One look at a map of Austria says it all: jagged peaks and glacier-gouged valleys, mighty rivers and lakes cover almost every last lovely inch of the country. Be it hiking in wildflower-strewn pastures, schussing down Tyrol’s mythical slopes or freewheeling along the Danube, Austria will elevate, invigorate and amaze you.

Skiing & Snowboarding

No matter whether you’re a slalom expert, a fearless free rider or a beginner, there’s a slope with your name on it in Austria. And, oh, what slopes! Granted, the Swiss and French Alps may have the height edge, but Austria remains Europe’s best skiing all-rounder. This land is the origin of modern skiing (thanks to Hannes Schneider’s dashing Arlberg technique), the birthplace of Olympic legends and the spiritual home of après-ski. Here you’ll find intermediate cruising, knee-trembling black runs and summertime glacier skiing – in short, powdery perfection for every taste and ability.

Ski-Run Classifications

Piste maps are available on most tourist office websites and at the valley stations of ski lifts; runs are colour-coded according to difficulty as follows:

  • Blue Indicates easy, well-groomed runs that are suitable for beginners.
  • Red Indicates intermediate runs, which are groomed but often steeper and narrower than blue runs. Skiers should have a medium level of ability.
  • Black For expert skiers with polished technique and skills. The runs are mostly steep, not always groomed and may have moguls and steep vertical drops.

Safety

  • Avalanches are a serious danger in snowbound areas and can be fatal.
  • If you’re skiing off-piste, never go alone and take an avalanche pole (a collapsible pole used to determine the location of an avalanche victim), a transceiver and a shovel and – most importantly – a professional guide.
  • See www.lawine.at (in German) for the avalanche risk and snow coverage by region.
  • UV rays are stronger at high altitudes and intensified by snow glare; wear ski goggles and sunscreen.
  • Get in good shape before hitting the slopes and build up gradually.
  • Wear layers to adapt to the constant change in body temperature; make sure your head, wrists and knees are protected (preferably padded).
  • Before you hurtle down that black run, make sure you’re properly insured and read the small print: mountain-rescue costs, medical treatment and repatriation can soon amount to triple figures.

Resources

Books

Alpine Ski Mountaineering: Central and Eastern Alps (Bill O’Connor) Great guide detailing ski tours through the Silvretta, Ötztal, Stubai and Ortler ranges.

Where to Ski and Snowboard (Chris Gill and Dave Watts) Updated annually, this is an indispensable guide to the slopes, covering everything from terrain to lift passes.

Which Ski Resort – Europe: Our Top 50 Recommendations (Pat Sharples and Vanessa Webb) Written by a freestyle champ and a ski coach, this handy guide has tips on everything from off-piste to après-ski.

Websites

Bergfex (www.bergfex.com) A great website with piste maps, snow forecasts of the Alps and details of every ski resort in Austria.

If You Ski (www.ifyouski.com) Resort guides, ski deals and info on ski hire and schools.

MadDog Ski (www.maddogski.com) Entertaining ski guides and insider tips on everything from accommodation to après ski.

On the Snow (www.onthesnow.co.uk) Reviews of Austria’s ski resorts, plus snow reports, webcams and lift pass details.

Where to Ski & Snowboard (www.wheretoskiandsnowboard.com) Key facts on resorts, which are ranked according to their upsides and downsides, plus user reviews.

World Snowboard Guide (www.worldsnowboardguide.com) Snowboarder central, with comprehensive information on most Austrian resorts.

Lift Passes

Costing around €250 or thereabouts for a week, lift passes are a big chunk out of your budget. The passes give access to one or more ski sectors and nearly always include ski buses between the different areas. Lift passes for lesser-known places may be as little as half that charged in the jet-set resorts. Count on around €35 to €50 for a one-day ski pass, with substantial reductions for longer-term passes. Children usually pay half-price, while under-fives ski for free (bring a passport as proof of age).

Most lift passes are now ‘hands-free’, with a built-in chip that barriers detect automatically, and many can be prebooked online.

Equipment Hire

Skis (downhill, cross-country, telemark), snowboards, boots, poles and helmets can be rented at sport shops like Intersport (www.intersport.at) in every resort. Ski, snowboard or cross-country ski rental costs around €28/127 per day/week, or €34/158 for top-of-the-range gear. Boot hire is around €16/61 per day/week. With Intersport, children 14 and under pay half-price, under-10s get free ski hire when both parents rent equipment, and you can ski seven days for the price of six.

Ski Tuition

Most ski resorts have one or more ski schools; for a list of regional ski schools, visit Snowsport Austria (www.snowsportaustria.at). Group lessons for both adults and children typically cost €70 per day (two hours in the morning, two hours in the afternoon), €200 for four days and €260 for six days. The more days you take, the cheaper the per-day rate gets. Private instruction is available on request. Kids can start learning from the age of four.

Regions

Ski Amadé Salzburgerland’s Ski Amadé is Austria’s biggest ski area, covering a whopping 760km of pistes in 25 resorts divided into five snow-sure regions. Among them are low-key Radstadt and family-friendly Filzmoos. Such a vast area means that truly every level is catered for: from gentle cruising on tree-lined runs to off-piste touring.

