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Though Austria's political power has diminished over the 20th century, the legacy of its once mighty Habsburg empire remains intact, most notably at Vienna. The city, once the undisputed cultural centre of Europe, still bears the signs of its glory days: majestic architecture, a haven of Western musical tradition (from waltzes, to classical music, to operatic creations) and museums dedicated to its artistic heritage. But while Vienna's past glory makes it a must-see destination, Salzburg is the nation's most popular destination, both for Austrians and tourists; like Vienna, it boasts a rich cultural heritage.
Away from the cities, Austria's countryside beauty is as majestic as the Habsburg empire was. Whether it's the graceful Danube stretching across the north, the Eisriesenwelt ice caves] (the largest accessible ice caves in the world), or the magnificent snow-capped peaks of the Alps, visitors will find it impossible to deny Austria's great beauty.
For more information, read the full article on Austria's history.
Settled in ancient times, the central European land that is now Austria was inhabited in pre-Roman times by Celtic tribes. The Celtic kingdom of Noricum was later claimed by the Roman Empire and made into a province. In 1156 Austria elevated to the status of a duchy. In 1192, the Babenbergs acquired the Duchy of Styria, but with the death of Frederick II in 1246, the line of the Babenbergs went extinct. From 1278 until World War I, Austria's history was that of its ruling dynasty, the Habsburgs. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Habsburgs began to accumulate other provinces in the vicinity of Austria, and beyond.
In 1804, the Empire of Austria was founded. But the era of Napoleon brought Austria more problems, it suffered successive defeats leading to the end of the old Holy Roman Empire in 1806. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 by Gavrilo Princip directly caused the outbreak of World War I which led to the end of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the end of the rule of the Habsburgs.
On November 12, 1918, German Austria, by law, declared itself to be a democratic republic. The First Austrian Republic lasted until 1933 when Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss established an autocratic regime tending towards Italian fascism. During the 1930's Austria was incorporated into the Third Reich and ceased to exist as an independent state. Vienna fell on 13 April 1945 during the Soviet Vienna Offensive just before the total collapse of the Third Reich. Karl Renner set up a Provisional Government in Vienna in April with the approval of the Soviet forces, and declared Austria's secession from the Third Reich by the Declaration of Independence on 27 April 1945.
After talks which lasted for years, on 15 May 1955 Austria regained its full independence by concluding the Austrian State Treaty with the Four Occupying Powers. (Like Germany and Berlin, Austria and Vienna were split up in four sections.) On 26 October 1955 Austria declared that it would be a neutral state from then on. The country became a member of the European Union in 1995 and was one of twelve countries to introduce the Euro in 2002.
Austria is a landlocked mountainous country located in Central Europe, bordering Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and the Czech Republic. It occupies a total area of 83,871 km², where around 8.4 million people live in.
Austria is a largely mountainous country due to its location in the Alps. The Central Eastern Alps, Northern Limestone Alps and Southern Limestone Alps are all partly in Austria. Of the total area of Austria, only about a quarter can be considered low lying, and roughly one third of the country is below 500 metres.
The country can roughly be divided into three geographic areas; the majority of the country in the west is occupied by the Austrian Alps, the largest area of which is the Eastern Alps, which constitute 62% of nation's total area. These give way to foothills and low lying regions, including the valley around the river Danube. North of the river Danube is the Bohemian Forest (Böhmerwald), a low mountain range occupying about 10% of the country. Known as the Austrian granite plateau, it is located in the central area of the Bohemian Mass. The Austrian portion of the Vienna basin comprises just a small percentage (less than 5%) of the country.
Austria is divided into nine provinces:
The inner city of Vienna is a collection of old and new buildings, including the Hofburg, the Stephansdom, and a great collection of huge buildings build at the end of the 19th century on the Ringstrasse. But don't forget to wander the small streets.
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Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna, was once the summer residence of the Habsburg family, a couple of the rooms can be visited on a guided tour. The grounds surrounding the palace include Europe's largest greenhouse, the Gloriette, Wagenburg as well as the world's oldest zoo, Tiergarten Schönbrunn.
