Austria Itinerary in 9 Stages
For a small country, Austria holds immense geographic and cultural appeal. Here are our suggestions for a ranging and intimate exploration of the country, diving into both well-known highlights and many hidden treasures along the way.
Start your journey in Bregenz, on the eastern shore of Lake Constance, the third-largest lake in Central Europe.
Capital of Austria’s westernmost province Vorarlberg, Bregenz dates back 2,000 years to Celtic times, and still features gorgeous medieval streets. At the centre is the great onion-domed Martinsturm (St. Martin’s Tower), a Baroque landmark. The contemporary art museum Kunsthaus Bregenz is another architectural gem, designed by Pritzker Prize laureate Peter Zumthor. The dramatically minimalist building sits opposite the marina, where boats once set out the island village of Lindau and the flower island of Mainau.
Lake Constance is also home to the annual Bregenz Festival, a renowned summer music gala that features opera performances on a vast, open-air floating stage at the edge of the lake.
A panorama gondola takes you up Pfänder, the city's so-called backyard mountain. Unparalleled views of the Alps and the lake can be found here.
From Bregenz, head southwest to the picturesque Bregenzerwald (literally, Bregenz forest) region. For centuries this area was home to craftsmen, woodworkers and artisans who honed their trade in nearby Italy or Switzerland. Today it has gained a reputation as a hotbed of design, architectural innovation and sustainable living. Stop at the village of Schwarzenberg, with its beautiful wood-shingled farmhouses, cozy restaurants and stunning surroundings. It is also home to many performances of the famous Schubertiade Music Festival.
From Schwarzenberg and the Bregenzerwald region, continue on via the B200, a scenic and winding mountain road, towards the famous Alpine resort town of Lech am Arlberg.
Though known around the globe as a leading winter resort, Lech has become a true two-season destination, offering summer fun for the whole family.
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Bregenzerwald Cheese Route
How best to explore the region and its close ties with cheese-making? The Cheese Route! From dairy farms to cheese shops and from Alpine pastures to milkmaids, the KäseStrasse pulls together a diverse collection of local institutions. Whether you're a cheese novice or a cheese connoisseur, this excursion through the Bregenzerwald in Vorarlberg is for you.
Weisses Kreuz: Traditional local specialties in the heart of Bregenz. The wood-panelled stube creates a warm, authentic atmosphere.
Wirtshaus am See: An idyllic setting on the shore of Lake Constance. Excellent local fare.
Griggeler Stuba in Lech: Vorarlberg’s best restaurant. Fine regional and seasonal dining with breathtaking views of the Arlberg massif.
From scenic Lech it is only a 40-minute drive to St. Anton am Arlberg. A renowned ski resort in winter, St. Anton beckons with beautiful hiking trails in summer. Have your camera ready for the next phase of your Alpine exploration: a cable car ride on the Galzig Bahn. A second cable car takes you up to the Valluga, the highest peak in the region. Back in town, the Kandahar museum chronicles the fascinating history of Alpine skiing, which originated on the Arlberg.
If you have time to spare on your way back to Innsbruck, numerous detours offer intimate glimpses of the side valleys of the Inn River, Central Europe's largest tributary of the Danube. There's the Aquadome spa, in the Ötz Valley; the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world, in Reutte; the world’s oldest mint tower, in Hall in Tirol; and the picturesque Seekirche church, in Seefeld. Each is worthy of a stop. Conversely, if you choose to continue straight to Innsbruck, the drive from St. Anton takes little more than an hour.
Upon arriving in Innsbruck, you'll find the capital of Tirol, a sizeable city with a vibrant history dating to the early Middle Ages. The old town's colourful facades contrast beautifully with the rugged peaks rising in the background. There are enough cultural attractions to fill several days, but Innsbruck’s main draw is the easily accessible, unspoiled nature surrounding it. Take the Nordkettenbahn directly from the city centre to the top of the Nordkette mountain, for stunning views over the town and beyond.
