Austria is blessed with some of the world’s most beautiful natural landscapes, from sprawling snow-streaked mountains to alpine lakes and broad, sweeping rivers. Among them, the country’s cities offer something for every type of traveller, whether you’re seeking world-class museums, rich musical heritage, innovative gastronomy or unique artistic creations.
Best for: Museums and galleries
The Austrian capital is a wonderful blend of secessionist architecture, grand imperial palaces, hidden wine gardens and enough museums to keep you busy for weeks. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the 1873 Vienna World Fair, so expect plenty of special exhibitions and re-openings, such as the Women at Work exhibition at the Vienna Museum of Technology, as well as two new halls at the Weltmuseum Wien focusing on the relationship between Austria and Japan.
Art remains at the forefront of this year’s celebrations, proving it’s as important now as it was in 1873. The Belvedere Museum will celebrate its 300th anniversary this year and is marking the occasion with two new exhibitions — The Belvedere: 300 Years a Place of Art, and Klimt: Inspired by Van Gogh, Rodin, Matisse... Also worth exploring are the Leopold Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of works by celebrated Austrian Expressionist painter Egon Schiele; the Albertina, with its astonishing collection of graphic works; and the Kunsthistorisches Museum, with its vast collection of work by the celebrated 16th Century Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
Don’t miss: Vienna 1900: Birth of Modernism. This outstanding permanent exhibition at the country's vast Leopold Museum tells the story of the birth of a new era and the end of another, in over 1,300 works of art.
Best for: Musical heritage
Salzburg’s charming historic core is one of the best preserved in Austria. Many travel here to admire the baroque architecture of the Old Town, dine at the restaurants along Linzergasse, and visit the famous walkways of the Mirabell Palace and Gardens. However, it’s arguably the city’s deep musical heritage that makes the greatest impression. Salzburg was the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — the house where the great composer was born in 1756 remains one of the city’s most popular museums — and it’s developed a thriving musical community, with a packed calendar of concerts and events.
King of them all is the Salzburg Festival, a programme of music, drama and opera that runs for five weeks from late July until the end of August. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the festival’s co-founder, the great theatre director Max Reinhardt, with commemorative events and concerts planned throughout the month. These include a celebration of Reinhardt’s work at the Schloss Leopoldskron, the former residence he spent years restoring in exquisite baroque style.
Don’t miss: Salzburg's impressive craft beer scene. The city's long brewing heritage can be explored at a range of institutions, from centuries-old breweries to innovative modern spots. Beer-lovers should make a particular beeline for the Augustiner Bräustübl in the Mülln district, where you can snag a table in one of the five halls or sample specialties under the sun in the spacious garden area.
Best for: A gastronomic getaway
A former European Capital of Culture, Graz, in the state of Styria, has gained a reputation as Austria’s culinary capital, with its superb restaurants and bustling farmers’ markets making use of fresh produce from the surrounding farmland and vineyards. Start your day with a visit to one of the city’s thriving markets to sample a range of local delicacies, before spending the afternoon exploring the vineyards of the surrounding Styrian wine region.
In Graz, Austria’s unique blend of tradition and modernity is reflected not only in its kitchens, but in its art and architecture. The Kunsthaus Graz art museum has become one of the area’s most distinctive landmarks, with 2023 marking the 20th anniversary of its construction. This distinctive piece of modern architecture resembling a giant, blue-panelled sea cucumber sits comfortably across the river from the historic Old Town centre and hosts an extensive programme of contemporary art exhibitions.
Don’t miss: A visit to the local farmers' market at Kaiser-Josef-Platz, where you can pick up everything from local bacon and smoked sausages to apples, runner beans and — a true Graz specialty — pumpkin seed oil.
4. Bad Ischl
Best for: Lakeside lazing
The small spa town of Bad Ischl is the gateway to Austria’s striking Salzkammergut region, where 76 lakes are scattered among breathtaking mountain scenery. In 2024, Bad Ischl — along with 22 other spots in the Salzkammergut — will become European Capital of Culture, a title fitting for a town that was the summer residence of the Emperor Franz Joseph I.
It’s a place where you can swim in the glassy waters of Altausseer See, take a cable car up onto the Dachstein plateau or enjoy hiking trails with epic views of the Hallstätter Glacier. But there are also dozens of other places to visit in the Salzkammergut — whether you want to experience picturesque lakes and awe-inspiring ice caves or take a ride on the Schafbergbahn mountain railway.
Don’t miss: The UNESCO-listed salt mines at Hallstatt have a fascinating history that stretches back some 7,000 years. Explore the mines, take in a ‘world heritage view’ from the skywalk viewing platform and explore the themed trail that stretches across the Hallstatt high valley.
Best for: Creative arts
Set on the banks of the Danube, Linz may see less visitors than Vienna or Salzburg, but it is nevertheless a vibrant creative centre, with several world-class museums and cultural venues. Top among these is Austria’s leading technology museum, the Ars Electronica Center — a place where you can see exhibitions on the likes of AI and neurobionics, and even try your hand at programming robots.
A UNESCO City of Media Arts, Linz is also home to the excellent Lentos Kunstmuseum (Museum of Modern Art) and the Musiktheater am Volksgarten — one of Europe’s most modern opera houses, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2023.
Don’t miss: A visit to the harbour area, where huge warehouses are the canvas for a vast open air street art project, the Mural Harbor. Discover its 300 graffiti artworks on a guided tour.
Fly directly from numerous UK airports to Vienna, Salzburg and Graz. Alternatively, Salzburg is just 11 hours from the UK by train. Travelling between cities is simple, thanks to Austria’s excellent rail network — it takes around 2 ½ hours to travel between Vienna and Salzburg or Graz, for example — and a comprehensive network of local bus routes.
Find out more at austria.info/en
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