Vienna is not only one of the world’s most famous centres of classical music; music is also part of day-to-day life here like nearly nowhere else. Each evening, some 10,000 music lovers listen to live classical music, and throughout the year, Vienna’s concert schedule features over 15,000 events across all genres, from solo recitals to orchestral concerts.
One of the city’s major music venues is the Vienna State Opera. Only a peek behind the scenes reveals the full magnitude of the opera business: the 40-minute tour of the State Opera is a good way to learn more about its history, its architecture, and what’s involved in staging an opera each evening.
Vienna’s fabled Musikverein is also worth a visit. If you can't attend a classical concert there, the next best thing is the extraordinary “Sound Museum”, the Haus der Musik. Here, one can act as the “virtual conductor” of the Vienna Philharmonic in a VR experience.
To hear Johann Strauss’s waltz melodies played live on the piano – along with the sweet accompaniment of apple strudel or Sacher torte – visit one of the many Viennese Concert Cafés. It’s pure gemütlichkeit in three-quarter time.
TIP: Learning to dance the Viennese waltz is not difficult. Dance classes are regularly offered in English right next to the Stadtpark and the Kursalon. www.waltzvienna.com
Travel time Vienna–Linz: 1 h 15 min
With its diverse and innovative side, Linz shows how exciting a mix of cultures, artistic genres, and media can be in a single city. Whether it’s the Ars Electronica Center, the University of Art and Design or the exhibition concept at the Lentos art museum: Linz has long progressed from an insider’s tip to a must for eclectic culture lovers. A special experience is offered on the roof of the Offenes Kulturhauses, OK for short. Since 2009, when Linz was a European Capital of Culture, visitors have had the opportunity to experience art up above the rooftops of the city as part of a project called “Höhenrausch.” In this unusual exhibition area, international artists present their installations. Just below, a 282 foot (86-metre) tall ship towers with a thick woode mast. Anyone who is not afraid of heights can climb it and be rewarded with a stunning view.
Spectacular art is also offered down by the docklands, directly on the Danube. With “Mural Harbor,” Linz boasts the world’s largest continuous graffiti gallery. In this open-air harbour gallery, over 100 graffiti works by artists from 25 nations bring colour to the multi-storey buildings. By the way, the best view of the artworks is from a boat on the river!
TIP: If all this culture has made you hungry, Linz’s historic district features a number of interesting eateries, including a bakery (Naturbackstube Honeder, Spittelwiese 15) that looks like a design shop, and a restaurant (HORST Wohnküche, Mozartstraße 19) that feels like your own living room.
Travel time Linz–Salzburg: 1 h 15 min
The history of Salzburg’s grandest and most famous palace extends back to the prince-archbishops of the 17th and 18th centuries. Hellbrunn Palace and Klessheim Palace were built as “pleasure palaces” for entertainment and amusement, while Mirabell Palace was the residence of Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich’s lover Salome Alt and their children. The palace’s Marble Hall, the former banquet hall of the prince-archbishops, is considered one of the world’s most beautiful wedding venues today. Leopold Mozart regularly performed in this hall with his children Wolfgang and Nannerl. The Mirabell Gardens are a must for visitors: in addition to sculptures, fountains, ornamental roses and colourful flower beds, they also feature a Hedge Theatre and a Dwarf Garden, where some 28 dwarves carved from white Untersberger marble inhabit the oldest garden of its kind in Europe.
This park is a “movie star” as well: the Mirabell Gardens, along with the Felsenreitschule and the Nonnberg Convent, are one of the most prominent locations in the famous Hollywood musical “The Sound of Music”.
TIP: Anyone interested in learning more about the time of the prince-archbishops should visit the fascinating Permanent Exhibition in the State Rooms of the DomQuartier Salzburg.
Travel time Salzburg–Hallstatt: 2 h 30 min
This iconic day-trip destination, not far from Salzburg, is well worth a short detour. You leave the main east-west rail line and heads south by train.
The village of Hallstatt am Hallstätter See lies in the province of Upper Austria and, along with the Dachstein and the Inner Salzkammergut, has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The prime attractions for visitors are the picturesque village itself where many houses are built on pilings driven into the lake bottom; Obertraun’s Dachstein Caves and the Salzwelten Hallstatt. The world’s oldest salt mine is buried deep underground in Hallstatt. History comes to life as you ride a mining car down into the depths of the underground tunnels and marvels at Europe’s oldest wooden ladder. Some 3,350 years ago it aided the Hallstatt miners in getting to their laborious jobs. On the tours, miners explain how arduous life was back then, how the salt got into the mountain, and that millions of years ago the Salzkammergut was still covered by the sea. It was salt, also referred to as “white gold,” that made the region rich and gave it its name. The famous rock salt is still mined today in the region.
