Austria Tours & Holidays
Once one of the world’s most powerful empires, now one of Europe’s most powerful draw cards.
It’s not just Austria’s hills that are alive with the sound of music: the whole country hums with a harmony of history, culture and beauty. From Vienna’s grand palaces to Innsbruck’s ski runs and Salzburg’s manicured streets, Austria dishes up schnitzel with a side of pinch-yourself moments. This is the land of Klimt, of Mozart, of – dare we say it – Schwarzenegger himself. In fact, by the time you finish your Austria tour, we can almost guarantee you’ll be saying ‘I’ll be back’ too.
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Austria at a glance
Vienna (1.951 million)
(GMT+01:00) Amsterdam, Berlin, Bern, Rome, Stockholm, Vienna
Type C (European 2-pin) Type F (German 2-pin, side clip earth)
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Culture and customs
Though the Austria we know now is a small, beautiful country covered in forests and mountains with small alpine towns and grand imperial cities, it was once the most powerful empire in the world. It ruled Europe for centuries and brought wiener schnitzel to the world and for that, at the very least, we should be thankful.
Austria’s historical power and reach mean that its modern ‘culture’ is an amalgamation of its many neighbours and former territories. Germany, Hungary, and Italy – all three and more, including the Ottoman Turks, have had a part to play in Austria’s unique national identity and this is reflected in its art, food, music and the people’s attitudes.
A central part of Austrian culture, particularly in Vienna, is the coffee house. Viennese coffee houses are legendary and listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage. The organisation describes the cafes as places ‘where time and space are consumed, but only coffee is found on the bill,’ while Austrian author Stefan Zweig wrote that they’re ‘actually a sort of democratic club, open to everyone for the price of a cheap cup of coffee.’
Then there’s art; architecture; opera and music. Mozart. Joseph Hayden. Johann Strauss. Austria’s culture is exactly that: cultured. And while Vienna has mind-boggling palaces, an unrivalled history of classical music and art and is one of Europe’s most popular urban getaways, that’s not all there is to Austria. Head out of the city and you’ll find snow-capped mountains hosting some of Europe’s best skiing. Walk down the hill and you'll come across Europe's largest lake, acting as both a summer retreat and the Swiss border.
If anything, the Austrians are dabblers, equally comfortable with high culture and high peaks. And whether you're standing at the top of the Alps or the back of the opera, you can be sure that there'll be someone on hand to clink beer glasses and say 'prost'.
History and government
Europe was ruled for many centuries by the Habsburg family. They dominated Europe through a series of smart marriages and their ascent to power began with the acquisition of the Duchy of Austria through Rudolf I. He was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1273 and, after a protracted war, took control of Austria and a number of territories under the Habsburg crown.
The Habsburgs were early adopters of a ‘make love, not war’ approach to gaining territory, and Emperor Maxmilian I began a policy of strategic marriages around 1500 to increase his power and possessions. The Habsburgs gained control over large parts of Southern Germany, the Netherlands, Burgundy, Hungary, southern Italy and Spain, as well as the Spanish colonies.
The Siege of Vienna, in 1529, was the first attempt by the Ottoman Empire, led by Suleiman the Magnificent, to capture the city of Vienna. The Ottoman army was 100,000 strong and attempted to tunnel under the walls of Vienna to lay siege on the city. They were unsuccessful, but military conflict continued against the Ottoman Turks for over 150 years, with the Ottomans claiming Hungary for over a century. The conflicts culminated in the Battle of Vienna, which the Ottomans eventually lost at the end of the 17th century.
Austria not only faced a threat from the Ottomans in the 16th and 17th centuries but also from the advent of Protestantism. The Reformation spread across Europe and animosity towards the Catholic Church, to which the ruling Habsburg family belonged, became widespread. The Habsburgs attempted to re-Catholicise Protestant Europe through force, which triggered the Thirty Years’ War. The war devastated Europe and permanently altered the continent’s power balance, with both France and Sweden rising as powers and Austria and the Holy Roman Empire becoming severely weakened.
When Napoleon rolled through Europe with the French army, he was focused on destroying the Austrian Habsburg-led Holy Roman Empire. Perhaps the most important battle fought within the Austrian Empire was the Battle of Austerlitz, which is considered one of Napoleon’s greatest tactical victories. He took Vienna and the defeated Holy Roman Empire dissolved in 1806, some thousand years after it began, and never reappeared.
