5 of the best Austrian cities and towns and what to do there

Not Bavaria but not quite Italy either: Many Austrian towns beyond Vienna blend the looks of their Bavarian neighbours with the laid back character of their Southern counterparts. Here are the five best urban spaces to soak up culture, atmosphere, beer and wine.

Salzburg

Less than ten times smaller than Vienna (by population) the home of Mozart and the Sound of Music loves to outshine Austria’s capital. Salzburg largely owns its charming Renaissance arcades and Baroque townhouses to a thorough redesign in the late 16th and early 17th century.

Having joined Austria only 200 years ago, Salzburg is at least as Southern German as it is Austrian. Among the best things to do in Salzburg are strolling through the narrow streets of the old town, taking breakfast at Café Tomaselli, visiting the Fortress Hohensalzburg and enjoying Salzburger Nockerl and local beer at quiet Linzer Gasse neighbourhood.

Kitzbuehel

The chic ski resort in the Tyrolean Alps shares a similar Austro-German history with Salzburg. Its bright coloured townhouses with wooden shutters line up against an amazing Alpine backdrop. On Saturdays in particular the quaint pedestrian area fills up with day guests populating the farmer’s market, upscale fashion design stores and cafes.

Due to its relatively low elevation (800m) Kitzbuehel’s ski tourism has been suffering from dwindling snow levels in the winter. In turn, the summer season keeps attracting tennis fans to the annual ATP Open tournament and fans of historic automobile to the Kitzbueheler Alpenrallye. Not to be missed either: a ride in the 3S cable car, which boasts the highest above-ground span in the world.

Graz

Styria’s capital is as charming as it is underrated. At its center the landmark clock tower (Uhrturm) tolls its bells on the 500m  castle mountain, overlooking a dense mixture of red tiled roofs and courtyards. The town center opens up a showcase of the most diverse historic townhouses and churches, from the Gothic Cathedral to 21st century blobby Kunsthaus. Cultural tourists on a day visit love to climb up the castle mountain or take the elevator for breathtaking views of the city, and a peek into Graz Castle.

History buffs and amateur knights from all over the world have long been flocking to Landeszeughaus, the world’s largest armoury. A personal favourite is the stunning baroque castle Schloss Eggenberg in the Western outskirts. Make sure you try Styria’s regional delicacies such as pumpkinseed oil and boiled pork with root vegetables and fresh horseradish (Steirisches Wurzelfleisch).

Klagenfurt

If the nobility of the Duchy hadn’t taken over the reign of Klagenfurt from a Habsburg Emperor in the 16th century you could likely discard it from any sightseeing itinerary. What makes Austria’s Southern most regional capital so attractive are its rows of ornate Renaissance and baroque townhouses perforated with romantic courtyard cafes and bistros.

Built upon the legendary defeat of a virgin-devouring winged dragon the city proudly displays its gigantic Lindwurm sculpture in a center townsquare. In the warm months locals and tourists head for the nearby shores of popular Woerthersee, Austria’s warmest Alpine lake which boasts Europe’s largest non-beach lake and lido.

Moedling

At just 14 km from Vienna visitors can be forgiven to overlook the small Medieval town of the Babenbergs. For more than 2,500 years (!) the town has been nestling between the hills of the Southern Vienna Woods (Wienerwald) and what are now lush vineyards.

Besides a charming pedestrian area packed with historic townhouses Moedling is the perfect starting point for a hiking tour through the Vienna Woods. Right from the city center the Beethoven hiking path leads up to the hills and 14 km southwards to spa town Baden. Beethoven lived there for two summers and loved to hike through Wienerwald. On the way, have sip of local wine at wood tavern ‘Bockerl’.

Barbara Grll-Cao is the Founder of Vienna Unwrapped.

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Comments (12)

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  1. Izy Berry says:

    I love how those locals are casually raising their wine glasses for your shot! I would have never imagined that that little town is known for a hiking path!

  2. Jack says:

    I have been to Sydney once.I have never been to other place in Australia but I would like to change a city next summer holiday.Thanks for sharing.Good list of cities!

  3. Thanks for your comment, Izy – I only realised the two were toasting to me after I took the photo. Yes, they were sweet!

  4. Thanks for your comment, Jack, glad you like the list of cities – I hope a good appetiser for you to visit Austria!

  5. Jen Morrow says:

    I have not been to Austria. This is a great city by city breakdown of activities and sights. I love the surrounding European countries, now I need to go check out these 5 cities in Austria.

  6. Suma says:

    I am so glad I came across this post, I’m travelling to Austria next week and this is going to be of great help. I am considering visiting Salzburg amd Graz, will try to visit the rest as well. Moedling seems like a perfect summer retreat, cannot wait to explore these places. Thanks for the share!

  7. Hi Suma, that’s fantastic! Enjoy your stay in Austria and do visit my blog for more ideas about what to see and do in Vienna and surroundings, inc. Vienna Woods.

  8. Bhusha says:

    Salzburg has been in my wishlist for time immemorial! When I was a highschooler, I came across this old used guide book of Salzburg at a flea market. That triggered my interest for international travel, but till date I haven’t been to Salzburg. Hope I’ll go soon and when I go, hopefully I’ll visit the other 4 cities too.

  9. Mel says:

    We spent a month near Salzburg in December and loved going into the city. The Christmas Market was amazing and so fun to participate in. Then we spent July near Kitzbuehel and loved that, too! I love all the flower boxes and balcony boxes in Austria — so bright and gorgeous. The palm trees in Klagenfurt are so unexpected. I will add this town and Graz and Moedling to my list of places to visit!

  10. Lisa says:

    I was in Vienna this year, and definitely would have liked to see more of the country. Graz looks wonderful with all those historic architectural buildings. Klagenflut is so colourful and very photographic too!

  11. Abigail Sinsona says:

    I would love to visit Salzburg! Those elaborate gardens and parks are so beautiful. But all of these towns/cities are so beautiful, I would love a chance to visit them all!

  12. Arnav Mathur says:

    Now that I am in the UK, a EURo trip is definitely on the cards, and visiting Austria is a must. Am glad I stumbled across this article, which clearly mentioned the best cities in Austria and what to do. Moedling is 100% on my radar now.

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