City Guides: Austria

What to see and do in Austria

Austria’s largest city and capital, Vienna (Wien) has a long and storied past. Vienna was once the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Habsburg empire, and many traces of that glorious past can still be seen there – and in Austria’s other cities as well. Continued below…

Belvedere Palace in Vienna

Belvedere Palace in Vienna is a museum of modern art you shouldn’t miss. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo


Our guide to Kitzbühel…

  • Kitzbühel – All about this top Tyrolian ski resort – History, sights, photos

Watch for these additional Austrian city guides, coming soon.

  • Graz – Austria’s second largest city, the Styrian capital for travelers – History, sights, photos
  • Salzburg – Austria’s “Sound of Music” city and Mozart’s birthplace – sightseeing, history, photos
  • Vienna – Austria’s largest city and capital – sightseeing, history, photos
  • Learn more about Austria’s five largest cities below.

Our Other Pages for Austria
Also see these related pages for Austria:

  • Austria: Facts and Figures – country data for Austria
  • Autobahn Tolls in Austria and Switzerland – The autobahn sticker
  • Austria – History and culture
  • History of Austria with notable Austrians, past and present
  • The Euro – About the currency that first went into circulation in Austria and Germany in January 2002.
  • Dialects – Austrian German is one of the regional variations of the German language
  • Notable Austrians include:
    • Sigmund Freud was the Austrian who invented psychoanalysis
    • Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) was an Austrian-born film actress who became a big Hollywood star in the 1940s and ’50s. She was also an award-winning inventor!
    • Max Steiner (1888-1971) was the noted Austrian film music composer for Casablanca, Gone With the Wind, King Kong and many other Hollywood films.
    • Billy Wilder (1906-2002) was an Austrian-American film director. His classic films include Double Indemnity and Some Like It Hot.
    • More…
  • Air Travel – Flying to, from or in Austria
  • Holidays and Celebrations – Key holidays and other official and unofficial observations in Austria, Germany and Switzerland
  • Austrians in Hollywood – Arnold’s not the only one! German, Austrian and Swiss people – past and present – in Hollywood


Vienna, the nation’s capital, is the only Austrian city with over a million people. Graz, the second largest city in Austria, and the capital of the province of Styria (Steiermark), has barely over a quarter million inhabitants. The other three in the top five cities are the only ones in Austria with 100,000 residents or more. (Population figures are from 2012.)

Vienna (Wien, pop. 1.7 million) One in five Austrians lives in the Vienna metropolitan area (pop. 2.4 million). The Austrian capital dominates the country as an economic, cultural and political center like few other European capitals. Each year Vienna attracts some 5 million visitors as tourists and attendees at many international conventions and meetings. Famed as a city of music, Vienna has been home to world-renowned composers and musicians, including Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Schoenberg, and more recently Falco and Rainhard Fendrich. The city is synonymous with art and culture, with outstanding stage theaters, opera, classical music, architecture and fine arts. The Burgtheater is considered one of the best in the German-speaking world, alongside the excellent Volkstheater Wien and the Theater in der Josefstadt. Vienna is also a university town, with numerous respected institutions of higher learning, most notably the University of Vienna.

Visitors to Vienna have the advantage of enjoying the best of Austrian cuisine, including Viennese coffee, Wiener (Viennese) Schnitzel, and the classic Sachertorte dessert. There seems to be a Beisl (the Austrian term for a small restaurant or pub) or a Café-Konditorei (coffee and pastries) on every corner. Some of the city’s top tourist attractions include: St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), the Prater amusement park with its giant ferris wheel, the Hundertwasserhaus, the Spanish Riding School (Lipizzann horses), Schönbrunn Palace, Belvedere Palace (art museum), the Danube and the Danube Tower (Donauturm), and the elegant Ringstraße avenue. Vienna is also known for its numerous parks and over 100 museums of every kind. Vienna has an excellent public transport system that features an underground metro (U-Bahn), street cars, and buses.

Austria’s ÖBB railway system reaches all over Austria and Europe from Vienna’s main station. Vienna International Airport is located only 11 miles (18 km) southeast of the city center near the town of Schwechat. (Also see our Air Travel page.)

A Side Trip from Vienna

Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is a short one-hour trip (50 mi, 80 km) southeast along the Danube by car or rail. Bratislava (pop. 460,000) is the only national capital that borders two separate countries: Austria and Hungary. In German the city was known as Pressburg until 1919, when the city was officially named Bratislava. Influenced over the years by people of different nations and religions (Austrians, Czechs, Germans, Hungarians, Jews, and Slovaks), the scenic city has a unique history. Now that Slovakia is a member of the Schengen zone, there is no longer any delay at the Austrian-Slovak border, but like Austria, Slovakia also requires an autobahn sticker on your car’s windshield.

