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Landlocked in the heart of Europe, Austria runs from the Alps in the west down to stately Vienna and the Danube River in the east. For six centuries it was the heart of the mighty Habsburg 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 Alps stretch west to Switzerland and, in winter, skiers come from all over the world to carve the slopes and experience the charm of the alpine villages and their welcoming inhabitants.
The country's imperial inheritance is particularly striking in the grand buildings and cultural institutions of the Baroque-flavoured capital, Vienna, resplendent with palaces and captivating churches, cosy coffeehouses and inns, and grand ballrooms where Strauss's waltzes still draw dancers onto the floor.
Another great Austrian composer was Mozart. He was born in Salzburg, a beautiful historic city where stunning Baroque churches rise up against the backdrop of the Austrian Alps. Travellers are able to visit the house where he was born as well as his former residence, both of which have been turned into museums.
The appeal of Austria may lie in its preservation of a romantic past, but this does not mean modern Austria has stood back from development. Behind the stunning scenery and antique architecture, the country's cities and towns buzz with vibrant industrial and commercial activity.
Austrians work hard and play hard, with Austrian hospitality and cuisine earning high praise around the world. Whether taking a cruise on the iconic Danube, cycling through Alpine meadows, or enjoying a breathtaking day's sightseeing in classic Vienna, there's never a dull moment for visitors to Austria.
Austria is perfect for sightseeing, with an assortment of wonderful tourist attractions. Just the mention of this scenic, multicultural country brings to mind images of skiing in the Alps, exploring Vienna's impressive Baroque architecture and sampling the warm, rich cuisine of the alpine villages and their friendly inhabitants.
Austria is the birthplace of many famous figures, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Sigmund Freud, not to mention Arnold Schwarzenegger. Austria is also home to Swarovski crystals, Lipizzaner stallions and the 11th-century Hohensalzburg Fortress, as well as one of the largest youth parties in Europe, the Danube Island Festival.
Austria is a year-round destination, with snowy winters perfect for mountaineering, skiing and snowboarding, and mild summers ideal for sightseeing. The many sights and attractions are made accessible by the national railway system, the U-Bahn, extensive motorways and various ports and harbours. With all these magnificent highlights so easily within grasp, taking a trip to this beautiful country in the warm heart of Europe is guaranteed to be a fulfilling, memorable experience for anyone.
The Hofburg Palace was the home of the Habsburg dynasty for 600 years, its fortifications continually expanded since its construction in the 13th century. As well as housing the president's offices, the palace now encompasses 22 separate museums, the National Library, a 14th-century Augustinian church, the famous Spanish Riding School and the Royal Chapel. The most popular museums are the Kaiserappartements, the Sisi Museum and the Imperial Silver Collection. Situated in the Hofburg Palace, the 14th-century royal library is among the oldest and finest in the world. Its some six million items include papyri, manuscripts, ancient books, maps, portraits, music and photographs. The Grand Hall is a palatial room topped by a dome, designed in the Baroque style and decorated with statues and exquisite frescoes.
The Spanish Riding School of Vienna is one of the oldest surviving riding schools in the world where classic dressage is still practised in its purest form. This institute was founded in 1572 and named for the Lipizzaner horses, which are of Spanish origin. Since the collapse of the Danube Monarchy in 1920, the horses have been bred at the Federal Stud in Styria. The horses perform their tricks in the Winter Riding School, commissioned by Emperor Karl VI. Performances take place between February and June, and September and December. With shows booked up months in advance, the easiest way to see the horses is during training sessions. Situated in the stables is the Lipizzaner Museum, which displays the history of the school.
Karlskirche is the most outstanding Baroque church in the city and its 236-foot (72m) high dome flanked by two columns forms an iconic landmark of the Viennese skyline. The church was commissioned by Emperor Charles VI after a great plague swept through Vienna in 1713, and is dedicated to the revered healer Saint Charles Borromeo. The lavishly decorated interior includes frescoes and visitors can get a closer look by taking the elevator to the roof, which is included in the entry fee. Although the lift carries visitors most of the way up, there are some steps to be climbed to get to the very top of the dome.
The magnificent Schönbrunn Palace was used as the summer residence of the Habsburgs from the 18th century onwards. Set among 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, the Privy garden and the Gloriette with a viewing terrace. Also within the grounds, the Orangery hosts classical concerts during the summer season.