Ski Arlberg As of winter 2016/2017, thanks to zippy new cable cars linking up Lech and St Anton am Arlberg, Ski Arlberg is Austria's largest interconnected area, with 305km of slopes to pound and 87 ski lifts. It's also one of the country's most famous skiing regions. After all, this is the home of St Anton am Arlberg, a Mecca to expert skiers and boarders, with its great snow record, challenging terrain and terrific off-piste; not to mention the most happening après-ski in Austria, if not Europe.

Kitzbühel The legendary Hahnenkamm, 170km of groomed slopes, a car-free medieval town centre and upbeat nightlife all make Kitzbühel one of Austria’s most popular resorts. Critics may grumble about unreliable snow – with a base elevation of 762m, Kitzbühel is fairly low by alpine standards – but that doesn’t stop skiers who come for the varied downhill, snowboarding and off-piste.

Zillertal Arena Mayrhofen is the showpiece of the Zillertal Arena, with 143km of slopes. As well as being intermediate heaven, Mayrhofen has Austria’s steepest black run, the kamikaze-like Harakiri with a 78% gradient, and appeals to freestylers for its fantastic terrain park. Even if snow lies thin in the valley, it’s guaranteed at the nearby Hintertux Glacier.

Zell am See–Kaprun The lakeside resort of Zell am See and its twin Kaprun share 138km of sunny slopes. Pistes tend to be more of the tree-lined and scenic kind, making this a sound choice for novices and families. Even if the snow coverage is thin on the lower slopes, there’s fresh powder and a terrain park at the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier to play in. The après-ski in Zell am See’s car-free old town is lively but not rowdy. The entire region affords gorgeous views of the glacier-capped Hohe Tauern range.

Silvretta-Montafon The iconic arrow-shaped peak of Piz Buin (3312m) dominates the Silvretta-Montafon ski area. Tucked away in the southeast corner of Vorarlberg, this serene and beautiful valley’s low-key resorts appeal to families, cruisers and ski tourers. Besides 246km of slopes to play on, there is off-piste fun from sledding to winter hiking.

Silvretta Arena Ischgl is the centrepiece of the Silvretta Arena, comprising 238km of prepared slopes and 71 ultramodern lifts. High slopes above 2000m mean guaranteed snow, mostly geared towards confident intermediates, off-piste fans and boarders. The resort has carved a name for itself as a party hot spot, with big-name season opening and closing concerts, and pumping (borderline sleazy) après-ski. For those seeking a quieter vibe, Galtür, Kappl and Samnaun (Switzerland) are nearby.

Sölden The Ötztal is defined by some of the wildest and highest mountains in Austria. Its main ski resort is snow-sure Sölden, with 145km of slopes between 1350m and 3340m, a state-of-the-art lift network and a crazy après-ski scene. The terrain is intermediate heaven, but presents more of a challenge on long runs such as the 50km Big 3 Rally and off-piste. A bonus to skiing here is the snow reliability on two glaciers – Rettenbach and Tiefenbach – making this a great pre- or late-season choice.

Slope Savers

It’s worth checking websites such as www.igluski.com, www.skiingaustria.co.uk, www.ifyouski.com and www.j2ski.com for last-minute ski deals and packages. Local tourist offices and www.austria.info might also have offers.

You can save time and euros by prebooking ski and snowboard hire online at Snowbrainer (www.snowbrainer.com), which gives a discount of up to 50% on shop rental prices.

Summer Snow

If the thought of pounding the powder in summer appeals, hightail it to glaciers such as the Stubai Glacier, Hintertux Glacier and Kitzsteinhorn Glacier, where, weather permitting, there’s fine downhill skiing year-round.

Top Slopes

Cruise, carve, party and quake in your boots at some of these top spots:

  • Top descents The Streif, part of the epic Hahnenkamm, is Kitzbühel’s king of scary skiing. Mayrhofen’s Harakiri is Austria’s steepest run, with a gradient of 78%. It’s pitch-black and there’s no turning baaaaaack…
  • Top family skiing Filzmoos for its uncrowded nursery slopes, chocolate-box charm and jagged Dachstein mountains. Heiligenblut is refreshingly low-key and has a ski kindergarten.
  • Top snowboarding Mayrhofen is a Mecca to free riders, and some say it has Austria’s most awesome terrain park, Vans Penken.
  • Top après-ski Join the singing, swinging, Jägermeister-fuelled fun in St Anton am Arlberg, Austria’s après-ski king. Wild inebriation and all-night clubbing are the winter norm in raucous rival Ischgl.
  • Top glacier skiing The Stubai Glacier has snow-sure pistes within easy reach of Innsbruck. Head to the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier for pre- and post-season skiing at 3203m, with arresting views of the snowy Hohe Tauern range.

Cross-Country Skiing

Cross-country skiing (Langlauf) in Austria is considerably greener and cheaper than downhill skiing – a day pass costs as little as €3 with a guest card. The two main techniques are the classic lift-and-glide method on prepared cross-country tracks (Loipen) and the more energetic ‘skating’ technique. The basics are easy to master at a cross-country school and tracks are graded from blue to black according to difficulty.

