Things to Do in Austrian Alps
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.
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.
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.
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.
Located at the Salzburg Airport, Hangar-7 is a one of-a-kind aircraft hangar and transport museum that comes in at 44,130 square feet and offers ever-changing exhibitions in addition to upwards of five restaurant and lounge options. In addition to the aircraft and cars on display, there are also contemporary art exhibitions and air shows on occasion.
Though its main attractions are Flying Bulls historical aircraft and fleet of Formula 1 cars, many visitors come to the hangar simply to admire its architecture, the work of Salzburg architect Volkmar Burgstaller. The landmark's exterior can look like a glass aircraft wing when admired from the outside, and Hangar-7 also has a sweeping 131-foot (40-meter) entrance with two cylindrical towers. There are 1,754 panes of glass of different sizes, providing a view of the nearby mountain panorama.
Nonnberg Abbey (Stift Nonnberg) is a Benedictine nunnery with a landmark spire in the center of Salzburg and is perhaps best known throughout the world as the home of the troublesome novice nun Maria in The Sound of Music, the magical movie that celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015. Nonnberg Convent sits tucked under the Hohensalzburg Fortress and was founded somewhere around 715 AD; the nunnery is the oldest constantly inhabited convent in Europe and its complex of buildings consists of the abbey, convent, chapels, church, cloisters and refectory, all built in a charming jumble of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architectural styles.
Nonnberg Abbey’s main church of Maria Himmelfahrt is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is Gothic in style, adorned with gleaming stained-glass windows and a series of biblically themed paintings. Largely rebuilt after a fire in 1423, the church nevertheless retains fragments of its original Byzantine and Romanesque frescoes in the choir.
One of the world’s largest ice caves, this network of frosty caverns and tunnels extends for more than 25 miles (40 kilometers) through the Tennen Mountains in the Austrian Alps. Discovered in 1879, this subterranean wonderland encompasses vast blue-tinged chambers, sculptural ice formations, and frozen waterfalls.
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.
More Things to Do in Austrian Alps
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.
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.
Salzburg’s Cathedral (Dom zu Salzburg) is a restrained exercise in classic Italian Baroque, topped with green bronze domes. Mozart was baptized here, and the building was completed in 1628.
Cathedral highlights include the light-filled atrium and dome, the crypt with its Romanesque foundations and tombs, and the statues of angels surrounding the altar.
The Cathedral Museum tells the history of the Dom’s construction and artworks.
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.
Stretching east of Salzburg into the foothills of the Swiss Alps, the Austrian Lake District—the Salzkammergut—is home to some of Austria’s most stunning scenery. This is an idyllic spot for a summer vacation, with picturesque alpine villages, lush green valleys framed by snow-dusted peaks, and dozens of glittering lakes.
The 900-year-old Hohenwerfen Fortress (Erlebnisburg Hohenwerfen) squats 510 ft (155 m) up on a rocky hilltop, surrounded by swathes of pine trees and the harsh peaks of the Tennengebirge Mountains. From its lofty position the castle dominates the village of Werfen in the Salzach Valley region of the Austrian Alps.
Accessed by either steep climb or funicular from the car parks, Hohenwerfen Fortress has its beginnings in the 11th century; it was built in tandem with the Hohensalzburg Fortress in Salzburg as a refuge for the ruling prince-bishops. Parts of the fortified medieval walls can still be seen but the castle’s history has been turbulent and it was razed to the ground during the Peasants’ Rebellion of 1525.
Much of what you see today is the result of subsequent 16th-century restyling in Baroque style, when the castle was extended and heavily fortified to protect the prince-bishops from further attack. It was also used to house military prisoners before falling into disuse in the late 18th century; more refurbishment followed by then-owner Archduke Eugen of Austria before parts of the fortress was destroyed yet again by fire in 1931.
Restored once more to its present pristine whitewashed majesty, Hohenwerfen featured as Schloss Adler in the 1968 WWII movieWhere Eagles Dare.
Today an audio-guide leads visitors around the landscaped gardens and battlements, into the kitchens and Romanesque chapel, around the prince-bishops’ apartments, and up the bell tower for far-reaching Alpine views. There are also small museums detailing the history of the castle and displaying weapons used in its protection as well as Austria’s only falconry museum – the summer months see daily flight demonstrations with birds of prey. Tours of Hohenwerfen Fortress are often combined with a trip through the world’s largest ice caves at Eisriesenwelt near Werfen.
In the heart of Salzburg’s Old Town, St. Peter’s Abbey (or Stift Sankt Peter) is known for its cemetery and ancient lineage, dating back to the 800s. The Benedictine monastery’s abbey church has a Romanesque structure and lavish rococo interior.
The abbey library is a treasure trove of musical manuscripts, and the abbey also houses a prized collection of artworks, musical instruments and treasures. In the abbey cemetery lie the tombs of Mozart’s beloved sister and the brother of Haydn.
While you’re here, visit the Stiftskeller St. Peter restaurant, in the abbey cellars. Mentioned in a document from the year 803, it is thought to be one of the oldest hostelries in Europe and is an atmospheric choice for a night out in Salzburg.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Hallein Salt Mine (Salzwelten Hallein) is an ancient salt mine carved into Mt. Dürrnberg, just south of Salzburg, in Austria’s Salzkammergut region. Perched above the town of Hallein, the mine is around 2,500 years old and open to visitors who explore the tunnels and learn how “white gold” contributed to medieval Salzburg’s wealth.
Lose yourself in medieval-era Salzburg on a stroll through Getreidegasse. The atmospheric laneway is lined with upmarket boutiques and shops.
Getreidegasse is as historic as it is pretty. Harking back to Roman days, the thoroughfare has always been the city’s high street, connecting Salzburg to Bavaria.
The street is lined with beautiful medieval and Baroque buildings, built by rich merchants over the centuries. It was in one of these buildings that Mozart was born in 1756.
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