A breathtaking journey through Austria

| July 1, 2017 | 0 Comments
The beautiful Mirabell Gardens are worth a visit when in Salzburg, writes Austrian Ambassador Stefan Pehringer. (Photo: © Österreich Werbung, Photographer: Julius Silver)

The beautiful Mirabell Gardens are worth a visit when in Salzburg, writes Austrian Ambassador Stefan Pehringer. (Photo: © Österreich Werbung, Photographer: Julius Silver)

I am often asked by my Canadian friends what one should see in Austria and I usually don’t quite know where to start, as there is simply too much on offer. Austria is a country that waltzes effortlessly between its vibrant outdoors and its historic city centres. From fine arts and music to magnificent palaces and castles, Austria has you covered. However, it’s a country that is more than just pomp and palaces; its modern attractions make it a destination of interest for everyone.
I thought about the best introduction I could give a traveller keen to discover the best of Austria during a leisurely seven-day tour. This itinerary showcases some of the most iconic locales, while also allowing enough time to gather a first-hand impression of Austria’s diverse lifestyles.

An overview of Kapitelplatz (Chapter Square) in Salzburg with Hohensalzburg Castle in the distance. (Photo: © Tourismus Salzburg GmbH, Photographer: Bryan Reinhart)

An overview of Kapitelplatz (Chapter Square) in Salzburg with Hohensalzburg Castle in the distance. (Photo: © Tourismus Salzburg GmbH, Photographer: Bryan Reinhart)

Day 1: Arrival in Vienna
Vienna, voted in 2017 the most livable city in the world for the eighth time, is a natural starting point for your tour. From Toronto, Vienna, the historic focal point of the country and a former imperial city, is just an eight-and-a-half-hour plane ride away. Visitors to Vienna will find a diverse, innovative and thoroughly modern city. But for most of the past 70 years, the capital was defined by its grand past: the hub of a vast, multinational empire. Understanding that great history is key to discovering its identity today. A tour of the Old Town delivers a wonderful introduction to Vienna. Whether you choose a guided tour or want to explore on your own, I recommend going on foot so you’ll have ample time to take in the city’s grandiose architecture. From the gothic details of the newly renovated St. Stephen’s Cathedral to the Imperial Palace and the intimate little alleys in between, there’s much to see and do. Leave room for a Wiener Melange or a typical Viennese lunch at any of the coffeehouses there — Café Griensteidl or the Hawelka, for instance.
I would also suggest a stop at the Imperial Palace, the former seat of the Habsburg Emperors, for a glimpse of the Imperial apartments, and the Sissi Museum for an introduction to the dynasty that ruled Austria for almost 600 years. At the end of the day, why not reward yourself with a delicious dinner at the famed Schwarze Kameel? The restaurant serves excellent traditional dishes in an elegant setting. Be sure to make a reservation in advance; most popular Viennese restaurants require one. For a nightcap, head to the Loos Bar. As the name suggests, its interior was designed by the great modernist architect, Adolf Loos, in the early 1900s and remains a society hotspot to this day.

The famous Beethoven Frieze, by Gustav Klimt, is at the Secession building in Vienna. (Photo: media publishing)

The famous Beethoven Frieze, by Gustav Klimt, is at the Secession building in Vienna. (Photo: media publishing)

