Quaint wine taverns, inviting coffee houses, remarkable baroque architecture and traditional markets - all hallmarks of life in Austria.
The Sound of Music film is as accurate today as it was when first released in 1965, in terms of depicting Austria’s stunning scenery, with vast expanses of luscious green hills and meadows of brightly coloured flowers, set against the backdrop of the majesty of the Alps. You will likely be familiar with the dirndl (comprised of a blouse, bodice, skirt and decorative apron) as the traditional female dress. Meanwhile national dress for men consists of lederhosen - those distinct short, leather breeches secured with embroidered suspenders - together with a Troylean hat (typically made of green or black felt and decorated with a feather).
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When it comes to music, Austria has a long-standing reputation as being of great significance. It is the birth place to some of the world’s greatest composers and musicians of all time, including Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss II, and hosts multiple music festivals throughout the year. We also have Austria to thank for Swarovski crystal and the invention of both the snow globe and the accordion, the latter being an instrument widely used in traditional folk music. Landlocked by the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Liechtenstein, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Switzerland, beautiful Austria has much to offer a curious traveller.
Vienna is a wondrous city that attracts millions of visitors each year. Melk Abbey is a highlight not to be missed, where you can walk through true baroque splendour. Originally built as a palace in the early 1700s, the Abbey lies on the picturesque banks of the Danube River, and has been a sacred home to Benedictine monks for over 900 years.
Also found in Vienna is the magnificent Schönbrunn Palace - a colossal 17th century masterpiece that has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996. Here you can admire lavish frescoed ceilings, crystal chandeliers and gilded Rococo frames, inside the very same building where Mozart performed as a six-year-old prodigy. Not only is the opulent interior and exterior of the palace truly impressive, the surrounding gardens are fittingly majestic too. Hitting the shops in Kärntnerstrasse Strasse fuses 21st century shopping heaven with all the charm of a centuries-old street that has existed since Roman times. Something particularly special about Vienna is that it is the only major city in the world to be partially located in a UNESCO-designated Biosphere Reserve: The Vienna Woods. These Woods provide a stable habitat for numerous endangered species and offer exceptional hiking trails. Beyond Vienna, Mayerling is a small village shrouded in the mystery of Crown Prince Rudolph’s tragic death and that of Baroness Vetsera in 1889. Nearby, you can visit the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz. Founded in 1133, this occupied monastery has stunning architecture, including beautiful stained glass windows to admire.
Also close to Vienna is the imperial spa-town of Baden, where the health benefits of its sulphuric hot springs have been celebrated as far back as the 1st century.
As far as traditional dishes go, Austria is famed for its Wiener Schnitzel – a thin cut of veal, breaded and deep-fried. A Frankfurter Würstel, Vienna’s equivalent to a hot dog, is a snack that you will find readily available all over Austria. Tafelspitz, a broth containing boiled veal or beef, served with roast potatoes, root vegetables, horseradish and chive or apple sauce is also popular.
Erdäpfel Salat is Austria’s answer to potato salad but instead of mayonnaise, the potatoes are covered with a mix of oil, vinegar and beef stock, then garnished with chopped red onion and chives. Sweet pastries, like many places in Europe, are a thing of beauty in Austria too, where apricot dumplings, apple strudel, and Topfenkolatsche (a Danish pastry filled with cream cheese) are just some of the delights you can look forward to trying. Chocolate-lovers will need to indulge in a slice of Sachertorte - a chocolate cake filled with apricot jam, glazed on top, and typically accompanied with a large helping of schlag (unsweetened whipped cream). Vanillekipferl (a crescent-shaped, crumbly almond cookie covered in vanilla powdered sugar) and Kaiserschmarrn (fluffy, shredded pancake pieces, sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with hot plum sauce) will also need your tasting approval.
The coffee house culture plays an important role in Austria, where drinking this delightful beverage, both hot and cold, can be considered an art form. Consequently, there are numerous types of coffee to sample, with Melange (frothy milk and steamed coffee), Kaisermelange (strong black coffee mixed with an egg yolk, honey and a shot of cognac), and Maria Theresia (black coffee with orange liqueur) among some of the favourites.
Austrian wine is also renowned for its quality, taste and ability to pair exceptionally well with food. The majority of Austrian wines are white, including Grüner Veltliner, Neuburger, Roter Veltliner and Zierfandler, although regional reds like St. Laurent, Blaufränkisch, and Zweigelt are enjoyed too. Breweries have been thriving in this country since the 1300s, resulting in over 600 different kinds of Austrian beer being available today. Be sure to toast ‘Prost!’ as you drink a regional beer such as Märzen, Spezialbier or Bock. A shot of Austrian Schnaps might be offered to you after a meal but keep in mind that it is not your typical digestif as it has 40% alcohol content. For a soft drink with a kick, Red Bull originates from Austria but if you’re looking for a drink to unwind with, Amduller (a fizzy grape and apple juice drink enhanced with herbs) or elderberry sirup might be more to your liking.
Landscape and wildlife
Blessed with six National Parks, Austria is a country of immense natural beauty. With woodland dominating almost half of the environment, forest-dwelling animals such as deer, rabbits, pheasants, foxes, badgers and martens thrive. A small bear population has recently been rejuvenated. In the Alpine regions, chamois, groundhogs, eagles and mountain jackdaws can be found, together with an exceptional variety of bird species.