10 unmissable places in Austria to visit this winter
Austria is undeniably beautiful in the summer months but it’s in the winter that its varied landscapes and historic towns and cities can be really spectacular. Here are our top winter destinations - from skiing in the Alps, to hiking in a winter wonderland, or enjoying some of Austria’s famed Gemütlichkeit (coziness).
Hallstatt is a tiny lakeside village and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Upper Austria (in the Salzkammergut region). It looks all the more glorious when the nearby Salzburg mountain is blanketed in snow. It is often voted as one of the prettiest villages in the world. Home to less than 1,000 people, Hallstatt has been inhabited for thousands of years because of its deposits of natural salt that were mined.
Innsbruck. Photo: Karl Vidoni
Innsbruck in Tyrol really comes alive in winter, with Christmas markets, magical lights, and traditional food and drink in historic surroundings. Make sure you take the cable car and funicular via Nordkette to the Seegrube ski station at 2200 meters above sea level, where you can enjoy a wonderful panoramic view of the city. The futuristic Nordkettebahnen stations were designed by Zaha Hadid, who also designed the Bergisel ski jump.
Bad Gastein - this spa and ski town is a destination for all winter sports fans - families with children, hikers out on a leisurely winter stroll, and athletic ice climbers. Located in the Hohe Tauern mountains south of Salzburg, it’s known for the belle epoque hotels and villas built on its steep, forested slopes. There are four ski areas around Gastein which are popular with skiers and boarders, and there’s plenty of beautiful tranquil areas for cross-country skiing and snowshoers to enjoy as well. Afterwards, relax in one of the town’s thermal baths or spas.
Alpbach valley. Photo: Linda Reichsoellner
Alpbach is a picture postcard village in Tyrol. It's beautiful location on a sunny plateau, around 1,000m above sea level, provides breathtaking views of the mountains. It’s been voted “Austria’s most beautiful village’, and with its typical timber houses and lovely floral decorations you can see why. It’s an ideal resort for winter sports activities such as skiing and hiking.
It has three ski lifts which take you to the Ski Juwel Alpbachtal Wildschönau ski area - one of the biggest ski resorts in Tyrol. It also offers 20 km of immaculate cross-country skiing trails in scenic surroundings, untracked powder slopes for ski touring and cleared winter hiking trails. Other popular winter activities include tobogganing and paragliding.
Although they get crowded, the lanes and alleys of Salzburg's Old Town are particularly charming during the Christmas and winter season - especially if it snows. In particular the shops along the Getreidegasse and Goldgasse are often beautifully decorated. Make sure you stop for a mug of Glühwein and munch on some spiced Christmas cookies, or Lebkuchen. Salzburg is also a good base from which to explore some of Austria’s finest ski areas, located in the south of Salzburg Province. You can also snowboard, go sledging, cross-country skiing or skating - winter sports are big in Salzburg.
St Anton am Arlberg. This village in the Tyrolean Alps is known as a gateway to the ski paradise which is the Arlberg region and is often called the “cradle of alpine skiing” for its role in inventing the sport. Lifts and cable cars provide access to the slopes of Valluga and Rendl. A network of mountain trails branches out from the town. The après ski is also legendary.
Feldkirch in Vorarlberg. This well preserved medieval city borders Liechtenstein and Switzerland, and is just minutes from Lake Constance (Bodensee) and Bavaria. The mountains rising up around it provide impressive views. A good place to stop and sample some traditional Austrian food, and a great starting point for ski trips in the mountains.
Pörtschach. Photo: woerthersee.com
Lake Wörthersee. In especially cold winters, it is not unknown for the Wörthersee to be transformed into Carinthia’s biggest outdoor skating rink. The areas around the lake are also great for hiking, tobogganing, cross-country skiing, and curling. Whilst you’re here explore some of Austria’s most enchanting Advent markets, the nearby ski regions, and delicious cuisine. The two Advent markets in Pörtschach and Velden are connected by a special bus. The Gerlitz Alps ski region can be reached from the lake by car in only 15 minutes and offers ideal conditions for the whole family.
Kartitsch. Surrounded by the foothills of the Lienz Dolomites to the north and the Carnic Alps to the south, Kartitsch lies at an altitude of 1,356m in the Gailtal Valley and is popular with walkers, hikers, mountaineers and backcountry (off-piste) skiers. Explore the Carnic Alps High Trail, a 155 km hiking path at over 2,000m altitude. The Obstanser Eishöhle ice cave is well worth a visit and gives visitors (with the correct safety equipment) the chance to climb 100 metres down into the earth. Winter sports enthusiasts will enjoy the small local ski area with easy slopes for beginners as well as challenging runs up to an altitude of 1,820 for intermediate and advanced skiers.
Photo: Rogner Bad Blumau
Bad Blumau. The striking architecture of this luxury spa hotel in Styria was designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser. It features colourful patchwork façades and green roofs, without a single straight line in sight. Arranged like a city with various districts, the indoor ring-shaped spa is the centre, with accommodation, swimming, bathing and restaurant areas branching out into the open landscape.