Before you visit Austria, learn a bit about the history, religion, geography, climate, and local traditions so you can be fully prepared for your journey abroad. Within this article, we provide the best overview of Austria plus some first-hand travel tips along the way!
Welcome aboard to our Globally Educated Series where we focus on one nation at a time to give you the most comprehensive overview of each country before embarking on your journey. We look forward to helping you prepare for your trip to Austria - so let's get started!
Imagine it: The rugged Alps on the west turn into quaintly scenic towns (like the one featured above) and lush countrysides before reaching its capital city on the east. Vienna, the capital, has been shaped by its intellectual residents like Sigmund Freud, Mozart, and Beethoven, and is celebrated as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. Here’s everything you need to know before traveling to Austria.
Brief History of Austria
Before we get globally educated on all things Austria, let’s first dive into a bit of the country’s history. It’s a long tale of empires conquering empires, plus royalty, disputes, and unrest. But – let’s keep it brief. Here’s what to know about the history of Austria before you visit.
The Celts can be traced back to the 4th century BC. Later, in roughly the 1st century BC, the Romans conquered the land known today as Austria, creating the province of Noricum. The Romans built Vienna and constructed roads while introducing the Roman way of life to the Celts.
Austria in the Middle Ages
It is around this time that dynasties, emperors, and kings begin popping up in Austria. One of the most prominent dynasties during the Middle Ages was the Habsburg Empire. The family was given the Duchy of Austria in 1282, where they ruled until 1918.
Many of Vienna’s most iconic landmarks were built during this time. The dynasty oversaw the construction of the Cathedral of Saint Stephen as well as the Imperial Palace, best known as Hofburg.
The Habsburg Dynasty didn’t stop with just the territories of Austria. Throughout history, they also ruled Burgundy, the Netherlands, Spain, Bohemia, and Hungary. Nonetheless, unrest was prevalent as wars with the Ottoman Empire were endured through the 16th and 17th centuries.
20th Century Austria
Following the end of WWI, the monarchy dissolved and Austria proclaimed itself a republic in 1918.
Early in 1938, Adolf Hitler forced the Austrian government to appoint Nazis to important posts in Europe. Chancellor Schuschnigg proposed a referendum on the issue of whether Austria should join Germany. Of course, Hitler opposed this, and German troops patrolled along the Austrian border. Schuschnigg then resigned and in March of 1938, German troops occupied Austria.
After WWII and the turmoil that followed suit, Austria became an independent nation again in 1955. Then, Austria joined the European Union in 1995 and adopted the euro four years later.
Modern Day Austria
Now Austria is one of the most incredible places to visit in Europe, full of natural beauty, charming villages, interesting culture, plus a beautiful and cosmopolitan capital. Visit Austria and soak up remnants of its old world while enjoying the charm of its modernity, too. With so much to do and experience, traveling to Austria is an absolute treat.
Languages in Austria
Austria became a federal state of Germany after the Austrian monarchy broke up after WWI. However, after WWII, Austria became independent again. Nonetheless, its language has remained more or less the same. German is the official language in Austria.
However, most Austrians – besides perhaps the most elderly – speak a form of Austrian German. Though it is very much the same as standard German, there are still different dialects, expressions, and vocabulary used within Austrian German. Other unofficial languages are Alemmanic, spoken in Vorarlberg; and Austro-Bavarian, which is spoken by the majority of Austrians. Both are very similar to standard German.
Minor languages in Austria include 2.3% Turkish, 2.5% Burgenland Croatian (spoken by those in the most eastern state of Burgenland), and even smaller percentages of Hungarian, Serbian, and Slovene.
As for the English-speaking population in Austria, it stands at a high 73% of the population. In fact, English is so widely taught in schools that Austria stands as one of the top countries with proficiency in English. When spoken, every age group outperforms European standards. Nice.
Despite the ease of speaking English in Austria, it’s always recommended to learn or brush up on a few phrases in the local language. Here are some handy words to know before visiting Austria.
Demographics of Austria
Demographically, Austria is a smaller European country with a population of roughly nine million. You’ll find the majority of its inhabitants in Vienna, where the population is around 1.7 million. Despite Austria’s lower birth rate, the country is projected to grow slowly over the next few decades.
Austria is also heavily homogenous, with 80.8% of the population Austrian. The other ethnic groups in Austria include 2.6% German, 1.9% Bosnian and Herzegovinian, 1.8% Turkish, 1.6% Serbian, and 1.3% Romanian. The remaining 10% are other ethnicities that each consist of less than one percent of the population.
Cities in Austria
Austria is home to impressive cities full of classical music history, dazzling theaters, and colorful architecture. Of course, these Austrian cities have so much more to offer. So, let’s take a look at the top cities in Austria.