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Innsbruck’s Old Town is a one-stop shop for all kinds of local Tirolean specialties, from speck (cured ham) to the finest Schnapps. Taste your way through samples while exploring landmarks like the Speckschwemme, Innsbruck’s smallest shop and the ultimate destination for delicious cured meats.
For more suggestions, see our Tirol highlights, as well as our list of top-ten attractions there.
Restaurant Tips for Innsbruck:
Maria Theresien Street in InnsbruckInnsbruck
Your journey continues east on the A12 Autobahn, towards Woergl and then on Highway 178/170 to Kitzbühel, a former silver mining town known across the globe as one of the world’s most elegant ski resorts.
With numerous shops, boutique stores and outdoor cafes, Kitzbühel's picturesque historic section of town is regarded as Tirol’s most beautiful outdoor shopping centre. The density of top hotels and award-winning restaurants make the 700-year-old town a favourite destination for those who seek out the finer things in life. "Kitz" is also host of the most daring ski race known to man, the Hahnenkamm Downhill.
From Kitzbühel take the B161 to the scenic resort town of Zell am See. From bluer-than-blue Lake Zell to the snow-white peaks of the Hohe Tauern mountains and then on to its charming village centre, Zell am See is tailor-made for the active traveler. In summer, dive into the lake, cycle the picturesque shores or search out the best mountain views. The towering Schmittenhöhe boasts some of the most beautiful vistas of any Austrian mountain. Views feature 30 different 3,000-meter (10,000-foot) peaks, the lake, the river basin and the entire Saalach Valley. The new cable car from Porsche Design zips to the top, where a high-altitude promenade awaits.
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Horngipfel Breakfast in Kitzbühel
Kitzbühel's Hornbahn cable cars begin their climb at 4:30 a.m., allowing you to summit the Kitzbühler Horn Mountain before sunrise for a contemplative morning service, a hearty mountain breakfast and a romantic walk through the Alpine flower garden. You'll observe the sunrise alongside local woodwind melodies. Early summiteers then take a guided walk around the Horn. A ticket for the cable car ride, breakfast and guided hike is just 34 Euro. Be sure to register the day before.
A stroll along the Lake Esplanade in Zell am See
Don’t miss the relaxing and scenic walk along the lake Esplanade in Zell am See. In warmer months, visitors can the spectacular late-evening Lake Show featuring water, light, music and lasers. The show is free and happens three times a week in the summer months.
Kitzbühel: For a gourmet meal at one of Austria’s top restaurants, go to Restaurant Rosengarten Taxacher
Zell am See: Organic food and locally sourced produce governs the outstanding menu at Mayer’s at Castle Prielau
Zell am See: Castle Prielau
Hotel Goldried in Matrei, East TyrolTyrol, Austria
From Zell am See head south towards Fusch for a truly memorable drive.
The Grossglockner High Alpine Road is perhaps the most famous Alpine road, leading you into the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park. The 48-kilometer (30-mile) route continues on to the highest mountain in Austria, the Grossglockner (3,798m / 12,460ft), and its glacier, the Pasterze. With 36 bends and an ascent to 2,504 meters (8,215 feet), drivers will have no shortage of thrills. The toll road is open from the middle of May to the beginning of November.
The trip takes you through a magical realm of blossoming Alpine meadows, fragrant mountain forests, massive cliffs and eternal ice – all the way to the foot of the Grossglockner. But the Grossglockner High Alpine Road isn't just a road. Dotting the trip are unforgettable nature sightings (marmots and ibex are common), assorted exhibits along the way and several playgrounds for kids.
Continuing south, scenic Heiligenblut welcomes you to the picturesque province of Kärnten (Carinthia). Relatively undiscovered by travellers, the village features pristine landscapes – despite a rich history of Roman transportation, Gothic churches and ancient gold mining.
In Spittal an der Drau you will connect with the A10 Autobahn, with the option of a side trip to the scenic Millstaettersee region and the Nockberge National Park. The direct drive to Villach takes half an hour.
