With high profile neighbours like Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, it’s understandable that Austria still seems to fly beneath the radar. But overlooking this country would be a mistake, especially during winter. Quaint mountain villages, fascinating history, and beautiful baroque architecture form the foundation of the country’s cultural significance. The Danube River and vast Alps set the tone for the natural attractions. Trains in Austria are also fast, efficient, and among the most advanced in all of Europe, and few require advanced reservations. So what are you waiting for? Here are 5 stunning cities in Austria you can reach by train.
Innsbruck is the capital of the state of Tyrol. It’s a common stopover for travelers on their way to or from Switzerland, southern Germany, and eastern Europe. But this beautiful alpine city is worth more than just a cursory glance. In winter the dramatic Alps serve as a picturesque backdrop to the unique architecture, and a good ski run is never far away. Come summer, the mountains open up to hikers who can reach panoramic summits with relative ease. And all through the year, the charming city center hums with activity and plenty of pints of fine Austrian fare.
Must-see: Take a walk up the Stadtturm, or City Tower. You’ll get the best views of the city and surrounding mountains.
Insider tip: Accommodation in the heart of the old town can be expensive. Look to the other side of the Inn river if you’re on a budget and want to avoid the throngs of tourists.
Salzburg sits close to the German border, and as such it serves up beautiful views of the Eastern Alps. There’s an immediate sense of medieval and baroque history, thanks to the beautiful old town and prominent castle floating high above. The city also works its Sound of Music angle to the maximum. But even if you’re not a fan of the musical, then the history, culture, and unspoilt natural beauty makes this one of the most magical cities in Austria.
Must-see: A walk through the old town and up to the castle is a rewarding experience. The views from the top are truly impressive.
Insider tip: Salzburg is easily walkable, but if you’re planning on seeing attractions outside of the old town then you can rent a bike for the day. You’ll cover more ground and reach impressive new views.
Austria’s capital Vienna is a grand city that oozes charm and demands respect. The stately buildings are beautiful to walk around, and you can easily soak up the dozens of museums in an entire day. Traditional Vienna coffee houses offer the perfect place to rest after a day of sightseeing. All-time favourites like the Vienna State Opera and Schönbrunn Palace will fill every spare minute you thought you had.
Must-see: Don’t miss a trip to Schönbrunn Palace. If the architecture doesn’t capture your imagination, then the stunning views certainly will.
Insider tip: Many people walk the Vienna Ring Road for its remarkable architecture. But if your feet are feeling a little tired, hop aboard the Vienna Ring Tram. Tickets are available onboard.
If you’re looking to escape the cities, then head towards the small town of Alpbach. This beautiful town in the state of Tyrol drew its first visitors due to the rich mineral deposits in the nearby mountains. These days, it seems most of its traffic comes from eager tourists. Skiing on the quiet and well-groomed pistes is the primary winter activity. When the snow melts, the same mountains make for excellent walks through the pristine Austrian countryside.
Must-see: Activities here are very seasonal. In winter, skiing, snowshoeing, and tobogganing rule the days, while walks, lakes, and gorges all vie for your attention in summer. Your best source for activities is the official Albach Tourism website.
Insider tip: If you’re desperate for a ski but on a tight budget, then consider visiting for opening weekend in December – there are good deals on passes and accommodation, and plenty of entertainment.
Hallstatt is one of the most popular cities in Austria, and for good reason. The quaint architecture and idyllic lake and mountain-side location makes this a truly magical place to visit. You’ll likely approach the town from the water. There’s a regular ferry that syncs arrival and departure times with the trains, which only adds to the mystical allure. In summer months the city sees a mass influx of visitors, so you’re well advised to visit outside of peak seasons or get there nice and early.
Must-see: Most people flock straight to the iconic vantage point overlooking Hallstatt to snap a photo. But if you’re looking for a true sense of the town, head up the valley to the waterfall on an incredible 90-minute hike.
Insider tip: Hallstatt is small and offers limited accommodation. Nearby towns such as Bad Aussee offer plenty of alternative options, easy access to Hallstatt via rail, and equally impressive scenery that’s often quieter.