Overview of Austria
Austria is world renowned for its startling scenery – from the beautiful Alps to the stunning views of the Danube Valley. It is also famed for its historical and cultural buildings and the love of skiing. Home of great legends such as Mozart, Freud and Schubert, Austria has everything a well seasoned traveller would love and enjoy.
Austria’s cities are equally as beautiful as its monuments and tributes to the past. Salzburg (the birthplace of Mozart) is framed by the breathtaking snow-covered mountains of the Alps, while Vienna is dominated by architectural masterpieces. The country is landlocked by the Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, Switzerland, Germany, Slovakia and Liechtenstein – leading to a mix of cultures and languages.
The official language here is German, although many people speak Croatian, Slovenian and Hungarian too. Austria has a population of around 83.million people spread over 32,377 square miles of land. A member of the United Nations and the European Union, Austria also uses the Euro as its currency of choice and has a per capita GDP of $43,723.
Austria’s capital city Vienna is considered to be one of the richest in the world, with one of the highest standards of living. In fact, over 20% of the Austrian population live in Vienna alone. Austria regards itself a largely Roman Catholic country with 73% of people admitting to being Catholic.
Climate and Geography
Austria has a temperate and Alpine climate due to the large number of mountain ranges (the Alps) within the country. The Austrian climate displays continental features with less rain than the alpine areas. The winters here are freezing with average temperatures around ?10 – 0 °C. Summer temperatures fair better with average temperatures in the mid-20s. Temperatures as high as the mid to high 30s°C have also been recorded.
Regardless of the temperature, you should always take a high factor sunblock with you if you are planning to go for winter sports, since the high altitude coupled with the glare from the snow can cause burns to the face.
The Central Eastern Alps, Northern Limestone Alps and Southern Limestone Alps all form part of the Austrian topography. Surprisingly though, only 32% of the country is below 500 metres (1,640 ft). The Alps in the western side of Austria are balanced by the low lands and plains in the eastern part of the country.
The Eastern Alps make up the largest proportion of the mountain ranges and consists of 62% of the nation’s total area. There are also a great number of hills here, a characteristic of the Austrian geography. The second greatest mountain area can be found in the North and is known as the granite plateau.
Main Cities in Austria
Vienna: Vienna is based on a former Roman military settlement called Vindobona. This is actually typical of many cities in Europe. Vienna is the capital of the Austrian Republic, the main seat for the government and inhabited by 1.7million people. Many Austrians from surrounding cities and towns come to Vienna to find work.
Vienna is the political and cultural centre of Austria, and is quintessentially a multinational city –this is reflected in the various settlements and pockets of ethnic groups within the city. There are many Czech and Hungarians living here with their own communities and languages.
Vienna is most famous for its musicians such as Mozart, Beethoven and Falco. Even today, Vienna is seen as the ‘go to’ place for arts, music and culture.
Salzburg: This city was officially placed on the map when the Benedictine Monastery of St Peter’s was built by St. Rupert. Because of the strict religious rules in place, Salzburg became similar to the Vatican and was known as the ‘Rome of the North’ for its key religious influence. The town became a church state complete with an Archbishop.
Salzburg rests between two mountains Kapuzinerberg and Mönchsberg and the River Salzach. A beautifully built city with colourful town houses, rich castles, palaces, styled gardens and many churches and monasteries, Salzburg really is picturesque. The birthplace of Mozart, Salzburg has become synonymous with arts and music more than its religious traditions. In fact, Mozart square was named after the great musician, and the musical traditions still live on in this colourful town.
The musical beats continue in the many music schools within Salzburg, and play host to thousands of musical students each year. The cultural Festival (Salzburger Festspiele) takes place each year and offers a variety of operas, concerts and theatrical plays, covering all tastes and styles.
Graz: The capital city of Styria, in the South-Eastern tip of Austria, Graz is seen as the second capital after Vienna because of its strategic location and because of the fact that it is a flourishing trading centre here.
The architecture in Graz is determined largely by the struggle of the Reformists and the Habsburgs’ Counter Reformation. Buildings such as the Mausoleum and the old university were built to represent Graz’s strict Catholic beliefs and as a sign to the Protestants who still remain here to the present day.
Graz is home to the Schloss Eggenberg – a superb fortress of Baroque architecture and also an influencing factor in the surroundings buildings which were erected at the time. It is the second largest city in Austria with around 230.000 people living here. There are many cultural opportunities here such as the Styriade – an annual exhibition comprising contemporary art, theatre and performance art.
Innsbruck: The Inn valley is ideally located from a geographical and central point of view and became a military transport route for the Roman Empire. The Romans built a fortified road fort, Veldidena, which can now be found as a part of Wilten. Innsbruck can be translated as ‘Bridge over the River Inn’ and it is said that the whole of Innsbruck is built around this bridge.