One of Vienna's most recognisable landmarks, the Giant Wheel is located in a large wooded park and playground known as the Prater. It was built in 1897 by an English engineering firm and is the only one of its era still standing. By contrast, the Ferris wheels in Chicago, London, Blackpool, and Paris have long since been destroyed. The wheel's 15 gondolas take 20 minutes to manoeuvre around and offer magnificent panoramic views of the city. Cautious visitors need not worry about the age of the Giant Wheel as it has been very well maintained over the decades! This is a fun attraction for the whole family and will delight the children.
The Belvedere is a world-renowned museum, housing Vienna's most prestigious art galleries displaying excellent examples of Austrian works from the Middle Ages to the present day. It boasts an unrivalled collection of paintings by Klimt, as well as famous pieces by Schiele, Renoir and Monet. The complex consists of two splendid 18th-century Rococo mansions, facing one another across sweeping grounds offering views over the city. The Medieval and Baroque works are presented in the Lower Palace where many rooms have been preserved in their original state.
The Vienna State Opera performs a repertoire of nearly one hundred operas, operettas and ballets every day from September to June. The opera house was founded in the early 18th century but rebuilt in 1945, now a romantic and regal setting in which to enjoy the performances. As seating tickets are not easily available, an alternative is to buy standing tickets. The State Opera collaborates closely with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and their famous New Year concert requires advance bookings of up to one year. The building is beautiful and of interest in itself, even if visitors are unable to catch a show.
The 11th-century Hohensalzburg Castle stands on a rocky outcrop approximately 394ft (120m) above the city. Originally built by Archbishop Gebhard to repel attacks from the neighbouring Bavarians, the present-day fortress was largely rebuilt in the early 16th century with added grand state apartments. Visitors can walk around the courtyard and outskirts of the fortress at no cost unless they take the guided tour. The tour finishes at two small museums displaying a selection of weapons, uniforms and armour, together with villainous instruments of torture. The castle can be reached by funicular or by a walking path.
The cathedral is one of the city's most recognisable symbols and one of the greatest Gothic structures in Europe, with its massive south tower standing at 445 feet (136m) tall. A dominant feature on the Vienna skyline, its 343 steps can be climbed for fantastic views. It has been in a state of continual preservation and repair since its original construction in the 12th century due to fire, sieges and bombardment. The cathedral is built of limestone and has an ornately patterned and richly coloured roof covered by glazed tiles. The interior is rich in wood carvings, sculptures and paintings and has numerous chapels, altars and catacombs. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was married here, had children baptised here, and his funeral was held in the Chapel of the Cross.
The cathedral is one of the greatest Gothic structures in Europe, with its massive south tower standing at 445 feet (136m) tall. A dominant feature on the Vienna skyline, its 343 steps can be climbed for fantastic views. It has been in a state of continual preservation and repair since its original construction in the 12th century due to fire, sieges and bombardment. The cathedral is built of limestone and has an ornately patterned and richly coloured roof covered by glazed tiles. The interior is rich in wood carvings, sculptures and paintings and has numerous chapels, altars and catacombs. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was married here, had children baptised here, and his funeral was held in the Chapel of the Cross.
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 works. The museum explores the development of graphic arts since the 14th century and there are more than 60,000 works on show. Artists featured include Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Manet, Picasso and Cezanne. The Albertina is also one of the most beautiful examples of classical architecture in the world. There is a pleasant cafe for refreshments while the museum is beautifully conceived, with each room decorated to complement the art on display.
The Fine Arts Museum across from the Hofburg Palace houses many of the art collections gathered by the Habsburgs and is one of the foremost museums of fine and decorative arts in the world. The magnificent building is crowned with a 197 foot (60m) high dome, while the inside is sumptuously decorated with marble, gold leaf and stucco ornaments, a fitting home to the formidable artistic treasures collected over the centuries. The collections range from Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman relics to medieval, Renaissance and Baroque paintings. The museum faces the Natural History Museum across the Maria-Theresian Platz, which has an identical exterior.
