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It should come as no surprise that there are a multitude of gorgeous cities, towns, and villages in a country like Austria, which is almost completely covered by dramatic mountain scenery. These are 10 of our favourites.
Widely agreed to be one of the most beautiful cities in all of central Europe, it’s not a difficult choice to put Salzburg at the top of this list. With about 12 centuries of history behind it, the city has had plenty of time to grow into the beauty that it is now. The well-preserved Old Town is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and for lovers of baroque architecture, there’s no better place to come. There’s more, though – Salzburg was the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and it was also where the Sound of Music (1965) was filmed. See if you agree that the hills of Salzburg are alive.
Sitting in the westernmost corner of Austria, Feldkirch borders on both Switzerland and Liechtenstein, but it’s well worth a visit in itself because of its impressive medieval center. The mountains rising up around it compound the effect, and it’s easy just to wander around the old streets and feel jealous of the Austrians who were lucky enough to grow up in such a beautiful location. First mentioned in writing in 1218, Feldkirch is a great example of the sort of towns that used to be dotted all around the central European region.
Located on the very picturesque Wolfgangsee and surrounded by the Salzkammergut mountain range, St. Gilgen certainly has all the natural beauty you could possibly hope for. However, the fact that it is a medieval city full of colorful old buildings doesn’t hurt either. It started heating up as a tourist destination in the late 19th century, when wealthy inhabitants of Vienna started to build their summer houses there. St. Gilgen also has a connection to Mozart; although he never visited himself, the composer’s mother was born in St. Gilgen and various other members of his family lived and worked there as well.
Innsbruck really has a lot to offer. First of all, its position high in the Alps provides visitors with both constant amazing views and great opportunities for winter sports; Innsbruck even hosted the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976. It is the capital of the Austrian state of Tyrol, and it has a number of grand buildings in its center and along the Sill River. However, after the Anschluss, in which Germany took over Austria in the lead up to World War II, Innsbruck was heavily damaged by frequent bombings, so many of the buildings that you can see now are reconstructions.
Another beneficiary of the Salzkammergut mountains’ beauty, Hallstatt has become a favourite destination for people from all over because of its extremely striking position right on the Hallstatter lake. Halstatt is so beautiful, in fact, that China has actually developed a full-scale replica of it just so they can gain the tourist dollars. But you’ll be much better off, and the schnitzel will surely taste better, if you go to the real thing.
Durnstein is one of the adorable small towns you’ll pass if you’re on a cruise down the Danube, but it’s worth stopping off to see it in its entirety. There is a medieval castle looming over the river, dating back at least to the 10th century, and the center of town is full of beautiful buildings from across all sorts of architectural styles. Also worth noting is that Durnstein is right in the middle of an important Austrian wine-growing region, so you’ll be able to check out some of the wine that Austria is known for. The most famous varieties are dry white wines, particularly the Gruner Veltliner.
Despite its tiny size in terms of population, Alpbach has become very well known for its beauty. It was voted the most beautiful village in the country in 1983, and named the most beautiful floral village in Europe in 1993. Despite the fact that it is fairly isolated up in the Alps, thousands of tourists come here every year to enjoy its charm. It is also a ski resort, and every year the Alpbach European Forum draws together important people in the world of science, business, the arts, and politics for two weeks to share ideas. For those interested in science history, this is the place where you can find the grave of Erwin Schrodinger, a prominent figure in theoretical physics.
Krems was first mentioned in writing was in 996, but archaeological discoveries prove that the area has been inhabited for many thousand years before that. In its heyday in the 11th and 12th centuries, Krems was almost as big as Vienna. Now it’s still worth visiting for its gorgeous old town. As it is also in the wine region, it’s perfect to visit for the wine tasting. Krems, however, is the site of production of Marillenschnaps, an apricot brandy, so that’s the first drink you should try upon arrival.
While the area of Bad Gastein has been inhabited and used for things like gold mining for over a millennium, it came into fashion as a spa town in the late 19th century because of its hot springs. Kings, queens, chancellors and tsars all enjoyed the healing powers of Bad Gastein. To please the royal guests, the city was built up in the grandiose Belle Époque style, which you can still see in the buildings. You visit the baths today to get the spa treatments that monarchs enjoyed more than a century ago, or you can come in the winter to enjoy skiing and plenty of other winter sports.
You know a city’s going to be pretty when it calls itself the ‘Sun Town’ – which is exactly what Lienz is. It’s in the Tyrol province of Austria, so it’s very close to the country’s southern border with Italy. People have been living here since the Bronze Age about 4,000 years ago, and in that time, the land has changed hands many times. Throughout the ages, it’s been part of the Roman Empire, the Hapsburg Monarchy and Nazi Germany. When you go to see it now, you can see architecture from across the ages that complements the natural beauty of the mountains and green landscapes that surround it.