Located at the crossroads of Europe, this small yet beautiful country boasts extraordinary Alpine scenery, exquisite Habsburg architecture, a plethora of palaces and museums, and rich artistic and cultural traditions. Austria is the most mountainous country on the continent and the Alps’ jagged ridges, deep valleys, green meadows, and picturesque villages have made it a long-time favorite among mountaineers and snow-sports enthusiasts. It is this extremely varied terrain that has also influenced the country’s diverse cultural heritage. Despite being the ancestor of the mighty Austro-Hungarian empire which influenced European affairs for centuries, its different regions have maintained their unique dialect, dress, and way of life.
Not surprisingly, Austria’s capital Vienna seems now to be on everyone’s bucket list. No longer a city of fading imperial grandeur, it has been redefining itself as a young, vibrant, and modern urban center which has something to offer to everyone, but where culture is still king. Its historic center is a pleasure to explore on foot and anyone with interest in period architecture, art, classical music, or simply people-watching over a cup of coffee and a Viennese pastry will feel right at home.
With a week at your disposal, you may wish to divide your time between Vienna and Salzburg. As the capital city has so much to offer, you would need to spend 3 – 4 days there to just cover highlights like the Hofburg Palace complex, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Museum Quarter, and the Belvedere and Schonbrunn palaces. Not burning enough calories after all those pastries? Head out for a walk in the Vienna Woods or take a day-trip to the Wachau Valley to explore the historic Melk Abbey or bike along the Danube River past local vineyards and to the medieval town of Krems. Salzburg's Old Town is known for its Baroque architecture including the Hohensalzburg fortress and the Salzburg Cathedral where Mozart - the city’s most famous son, was baptized.
With a few extra days, you may extend your trip to include the the tiny UNESCO-protected town of Hallstatt with its ancient salt-mining roots and hike in the Salzkammergut Lake District which is dotted with picturesque towns, lakes, and mountains and immortalized by The Sound of Music movie. Another option would be to transfer west of Salzburg and to the Tyrolean Alps for a few days of scenic hiking along valleys and through small hamlets before ending your trip in Innsbruck.
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