Seefeld features among Austria’s top cross-country skiing destinations, with 279km of Loipen criss-crossing the region including a floodlit track. Zell am See is another hot spot, with 40km of groomed trails providing panoramic views of the Hohe Tauern mountains. Other great resorts to test your stamina and stride include the Bad Gastein region, with 90km of well-marked cross-country trails. To search for cross-country regions and packages, see www.langlauf-urlaub.at (in German).

Snowshoeing

Tired of the crowded slopes? Snowshoeing is a great alternative for nonskiers. On a sunny day, there’s little that beats making enormous tracks through deep powder and twinkling forests in quiet exhilaration. If you imagine snowshoes as old-fashioned, tennis racquet–like contraptions, think again: the new ones are lightweight and pretty easy to get the hang of. Many resorts in the Austrian Alps have marked trails and some offer guided tours for a small charge. It costs roughly €15 to €20 to hire a set of snowshoes and poles for the day.

Walking & Hiking

Der Berg ruft (the mountain calls) is what Austrians say as they gallivant off to the hills at the weekend, and what shopkeepers post on closed doors in summer. And what more excuse do you need? For Austrians, Wandern (walking) is not a sport, it’s second nature. Kids frolicking in alpine pastures, nuns Nordic-walking in the hills, super-fit 70-somethings trekking over windswept 2000m passes – such universal wanderlust is bound to rub off on you sooner or later.

With its towering peaks, forest-cloaked slopes and luxuriantly green valleys, the country’s landscapes are perfectly etched and the walking opportunities are endless. Strike into Austria’s spectacularly rugged backyard, listen closely and you too will hear those mountains calling…

Hiking Equipment Checklist

Clothing

  • windproof and waterproof jacket
  • breathable fleece
  • loose-fitting walking trousers, preferably with zip-off legs
  • hiking shorts
  • T-shirts or long-sleeved shirts
  • socks (polypropylene)
  • sun hat
  • sunglasses
  • swimwear (optional)

Footwear

  • walking boots with a good grip
  • trekking sandals or thongs
  • socks

Other Equipment

  • backpack or day pack
  • sleeping bag
  • water bottle
  • map
  • compass
  • Swiss Army knife

For Emergencies

  • emergency food rations
  • first-aid kit
  • torch (flashlight) with batteries and bulbs
  • whistle
  • mobile (cell) phone
  • transceiver
  • shovel
  • avalanche pole

Miscellaneous Items

  • camera and lenses
  • umbrella
  • insect repellent
  • high-energy food (eg nuts, dried fruit, bread, cured meat)
  • at least 1L of water per person, per day
  • sunscreen (SPF30+)
  • toiletries, toilet paper and towel
  • stuff sacks

For Hikes above 2000m

  • thermal underwear
  • extra clothing
  • gaiters
  • gloves
  • warm hat
  • walking sticks

Modern-Day Sherpas

If you love long-distance hiking but find carrying a rucksack a drag, you might want to consider Wandern ohne Gepäck (literally ‘walking without luggage’). Many regions in Austria now offer this clever scheme, where hotels transport your luggage to the next hotel for a small extra charge. Visit www.austria.info or www.wanderhotels.com for more details.

If you would prefer your Sherpa to be of the cute and woolly kind, llama trekking could be just the thing. Many towns, including Lienz in the Dolomites, now offer this family favourite. Nothing motivates kids to walk quite like these hikes, which reach from two-hour forest strolls to two-week treks on pilgrimage routes. The llamas carry your luggage and leave you free to enjoy the scenery. Contact local tourist offices for more options.

ÖAV Membership

Before you hit the trail in the Austrian Alps, you might want to consider becoming a member of the Österreichischer Alpenverein (ÖAV, Austrian Alpine Club; www.alpenverein.at). Adult membership costs €55.50 per year and there are significant discounts for students and people aged under 25 or over 61. Membership gets you discounts of up to 50% at Austrian (ÖAV) and German (DAV) alpine huts, plus other benefits including insurance, workshops, access to climbing walls countrywide and discounts on maps. The club also organises walks. There is an arm of the club in England, the Austrian Alpine Club (www.aacuk.org.uk). You should allow at least two months for your application to be processed.

Of the 1000-odd huts in the Austrian Alps, 241 are maintained by the ÖAV.

Weather

If there’s one rule of thumb in the Austrian Alps, it’s to never take the weather for granted. It may look sunny but conditions can change at the drop of a hat – hail, lightning, fog, torrential rain, you name it. Check the forecast before embarking on long hikes at high altitudes. Tourist offices also display and/or provide mountain-weather forecasts.

Österreichischer Alpenverein (www.alpenverein.at) A reliable web source for forecasts for the alpine regions.

Snow Forecast (www.snow-forecast.com) Up-to-date snow forecasts for major Austrian ski resorts.

Wetter Österreich (www.wetter.at) Day and three-day weather forecasts, plus up-to-date weather warnings.

