The picture-postcard country of Austria is a favourite amongst travellers and whilst it may be small in size, Austria is big on things to see and do.
In winter, the beautiful Austrian Alps offers some of the best skiing in Europe with world famous resorts such as Kitzbuhel, and the ski resorts are all very accessible. The Tyrolean capital, Innsbruck, is just a 25 minute funicular ride to the ski fields so there's more time for skiing on the huge array of ski runs.
In summer time, the Austrian mountains are popular for hiking and mountain biking, but for those feeling a little less active, Austria boasts some of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Vienna, Innsbruck, Salzburg and Graz are bursting with magnificent architecture, culture, fashion and gourmet delights. And when you are ready to venture outside the cities, the glorious scenery - sparkling lakes, towering mountains and lush green fields - will take your breath away.
Capital City: Vienna
Population: 8,200,000 (approx.)
Austria is made up of the following nine provinces:
The Austrian capital needs no introduction to most. The city at the crossroads of Western and Eastern Europe is rich in history and culture and is home to some of Austria's most famous buildings. The Schonbrunn Palace is one of Austria's most photographed buildings and the first stop on the tourist trail for most visitors. The massive 1440 room summer house of the Habsburgs is impressive, as are the beautiful grounds which house the world's oldest zoo.
For art lovers, Vienna is paradise. Home to a huge array of museums housing priceless works of art, paintings, sculpture, glass works and antiquities, there is something for everyone.
Music has long been an important part of life in Vienna. The first Vienna Boys' Choir was established by Emperor Maximilian in 1498 and it continues today with around 100 choristers divided into four touring choirs. Boys aged between ten and fourteen, mainly from Austria, are individually interviewed, and only a chosen few are given the honour of being part of this world famous choir. Concerts are held each week at the Musikverein, the centre of classical music in Europe. A number of orchestras performing classical music from the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss also perform regularly in Vienna. With venues like Schonbrunn Palace, Hofburg, Konzerthaus and the State Opera, a performance is an experience you will never forget.
Another long standing institution in Vienna is the Spanish Riding School with the world-famous Lipizzaner horses. It is the only institution in the world which has practiced for over 430 years! The objective of the Renaissance-style training the horses undertake is to create an unparalleled harmony between rider and horse. Performances are held regularly at the Imperial Palace (Hofburg).
Don't forget to take time out from your sightseeing to enjoy a coffee at a traditional Viennese Kaffee haus and be sure to enjoy a slice of Sacher Torte, a delicious chocolate cake filled with apricot jam. The original recipe has remained a secret since 1832 and the Sacher Torte is a true Viennese institution!
Made famous by music - both that of Mozart, who was born in the city, and the film "The Sound of Music" starring Julie Andrews - Salzburg is Austria's second most visited city and it's no wonder why.
Wandering the narrow cobblestoned streets, you almost feel as if you are walking in a living musuem. Baroque architecture abounds including the magnificent Mirabell Palace and the Dom (Cathedral), whilst other important buildings include Mozart's Birthplace, Residenz and the Franciscan Church which dates back to the 8th century.
Getreidegasse and Linzer Gasse are two of Salzburg's most popular shopping streets. Their quaint charm entices visitors to linger as they admire the well-kept facades and fascinating shops. Here you can sample the city's speciality, the Mozartkugel, a chocolate ball with a marzipan centre.
Keeping watch over the city is Hohensalzburg Fortress, the largest preserved citadel in Central Europe. Built in 1077, the castle is definitely worth a look and provides a great view over the city. A 15 minute walk from Salzburg's 'old town' will get you to the fortress or take the funicular.
Follow in the footsteps of Julie Andrews on a "Sound of Music" tour and visit some of the locations used in the popular movie. And whilst you're out and about seeing if the hills really are alive, why not visit Hellbrunn, a 17th century country palace? Built for Prince-archbishop Markus Sittikus, the spacious park-like grounds include a number of trick fountains and a zoo!
With the beautiful Alps as a backdrop to the city, Innsbruck is a delightful holiday destination. Most visitors will spend the majority of their time in the charming Alt Stadt (old town) and here you will find some of Innsbruck's most magnificent buildings.
The Golden Roof is the focal point of the cobblestoned, car-free old town, and its 2657 copper tiles are as impressive today as they were back in the lates 1400s when the building was finished.The Alt Stadt is also home to City Tower, which offers great views over the rooftops of Innsbruck and the mountains.
The royals of years gone by provided Innsbruck with plenty of grand buildings including the Imperial Palace, and Ambras Castle, which is situated on a hillside overlooking the city, and the city's churches are richly decorated in baroque style complete with magnificent frescoes.
Those looking for a modern side to Innsbruck need look no further than the Bergisel Stadium. Recently renovated and re-opened, the original ski jump was erected in 1925 and was home to the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics. With renovations now complete, the lofty tower provides excellent views over the city and to the mountains beyond.
Visitors to Austria will soon run out of superlatives as they travel the countryside. Around each corner there seems to be a view even more impressive than the last. With glistening lakes, snow capped mountains and quaint villages, Austria is a postcard come to life. Happily and easily combining its history and traditions of times gone by with modern technology, a visit to rural Austria is the best way to re-charge your batteries!
© Holidays to Europe.
Photos by www.austria.info and Holidays to Europe