Things to Do in Austrian Alps
Part of Salzburg’s UNESCO World Heritage–listed historic center, Mirabell Palace (Schloss Mirabell) enjoys a rich royal history, as well as a place in movie legend: it was one of the filming sites forThe Sound of Music. Built by Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich in 1606, the palace is most famous for its magnificent baroque gardens.
Just an hour’s drive outside of Salzburg lies the alpine town of Berchtesgaden and the historic Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus), Adolf Hitler’s mountaintop chalet and the former southern headquarters of the Nazi party. Perched atop Mt. Kehlstein, Eagle’s Nest offers a dark history and panoramic views of Germany’s Bavarian Alps.
For a touch of classic Italian Baroque in Austria, head to Salzburg Cathedral, known locally as the Dom. The cathedral’s twin towers and a facade made of Untersberg marble, along with its light-filled interior and huge dome, are sure to impress.
Salzburg’s Old Town (Salzburger Altstadt or Altstadt Salzburg) is the historical and navigational heart of the city, a maze of medieval streets stretching along the banks of the Salzach River. The birthplace of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salzburg’s atmospheric Altstadt is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site and overlooked by the hilltop Hohensalzburg Fortress.
Built in the early 17th century, Hellbrunn Palace (Schloss Hellbrunn) served as a summer retreat for the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Its baroque exterior conceals an exuberant interior made for entertaining, though the real draws are the whimsical trick fountains (Wasserspiele) in the gardens, which spew water from unexpected places.
Built in 1077, Austria’s Hohensalzburg Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg) is one of the largest fully-preserved castles in Central Europe. Here you can enjoy incredible countryside views and guided tours of the baroque state rooms, lookout towers, and museum collections.
Best-known for being the home of troublesome novice nun Maria in The Sound of Music, Nonnberg Abbey (Stift Nonnberg was founded in the eighth century and is the oldest constantly-inhabited convent in Europe. The complex encompasses Gothic, Romanesque, and baroque styles, and features gorgeous chapels, churches, and cloisters.
Themed around one of Austria’s best-known exports, Swarovski Crystal Worlds (Swarovski Kristallwelten) is a dazzling attraction devoted to sparkling crystals. Twinkling exhibitions created by contemporary artists and designers, together with a playground, play tower, and hand-shaped hedge maze, make for a family-friendly day out.
The house where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756, Mozart’s Birthplace (Mozart’s Geburtshaus) stands on Getreidegasse, the main shopping street in Salzburg’s Old Town (Altstadt). One of Austria’s most beloved museums, this ocher-painted town house is a must for first-time visitors to the city.
Dating back to the 15th century, the Imperial Palace (Hofburg) was among the lavish imperial residences of the Hapsburg dynasty. Redesigned by Empress Maria Theresa in the 18th century, it’s a feast of baroque and rococo style, adorned with gleaming marble, glittering gold, and elaborate frescoes.
More Things to Do in Austrian Alps
Amid the brightly painted buildings and historic monuments of Innsbruck’s Old Town, one landmark shines brighter than all the others. Standing proud over Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl) is the dramatic focal point of the 15th-century New Court (Neuhof) building and glitters with 2,657 gilded copper tiles.
The Graz Schlossberg is a public park on a hill in the center of the city of Graz that has been home to fortifications as far back as the 10th century. A fortress stood on the hill from the middle of the 16th century to the 19th century, with only the clock tower and bell tower spared by an invading Napoleon. The remains of the castle became a public park in 1839 including the two towers, a cistern and a couple bastions from the destroyed castle.
A great walking tour of the Schlossberg starts at the bottom of the hill at Schlossbergplatz, from where visitors can take the 19th century Schlossbergbahn funicular or the newer Schlossberg lift to reach the top of the hill. Once at the top, check out the bell tower, climb to the top of the clock tower for scenic views of the Old Town and relax at one of the several cafes. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to catch a concert in what was once the cellar of one of the old bastions. Head back down to the Schlossbergplatz via one of several footpaths or staircases and then check out the extensive system of tunnels underneath the Schlossberg that was created during World War II.
Framing the northern horizon of Innsbruck, the jagged peaks of the North Chain (Nordkette) range are a natural playground for hikers, climbers, and adventurers. The central Hafelekar Mountain (Hafelekarspitze), accessible by cable car, is the gateway to the mountains, with views that expand over the Innsbruck valley and the surrounding Austrian Alps.
