. The Kunsthistorisches Museum (Museum of Art History) is one of the most-visited, home to an extensive Roman and Greek Antiquities exhibit; the impressive Egyptian-Oriental Collection; the Collection of Coins; and a variety of artwork by legends including Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Titian, and Raphael.

Several of Vienna's major museums reside at the Imperial Hofburg Palace, while top art museums include The Albertina, which has pieces by Pablo Picasso and Edvard Munch, and the Vienna Museum's collections, which house historic exhibits, as well as extensive art collections.

Other top museums include the Technical Museum, the Kriminalmuseum (Crime Museum), and the Natural History Museum. For kids, there is a Kindermuseum (Children's Museum) located at Schönbrunn Palace, as well as the ZOOM Children's Museum.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Vienna: Best Areas & Hotels

2. Salzburg's Getreidegasse

An Ornate Clock along Salzburg's Getreidegasse

The Getreidegasse in Salzburg is the heart of the Old City, home to fine historic buildings and shopping galore. Sitting on the left bank of the Salzach River, the Getreidegasse is a designated UNESCO World Heritage site.

Among its top tourist attractions is Mozart's Birthplace, now a museum. With its unique through-houses and elaborately decorated Baroque facades, this district is ideal for photographers.

The Benedictine Abbey of St. Peter is another Old Town (Altstadt) attraction that cannot be missed, built in the late 7th century by St. Rupert. St. Peter's Church, adjacent to the abbey, is best known for its catacombs which were used during the filming of The Sound of Music.

Tourists who would like to visit Hohensalzburg Fortress can catch a ride on the funicular from nearby.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Salzburg: Best Areas & Hotels

3. The Ringstrasse, Vienna

Austrian Parliament Building, Vienna

Located at the heart of the historic city, the 5.3-kilometer Ringstrasse is where tourists will find some of Vienna's finest landmarks, monuments, and museums. It was built during the 19th century to intentionally be the cultural hub.

Tourists who are short on time can hop aboard the Vienna Ring Tram, which can be used for self-guided tours or to get from one museum to the next. Beautiful gardens and parks are laid out along the route.

Tourists will find a variety of architectural styles among the fine buildings, including several Neo-Renaissance-style landmarks, including the Natural History Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the State Opera. Other styles represented include several New Gothic buildings (Votive Church, the Museum for Applied Art, and the Vienna Stock Exchange), Flemish Gothic (City Hall), and New Baroque (Burgtheater).

Other Ringstrasse attractions include the Imperial Palace, the University of Vienna, and the Parliament buildings.

4. Tirol Province

Ellmau am Wilden Kaiser in Tirol, Austria

Tirol Province occupies most of the relatively narrow western end of Austria and follows the path of the valley's River Inn. The province borders Germany to the north, Italy to the South, and a small portion of Switzerland's northeastern border.

Its capital city of Innsbruck sits in this valley at the feet of the Nordkette mountain range and is a hub of historical, natural, and cultural attractions, as well as a convenient place to stay while exploring the Tirol region.

The area surrounding Innsbruck is home to some of Austria's most popular ski resorts and Alpine wonders like the Stubai Glacier, where visitors can explore tunnels and caves within the ancient ice. Two-time host to the Olympic Winter Games, Innsbruck's Patscherkofel ski area also offers a wide range of winter sports facilities.

In the summer, visitors can swim in the blue-green glacial waters of the surrounding lakes, with Lake Natters and Lake Lans conveniently close to Innsbruck. Hiking and biking is popular on the Alpine trails like Zirbenweg Trail on Patscherkofel. Rock climbers can safely practice at a climbing center in the nearby village of Igls.

Cultural attractions in the surrounding areas include the 16th-century Schloss Ambras (Ambras Palace) and Swarovski Kristallwelten, a museum dedicated to Swarovski crystals. In the town of Sölden, 007 ELEMENTS is an excellent museum for anyone fascinated by the James Bond films, with many a ski-chase scene filmed on the surrounding slopes.

5. Hofburg Palace, Vienna

Imperial Hofburg Palace, Vienna

Vienna's most visited attractions are its magnificent palaces, and the most popular is the Imperial Hofburg Palace, former home of the ruling Hapsburg family. The complex is one of the world's largest palaces, representing various architectural styles as it was expanded and modified by each ruler since 1275.

Overall, the palace consists of 18 groups of buildings on 59 acres, with a total of 2,600 rooms and over a dozen courtyards. Visitors could easily spend several days here exploring the grounds and various museums that reside here, including the Natural History Museum (Naturhistorisches Museum), the Sisi Museum, and the Imperial Apartments.

6. St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna

Visitors who are interested in ecclesiastical attractions will not want to miss the stunning St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom), an impressive Gothic structure that was first erected during the 13th century. From the outside, tourists will be struck by the unique patterned roof and its 137-meter-tall spire, as well as the two Heidentürme (Heathen's Towers).

