How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

The Alps is a nature-lovers playground - and not just during the winter months. Here are some top tips about how to make the most of the Austrian mountains in the summer.

How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local
Exploring the Austrian Alps can be even better in the summer. (Photo by Robert Pügner / Pexels).

Most people think about visiting the Austrian Alps in the winter for adventures in the snow, but summertime in the mountains is just as fun.

In fact, The Local’s Hayley Maguire – a Tyrol resident – argues that life in the mountains is even better in the summer with plenty of warm weather to enjoy the great outdoors.

So for anyone planning a trip to the Austrian Alps this spring and summer, here’s how to make the most of it. 

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Discover wildlife

When exploring the Alps in Austria you are never far from wildlife like deer, mountains goats and eagles, but they often like to hide away from people.

Instead, Toni Krainz, originally from Ireland, recommends visiting a wildlife park, like the Wildpark in Aurach, Tyrol. 

Toni, who lives in St Johann in Tyrol, said: “I always take people to the Wildpark to see the deer and other animals, especially when there are kids visiting. People always love visiting the park – it’s so beautiful there.”

The Wildpark has more than 200 species of animals, including deer, lynx, wild boar and marmots, as well as panoramic views across the Kitzbühel Alps.

Ticket prices for 2022 are €9.50 for people aged 14-plus and €6 for children. Entry is free for children up to the age of five.

Embrace competitive golf

Like in most countries, golf is an expensive hobby in Austria, but there is a way to get involved without it costing a fortune.

Cara Saunders, originally from Scotland but now a resident in Tyrol, recommends anyone interested in playing golf to sign up to the Strawberry Tour.

The Strawberry Tour is a type of membership that allows people to play at various golf courses across the alps by only paying the tournament fee, instead of the green fee (price of entry to the course).

The cost of the tour card is €49 and grants entry to around 800 tournaments in Austria. Both beginners and more advanced players can join.

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Go hiking

For people that love to explore the mountains by foot, the Austrian Alps is the place to go.

A top recommendation is the Salzburger Almenweg, which was labelled as the best hut-to-hut walk in Austria by Lonely Planet. This hike is around 350km and takes approximately one month to complete all 31 stages. Scenes from The Sound of Music were also filmed in the area giving hikers a chance to reenact the famous scene of Maria skipping through the meadows.

Another long distance hike is the Adlerweg (Eagle’s Trail) that can take up to four weeks to complete. The trail traverses classic alpine landscapes from St Johann to St Anton am Arlberg. The best time to hike this route is between June and September when the trails are snow-free and the huts are open.

For a day hike, Clare Woolner, from Manchester in the UK, recommends a trail from Zell am See to Saalbach, called the Pinzgauer Spaziergang Trail. The 17km route takes hikers across the top of the Schmittenhöhe at 2,081 metres above sea level, with the option to reach the start and end points with a gondola.

Then there is Vorarlberg – Austria’s most western province and least explored region. It’s also home to the Radsattel Circuit, a day hike in the Silvretta Alps of moderate difficulty. This hike is not for the faint hearted with its steep, zigzagging ascents, but it’s a chance to explore a part of Austria that is still quite wild.

St Johann resident Emma Barr recommends anyone in the Kufstein or Kitzbühel districts of Tyrol to take advantage of the free KaiserJet bus service that transports people to the start or end point of hiking trails.

Emma said: “You can walk across the top of the mountains from Ellmau to Söll and then get the KaiserJet bus back to Ellmau. It’s a stunning walk.”

The KaiserJet connects the Tyrolean villages of Ellmau, Going, Scheffau and Söll with cable car stations, lakes and the Kaiserbad – a fitness centre with an open air pool. The summer KaiserJet service runs from mid-May to the end of October.

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Cool off by swimming 

It’s easy to enjoy outdoor swimming in the Alps during the summer months as many towns have public outdoor pools. Unfortunately, there is almost always an entry fee to pay but most operators also offer season passes, as well as day, week and monthly tickets to help save money.

But if swimming in a public pool is not your thing, then consider heading to an alpine lake for a refreshing dip in one of the many natural lakes in the Austrian mountains.

For a breathtaking bathing spot visit Hintersteinersee in the Wilder Kaiser National Park in Tyrol. The crystal clear water is freezing (it was created in the last ice age) but on a hot day it’s a great way to cool off and be surrounded by nature.

For a family-friendly day at the lake, head to the Schwarzsee in Kitzbühel. This is the warmest moor lake in Tyrol and is packed with visitors during the peak summer months of July and August. Families especially like this lake for the water slides and children’s play area. There is also a section without facilities that is free to enter and is known locally as “the wild side”.

Visit mountain huts

Having lunch at a mountain hut is a must-do when exploring the alps. 

Some huts can only be reached by foot, like the rustic Gruttenhütte in the Wilder Kaiser mountains that sits at 1620 metres in the Kaisergebirge in Ellmau, Tyrol.

Whereas others, like the Pritzhütte on the Katschberg in Salzburgerland can also be reached by horse and carriage for a romantic alternative to hiking.

Then there is the Schiestlhaus, which sits at 2154m in the Hochschwab mountain range in Upper Austria. These mountains are easily accessible for people living in Vienna and there is even accommodation at the hut for people that want to stay overnight.

Top tip: always book ahead if planning to stay at a mountain hut during July and August.

