Things to Do in Austria
Built to rival the opulence of Versailles, Vienna’s Schönbrunn Palace (Schloss Schönbrunn) was once a summer residence of the Habsburg monarchs. Today, this baroque palace is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of the most important architectural, cultural, and historic monuments in Austria.
Amid the brightly painted buildings and historic monuments of Innsbruck’s Old Town, one landmark shines brighter than all the others. Standing proud over Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl) is the dramatic focal point of the 15th-century New Court (Neuhof) building and glitters with 2,657 gilded copper tiles.
Just an hour’s drive outside of Salzburg lies the alpine town of Berchtesgaden and the historic Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus), Adolf Hitler’s mountaintop chalet and the former southern headquarters of the Nazi party. Perched atop Mt. Kehlstein, Eagle’s Nest offers a dark history and panoramic views of Germany’s Bavarian Alps.
Formerly the winter residence of the Austrian royal family, the Hofburg Imperial Palace (Hofburg Wien) is now a lasting tribute to the glory of the Habsburg Empire. It’s one of Vienna’s most magnificent baroque palaces, located within Vienna’s UNESCO-listed historic center. Visitors to the Hofburg can explore the Imperial Apartments, visit the Sisi Museum and the Silver Collection, or watch a performance at the world-famous Spanish Riding School.
An architectural landmark, legendary sporting venue, and tourist attraction all rolled into one, the Bergisel Ski Jump is one of Innsbruck’s most visited sites. As well as hosting international winter sports events, the ski-jump tower affords a spectacular panoramic view of Innsbruck and the surrounding Tyrolean mountains.
With its dark Gothic spires, intricately tiled roof, and imposing bell tower, St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom) is one of Vienna’s star attractions. Centrally located on Stephansplatz square in the city’s UNESCO-listed historic center, the cathedral is architecturally stunning both inside and out. It’s also a site of great historical significance—Emperor Friedrich III and numerous other Habsburg dignitaries were buried here.
Themed around one of Austria’s best-known exports, Swarovski Crystal Worlds (Swarovski Kristallwelten) is a dazzling attraction devoted to sparkling crystals. Twinkling exhibitions created by contemporary artists and designers, together with a playground, play tower, and hand-shaped hedge maze, make for a family-friendly day out.
The Graz Schlossberg is a public park on a hill in the center of the city of Graz that has been home to fortifications as far back as the 10th century. A fortress stood on the hill from the middle of the 16th century to the 19th century, with only the clock tower and bell tower spared by an invading Napoleon. The remains of the castle became a public park in 1839 including the two towers, a cistern and a couple bastions from the destroyed castle.
A great walking tour of the Schlossberg starts at the bottom of the hill at Schlossbergplatz, from where visitors can take the 19th century Schlossbergbahn funicular or the newer Schlossberg lift to reach the top of the hill. Once at the top, check out the bell tower, climb to the top of the clock tower for scenic views of the Old Town and relax at one of the several cafes. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to catch a concert in what was once the cellar of one of the old bastions. Head back down to the Schlossbergplatz via one of several footpaths or staircases and then check out the extensive system of tunnels underneath the Schlossberg that was created during World War II.
Built in the early 17th century, Hellbrunn Palace (Schloss Hellbrunn) served as a summer retreat for the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Its baroque exterior conceals an exuberant interior made for entertaining, though the real draws are the whimsical trick fountains (Wasserspiele) in the gardens, which spew water from unexpected places.
Part of Salzburg’s UNESCO World Heritage–listed historic center, Mirabell Palace (Schloss Mirabell) enjoys a rich royal history, as well as a place in movie legend: it was one of the filming sites forThe Sound of Music. Built by Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich in 1606, the palace is most famous for its magnificent baroque gardens.
More Things to Do in Austria
Much of the Lake District landscape around St. Gilgen (Sankt Gilgen) found its way into the opening shots of The Sound of Music, and the village center itself is chocolate-box perfection, where wooden chalets with steeply pitched roofs stand side by side with softly colored baroque townhouses overlooking Wolfgangsee lake.
The state-of-the-art Hungerburg Railway (Hungerburgbahn) is a hybrid funicular connecting Innsbruck to the mountain suburb of Hungerburg. More than just a transport link, it’s also an architectural landmark—the Zaha Hadid–designed stations are space-age masterpieces that draw as many visitors as the railway itself.
A masterpiece of Renaissance architecture and one of the most prestigious opera houses in the world, the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper) is a hallowed venue for opera fans. Each year, the auditorium hosts 350 Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and Vienna State Ballet (Wiener Staatsballett) performances, as well as the Vienna Opera Ball.
Eggenberg Palace (Schloss Eggenberg) is one of the most important Baroque palaces in Austria and a must-see for visitors to Graz. Once home to the most powerful dynasty in the Austrian state of Styria, the palace dates back to at least the 15th century. Renovations in the 18th century added Rococo style ornamentation, as well as three East Asian cabinets, while the 19th century saw the formal Baroque garden transformed into a romantic English style garden. The palace features 365 exterior windows, representing the number of days in a year, with 24 windows on the second floor, representing the number of hours in a day. Inside, more than 600 paintings in the state rooms depict the history of the world with scenes from Roman and Greek mythology, the Old Testament and various European legends. Paintings in the Planetary Room depict the elements, planets and signs of the zodiac.
In addition to the state rooms, visitors can explore the Alte Galerie, a collection of European art from the medieval to early modern periods, the Coin Cabinet and the Archaeology Museum.
The largest outdoor adventure park in Austria and one of the biggest in all of Europe, Area 47 offers visitors extreme adventure and adrenaline-fueled activities in a safe environment. You can journey through gorges, into deep caves, and through wild white-water rapids, and even transform yourself into a human cannonball.