Positioned on the idyllic banks of the Danube – a prominent river in Europe that connects other capitals like Bratislava, Budapest, and Belgrade – Vienna is one of the best places to visit in Austria. The capital city gushes historic flair from its 19th-century opera house where you can see performances for just €2, its' picturesque coffee houses where the likes of Sigmund Freud and Leon Trotsky spent time, and its thriving arts and culture scene. The photo above is the view from St. Stephens Cathedral in the capital city of Vienna.
Austria’s second-largest city is nestled in the southeast on River Mur, and is celebrated as a European Capital of Culture. Graz boasts a scenic amphitheater, a colorful, medieval UNESCO Old Town, and a museum dedicated to the Austrian-born actor Arnold Schwarzenegger…he was born in Graz, so why not dedicate a whole museum to the guy? Nonetheless, the city is lively, modern, and a great place to visit on a trip to Austria.
Another one of the most visited places in Austria is Salzburg. This city rests on the River Salzach near the border with Germany. This must-see city is known for its musical heritage as the birthplace of Mozart. However, that’s not the only reason to visit Salzburg when traveling to Austria. The city also flaunts an iconic 17th-century fountain, classical musical festivals, and the Gothic Hohensalzburg – to name a few.
One of Europe’s most dreamy ski towns, Innsbruck is cozied up in the Alps with gorgeous snow-capped mountain views and colorful streets. The town hosted the 1964 Winter Olympics, placing it on the map as a prime winter destination. Now, it has a unique cable car that connects the slopes to the center, a pedestrian-only Old Town, and lots of gems worth noting when planning a trip to Austria.
Geography of Austria
Though small and landlocked, Austria has an ideal position for exploring other parts of Europe. It is bordered by Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland and Lichenstein. As such, a trip to Austria offers easy access to other European countries.
As for Austria’s terrain, it is largely mountainous with lush Alpine spur forests and highlands. In fact, 62% of Austria is mountains which intertwine with the 47% that is forested. Nonetheless, plains and hills also dot the landscape of Austria.
Several rivers also flow through Austria. For example, the Danube River winds from the Alps and toward the Hungarian Plains. While boasting numerous rivers, Austria is also home to many lakes. Its largest ones are Lake Constance in the West and Neusiedler Lake in the East. Visiting lakes is one of the best things to do while in Austria, thanks to the picturesque villages, alpine forests and mountains that surround them.
Speaking of mountains, Austria’s highest point Großglockner, also called Glockner, stands at 12,460 feet (3,798 meters) near the border with Italy. The High Alpine Road makes accessing the mountain easier while providing legendary views along the way.
What is the climate like in Austria?
Austria is located in a temperate climate zone with weather conditions varying slightly depending on the region. Austria’s lowlands in the north and east have a more continental climate with colder winters and hotter summers with moderate rainfall throughout the year. On the other hand, the southeastern portion of Austria has longer and warmer summers, similar to the Mediterranean.
Let’s look at the average temperatures in Vienna.
Summers are warm and generally pleasant with cold, snowy winters. The city stays generally partly cloudy year-round.
Summer in Vienna: July is the hottest month of the year in Vienna. In summer, Vienna averages a temperature of 69°F (20.5°C) with July and August being the hottest months, averaging a high of 78°F (25.5°C) and lows around 56-58°F (13-14°C).
Winter in Vienna: January is the city’s coldest month of the year. In winter, Vienna averages a temperature of 32-34°F (0-1°C). Highs reach around 38°F (3°C) in December and January, and lows average around 27-30°F (-3°C to -1°C).
Religion in Austria
Like the rest of Europe, Austrians are guaranteed freedom of religion. Nonetheless, Christianity is the norm in the country, and some 60% of the population identify as Catholic.
While many European countries are not heavily practicing religion – besides in the cultural sense – around 30% of Austrians say they attend worship services at least monthly.
Christianity is the largest religion in Austria, but Islam has also been significant for more than 100 years. In 2016, almost 8% of the population was Muslim. Other minority religions in Austria include Judaism, which equates to roughly 10,000 inhabitants, followed by another 10,000 Austrians practicing Buddhism.
When you visit Austria, you can discover Buddhist synagogues, mosques and a flourishing Jewish community. Of course, there’s no shortage of picturesque cathedrals either - the one pictured above is St. Charles Church aka "Karlskirche"which is located in Vienna.
Economy & Major Exports in Austria
Austria is one of the most prosperous countries in the European Union and one of the best free-market economies in the world. Many areas drive Austria’s financial success including service, food, luxury commodities, mechanical engineering, steel construction, chemicals, automotive manufacturing, and organic farming.
Austria also has one of the world’s highest export economies. The country mainly trades and exports with nearby countries like Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Hungary. However, one of its other major export partners is the United States. Some of Austria’s largest export markets are packaged medicaments, vehicle parts and their components, and paper products.
What is Austria most known for?
