Move over, Berlin. The next hip, artsy travel destination is still an insider’s secret, but it won’t be for long. We’ll fill you in on your new favorite country: Austria.
Austria’s got pretty much everything we look for when we travel. Its food is outstanding: some of the best pastries and natural wines we’ve ever tasted came from local bakeries and wineries across the country. Its visual imagery is phenomenal: the Baroque palaces and sweeping Alpine slopes were practically made for Instagram. Its artistic and historical offerings are unparalleled: in a single trip, you can visit the birthplaces of Mozart, Freud, and Wolfgang Puck and come back with the cultural literacy to shine at any dinner party. But the best part is that many of Austria’s gems have yet to register on the radar of the average tourist, leaving more room to explore for the experienced traveler.
First-time visitors can experience three different facets of Austria by stopping in the trifecta of cities: Vienna, Salzburg, and Innsbruck. Vienna, the country’s capital, serves as its cultural and culinary hub. Salzburg, which balances a UNESCO World Heritage city center with easy access to the Alps, offers stunning photo ops both urban and rural. And Innsbruck, a two-time host of the Winter Olympics, is tailor-made for lovers of the outdoors.
Say “Grüss Gott” to one of Europe’s most underrated—and most worthwhile—travel destinations!
Flying to Vienna
You’ll almost certainly arrive in Austria via a flight to Vienna. Austrian Airlines offers the most routes from the U.S. to Vienna, with non-stop service departing from Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York (JFK and Newark), and Washington, D.C.
When flying long-haul, we prefer to pay a little more for the extra comfort. Austrian Airlines’ new premium economy class offers the features we look for: an improved seat with more space and a footrest, power sockets and USB ports, noise-cancelling headphones, and a large entertainment screen. You’ll also be allowed to check an extra piece of luggage—a necessity if you’re planning to explore Austria at length.
If you spring for business class, you’ll enjoy a host of premium amenities, including a lie-flat bed, gourmet multi-course meal, complimentary champagne, and upgraded amenity kit. Austrian Airlines adds an extra Austrian touch by providing a Flying Coffee House service, which offers ten Viennese coffees to choose from.
Vienna To/From the Airport
Several convenient public transportation options exist for traveling from Vienna International Airport to the city.
The suburban light rail (S-Bahn) departs every half hour for Wien Mitte (travel time: 26 minutes), and an express train departs every half hour for Wien Hauptbahnhof (Vienna Central Station) and Wien Meidling (travel time: 15 minutes). Both are €3.90 for a single ride.
There is also an express train, the City Airport Train (CAT; €19, round-trip), that links the airport to Wien Mitte station (travel time: 16 minutes).
Ubers and taxis will cost roughly €30-40 one-way from the airport to the city. Unless you’re burdened with especially cumbersome luggage, there isn’t really a reason to use these services.
Vienna To Salzburg
Salzburg has its own airport, with three non-stop flights from Vienna on most days. Most visitors will take a train from Vienna to Salzburg; the journey takes only two and a half hours and costs around €22.
Trains leave approximately once every thirty minutes from Vienna Main Station and Vienna Westbahnhof, both arriving at Salzburg Central Station.
Salzburg To Innsbruck
From Salzburg, Innsbruck is just two hours by train away. If booked in advance, the ticket costs €19. Trains depart approximately once every hour, and the last train departs at 9:56 p.m. Flying from Salzburg's airport to Innsbruck's is another option, though no non-stop flights are offered.
If you'd like to wind your way through the Austrian countryside at your own pace, consider renting a car instead. AutoEurope.com compiles multiple rental companies to give you the best rates.
Innsbruck To Vienna
A one-way train ride from Innsbruck to Vienna lasts around four hours and fifteen minutes and costs €24 if booked in advance. Trains depart approximately once every hour, and the last train departs at 8:17 p.m.
If you’re pressed on time, you can save a couple hours by flying instead. Austrian Airlines offers five flights a day that take just over an hour from origin to destination. A one-way ticket will set you back about €200-250.
There’s a reason why Vienna tops the list of most-livable cities year after year. Efficient public transportation and astonishingly low crime rates are practically givens; where Vienna really shines is in its wealth of culture.