Walk Designations

Austria is criss-crossed with well-maintained Wanderwege (walking trails), which are waymarked with red-white-red stripes (often on a handy rock or tree) and yellow signposts. Bear in mind, though, that these are no substitute for a decent map and/or compass in the Alps. Like ski runs, trails are colour-coded according to difficulty:

  • Blue The blue routes (alternatively with no colour) are suitable for everyone; paths are well marked, mostly flat and easy to follow.
  • Red The red routes require a good level of fitness, surefootedness and basic mountain experience. They are sometimes steep and narrow, and may involve scrambling and/or short fixed-rope sections.
  • Black For experienced mountain hikers with a head for heights, black routes are mostly steep, require proper equipment and can be dangerous in bad weather.

Walk Descriptions

  • The times and distances for walks are provided only as a guide.
  • Times are based on the actual walking time and do not include stops for snacks, taking photos, rests or side trips. Be sure to factor these in when planning your walk.
  • Distances should be read in conjunction with altitudes – significant elevation can make a greater difference to your walking time than lateral distance.

Safety

Most walker injuries are directly attributable to fatigue, heat exhaustion and inadequate clothing or footwear. Falling as a result of sliding on grass, scree or iced-over paths is a common hazard; watch out for black ice. On high-alpine routes, avalanches and rock falls can be a problem. A few common-sense rules will help you stay safe when walking:

  • Always stick to the marked and/or signposted route, particularly in foggy conditions. With some care, most walking routes can be followed in fog, but otherwise wait by the path until visibility is clear enough to proceed.
  • Study the weather forecast before you go and remember that weather patterns change suddenly in the mountains.
  • Increase the length and elevation of your walks gradually, until you are acclimatised to the vast alpine scale; this will help prevent altitude sickness and fatigue.
  • Where possible, don’t walk in the mountains alone. Two is considered the minimum number for safe walking, and having at least one additional person in the party will mean someone can stay with an injured walker while the other seeks help.
  • Inform a responsible person, such as a family member, hut warden or hotel receptionist, of your plans, and let them know when you return.

SOS Six

The standard alpine distress signal is six whistles, six calls, six smoke puffs, six yodels – that is, six of whatever sign or sound you can make – repeated every 10 seconds for one minute. If you have a mobile phone, make sure you take it with you. Mountain rescue, reached by calling 140, in the Alps is very efficient but extremely expensive, so make sure you have adequate insurance (read the fine print).

Resources

Books

Consider investing in a dedicated walking guide if you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking. Here are a few to get you started:

100 Mountain Walks in Austria (Kev Reynolds, Cicerone) A useful guide, listing more than 100 walks in 10 regions (mostly in the Alps).

Alpine Flowers-Alpenblumen (NF 1300; Kompass) Become well-versed in the local flora with this handy pocket guide complete with colour illustrations.

Walking Austria’s Alps Hut to Hut (Jonathan Hurdle) An informative and inspirational guide covering multiday routes and Austria’s alpine huts.

Walking Easy in the Swiss & Austrian Alps (Chet Lipton) Covers gentle two- to six-hour hikes in the most popular areas.

Walking in Austria (Kev Reynolds, Cicerone) Gives the inside scoop on 102 routes, from day walks to multiday, hut-to-hut hikes.

Websites

Get planning with the routes, maps and GPS downloads on the following websites:

Bergfex (www.bergfex.com) Plan your dream hike with detailed route descriptions (many are in German) and maps, searchable by region, fitness level and length. Free GPS downloads.

Austria Info (www.austria.info) Excellent information on walking in Austria, from themed day hikes to long-distance treks. Also has details on national parks and nature reserves, hiking villages and special walking packages. Region-specific brochures are available for downloading.

Naturfreunde Österreich (NFÖ, Friends of Nature Austria; www.naturfreunde.at) Hundreds of walking routes, walk descriptions, maps and GPS downloads, including Nordic walking and snowshoeing routes. Also information on NFÖ huts, tips on mountain safety and up-to-date weather reports.

Österreichischer Alpenverein (www.alpenverein.at) Search for alpine huts and find information on events, tours, hiking villages and conservation. There’s a section on the country’s 10 Weitwanderwege (long-distance trails), which stretch from 430km to 1400km and showcase different areas of Austria’s stunning landscape.

Maps

The best place to stock up on maps is a Tabak (tobacconist), newsagent or bookshop. Usually they only have local maps, although bookshops in the major cities offer a wider selection. Outdoor-activities shops usually sell a limited variety of walking maps. Many local tourist offices hand out basic maps that may be sufficient for short, easy walks.

A great overview map of Austria is Michelin’s 1:400,000 national map No 730 Austria. Alternatively, the ANTO (www.austria.info) can send you a free copy of its 1:800,000 country map. Visit www.austrianmap.at for a zoomable topographic country map. The following high-quality walking maps can be purchased online:

Freytag & Berndt (www.freytagberndt.at) Publishes a wide selection of reliable 1:50,000-scale walking maps.

Kompass (www.kompass.at) Has a good series of 1:50,000 walking maps and includes a small booklet with contact details for mountain huts and background information on trails.

ÖAV (www.alpenverein.at) Produces large-scale (1:25,000) walking maps that are clear, detailed and accurate.

Regions

In a land where even the tiniest of villages can have scores of fabulous walks, the question is not where you can walk in Austria, but how. For purists, that means the high-alpine trails which dominate in the mountainous west of the country, but lowland areas such as the vine-strewn Wachau can be just as atmospheric. Tourist offices are usually well armed with brochures, maps and information on local guides.