The decline of an empire
Following increased pressure from the people of Hungary to be independent, Austria became Austria-Hungary or the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1867 under Franz Josef I. He ruled for almost 68 years until his death in 1916 during WWI, which began after Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia following the assassination of the heir to the Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo in 1914. WWI Austria-Hungary received the unconditional support of Germany, who also declared war on Serbia.
During the war, a young Austrian named Adolf Hitler enlisted in the Bavarian army. He would go on to become one of the most influential, evil and infamous men in European and world history. He desperately wanted to rejoin Germany and Austria and in 1938 the Nazis annexed Austria – known as the 'Anschluss' – to a mostly positive response from the Austrian people. Austria would remain a state of Germany until the end of WWII when it was divided into four zones by the victorious Allied nations.
Austria became an independent nation once more in 1955 and declared permanent neutrality, joining the UN the same year. It is now one of the 20 richest countries in the world and governed by a conservative democratic government. Vienna consistently tops lists of the world’s most liveable cities and the country is a popular tourist destination thanks to its outdoor activities, history, culture and food.
Eating and drinking
Austrian cuisine has much in common with its neighbours. It’s carb-heavy, comforting and so, so delicious. Here are a few classics:
This alone is a good enough reason to come to Austria. Take boneless meat, thin it with a hammer, coat it in breadcrumbs and fry it up. It doesn’t sound pretty, but the taste speaks for itself. The wiener schnitzel is traditionally served with a slice of lemon (leave your ketchup at home) with potato salad or potato with parsley and butter. September 9th is National Wiener Schnitzel Day, but unfortunately, this isn’t a national holiday – yet.
The strudel gained popularity in the 18th century and is related to the Ottoman Empire’s baklava pastry, arriving in Austria via the Turk’s occupation of Hungary. The filling is made of grated apples, sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and breadcrumbs, with ice cream or whipped cream on top.
- Sacher Torte
A type of chocolate cake that was invented by Austrian Franz Sacher in 1832. Prince Wenzel von Metternich had asked his chef to create something special for his important guests and the head chef, having fallen ill, let his 16-year-old apprentice, Franz Sacher, take the lead. Sacher’s eldest son, Eduard, perfected the recipe and established the Hotel Sacher in 1876, which was the first place to serve the cake. It remains the city’s most famous culinary speciality and can be eaten at the original hotel.
- Viennese coffee
The Vienna coffee is the perfect winter treat. Take a couple of shots of espresso and fill the cup with whipped cream as a replacement for milk and sugar. Drink through the creamy goodness and consider yourself cultured. The coffee houses have, after all, been the centre of Vienna’s social life for more than a century.
Though traditional Austrian food tends to be meat-heavy, vegetarians and vegans will still have plenty of options. Cities like Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck have seen more and more vegetarian/vegan restaurants open and the many bakeries across the country also sell sweet and savoury vegetarian snacks. If you’re after a more traditional meal, there’ll be plenty of potatoes and sauerkraut to keep you going, and vegetarians may want to try spatzle, a gnocchi-like dish often served with tomato sauce or cheese.
Geography and environment
Austria is a landlocked nation bordered by Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Slovakia, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Austria itself can be split into three geographical areas: the Alps, the Danube River Basin and the forest country to the north.
The Austrian Alps, which typically sit at an altitude of 3000–3800 m (9843–12,467 feet) cover approximately 65 per cent of the country. There are the Western Limestone and Southern Limestone Alps, which border Switzerland and Italy/Slovenia respectively, and then the Northern Limestone Alps running along the German border. The Central Eastern Alps, which are the most dramatic of the mountainous regions, runs west to east through the centre of the country.
Danube River Basin
The Danube, which is Europe’s second-longest river, flows eastward from southern Germany through Austria and out to the Black Sea. Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest were all built along the river, with Vienna and Bratislava separated by just 80 kilometres (50 miles). The river snakes from the northwest to the east, passing through the cities of Linz and Vienna, and the surrounding land is generally low-lying and fertile.
To the north of the Danube, reaching up towards the Czech border, much of the land is undulating and forested. It’s a fairytale-like landscape filled with charming small towns and rolling green hills.
Austria has three types of climate. Vienna experiences a continental climate with cold winters and warm summers while the other major cities, like Salzburg and Innsbruck, are located at a higher altitude and experience cold winters and cooler summers. The mountainous regions have an alpine climate, which is freezing in the winter and cool in the summer, with thunderstorms in the summer afternoons.