Salzburg's Old City (Altstadt) is world famous for its baroque architecture and a tourist hot spot. Above the old city, lies the fortress Hohen Salzburg. In the old city of Salzburg you can also visit the birthplace of Mozart, or take of the Sound of Musik tours.
Austria has a very high concentration of ski resorts and is one of the major winter sports destinations in Europe. Tyrol is the main area for skiiers, but there also resorts in Vorarlberg and in Salzburg. Kaprun is one of the places where one can ski all year round, and also is the place where the national skiing team of Austria has their training in summer.
At 1,800 km², Hohe Tauern is Austria's largest national park. The park is seperated in three zones. There is a no-go zone in two already difficult to get areas, a core zone in which no construction is allowed, and a outer zone in which there is room for some tourism. The mountains in this area are some of the among the highest mountains in Austria, including the Grossglockner and the Grossvenediger. Because of the restrictions this area is for a large part free of mass tourism, making it a hiking (and mountainbiking) paradise.
In the mountains above Werfen lie the ice caves of Eisriesenwelt. The caves are open to the public between May and early October. From the parking lot in Gries/Werfen there are bus services going up the mountain that take you to a parking lot near a cable car, which takes you even further up hill, and after that it's a short 15-minute walk to the caves. Drivers who have experience in driving in the mountains, can drive up the mountain for the first piece on themselves. When you visit please remember that these are ice caves, so bring appropriate clothing.
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The Krimmler Waterfalls are often refered to as the biggest waterfall in Europe, but that depends on how you look at it. Whether it's Europe's largest/tallest/biggest waterfall is not as important as the falls' beauty. It is an amazing sight so see 20,000 m³/h of water see rushing 380 metres downwards. The waterfalls come down in three stages: a first drop of 140 metres; a second one of a 100 metres; and a last step with again a drop of 140 metres. Along the waterfalls is a pathway, for with a €2 entrance fee is asked (children between 6-15 pay €0.50). When driving on the Gerlos Hochalpenstrasse you have some great views. On the new road is a panorama platform (and parking), from where you have a good view on the waterfalls
Austria is very popular with cyclists, especially with long-distance cyclists. The Danube from Passau to Vienna is Europe's most popular cycling trail. Being mostly flat and almost car free this trail is very suitable for families with small children and unexperienced cyclists. On top of it the trail touches some of the most beautiful places in Austria.
Mayrhofen has a fantastic reputation in Europe for kayaking and has been the location for national and international white water championships.
The stretch of river from Hochsteg to Gasthof Zillertal is considered to be particularly difficult, providing a real challenge for the more advanced kayakers.
On the 4th of January it is Innbruck's turn to host a round of the Vierschanzentournee, a ski jumping event held in four towns in Germany and Austria. Round 3 and 4 are organised in Austria. The ski jump from Innsbruck is notorious among the jumpers as from their starting point they have a very nice view of the cementary grounds. The last day of the event is in Bischofshofen, usually on the 6th of January. The events draws massive crowds, and are also aired live on television.
Skiing is the national sport in Tyrol and Austria, so it's not a surprise that the most famous of all races are being held in Tyrol. The Hahnenkamm race that is being held on the mountains just outside of Kitzbühel on the 3.3-kilometre-long course called the Streif. This is one of the most notorious races in the world championships. In the weekend of the races there are three events, but the main event is the Downhill on Saturday. In recent years, the races have been held in late january.
In autumn, when the snow starts to fall at lower altitudes, the farmers bring their livestock back to the valley. This is called Alm abtried. This often happens in an organised way, and with the cows decorated, it looks like a long parade of cows, coming down from the mountains. In a lot of places there are other festivities planned, which includes music, dance, food and drinks.
Austria's climate is similar to other countries in Central Europe, with distinct seasons. Summers are from June to August, which is the hottest, but also wettest time of year. Temperatures usually are between 22 °C and 28 °C during the day but temperatures of over 35 °C are not unheard of. In the Alps, conditions can change rapidly, with sunny weather turning into heavy rainshowers and thunderstorms. Higher up in the mountains it rarely gets really hot.