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Get on your (mountain) bike

Anyone interested in downhill mountain biking should make their way to Leogang in the province of Salzburg.

Leogang has gained a reputation for being the mecca of downhill biking in Austria and the resort boasts 80km of world-class trails and facilities at the aptly-named Epic Bikepark

Leogang is also host to the UCI World Championship and World Cup line “Speedster”, as well as an annual bike festival.

But if you’re new to downhill biking and a sprawling park is too intimidating, then check out the OD Trails in Oberndorf in Tyrol for a more beginner-friendly option.

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8 things to know if you’re visiting Austria in December

From Christmas markets to possible strike action and the start of the ski season, here’s what you need to know when visiting Austria in December.

8 things to know if you’re visiting Austria in December

December in Austria is exactly how you would imagine it – twinkling lights, wintry weather and wafts of Glühwein in the air.

And this year, the festive season is set to be even more enjoyable after many Christmas celebrations were put on hold for the past two years due to the pandemic.

So if you’re planning to travel to Austria this December, here’s what to expect.

READ MORE: How to save money and still go skiing in Austria

No travel restrictions

There are currently no Covid-related travel restrictions for entering Austria.

Previously, people arriving in Austria had to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test (known as 3G), but those rules came to an end in May.

This year will be the first Christmas season in Austria without Covid travel restrictions since December 2019.

Christmas markets are on

Another welcome return this year in Austria is the Christmas markets. 

Last year, many markets around the country were cancelled after a snap lockdown in November, although some events still went ahead with strict rules in place.

But this year, the Christmas markets are back in full swing without restrictions, so make sure you visit one (or two) to really get into the Christmas spirit.

Austria’s most famous markets are in Vienna, like the Christkindmarkt in front of the Town Hall that runs from November 19 to December 26.

FOR MEMBERS: IN PICTURES: A guide to the main Christmas markets in Austria

Some Covid-19 rules still apply

The stressful days of pandemic lockdowns might be behind us (fingers crossed), but there are still a few rules in Austria to be aware of.

In Vienna, it is still mandatory to wear an FFP2 mask in pharmacies, on public transport and at stations. So if you arrive at Vienna International Airport and take public transport into the city centre, expect to be asked to put on a mask.

Nationwide, masks are also required at all health and care facilities, including hospitals and clinics.

Possible strike action 

Like in many countries in Europe right now, inflation is rising (see more on this below) and many workers unions are in the process of negotiating pay rises. 

This has already led to a strike by rail workers at ÖBB, Austria’s national rail operator, on Monday November 28, with the possibility of further strike action if a deal can’t be reached. 

Retail workers and beer brewers are also threatening to strike in early December for similar reasons. 

So if visiting Austria in December, prepare yourself for some possible upheaval. Although the latest rail strike caused minimal disruption.

READ MORE: Train strike: What are your rights in Austria if your trip is cancelled or delayed?

Everything is more expensive

Inflation in Austria is currently over 10 percent, which has led to price increases for everything from daily groceries to energy bills and dining out.

Even the Christmas markets are more expensive this year due to higher prices for the Glühwein mugs. This means some markets in Vienna are charging almost €5 for the Pfand (deposit) for that first glass of mulled wine.

The same applies to ski resorts with hotels, lift tickets and restaurants all costing more this year.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Is travelling to Austria this winter worth it?

Public holidays

Besides Christmas (December 25) and Stephan’s Day (December 26), December 8, when Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Mariä Empfängnis), is also a public holiday in Austria.

Of course, there are also several celebratory dates in December. For example, every Sunday until Christmas is an Advent Sunday, and Austrian families commemorate it in many ways, including lighting up candles.

On December 4, there is Barbaratag, while on December 5 Krampus pays his visit to Austrian villages and cities. On the next day, December 6, it’s time for St Nikolaus to bring chocolate and tangerines to children who were nice during the year.

Christmas Eve, Day, and St Stephen’s Day (December 24, 25 and 26) are important dates for Austrian traditions.

It’s also worth noting that Austrians celebrate Christmas on the evening of December 24, usually with a family meal.

READ ALSO: Is skiing still possible on Austria’s glaciers?

Start of ski season

In some parts of Austria, like on high-altitude glaciers in the Alps, the skiing season is already underway. 

Elsewhere, some resorts tentatively open in early to mid-December before the winter season officially starts at Christmas. So you can possibly save some money (and avoid the crowds) by going skiing earlier.

For example, in St. Johann in Tyrol, the adult day pass rate is €29 between December 8 to 23 – far below the €53 in peak season (from December 24). 

These off-peak rates don’t apply at all ski resorts but it’s worth checking before booking a trip to the mountains.

New Year celebrations

Expect lots of fireworks on New Year’s Eve (Silvester) in Austria – no matter where you are.

Most major cities have a large fireworks display planned for midnight on December 31 and hotels tend to book up quickly – especially in cities like Salzburg.

In Vienna, the bells ring out at St. Stephan’s Cathedral to welcome in the New Year, which is also broadcast on national television. This is followed by fireworks and some even take part in a communal waltz on Rathausplatz in front of the Town Hall.

But if you really want to celebrate New Year like an Austrian, then give a marzipan pig to your nearest and dearest. The little pigs represent a good luck charm and are handed out every year on New Year’s Eve.