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Situated in Central Europe, this German-speaking country oozes with imperial charm, natural beauty, rugged alpine terrain and cool fresh air. Austria is an absolute dream for nature loving outdoor enthusiasts, with skiing and hiking being its main attractions with tourists. Austria also caters to high-brow culturists looking to take in classical music concerts, operas and eating in some of the finest restaurants in the world. A country that seamlessly transitions from imperial palaces and grandiose architecture, to emerald green hills, snow capped mountains and crystal clear lakes of smaller mountain towns and villages; there is no shortage of beautiful countryside and impressive history to delight its visitors.
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If you’re visiting Austria for the first time, you may be wondering which cities, towns and villages to visit. With so many options of places to explore, I’ve created a list that covers the major cities that everyone wants to see, plus a few lesser known gems that will take your relaxation mode to the next level.
All of these places are easily accessible by train, so you’ll be able to travel stress free and in comfort as you whisk by stunning mountains and scenery that will take your breath away.
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So, my fellow wanderlusters, here is my list of the 7 best places to visit for first time travellers to Austria.
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The city of culture, decadence, great food and opulent museums, libraries and imperial architecture; Vienna is a showstopping city that is a must visit for anyone travelling to Austria for the first time. The city itself is quite large for a European city (there are a total of 23 districts) and with a lot of the attractions spaced far apart from one another, I highly suggest at least three full days to really get a taste of what this great city has to offer. If you are in the city for more than a day, the Vienna Pass is definitely worth purchasing. It gets you into a lot of the major attractions for free and you get to skip the lines, which is always good in my books! Some must sees while in Vienna are Karlskirche, Stephansdom, Peterskirche, the bustling shopping streets of Graben, Hofburg Imperial Palace, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, The Albertina Museum, eating a traditional Austrian meal, sampling the delicious treats within Vienna’s traditional coffee houses, Neues Rathaus, Belvedere Palace, Schönbrunn Palace and SO much more. Viena has a lot to offer, so you won’t be bored one bit during your stay.
Read more: How To Spend 2 Days In Vienna, Austria
Located in the heart of Upper Austria, sits the quaint little city of Steyr. This charming little city is one of the lesser travelled to places within Austria among tourists and it’s the perfect place to get away from the crowds and chill with the locals. The streets are quiet most of the time and you’ll have them literally all to yourself at some points. For a small city, Steyr has a lot to offer in regards of interesting things to see, so making time for at least one full day here is sufficient, although after visiting, you’ll definitely want to stay longer. Steyr’s streets are filled with charming laneways, cute shops and restaurants, a castle that dominates its skyline and also two rivers that join at the heart of the city, which makes an incredible and unique scene. Photo tip: If you walk behind Michaelerkirche along Michaelerplatz, you’ll see a staircase which will lead you through a tunnel-like structure and up a TON of stairs…walk up those stairs all the way to the top and you’ll be awarded with the BEST views of Steyr in my opinion.
Read more: A City Guide To Steyr, Austria
Another hidden gem to most tourists is Gmunden; a small lakeside town that sits at the northern edge of the 12 kilometre long Traunsee (Traun Lake) in the Salzkammergut area of Upper Austria. It is mostly known to Austrians as a summer health resort town and for its wide variety of brine and salt spa treatments that are available in that specific area of the country. Gmunden is dwarfed by tall imposing mountains, an abundance of lakeside restaurants, a lake that is crystal clear and a picturesque town square; what more could you ask for? With an approximate population of around 13,000 people, Gmunden is the perfect town to get your relaxation on. During the peak of the day, you will find day trippers walking around the town square, sitting on restaurant patios if the weather is nice and people out on the water in boats, kayaks, or in the summer months, stand up paddle boarding. When night falls, only locals are to be found and the town turns quiet and serene. Although small in size, Gmunden offers a ton of outdoor activities for the avid hiker, kayak enthusiast and mountain biker. If you aren’t into outdoorsy stuff, the town has a slew of cafés to perch yourself in and have a snack and an espresso as well. Make sure to head up the Grünberg Seilbahn (cable car) to the top of Grünberg Mountain for impressive mountain views and loads of hiking trails. The hike to Laudachsee (a picturesque lake on the mountain) is the most popular hiking excursion once people reach the top of Grünberg via the cable car. The hike is considered easy and takes about an hour to complete. Strap on those hiking shoes and get moving! Oh, and there is also a cute little Old Town to wander around, as well as a small castle in the middle of the lake with a long boardwalk called Schloss Ort.