Winters can get very cold, with regular frost throughout the country. It is also the skiing season, with certain snow in most of the Alps from December to March. Although spring and autumn's weather is changeable, it is often the most comfortable in terms of temperatures.
As Austria is centrally located in Europe, there are numerous connections to neighbouring countries and places further away. Allthough Vienna offers a lot of connections, the other cities also have international connections, for example from Salzburg to Munich, Klagenfurt to Ljubljana and Venice, Linz to Prague, Graz to Budapest, and Innsbruck to Verona and Zurich.
It is easy to get to Austria from all its neighbouring countries, with excellent highways connecting to Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Italy and Switzerland. To and from Liechtenstein there is a smaller border crossing near Feldkirch.
Eurolines offers buses to and from a number of places in Austria, including Vienna, Graz, Salzburg, Klagenfurt and Linz. Buses go to many Europea destinations, including Prague, London, Paris, Rome and Amsterdam.
It is possible to enter Austria by boat from Slovakia and Germany. The Twin city liner, connects Bratislava and Vienna. The trip takes about 75 minutes. There are three daily departures from April to October with extra Friday and Saturday evening departures from May onwards.
The company Wurm+Köck runs ships up and down the Danube from Passau. During summer ships go daily to Linz and once a week to Vienna. These ships are a great way to explore the Wachau and the Schlögener Schlinge.
Also DDSG runs daily hydrofoils to and from Budapest from mid-April to late October, taking around 5.5 hours each way.
Austrian Airlines flies between Vienna and Graz, Klagenfurt, Linz and Salzburg. Austrian Arrows operated by Tyrolean Airways has a number of domestic services as well and is based at Innsbruck, from where it flies to the destinations mentioned above.
If you are travelling between major centres, it is hard to beat the convenience of the Austrian railroads. The trains are clean, efficient and reasonably priced. Some of the train routes are attractions unto themselves, like the world famous Semmering railway line.
ÖBB (Österreiche Bundesbahn) is Austria's national rail system and operates on 5,700 kilometres of tracks. You should be aware of the following special tickets that really make train travel in Austria very cheap.
In the areas where there are no rail connections, a Postbus (a division of ÖBB) is generally available. Buses are usually reliable. The VorteilsCard, which is also valid on trains, can provide up to 50% discount on bus fares as well.
Austria has an excellent and well maintained road network and renting a car is possible from many international and local companies at airports and major cities and towns and railway stations. Most motorways require you to pay toll. You can get passes for 10 days up to a year at border crossings, post offices, tourist offices and petrol stations. During vacation periods it is best to see if you can get a sticker at home, at a Automobile Club.
Traffic drives on the right and you are obliged to use lights 24 hours a day! A national driver's licence will do. When bringing your own car be sure to have proof of ownership and the required insurance (green card). Note that driving in mountainous areas can be a nervous experience, because of the steep and winding mountain roads. Although most are paved, a little experience of driving in the mountains can be of some help.
There are passenger services by boat from mid-May to mid-September along the Danube and on Austria's lakes. The DDSG Blue Danube Schiffahrt runs steamer services along the Danube. There are also trips on Lake Constanz from Bregenz.
Cycling is a popular way to experience Austria and cyclists are generally well looked after. There are often separate bike tracks provided in cities and throughout the countryside as well. If you want to do some serious kilometres on the bike, the Danube Bike Trail, one of Europe's most popular cycling routes, is a good option.
If you are a European Union (EU) citizen, you may enter without any restriction as per your EU citizenship rights. If you are not an EU citizen and Austria is the first stop on your visit, you will need to obtain a Schengen Visa. This visa is valid for any country in the Schengen zone.
See also: Money Matters
Austria has adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) as its official currency. One Euro is divided into 100 cents, which are sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them from the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200, €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone.
The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have law which requires cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.
The official language in Austria is German. But it would be fair to say most Austrians speak English. Austrians learn English at school as of age 6.
You can read some basic German travel phrases in the German Phrasebook.
If eating out, a tip of 10% is the standard.
