Overview: Mountains, lakes and deep alpine valleys. Austria has lots of culture to get into, and iconic landscapes for getting away from it all.
Austria is fabled for its cultural life, especially in Vienna, where white Lipizzaner horses move to the tunes of classical music, angelic choir boys pledge their innocence to the heavens, and innovative and provocative theatre, opera and classical music can be enjoyed in exciting seasonal programs. No less grandiose is the architecture, which is often combined with performance or visual arts in the one ensemble. But the cultural experience of Austria is also about the undiscovered, the regional and the grassroots – the artists and performers working in the provincial capitals. It’s about geographically far-flung and unusual exhibition spaces huddled in long valleys – valleys dotted with small towns and which together form a heartland of the country. Anyone with an eye for the nuances of everyday life will also find much of informal cultural interest. This is definitely one country where the grandiose and the everyday, the provincial and the idiosyncratic, and the iconic and the concealed stand in poetic contrast.
The mountains, valleys and lakes of Austria and the fantastic nature in Innsbruck and Salzburg are legendary and provide one of the world’s most spectacular backdrops for outdoor activities. Dominating the country is the towering eastern Alps, where in winter skiers and snowboarders test their mettle. Come summer, some of the winter ski trails complement vast networks of hiking or mountain-biking trails, often serviced by a cable car. The mountain meadows make for a perfect picnic spot in warm weather. Austria’s thousands of lakes are also fine places in summer for swimming and relaxing – some are chilly and glacial, others warm, splashy playgrounds.
Glorious architectural riches include reminders of the once-powerful Habsburgs, who dominated central Europe for seven centuries; the capital of Austria, Vienna, is magnificent with its ornate Opera House and the imperial Hofburg, while many other cities are similarly infused with historical magic, notably Mozart‘s birthplace, Salzburg, with stunning baroque churches set before a backdrop of snow-covered peaks. Thanks to the modest size of most towns, the great outdoors is never far away.
At a glance:
- Population: ~ 8.5 million
- Area: 83,900 sq. kms
- Capital: Vienna (pop. 1.7 million)
- Currency: Euro (EUR)
- Time zone: UTC+1 / Summer UTC +2
- Religion: 63% Christian (Roman Catholics), 7% Islam.