With 150,000 people living here, and its position as the gateway to many winter sports (including the title of host to the Winter Olympic games twice), it is considered to be the unofficial capital for snowboarding in Europe.
Cars – Austria has an excellent road network because Austrians love their cars! Despite this, all the major cities have a chronic parking problem because spaces are scarce and very expensive. The average parking time is around 90 minutes on a meter and is very dear in price.
Anyone wanting to drive in Austria will need to get a Vignette – a form of toll allowing you to drive on the motorway. These vignettes can be purchased at gas stations, border crossings etc. By law, all car owners must carry the following in their vehicle or be liable to a fine: warning triangle, first aid kit, reflective vest. A failure to stock these in your car will result in a fine.
Public transport – Austria has superb public transport links such as Austria’s rail network and metro services which are comfortable, fast and very reliable. The main rail website offers excellent information for tourists. The main cities are serviced by trains which are frequent and offer customers exceptional customer service.
You can call the main Austrian Call Center which is very user-friendly and very helpful for tourists on: 05-1717. Because the Austrian public transport network is so good, you won’t really miss or need a car.
Buses here are also frequent, although most locals prefer to use rail as it is much faster and often cheaper too.
Air links – Austria’s major cities all have their own International airports and you can fly from Linz, Salzburg, Innsbruck, Graz and Klagenfurt and Vienna. The National Carrier of Austria is the Austrian Airlines which connects all major cities domestically as well as travelling to other international destinations. Other low cost carriers connect Vienna, Linz and Bratislava to different European destinations and include AirBerlin, FlyNiki, Ryanair, Sky Europe and German Wings.
Cycling – Austria encourages its citizens to use modes of transport other than cars. One of the ways in which you can travel around this beautiful country and take all the sights and sounds in is by using a bicycle. Most Austrian cities have designated cycle places where you can rent a bicycle and these can be found outside all main train stations.
Each city has designated cycle lanes and specially planned routes that allow you to appreciate the splendour of Austria. Special trails around the Danube river have been built to ensure this wonderful country can be loved by all.
Things to See and Do
Austria offers tourists some amazing places to visit as well as fantastic things to do. Home of winter sports, the most notable things to do are all in the snow. Austria has more ski resorts than any other European destination. If you are visiting Austria purely for the sports, the best time to visit is between December and March when the weather conditions are perfect for skiing and snowboarding.
The best places to visit for snow sports are Albach, Saalbach and Solden. These resorts offer lessons for tourists with English speaking guides and reasonable prices. They are ideal for those who have never skied before.
Mozarts Birthplace in Salzburg is a multistory, yellow building with white shutters. Now a museum known as the Mozarteum, the building can be toured to learn more about his life and they have concerts in June through to October which makes it perfect for music lovers of all ages.
Austria may be home of the ski slope, but it is also full of spa towns such as Baden where you can enjoy steam baths, pools, mud therapies and other treatments which are perfect for when you have had a hard day on the slopes.
Some of the best Austrian tourist attractions are the numerous castles that the country has in most of its major cities. Vienna has two amazing castles or palaces that once served the Hapsburgs. The Schonbrunn Palace and Hofburg Palace are simply amazing and impress on many levels.
You can also book a romantic cruise on the mighty Danube river, complete with gourmet meals to boot. You can take a simple Danube cruise or you can include other countries or rivers such as Amsterdam in your travels.
The Hohe Tauern National Park is one of the greatest wildernesses in Europe. Superbly preserved, it covers an area of around 1,000 sq km, and lies at the foothills of the Alps. There is plenty of wildlife here and the park has lots of activities including snowboarding slopes and nature trails.
Eisriesenwelt Caves are the largest ice caves in the world. You can tour the caves with a traditional carbide lamp to guide yourself though them. Inside you will find all kinds of ice formations including gigantic columns and towers, waterfalls and glaciers. Because the caves stay frozen all year round, you should remember to take warm clothing with you.
Gurk Cathedral is said to be one of the most outstanding example of Romanesque architecture in Austria. It has a huge baroque altar decorated with 72 statues and 82 angel heads. Under the cathedral is a 100-pillared crypt which you can explore.
The Benedictine Abbey in Salzburg is a highly regarded cultural and artistic centre as well as a world renowned baroque museum. The main abbey was destroyed by a great fire in 1865, but the Baroque library survived. It is the biggest ecclesiastical library in the world and an outstanding architectural masterpiece. Here you will find paintings, rare manuscripts and early printed books.
This article was reproduced at our sister site on their visit Austria page