Many of the most cherished institutions in the fine arts trace their roots to Vienna: the Vienna Philharmonic, the Viennese waltz. Beethoven, Mozart, Klimt, Schiele, and Rilke all made their home here. But instead of resting on the laurels of its past, Vienna continues to innovate, launching an entire quarter dedicated to modern and contemporary art centers. Even the legendary coffeehouse culture of Vienna, which gave rise to some of the best desserts you will ever have, is evolving, with new establishments redefining what it means to drink a cup of coffee.
Vienna’s Must-See Sights
A former summer residence of the Habsburgs and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Schönbrunn Palace is one of the grandest buildings in Europe. Unsurprisingly, it’s also Vienna’s most-frequented site, so arrive early to avoid the crowds. If you’re forced to visit in the afternoon but are unwilling to await the queue, you may be content with just touring the park; the vast gardens, most of which are free of charge to enter, are arguably as impressive as the interior.
Majestic grandeur takes form at Hofburg, the former imperial palace. If you plan on seeing the entirety of the Hofburg, budget plenty of time; three museums—the Sisi Museum, the Imperial Apartments, and the Silver Collection—are covered under the same ticket. Check out the adjacent Imperial Treasury, as well as the Spanish Riding School, where you can see morning exercises on most days.
St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Beautiful Baroque and Gothic architecture may seem to abound at every corner in the inner city, but one landmark you won’t have trouble finding in Vienna is St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The south steeple of Vienna’s most important church dominates the skyline of the historical center. Before you step inside, note the mosaic of tiles on the roof, among the most striking of any cathedral in the world.
Think Vienna is only made of pretty old buildings? Think again. The MuseumsQuartier plaza juxtaposes Baroque architecture with several art spaces designed in the twenty-first century, most notably the Leopold Museum, which features modern Austrian masters like Schiele and Klimt, and MUMOK, which boasts over 10,000 works by Picasso, Warhol, Lichtenstein, and others.
Just across the street is Kunsthistorisches Museum, which houses the most extensive collection of Bruegel paintings in the world.
If you’ve ever taken a fancy to the exquisitely intricate paintings of Gustav Klimt, stopping by the Belvedere is a must. This eighteenth-century palace houses the largest collection of Klimt paintings in the world. Admire the extensive gardens when you wander from the Upper to the Lower Belvedere. If contemporary art and architecture are more to your taste, be sure to pick up a combination ticket that grants access to both palaces of the Belvedere and its extension at the 21er Haus.
A last, but crucial, tip: don’t make the mistake of associating the Viennese palace with the vodka brand. The latter is named after a palace in Warsaw.
Vienna’s Must-Eat Food And Drink
Buck the trend of Instagramming yet another Brooklyn-style industrial cafe and visit this century-old institution instead. Coffeehouses are integral to the lifeblood of Vienna—so much, in fact, that they were designated a UNESCO intangible cultural heritage in 2011—and this one is a classic example. Arrive early for breakfast to soak in the charm, and sample the delectable pastry selection.
If you only have time to fit in one restaurant to sample traditional Viennese cuisine, make this your choice. Wiener Schnitzel, Tafelspitz (boiled beef), and apple strudel are all on the menu. You have more than enough choices when it comes to where to sit: classic tavern booths, stand-alone tables, and even outdoor seating perfect for enjoying warm summer nights.
Though Viennese cuisine is primarily known for meat and pastries, its seafood is nothing to scoff at either. Try some at Goldfisch, which smartly combines a fish shop with an intimate seafood-focused restaurant.
Steirereck is at the pinnacle of inventive Austrian cooking, with two Michelin stars and an entry on World’s 50 Best Restaurants to prove it. If you like your food with a bit of spectacle, you’ll have plenty to admire: one dish involves fish fillets brought to the table and cooked in hot beeswax. Ask your server for help choosing from one of the dozens of varieties offered by the legendary bread sommelier on his bespoke trolley. Dinner service—there’s only one seating per night—can run up to four hours, so block off your entire evening and make a classy night of it.
As the only major metropolis in the world that boasts vineyards within its city limits, Vienna takes its wine seriously. Go where the cool locals go, and sample the best of Austria’s natural wines with the chef’s tasting menu plus wine pairing.
Vienna’s Must-Visit Neighborhoods
You’ll inevitably spend plenty of time in Innere Stadt, the historic center of Vienna, as many of the city’s best-regarded attractions are located here. Be sure to take a break from landmark-hopping, however, to take in the general atmosphere; even nameless buildings have their charm. Looking to indulge in decadent chocolate and sumptuous high art in one go? Enjoy a slice of the iconic Original Sacher-Torte at Hotel Sacher before catching an opera at the Vienna State Opera.
