Landlocked in the heart of Europe, Austria runs from the Alps in the west down to Vienna and the Danube in the east. For six centuries it was the heart of the mighty Hapsburg Empire, which at its peak included what is now Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic along with much of Romania, Bulgaria and the Balkans. The country's imperial inheritance is particularly striking in the grand buildings and cultural institutions of the Baroque-flavored capital, Vienna, resplendent with palaces and captivating churches, cosy coffeehouses and inns, and grand ballrooms where Strauss waltzes still draw dancers onto the floor.
The charm of Austria may lie in its preservation of a romantic classical past, but this does not mean modern Austria has stood back from development. Behind the stunning scenery and antique architecture a vibrant industrial and commercial society goes about its business in the cities and towns. Austrians work hard, but they also know how to play hard. Austrian hospitality and cuisine are legendary. From a cruise on the magnificent Danube River to a cycle tour through the Alpine meadows or a breath-taking day's sightseeing in busy Vienna, visitors to Austria find it impossible to fit in a dull moment.
Full country name: The Republic of Australia
Area: 83,855 sq Km
People: 97% Germanic origin, 2% Slovene & Croat and 1% Turkish
Language: 97% German, plus some Turkish, Slovene and Croat
Religion: 88% Roman Catholic, 6% Protestant
Government: Federal Republic
GDP: €257,9 billion
Major industries: Machinery, textiles, iron & steel, timber and tourism
Major trading partners: EU (esp. Germany, Italy), US, Hungary & Switzerland
Visas: EU, US, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand citizens do not require visas for stays of up to three months. Nationals of African and Arabic countries generally require a visa - also valid for up to three months.
Health risks: Altitude sickness, hypothermia and sunburn
Time: GMT/UTC +1
Electricity: 220V, 50Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
When to go
Visiting Austria at any time of year is a great experience, but remember that the season will influence what you can do. Summer is the obvious time for hiking, mountain biking and lake swimming, but ski conditions also make Austria a fantastic place for winter breaks. Festivals take place year-round, but the majority of music festivals are held between May and October.
For warm weather, aim for the months between April and October, although these two months can be changeable. Crowds and prices peak in the July and August high season, when temperatures can also climb to uncomfortable levels and many famous institutions close down, including the opera, the Spanish Riding School and the Vienna Boys’ Choir. Consequently, June and September are often the best times for city trips.
Austria is one of Europe’s major destinations for winter sports, particularly skiing and, more recently, snowboarding. The Austrian Alps take up approximately 60 per cent of the country’s surface area and there are more than 800 winter sports resorts, with ski runs stretching some 22,000km (13,750 miles), and a further 16,000km (10,000 miles) of cross-country skiing trails. Every year, Austria hosts a number of prestigious international Ski competitions.
During summer, when the snow has melted, the Austrian Alps offer a vast network of hiking trails through varied landscapes, ranging from forests and green slopes to glaciers and rocks. Many rivers and lakes are suitable for swimming or fishing (the latter requiring a permit available from the local authorities). Detailed walking maps can be obtained either from the Austrian National Tourist Office or from the local tourist offices.
Austria’s infrastructure for cyclists is excellent. There are clearly marked cycling routes both in the cities and throughout the countryside. Tourist offices can provide detailed touring maps and the Austrian Federal Railways (ÖBB) offers substantial services to cyclists.
There are many hotels and guest houses specializing in horse riding holidays (reitferien). Horses can be hired for short or longer periods and packages frequently include riding instruction.
Attractions - Vienna
Spanish Riding School
The Spanish Riding School of Vienna is the oldest and last riding school in the world where classic dressage is still practiced in its purest form. This Institute was founded in 1572 and named for the Lipizzaner horses, which are of Spanish origin. The Imperial Court Stud was originally situated near the village of Lipizza (hence the name of the horses) but since the collapse of the Danube Monarchy in 1920 they have been bred at the Federal Stud in Styria.
The magnificent Schönbrunn Palace was used as the summer residence of the Hapsburgs from the 18th century onwards. Set amongst superb gardens this vast, symmetrical structure is everything you would imagine an imperial palace to be. A tour of the palace offers visitors the chance to view the superb assortment of Baroque and Rococo State Rooms and to admire the famous ceiling frescoes of the Great Gallery and the Hall of Mirrors where Mozart once played. The vast gardens are popular with locals and tourists alike, and include a zoo, a maze and labyrinth, the Privy garden, and the Gloriette with viewing terrace. Also within the grounds, the Orangery plays host to classical concerts during the summer season.
Natural History Museum
The impressive Natural History Museum is sited within a neo-Renaissance building that is identical from the outside to the Fine Arts Museum opposite. It is the third largest natural history museum in the world and has some of the oldest exhibits, including early Stone Age artifacts. Visitors can travel through the planet's history ranging from the diversity of nature to the origins of culture.
Austrian National Library
Situated in the Hofburg Palace, the royal library of the Habsburgs dates from the 14th century and is among the oldest and finest libraries in the world. The six million items stored in the library include papyri, manuscripts, ancient and rare books, maps, globes, portraits, music, photographs and graphics. The Grand Hall is a palatial room topped by a dome, designed in the Baroque style, and is decorated with statues and exquisite frescoes and is regarded as one of the most beautiful library rooms in the world.
The former Hofburg residence today houses one of the largest and greatest graphic art collections in the world with drawings, old master prints and modern graphic works. The museum explores the development of graphic arts since the 14th century and there are over 60,000 works on show, including works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Manet, Picasso and Cezanne. The Albertina is also one of the most beautiful examples of classical architecture in the world.