Austria is one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Although it would be hard to consider Austria a completely overlooked destination, it still lies in the shadow of neighbouring Switzerland and Italy. Not as famous as the latter, the small Central European nation has the edge over most European countries when it comes to untouched wilderness, hospitality and general liveability.
Austria in fact has the strictest and most thorough hotel rating system in the world and Austrian service will delight even the most demanding travellers. If you love natural sights which are equally jaw dropping in summer and in winter and if you like spending your days in great cosiness with warm and hospitable people, you will definitely adore Austria. Here are 10 reasons why Austria is one of the best countries to visit on the old continent.
- A winter wonderland and a summer destination
The Austrian Alps have the great benefit of offering myriads of winter activities, most of all skiing, while also providing travellers with picture-perfect hiking routes and other nature related activities in the warmer seasons.
The Austrian Alps have some of the most breathtaking peaks in all of Europe and the density of high mountains is simply incredible. Austria is in fact home to over 150 peaks with an altitude of more than 3000m (9842 feet).
In addition to the snowy mountains, Austria also has a large amount of picturesque lakes which are lined with UNESCO world heritage towns and great hiking spots. Austria’s bathing lakes, notably the Traunsee, the Wörthersee and the Faakersee moreover have crystal clear water and beautiful beaches on their shores.
- Its amazing ski resorts
Austria has some of the best ski resorts in the world and you are genuinely spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting where to go. Every Austrian region has numerous world class ski stations and the famous après-ski parties are said to have their origins in Austria. Austrians have been skiing for over a century and skiing is considered the national sport. Whether you are a beginner or a pro, you will find the right slopes in Sölden, Obertauern, Ischgl, Sankt Anton or Kitzbühl, just to name a few of Austria’s most popular ski resorts.
- Its unparalleled hospitality
Austrian gastronomy is world-renowned for its hospitality which is second to none in Europe. The cosiness of the hotels, lodges and restaurants, the kindness of the staff and the quality of the products are true advertisements for the country and there are very few countries in the world that can compete with Austria on this front.
This is partly thanks to Austria’s high amount of excellent hotel academies and the major role that the gastronomy sector plays in Austria’s economic landscape and in the Austrian society. ‘The guest is king’ is a popular saying in Austria and when you spend some time in the country, you will see that this attitude is diffused by next to everyone working in an Austrian gastronomy establishment.
- Its immense architectural beauty
Vienna is one of the most beautiful cities on the planet and a great blend of different architectural styles. In addition to that, the smaller Austrian cities, notably Innsbruck, Salzburg and Graz, delight architecture enthusiasts with their picturesque medieval alleys and their manifold castles and other imposing structures. Austria moreover has some of the prettiest villages in the world, for example the Unesco World Heritage town of Hallstatt.
- Its highly liveable cities
In addition to its aforementioned architectural beauty, Vienna has been named world’s most liveable city on several occasions by Mercer and the Austrian capital is a cultural, economic and academic hub for this very reason. Vienna usually gets all the fame but the other Austrian cities certainly also merit to be mentioned. Salzburg and Graz generally convince locals and travellers alike with their laidback feel, their cultural institutions and their innumerable food and nightlife options. Another major factor is the proximity to nature, which is a constant advantage of every Austrian city. Half an hour outside of any Austrian city you will find a thrilling ski resort or an astonishing hiking route on top of an imposing mountain which certainly adds to Austrian cities’ quality of life.
- Its mouthwaring cuisine
Austrian cuisine is hearty and with lots of regional variations. The most famous dish is obviously the Viennese Schnitzel but Austria has lots of other delicacies which will delight even the most demanding foodie. Much like its service, Austrian food is generally high quality and comprised of local products.
Austrian food has in fact been strongly influenced by the diverse cuisines of the many countries that were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire over the centuries. Lovers of sweet food will enjoy Austria’s many cakes and biscuits while carnivores will not be disappointed either by the various meat-based delicacies which are part of a traditional Austrian meal.
- Its famous art, music and literature
Austrian classical music certainly needs no introduction. The name Mozart is still associated with musical perfection and sheer unparalleled talent over 200 years after his death and other musicians like Haydn and Schoenberg made Vienna the world capital of music before most countries even had a music hall.
Vienna’s art palaces on the other hand boast some of the finest works of art in the world and Austrian writers and psychologists, notably Rilke, Schnitzler (the writer of the famous Traumnovelle which inspired the Kubrick movie Eyes Wide Shut) and the eccentric Sigmund Freud have secured Austria’s place as a reference for creative virtue for centuries to come. Austria has always had some of the brightest intellectuals in Europe and the famous Kaffeehäuser – cafés in which they met are today Viennese coffee institutions.
8. Its long and impressive history
Modern day Austria has been part of many larger countries and it was the epicentre of one the strongest nations in the world, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for half a century (1867-1917). Before that Austria had already played a major role in the Holy Roman Empire during which the Habsburg Dynasty, one of the strongest families in modern European history, accumulated lands and exercised its power over ever-growing parts of Europe.
At some point in history, the different branches of the Habsburg Dynasty controlled regions from modern day Portugal to modern day Romania. All these historical periods have shaped Austria as a nation and especially Vienna as a city, a city so grand and pompous that it instantly becomes clear that this city was built to be a world city, capital of an empire rather than the capital of an 8M inhabitants state.
- Its high quality of life and laidback feel
Thanks to the aforementioned proximity to nature, Austria is a very relaxing place to visit. Even in the larger cities, you don’t sense the hustle and bustle of other crowded European cities but you sense an element of serenity instead. The liveability of the cities, the accessibility and omnipresence of natural sights and the importance of hospitality make Austria one of the most laidback countries in Europe. The fact that the distances are small and that the country is perfectly connected by motorways and train routes is another important factor boosting the quality of life in Austria.
- The fact that it is largely underrated and therefore highly authentic
This last point is obviously a bit contentious but we still feel that Austria does not receive the fame it deserves. Austria obviously isn’t completely off-the-radar but it still doesn’t ring a bell for everyone, especially outside of Europe. The upside is that Austria feels very authentic and especially Austrian ski towns have lost none of their charm with traditional wooden houses and chalets still dominating the scene.
Austria in fact enforces very strict planning and building laws which have kept Austrian cities and villages as they were hundreds of years ago. There is obviously room for modernity as well, especially in the business district of Vienna but Austria by and large doesn’t feel like it has been overwhelmed by mass tourism or excessive growth and its historical charm has mostly stayed intact which cannot be said about certain places in the French Alps for example.
Austria is very unique and incomparable to any other country which is why it is one of the most alluring places to visit in Europe.
Check out these highly interesting books about Austria: History of Austria by A.H. New & Austria, A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette by Susan Roraff