In summer, lots of places run themed guided hikes, which are sometimes free with a guest card; for instance in Innsbruck and Kitzbühel. Other regions such as Hohe Tauern National Park and Naturpark Zillertaler Alpen charge a small fee (usually around €5). The walks can range from herb trails to wildlife spotting, half-day hikes to photo excursions.

Accommodation

Hiking Hotels

Gone are the days when hiking meant a clammy tent and week-old socks. Austria has seriously upped the ante in comfort with its so-called Wanderhotels (hiking hotels). These hotels are run by walking specialists who offer guided walks from leisurely strolls to high-alpine hikes, help you map out your route and have equipment (eg poles, flasks and rucksacks) available for hire. Most establishments are family-run, serve up regional cuisine and have a sauna or whirlpool where you can rest your weary feet. See www.wanderhotels.com for something to suit every taste and pocket, from farmstays to plush spa hotels.

Going a step further are Austria’s Wanderdörfe (www.wanderdoerfer.at), a countrywide network of 44 hiker-friendly villages and regions. Here, you can expect well-marked short- and long-distance walks, beautiful scenery and alpine huts, good infrastructure (eg trains and/or hiking buses) and hosts geared up for walkers. You can order a free brochure online.

Hut-to-Hut Hiking

One of the joys of hiking in Austria is spending the night in a mountain hut. These trailside refuges give you the freedom to tackle multiday treks in the Alps with no more than a daypack. The highly evolved system means you’re hardly ever further than a five- to six-hour walk from the next hut, so there’s no need to lug a tent, camping stove and other gear that weighs hikers down. Huts generally open from mid-June to mid-September, when the trails are free of snow; the busiest months are July and August, when advance bookings are highly recommended. Consult the ÖAV (www.alpenverein.at) for hut contact details and opening times.

Accommodation is in multibed dorms called Matratzenlager, or in the Notlager (emergency shelter – wherever there’s space) if all beds have been taken. Blankets and pillows are provided but you might need to bring your own sleeping sheet. In popular areas, huts are more like mountain inns, with drying rooms and even hot showers (normally at an extra charge).

Most huts have a convivial Gaststube (common room), where you can socialise and compare trekking tales over drinks and a bite to eat. ÖAV members can order the Bergsteigeressen – literally ‘mountaineer’s meal’ – which is low in price but high in calories, though not necessarily a gastronomic treat! It’s worth bringing your own tea or coffee, as Teewasser (boiled water) can be purchased from the hut warden.

Top Five Long-Distance Hikes

Adlerweg

Start

St Johann in Tyrol near Kitzbühel

Finish

St Anton am Arlberg

Distance

300km

Duration

3-4 weeks

Level

moderate

Highlights

Classic alpine landscapes from the Kaisergebirge’s limestone peaks to the Arlberg region’s rugged mountainscapes

Resources

See www.adlerweg.tirol.at for maps, brochures and route descriptions

Berliner Höhenweg

Start

Finkenberg near Mayrhofen

Finish

Mayrhofen

Distance

70km

Duration

8 days

Level

demanding

Highlights

High-alpine, hut-to-hut route taking in the beautiful lakes, glaciers and mountains of the Zillertal Alps

Resources

See www.naturpark-zillertal.at for a detailed route description in German; Alpenvereinskarte 1:25,000 map No 35 Zillertaler Alpen covers the route

Arnoweg

Start

Salzburg

Finish

Salzburg

Distance

1200km

Duration

2 months

Level

demanding

Highlights

Epic circular tour of the Austrian Alps, taking in gorges, valleys and Hohe Tauern National Park’s glacial landscapes

Resources

Rother’s walking guide to Arnoweg covers the trail in detail, or see www.arnoweg.com

Stubai Höhenweg

Start

Neustift im Stubaital

Finish

Neustift im Stubaital

Distance

120km

Duration

8 days

Level

moderate- demanding

Highlights

A classic circular hut-to-hut route passing glaciers, rocky peaks and wild alpine lakes

Resources

Download maps and route descriptions at www.stubaier-hoehenweg.at; Cicerone’s Trekking in the Stubai Alps is a reliable guide

Salzburger Almenweg

Start

Pfarrwerfen near Werfen

Finish

Pfarrwerfen

Distance

350km

Duration

1 month

Level

moderate

Highlights

A hut-to-hut route taking in Salzburgerland’s fertile Almen (alpine pastures), karst scenery and the eternally ice-capped peaks of Hohe Tauern

Resources

See www.salzburger-almenweg.at for detailed route descriptions, maps and a virtual tour

Top Hikes

Grab your rucksack and get out and stride on the following trails:

  • Top day hikes The Zillertal Circuit is especially beautiful in early summer, when the alpine roses are in bloom. A moderately challenging hike in the Silvretta Alps is the Radsattel Circuit, taking in glaciers, jewel-coloured lakes and the iconic peak of Piz Buin.
  • Top high-alpine hike A classic high-level trail is the Pinzgauer Spaziergang, affording mesmerising views of the snowcapped Hohe Tauern and Kitzbühel Alps with little real effort.
  • Top short hike Take a photogenic forest stroll for close-ups of the 380m-high Krimmler Wasserfälle, Europe’s highest waterfall. The Rosengartenschlucht Circuit is an easygoing hike through Imst’s dramatic gorge.
  • Top kid-friendly hike Kids in tow? Rent a gentle-natured llama for the day to explore the rugged splendour of the Dolomites near Lienz. Or skip up to a meadow hut from the shores of Weissensee in Carinthia.

