Smack dab in the heart of Europe lies a small country which is famous for its snowy Alps, clear mirror-like lakes, scenic valleys, spectacular waterfalls, rich architecture, musical geniuses and of course, for the being the setting of the legendary film, "The Sound Of Music". Landlocked between the equally beautiful alpine lands of Switzerland, the marvelous architecture of Italy, and the artistic brilliance of Germany, is the underrated gem of Europe, Austria. Home to 8.8 million people, with one of the highest standards of living, this small nation packs in everything a tourist could wish for. Whether you want to awaken the adrenaline junkie in you by walking across one of Europe's highest suspension bridge at Stubnerkogel or take a break from humanity in the quiet Kaisertal nature reserve, Austria is the country for you. Here are seven reasons why you should pay this central European country a visit.
1)Castles and Forts: Austria is one of the most culturally rich European countries and the castles, forts and ruins scattered across the country offer us a peek into the country's history and legacy. When talking about castles, one cannot miss Schloss Schönbrunn at Vienna, the biggest castle in Austria and an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The castle and its park are a popular holiday destination for the locals of Vienna and tourists alike. The fort of Riegersburg atop the town of Riegersburg is another popular tourist destination for its scenic trek up the hill to the fort and its guided tours about the myths and legends of witches. The Hofburg castle, official home of the president of Austria, located at Vienna is famous for its various cultural institutions. Some other popular castles are Burg Kreuzenstein at Leobendorf where movies like "The Three Muskteers" were shot, Burg Hochosterwitz castle at Launsdorf which is said to be the inspiration behind sleeping beauty's castle and Festung Hohensalzburg at Salzburg, one of Europe's biggest surviving castles from the 11th century.
2) Best Architectural Structures: Vienna is the home of the world famous classical Baroque designs, but like everything about the city, this bit of history is juxtaposed with some truly uncanny post-modern structures, the Hundertwasserhaus being a case in point. The Simmering area holds around 90,000 gas tanks that have been transformed into luxury housing, and are called as “Gasometers”. Another beloved attraction is the Stephansdom Cathedral, with mesmerising multicoloured mosaic roof tiles. It is a Gothic style cathedral and despite suffering damage in a fire, it continues to attract tourists with its enigmatic beauty. The Art Nouveau style of architecture is also commonly found in Vienna, and is perhaps best exhibited in the Secession Building exhibition hall that displays the artistic genius of past and present Austrians. Besides these, there are a number of palaces, forts and ruins that showcase the Viennian architecture revolution.
3) Lake Cities: If there's one thing that you must do when you travel to Austria, it's to make sure you visit the picturesque lakes and the cities surrounding them. Lake Achensee, one of the largest Austrian lakes offers stunning views of the huge, crystal clear freshwater body, and the surrounding mountains, as well as activities such as swimming, windsurfing, rafting, kite surfing, and paddle surfing during the summer months. Hallstatter is another beautiful village with traditional Austrian architecture which is built near the Dachstein Mountains on Lake Hallstätter See, creating a paradise-like picture. Mondsee, translating to Moon Lake in English, is another famous lake in Austria near Salzburg. This lake is the epitome of scenic beauty with a delightful lakeside village. Another popular lake is Traunsee which is the deepest lake in Austria near Salzburg. It is surrounded by quaint villages such as Altmünster and Traunkirchen and the Schloss Ort castle. Located in the Tyrol region of Austria, Lake Plansee is the second largest water body found in this region. This lake is an unparalleled spot for outdoor enthusiasts and an absolute must visit for tourists.
4) Austrian Alps: When talking about Austria, one cannot miss the high and majestic Central Eastern Alps which are the crown of the country. It is a very popular place with skiers and hikers for the wide range of winter sports it offers. St Anton am Arlberg, a village in the Tyrolean Alps, is widely regarded as the leading ski resort destination in Austria. This village is widely popular for the vast variety of sports it offers both in summer and winter. The beautiful Zell am See in Salzburg is famous for skiing and mountain scenery, and leads up to the Grossglockner Alpine Road, which provides breathtaking landscape views of the Alps. Innsbruck, capital of Tyrol, is an all-season tourist destination, is reputed for its winter sports, and has had the distinction of hosting the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976.
5) Austrian Cuisine: As M.F.K Fisher once said, "First we eat, then we do everything else." A country's cuisine is perhaps what draws people back for repeat visits, and Austria does not disappoint in this area. As the birth place of the croissant, (No, it was not the French), Austria offers many more local delicacies which are an absolute must. Try the traditional Wiener Schnitzel, a fried thin cut of breadcrumbs coated veal. Next on the list is the Apfelstrudel/Apple Strudel, which is pastry stuffed with apples, raisins, sugar and cinnamon. It is the most common dessert which can be found all over the country and it is very popular among locals. Another famous dessert, the Sachertorte whose original recipe is a tight-lipped secret kept for centuries, is a chocolate cake served with apricot jam and whipped cream.
6) Ice Caves: Known for being somewhat of a winter wonderland, with its many ski resorts and guaranteed snowfall, perhaps it comes as no surprise that Austria is home to the world’s largest ice cave called Eisriesenwelt, located at Werfen, near Salzburg, which runs more than 42 km deep into the mountain. Although not the entire cave is open to the public for safety reasons, one can still be mesmerized by the intricate crystalline structures of that give it a palace-like feel. The formations look even prettier in the radiance of the traditional mine lamps that are given to the visitors. Fittingly, the long galleries and pathways are adorned with quite dramatic titles such as “Diamond Kingdom”, and the “World of Ice Giants”
7) Night Life: If you thought Austria is only famous for its castles, palaces and horse-drawn carriages, you thought wrong. If you're a nocturnal creature venturing out for some fun at wee hours, Austria can provide. The capital city, Vienna, is world-renowned for its concert halls, restaurants and clubs. Walk down Babenberger Passage or make way to Volksgarten Clubdisco to have the witness the buzzing night activity. Known for its palaces and castles, Salzburg will entertain you with its buzzing parties that run all night long. The chic bars and authentic Irish pubs of the city set the mood right for the night owls. Innsbruck, also known as the University City lights up at night with students, travelers and locals getting down to let loose in the Old Town as soon as the sun sets.