The House of Music is an interactive discovery museum devoted to music and is located in the former Palais of Archduke Charles. Four floors take visitors past the music and memorabilia of the great composers who lived in Vienna, such as Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert, while also allowing visitors to discover today's top musicians and explore the future of music on computers. Visitors can conduct an orchestra, listen to what an unborn child hears in the womb or paint a musical picture. The museum is critically acclaimed for its innovative design and allowing visitors to experience music using the senses of sight, sound, touch and hearing.
The impressive Natural History Museum is situated within a Renaissance Revival building 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 artefacts. Visitors can travel through the planet's history, ranging from the diversity of nature to the origins of culture. Guided tours, lectures and workshops on a variety of interesting themes are offered regularly at the museum.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756 at his family's home in Getreidegasse. The house has since been converted into a museum displaying exhibits which include the violin played by Mozart as a child, his concert violin and clavichord, a pianoforte and various portraits. The museum was first opened in 1880 by the International Mozart Foundation and is now said to be one of the most frequently visited museums in the world. Tours of the museum are available but need to be arranged in advance. A basic tour of the exhibition takes about an hour. The museum provides a fascinating introduction to the Mozart family, as well as detailing their early life.
This large public park is a great place for families to enjoy a day in the sunshine. Stroll along the Hauptallee where chestnut trees line the way, or visit the Planetarium and the Prater Museum, both located inside the park. The Wiener Prater also has a small amusement park with a Ferris Wheel, a rollercoaster and a number of other fun rides and diversions, as well as food stalls and games booths. There is plenty of open space here for kids to run around and the cheesy, innocent fun of the amusement park is enjoyable for the whole family. Entrance to the park is free but individual rides must be paid for.
One of Vienna's most famous sons, Dr Sigmund Freud revolutionised the study of psychology with his ideas. Though many of his theories once wildly popular have been discredited, the term 'Freudian slip' and other ideas still pervade society today. The Freud Museum in Vienna houses a number of antiques and mementos of the doctor inside the offices in which he practised from 1891 to 1938. Guided tours are available and the museum has a gift shop offering photos and other memorabilia, as well as books written by Freud. This attraction will be very exciting for those interested in Freud and his work, and it will provide a good introduction for those who are unfamiliar.
Austria enjoys a temperate Central European climate with four distinct seasons. Summers, between June and August, are hot with cool nights. In Vienna and other low-lying cities, temperatures during the day can get uncomfortably hot over July and August. Winters are cold and below freezing in January and February. The ski season in the Alps runs from December to April but the mountains are also popular with hikers and climbers over the summer when the weather is usually warm and bright.
This award-winning restaurant stays true to its traditional values and is somewhat of an institution when it comes to Viennese steak restaurants. The tasteful décor and impeccable cuisine ensure that this eatery stays within the top ranks of Vienna's dining scene.
The Tafelspitz (boiled beef) is without a doubt the most famous choice of beef and is the flagship dish of this restaurant. The beef is served in the traditional manner - in beef soup, with apple and horseradish, roast potatoes and chive sauce. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Reservations recommended.
Café Central is probably one of the most famous cafes in the world due to its high profile clientele during the history of Vienna, which included famous artists, writers, and intellectuals such as Lenin and Trotsky. The grand, cathedral-like setting with its marble pillared hall and soaring ceiling is a fine setting for the excellent coffee and apple strudel that they serve up, along with an assortment of other desserts and pastries for tea. Light lunches are served and the menu includes a variety of provincial dishes and Viennese specialties, as well as salads, soups, sandwiches, and vegetarian dishes. Piano music plays daily from 5pm. Open daily from 10am.
The venue may be Gothic, sunk into the cellars beneath the historic town hall, but the style, atmosphere and cuisine are very up to date. This spacious eatery features various rooms furnished in different styles and can handle up to 1,100 people. The food can be described as 'modern Viennese', offering fare such as goulash, Wiener Schnitzel and apple strudel. Open daily for lunch and dinner.
Arguably the best of Vienna's 300-odd traditional coffee shops, offering their legendary confections and pastries, is the Café Demel. The café is best known for its original Sachertorte (chocolate frosted cream cake), but the rest of the range of sweet delights on offer is just as delectable. Demel also serves a large range of sandwiches and, of course, really good coffee. Open daily from 10am to 7pm. Vienna's other renowned coffee shop is Café Central near the Hofburg Palace, where Lenin and Totsky once met regularly.
