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Life in Austria: Must-do activities to add to your bucket list

Austria might be small but it’s definitely not short on unique experiences. Make sure you don’t miss out with The Local's Austrian bucket list.

Snow and frost on the Nockspitze in Mutters, Austria.
Exploring the Alps is a must-do in Austria. Photo by Paul Gilmore/Unsplash

From skiing in the Alps to listening to classical music in Vienna, Austria is a hub of must-do activities. 

To help you get started, here’s an ultimate guide for making the most of life in Austria.

Drink Austrian wine at a Heuriger

Anyone that lives in Vienna (or in the east of Austria) will be familiar with a Heuriger, but for people in other parts of the country it might be a new wine term.

Basically, a Heuriger is a wine tavern where local winemakers serve their new wine. In fact, the phrase “Heuriger Wein” actually means “this year’s wine”, so for people looking to sample the freshest Austrian wine, a Heuriger is the place to be – especially in summer.

If travelling outside of Vienna, just be aware that these wine taverns are not known as Heuriger everywhere in Austria. For example, in Styria, Heurigen are better known as Buschenschank, but are essentially the same thing.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about Austria’s wine industry

Sip coffee in Austria’s highest cafe

Cafe 3.440 in the Pitztal region of Tyrol is Austria’s highest cafe at exactly 3,440 metres above sea level and is surrounded by 50 mountains at more than 3,000 metres.

Panoramic views and homemade food are not the only attractions at Cafe 3.440 though, with architecture fans drawn to the location for its futuristic UFO-like appearance and lounge ambience. It’s also Austria’s highest registry office and event space.

The cafe can be reached with the Gletscher Express lift, followed by the Wildspitzbahn gondola.

Go skiing in the Alps

Austria is known as a winter sports playground so don’t miss an opportunity to get out of the city and explore the Alps in the west of the country for a few days.

Even if skiing or snowboarding is not your thing, there is still plenty to enjoy in the mountains, like winter hiking, wellness hotels, gourmet restaurants and traditional mountain huts.

Then there are events for your calendar like the famous Hahnenkamm downhill ski race in Kitzbühel or the Snowbombing music festival in Mayrhofen.

READ MORE: The best events and festivals in Austria in 2022

Listen to classical music in Vienna

No visit to Vienna is complete without attending a classical music concert. After all, the city is famous for its cultural scene and is known as the capital of classical music.

The Wien Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestra put on regular concerts across the city and some of the best venues for classical music include the Golden Hall at Wiener Musikverein, Kursalon, the State Opera, Schönbrunn Palace, St Peter’s Church and Karlskirche.

Pro tip: If you want to secure a good seat, book a ticket well in advance as most concerts sell out fast.

 
Visiting Vienna should be on every Austrian bucket list. Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash.

Spend the night at an Alpine hut

Winter is definitely the most important season in the Austrian Alps, but summer is also a great time to visit. 

The mountain regions are home to countless hiking routes and traditional mountain huts where people can enjoy a refreshing lunch, or even stay the night.

Accommodation at most huts is basic, so don’t expect five-star luxury, but the experience of waking up on the side of a mountain is one that you won’t forget in a hurry. Just be sure to book ahead for a visit during the peak months of June to August.

Go wine tasting in Burgenland

Burgenland is one of the most prominent wine producing areas in Austria and is within easy reach of Vienna, making it the perfect location for a day trip or long weekend.

One of the hotspots in Burgenland is Neusiedlersee where visitors can enjoy swimming in the lake, as well as sampling local wine (although probably not at the same time). Or if you want to venture a bit further, try visiting wineries from the 17th and 18th Centuries in the historic town of Heiligenbrunn in south Burgenland.

Alternatively, rent a bike and tour the region on two wheels, stopping off at wineries and taking in the landscape along the way.

FOR MEMBERS: How to maximise your annual leave in Austria in 2022

Watch ski jumping in Innsbruck

Ski jumping is a sport for daredevils and the Bergisel in Innsbruck is the perfect place to witness skiers (or “eagles” as they are known) flying through the air.

Every year, the Four Hills Tournament (German-Austrian Ski Jumping Week) descends on Innsbruck in early January and crowds flock to the outdoor stadium to watch the contest amid a party atmosphere. Ski jumping is the main attraction of the event, but spectators also take full advantage of the many Glühwein and hot food stands.

The Bergisel is famous for hosting the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976, and provides panoramic views across the city.

Visit Hallstatt

The town of Hallstatt sits on the shore of Lake Hallstatt in Salzburgerland. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and represents a slice of traditional Austrian life.

Hallstatt was built in the 16th Century as a salt mining town and is home to narrow streets and historic buildings, which further adds to the dramatic charm of the picturesque settlement.

The town is incredibly popular with tourists from all over the world and was regularly featured by travel influencers on Instagram in pre-Covid times. 

As a result, it can be crowded, but don’t let the hype put you off – if only to see for yourself why developers in China were so impressed with Hallstatt that they created a replica of the town in the Guangdong province in 2012.

Go to Oktoberfest

The most famous Oktoberfest takes place in Munich in Germany, not Austria. But for people based in the west of the country, Munich is actually within easy reach. This means Oktoberfest is also accessible.

Oktoberfest is the world’s largest Volksfest (folk festival) that runs for around 16 days every year, usually in mid-September. It’s known for serving beer in one-litre steins, patrons dressing up in traditional outfits of dirndls (for girls) and lederhosen (for boys), and lots of raucous partying.

