Seven days seems hardly enough time to spend in Austria. The galleries, museums and architecture alone could be soaked up over weeks or perhaps months. But if you only have a week to spare, here’s how to get the most from this Austrian cultural nirvana.
Day 1: Arrival in Vienna
As all direct flights from Australia and the US land in Vienna, it is the natural start for your tour. But it’s not just the airport that makes this the ideal launch pad, as Vienna is also the historic focal point of the country, the seat of the former Austrian emperor, and of course Austria's largest and most international city.
Vienna is a diverse, innovative, and thoroughly modern city, but one defined by its grand past. Understanding this great history is key to discovering its identity. What better place to do that with a tour of the Old Town? Whether you choose a guided tour or to explore on your own, it’s best to go on foot so you'll have the luxury of taking in the city's grand architecture: great gothic details of the newly renovated St Stephen's Cathedral; the Imperial Palace and the intimate alleys in between, a glimpse of the Imperial Apartments, the Sissi Museum and the monumental buildings of the Ringstrasse, to name just a few. There’s so much to see and do, but make sure you leave room for a Wiener Melange and lunch at any of the beloved coffeehouses, such as Café Griensteidl or the Hawelka.
At the end of the day, reward yourself with a delicious dinner at the famed Schwarzes Kameel, but be sure to make a reservation in advance – most popular Viennese restaurants require one. For a nightcap, head to the Loos Bar, a society hot spot designed by the great modernist architect Adolf Loos – a true Viennese icon.
Day 2: Vienna Immersion
Start your day with breakfast at the Naschmarkt – a farmer's market, located in the heart of Vienna and surrounded by art nouveau buildings designed by Otto Wagner. Here, you'll find local specialties, plus spices and delicacies from all over the world. There is no shortage of culinary souvenirs, surrounded by architecture that tells the story of an epic struggle. At the turn of the century, the city’s foundations were shaken as modern thinkers and artists attempted to shatter cultural norms.
Next, stop at the Secession building to see Gustav Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze, then head to the Museumsquartier for an afternoon of art and architecture. While you could spend days here, exploring the small galleries, exhibitions spaces, and installations tucked into the baroque buildings, if you only have an afternoon to spare, check out the modern Leopold Museum, home of the largest Egon Schiele collection in the world. Then run across the street to the Kunsthistorisches Museum and lose yourself in the vast Hapsburg art collection, and on to the Kunstkammer for more unique art treasures.
End your final evening in Vienna enjoying a gourmet meal at the elegant Anna Sacher restaurant, followed by a performance at the iconic Vienna State Opera.
Day 3: Vienna and Salzburg
Take a 20-minute train ride to the Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburgs, and wander through the beautiful Palmenhaus, one of the earliest greenhouses for tropical plants; see the world's oldest zoo; and taken in the hilltop Gloriette, which affords lovely views over the palace and the city in the background.
Later, board the three-hour train to Salzburg, enjoying the scenery as you travel in the most convenient way to get around Austria. As you leave Vienna's relatively flat surroundings, watch as the alpine mountain ranges lining Salzburg's historic cityscape begin to appear.
Check into your hotel then head out for an evening stroll through the compact Old Town before you head to Stiftskulinarium (formerly 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 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.
Day 4: Salzburg
There’s more to Salzburg than Mozart and The Sound of Music. You realise this when you spy the magnificent Baroque architecture of the Old Town and witness a wealth of local traditions, outstanding modern art galleries, and international performing art festivals.
However, you should start your day at Mozart's Birthplace, in the charming Getreidegasse. Next, head to the Domquartier, where you’ll get an idea of the enormous worldly and spiritual influence Salzburg's former rulers once wielded. Spend the afternoon touring Hohensalzburg Fortress, checking out the excellent exhibits but, more importantly, the breathtaking views over the surrounding countryside.
Make sure you visit the beautiful Mirabell Gardens in the evening, before heading to Fideler Affe for a traditional dinner and 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.
Day 5: Evening Departure to Innsbruck
Before leaving in the afternoon for Innsbruck, join Fräulein Maria's Bicycle Tour for a Sound of Music-themed tour of the city and its outskirts. Or you could head to Hellbrunn Castle, the last-standing historic water park with hidden trick-fountains created by a mischievous former archbishop to surprise his guests.
The train to Innsbruck 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 has managed to retain its medieval charm throughout the centuries. The former imperial city is a cultural centre and winter sports destination. Once you arrive, enjoy a traditional Tyrolean dinner at the Hotel Goldener Adler in the heart of the Old Town.
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, visiting the Imperial Palace, the Folk Art Museum, and Imperial Church – all located within five minutes of each other.
In the afternoon, visit the Panorama Museum with its 360-degree painting depicting one of the most momentous events in the city’s history. Then head to the iconic Bergisel Ski Jump, designed by highly regarded architect Zaha Hadid. There you'll see firsthand the daring heights from which ski jumpers hurtle down the ramp. Or you can explore the mountains by taking the Hungerburgbahn – another Hadid creation – from the city centre to the top of Nordkette Mountain. Enjoy the views over Innsbruck from the mountaintop restaurant or take the panoramic tram ride from Innsbruck to one of its Holiday Villages, Igls, for a leisurely stroll through the village.
For a different take on local cuisine, 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
All good things must end, so from Innsbruck’s international airport you can take a connecting flight home via Vienna or some other European city. But don’t forget to look down, as the views on the way out are simply magnificent.
For more detail, visit www.austria.info
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