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The ultimate Austria travel guide: the best things to do and see

Sep 13, 2023 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

The best trips to Austria are multi-sensory adventures that include transporting music, intriguing history, delicious cakes, and postcard-worthy nature. This small Central European country may not have the same travel reputation as its more popular neighbors like Italy and Switzerland, but Austria—often considered one of the best countries to live in—is just as culturally rich. Read on to learn more about the best things to do in Austria, what to see in Austria, the best time to visit Austria, and much more.

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The best time to go

Cities to visit

What to see

What to eat and drink

What to do

Souvenirs to buy

What to pack

Currency: Euro 

Language: German (but English is widely spoken)

UNESCO sites: Austria is home to 12 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the historic cities of Salzburg and Vienna. Schönbrunn Palace and the 25-mile Semmering railway are also two top things to see in Austria. 

Best way to get around: Transportation into and within Austria is fantastic. Vienna, its capital, has a major international airport that connects to many of the world’s biggest cities, and an extensive train network makes traveling all over the country that much easier. Metros and trams are regularly used in the bigger cities; while most Austrians are very comfortable riding their bikes to quickly zip around town. Because the Danube River runs through most of Austria, enjoying a river cruise is also one of our favorite Austria travel tips. 

Fun fact: Austria borders eight European countries: Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, and Lichtenstein. What does this mean for travelers? Well, if you’re wondering how to plan a trip to Austria, you may want to consider a multi-country European tour. It would be very easy to partner a tour of Austria with any of the countries above, plus other wonderful destinations in Europe. 

Best time to go to Austria

A fantastic trip to Austria can happen at any time of the year. Due to its location in the center of Europe, where there are mountains, lakes, and rivers, Austria enjoys four distinct seasons. The best time to visit Vienna depends on what you want to do. 

Go in the winter to see iconic Christmas markets and to ski the Alps. Many people prefer to visit Europe during the warmer months of summer. But what makes winter the best time to go to Austria is its iconic Christmas markets. This small country is home to some of the most famous Christmas markets in Europe. In fact, our 14-day Christmas Markets of Germany, Switzerland & Austria tour devotes many days to exploring Austria, where you’ll discover the charming atmosphere of markets in Vienna and Salzburg. Getting lost in a Christmas market is one of the most unique things to do in Austria.

Speaking of iconic Austrian experiences, no Austria travel guide is complete without skiing. It’s one of the country’s most popular pastimes. Surrounded by the Alps, there are countless opportunities to head to a ski resort during a trip to Austria. For example, on our 14-day Germany, Switzerland & Austria tour, you could spend your free day in Salzburg skiing or snowboarding—there are resorts about an hour outside of the city. 

Go in the spring for fewer crowds and an Austrian ball. Between ski season and peak summer travel season, many of Austria’s famous attractions will be much easier to access thanks to fewer crowds. But if you love getting dressed up, another reason to tour Austria in the spring is to go to a Viennese ball. For example, in May, if the dates line up, you can use your free time in Vienna during our 15-day Highlights of Eastern Europe tour to attend the Concordia Ball. Put on your finest outfit (there’s often a strict dress code at these luscious affairs) and brush up on your waltz! 

Go in the summer for leisurely hikes around the Alps and explore picturesque lakeside villages. If you love the outdoors, like most of the locals here, summer is the best time to visit Austria. From June to September, the weather (sunny, warm but never too hot) is perfectly suited for adventures al fresco. On our 14-day Germany, Switzerland & Austria tour, your stay in the Austrian city of Salzburg includes a free day which you can use to hike the hills and mountains that surround the city. The free day in Vienna, on the other hand, can be spent cruising the Danube River.

Go in the fall for a symphony or opera and to visit Austrian wine country. Music lovers should take one of our Austria tours in the fall because it’s usually when new symphony, orchestra, and opera productions are debuted in cities like Vienna and Salzburg. We also think that fall could be the best time to go to Austria in order to experience its wine-producing areas. A visit to the woods around Vienna’s city center, filled with family-owned wineries, is one of our favorite Austria travel tips!

Enjoy any season in Austria

Where to go in Austria: the top cities to visit

Vienna. As its capital city, imperial, elegant Vienna is an important part of every trip to Austria. Its wide, leafy boulevard and grand historic architecture have likened Vienna to other European capitals like Paris and Budapest. One of our favorite Austria travel tips is to just walk around Vienna; it's a fun way to soak up the energy of the city. Or how about a leisurely afternoon relaxing along the Danube River or having a picnic in one of Vienna’s large parks?