Cycling & Mountain Biking

Austria is one of Europe’s most bike-friendly lands. It is interlaced with well-marked cycling trails that showcase the mountains, valleys and cities from their best angles. Whether you want to test your stamina on hairpin bends and leg-aching mountain passes, blaze downhill on a mountain bike in the Alps, or freewheel leisurely around the country’s glorious lakes, Austria has routes that will take your breath away.

When to Go

Warmer temperatures from May to October beckon cyclists, while downhill mountain bikers head to the Alps from late June to mid-September. Snow rules out cycling at higher elevations in winter, but this can be a quiet time to explore Austria’s low-lying valleys. Pedalling up alpine passes in July and August can be a hot, tiring, thirsty business; take ample sunscreen and water, and factor in time for breaks.

Resources

Websites

Radtouren (www.radtouren.at) An excellent site listing Austria’s major cycling routes and hotels.

Radfahren (www.radfahren.at) Easy-to-navigate website with descriptions on cycling trails (including long-distance routes), bike-friendly hotels, bike rental and transport throughout Austria. Has interactive maps.

Bike Holidays (www.bike-holidays.at) Search by region for mountain-bike (MTB) trails, cycling routes, free-ride parks and bike hotels in Austria.

Biken (http://bike-holidays.at) Handy source for information on cycling and mountain biking in Salzkammergut and Upper Austria. You can order free brochures including Cycling Country Austria.

Maps & Guides

Local tourist offices usually stock brochures and maps on cycling and mountain biking. Cycle clubs are another good source of information. For more detailed maps and guides try the following:

Kompass (www.kompass.at) For cycle tour maps at scales between 1:125,000 and 1:50,000. Covers long-distance routes well, including those along the Bodensee, Danube and Inntal.

Esterbauer (www.esterbauer.com) Produces the Bikeline series of cycling and mountain-biking maps and guides, which give comprehensive coverage of Austria’s major trails.

Freytag & Berndt (www.freytagberndt.at) Stocks a good selection of cycling maps and produces the Austria Cycling Atlas detailing 160 day tours.

Rentals

City and mountain bikes are available for hire in most Austrian towns and resorts. Intersport (www.intersport.at) has a near monopoly on rental equipment, offering a selection of quality bikes in 260 stores throughout Austria. Day rates range from around €18 for standard bikes to €25 for e-bikes (electric bikes). All prices include bicycle helmets and there’s a 50% reduction on children’s bikes. Those who want to plan their route ahead can search by region and reserve a bike online.

Transport

Look for the bike symbol at the top of timetables or on the ÖBB website to find trains where you can take your bike. Bike tickets within Austria cost 10% of the full ticket price, while for international routes they cost €12.

Many of Austria’s leading resorts have cottoned onto the popularity of downhill mountain biking and now allow cyclists to take their bikes on the cable cars for free or for a nominal charge in summer, allowing you to enjoy the downhill rush without the uphill slog!

Accommodation

Throughout Austria you’ll find hotels and pensions (guesthouses) geared up for cyclists, particularly in the Alps. So-called Radhotels go a step further with everything from storage facilities to bike repairs and staff well informed on local routes. You can browse for bike-friendly hotels by region on www.bike-holidays.com and www.radtouren.at. Local tourist offices can also point you in the right direction and sometimes offer special packages.

Cycling Routes

There’s more to cycling in Austria than the exhilarating extremes of the Alps, as you’ll discover pedalling through little-explored countryside with the breeze in your hair and the chain singing. There are plenty of silky-smooth cycling trails that avoid the slog without sacrificing the grandeur; many of them circumnavigate lakes or shadow rivers.

Danube Cycle Path Shadowing the mighty Danube for 380km from Passau to Bratislava, this cycle route takes in some lyrical landscapes. Wending its way through woodlands, deep valleys and orchards, the trail is marked by green-and-white signs on both sides of the river. Esterbauer’s Bikeline Danube Bike Trail is useful for maps and route descriptions. See www.donauradweg.at (in German) for details on the route and an interactive map, and www.donau-radweg.info for tours.

Inn Trail Starting in Innsbruck and travelling 302km through Austria to Schärding, the Inn Trail (www.innregionen.com) sticks close to the turquoise Inn River. It’s basically downhill all the way, passing through fertile farmland, alpine valleys and castle-topped towns in Tyrol, Bavaria and Upper Austria. The final stretch zips through bucolic villages and countryside to Schärding. The route is well marked, but signage varies between regions.

Bodensee Cycle Path Touching base with Bregenz in Vorarlberg, this 270km cycleway encircles the Bodensee (Lake Constance), Europe’s third-largest lake. Marked with red-and-white signs, the mostly easygoing trail zips through Austria, Germany and Switzerland, passing through woodlands, marshes, orchards, vineyards and historic towns. Come in early autumn for fewer crowds, new wine and views of the Alps on clear days. Visit www.bodensee-radweg.com for details.