Austria has plenty of markets for all your food, art and handicraft needs. Whether you’re in Vienna or Salzburg, Innsbruck or Linz, you’ll no doubt find a market street that’s straight out of a postcard. There are also a few Austrian gifts that you could pick up while travelling in the country:
Channel your inner Julie Andrew and don a dirndl as you frolic through the mountains. We’re not sure how to solve a problem like Maria, but this is a surefire way to look like one. The dirndl is the traditional dress worn by women in both Bavaria and Austria.
Sure, you can find Swarovski all over the world, but has been a family-owned business since it began in Austria in 1895. If you have someone special to come home to, a crystal sculpture or piece of jewellery from the motherland may just confirm that absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
A snow globe? How tacky. Or is it? These cute souvenirs were actually created in Austria by a man named Erwin Perzy, who was trying to improve the brightness of the electric bulb. Shoemakers used water-filled glass globes to increase candlelight and Perzy wanted to do the same with a bulb. After pouring powder into a globe he discovered that it looked a little like snowfall, so he gave up on his idea and instead created a diorama to put inside. Vienna has been producing snow globes ever since, with hundreds of designs available in the gift shop at the city’s Snow Globe Museum.
Festival and events
Austrians love to embrace their cultural history and there are festivals dedicated to classical music, theatre, opera and modern music throughout the year.
ImPuls Tanz Festival
This month-long dance festival is held in Vienna and attracts thousands of professional dancers, choreographers, teachers and students from around the globe. It has been running for over 30 years and was awarded Austria’s most prestigious art prize in 2012.
An opera festival with a difference. An open-air, floating stage is built on Lake Constance, Europe’s biggest lake, and features some truly incredible productions. The festival was founded in 1946 following the end of WWII.
World Bodypainting Festival
It's all in the name. Artists from around the world travel to Klagenfurt, in southern Austria, to compete at bodypainting while also running workshops. The three-day main event is one of the region's summer highlights and attracts over 30,000 people.
Held in Vienna, the Wiener Festwochen is a high point of the Viennese cultural calendar, featuring theatre productions, orchestra concerts, recitals and performances. It was established in 1951 as a ‘demonstration of Austria’s will to survive’ and to prove that a city ravaged by war could still engage in cultural activities.
The Salzburg Festival celebrates music and theatre in the birthplace of Mozart (and the Sound of Music). It was first held in 1920 and begins in late July, running through till the end of August.
For inspiring stories to prepare you for your Austria adventure, check out these books:
- The World of Yesterday – Stefan Zweig
- Schlepping Through the Alps – Sam Apple
- The Story of the Trapp Family Singers – Maria von Trapp
- The Age of Insight – Eric R. Kandel
- The Painted Kiss – Elizabeth Hickey
- The Radetzky March – Joseph Roth
- The Piano Teacher – Elfriede Jelinek
Austria travel FAQs
Trips from 1 January 2023 onwards
From 1 January 2023, Intrepid will no longer require travellers to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 (excluding all Polar trips and select adventure cruises).
However, we continue to strongly recommend that all Intrepid travellers and leaders get vaccinated to protect themselves and others.
Specific proof of testing or vaccination may still be required by your destination or airline. Please ensure you check travel and entry requirements carefully.
The best times to visit Vienna and Salzburg are late spring and early autumn (May, June, and September). That said, there’s really no bad time to visit. Each season has its own charms and though mid-late summer (July, August) can see afternoon thunderstorms rolling in, there’s plenty of sunshine to be had.
The winter months are freezing and snowing, so this is a good time to visit the cities if you’re after a classic European Christmas atmosphere. January and February tend to be dark, quiet and cold.
If you’re looking to take a skiing holiday, the best months are February and March when snow is plentiful and the days are longer than in December or January.
Vienna averages a temperature of 14–24°C (57–75°F) in the summer and -2–3°C (28–37°F) in the winter. It has relatively low levels of precipitation, peaking at 60 mm (2.4 inches) in the middle of summer.
Temperatures are much colder in the mountainous regions, with an average temperature of 8–21°C (46–69°F) in the summer and -9–1°C (16–34°F) in the winter. This gets colder the higher you go. Precipitation is more abundant, typically falling as snow in the winter and thunderstorms in the summer. Austria’s highest mountain, Grossglockner, averages about 165 mm (6.5 inches) in summer and 145 mm (5.7 inches) in the winter.
Yes, Austria is safe to visit and the cities experience very low crime rates. The biggest risk to travellers probably comes from the mountainous areas, which can be dangerous for inexperienced skiers and hikers. Be sure to pack appropriate clothing, water and food, and tell someone what your plans are if you are heading into the hills.