Day 2: Vienna Immersion
Start by enjoying a leisurely breakfast at one of Vienna’s sprawling farmers’ markets. Located in the heart of Vienna and surrounded by Art Nouveau buildings designed by Otto Wagner, the Naschmarkt is an unforgettable experience. The surrounding architecture tells the story of the epic struggle that shook the city at the turn of the century, as modern thinkers and artists attempted to shatter cultural norms. At the market itself, you’ll find local specialties, plus spices and delicacies from all over the world. There’s no shortage of culinary souvenirs here, either. Stop at Gegenbauer’s for unique and delicious oil and vinegar varieties, or try Szigeti’s for a bottle or two of Sekt, Austria’s beloved sparkling wine.
Next, stop at the Secession building to see the famous Beethoven Frieze, by Gustav Klimt. From there, head to the Museums Quartier for an afternoon of art and architecture. Here, you’ll find former imperial stables that now house one of the largest museum complexes in Europe. You could spend days here, exploring the small galleries, exhibition spaces and installations tucked into the baroque buildings — but for a single afternoon, we suggest the modern Leopold Museum, home of the largest collection of paintings by Egon Schiele in the world. Next, head across the street to the Kunsthistorisches Museum and see the vast art collection the Habsburgs amassed over centuries. Again, you could lose yourself here, but if you only have time for one collection, head to the Kunstkammer for unique art treasures such as Benvenuto Cellini’s precious salt cellar, the Saliera, dating back to the 16th Century. If you are a soccer fanatic like myself, you might also want to experience an SK Rapid Vienna game. The energetic and vibrant atmosphere in the new Allianz Stadium will give you goosebumps.
For a particularly memorable final evening in Vienna, enjoy a gourmet meal at the elegant Anna Sacher restaurant, followed by a performance at the iconic Vienna State Opera. Hungry after the performance? Walk to the Bitzinger sausage stand behind the opera house for a delicious Käsekrainer, a grilled sausage filled with small bits of cheese and served with semmel rolls (Kaiser rolls) and ketchup and/or mustard. It’s the Viennese thing to do after any late-night cultural adventure.

Day 3: Vienna and Salzburg
Spend the morning at Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburgs. Just a 20-minute subway ride from the city centre, it boasts a popular carriage museum (purchase tickets in advance to avoid lines); a vast park that’s home to the beautiful Palmenhaus, one of the earliest greenhouses for tropical plants; the world’s oldest zoo; and the hilltop Gloriette, which affords lovely views over the palace and the city in the background. That afternoon, take a three-hour train ride to Salzburg. Taking the train from city to city is the most efficient way to travel and it affords ample time to enjoy the scenery. As you leave Vienna’s relatively flat surroundings, watch as the alpine mountain ranges lining Salzburg’s historic cityscape begin to appear. After checking into your hotel, you’ll have time for an evening stroll through the compact Old Town before you head to St. Peter Stiftskeller for dinner. The oldest restaurant in the world has been serving food for the better part of a millennium and the traditional local fare such as Tafelspitz (broth-boiled beef served with apple and horseradish), Wiener Schnitzel (a thin breaded and fried veal cutlet) and Salzburger Nockerl (a dessert soufflé) hits the spot. In the mood for a little music? Make reservations in advance for the Mozart Dinner Concerts, which highlight the most beloved arias and duets from the composer’s operas.

The Old Town in Innsbruck is full of worthwhile museums, all within five minutes of each other. (Photo: © Innsbruck Tourismus, Photographer: Rainer Fehringer)

The Old Town in Innsbruck is full of worthwhile museums, all within five minutes of each other. (Photo: © Innsbruck Tourismus, Photographer: Rainer Fehringer)

Day 4: Salzburg
At first glance, Salzburg city may seem all about Mozart and The Sound of Music. But you’ll soon find there is much more to it than that — from the magnificent Baroque architecture of the Old Town to a wealth of local traditions, outstanding modern art galleries and international performing art festivals of the highest calibre.
With that in mind, start your tour at Mozart’s birthplace, with its charming museum. It gives an overview of his life and relationship with the city.
Next, head to the Domquartier, where a tour of the prince archbishops’ seat of power illustrates the enormous worldly and spiritual influence Salzburg’s former rulers once wielded. Spend the afternoon touring the Hohensalzburg Fortress. Even if you don’t have time for the excellent exhibits there, the panoramic views over the surrounding countryside are magnificent in their own right. In the early evening, take a leisurely stroll to the beautiful Mirabell Gardens across the river before heading to Fideler Affe for a traditional dinner and samples of Salzburg’s much-loved local beer. Enjoy a nightcap on the terrace of the Sacher Bar by the Salzach River, with views over the Old Town and the fortress.