TIP: Sturdy shoes and warm clothing are absolute musts for a tour of the salt mine. The temperature in the mine remains a constant 46°F (8°C) throughout the year.
Travel time Salzburg–Jenbach: 1 h 30 min
Back on the main rail line, we continue from Salzburg on to Jenbach, where we transfer to the Achenseebahn, a vintage train that travels from the Inntal to Achensee, Tirol’s largest lake. This is no small feat for the train, as it must climb 1,443 vertical feet (440 metres) along the way.
Built in 1889, this rail line is the oldest of its kind in Europe and from the outset was very important for the region. The opening of the Achenseebahn and the Achenseeschiffahrt ferry service also marked the advent of tourism here. Even then, guests appreciated the easy accessibility to the lake and its natural beauty, with the Karwendel and Rofan Mountains extending right down to its shoreline. You gain the best impression of the landscape from a boat on the lake. And if you get off in Pertisau, you can hike directly into the Falzthurntal in the Karwendel Nature Park, a hidden idyll with nature spa Gramai Alm. It's the perfect place to get away from it all.
TIP: When you’re back in the valley and have a little time, visit Tratzberg Castle. Built in the Renaissance style, it is impressive for its imposing structure, a beautifully painted inner courtyard, and splendidly furnished rooms.
Travel time Jenbach–Innsbruck: 20 min
Anyone who hasn’t seen Innsbruck from above hasn’t seen the entire city, since the mountains are at the heart of it. Its location in the middle of the Alps entices visitors to make an excursion to the Nordkette, the local mountain range you can conveniently reached via the Nordkette cable railway. Not far from the iconic landmark “Goldenes Dachl,” a gold tiled roof, is the futuristic lower terminal of the Hungerburgbahn. Designed in 2007 by the star architect Zaha Hadid, the stations of this funicular resemble glaciers, glittering in the sun like amorphous ice formations. The funicular first passes through a tunnel, then crosses an imposing bridge over the Inn River and finally climbs a 46 per cent incline to reach the Hungerburg, perched 2,644 feet (806 metres) above the city. From there one can take the Panorama Gondola up to the Seegrube at 6,250 feet (1,905 metres), which affords stunning views of the entire central Inntal, the Stubai and Zillertal Alps, the Wipptal, all the way to the Italian border. Enjoy lofty culinary specialities at the Restaurant Seegrube. If you want to go even higher, you can board the Hafelekar gondola and ride up to the 7,401-foot (2,256-metre) Hafelekar.
TIP: The Innsbruck Alpine Zoo lies directly on the route of the Hungerburgbahn. On display is the enormous diversity of species found in the Alps: some 2,000 animals (150 species) – including mountain-dwellers like the ibex, chamois and deer, as well as the marmot, snow hare and golden eagle – make their home here.
Travel time Innsbruck–Bregenz: 2 h 30 min
The city of Bregenz lies directly on Lake Constance and hosts an internationally renowned event: the Bregenz Festival has been held here since 1946. With the world’s biggest lake stage, Bregenz features a unique cultural attraction. In the months of July and August, over 80 performances take place in nearly any kind of weather, and some 200,000 visitors enjoy opera under the open sky.
The best views of the city and its lovely surroundings are from the Pfänder, Bregenz’s local mountain. In less than six minutes, the Pfänderbahn cableway takes passengers from the city centre up to nearly 3,280 feet (1,000 metres) above sea level. From the upper terminal one can follow the Käse-Wanderweg (Cheese Hiking Path) to enjoy a culinary experience unlike anywhere else in Austria. Twelve panels along the way inform hikers about the various ways in which local agriculture is inextricably linked with the production of the cheese in the provice of Vorarlberg.
Back down in the valley, you can try some of the fine regional cuisine. Gasthaus Kornmesser not only serves magnificent food; it also has the last traditional beer garden in the city where the leaves of the chestnut trees rustle in the wind just like in the old days.
TIP: Experience unforgettable sunsets at the “Sunset Stufen” and at the Fischersteg. In the summer months the Sunset Bar is open here as well. A cool drink with a lake view – the perfect way to end an eventful day!