The cathedral has numerous points of interest, including the Giant's Door, which is a fine example of Late Romanesque architecture, a 1640 High Altar made of black marble, three distinct chapels, and its 14th-century Catacombs.

7. Historic Innsbruck

Innsbruck

Among Innsbruck's most impressive historic attractions are the Hofburg, the former court palace, and Maria-Theresien Strasse, where you will find numerous 17th- and 18th-century buildings, including the Rathaus (Town Hall) and the Annasäule monument (St. Anne's Column). Throughout the Old Town district, tourists will find numerous examples of ornate Baroque architecture that features detailed stucco work and other embellishments.

While visiting Innsbruck, be sure to leave time for at least a ride on the Nordkettenbahn, a funicular which brings passengers from the center of town to Hungerberg for astounding views of the city and the mountains. There is also the option of continuing on to Seegrube, where you will find a restaurant and viewing area, as well as Karwendel, the country's largest nature park.

8. Schloss Belvedere, Vienna

Schloss Belvedere (Belvedere Palace)

One of Vienna's three major palaces is Schloss Belvedere (Belvedere Palace), which actually consists of two Baroque palaces simply referred to as Oberes (Upper) Belvedere and Unteres (Lower) Belvedere. Work began on the Lower Belvedere in 1700, and Prince Eugene used this palace as his personal residence.

The palace is also known for its collection of art, particularly medieval art and 19th- and 20th-century Austrian art found in the Österreichische Galerie Belvedere. The Upper Belvedere was completed in 1724, and it is here that the Austrian State Treaty was signed in 1955, marking Austria's independence.

9. Graz Old Town

Old Town of Graz with the Clock Tower

The Old Town of Graz is home to several beautiful historic buildings and has been honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. The Old Town is especially well known for its Baroque facades, and the 17th-century Haus am Luegg is one of the best examples, featuring intricate decorative stucco work and an arcaded first floor.

Other notable buildings include the Renaissance-style Landhaus, the Rathaus (Town Hall), and the Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church), which has excellent examples of Late Gothic features. Schlossberg hill overlooks the old town, and visitors can visit its 16th-century Uhrturm (Clock Tower) via funicular.

Several museums are located in the Old Town district as well, including the Mohren Apotheke's Theriak Museum (Apothecary Museum) and the Stadtmuseum Graz (Graz Municipal Museum), as well as the Robert Stoltz Museum, which is dedicated to this 19th-century composer.

Graz is also home to the world's largest historical armory museum, the Landeszeughaus (Styrian Armoury), which has displays of small arms, edged weapons, and armor made for both humans and their horses.

10. Vienna's Scloss Schönbrunn

Gloriette structure and Neptune fountain in Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna

Vienna's Schloss Schönbrunn (Schönbrunn Palace) is a top attraction in Vienna, a beautiful and expansive palace featuring over 1,400 rooms and expansive manicured grounds. Construction began in the late 17th century, and it was completed in 1730, soon becoming the royal residence for the only female Hapsburg ruler, Maria Theresa.

Visitors can tour 40 of the Baroque palace's rooms, including the Imperial Apartments in the West Wing. The surrounding park and gardens are equally stunning, featuring sculptures; fountains; and the dramatic Palm House, a Victorian-era greenhouse.

11. The Wachau Valley

Schönbühel Castle on the Danube River in the Wachau Valley

Along the Danube River between Melk and Krems is the peaceful and dramatically beautiful Wachau Valley, full of small historic towns and hidden treasures. Due to its relative seclusion and idyllic natural surroundings, this was a popular place for monasteries during the Renaissance period, with more than 30 at one time.

One of the best-preserved of these is the Baroque Servite monastery of Maria Langegg, located in Aggsbach-Dorf, which is also home to the Wallfahrtsmuseum (Pilgrimage Museum).

For the same reasons, wealthy and royal families chose this valley for their summer residences. Located just five kilometers from Melk, Schloss Schallaburg is a beautiful Romanesque Renaissance palace featuring a Gothic chapel and stunning gardens.

The ruins of Medieval Aggstein Castle (Burgruine Aggstein) offer spectacular views from its cliff-top perch above the river, and from here, you can also see the town where the famous Paleolithic Venus of Willendorf was found.

Tourists should also seek out the town of Dürnstein, known for being one of Austria's most picturesque towns.

12. Melk Abbey

View of the Benedictine Abbey Church Terrace, Melk

Melk Abbey is considered one of the finest monasteries in Europe, both for its architecture and contents. The building is a massive palatial structure that features multiple courtyards and a stunning Baroque church. Among its many embellishments, the Abbey church features a delicately carved high altar and pulpit and a painted ceiling.

Visitors will want to step out onto the terrace which faces the Wachau Valley below, an excellent spot for photographing the town below.