From classical music to the mountains and its chic capital, Austria is known for quite a few cultural elements to discover. Here are some of those things to know before visiting Austria.
The Sound of Music
The 1965 American movie The Sound of Music was filmed in the stunning Austrian Alps. It tells the story of a woman who leaves her convent to become a governess in the home of a widowed naval captain and his seven children. It's heartwarming, charming, and full of beautiful Austrian scenery and culture.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, Austria was a cultural hub for music. Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss, Anton Bruckner, and the most famous of all, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were all Austrian musicians who thrived in the city of Vienna. Even Beethoven left Germany to be tutored by Haydn in Vienna, too.
Now, visitors come to see the classical side of Vienna with the famous Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper) and Lauden Palace (Schloss Laudon) where they can also take tours of composers’ houses.
The waltz is a ballroom dance that can be traced back to 16th-century Europe. Generally, a traditional waltz ensemble is made of two violins and a bass. The dance itself wasn’t instantly a hit; many thought it was provocative. Nonetheless, Vienna quickly adopted the waltz and put its' own spin on it. The Viennese waltz is the fastest waltz, usually danced in triple time and in a closed position.
Describing Vienna, one Don Curzio wrote, "The people were dancing mad ... The ladies of Vienna are particularly celebrated for their grace and movements of waltzing of which they never tire."
World-famous, Swarovski is a quality diamond and jewelry brand from Austria. Back in 1892, founder Daniel Swarovski patented an electric cutting machine that allowed crystals to be cut more accurately, consistently, and cheaper than before. His vision for the machine and brand was to make diamonds available for everyone.
Marilyn Monroe’s famous “Happy Birthday” dress was even laced in Swarovski crystals, making the brand a pop culture symbol for decades.
Viennese coffee culture
For a lot of people, when they travel to Vienna, they make visiting a Viennese coffee house a priority. They are uniquely characteristic for their history, their marble top tables, sophisticated waiters, and inspirational atmosphere. Writers have flocked to Vienna’s coffee houses for centuries – and with good reason. There is quality coffee, tasty pastries, and a welcoming ambiance. Among the best coffee houses, Cafe Central is one of the places to visit in Vienna.
Food in Austria
Food is such an embedded part of the travel experience, so trying local cuisine when you visit Austria is a must. Here are some of the best foods to try in Austria.
An Austrian national dish, the Wiener Schnitzel (Wiener is German for Vienna) is definitely one of the best foods to try in Austria. The famous dish is made from a thin cutlet of veal that is then breaded and pan-fried in butter or oil. Head to Figlmüller – Restaurant Bäckerstraße in Vienna for one of the best Wiener Schnitzels in Austria.
A classic Austrian dessert, the Sacher torte is a chocolate tart invented by Franz Sacher in 1832 in Vienna. The dish is made of dense chocolate cake with two layers of apricot jam between the outer layer of chocolate icing and the sponge base. It is then commonly served with unsweetened whipped cream.
The Hungarian communities of Austria introduced its famous goulash, and it slowly adapted into what is known as Austrian Goulash. This is a hearty beef stew with tomatoes, onion, and paprika. The version you'll most likely try in Vienna includes Semmelknödel (dumplings), and is one of the best foods to try on a trip to Vienna!
Probably the most popular dessert in Austria, apfelstrudel is simply a must-try. It’s so famous that it hardly needs to be explained. Nonetheless, this delightful dish is full of spiced apple filling in a thin pastry jacket. The filling is made with grated apples, sugar, cinnamon, and bread crumbs. Some versions use raisins and nuts for a tasty twist.
You’ll find apple strudel in cafes and bakeries across Austria, and they make for a delicious afternoon treat while traveling!
Vienna & Austria Travel Tips to Know Before Visiting
Before you go on your grand adventure, we have some essential Austrian travel tips you need to know before taking flight.
- Austria uses the euro (€) and the majority of places accept payment by card. However, it is still a good idea to have a little bit of cash on you in the off-chance someplace doesn’t accept cards.
- Obey the green man! Austrians are serious about waiting at the crosswalk until it turns green – even when there are no cars in sight. Plus, you could get a fine if you’re caught jaywalking.
- Pickpocketing is less prevalent in Austria – but as much of Europe – it can still be an issue in the busiest areas of Vienna and other touristic places.
- Use some German if you know it!
- Water in Austria is excellent, so it is completely safe to drink tap water.
- Austria is well-connected with metros, trains, and buses going to all parts of the country (and other countries!).
- Central Europe is all about beer culture, and Austria is no exception.
- In Vienna, the U-Bahn (Subway) is the quickest way to get around. There is nowhere to swipe your ticket, and it is operated on an honesty system. So, it might look free, but it’s not.
- Austrians usually tip between 5% to 15% of the bill at a restaurant, but it is not necessary.
- Call 112 for emergencies.