K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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Austria is known as a country with a wealth of enchanting towns that are surrounded by gorgeous scenery, including alpine mountain backdrops. Choosing which to visit can be difficult without unlimited time to spend, but these picture-perfect towns are surely some of Austria’s finest.
The beautiful capital of the Tyrol region sits in a valley with mountains towering over it. Innsbruck’s position high in the Alps not only offers spectacular views and amazing opportunities for winter sports (it even hosted two Olympics: 1964 and 1976), but it has a number of grand buildings in its location along the Sill River. Visitors can tour the awe-inspiring Imperial Palace, ride the funicular up to the slopes and spend the evening hanging out in a pub with the locals. The city is also famous for its Christmas markets – there are four of them, each with its unique vibe, including a traditional market in the Old Town. While it’s truly idyllic in the winter, the warmer months bring the opportunity to enjoy people watching at an alfresco café near the famous Golden Roof, a 16th-century balcony with 2,657 copper tiles gilded with six kilos of gold, and hike in the Austrian Alps.
This tiny town of 2,600 has become renowned worldwide for its beauty, occupying an idyllic location on a sunny plateau, nestled between soaring snow-capped mountains, with its streets lined with picturesque wooden farmhouses. This village that’s been voted the most beautiful in Austria and Europe’s most beautiful floral village, thanks to its magnificent floral displays, not only offers fresh air and breathtaking scenery but a perfect base for skiing, tobogganing and skating in the winter and hiking, cycling or paragliding in the warmer months. It also hosts the annual Alpbach European Forum, which draws together important people in the world of science, business, the arts, and politics for two weeks to share ideas. For visitors interested in science history, this is the place where you’ll find the grave of Erwin Schrodinger, a prominent figure in theoretical physics.
Set along the banks of a large, glistening lake and surrounded by towering mountains, the village of Hallstatt is a favorite destination for many with its richly decorated, colorful homes and the slender silhouette of its evangelical church. One of the most beautiful small towns in Europe, it looks as if it came straight from the pages of a fairytale. This historic city is home to less than 1,000, but it’s been inhabited for thousands of years thanks to its bountiful deposits of natural salt. It’s so stunning, that a region in China plans to build a full-scale replica to boost tourism, but you’re much better off seeing the real thing, with its own unique culture and rich history. Plus, the schnitzel is sure to be a lot better. In the mountains nearby, you can explore the famous Ice Cave, and on the grounds of the 15th century, Our Lady Church is the Beinhause which holds a collection of hand-painted skulls.
Located near Innsbruck, the village of Gnadenwald sits at the foot of the Alpenpark Karwendel nature conservation park. It’s renowned for its picturesque, surrounding countryside as well as the opportunities for outdoor adventures, including walking and mountain biking tours. The impressive Karwedel mountain range with its steep rock faces and gentle, green Tuxer Alps are an absolute dream, and Gnadenwald is the perfect starting point for tours of this unique natural landscape. If you don’t have a bike with you, there are several places to rent one. The town also offers paragliding and hang-gliding lessons as the area is ideal for these thrilling sports, and in the winter there are more than six miles of cross-country ski trails as well as toboggan runs.
One of Central Europe’s most beautiful cities, Salzburg has a long list of things to do. It is the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the place where the “Sound of Music” was filmed. Numerous tours are available that will bring you around the various sites scenes were shot, including the lake outside Schloss Leopoldskron, the Nonnberg Convent and the Do-Re-Mi fountain in the Mirabell Palace Gardens. You can get active by taking one of Fraulein Maria’s Bicycle Tours that will also get you access to places tour buses can’t reach. Mozart’s birthplace at 9 Getreidegasse is now a museum and will take you through the composer’s life and work. If you visit during the month of August, you can enjoy the music of big-name international orchestras and soloists and take in operas and plays that are staged both in and in front of, many of the city’s landmark buildings as part of the Salzburg Festival. In the winter, a daily snow shuttle takes skiers and boarders to the nearby Flauchen ski region.