The modern Leopold Museum in Vienna is home to the largest collection of paintings by Egon Schiele in the world. (Photo: © Österreich Werbung, Photographer: Popp Hackner)

The modern Leopold Museum in Vienna is home to the largest collection of paintings by Egon Schiele in the world. (Photo: © Österreich Werbung, Photographer: Popp Hackner)

Day 5: Evening departure to Innsbruck
Use the remaining half-day in Salzburg to go a bit further afield. For a bit of exercise, join Fräulein Maria’s Bicycle Tour for a Sound of Music-themed tour of the city and its outskirts. Alternately, head to Hellbrunn Castle, where a mischievous former archbishop created a water park filled with hidden trick fountains to surprise his guests. Parks of this kind used to be quite popular in their day; today Hellbrunn is the last one in existence.
In the afternoon, take a train to Innsbruck. The scenic two-hour journey delivers you to the heart of the Alps, where the culture, mythology and local economy revolve largely around the majestic mountains. The capital of Tirol, Innsbruck is a sizable city that’s managed to retain its medieval charm throughout the centuries. The former imperial city is a cultural centre and winter sports destination. So far, it has hosted three Olympic Games.
Celebrate your first evening in Innsbruck with a traditional Tyrolean dinner in the Old Town. At the Hotel Goldener Adler, for example, you can experience a Tyroler Gröstl — a fry-up of bacon, onion and potatoes served with a fried egg on top — and Tyroler Kalbsleberscheiben, which is roasted veal liver slices served with buttered rice, grilled tomatoes and some delicious Tyrolean bacon.

The iconic Bergisel Ski Jump, desgined by architect Zaha Hadid, is located in Innsbruck. (Photo: TVB Innsbruck Christof Lackner)

The iconic Bergisel Ski Jump, desgined by architect Zaha Hadid, is located in Innsbruck. (Photo: TVB Innsbruck Christof Lackner)

Day 6: Innsbruck
Innsbruck’s past — as a trade hub, mining town and seat of an imperial court — long attracted scholars and artists such as Albrecht Dürer. Spend the morning exploring the Old Town and its cultural offerings. The Imperial Palace, the Folk Art Museum and Imperial Church are located at the heart of Innsbruck and are all within five minutes of each other. Together, these museums provide a thorough overview of the local history and a memorable look at how people made a living in this rough, mountainous environment.
In the afternoon, visit the Panorama Museum with its 360-degree panoramic painting depicting one of the most momentous events in the city’s history. On this soil, known as “The Bergisel,” four battles were fought under the command of freedom fighter Andreas Hofer against Bavarian and Naploeon-led troops.
After this, head to the iconic Bergisel Ski Jump, designed by architect Zaha Hadid. Here, you’ll see the daring heights from which ski jumpers hurtle themselves down the ramp. Or you can explore the mountains by taking the Hungerburgbahn, a 1.8-metre funicular railway — another Zaha Hadid creation — from the city centre to the top of Nordkette Mountain. Enjoy the views over Innsbruck from a mountaintop restaurant, or take the panoramic tram ride from Innsbruck to one of its holiday villages, Igls, for a stroll.

Innsbruck’s Golden Roof is adorned with 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles. (Photo:  TVB Innsbruck)

Innsbruck’s Golden Roof is adorned with 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles. (Photo: TVB Innsbruck)

For a different take on local fare, enjoy dinner at the Wilderin, a new restaurant that sources its ingredients exclusively from the region. Toast your last evening in Austria from the rooftop of the Adlers Hotel, where you’ll enjoy views over the city and the Alps in the background.

Day 7: Departure
From Innsbruck, return to Canada with a connecting flight through Vienna or another European hub. Departing Innsbruck’s international airport, you’ll find the views are truly spectacular and well worth the early departure time.

Your adventure starts here
I invite you to explore, discover and live through an unforgettable experience you won’t find anywhere else in the world. At the end of the day, Austria is so much more than just palaces, schnitzel and classical music. In Austria, the journey really is the destination. Besides Vienna, Salzburg and Innsbruck, there are many more fascinating landscapes and cities to visit between Lake Neusiedl and Lake Constance. Whether you are drawn to dramatic scenery, exceptional cuisine or historic architecture, visit Austria and see for yourself. Please see www.austria.info for more information about Austria as your next travel destination.

Stefan Pehringer is the ambassador of Austria.

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Stefan Pehringer is the ambassador of Austria.

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