The warm, cosy and classic style of the Restaurant Imperial lends itself perfectly to a stylish dining affair. The décor is tasteful and evokes a feeling of old-world charm while chef Hans Juergen Schauer creates delectable dishes such as fillet of turbot with goose liver and fillet of veal, or the old favourite, Wiener Schnitzel. Open daily for dinner. Reservations essential.
This funky restaurant is stylish to the extreme, with quirky red and black decor and an eclectic menu that ranges from sushi to spaghetti. The restaurant expands in the summer with tables set up in the attractive garden. Motto is open late into the night, closing at 4am.
When in Vienna, do as the Viennese do: indulge in Wiener Schnitzel, the delicacy most associated with the romantic city. Reputed to serve the biggest and best schnitzel is Wollzeile, a wine tavern where the long tables are always packed with hungry customers sampling the golden-brown schnitzels. Next door to St Stephen's Cathedral, it is open daily for lunch and dinner. Wollzeile is closed during August.
Meaning 'corner of Styria' (a state in southeast Austria), Steirereck is one of Austria's top restaurants, featuring seasonal Austrian cuisine with a Styrian emphasis. The menu is small and changes regularly according to the freshest ingredients available, but everything is superbly prepared.
Meals begin with freshly baked bread and close with a selection of more than 60 cheeses from the restaurant's own cellar. Seasonal offerings might include foie gras Steirereck, Styrian roast beef, lobster, lamb with crepes, rabbit with risotto, or smoked monkfish. Dress is smart and reservations are recommended. Open Monday to Friday.
Located on the seventh floor of the Haas Haus, Do & Co is the flagship restaurant of Do & Co International Hotel and offers the best views in town, situated opposite St Stephan's Cathedral. The cuisine is international, featuring mainly modern Viennese and Asian fare, but the extensive menu also covers South America and wider Europe. The menu covers 'Tastes of the World', 'Beef & Co', 'Kebab, Wok and Curries', 'Catch of the Day', 'Austrian Classics', and different kinds of sushi. Reservations are highly recommended, and dress is smart. Open daily from 12pm.
The unit of currency is the Euro (EUR). Currency can be exchanged at banks and bureaux de change available in all towns, but it may be easier to use the ATMs. Banks are closed on Saturdays and Sundays, but bureaux de change at airports and major city rail terminals are open seven days a week. Most credit and debit cards are widely accepted though some small hotels and restaurants may only accept cash.
The official language in Austria is German.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. European two-pin plugs are standard.
US nationals: US passport holders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but a visa is not needed for a stay of up to 90 days.
UK nationals: British passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar, only need to be valid for period of intended stay in Austria. All other endorsements require at least three months validity beyond the period of intended stay in Austria.
UK nationals: A visa is not required for passports endorsed 'British Citizen', 'British Subject' (containing a Certificate of Entitlement to the Right of Abode issued by the United Kingdom), and 'British Overseas Territories Citizen' issued by Gibraltar. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days in a half-year period for holders of passports with any other endorsement. Holders of identity cards issued by Gibraltar authories, and endorsed 'Validated for EU travel purposes under the authority of the United Kingdom', do not require a visa to visit Austria.
CA nationals: Canadians require a passport valid for three months beyond intended period of stay, but no visa is needed for a stay of up to 90 days.
AU nationals: Australians require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but no visa is needed for a stay of up to 90 days.
ZA nationals: South African nationals require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay and a visa.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a passport but no visa is needed for travel to Austria.
NZ nationals: New Zealanders require a passport valid for three months beyond period of intended stay, but a visa is not needed for a stay of up to 90 days.
The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. For most nationalities, passports are required to be valid for three months beyond period of travel. We always recommend that passports be valid for six months from the departure date.
No vaccinations are necessary for business visits or general tourism in Austria. Water and food are safe. Medical facilities are excellent. Medical insurance is advised unless from the UK - citizens of EU countries can get free emergency medical treatment at public hospitals in Austria on production of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC).
A 10-15 percent service charge is normally added to hotel and restaurant bills in Austria, but it is customary to leave another 5 percent if satisfied with the service. Sometimes, one can round off the bill. Bartenders usually expect this rounded up tip. It is common to give the money to the waiter rather than leave it on the table, but leaving small change for other service personnel is fine. Taxi drivers expect a 10 percent tip.