Read more: A Complete Guide To Gmunden, Austria
Yes, Salzburg is the city of music being the birthplace to the great genius that was and always will be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Yes, Salzburg is the home to the classic and world renowned musical film, The Sound of Music. And yes, you will find oodles of souvenir shops catering to the mounds of tourists that visit this beautiful city just for these reasons. Salzburg has far more to offer than Mozart souvenirs and The Sound of Music Tours, although, if that’s what you are into, than go for it! Salzburg has inviting squares within the city to sit down and people watch, more than enough dazzling churches to explore, a slew of mountains, hills and trails in and around the city to get some seriously stunning views, a thriving restaurant scene and even a shopping street that has more history on it than you may know. Located in one of the most alluring parts of Austria, the SalzburgerLand area is teeming with hundreds of lakes and sleepy villages to explore and has some of the most epic scenery I’ve ever seen. Spending two days in Salzburg will be enough to see all the major attractions such as Mirabell Gardens, strolling around the UNESCO listed Altstadt (Old Town), Salzburg Cathedral and Hohensalzburg Fortress, but if you want to stay longer and conquer some day trips outside of Salzburg, I would suggest adding an additional day to do so.
Read more: How To Spend 2 Days In Salzburg, Austria
Straight out of what seems to be the pages of a storybook, in the heart of the Salzkammergut Lake Region within Austria, sits the most idyllic and stunning little village of Hallstatt. It’s surrounded by the clear clean water of the Hallstättersee and the imposing Dachstein mountains, making it one of the most gorgeous places within Austria. Charming 16th-century cabin-like homes and the jaw-dropping beauty of the Alpine scenery make it a place that is no longer unknown to tourists. Now, Hallstatt is one of, if not THE most photographed village in all of Austria, mainly thanks to social media, which is good for Hallstatt’s economy, but the 800 locals that call Hallstatt home aren’t really too keen about the throngs of tourists that flood the village each and everyday of the year, especially since it is an easy day trip from Salzburg. Approximately one million visitors a year make their way to Hallstatt every year, so if you do go, please be respectful to those that live there. Make sure to head up the funicular to the “Top of Hallstatt” for spectacular views overlooking the UNESCO World Heritage region of the Dachstein Mountain Range in the Salzkammergut Region. Easily explored within a few hours due to its small size, Hallstatt is a great place to stay the night as well, that way you can avoid the crowds early in the morning, or late in the evening when people tend to leave the village for the day.
Read more: A Day Trip To Hallstatt, Austria – A Complete Guide
Zell am See
Located within the federal state of Salzburg, Zell am See is the picture perfect mountain town to get away to in the summer, or winter. In the summer months, you have plenty of trails to hike, you can enjoy water sports on the crystal clear lake, enjoy leisurely boat rides and in the winter time, enjoy over 138 kilometres of skiing and snowboard trails on the local mountains. Outdoor enthusiasts absolutely adore coming to Zell am See for these reasons. Oh, and the village itself is adorable too, so there’s that. Sitting just shy of two hours from the city of Salzburg by train, Zell am See is the perfect place to be one with nature, avoid excessive crowds and cars and just revel in the beauty of your surroundings. Zell am See is nothing short of breathtaking and is my version of heaven. Make sure to take a gondola up one of the surrounding mountains, or a leisurely boat ride around the lake while enjoying a cold beer and some stellar views.
Read more: A Quick Guide To Zell am See, Austria
The capital of Tyrol (Tirol) is the beautiful city of Innsbruck and is a must visit city while travelling through Austria. Innsbruck offers the perfect mix of urban life, beautiful nature, a historic Old Town and a dynamic food scene to cater to all sorts of visitors from around the globe. Mixing modern architecture with imperial, the streets of Innsbruck are charming and inviting whether you decide to visit one of the many traditional cafés throughout town, or simply walk along the River Inn to enjoy the views of The Nordkette Mountain. Innsbruck boasts many historical sites and stunning views. Make sure to visit The Goldenes Dachl (The Golden Roof), take the journey to the Top of Innsbruck and the summit cross at the top of the Nordkette, wander The Hofburg Palace and the Imperial Apartments, stroll along the famous Maria-Theresien-Straße and climb the Stadtturm (City Tower) to gain access to the best views of Innsbruck’s Altstadt. Make sure to buy the Innsbruck Card as well. I decided to snag a 24 hour Innsbruck Card during my visit and for the cost of € 43,00, the card paid for itself in no time. I was able to purchase the card before heading up The Nordkette, and use it towards my cable car ride up to the top, return ride back down included. I was also able to visit The Hofburg for free and the Stadtturm for free. The Innsbruck Card is a great way to keep some of your dollars (Euros) in your pocket and it allows you to skip most of the lines as well. In total, I saved about € 20,00 just by buying the card. That’s a few extra bucks to spend on food and beer, so win-win! 😉
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Austria is a country that is overflowing with natural beauty and quaint little villages to explore. Have you ever visited any of the places that I’ve listed above? If so, which ones did you visit and what is your favourite memory from visiting? Let me know in the comments below! xo
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