Located in central Europe, Austria is a landlocked country bordered by the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and Switzerland. The country was a centre of power in Europe at the time when it was ruled by the mighty Habsburgs. Although today it is relegated to being a minor player in the European Union, Austria offers some of the most impressive destinations on the Continent.
The capital Vienna was once the citadel of the Habsburgs who ruled the country for over 600 years. The city is an architectural gem and a centre of music from the medieval times. The Hofburg (Imperial Palace) and the adjoining Augustinian Church are two of the marvels of architecture. Other notable sights in Vienna include the Museum of Fine Arts, Belvedere Palace, and the Sigmund Freud Museum.
Salzburg, the city that gave Mozart to the world, is a picturesque abode surrounded by tall mountains. Your tour of Salzburg is incomplete without a visit to the 11th-century Hohensalzburg Castle, the Museum of Fine Arts, and St. Peter's Abbey. Four kilometres to the south of Salzburg is the interesting Hellbrunn Palace whose grounds contain trick fountains and water-powered figures.
If destinations off-the-beaten-track fascinate you, Austria has plenty of them too. Wels and Steyr are small cities worth a visit. Rust, and Gurk are some good places to explore along with the Eisriesenwelt Caves, which, incidentally, are the largest accessible ice caves in the world. Another interesting place to visit is Bad_Ischl, the famous spa, where the Austrian Emperors spend their holidays.
Austria is thronged by tourists round the year. Summer is the ideal time for sightseeing while in winter the slopes of the Alps offer ample opportunities for skiing. The Arlberg region with St. Anton or Upper Austria with Radstadt has some of the best skiing resorts in Austria. Up in the Alps, the Gemuetlichkeit of the Austrians makes you enjoy a stay in the snow, skiing or hiking.
Recommended things to do
- The Staatsoper. If you don't go to an actual opera or ballet, just see it from the outside - it's beautiful. There are also guided tours during the day.
- The Stephansdom. A beautiful Gothic cathedral in the middle of the city. Try climbing the steeple - there's a fee, and your legs are going to be shaking by the end, but it's worth it for the view - maginificent. I'm not sure if the lift works - or if it exists - in any case, we couldn't use it when we went.
- Mariahilferstrasse. Shopping street in the 6th district. Lined full of shops - average prices. Starbucks here, as well as lots of stands with sausages, buns etc.
- Kartnerstrasse. Again, another shopping street. Between Stephansdom and Staatsoper.
- Zanoni and Zanoni. The gelateria near the Stephansdom - absolutely incredible. Try the Erdbeercrepe - it's divine.
- The Votivkirche. Very similar to the Stephansdom (Lugeck, to be exact).
- The Prater. The big luna park where the Ferris Wheel is. Go on it (although it does cost a bomb), to see a beautiful view of Vienna.
- Schoenbrunn. Palace of Empress Sisi - beautiful. There's a famous zoo there, as well as a sort of maze. Gloriette in the middle of the park is worth a visit as well.
- The Hofburg. The palace of the Emperor Franz Josef, and today the President's offices.
- The Spanish Riding School. The horses there do all sorts of fancy tricks - these more than make up for the terrible smell. Try to get tickets for the early training, they are cheaper.
- The Naschmarkt. A market where they sell fruits, vegetables, antiques...be careful here though; your stuff can get pinched.
- The Heuriger up in the 19th district are beautiful - massive tankards of beer, good (plentiful) food, and incredibly cheap. Even more really neat Heruriger are in the suburban villages just outside of Vienna.
- The Danube. There are some beautiful little restaurants by the side.
- ALL the various little cafes you can see around. The Cafe Central in the first district is particularly nice, with live (classical) music playing on Sundays, I believe. Try the hot chocolate with whipped cream in any cafe - it's divine.
- The Christkindlmarkt or the Ostermarkt (depending on whether they are set up when you go). Incredibly expensive, but worth going to just for the atmosphere.
- The Rathaus - the town hall. Beautiful architecture. Just opposite of the Burgtheater, the Austrian National Theatre.
Food to try
- Wienerschnitzel- (either pork, turkey or veal)
- Hot chocolate with cream
- Potato balls
- Sachertorte - (A type of chocolate cake that originates from the Hotel Sacher - go here for the most 'authentic' cake experience as the recipe is a closely guarded secret - although it is a little pricy)
Places to stay
- I only know the really fancy hotels, like the Marriott and the SAS Radisson. I hear the Kaiserin Elisabeth isn't bad though, and the youth hostels are very clean and tidy.
- The lounge wombat hostel. Bloomin' awesome.
The public transport is incredibly good, albeit a little expensive. I can't recall the prices right now - I think it's 80 Eurocents for a youth ticket (up 'til your 16th birthday), and €1.50 for an adult ticket. Make sure you validate it - the inspectors aren't nice. Ubahns (the underground) are tidy, clean, and on time. Dogs have to have muzzles. Do not expect the bus drivers to wait for you in any case, however sweaty/out of breath/in a rush/desperate/beseeching you look. I kid you not, I was running for one in the middle of a virtual snowstorm, and he shut the doors, smirked, waved, and drove off. Leaving me in the storm. So, don't place too much faith in them.
The trams are good, although the old ones (you can't miss them) tend to smell rather bad. Be careful around Karlsplatz (there are a lot of connecting buses, trams and ubahns) - it's one of the designated druggie areas (the other one is Stadtpark, another Ubahn stop). Plus, shady people hang around Karlsplatz after dark, and things can get pinched.
And of course, you can always walk. Vienna is incredibly good to the pedestrian, having big pavements, clearly marked zebra crossings - which you should use, by the way, because the fines for jaywalking aren't pleasant.
Try to avoid getting things stolen at all costs - in my experience, the police weren't too helpful, not too sympathetic, and spoke no English. Speaking German is a definite plus. Or at least, reading it.
Be careful of all the dog poop all around the city - many a tourist has unwittingly stepped into it. Dogs are very well-liked around the city; I have seen them in restaurants, eating with their masters, in cafes etc.
I'm sure there's stuff I've forgotten - please feel free to edit it, adding any relevant info. But all in all, it's a BEAUTIFUL city. Beautiful.