Travel to Austria is generally trouble-free. However, visitors are advised to take sensible safety precautions to avoid petty theft, particularly in larger cities.
It is compulsory that vehicles are driven with their lights on throughout the year. Smoking is not allowed in many public places.
Business protocol is very important in Austria and business is formal, structured and conservative, more so than in many other Western European countries. All correspondence should be formal. Dress is conservative yet elegant; Austrians take great pride in their appearance and a good quality, well-fitting suit for men and women should be worn to make a good first impression. Austrians are also very title-conscious: always use last names with a preceding title such as Herr (Mr), Frau (Mrs) or Fräulein (Miss), along with their professional or academic title where applicable (e.g. Herr Professor Kaufmann). It is vital to arrive punctually for meetings and to be thoroughly prepared, as meetings are brief and to the point. Be prepared to engage in preliminary small talk, including a knowledge of current affairs, before getting down to business. English is widely spoken in business, but printed literature should be in German if possible. Offices open at 8am and close promptly at 5pm, Monday to Friday.
The international access code for Austria is +43. Hotels, cafes and restaurants offering free wifi are widely available. As international roaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option.
Travellers from non-EU countries over 17 years are allowed to bring in the following items without paying customs duty: 200 cigarettes, or 100 cigarillos, or 50 cigars, or 250g of smoking tobacco, or a proportional mix of these products; 4 litres non-sparkling wine, or 1 litre of spirits with alcohol content more than 22 percent, or 2 litres of alcohol volume less than 22 percent; 60ml perfume and 250ml eau de toilette; and other goods to a total value of €430. Restricted items include pornographic material and fresh foodstuffs such as meat and dairy products. Travellers must have a European Firearms Pass if travelling with firearms.
Austrian National Tourist Office, Vienna: +43 (0)1 588 660 or www.austria.info
Austrian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 895 6700.
Austrian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7344 3250.
Austrian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 789 1444.
Austrian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6295 1533.
Austrian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 452 9155.
Austrian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 269 4577.
Consulate of Austria, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 384 1402.
United States Embassy, Vienna: +43 (0)1 313 397 535.
British Embassy, Vienna: +43 (0)1 716 130.
Canadian Embassy, Vienna: +43 (0)1 531 383 000.
Australian Embassy, Vienna: +43 (0)1 506 740.
South African Embassy, Vienna: +43 (0)1 320 6493.
Embassy of Ireland, Vienna: +43 (0)1 715 4246.
New Zealand Consulate-General, Vienna: +43 (0)1 505 3021.
The Salzkammergut is a lake area spanning Upper Austria, Salzburg and Styria, formerly home to the salt mines of the Habsburg Empire. The many lakes and mountains in the region lend themselves to a variety of activities such as water sports, golf, cycling and hiking, as well as relaxing at the beautiful shore and hillside retreats. Take some time out to enjoy the local kaiserschmarrn (sugared pancakes with raisins), lebkuchen (gingerbread) and krapfen (doughnuts), and the spectacular scenery in one of Austria's most lovely regions. Parts of the region have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, including the towns of Hallstatt, Obertraun, Gosau and Bad Goisern.
Dating as far back as the 17th century, Schloss Klessheim Palace was used by Adolf Hitler during World War II and today serves as a casino with an elegant atmosphere and beautiful gardens. The palace also featured in the 1965 film The Great Race starring Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Peter Falk. The casino holds some historical interest because of the association with Hitler during the war, and the eagles displayed at the palace entrance are reminiscent of the Third Reich. However, the main appeal is the chance to gamble and party the night away in style!
Guarded by a water-spouting giant, Swarovski Crystal World is one of the most popular attractions in Tirol. The museum is underground, featuring 14 interconnected rooms with an eclectic multimedia gallery showcasing dazzling work by Picasso, Andy Warhol, Dali and Marc Chagall, all featuring the distinctive glint of the famous Austrian crystals. Another popular sight is the largest crystal in the world, located in the first room. Just a 15-minute drive from Innsbruck and less than two hours drive from Salzburg, Swarovski is a popular excursion from both cities. The Swarovski Crystal World gift shop has an equally sparkling array of souvenirs available at lower prices than in town, with the opportunity for a tax rebate for foreign visitors.
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