Vienna to Salzburg
- 2 Weeks
This itinerary is Austria in a nutshell, winging you from Vienna’s opulent palaces and coffee houses to the vine-stitched Wachau Valley, and west to the Alps in Salzburgerland. Mozart, Maria and landscapes no well-orchestrated symphony or yodelling nun could ever quite capture – this one has the lot.
Devote a couple of cultural days to swanning around Habsburg palaces, world-class galleries hung with Klimts and sumptuous coffee houses in Vienna.
A breezy hour's train ride west and you're in the heart of wine country and on the Danube in the picture-book Wachau. Linger for a day or two to lap up the castles, abbeys and local rieslings.
Swing west now for two days to the Salzkammergut, where cinematic mountain backdrops rim lakes of bluest blue. Base yourself in ludicrously pretty Hallstatt for peak-gazing swims and a visit to Dachstein's astonishing ice caves.
From here, head west to Salzburg for a feast of baroque art, prince-archbishop palaces, Mozart and more. After a couple of days, tag on a day in Werfen with its high-on-a-hill castle and extraordinary Eisriesenwelt – all backdropped by the Tennengebirge’s jagged limestone peaks.
Vienna to Innsbruck
- 2 Weeks
This is the grand tour of Austria's cities, loaded with culture – abbeys, palaces, contemporary art – you name it, and with a tantalising pinch of the alpine landscapes for which the country is renowned.
Kick start your trip with three days of total cultural immersion in Vienna, lapping up Habsburg life in Klimt-crammed Schloss Belvedere or opulent Schloss Schönbrunn, before heading west along the Danube Valley to Krems an der Donau. Pause here for cutting-edge galleries and wine tastings, factoring in a trip to the spirit-lifting Benedictine abbey-fortress in Melk, slung high above the Danube.
On day seven (a day or two earlier in winter), head on to Linz, an industrial city that has rediscovered its creative mojo, with edgy galleries like Lentos and Ars Electronica. The trail to mountain-rimmed Hallstatt and the lakes of the Salzkammergut are soothingly beautiful on day eight.
From Hallstatt, either venture to Salzburg, a pristine, castle-topped baroque city, for a Mozart and Maria fix, or stop off in lakeside Zell am See, where hiking trails thread among some of Austria's highest peaks, before continuing to Innsbruck for a dose of culture, hiking, skiing – whatever takes your fancy.
Salzburgerland & Salzkammergut
- 10 Days
Cue the credits: you've seen these snow-crowned mountains and crystal-clear lakes before, right? Welcome to the Sound of Music country, where Maria once so joyously skipped down alpine pastures, yodelling her heart out. And you’ll want to when you see it for real, too.
Launch your trip in Salzburg, with three days combing the back alleys and clambering up to the castle to outpomp all castles in Mozart's hometown. You might want to hook onto a Sound of Music tour or whizz up to the Alps from here. Or detour to Italianate Schloss Hellbrunn or Hallein's salt works.
From Salzburg, the road dips south to the most gently picturesque of the lakes in the Salzkammergut, the Wolfgangsee, where summertime swimming, walking and cycling are splendid. Tick off some the lesser-known towns on hikes or rides over the next few days.
From lakeside St Wolfgang or St Gilgen, it’s a short bus hop to Bad Ischl, a cracking base for exploring other lakes in the Salzkammergut over the next three days. The most dramatic of these is the Hallstätter See, with Hallstatt or more laid back (but less historic) Obertraun perfect for overnighting. Near Obertraun, take in Dachstein's surreal ice caves on a cable-car ride and tack on a hike in the area.
Styria and Carinthia
- 10 Days
Austria beyond the obvious? This spin of the south takes you to chilled-out, culture-packed Graz, the vineyards of Styria, the astonishingly turquoise Wörthersee and many other lakes, villages and little-known trails besides.
Factor in three or four days to slip under the surface of Graz, Austria's friendly, easygoing second city, where space-age galleries, Renaissance courtyards and a spirited food and nightlife scene rival for your attention. On the third day, venture out along the south Styrian wine roads, a Tuscan-like landscape hugging the Slovenian border with vineyards at every bend.
A train takes you to Klagenfurt via Leoben where you can break the journey for a few hours and check out its MuseumsCentre Leoben. The remaining five days can be divided between Klagenfurt and Wörthersee, Villach or Spittal an der Drau, all towns with a sprinkling of sights and plenty of outdoor activities. Towns such as Hermagor in the Gail Valley have great cycling, hiking and (in winter) skiing possibilities at Nassfeld.
For a food, wine and culture focus, plan more time around Graz in Styria. For swimming and other activities, plan more time for Carinthia.
- 2 Weeks
One word: mountains. Wherever you go in Tyrol – even in the bijou capital Innsbruck – you'll be confronted by big, in-your-face, often snow-dusted mountains. Grab your hiking boots or skis and dive into these incredible alpine valleys.
Start with a few days in laid-back Innsbruck. Stroll the historic Altstadt (old town), taking in its galleries, Habsburg treasures and upbeat nightlife. On the third day, take the futuristic funicular to the Nordkette, or eyeball Olympic ski jump, Bergisel. From Innsbruck, go south for scenic skiing in the Stubai Glacier or west to the exquisite baroque abbey in Stams.
Day five eases you west to the spectacularly rugged Ötztal, where you can dip into prehistory at Ötzi Dorf and thermal waters at Aqua Dome spa. Spend the next couple of days rafting near Landeck, exploring the Rosengartenschlucht gorge at Imst, or hiking and skiing in St Anton am Arlberg.
In week two, retrace your steps to Innsbruck and swing east. Factor in a day for the pristine medieval town of Hall, and the crystal-studded Swarovski Kristallwelten in Wattens. The alpine scenery of the Zillertal will have you itching to head outdoors for hiking, canyoning, rafting or skiing. Round out at fortress-topped Kufstein and the legendary mountains of Kitzbühel.