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DISCOVER AUSTRIA

Discover Austria: Five beautiful hikes and destinations south of Vienna

Looking to get away from the busy capital for a weekend or even a day trip? Here are five places you can visit in a few hours (or less) from Vienna.

Discover Austria: Five beautiful hikes and destinations south of Vienna
The Viennese Alps are a great day trip from the Austrian capital (Photo by Daniela Turcanu on Unsplash)

Austria is known for its beauty: both natural and architectural. Vienna is a perfect example of the mix between beautiful parks, lakes and rivers and the imperial buildings that are simply jaw-dropping.

But there is much to be seen around the Habsburg capital, and especially for those who live in Vienna, an escapade for a weekend or just a few hours can be the perfect small vacation. And an opportunity to get to know more about Austria and its quaint little towns.

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

These are five places just a short ride south of Vienna that you should definitely visit.

A boat seen sailing near Neusiedl am See. Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

A boat seen sailing near Neusiedl am See. Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash

Lake Neusiedl

Take advantage of the warm weather and sunny days to visit Neusiedler See, or lake Neusiedl, also known as the Sea of the Viennese.

The lake is huge at 315 square meters of surface area, and it reaches the border with Hungary. The Austrian side is particularly packed in the summer months, as Vienna residents flock to the See to enjoy swimming and water sports.

READ ALSO: The best lakes and swimming spots in Austria

The region is also a protected wildlife habitat and offers attractive sightseeing opportunities just about an hour’s drive from Vienna. It is also surrounded by quaint villages and towns, like Rust, Austria’s smallest statutory city, and the picturesque ​​Podersdorf am See.

Skywalk viewing terrace Hohe Wand Nature Park (photo: ©Wiener Alpen/Franz Zwickl)

Schneeberg and Hohe Wand

Mountains can also be found outside of Tyrol and Salzburg, and Schneeberg (literally snow mountain in German) is the perfect example.

At over 2,000 meters, it is the highest mountain in Lower Austria and just under two hours drive from Vienna. The Schneebergbahn can drive those who do not want to climb most of the way up the mountain, where there are several huts with local food and drinks.

READ ALSO: Discover Austria: Six off-the-beaten-track towns to visit

On the way to Schneeberg, there is also the Hohe Wand, a municipality with four quaint villages and countless hiking trails.

The Nature Park has beautiful viewing points and some surprising attractions, including a petting zoo for kids (and grown-ups), a hike with llamas and alpacas and even paragliding for those who want an even more unique view.

The Laxenburg castles in Austria (Photo by Daniela Turcanu on Unsplash)

Laxenburg Castle Park

Just a 45-minute ride with public transport can take you to Laxenburg, a market town in the district of Mödling, where the Habsburg imperial family enjoyed their summers – and now you can too. The region is known for its castles and castle-side lakes. All very instagrammable, but most of all: very enjoyable, especially on warm sunny days.

The breathtaking view in Semmering, Lower Austria (©Niederösterreich-Werbung/ Michael Liebert)

Semmering

Together with Schneeberg, Semmering is one of the most famous mountains around Vienna and a destination all year long. It is easily accessible in under an hour-and-a-half with public transport or a car.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to not be ‘bumped’ from an overcrowded Austrian train

There is no shortage of entertainment options, including hikes, tours, viewing points, and cute places to eat and drink. The short walk to the 20-Schilling Blick, where you can see the train tracks (and the train, of course), is a great day trip.

Feeling like something further?

Austria is well connected by an extensive train network. You can easily go to different destinations, even if just for the day. A train ride from Vienna to Salzburg, for example, takes less than three hours – from downtown to downtown.

READ ALSO: How to explore the Austrian mountains in the summer like a local

Several trains go back and forth Vienna-Salzburg on weekends, and tickets can start at € 30 (one way). Night trains can also take you even further. Here you can see ten destinations by direct night train from Vienna.

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DISCOVER AUSTRIA

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.

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