Villach, the second-largest city in Kärnten, connects Austria’s south with Italy and Slovenia, and is the gateway to Austria’s southern Lake District. Wörthersee lake, home of the resort town of Velden, is only minutes away and offers spectacular scenery and lakeside fun.
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The village of Keutschach occupies the southern shores of Wörthersee lake, and attracts attention from miles around for its nearly 100-meter-high Pyramidenkogel Viewing Tower, the world's largest wooden observation structure. Atop this spiraling landmark, made from local timber, visitors enjoy some of the most magnificent views of Wörthersee lake and beyond.
Velden: Choose from three restaurant options at the Schlosshotel Velden. Don't miss the lakeside terrace in summer.
Lake Millstatt Region: Enjoy the excellent cuisine of the Hotel Seefischer am See in Doebriach at their lakeside restaurant.
Enjoying the turqoise water of the Faaker lake in the region of Villach
You could take the A2 Autobahn straight from Villach or Velden to Graz -- but we suggest a detour at Hochosterwitz Castle, one of Austria’s most impressive Medieval fortresses. Take the Autobahn towards Klagenfurt and then highway S 37 to Launsdorf for the 45-minute drive.
The first thing you notice about the castle is its profile from miles away. Built on a limestone rock rising 150 meters (192 feet) above the valley, it strikes an imposing figure. Upon arriving you'll walk through 14 protective gates that warded off attackers in centuries past. History's first record of the castle dates to 860. It served as a refuge for the local population during the Turkish invasion of the 11th and 12th centuries, and since the 16th century has been owned by the Khevenhüller family, and has remained practically unchanged.
From Hochosterwitz, drive back to the A2 Autobahn and on to Graz, Austria’s second largest city.
The roots of Graz extend back to the Roman age. Straddling both sides of the River Mur, it's well-known for its modern architectural highlights, southern flair and renaissance city centre, designated a World Cultural Heritage. On both culinary and cultural fronts, Graz beckons visitors from around the world.
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See our Graz itineraries for suggestions on what to see and do.
If you are interested in local history, take a half-day trip to the Open-Air Museum Stübing, just outside of Graz. This striking outdoor destination features painstakingly renovated historic farmhouses from all over Austria, lovingly reconstructed from the country's rich rural history.
Authentic local cuisine is the focus at Der Steirer, which also features a well-stocked wine store.
For beautiful views over the city accompanied by a mellow soundtrack and international flavours, enjoy the excellent cuisine at Aiola Upstairs, on the Schlossberg mountain:
Rooftops of Graz AustriaGraz Schlossberg
Next you'll head straight across the Alps, from
Graz to Hallstatt -- one of Austria’s most picturesque villages and heart of the famed Salzkammergut region. The two-and-a-half-hour drive begins on the A9 highway, heading north, and provides several opportunities for getting to know the region.
Shortly before merging onto the B320, Admont Abbey presents an excellent first detour. Possessing the largest monastic library in the world, this sprawling and gorgeous Benedictine monastery is one of Austria’s most inspiring landmarks. At the visitor information center in Admont, you’ll also get more information on the nearby Gesaeuse National Park, known for its rugged peaks and stretches of wild river.
Continue along the B320 towards Schladming/Radstadt/Liezen. Merge onto the B145 near Trautenfels, then follow the Koppenstrasse and Hallstaettersee Landesstrasse until you get to Hallstatt, a gorgeous village tucked between majestic peaks and the glassy waters of Hallstätter See. Hallstatt is a pedestrian-only village, so leave your car at one of the nearby parking garages; a shuttle or short walk will take you to the center.
The town is known not only for its picturesque beauty and spectacular landscapes, but a remarkable 5,000-year history. Both the local World Heritage Museum andthe spectacular Salzwelten Hallstatt -- probably the oldest salt mine in the world – provide an excellent glimpse of that history. And for an excellent view of the town itself, check out the new viewing platform 360 meters above it. The same cable car that takes you to the salt mines will carry you up.