In 2020 and 2021, Munich’s Oktoberfest didn’t take place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but it has been confirmed for 2022 (depending on the situation) from September 17th to October 3rd.

If travelling to Munich is not an option, smaller events also take place in towns and cities across Austria between September and October, including in Vienna.

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DISCOVER AUSTRIA

One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Vienna is undoubtedly one of the best and most beautiful cities in the world. If you only have 24 hours to spare, here's what not to miss.

One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

Vienna is by far the most visited Austrian city. Data from Statistics Austria shows that the capital received more than 17 million tourist overnight stays a year – at least in a pre-pandemic year.

Austria’s second most visited city is Salzburg, with more than three million tourist overnight stays in 2019.

With a long history and the beautiful buildings and constructions that only a city which was the capital of an empire for hundreds of years can have, Vienna – Wien, to the locals – is definitely worth the visit.

READ ALSO: Austria: Six German expressions to entice your Wanderlust

Also, definitely worth an extended visit. But as weekend train rides become more common in Europe and low-cost flights make it possible for quick holidays across the continent, many visitors only have a few hours to spend in this historical town.

While it might seem impossible to see all, there is to see in Vienna in only 24 hours (and it is!), The Local has asked for the help of Robert Eichhorn, a Vienna-accredited tourist guide and a born and raised Viennese with an eye for the unique parts of town.

If you only have 24 hours in Vienna, arriving around 2 pm on a Saturday and leaving at around the same time on a Sunday, here are a few things you could do to make the most of the city.

Vienna’s St. Stephen Cathedral, in the first district (Photo by Dan V on Unsplash)

Start out with the first district

The Austrian capital is divided into 23 districts. The first is the central, where many historical sightings and political buildings are located. The remaining districts spiral from that, with 21 and 22 located just across the Danube river.

READ ALSO: IN PICTURES: The Vienna coffee shop where phone-less visitors get a discount

In the first district, you will find many of the most impressive places.

“Even for those who are not church fans, a visit to St. Stephen’s Cathedral should not be missed”, Eichhorn says.

The landmark stands for centuries in the heart of the city. It offers not only a postcard picture (literally) and a beautiful interior but also amazing views, as our tour guide explains that it is possible to reach the top of the big spire (343 steps by foot) or the smaller taller (by elevator) to enjoy the city from above.

If you enjoy the religious history, it is also possible to, from St. Stephen’s, reach Ruprechtskirche, one of the oldest churches in Vienna. “From there, it’s just a stone’s throw to the City Temple of the Viennese Jewish Community in Sitenstättengasse and the Ankeruhr at Hoher Markt”, describes Eichhorn.

READ ALSO: Six of the best things to do in spring in Vienna

Heading East from Ankeruhr, you will reach one of Vienna’s beautiful city parks. Actually, the city park: Stadtpark, the 19th-century park with a lake and a river. This is a fantastic starting point to Vienna’s incredible Ring Road.

“The Ringstrasse was built in the second half of the 19th century, and there are numerous buildings important for the city”, Eichhorn explains. Walking from the Stadtpark, with a short detour to visit the beautiful Karlskirche, it is possible to follow the road and see some of the main attractions, including the Vienna State Opera, Burggarten, the Hofburg, the Museumsplatz, the Parliament and Vienna’s City Hall (Rathaus), all the way to the beautiful Votivkirche.

“I would recommend taking a break in the coffee house in the Burggarten Palm House”, our tour guide notes.

“The historic ambience makes it a great place to relax”, he adds.

READ ALSO: The best spots to recharge on the weekend in Vienna

For the evening attractions

Truth be told, the Ringstrasse and its beautiful buildings also shine with the facade lights, and a walk around the first district could seem totally different depending on the time of the day – or the season in the year.

But if you want to have “old-school Viennese”, as the born-and-raised Eichhorn says, then a trip to a Heurigen would be suitable. Those are the typical and traditional Viennese wine taverns.

“They are located on the city’s outskirts but can be reached by public transport well”.

READ ALSO: Six tourist scams to be aware of in Austria

A less rustic option, but central, is the so-called (even by locals!) Bermuda Triangle, an area in the first district with plenty of pubs and bars.

“Or maybe end the day with a concert?” suggests Eichhorn. “Vienna has an incredible amount of music events to offer, from classical to modern music”.

The next morning

As you prepare to enjoy your final hours in the beautiful city, how about heading to a genuinely imperial and impressive palace?

The beautiful Schönbrunn Palace, in Vienna, viewed from the Gloriette, accessible from the palace gardens (Copyright: Schloss Schönbrunn Kultur-und Betriebsges mbH, Severin Wurnig)

It only takes about 30 minutes with the metro from the first district to Schönbrunn Palace. “It is the summer residence of the Habsburgs, the imperial family. An impressive palace and a beautiful garden complex”, Eichhorn explains.

Schönbrunn is really a crown jewel, and no visit to Vienna would be complete without going there. The palace gardens also house a modern zoo worth visiting – but could be cutting it close with the time, according to Eichhorn.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: EU plans digital-only Schengen visa application process

There might be still just enough time for a traditional Austrian meal as you head out your way: try the schnitzel and potato salad if you eat meat. For vegetarians, the Käsespätzle is a very typical one (especially in the Austrian mountains).

Unfortunately, there aren’t many vegan choices for traditional meals, but more and more restaurants offer vegan options.

Vienna also houses several beer gardens, where you can eat and drink local foods and beers just before taking your train back home.

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