The monastery's true wonder is its library, with a main hall that is home to 16,000 volumes and an additional dozen rooms containing an additional 100,000 books. The main library hall is open to the public, featuring ceiling frescoes by Paul Troger and a spiral staircase that leads to the additional rooms. This stunning space was used by Umberto Eco for inspiration while writing The Name of the Rose.

While visiting, be sure to take some time to enjoy Melk's Old Town, located just below the Abbey. The Rathausplatz (Town Hall Square) is home to the Lebzelterhaus (Home for Itinerants), which features painted windows, as well as the Town Hall, which displays the city coat of arms. The Hauptplatz (Main Square) is another lovely spot that is close to historic landmarks like the Haus am Stein and the Altes Posthaus (Old Post Office).

13. Hallstätter See

Village of Hallstatt, Hallstätter See, Austria

The Hallstätter See is a lovely mountain lake in the Salzkammergut region of Austria. This serene glacial lake extends 8.5 kilometers long and is only two kilometers at its widest point, and the shore is dotted with idyllic villages.

A no-motor policy ensures that everyone's time on the lake is peaceful, and tourists can easily rent a rowboat or pedal boat to explore and take in the stunning mountain scenery.

One of the most beautiful villages on the lake is Hallstatt, located just over an hour from Salzburg. The town is named for the salt mine nearby, and its central Marktplatz (Market Square) is a good place to get a bite to eat and photograph the traditional homes.

Tourists can also visit Hallstatt Salt World, located nearby on Salzburg (Salt Mountain) and easily reached via funicular or cable car. Here, you can visit and learn about the 7,000-year-old mine, explore the old fortifications at Rudolfsturm (Rudolf's Tower), and brave the heights from atop the Skywalk viewing platform.

14. Linz

Holy Trinity column on the Main Square (Hauptplatz) in Linz

The capital city of Lower Austria, Linz sits on both sides of the Danube River, with its old town sights located primarily on the southern banks. The heart of the historic district is Landstrasse, home to picturesque Baroque buildings, as well as many fine boutiques and galleries. At the center is Hauptplatz, the beautiful market square and pedestrian area.

Perched on a hill adjacent to the old town is Linz Schloss (Linz Castle), a fortress that was first built in the ninth century and has been expanded and remodeled over the millennia. Today, it houses an excellent history museum (the Schlossmuseum), which has exhibits that include prehistoric and Roman artifacts, medieval arms and armor, and a variety of artwork.

Just outside the city center, tourists can find beautiful Botanic Gardens that feature native Alpine flowers, an enclosed rose garden, a cactus house, and exotic plants in a tropic house.

15. Lake Wörthersee

Lake Wörthersee

Located in the province of Carinthia, Lake Wörthersee (also called Lake Wörth) is the region's largest lake and one of the warmest of any Alpine lakes. During the warmest months, the clear glacial water can reach over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, while in the winter it is turned into a huge ice-skating rink.

It is a popular place for swimming and boating and has an almost Mediterranean atmosphere during the summer with its waterside restaurants and laid-back atmosphere.

Surrounded by mountains on all sides, visitors have even more recreational options. There are many hiking trails of various difficulty, as well as bike paths that are a great way to explore the shoreline and small lakeside communities. There are also several fitness courses, including the facilities used by the annual Kärnten Ironman Austria.

The provincial capital of Klagenfurt sits on the eastern end of the lake and is an excellent place to start your visit. The city is known for its Old Town's Renaissance courtyards; the legendary Lindwurm Fountain; and the stunning Klagenfurt Cathedral (Dom zu Klagenfurt), which houses the Gurk Diocesan Museum.

Klagenfurt is also home to the Benedictine farmer's market, which hosts local farmers from Austria, as well as Italy and Slovenia, a truly multi-cultural adventure.

16. Hohensalzburg Castle, Salzburg

Hohensalzburg Castle

Standing guard over the city of Salzburg from the top of Mönchsberg is the 11th-century fortress of Hohensalzburg. Hohensalzburg Castle can be reached by foot or via funicular, and the Prince's Apartments can be toured, as well as other areas of the ornately decorated Late Gothic palace.

Two excellent military-themed museums are also located here, including the Rainer Regiment Museum and the Fortress Museum, both of which contain examples of antique weapons and other artifacts.

17. The Schlossberg of Graz

Uhrturm Clock Tower and Flower Garden on Shlossberg Hill, Graz

Rising to a height of 473 meters, the Schlossberg overlooks the Old Town of Graz, providing excellent views of the historic district. Once the site of fortifications, the 1561 Uhrturm (Clock Tower) is one of the only remaining structures, as well as the Glockenturm (Belfry), which features an eight-ton bell locally known as Liesl.

The Schlossberg is also home to family-friendly attractions, including a mini-railroad, an open-air theater, and a café with great views. This area can be accessed by a three-minute funicular ride or by foot in 20 minutes.

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