Austria is a member of the Schengen Convention, which means that if you travel to an EU member country or countries, like Austria, for a total of fewer than 90 days, a visa is not required. Citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, the UK and other member countries of the EU and Schengen area are included under this arrangement.
Visas are the responsibility of the individual traveller. Entry requirements can change at any time, so it's important that you check for the latest information. Please visit the relevant consular website of the country or countries you’re visiting for detailed and up-to-date visa information specific to your country of origin. Check the Essential Trip Information section of your tour itinerary for more information.
Most restaurants will include service charges and taxes in the bill. Rounding the amount up or adding 5–10 per cent to the bill is customary too, although it’s not compulsory.
Your local leader may discuss the idea of running a group tipping kitty on the first day of your trip. In a group tipping kitty, everybody contributes an equal amount at the start of the tour that your leader uses to tip drivers, local guides and hotel staff on your behalf. The leader will keep a running record of all monies spent, which can be checked at any time.
Any money remaining at the end of the tour is returned to group members. This is often the easiest way to avoid the hassle of needing small change and knowing when and what is an appropriate amount to tip. Participation in this kitty is optional, and you are welcome to manage your own tipping separately if you prefer. Please note the tipping kitty excludes tips for your tour leader.
Internet access in Austria is generally very good. In both larger cities and small towns there will be wi-fi available at hotels, cafes, bars and in some public spaces.
Mobile phone coverage is great in most parts of Austria although service may be limited in the more remote parts of the Alps. If you want to use your own SIM card, ensure global roaming is activated before you arrive and make sure you’re aware of any international roaming charges.
Flushable, Western-style toilets are the norm in Austria.
Austria’s unit of currency is the euro. Prices here are approximate and shown in US dollars for ease of comparison.
- Single espresso = USD 3
- A large beer in a bar = USD 4
- A bottle of wine from a supermarket = USD 5
- Traditional meal in a standard restaurant = USD 10–15
- 24-hour travel card in Vienna = USD 9
Yes, it’s safe to drink the tap water in Austria unless otherwise marked. The water in the mountains is beautiful while Vienna has some of its tap water pumped in directly from the Alps. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water and fill a reusable bottle instead.
Credit cards are generally accepted all over Austria although some smaller shops and cafes may only accept cash. Always carry a small amount of euros to cover cash purchases, especially when visiting more rural areas.
ATMs are very common in Austria. It shouldn't be a problem finding one in most towns and cities.
Austria is a safe destination for LGBTQIA+ travellers. Austrians are generally open-minded and very tolerant, and there are protections in place against discrimination towards LGBT-identifying people while same-sex marriage was legalised in 2019.
For more detailed and up-to-date advice, we recommend visiting Equaldex or ILGA before you travel.
If you are travelling solo on an Intrepid group tour, you will share accommodation with a passenger of the same gender as per your passport information. If you don’t identify with the gender assigned on your passport, please let us know at time of booking and we’ll arrange the rooming configuration accordingly. A single supplement is available on some tours for travellers who do not wish to share a room.
This depends on the area you’re visiting and what time of year it is. Summertime in Vienna, for example, is perfect for light clothing while the winter requires a full winter wardrobe.
Weather in the mountains is often unpredictable and can change extremely quickly. It’s best to be prepared with layers including a waterproof jacket, waterproof shoes, a warm jumper and thermal layers if need be.
1 Jan – New Year’s Day
6 Jan – Epiphany
1 May – Labour Day
15 Aug – Assumption of Mary
26 Oct – National Day
1 Nov – All Saints’ Day
8 Dec – Immaculate Conception
25 Dec – Christmas Day
26 Dec – St Stephen’s Day*Please note these dates may vary. For a current list of public holidays in Australia go to .
Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have. We’re always happy to talk to travellers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them towards the most suitable itinerary for their needs and, where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.
Vienna is a relatively accessible city for travellers. Most U-Bahn stations have wheelchair access and ramps are common, though buses and trams won’t necessarily be wheelchair friendly. The Vienna Tourist Information has a comprehensive Accessible Vienna guide available for download.
Outside of Vienna, it can be difficult to get around thanks to cobblestone streets and old European buildings, even in the bigger cities like Salzburg and Innsbruck. As a general rule, knowing some common words in the local language, carrying a written itinerary with you and taking to the streets in a group, rather than solo, can help make your travel experience the best it can be.
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:
Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/
Go to: https://travel.gc.ca/
From the UK?
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
From New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/
From the US?
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
The World Health Organisation also provides useful health information.
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance