Austria is a contrast of spectacular natural landscapes and elegant urban sleeves. One day you're plunging into an alpine lake, the next you're exploring a narrow backstreet of Vienna.
Austria is best known for its sugar-cake baroque church interiors, its historic palaces such as Schloss Belvedere and its Gothic masterpieces such as Stephansdom, but we don't often imagine it as a country with impressive contemporary architectural contours. A visit to Vienna's MuseumsQuartier, to Ars Electronica in Linz, or a stroll alongside the illuminated 'slug-like' Kunsthaus Graz casts Austria in a different light.
Landscapes & the Great Outdoors
Travel in Austria is often a meandering journey through deeply carved valleys, along roads and railways cut improbably into the rocky flanks of mountains, and around picturesque lakes. But often the landscape is simply too rugged for road or rail: hiking and mountain biking is then the best way to reach isolated alpine meadows. Sometimes cable cars or dizzying chair lifts offer an alternative way up, and come winter they bundle skiers and snowboarders onto the slopes. Austria's plentiful lakes are ideal for summer swimming, and in winter many freeze over for skating.
Food & Wine Experiences
You can taste countries – their food, their wines, their customs of years gone by. Vienna's traditional coffee houses are perfect for breathing in the dark aromas of coffee in a homely atmosphere. Traditional Beisln (bistro pubs) are laced with the smell of goulash and other traditional dishes. Outside Vienna, regions such as the Waldviertel, the Danube Valley and southern Styria are places for rustic food and wine experiences in picturesque landscapes. Traditional Heurigen (wine taverns) abound almost everywhere – places to explore local specialties while on on trips through Austria’s character-filled gourmet and wine regions.
Culture in Many Disguises
The cultural contours of the Habsburg empire can be felt everywhere in Austria today, whether it's while taking in a performance of Lipizzaner stallions, or crossing the Hofburg to admire a Rubens masterpiece in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Beyond this grand historical face, the classical works of composer Arnold Schönberg, inspired by Mozart, echo atonally across the country; music festivals like Bregenzer Festspiele are staged against spectacular lakeside or mountain backdrops, and artists like Klimt, Schiele and the radical Actionists feature in Vienna's extraordinary MuseumsQuartier.
Why I Love Austria
By Anthony Haywood, Author
One day you're riding a forestry track in Carinthia, stopping to wash down a Brettljause (cold platter) with a cool beer in a meadow hut, the next you're combing the atmospheric alleys of the capital. The contrasts are what I love most about Austria. It's small, but the landscape changes quickly and dramatically, offsetting one experience of a place against another – the boondocks in contrast to a large city like Vienna, or a cool alpine lake like Weissensee with the shallow-steppe Neusiedler See. And in Vienna itself, there's a stark contrast between the historic centre and the Vorstädte (inner suburbs), which I love exploring on walks at night.
Need to know
Austria: travel books to read before you go
This excerpt from Lonely Planet's Austria guide provides a selection of travel literature to enhance your trip...
Vienna is packed with imperial history; at the same time it has exciting contemporary museums, lively eating and nightlife scenes, and many quiet corners to explore. Imperial Grandeur Few cities can boast the imperial grandeur of Vienna, once the centre of the powerful Habsburg monarchy.
Salzburg is storybook Austria. Standing beside the fast-flowing Salzach River, your gaze is raised inch by inch to the Altstadt’s mosaic of graceful domes and spires, the formidable cliff-top fortress and the mountains beyond. It’s a view that never palls. It’s a backdrop that once did the lordly prince-archbishops and home-grown genius Mozart proud.
How to stay in an igloo (and live to tell about it)
'They give me a piece of insulation so me feet don't freeze to the floor,' the bartender tells me cheerfully at the Iglu Village in Kühtai, Austria, roughly a 40-minute drive west of Innsbruck...
Castle hunting in Austria: ten of the best
Though other countries hog all the fairytale glory, Austria does not lack for castles...
Get steamy in Austria: 5 great spa experiences
Austria is a steam-cleaned dream of a country. For every leg-aching mountain pass and ski run, there is a glorious spa - Roman, arty, framed by the Alps, you name it...
Austria's long and winding road: beauty on every bend
Hairpin bends: 36. Length: 48km. Average slope gradient: 9%. Those are the vital stats of Austria's Grossglockner High Alpine Road, one of Europe’s greatest drives...