Young creatives congregate in Leopoldstadt, a district that includes the expansive Prater amusement park in the east. You could take a ride up the Giant Ferris Wheel in Prater, but if you’re looking to tap into the zeitgeist of the city, stay closer to the city center. Supersense, a cafe-cum-retail store selling vinyl records, film cameras, and letterpress prints, is representative of the spirit of the neighborhood.
Your best bets for taking in the Danube Canal are in this district. Skip the boat cruises, which are unequivocally overpriced, and lounge waterside instead with a beer and snacks at the Adria, Strandbar Herrmann, or Tel Aviv Beach bars. Come night, the clubs that line the gritty-chic canal come alive.
Once impoverished—Freihaus refers to the free housing that was given to Vienna’s destitute in the 1500’s—this easily walkable neighborhood is now among the trendiest in the city. On its western edge, some 120 vendors sell their wares at Naschmarkt, the most well-known market in Austria. Pick up some locally produced gourmet vinegar from Gegenbauer while you’re there. Moving east, the neighborhood centers around Schleifmühlgasse, which brims with art galleries and boutiques.
Getting Around Vienna
Vienna’s efficient public transportation network makes navigating the city a breeze. The aboveground buses and trams, the underground metro (U-Bahn), and the suburban light rail (S-Bahn) all use the same ticketing system.
If you’re cramming in as much of the city as you can within a short period of time, the Vienna City Card is the best option. Not only do the 24-hour (€17), 48-hour (€25), and 72-hour (€29) passes offer unlimited rides, but they also provide discounts at over 200 attractions.
If for some reason you do require private transportation, Uber is available in the city. Taxis can be hired by phone or from designated stands.
We love Salzburg for its versatility. On the one hand, you have the magnificent buildings that populate the historic center of the city, one of the largest UNESCO sites in Europe. On the other hand, you have a restaurant that builds its menu from scratch every month—and still manages to meet such consistently high standards that it’s the deserving recipient of two Michelin stars. Then, of course, there’s the spectacular scenery of SalzburgerLand; thirty minutes is all it takes to immerse yourself in untrammeled Alpine views.
Mozart and The Sound of Music may be most people’s reference points when thinking of Austria’s fourth-largest city, but Salzburg is a destination worthy of the most modern of travelers.
Salzburg’s Must-See Sights
Game of Thrones got you dreaming about castle life? Hohensalzburg Castle, a 900-year-old behemoth that’s also the largest in central Europe, should fit the bill. From the fortress’s vantage point, the rest of Salzburg unfolds below, making Hohensalzburg Castle an ideal starting point for orienting yourself in the city. The walk up the hill is by no means difficult, but for extra convenience, take the funicular instead.
With its green-tipped twin towers and central dome, this seventeenth-century Baroque cathedral is the most recognizable church in the city. Just outside the cathedral is a plaza presided by a statue of the Virgin Mary. Classical music buffs take note: the font in which Mozart was baptized is still contained within.
St Peter’s Abbey
This Benedictine monastery, which dates back to 696 A.D., is among the most important in Austria. For starters, it contains the country’s oldest library. What’s just as impressive, though, is the restaurant housed within: operating since 800 A.D., Stiftskeller St. Peter is the oldest inn in Europe. If you’re looking for a mixture of culture and kitsch, the restaurant operates weekly Mozart-themed dinners, complete with musicians wearing period costumes and enthusiastic patrons bedecked in traditional Austrian clothing.
Situated in a spacious park, the Hellbrunn Palace is iconic for its bright yellow facade. Despite its size, it was designed to serve only as a day residence. If you visit during the summer, you’ll encounter a quirkier aspect of the palace: trick fountains hidden throughout the grounds, a feature installed by the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg in the early 1600’s as a way to entertain guests, spray at unsuspecting visitors as they make their way through the tour.
Salzburg’s Must-Eat Food And Drink
Though a half-hour drive south of the city, this upscale restaurant serving avant-garde Alpine cuisine is well worth the journey. Chef Döllerer has brought an updated twist to the flavors of his country, using local vegetables, herbs, meat, and fish. Ask the sommeliers to recommend fantastic Austrian wines.