You can also head into one of Vienna’s world-class museums to learn more about Austrian art. We also love Vienna’s cafe culture. Historically, cafes were where intellectuals,, politicians, and artists would spend their days debating world ideas and current events of the time. Many of these cafes are still open today and have retained their atmospheric energy. Many of our trips to Austria, including the 11-day Budapest, Vienna & Prague tour, feature plenty of free time so you can carve out a Vienna experience that suits your travel style.

Salzburg. If you love music and music history, you must visit Salzburg. The birthplace of Mozart and the filming location of many scenes from The Sound of Music, exploring Salzburg is one of the best things to do in Austria. On our 14-day Germany, Switzerland & Austria tour, not only will you see parts of Salzburg that show up in The Sound of Music, but you also have the option to add a Mozart concert to your itinerary. But there’s much more than music here: Its location at the foothills of snow-capped mountains plus a beautifully preserved Baroque Old Town make Salzburg one of the can’t-miss destinations of the Alps.

Innsbruck. One of our favorite Alpine cities in Europe, Innsbruck is a magical place. It’s not particularly big, but the combination of a rugged mountain setting plus gorgeous historic and modern architecture makes Innsbruck look like a fairy-tale village. Because it is in the middle of the Alps, Innsbruck has actually hosted two winter Olympic Games! On our 13-day Jewels of Alpine Europe tour, we’ll visit Innsbruck so you can see all this beauty for yourself. You’ll stroll through the Old Town to learn about attractions like Hofburg, a former Hapsburg palace, and the Golden Roof, which is covered with 2,657 gilded tiles. 

Visit these Austrian cities

Schönbrunn Palace. The summer residence of the Habsburg family, Schönbrunn Palace, located on the outskirts of Vienna, is one of the most important imperial attractions in Austria. (It’s actually the number one tourist site in Vienna, welcoming millions of visitors annually!) The elaborate 17th-century Baroque palace has 1,441 rooms. Some are decorated with delicate Chinese porcelain; while others are made more sumptuous with gilded mirrors and fabulous chandeliers. The colorful gardens around the palace are worth a stroll through, too. On our 11-day Budapest, Vienna & Prague tour, you’ll get to visit this historic palace. 

Mozart’s Birthplace. Who wouldn’t want to visit the place where one of history’s greatest musicians was born and lived? Mozart’s Birthplace is now a museum that can be explored in about an hour; you’ll learn about his upbringing and the personal and social circumstances that led to his passion for music. This quick detour in the heart of town is the perfect  way to spend your free day in Salzburg during our 14-day Germany, Switzerland & Austria tour. Visiting Mozart’s Birthplace is definitely one of the top things to do in Austria.

Kunsthistorisches Museum. A classic trip to Europe must include art. And on your trip to Austria—perhaps on our A Week in Switzerland, Germany & Austria tour—add the Kunsthistorisches Museum to your list of must-dos in Vienna. Housing the Habsburgs treasures, this is the largest arts institution in Vienna. The collection is among the most important in the world, with works by the likes of Raphael, Rembrandt, and Pieter Bruegel the Elder. This is one for the art lovers. 

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Where and what to eat and drink in Austria:

To eat well in Austria means to indulge in traditional Austrian cuisine, many of which you’ve probably heard of. Wiener schnitzel, anyone? Austrian food can sometimes be heavy (it’s mountain eating!), but our Austria travel guide wouldn’t be very helpful if we don’t urge you to leave room for dessert! Austrian cakes and pastries are world-famous. 

Wiener schnitzel. The Wiener schnitzel is so popular that you might think it’s a dish that only exists to promote Austrian tourism. But these crispy-fried cutlets of veal are actually a prominent part of Austrian cuisine. Everyone eats them. And there are lots of restaurants, especially in Vienna (Wiener means Viennese in German), that focus exclusively on this dish. Meat lovers should seek out a serving of this delicacy. But be warned: A typical serving size of schnitzel is massive! So either come hungry or share with a friend. If you’re on our 9-day Central Europe for Solo Travelers tour, sharing a schnitzel is a great way to bond with your new travel buddies.

Sachertorte. This decadent cake is another historic hallmark of Austrian cuisine. And popping into Hotel Sacher, a fancy hotel that claims to be the treat’s originator, to indulge in a slice of Sachertorte is one of the best things to do in Austria. But the Sachertorte—a rich chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam running in the middle—is served in many cafes, pastry shops, and restaurants all over Austria. 