This postcard-perfect town in Lower Austria’s Wachau Valley sits at the confluence of the Krems and Danube Rivers. While its first recorded mention in history dates back to the 10th century, archaeological discoveries have proved that it’s been inhabited for thousands of years before that. It’s famous for its beautiful historical center and its wine production as well as displaying one of the most breathtaking stretches of the river valley in Europe. While wine tasting is popular here, as Krems (as its often referred to) produces its own apricot brandy known as Marillenschnaps, it’s a must-try. The town is best experienced by simply wandering the streets, ducking into churches and museums, taking a stroll alongside the Danube and sampling the local tipples as you go.
This popular tourist destination on the banks of Lake Zell is stunning year-round, with its fresh air and clean waters of the lake so pure that it’s considered drinkable, making it a favorite for those seeking wellness and relaxation. In the summer, visitors can play a round on the 36-hole golf course that was named one of the “Leading Golf Courses of Austria,” enjoy great hiking, cycling, canyoning and swimming, and in the winter, snow sports abound, including sledding and skiing on the Schmittenhohe and Kitzsteinhorn. In addition to outdoor adventure, one of the town’s most famous attractions is its Romanesque St. Hippolyte’s Church, with an elevated walkway that dates back to the early 16th century.
Finkenberg has an especially picturesque setting in the Zillertal Alps directly at the entrance of Tuxertal, leading to the majestic Hintertux Glacier, which offers year-round skiing. Its height means that there are usually good snow conditions, enabling almost all pistes and lifts to be kept open. The small village itself is a small Tyrolean village with a long ski and tourism tradition. Located within the Zillertal nature park, Finkenberg is home to just over 1500 inhabitants, including the likes of Olympic downhill gold medalist Leonhard Stock and mountaineer Peter Habler, the first person to climb Mount Everest without an oxygen mask. The village has a long, rich history, and its 1721 church, dedicated to Saint Leonhard, contains early baroque stucco works, while the 1876 Devil’s Bridge is a rare example of old Tyrolean woodworking.
This lovely village sits on the northwestern shore of picturesque Lake Wolfgangsee, surrounded by the Salzkammergut mountain range. A popular day trip from Salzburg, just 20 miles away, it also makes a good base for enjoying lake water sports, including cruises on the lake to St. Wolfgang as well as sailing and windsurfing. Other highlights include taking the famous cable car to Mount Zwolferhorn; the cog railway on Mount Schafsberg; and just walking around this quintessential medieval village with its colorful old buildings. In the winter, it hosts a famous Christmas Market.
Durnstein is one of the most charming small towns you’ll pass if you take a river cruise down the Danube, but it’s worth a stop to experience it up close. It offers a unique combination of traditional architecture, places of historic interest and breathtaking scenery. The medieval Kuenringer Castle, where the English King Richard Lionheart was held prisoner, looms over the river, while the town’s center is filled with beautiful buildings in a variety of architectural styles. As Durnstein sits in the heart of an important Austrian wine-growing region, you can also check out some of the wine that Austria is known for, including its famous dry white wines like the Gruner Veltliner.
Bad Gastein became a spa town in the late 19th century because of its hot springs, with royalty of all types coming to enjoy its healing powers. Surrounded by “Belle Epoque” buildings that date back to imperial times, you can experience its charms just by wandering the streets, visit the baths to indulge in spa treatments that monarchs enjoyed more than a century ago and relax with a soothing soak in the hot springs or just appreciate feeling rejuvenated in the pure mountain air. At Christmastime, enjoy the jingling of sleigh bells in this winter wonderland paradise, as well as skiing or boarding at Gastein’s four ski areas.