Salzkammergut Trail This 345km circular trail explores the pristine alpine lakes of the Salzkammergut, including Hallstätter See, Attersee and Wolfgangsee. Though not exactly flat, the trail is well signposted (R2) and only moderate fitness is required. To explore in greater depth, pick up Esterbauer’s Bikeline Radatlas Salzkammergut.

Tauern Trail Rolling through some of Austria’s most spectacular alpine scenery on the fringes of the Hohe Tauern National Park, the 310km Tauern Trail is not technically difficult, but cycling at high altitude requires stamina. It begins at Krimml, then snakes along the Salzach River to Salzburg, then further onto the Saalach Valley and Passau. The trail is marked with green-and-white signs in both directions. For maps and GPS tracks, see www.tauernradweg.com.

Mountain Biking

The Austrian Alps are an MTB (mountain biking) Mecca, with hairpin bends, back-breaking inclines and heart-pumping descents. The country is crisscrossed with mountain-bike routes, with the most challenging terrain in Tyrol, Salzburgerland, Vorarlberg and Carinthia. Following is a sample of the tours and regions that attract two-wheeled speed demons.

Dachstein Tour Hailed as one of the country’s top mountain-bike routes, this three-day tour circles the rugged limestone pinnacles of the Dachstein massif and blazes through three provinces: Salzburgerland, Upper Austria and Styria. You’ll need a good level of fitness to tackle the 182km trail that starts and finishes in Bad Goisern, pausing en route near Filzmoos. For details, see www.dachsteinrunde.at.

Salzburger Almentour On this 146km trail, bikers pedal through 30 Almen (mountain pastures) in three days. While the name conjures up visions of gentle meadows, the route involves some strenuous climbs up to tremendous viewpoints like Zwölferhorn peak. Green-and-white signs indicate the trail from Annaberg to Edtalm via Wolfgangsee. Route details and highlights are given online (www.almentour.com, in German).

Silvretta Mountain Bike Arena Sidling up to Switzerland, the Silvretta Mountain Bike Arena in the Patznauntal is among the biggest in the Alps, with 1000km of trails, some climbing to almost 3000m. Ischgl makes an excellent base, with a technique park and plenty of trail information available at the tourist office. The 15 free-ride trails for speed freaks include the Velill Trail, involving 1300m of descent. Tour details are available at www.silvretta-bikeacademy.at, in German.

Kitzbühel Covering 800km of mountain bike trails, the Kitzbühel region ranks as one of Austria’s top freewheeling spots. Routes range from 700m to 2300m in elevation and encompass trial circuits, downhill runs and bike parks. The must-experience rides include the Hahnenkamm Bike Safari from Kitzbühel to Pass Thurn, affording far-reaching views of Grossglockner and Wilder Kaiser.

Stubaital & Zillertal These two broad valleys running south from the Inn River in Tyrol are flanked by high peaks crisscrossed with 800km of mountain bike trails. The terrain is varied and the landscape splendid, with gorges, waterfalls and glaciers constantly drifting into view. Highlights include the alpine route from Mayrhofen to Hintertux Glacier and the dizzying roads that twist up from Ginzling to the Schlegeisspeicher.

GPS Freewheeling

It’s easier to navigate Austria’s backcountry and find little-known bike trails with a GPS tour. Check www.bike-gps.com for downloadable cycling and mountain-biking tours. Alternatively, head to www.gps-tour.info for hundreds of tours in Austria.

Adventure & Water Sports

Rock Climbing & Via Ferrate

Synonymous with mountaineering legends like Peter Habeler and South Tyrolean Reinhold Messner, Austria is a summertime paradise for ardent Kletterer (rock climbers). In the Alps there’s a multitude of climbs ranking all grades of difficulty. Equipment rental (around €10) and guided tours are widely available.

If you are not quite ready to tackle the three-thousanders yet, nearly every major resort in the Austrian Alps now has a Klettersteig (via ferrata). These fixed-rope routes, often involving vertical ladders, ziplines and bridges, are great for getting a feel for climbing; all you’ll need is a harness, helmet and a head for heights.

Resources

ÖAV (www.alpenverein.at) Official website of the Austrian Alpine Club, with a dedicated page on climbing (in German).

Bergsteigen (www.bergsteigen.at) Search by region or difficulty for climbing routes, via ferrate and ice-climbing walls.

Rock Climbing (www.rockclimbing.com) Gives details on more than 1000 climbing tours in Austria, many with climbing grades and photos.

Regions

For serious mountaineers, the ascent of Grossglockner (3798m), Austria’s highest peak, is the climb of a lifetime. Professional guides can take you up into the wild heights of the Hohe Tauern National Park, a veritable climbing nirvana.

Sheer granite cliffs, bizarre rock formations and boulders make the Zillertal Alps another hot spot, particularly Ginzling and Mayrhofen.

Other climbing magnets include Pelstein in Lower Austria, the limestone peaks of the Dachstein and the Tennengebirge in Salzburgerland.