Wine. It might not be world-famous like French, Californian, or Italian wine, but Austrian wine is delicious and becoming more beloved all over the world. To the east and southeast of the country are some of Austria’s most fertile vineyards. And if you’re in Vienna, you needn’t travel very far to reach them. Within the city limits is one of Austria’s most exciting wine countries. You should visit them whenever you have free time. But if you want to go farther afield, know that many of our Austria tours, including the 15-day Highlights of Eastern Europe tour, feature an excursion to the Wachau Valley to taste some fabulous regional wines. 

Try Austrian cuisine

What to do in Austria: Top activities to add to your itinerary

The perfect trip to Austria should include a mix of relaxation, cultural intrigue, and great food and drink. 

Visit a traditional Heuriger. One of the best things about traveling to Vienna is the wine culture. No other capital city has what Vienna has: a robust winemaking region within its borders. And the best way to experience it is in a Heuriger, or a wine tavern on the outskirts of town. One excursion on our 14-day Germany, Switzerland & Austria tour includes a visit to one of these charming venues where you’ll get to sample regional wine along with a homemade dinner of local delicacies. Add this to your list of fun things to do in Austria. 

Cruise the Danube. If you’re wondering how to plan a trip to Austria, consider adding a sail along the Danube River to your program. This important body of water, which flows for 217 miles in Austria, is the second longest river in Europe. On many of our Austria tours, like the 9-day A Week in Switzerland, Germany & Austria tour, sign up for our Danube River Cruise & Melk Abbey excursion. From Vienna, you’ll cruise down the Danube River, and along the way, you’ll spot historic castles and quaint villages before disembarking in the town of Dürnstein, where Richard the Lionheart was once held captive.

Listen to classical music. An opera or an orchestra experience is definitely among the best things to do in Austria. In Vienna, the Opera House is an iconic part of the art scene. But because Mozart was born in Salzburg, your Austria trip could be taken to the next level by joining our Mozart Concert & Dinner excursion there. (It’s available on our 14-day Germany, Switzerland & Austria tour.) Inside the 1,200-year-old St. Peter Stiftskulinarium, you’ll get to hear some of Mozart’s most famous pieces accompanied by an opera singer as you savor a three-course dinner of regional Austrian fare. 

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Top souvenirs to bring home from Austria:

Austrian snacks. As a consolation prize for your friends at home who didn’t join your Austria tour, bring them chocolate-y snacks. Mozartkugel, or Mozart balls, is the perfect treat. They’re chocolate bon-bons filled with pistachio, marzipan, and nougat. Super easy to pack! Did you know that you can also take a Sachertorte home? Most bakeries will box one up for you to carry onto your flight back to North America. 

Swarovski crystal. We can’t imagine a more elegant, more beautiful souvenir of your trip to Austria than a shimmering piece of Swarovski crystal. The world-class jewelry and decor brand is based in Austria, and there are countless shops dedicated to their sparkling creations all over the country. Whether you’re keen on decorative figurines or a piece of jewelry, these are the type of souvenirs you and your loved ones can cherish for years. 

Snow globes. You’ve seen them everywhere, but did you know that snow globes were first invented in Vienna? It was made by accident by Erwin Perzy III in 1905. And today, you can still visit the Original Vienna Snow Globe Factory to pick one up that will beautifully commemorate your Austria trip.

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What to pack for your trip to Austria

Comfortable walking shoes. Just like with any of our tours, shoes that you can comfortably walk in a few hours a day are among the most important things you’ll want to pack. Shoes that also have a solid grip to tackle both urban cobblestones and some rural terrain will work best.

Layerable, seasonal clothing. Because our Austria tours often include destinations that vary in altitude and climate, it’s important to be prepared. Light, layerable clothing helps when traveling from the mountains to the city. Even in the summer, you never quite know how chilly it might get in the evenings so be sure to pack something to layer on top of your lighter outfits. But during the winter, sweaters and coats are a must. You’re in an Alpine country! 

Refillable water bottle. Austria has very drinkable tap water. Some Austrians even prefer its pure taste over bottled water. To ensure you’re always hydrated on your trip to Austria, bring your refillable water bottle from home.

You’re now ready for your very own Austria adventure. Get started by shopping our Austria tours now.

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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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