Austrian food is distinctive and delicious, and is traditionally of the stodgy, hearty "meat and dumplings" variety. Wiener Schnitzel (a bread-crumbed and fried veal escalope) is something of a national dish, and Knödel are a kind of dumpling which can be made either sweet or savory according to taste. In Vienna the Tafelspitz (boiled beef with potatoes and horseradish) is traditionally served on Sundays, and is normally accompanied by clear broth with dumplings and herbs. Apart from these, Austria is renowned for its pastries and desserts, the most well-known of which is probably the Apfelstrudel.
In the cities you have the normal choices of places to sleep, from 5-star hotel rooms to the 12-bed dorm. Outside the cities, you can usually find camping grounds without too much trouble.
Outside of the cities, in the countryside, places to sleep can be relatively cheap. You can find the normal hotel rooms in almost every town. There are a lot of pensions (often refered to as Pension or Gasthaus), but there are also a lot of private rooms available. These are easily recongnisable by the signs or a shield with the word Zimmer next to the road. Zimmer Frei (or sometimes a picture of a green bed), meaning that there are rooms available, Zimmer belegt (or a red bed) means that the rooms are taken. You can also come across a red/white flag, with the word Zimmer Frei written over it.
If you want to stay in the countryside, it might be a nice option to stay at a farm. When travelling with children this might be a good option, as they have more freedom for playing games, than in a normal hotel or pension. Camping sites are also very common in Austria.
Another final option might be to spent a night in a mountain cabin. Most cabins have a few rooms available, and booking in advance is wise, as it often is a long way to get there, and you don't want to be told 'no' at the door. Some pensions arrange to pick you up in the valley, and drive you to the cabin.
Austria has some fine drinks and drinking culture. Of course Vienna has a great coffee culture. After all, where could the famous Viennese Coffee taste better than in the Austrian capital?
But other Austrian drinks are worth a try as well. The most traditional Austrian soft drink, Almdudler, resembles ginger ale and since 1957 has been even more popular than coke.
If you don't avoid alcohol, however, have a taste of Austrian beer and above all, the exquisite Austrian wines. Gruener Veltliner, Zweigelt and Welschriesling are among the particularly recommendable kinds. Other Austrian specialities include Korn, a type of brandy, and Sturm, an equivalent of the French Beaujolais Nouveau made from fermented grape juice.
There are also lots of beers to dry, from dark Bockbier (especially during autumn and winter) and fantastic wheat beers (German: Wheissbier, especiallly good in spring and summer, when temperatures are higher).
See also Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Austria. It is recommended to have a vaccination against tick borne encephalitis when you go hiking and/or camping for 4 weeks or more in the period of March to November.
See also Travel Safety
Austria is one of the safest countries in the world and you are unlikely to face major problems. Just be aware of pickpockets in crowded places like stations or markets and in big cities, especially later at night in quiet streets.
See also International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to Austria is: 43
To make an international call from Austria, the code is: 00
For more information, it is best to check the Austrian Postal Service. They have more information about posting letters, postcards and packages to places both in Austria and to other countries in Europe and intercontinental destinations. The standard price for sending domestic letters/postcards is €0.55. Within Europe the price is €0.65, other places in the world are €0.90 to €1.40 for standard letters and postcards. Post offices typically are open between 8:00am and 6:00pm Monday to Friday, though the main ones are sometimes open a few hours longer and on Saturdays (sometimes only mornings) as well.
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Ask duffers2010 a question about Austria
I have a chalet in Mayrhofen which is a popular destination. I would like to help people wanting to travel there. We organise several walking and skiing events each year so i know what is going on and when. Would be great to get some other like minded outdoor types involved in some of the many activities available.
Ask dieSophia a question about Austria
Austria is my homecountry... so if I don't know everything by myself at least I'll know where and how to get the information...
Ask travelbug_ a question about Austria
I have been living in Austria for nearly 3 years now. Have been to most parts of Austria. Living close to Vienna
Can help with general info.
Ask Askalt a question about Austria
I've been living in Salzburg, now in Innsbruck - if you've got any questions about budget accomodation, museums, winter sports, night life or whatsoever I'd love to help!
Ask mee a question about Austria
The past 19 years I lived in a region where there are many! skiing areas... so when you don't know which one to choose, contact me. (Especially Vorarlberg.)
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