The mention of Austria conjures up images of snow-capped peaks of the Alps and crystal blue lakes surrounded by thatched roof houses. While this picture of natural beauty is accurate, Austria is also steeped in imperial history and wildly famous for its classical music and performing arts. Age old handicrafts continue to be an important part of Austria’s culture and make popular souvenirs. There is plenty to be explored and enjoyed in this small land-locked country in Europe.
It is not only Austria’s natural beauty that visitors seek out, but also its history, cuisine, culture, and arts. From the timeless city of Innsbruck with its famous Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl), to the musical capital of Salzburg, and the famous sacher cake (sacher torte) in Vienna, there is much to see and experience in Austria. Known for their hospitality and kind demeanor, visitors who don’t speak German will get along here just fine, as most Austrians speak some, if not fluent, English.
Peak visiting times can be split easily into two seasons: summer and winter, so the best time to visit Austria depends entirely on what you plan to do during your stay. Both seasons attract different types of visitors, with the winter season primarily attracting skiers. Both seasons are considered peak tourist seasons; however, the winter is busier than the summer, with many visitors seeking out the slopes over the Christmas and New Year period.
Vienna, on the other hand, experiences high tourist season during April to October, with the peak months being August and September. This is because most of the big music and art festivals take place during these months. Both hotel and restaurant bookings can be hard to get during these two months.
Currency: the Euro
Official language: German
Austrian history has been tumultuous, first inhabited by the Celtics and then conquered by the Romans. After the fall of the Roman Empire, it was the Bavarians and Slavs that occupied the country. By the 8th century, Charles the Great conquered Austria, but power was taken by the House of Babenberg shortly after his death.
The Habsburgs, Austria’s most famous ruling house, took over from the dying Babenberg around the 13th century and stayed in power until WWI. At one point, the Habsburg Empire and later, the Austro-Hungarian Empire consisted of modern day Bosnia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Serbia, and parts of Italy, Poland, and Ukraine.
Because the period of Habsburg rule was so long, it greatly influenced the culture and arts in Austria still represented today by the many beautiful historic buildings, castles, and palaces. The Habsburg rulers were great patrons of the arts, which explains why Austria has such as rich heritage of music and art.
Austrian culture has been greatly influenced not only by the Habsburg imperial family, but also by its neighbors. Vienna has long been considered the music capital of Europe, and is home to world-class music schools. Famous composers such as Johann Strauss, Joseph Hayden, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart all learned, composed, taught, and played in Vienna. This means that Vienna is also home to some of the best venues on the planet, such as the Golden Hall, the Vienna State Opera, and the Musikverein, to name a few. There is always something going on in the music scene in Vienna, including numerous festivals.
Also home to the Alps and great outdoor sports, Austria has many world-class athletes. With all the peaks to conquer, it is no surprise that some of the globe’s top mountaineers are Austrian including Peter Aufschnaiter, Heinrich Harrer, and Ludwig Purtscheller. Great Austrian skiers include Toni Sailer, Franz Klammer, and Hermann Meier. Austria’s lengthy military history has created a long partnership with horses, and the Spanish Riding School in Vienna stands at the pinnacle of horsemanship in the world.
Generally, the summer season runs from June to September, with July and August seeing the highest temperatures, around 77°F (25°C). These are the most pleasant months to visit Austria if skiing isn’t on the agenda. The southern regions, such as Styria and Carinthia, are generally dryer than other regions. The winter season starts around October, when temperatures can drop below 30°F (-10°C) in the mountainous regions. Dressing appropriately during the winter months is a must. Snowfall is generally seen just before Christmas and then peaks in January.
Austria is part of the Schengen Agreement, which means there are no border controls for nationals of EU countries. EU citizens only require a valid national identity card or passport to enter Austria. Non-EU citizen require a valid passport and possibly a visa if you intend on a longer visit.
Taxis are readily available and safe in Austria. It is not usual to flag down a cab, but those needing to get somewhere in a hurry should make their way to the nearest taxi stand instead, which are usually marked around town or at major hotels. Look for licensed taxis, which will have a lit ‘taxi’ sign on the roof and the driver’s permit displayed in the front. Taxis are all metered; however, they can quickly become expensive if traveling long distance. In Vienna, the leading taxi companies are: Taxi 31300 (+43-1-313000), Taxi Wien (+43-664-4604-389), and Taxi 60160 (+43-1-60106).
Many cities in Austria now offer pedicabs, or bicycle taxis, an eco-friendly way to travel. These pedicabs are generally available in city centers and have fixed prices for destinations so the driver should be able to share a price list. The pedicabs are three-wheel bicycles with a canopy roof, and can take up to two adults along with some baggage (not suitcases).
Strassenbahn or strees cars still ply most cities in Austria. The street cars are an easy way to explore as they travel above ground, making it is easy to figure out where to get on or off. Most cities offer day passes to ride the street cars, saving travelers the hassle of having to buy a ticket for each ride. In fact, buying tickets can be tricky, so ask for help the first time around.
Public buses are a great way to explore any city center. Austrian cities all offer excellent bus networks, with services reasonably priced. A day pass is available for most areas and is the most economical way to travel for those who intend to use the bus more than three times in one day. Obtain a map for help navigating a city by bus and note they do not run through the night, with many stopping services at midnight.
Before you leave on your holiday, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:
Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)
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