Salzburg’s Cathedral (Dom zu Salzburg) is a restrained exercise in classic Italian Baroque, topped with green bronze domes. Mozart was baptized here, and the building was completed in 1628.
Cathedral highlights include the light-filled atrium and dome, the crypt with its Romanesque foundations and tombs, and the statues of angels surrounding the altar.
The Cathedral Museum tells the history of the Dom’s construction and artworks.
Mondsee is a little town in Upper Austria located on the shore of the lake Mondsee. In the year 748, the Bavarian Duke Odilo II founded the monastery on the site of a former Roman settlement. You might better know the Mondsee Cathedral as St. Michael’s Basilica, where the wedding scene in the iconic film ‘The Sound of Music’ took place. Home to the Mondsee Abbey, the cloister church was cemented in popular culture forever when Maria and the Baron Georg von Trapp walked down the aisle in the 1965 movie musical. The Mondsee Cathedral is located directly in the middle of the town center, next door to the monastery building and courtyards (which are open to the public). The abbey is one of the oldest (and the most picturesque!) in Austria. Inside, the most famous ‘resident’ of the Mondsee Cathedral is the skeleton of Abbot Konrad II, who was killed in 1145 defending the monastery from noblemen who wanted to repossess the land.
Salzburg’s Old Town (Salzburger Altstadt or Altstadt Salzburg) is the historical and navigational heart of the city, a maze of medieval streets stretching along the banks of the Salzach River. The birthplace of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salzburg’s atmospheric Altstadt is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site and overlooked by the hilltop Hohensalzburg Fortress.
Notable for its blob-like architecture, the Kunsthaus Graz Art Museum (or just Kunsthaus Graz) was built as part of the city’s 2003 celebrations as the European Capital of Culture. The museum was constructed as part of the 19th century Iron House building, one of the first cast iron buildings in Europe. The famous exterior is comprised of nearly 1300 iridescent blue acrylic panels with almost a thousand 40-watt lightbulbs, creating a massive screen in the middle of the city. Known to some locals as the Friendly Alien, the museum covers 27,000 square feet and specializes in contemporary art, design, new media, film and photography. It regularly hosts events and exhibitions that highlight worldwide trends in art.
Marking the boundary of the First District where the old city walls once stood, the grand boulevard of the Ringstrasse traces a 3-mile (5-kilometer) scenic ring around the historic Innere Stadt (Inner Town) of Vienna. Follow the Ringstrasse loop on a sightseeing tour of Vienna to take in some of the city’s top attractions along the route.
Standing in stark contrast to the baroque palaces and grand plazas of historic Vienna, the colorful facade of the Hundertwasserhaus is one of the city’s most unique works of contemporary architecture. This eccentric apartment complex, masterpiece of Austrian architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, is a highlight of many Vienna tours.
Sisi, or Empress Elizabeth, was the wife of Franz Josef 1 of Austria who she married when she was only 16. She was very beautiful and strictly maintained her 20 inch (50 cm) waistline! The headstrong girl from Munich gained a reputation for rejecting court etiquette and being a bit of free-spirit. But after the death of her daughter Sophie, Sisi became ill herself and began often going south for the warmth, separate from her husband, to write poetry and meet with a string of lovers. When her beloved son Crown-Prince Rudolf died tragically in a murder-suicide pact with his lover, Baroness Mary Vetsera, Sisi was inconsolable. In 1898, aged 60, in Geneva, she herself died, assassinated by a young anarchist, Luigi Lucheni.
Her life was like a soap opera and these days she is a cult figure. The Sisi Museum houses hundreds of her personal belongings as well as a history of her fascinating life.
Back in the Middle Ages, the city of Graz was a center of commerce and trade in Central Europe and its main square – the Hauptplaz – was home to dozens of traders, hosting weekly markets. The size of the trapezoidal shaped square was cut in half by the addition of the town hall in the 16th century. Today, the town hall dominates the southern part of the square while other notable buildings include the 17th century Luegg House with an impressive stucco façade, the five-story White House with a sandstone relief of the Virgin Mary, the 16th century Eagle Pharmacy and the 14th century Palais Sturgkh. A fountain and statue of Archduke Johann was added in 1878 and today the stalls surrounding the fountain are a throwback to the square’s medieval origins. In 2002, the square was redesigned to add a large open area in front of the town hall that is used for events throughout the year.
The Church of St Charles Borromeo, or Karlskirche, is the finest baroque church in Vienna and was built between 1716 and 1739, after a vow by Karl VI at the end of the 1713 plague. It was designed and commenced by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and completed by his son Joseph. Although predominantly baroque, it combines several architectural styles.
The twin columns are modeled on Trajan's Column in Rome and show scenes from the life of St Charles Borromeo (who helped plague victims in Italy), to whom the church is dedicated. The huge oval dome reaches 236 ft (72m); in combination with the church's large windows, the dome's height creates a bright, open nave. There is a small museum with a handful of religious art and clothing purportedly from the saint, but the highlight is the lift to the dome for a close-up view of the detailed frescoes by Johann Michael Rottmayr. The altar panel is by Sebastiano Ricci and shows the Assumption of the Virgin. In front of the church is a pond, complete with a Henry Moore sculpture from 1978.
- Things to do in Vienna
- Things to do in Salzburg
- Things to do in Innsbruck
- Things to do in Linz
- Things to do in Graz
- Things to do in Hallstatt
- Things to do in Schwechat
- Things to do in Klagenfurt
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- Things to do in Austrian Alps
- Things to do in Upper Austria
- Things to do in Lower Austria
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