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For a refreshing little hike high above the clouds, head to Obertraun, across the lake from Hallstatt. Take the Krippensteinbahn to the top of the mountain, then walk 20 minutes to the "5 Fingers" viewing platform. Shaped like an outstretched hand, the platform hangs 500 meters above the ground and affords spectacular views of the surrounding lakes and high-alpine territory -- including Styria’s highest mountain, the fabled Dachstein.
Gasthof Zauner is known for its local fish specialties
Hallstatt, Salzburg, the city of Mozart and the Sound of Music is but an hour's drive, and leads past the numerous lakes and villages of the Salzkammergut. We recommend stopping in Bad Ischl and St. Gilgen for an in-depth exploration of the region.
Start out on the Hallstättersee Landesstrasse and the 166 north until Bad Goisern, where you merge onto the B145 towards Bad Ischl. From there take the B158 towards Wolfgangsee and on to Salzburg.
Centuries-old traditions still remain in the Salzkammergut, or Salzburg Lake District. It’s not uncommon to see people in traditional costumes -- at the various celebrations and festivals held throughout the year, certainly, but also just in daily life. And many historic crafts from the region can be found at the Hand.Werk.Haus in Bad Goisern.
For its part, Bad Ischl presents an unexpected outpost of Imperial Vienna. At the turn of the last century, this was the summer escape of choice for the Emperor and Viennese nobility. Not wanting to give up the conveniences of city life, they selected a town that featured a typical Viennese coffeehouse, an Imperial Villa -- home to Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth during their stay here -- and a beautiful riverside esplanade, a perfect spot for people-watching.
Further west, on the shores of Wolfgangsee lake, quaint St. Gilgen is renowned for its picturesque historic village cente – and for being the hometown of Mozart’s mother. Groups of six or more can book a class at Konditorei Dallmann and learn to make the famous Mozartkugel chocolates. Otherwise, just stop for coffee and cake, and enjoy the unspoiled picture book surroundings.
In Salzburg itself, a spectacular fortress towers over the Baroque city centre and the city's scattering of museums, palaces and grand churches, all demanding several days of exploration and discovery. But for all its pastoral landscapes and traces of deep history, Salzburg has a thoroughly modern streak, as well. Case in point, the internationally celebrated Museum of Modern Art and the provocative art installations found throughout town. Meanwhile the flourishing gallery scene and array of music festivals are testament to a rich life beyond "The Sound of Music."
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For gourmets, the SalzburgerLand is a dream-come-true. You’ll find a surprisingly high number of top-tier restaurants, as well as traditional inns serving local specialties of the highest quality. From lake fish to Alpine cheeses, lamb and beer, there is something here for every taste. The Salzburg Tourist Office has put together culinary roadmaps, each with its own theme.
See our Salzburg itineraries for more suggestions on what to see and do, both in town and in SalzburgerLand.
Stop for a bite of the famous Zaunerstollen, the signature cake at Bad Ischl’s venerable Konditorei Zauner, where the original ambiance has been preserved for nearly two centuries.
At the cozy Gasthof zur Post in St. Gilgen, expect outstanding local specialties -- including fresh fish right from the lake – in a historic building that dates to 1330.
For more modern decor, a spacious terrace and unforgettable views over Salzburg, visit the M32 at the Museum der Moderne.
Feast on the best Salzburger Nockerl in town -- plus beautiful views of the city centre across the river -- at the restaurant terrace of the Hotel Sacher Salzburg.
Paar auf der Aussichtsplattform auf der Festung: Blick über Salzburg
The A1 highway will take you directly to the quaint riverside town of
Melk, roughly two hours away.
The first scenic stretch of highway traces the northern edge of the Lake District before reaching Linz after an hour or so. The capital of Upper Austria. Linz is the third-largest city in the country and known for its excellent modern art and science museums, the Lentos and the Ars Electronica, respectively. No less rewarding: a piece of famous Linzer Torte, from any number of cafes. Nearby sites include the St. Florian Abbey, a Baroque jewel founded in the ninth century, and the Mauthausen Memorial, a museum and permanent exhibition on the site of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp.