Grazer Uhrturm

The Clock Tower (Uhrturm) in Graz that overlooks the city from atop the Schlossberg. PHOTO: Philipp Steiner, Wikimedia Commons

Graz (pop. 270,000) dates back to the 12th century, when it became an important commercial center on the banks of the Mur river under the house of Babenberg. Later it fell under Habsburg rule and became the residence of the Austrian Habsburgs from 1379 to 1619. During that time the city fended off various attacks by the Ottoman Empire (the Turks). In 1999 Graz’s Old Town was made a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site, to which was added the city’s historic center and the Eggenberg Palace in 2010. The city’s best known landmark is the Clock Tower (Uhrturm) that overlooks the city from atop the Schlossberg hill, which served as a fortress from 1125 to 1809. The first mention of the 93-foot (28 m) tall Clock Tower dates back to 1265, when it was still part of the fortress. But the tower didn’t take its current form until almost 200 years later.

Graz is a university town with six institutions of higher learning. Every sixth resident of Graz is a student. The main University of Graz was founded in the 16th century. Other attractions in Graz: the Armory (Landeszeughaus, the largest of its kind in the world), the Kunsthaus and Neue Galerie art museums, and the Schlossbergbahn, a funicular railway up the Schlossberg.
WEB: Graz Tourism – (in English)
WEB: City of Graz – (in English)

Linz (pop. 191,000) is the third-largest city in Austria and capital of the state of Upper Austria (Oberösterreich). Linz was founded on the Danube river by the Romans as Lentia. The name Linz first appeared in 799. Today the city is a blend of old and new. The modern city hall and the Brucknerhaus concert hall contrast with the medieval Saint Martins church (built in Carolingian times) and the imposing Cathedral of the Virgin Mary (Mariendom) built in neo-gothic style between 1862 and 1924. The Musiktheater Linz celebrated its opening as Europe’s most modern opera house in April 2013. On the city’s main square stands the impressive Pestsäule (“plague column”) in remembrance of those who died in medieval plague epidemics. (Similar columns can be found in other Austrian towns.)

Although born in Braunau am Inn, Adolph Hitler later lived in Linz, attended school there, and considered it his hometown. His parents’ graves are located in the church cemetery in Leonding on the outskirts of Linz. The local Johannes Kepler University is named for the famous German mathematician and astronomer who lived and worked in Linz for a time. Kepler (1571-1630) also taught mathematics in Graz.
WEB: City of Linz – (in English)

Salzburg (pop. 148,000) is Austria’s fourth largest city and the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). The house where he was born is now a museum on the Getreidegasse (“grain lane”) in the Old Town. (Salzburg has never quite forgiven her native son for leaving the city to work in Vienna in 1781.) Besides Mozart’s birthplace, Salzburg’s Old Town (Altstadt) features internationally renowned baroque architecture and the Festung Hohensalzburg fortress that overlooks the city. One of the best-preserved historic city centers north of the Alps, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. As anyone who has seen the 1965 film The Sound of Music knows, Salzburg is one of the most scenic towns in Europe and the world. Situated on the banks of the Salzach River, the city lies at the northern boundary of the Alps. Some of the city’s many attractions include: the Salzburg Cathedral (featured in the film), the Getreidegasse and Mozart’s birthplace, the Mirabell Palace and gardens, Hellbrunn and its water tricks, the Untersberg (6,470 ft/1972 m) near Salzburg, and the Hohensalzburg Castle.

Besides Mozart, Salzburg is also the birthplace of Christian Doppler (1803-1853), the discoverer of the Doppler effect; Josef Mohr (1792-1848), who wrote the words to “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”); skydiver Felix Baumgartner (1969- ), who set three world records during the Red Bull Stratos project in October 2012, and Herbert von Karajan (1908-1989), the principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic for 35 years.

Innsbruck (pop. 121,000) is perhaps best known for hosting the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics. Its name is derived from the German for “bridge over the Inn,” and the city is located in the Inn Valley about 19 miles (30 km) north of the famous Brenner Pass on a key route over the Alps. Innsbruck is the capital city of the province of Tyrol (Tirol) and the fifth largest city in Austria. The city became the capital of Tyrol in 1429. In the 15th century Innsbruck became an important center of European politics and culture when emperor Maximilian I resided there. In 1669 the University of Innsbruck (Leopold-Franzens-Universität) was founded. A key landmark of the city is the Little Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl), which is actually the roof on a three-story balcony covered with 2,657 copper shingles that have been fire-gilded (applying an amalgam layer of gold), so that the roof looks golden. Jacob Hutter, founder of the Hutterites was burned at the stake on the square in front of the Little Golden Roof in 1536 for his heretical Anabaptist beliefs and activities.

Innsbruck’s other attractions include: the Hofkirche (Imperial Church) with the cenotaph of Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor; the Casino Innsbruck, Old Town, the Innsbruck Cathedral, and many other churches, museums, parks and gardens.
WEB: Innsbruck Tourism – (in English)

Next | Austria: Facts and Figures

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