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Things to Do in Austria

Often known for the musicians and films it inspired, Austria mixes quaint Alpine charm with abundant opportunities for arts and culture, set against a sweeping Sound of Music landscape. The capital, Vienna, beckons with its rich musical history, plentiful cafes, and emphasis on the arts. A walking tour through the city reveals a mix of architectural styles, from Gothic to Renaissance to art nouveau, which serve as testament to Vienna's ability to seamlessly blend old and new—St. Stephen's Cathedral is a must-see sight, with its fairy-tale appearance. In the city center sits Wiener coffeehouse, where artists and thinkers such as Beethoven, Sigmund Freud, and Gustaf Klimt have all assembled masterpieces while eating apfelstrudel and sipping famously thick hot chocolates. If music is on your mind, a nighttime visit to the Schonbrunn Palace or the Opera house shows the immortality of classical tunes. The smaller city of Salzburg, the picturesque birthplace of Mozart, is just a three-hour trip away. From Salzburg—with its river cruises and fortresses—the mountain landscape of Bavaria unfurls. Many tours take travelers through the valleys, with visits to salt mines, wine tastings, and bicycling; and nature is a year-round option, with ski opportunities in the winter and hikes in the summers. And many visitors to Austria opt for a train trip through the country to see the imposing Austrian Alps, deep lakes, and idyllic villages in one of the world's happiest countries.
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Schönbrunn Palace (Schloss Schönbrunn)
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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.

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Kunsthaus Graz Art Museum (Kunsthaus Graz)
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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.

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Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl)
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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.

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Bergisel Ski Jump
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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.

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Eagle's Nest (Kehlsteinhaus)
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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.

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Forchtenstein Castle
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A landmark castle in the Rosaliengebirge foothills of Burgenland, Forchtenstein has its origins in the Middle Ages although today it has an impressive Baroque façade. Its keep and tower date from the 13th century, when it was a constructed as a defence castle. In 1622 Emperor Ferdinand II awarded Forchtenstein to the powerful aristocratic Esterházy family, and they were responsible for extending it into today’s vast fortress, adding new wings and a chapel as well as decorating the interior with ornate patterns, coats of arms and scenes from mythology, plus colorful frescoes adorning the walls of the courtyard.

Having survived unscathed through the Turkish invasions of the 16th to 18th centuries, the castle became the repository for the precious Esterházy trove of family heirlooms. Three permanent exhibitions are held there, and treasures on display include the largest collection of medieval weapons in Europe, Austria’s biggest horde of ancestral portraits and a curiosity cabinet full of Baroque artifacts ranging from priceless silver furniture to carved ivory, sleighs used by the Esterházy offspring and automata. Other Esterházy properties nearby at Eisenstadt and Lackenbach can also be toured, together with an auditorium constructed in a quarry at St Margarethen.

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Hofburg Imperial Palace (Hofburg Wien)
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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.

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Graz Schlossberg
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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.

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Mirabell Palace and Gardens (Schloss Mirabell und Mirabellgarten)
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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.

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St. Stephen's Cathedral (Stephansdom)
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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.

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More Things to Do in Austria

Heroes’ Square (Heldenplatz)

Heroes’ Square (Heldenplatz)

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A colossal piazza right at the heart of Imperial Vienna, Heldenplatz (or Heroes' Square) stretches out in front of the sweeping arcs of the Hofburg Palace, which was commissioned for the Habsburg Imperial Family in 1881. Constructed under the orders of Emperor Franz Joseph II as part of the city’s elegant Ringstrasse thoroughfare in the late 19th century, the square is dominated by two vast equestrian statues of Archduke Charles of Austria and Prince Eugene of Savoy, and completely surrounded by the Baroque beauty of Vienna’s most important landmarks.

The Habsburg dynasty, rulers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, lived on this spot in various palaces from the 13th century until its demise in 1918; now the palace is home to several sublime Imperial collections in the Neue Burg, Sisi and art museums; the Imperial Apartments; the office of the Austrian President; the National Library; the Hofburgs’ private chapel; and the Augustinian Church, parish church of Vienna’s aristocracy. The Spanish Riding School is in the Winter Riding School and members of the Vienna Boys’ Choir perform at concerts in the Burgtheater.

Originally Heldenplatz was enclosed at its southern flank, but this now stands open; the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is all that remains of the walls. In keeping with its role in the center of Viennese history, it was from a balcony overlooking the square that Hitler announced the Anschluss on March 15, 1938.

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Graz Main Square (Hauptplatz)

Graz Main Square (Hauptplatz)

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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.

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Styrian Armory (Landeszeughaus)

Styrian Armory (Landeszeughaus)

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The Styrian Armory in Graz is the world’s largest historic army, holding 32,000 pieces of weaponry, tools and suits of armor. Built between 1642 and 1645, the armory stood on the front lines for Austria’s battles with the Ottoman Empire and Hungarian rebels for the next few centuries. One of the most visited of the dozen museums that comprise the Universalmuseum Joanneum, the Armory features exhibitions on four floors, arranged in a way reminiscent of a 17th century arsenal. On the first floor, visitors will find cannons, mortars and muskets from the 16th to 18th centuries, while the second floor focuses on helmets, suits of armor and pistols. The third floor shows off more armor, including German-made armor and equestrian armor for nobles. Finally, the fourth floor is home to staff weapons such as morning stars, halberds and pikes used by foot soldiers, as well as swords and sabres once used by horsemen.

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Salzburg Cathedral (Dom zu Salzburg)

Salzburg Cathedral (Dom zu Salzburg)

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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.

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Hellbrunn Palace (Schloss Hellbrunn)

Hellbrunn Palace (Schloss Hellbrunn)

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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.

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Mondsee Cathedral (Basilika St. Michael)

Mondsee Cathedral (Basilika St. Michael)

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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.

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Swarovski Crystal Worlds (Swarovski Kristallwelten)

Swarovski Crystal Worlds (Swarovski Kristallwelten)

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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.

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Hohensalzburg Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg)

Hohensalzburg Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg)

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Built in 1077, Austria’s Hohensalzburg Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg) is one of the largest fully-preserved castles in Central Europe. Here you can enjoy incredible countryside views and guided tours of the baroque state rooms, lookout towers, and museum collections.

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Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper)

Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper)

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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.

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Area 47

Area 47

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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.

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Salzburg Old Town (Salzburger Altstadt)

Salzburg Old Town (Salzburger Altstadt)

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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.

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Vienna Prater (Wiener Prater)

Vienna Prater (Wiener Prater)

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One of Vienna’s most beloved parks, the Prater is both an oasis full of greenery and a family-friendly amusement park. Enjoy views of the Danube from the towering Ferris wheel earns big views of the Danube, walk down leafy avenues, visit museums, and join the local crowds turns that out for Sunday races at the Prater race track.

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Hundertwasser House (Hundertwasserhaus)

Hundertwasser House (Hundertwasserhaus)

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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.

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St. Gilgen (Sankt Gilgen)

St. Gilgen (Sankt Gilgen)

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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.

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