Glorious Alpine scenery, monumental Habsburg architecture, and the world’s favorite musical – Austria’s tourist industry certainly plays up to the clichés. However, it is not all bewigged Mozart ensembles and schnitzel; modern Austria boasts some of Europe’s most varied museums and contemporary architecture not to mention attractive and sophisticated cities whose cafés and clubs combine contemporary cool with elegant tradition.
Most people visit Vienna with a vivid image in their minds: a romantic place, full of imperial nostalgia, opera houses and exquisite cakes. Even so, the city can overwhelm with its eclectic feast of architectural styles, from High Baroque through the monumental imperial projects of the late nineteenth century, to the decorative Jugendstil (Art Nouveau) style of the early twentieth, used to great effect on several of the city’s splendid U-Bahn stations.
Numerous cities claim a connection to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but few were as important to the famous composer as Salzburg. Here you will find the house where Mozart was born. There is a museum called Mozart's Birthplace, whose rooms were once occupied by his family. Today, they are full of mementos, instruments, and portraits. This was where the composer entertained Europe's musical elite and wrote many of his symphonies. Salzburg also hosts a number of music festivals in honor of the composer, including Mozart Week (Jan-Feb) and the six-week long Salzburg Festival (June-Aug).
Located in the Tyrol region, Kitzbüheler Horn is one of the most picturesque of Austria's many summits. Accessible by cableway via the Pletzeralm or by climbing from the village of Kitzbühel, the summit affords glorious views. In addition to this, there also is the Gipfelhaus, a unique mountaintop home; a chapel; a restaurant; and an Alpine garden.
Best known as Austria's tallest waterfalls, the Krimmler Ache plunges 380 meters in three tremendous cascades and makes for an excellent excursion from the nearby village of Krimml.
Found on the western edge of the Tennengebirge, the spectacular World of the Ice Giants is the largest system of ice caves in the world. Covering some 30,000 square meters, the caves were carved by an underground river in the Tertiary period. Discovered in 1879, they were opened to the public in 1912. After winding along the Great Ice Wall, you will be confronted by the massive Hymir Hall with its impressive ice formations and icicles. Stone steps lead to the Eistor, or Ice Gate, a 1,775-meter-high wall of ice, and the great Ice Palace.
The Grossglockner Road
From Bruck, in the Pinzgau, to Heiligenblut, at the foot of the Grossglockner, this road is one of the most magnificent mountain roads in Europe. Originally a Roman road, it was ‘rediscovered’ with the advent of the automobile due to its numerous panoramic views.
Medieval Burg Hochosterwitz
To the east of St. Veit, on a crag rising some 160-meters above the valley, sprawls the imposing Burg Hochosterwitz, Austria's most important medieval castle. The steep access road to the castle, the Burgweg, winds its way up through the 14 defensive gates to the beautiful arcaded courtyard where you will find the little chapel with its wall and ceiling paintings from 1570 and the church at the southwestern end of the castle with its high altar dating from 1729.
The Vienna Hofburg
The spectacular Hofburg Palace in Vienna was for centuries the seat of Austria's monarchy, the powerful Habsburgs. Together with its squares and gardens, the entire Hofburg complex occupies 59 acres encompassing 19 courtyards and 2,600 rooms. Highlights of a visit include the Imperial Silver Collection and an array of dining services giving a taste of the lavish imperial banquets that once took place here; the Sisi Museum, focusing on the life and times of Empress Elisabeth; and the Imperial Apartments, a series of 19 rooms once occupied by Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife.
Melk Benedictine Abbey
This is one of the world's most famous monastic sites, and its spectacular buildings are laid out around seven courtyards. The most prominent part of this massive 325-meter-long complex is the west end and its twin-towered church rising above a semicircular terrace range. Perched on a rocky outcrop high above the town of Melk and overlooking the Danube, the abbey contains numerous other great reasons to spend a few hours touring it: the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau; the 196-meter-long Imperial Corridor with its portraits of Austria's rulers, including one of the Empress Maria Theresa and more.
The pilgrimage church in Maria Saal
Perched on a hill high above the Zollfeld, the Church of Maria Saal is one of the leading places of pilgrimage in southern Austria. The present twin-towered church was built in Gothic style in the first half of the 15th century on the foundations of a Roman basilica, and was remodeled during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Highlights include the west facade with twin towers and its fine old gravestones.
Hofkirche and the Museum of Maximilian I
Innsbruck is home to the Hofkirche, or Court Church, with its spectacular Tomb of Emperor Maximilian I who died in 1519. Widely considered the finest work of German Renaissance sculpture, the monument's central feature is the massive black marble sarcophagus with a bronze figure of the Emperor. On the sides of the sarcophagus are 24 marble reliefs depicting events in the Emperor's life, and around it stand 28 larger-than-life-size bronze statues of the Emperor's ancestors and contemporaries. Other pieces of sculpture include 23 bronze statues of saints from the Habsburg family and 20 bronze busts of Roman emperors.
The Styrian Armoury
In the heart of Graz is the Landeszeughaus, the Styrian Arsenal. Built in 1644, the building houses a spectacular collection of completely preserved 17th-century arms and armor – enough to arm 32,000 men, including helmets, and weaponry.