This small mountain village in the Rhine Valley is located in the Vorarlberg region, which shares borders with Germany, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. Home to only about 100 or so inhabitants, Ebnit is known as a health resort, attracting those who want to enjoy a tranquil holiday and the opportunity for scenic outdoor adventures. Due to its geographical location, for many years it was very difficult to access, and today, visitors can still enjoy a very secluded feel that’s ideal for rest and rejuvenation. There is little in the way of tourist facilities, though there are two inns, a clubhouse and several private accommodation options. Popular as a starting point for scenic walks, you’ll also find a number of hiking trails for getting a more in-depth look at this beautiful mountainous area.
This pretty village that sits above the Inntal Valley is especially enchanting, and another outdoor paradise that’s a favorite in Tyrol. It also makes a wonderfully quiet, and less expensive place to stay while exploring Innsbruck, located less than 10 miles west. In the summer, all of the houses are decorated with flowers in the windows and the landscape is blanketed with a brilliant green. In the morning, when the air is misty, it truly looks like a fairytale. Enjoy walks in the countryside around the Tux Alps while taking in some of the most magnificent mountain views in the country. Glungezer mountain is popular for its amazing views from the top which includes the Karwendel mountain range and the entire Inntal valley. In the winter, this area is transformed into a ski area that includes the longest downhill run in Tyrol.
Lienz is located in Austria’s Tyrol province, near its southern border with Italy, and calls itself the “Sun Town,” as one the sunniest cities in the country. With a Mediterranean climate, all sorts of activities and a beautiful main square reserved for pedestrians in the summer, it’s a popular vacation destination. This medieval village has been part of the Roman Empire, the Hapsburg Monarchy and Nazi Germany. When you see it today, you can view architecture from across the ages which complements that natural beauty of the mountains that surround it. Explore Bruck Castle, which hosts a museum and the biggest public collection of East Tyrolean expressionist Albin Egger-Lienz, and enjoy concerts at Tammberburg Castle, a popular venue for a variety of performances. Outdoor lovers will find a dense network of hiking paths nearby that lead into the Hohe Tauern National Park, home to wildlife like marmots and golden eagles.
The “Jewel of Carinthia” is a spa town that sits on the northern shore of Lake Millstatt and it’s known for its former Benedictine Millstatt Abbey, founded in the 11th century, as well as its historical, artistic and architectural charm. Beneath its marketplace is the extensive buildings of the former monastery, including four massive towers and a church at its highest point. The town got its name from Emperor Domitian, an early Christian convert who was said to have tossed 1,000 heathen statues into the lake. Today, you’ll see a gaunt, crazed-looking sculpture of the emperor standing in the waters, portrayed in the act of consigning a Venus to a watery grave. Visitors can learn more about the history of Millstatt in the town museum, situated in the former monastery. The local dungeon prides itself on still having some 16th-century graffiti. In the summer, visitors can enjoy Millstatt Music Weeks (Musikwochen Millstatt), a festival that features a variety of concerts in and around the monastery church.
This small town nestled in the valley of the Salza, amid the north Styrian Alps, is part of the Mariazellerland tourist region and it’s famous for its Shrine of Our Lady of Mariazell, the most-visited Marian shrine in Central Europe, with nearly a million embarking on a pilgrimage to visit it each year. The shrine and basilica are located in the center of town, and its three west towers can be seen from around the city. The central tower is Gothic and was preserved from the 14th-century church, while the two flanking Baroque towers were added some three centuries later. The statue is housed in the Chapel of Miracles. Another special attraction in this area during the summer months is taking a trip to the oldest steam tramway in the world. Running with open cars from the train station to the lake on weekends and holidays between July and September, it offers an especially memorable experience.
This town in Upper Austria occupies the entire northern bay of Lake Traunsee and is known for its lovely churches, castles, 19th-century villas with wooden porches and lakefronts with promenades. Often referred to as the “ceramic town,” a ceramic factory producing Gmunden Keramik branded items can be found nearby. There are a number of buildings of interest in Gmunden’s medieval area, including the Town Hall Square (Rathausplatz), which is used as a market square and offers impressive views of the surrounding mountains. The parish church of Gmunden is famed for its 1678 Baroque altar, depicting an adoration of the magi scene.