Water Sports

Austria may be landlocked but it offers plenty of watery action on its lakes and rivers in summer. You can windsurf on Neusiedler See, white-water raft in Tyrol or scuba dive in Wörthersee. Zipping across lakes by wind power is the most popular water sport in the country, and if Olympic medals are anything to go by, the locals aren’t bad at it either.

Rafting & Canoeing

Rafting, canoeing or kayaking the swirling white waters of Austria’s alpine rivers are much-loved summertime escapades. Big rivers that support these fast-paced sports include the Enns and Salza in Styria; the Inn, Sanna and Ötztaler Ache in Tyrol; and the Isel in East Tyrol. Tours start from around €30 and usually include transport and equipment.

Well-known rafting centres include Landeck, Innsbruck for adventures on the Inn, Zell am Ziller and St Anton am Arlberg.

Windsurfing & Sailing

Sailing, windsurfing and kitesurfing are all extremely popular pursuits on Austria’s lakes.

Close to Vienna lies Neusiedler See, one of the few steppe lakes in Central Europe and the number-one place for windsurfing and kitesurfing thanks to its stiff winds. It hosts a heat of the Surf World Cup from late April to early May.

St Gilgen and Mondsee in Salzkammergut are highly scenic lakes for water sports; the latter harbours Austria’s largest sailing school. Millstätter See in Carinthia, Achensee in Tyrol and the vast Bodensee in Vorarlberg are other popular spots to set sail.

Österreichischer Segelverband (Austrian Sailing Federation; www.segelverband.at) Can provide a list of clubs and locations in the country.

Kitesurfing (www.kitesurfing.at) For the low-down on kitesurfing on Neusiedler See.

Swimming & Diving

Bath-warm or invigoratingly cold? Alpine or palm-fringed? Much of Austria is pristine lake country and there are scores to choose from. Carinthia is famed for its pure waters, which can heat up to a pleasantly warm 28°C in summer; Millstätter See and Wörthersee offer open-water swimming and scuba diving with great visibility. You can also make a splash in lakes such as Hallstätter See and Attersee in Salzkammergut, and Bodensee in Vorarlberg.

On the Beach

There’s no sea for miles, but nearly all of Austria’s major lakes are fringed with Strandbäder (lidos) for an invigorating dip, many of which have beaches, outdoor pools and barbecue areas. Some are free, while others charge a nominal fee of around €4 per day. If you dare to bare all, FKK (nudist) beaches, including those at Hard on Bodensee, Hallstätter See, Milstätter See and even the Donauinsel in Vienna, welcome skinny-dippers.

Paragliding

Wherever there’s a mountain and a steady breeze, you’ll find paragliding and hang-gliding in Austria. On a bright day in the Alps, look up to see the sky dotted with people catching thermals to soar above peaks and forests. In many alpine resorts, you can hire the gear, get a lesson or go as a passenger on a tandem flight; prices for the latter start at around €100. Most people fly in summer, but a crystal-clear winter’s day can be equally beautiful.

Tyrol is traditionally a centre for paragliding, with narrow valleys and plenty of cable cars. A good place to head is Zell am Ziller. Another scenic paragliding base is Zell am See in the rugged Hohe Tauern National Park.

Find the best place to spread your wings at www.flugschulen.at, which gives a regional rundown of flight schools offering paragliding and hang-gliding.

Canyoning

For a buzz, little beats scrambling down a ravine and abseiling down a waterfall while canyoning. This wet, wild sport has become one of the most popular activities in the Austrian Alps. Guided tours costing between €50 and €80 for half a day abound. Most companies provide all the gear you need, but you’ll need to bring swimwear, sturdy shoes, a towel and a head for heights. A good level of fitness is also recommended.

Top locations for canyoning include Mayrhofen in the Zillertal, the Ötztal and Lienz.

Going to Extremes

  • Go ahead, jump The 152m-high platform of the capital’s needle-thin Donauturm is one of the world’s highest bungee jumps from a tower. Yo-yo-ing at speeds of 90km/h from this landmark sure is an original way to see Vienna. Daredevils also leap into oblivion from the 192m Europabrücke bridge above the Sill River, a thrilling upside-down bounce.
  • Get a grip If you thought regular climbing was slippery, try ice climbing! Scaling frozen walls and waterfalls is pure adventure, but you’ll need a decent pair of crampons and a good instructor. The Stubai Glacier and Lech are among the places where you can give it a go. Experts can search for ice-climbing locations countrywide on www.bergsteigen.com (in German).
  • Going down… For a real heart-stopping moment, you can’t beat rolling out of a plane at 4000m and freefalling for 60 seconds before your parachute opens. Tandem skydiving jumps are available all over Austria, from Vienna to Salzburg; see www.skydiveworld.com for details.
  • Alpine rush Speed is of the essence in Tyrol, particularly on Igls’ hair-raising Olympic bob run. Add altitude to the equation by ziplining over incredible scenery on the flying fox at Area 47.
  • Snow crazy Swap your skis for a more novel way of whizzing down the mountains. Most resorts in the Austrian Alps, including Sölden and Mayrhofen, offer snow tubing. Other snow-sports crazes to look out for include airboarding and snowbiking.