Beneath the glittering lakes and snow-dusted mountains of Austria’s Lake District, the subterranean world of the Salzburg salt mines (Salzbergwerk) spreads out in a network of underground mines and tunnels. Used to mine “white gold” since the Bronze Age, the historic salt mines at Hallstatt and Berchtesgaden are now popular attractions. Here you’ll find fascinating insights into the region’s salt-mining heritage, as well as fun activities such as slides, train rides, and boat cruises.
Situated in Salzburg’s Old Town, St. Peter’s Abbey is a Benedictine monastery comprising an abbey, church, and cemetery. Founded in 696 AD and renovated during the 1600s and 1700s, its church draws visitors for its gilded baroque decoration and as the setting for the debut performance of Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor in 1783.
The state-of-the-art Hungerburg Railway (Hungerburgbahn) is a hybrid funicular connecting Innsbruck to the mountain suburb of Hungerburg. More than just a transport link, it’s also an architectural landmark—the Zaha Hadid–designed stations are space-age masterpieces that draw as many visitors as the railway itself.
Built by Ferdinand I in 1553 and part of the grand Hofburg Imperial Palace, the magnificent Court Church (Hofkirche) is among the highlights of Innsbruck Old Town. The star attraction of the church, an impressive example of Gothic architecture, is the elaborate cenotaph of Maximilian I, which dominates the main aisle.
The 17th-century Tanzmeisterhaus (Dance Master's House), where Mozart lived from 1773 to 1780 and composed many of his masterpieces, is now a museum devoted to Salzburg’s most famous resident. Beautifully restored in period style, the Mozart Residence (Mozart-Wohnhaus or Mozarts Wohnhaus) takes visitors on a journey through Mozart’s life and works.
Back in the Middle Ages, the city of Graz was a center of commerce and trade in Central Europe and its main square – the Hauptplaz – was home to dozens of traders, hosting weekly markets. The size of the trapezoidal shaped square was cut in half by the addition of the town hall in the 16th century. Today, the town hall dominates the southern part of the square while other notable buildings include the 17th century Luegg House with an impressive stucco façade, the five-story White House with a sandstone relief of the Virgin Mary, the 16th century Eagle Pharmacy and the 14th century Palais Sturgkh. A fountain and statue of Archduke Johann was added in 1878 and today the stalls surrounding the fountain are a throwback to the square’s medieval origins. In 2002, the square was redesigned to add a large open area in front of the town hall that is used for events throughout the year.
An architectural landmark, legendary sporting venue, and tourist attraction all rolled into one, the Bergisel Ski Jump is one of Innsbruck’s most visited sites. As well as hosting international winter sports events, the ski-jump tower affords a spectacular panoramic view of Innsbruck and the surrounding Tyrolean mountains.
The Styrian Armory in Graz is the world’s largest historic army, holding 32,000 pieces of weaponry, tools and suits of armor. Built between 1642 and 1645, the armory stood on the front lines for Austria’s battles with the Ottoman Empire and Hungarian rebels for the next few centuries. One of the most visited of the dozen museums that comprise the Universalmuseum Joanneum, the Armory features exhibitions on four floors, arranged in a way reminiscent of a 17th century arsenal. On the first floor, visitors will find cannons, mortars and muskets from the 16th to 18th centuries, while the second floor focuses on helmets, suits of armor and pistols. The third floor shows off more armor, including German-made armor and equestrian armor for nobles. Finally, the fourth floor is home to staff weapons such as morning stars, halberds and pikes used by foot soldiers, as well as swords and sabres once used by horsemen.
Opened in 1913, the Salzburg Marionette Theater is one of the world’s oldest marionette theaters and celebrates the city’s long tradition of puppetry. The theater stages a range of productions using a cast of around 500 wooden puppets, from operas and fairy tales toThe Sound of Music—the 1959 movie that showcased the city and its puppetry.
Notable for its blob-like architecture, the Kunsthaus Graz Art Museum (or just Kunsthaus Graz) was built as part of the city’s 2003 celebrations as the European Capital of Culture. The museum was constructed as part of the 19th century Iron House building, one of the first cast iron buildings in Europe. The famous exterior is comprised of nearly 1300 iridescent blue acrylic panels with almost a thousand 40-watt lightbulbs, creating a massive screen in the middle of the city. Known to some locals as the Friendly Alien, the museum covers 27,000 square feet and specializes in contemporary art, design, new media, film and photography. It regularly hosts events and exhibitions that highlight worldwide trends in art.