From Linz, head an hour west along the Danube and you'll find the incomparable Wachau Valley. Near Melk, take exit 80-Melk and continue along the B3 until you reach your destination.
The villages of Melk, Duernstein and Krems are without parallel, and a visit to any and all is highly recommended. With its authentic villages, gently rolling hills and lush vineyards, the Wachau Valley is one of the most striking UNESCO world cultural heritage sites to be found. In spring, the riverbanks explode with blooming apricot trees, while fall lights the vineyards in gorgeous reds and yellows. Stop at a wine tavern or wine-tasting room to sample the local signature grapes, Grüner Veltliner and Riesling.
Wine lovers wanting to explore further will be grateful for Langenois, a wine-growing village in the neighboring Kamptal. Here, the LOISIUM world of wine includes a vinotheque selling local wines at wholesale prices, an architecturally stunning wine visitor centre and tasting room, and a museum focusing on the winemaking process and the region's 2,000-year-old viticultural history.
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One of the most magnificent abbeys in Austria, Melk Abbey perches above the quaint village of the same name and looks out onto the Danube. The building, a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, embodies all the grandeur and splendour of the Baroque age. Explore the library, museum, church and gardens, then amble through the village below for striking views of the building and its surroundings.
Linz: Stop at the Konditorei Jindrak for a slice of Linzer Torte, said to be the oldest known cake recipe in the world.
Mautern: The Landhaus Bacher is a pilgrimage site for gourmets from nearby Vienna. The popular tasting menu includes wine pairings from one of Austria’s most celebrated kitchens.
Unterloiben: Enjoy simple, authentic and delicious dishes in the romantic garden of the Restaurant Loibnerhof, part of the Knoll family winery.
Wachau: Hotel Schloss Duernstein
Town of Stein on the Danube river in the Wachau valleyKrems, Lower Austria
Vienna is only an hour from the Wachau. From the B3, merge onto the S5, then follow the A22/E49/E59 until Donaukanal Street/Spittelauer Laende. Follow the B227 along the Danube Canal toward the city centre.
A car is great for day trips to the Burgenland and other destinations further afield – otherwise you won't need one in Vienna. The city centre was designed for pedestrians, and parking can be a hassle. Instead, rely on the excellent public transportation system to get around.
Most historic sights are located in the 1st district, including the Imperial Palace, the Spanish Riding School and the Mozarthaus Vienna. The Ringstrasse Boulevard circles the inner city and was built on the site of the former city wall. The Ringstrassen Tram offers a convenient way to see all the magnificent buildings that line this famous boulevard, from the Vienna State Opera to the Parliament to the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna.
Further afield you’ll find Belvedere Palace, now a celebrated art museum, as well as the beautiful parks, galleries and historic porcelain manufactory of the Augarten. And of course don't miss Schoenbrunn Palace, the former summer residence of the Imperial family.
Getting to know Vienna from a local perspective means adopting the great Viennese tradition of taking your time to enjoy the finer things in life. Linger over coffee and pastries at a Viennese coffeehouse, spend an evening tasting local wines and food specialties at a Heuriger (wine tavern) or browse the stalls of fresh produce and local delicacies at the farmers markets, sampling a bite here and there as you go.
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One of the best ways to explore Vienna is on foot. Most of the attractions inside the magnificent Ringstrasse Boulevard are within walking distance of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, in the heart of the city. It is also one of the greenest metropolises in Europe, with its numerous parks, vast stretches of vineyards and even parts of the Danube-Auen National Park. A guided walking tour with Vienna Walks and Talks takes you off the beaten path and onto the one locals use.
Check out our Vienna itineraries for more tips on what to see and do in Austria’s capital.
The most authentic Viennese food can be found at a typical Beisl, a kind of inn serving local specialties. Many of these bistros are terrific, but one of our favourites is the Gasthaus Poeschl, a homey place tucked away on a quiet street off the Kärntner Strasse.
Here is a list of recommended hotels in Vienna