Austria is known for its great mountains and even greater skiing. It’s known for its composers like Strauss and Mozart – Salzburg is Mozart’s city, after all. The country also is known for its sinfully delicious desserts. Look past this, however, to the fairy tale villages and some of the best castles in Europe. All throughout this Alpine country, you’ll find amazing historic and natural landmarks in Austria that simply astound the senses.
1. Schafberg, Salzkammergut
If you’re after far-reaching scenic views, look no farther than Schafberg, a mountain in the Salzkammergut range of the Northern Limestone Alps. Located in Salzburg state, Schafberg rises above Wolfgangsee Lake. The steepest steam-powered train in Austria that’s been operating since 1898 runs from the lake store to the top of the mountain in the summer. It takes 40 minutes to reach the mountain top, which is 5,860 feet high. You’ll find stunning panoramic views of the mountains and lakes, as well as an 1862 hotel. If you’d rather hoof it, there are several hiking trails to the top.
2. Vienna State Opera House
The Vienna State Opera House has been thrilling fans since it opened in 1869 as the first major building on the Vienna Ringstrasse. The first performance in the Neo-Renaissance building was Mozart’s Don Juan. Over the decades, the world’s greatest opera singers have performed here, including Placido Domingo, Maria Callas and Enrico Caruso. Dozens of operas are performed 300 times annually at the Vienna State Opera House, one of the world’s top opera venues. The repertoire is considered the largest in the world. Subtitles are provided in several languages, including English, Russian and Japanese
3. Hofburg Palace
Hofburg Palace, built in the 13th century, was once the home of the counts of Vienna. A few centuries later, the Hapsburg dynasty used it as their seat of power. Today it is the official residence of the president of Austria. Located on Heroes Square, the palace has been expanded over the years to become a very impressive structure. Known as the winter palace, Hofburg Palace also is home to the world-famous Spanish Riding School and museums that feature imperial furniture, art, natural history and fine silver, among other royal accoutrements. You can also tour the imperial apartments.
If you believe in fairy tales, Hallstatt is the place to go. This ancient market town is so picturesque, it belongs in a fairy tale where the fair maiden awaits her Prince Charming. Located on a lake surrounded by mountains in Upper Austria, Hallstatt has been known for its salt mines since prehistoric times. The village is particularly spectacular in winter when snow covers the mountains and gingerbread-like houses. You can attend the annual Christmas market, take a torchlight walk through the town, ski or take a guided snowshoe hike. If you’re interested in the macabre, a visit to Charnel House with its 1,200 skulls is a must.
5. Hohensalzburg Castle
Overlooking Salzburg, the Hohensalzburg Castle is a major tourist attraction for this Sound of Music city. Built in the 10th century, it’s one of the largest medieval castles in Europe. This massive fortress is one of the best preserved landmarks in Austria. You can see what is considered one of Europe’s most beautiful castles by walking uphill for 30 minutes or taking an easy funicular ride up the hill. Once you get there, you can walk through a dungeon, see Gothic wood carvings, paintings and a pretty courtyard. The castle today is not only a piece of history, but also an entertainment venue for concerts.
6. Grossglockner Alpine Road
You’ll pay a price to drive the Grossglockner Alpine Road, but the spectacular views mike traveling Austria’s highest paved road well worth it. This 30-mile-long road stretches from Bruck to Heiligenblut at elevations exceeding 8,000 feet. The road is one of Austria’s top alpine attractions. You’ll need to plan your visit, since heavy snows mean the road is closed in winter. Named for nearby Grossglockner mountain, there are plenty of turn-offs from which to enjoy the gorgeous scenery. You might even take a short hike during one of these rest stops. Pack a picnic lunch and make a day of it.
7. Melk Abbey
Melk Abbey is more than just a Benedictine abbey sitting on a rocky spot overlooking the Danube River in Lower Austria. A saint is buried here as well as the remains of Austria’s first ruling family, the Babenbergs. The abbey was a castle in the 11th century when it was given to the Benedictines. Even today it looks more like a castle than a monastery. It is considered one of the most beautiful Baroque buildings in Europe. It is featured on a collectors’ 10-Euro coin. Touring the abbey, you’ll see the imperial staircase, a museum and the library, which at one time had the largest collection of manuscripts of the day.
8. Schonbrunn Palace
If you hate housekeeping, you’re not going to like the Schonbrunn Palace: It has 1,441 rooms. But if seeing one of Austria’s most important buildings, you’re gonna love it here. Located in Vienna, the Schonbrunn Palace served as the summer residence for Austria’s royalty. Schonbrunn translates as “beautiful spring,” which is appropriate since an artesian spring provided water for the palace. The palace is known for its beautiful gardens and sculptures, among other things. The garden was featured in the Bond movie, The Living Daylights. Vienna’s most popular tourist attraction, Schonbrunn Palace is a good place to hear concerts of Mozart’s music.