Once a favorite of Mozart, this longstanding cafe in the center of Alstadt offers some of the best pastries in the city. Venture beyond the traditional Sacher cake and apple strudel and try the Erdbeerschüsserl, a sponge cake sandwich of vanilla, chocolate, redcurrant, and strawberry. In the warmer months, opt for the outdoors seating.
The design of Urbankeller is reason enough to come: guests eat in a cavernous barrel-vaulted cellar. On the menu are classic dishes like Wiener Schnitzel and Spätzle, updated to be all-organic. A traditional tavern and on-trend jazz bar offer alternative options for a lighter meal with drinks.
No two meals at this restaurant are the same because the chef, philosophy, and menu change every month. Nestled in Hangar-7, a former airplane hangar repurposed as a glass-domed museum with an extensive collection of race cars, airplanes, and helicopters, Ikarus is similarly forward-thinking. This isn’t all show and no substance, either; the Michelin guide awarded Ikarus two stars.
Salzburg’s Must-Visit Neighborhoods And Excursions
Altstadt, the German name for Salzburg’s Old Town, was made a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1996, and for good reason: it’s home to some of the most well-preserved Baroque and medieval architecture in the world. You’ll inevitably spend time here as you tour the cathedrals or as you stop by Mozart’s home and Mozart’s birthplace, two houses-turned-museums dedicated to the city’s most famous former resident.
The Salzach River cleanly splits Salzburg and its historic center in two. If you start on the left bank, where many of the landmarks are, be sure to cross over to the right bank and browse the boutiques of Linzer Gasse.
Though only steps away from Altstadt, scenic Nonntal is largely overlooked—and that’s something you should take to your advantage. Stop by the posh neighborhood to get a glimpse of how the locals live.
Key sites include Schloss Freisaal, a quaint “palace” built in the fourteenth century, and the nearby University of Salzburg. Chestnut-lined Hellbrunner Allee, which links Nonntal to Hellbrunn Palace, is among the most gorgeous pedestrian areas in the city.
It would be a tragedy to visit Salzburg without roaming around the beautiful scenery that sits just beyond the city’s boundaries. Just a forty-minute drive south of Salzburg is the town of Werfen, famous for Hohenwerfen Castle, a gigantic rock castle perched on a cliff, and Eisriesenwelt, the world’s largest ice cave. The Sound of Music Trail also starts here; even if you’re not a fan of the musical, the views of the mountains and meadows are spectacular. Reward yourself with dinner at the Michelin-starred Obauer.
Getting Around Salzburg
The Salzburg Card, available as a 24-hour (€25-28), 48-hour (€33-37), or 72-hour (€38-43) pass, grants you unlimited rides on public transportation. It comes with an incredible bonus: one-time free admission to all museums and attractions within the city, plus express entrance at certain venues.
As the site of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics, Innsbruck has garnered a reputation as one of the leading winter sports centers in the world. You won’t be disappointed: the nine resorts that sit just outside the city limits offer some of the best snow for skiing and snowboarding, with some high-altitude resorts open as late as June. More of a hiker than a skier? Innsbruck also offers some of the best Alpine views of any country, available any season in the year.
Few cities can rival Innsbruck when it comes to ease of access to the mountains: in under half an hour, you can depart from the Old Town and arrive at the Nordkette, one of Austria's most celebrated Alpine ranges. Meanwhile, a city center brimming with Habsburg history awaits. Emperor Maximilian I temporarily moved the seat of the empire from Vienna to Innsbruck, leaving behind an astonishing collection of buildings that are still regarded as among Austria’s most important. Serious foodies can enjoy a wealth of creative restaurants serving up new takes on Tirolean cuisine. Come winter, Innsbruck transforms into a Christmas town worthy of your wildest childhood fantasies.
Innsbruck’s Must-See Sights
The 2,657 copper tiles that cover Goldenes Dachl (“golden roof”), erected to celebrate the Emperor’s marriage, make it the city’s most recognizable landmark. Unfortunately, the golden glint hasn’t escaped the attention of potential thieves: tiles have been stolen—though eventually recovered—in the past. Use Goldenes Dachl as a starting point while exploring the rest of Innsbruck’s historic center; just across sits Helbling House, with its distinctive Rococo moldings.
The Taj Mahal isn’t the only major monument that was built in the name of love. Archduke Ferdinand II commissioned the conversion of the Ambras fortress into a castle for his wife, Philippine Welser. The rooms of the Upper Castle, which serve as a portrait gallery of the Habsburgs, includes pieces by Titian, Velasquez, Lucas Cranach, and other Old Masters. In the Lower Castle, the vast Spanish Hall, with full-length paintings of 27 Tirolean rulers decorating its walls, is particularly worth a visit.
Bergisel Ski Jump
Brush up on your architecture chops with a visit to the futuristic Bergisel Ski Jump, designed by the late Zaha Hadid. The funicular zips past 455 steps to take you to the viewing platform, which offers a 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains. From May to October, you can watch live ski-jumping on Mondays through Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. There’s a restaurant up top that offers light fare, though we’d recommend saving your appetite for a meal in the city.
Swarovski Crystal Worlds
Fourteen million visitors have made the pilgrimage to this museum dedicated to the legendary producers of Swarovski crystal. Located just twenty minutes outside the city, Swarovski Crystal Worlds is part-crystal art gallery, part-sculptural garden. Both indoor and outdoor spaces are must-sees.
Innsbruck’s Must-Eat Food And Drink
The views are as much a part of the experience as the food at this iconic restaurant, which stands 6,200 feet above sea level. Enjoy traditional Tirolean cuisine for breakfast or lunch, or stop by for a coffee or beer in between your snow-romping.
Operating since 1803, Cafe Munding is Tirol’s oldest cake shop and continues to serve some of the best pastries in town. Its location in the historic city center makes it a popular destination for a drink and a nibble between sightseeing. Be sure to order the hot chocolate.
A literal one-man show—chef-owner Oscar Germes-Castro does everything from setting the table to washing the dishes—this eight-seater offers one of the most intimate dining experiences in the city. Chef Oscar, originally from Mexico, may have taken his culinary inspiration from the Austrians, but don’t expect to find Wiener Schnitzel here; he avoids meat and hews more closely to traditional Tirolean fare than the more internationally known dishes.
Christoph Bickel, who worked alongside Curtis Duffy at three-Michelin-starred Grace, has taken inspiration from the Chicago restaurant in opening his own establishment in Innsbruck. There’s a standard seven-course tasting menu available, but, like Grace, Oniriq is getting special attention for its vegetarian tasting menu, which highlights ingredients like mugwort, goldenberries, and wild mushrooms.
Ever had a rave inside an igloo? Go back home with a conversation-winning story to tell after you’ve visited the fluorescent Cloud 9, perched high up in the mountains. Though the bar is open during the day from December to April, opt for Friday evenings from 6 to 11 p.m., when the DJ’s come on to entertain the partiers.
Innsbruck's Must-Visit Ski Resorts
A favorite of locals, Patscherkofel is looked on fondly for holding the skiing and bobsled events in Innsbruck’s past two Olympics and can be reached in only fifteen minutes by car. It’s also among the most family-friendly of resorts, with three children’s areas and slopes appropriate for beginners.
Travel from Innsbruck to Nordkette in style by riding the Zaha Hadid-designed funicular to Hungerburg Station, then taking a short walk to the cable car station. Transportation couldn't be easier: the funicular starts in Old Town, right beside the Imperial Palace, and takes just twenty minutes to travel from the heart of the city to 6,500 feet above sea level. Situated in Austria’s most expansive park, Nordkette offers spectacular views. Beginners, however, should avoid this ski resort, as its slopes are better suited for intermediate and advanced skiers.
Serious winter sports enthusiasts should head to Stubai Glacier, the largest glacier ski area in Austria. With pistes of 10,000 feet and above, the resort is guaranteed to have snow from October to June. Snowboarders as well can enjoy the offerings, which include a half-pipe, several jumps, and a racecourse.
Getting Around Innsbruck
The Innsbruck Card is the way to go. In addition to free access to public transportation within the city, it offers free one-time admission to all museums and attractions and one round-trip journey on all lifts and cable cars. Starting May 1, the card is available as a 24-hour (€43), 48-hour (€50), or 72-hour (€59) pass.
Visiting during prime ski season? Save yourself the hassle of renting a car; in the winter, a free ski bus makes a circuit between Innsbruck and all of the ski resorts.
Journy is available in Vienna, Salzburg, and Innsbruck and there's so much more to explore! Learn more about Austria and how Journy can help you plan your trip at austria.gojourny.com.