A Guide to Austria’s Provinces
The best activities, what to taste and fun facts - here is everything you need to know about Austria's nine provinces at a glance.
One of the world’s grand capitals, VIENNA was the seat of the Habsburg Empire for six centuries. Though it has been a United Nations city since 1957, cultures have converged here for untold generations. Vienna's legendary 1st District (Innere Stadt) is encircled by the Ringstrasse Boulevard and home to the lion’s share of must-see landmarks: St. Stephen's Cathedral, the Hofburg, Karlskirche, City Hall, Kärntnerstrasse, the Graben, Vienna State Opera, Museum of Fine Arts, the Albertina, and much more. Nearby highlights include the magnificent Belvedere and Schönbrunn Palaces, the trendy 2nd district, the MuseumsQuartier arts complex, and cutting-edge design in the 7th district. Known for its Ball season and Coffeehouse culture, Vienna is also a celebrated wine destination, with Heurigen (wine taverns) concentrated in Grinzing to the northwest. In recent years, new restaurants, bars and even beaches have made the Danube Canal a popular hangout.
TERRAIN: Urban, edged by forests and modest mountains
BEST EVENT: Vienna Festival
BEST OLD THING: Schönbrunn Palace, summer residence of the former Imperial Family
BEST NEW THING: Goldenes Quartier—a shopping area in the heart of Vienna; new campus of the University of Economics and Business
BEST OUTDOOR ACTIVITY: A romantic rowboat ride on the Old Danube
BEST UNUSUAL MUSEUM: The Globe Museum at the National Library
WHAT TO DO: Spend a pleasant hour or two in a classic Kaffeehaus
WHAT NOT TO MISS: Christmas Markets
WHAT TO TASTE: a Tafelspitz at Plachutta
FUN FACT: Bragging rights for the "Original" Sacher-Torte—Sacher Hotel v Demel's—had to be resolved in court. The winner? (Clue: You can buy it online at www.sacher.com)
LOWER AUSTRIA is a region of fertile valleys and plains, ideal for those seeking a more authentic, rustic getaway. Along the Danube River Valley between Melk and Krems lies die Wachau, a picturesque wine region graced with formidable castles, abbeys, and medieval villages. Check out the walled town of Drosendorf and the beautiful Baroque abbey in Melk.
TERRAIN: Valleys, plains
BEST EVENT: Melk Baroque Days, late May
BEST OLD THINGS: Melk Abbey; Semmering Railway
BEST NEW THING: Loisium visitor center, Langenlois
BEST OUTDOOR ACTIVITY: Wachau World Heritage Path
BEST UNUSUAL MUSEUM: Luge Museum, Payerbach
WHAT TO DO: Ride the Danube by paddleboat steamer
WHAT NOT TO MISS: Schloss Hof
WHAT TO TASTE: Mohnnudeln (Poppy seed noodles)
FUN FACT: In Carnuntum, two amphitheaters date from Roman times.
BURGENLAND literally means "Land of Castles" and, centuries ago, this area protected nearby Vienna from marauding Turks. As one of Austria's best wine-producing regions, its Heurigen are especially worth visiting. Bird lovers flock to Lake Neusiedel and Seewinkel National Park hoping to spot storks among the rich diversity of water fowl. Two truly inspiring destinations are Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt, long associated with Joseph Haydn, and the medieval town of Rust with its charming church dedicated to fishermen.
TERRAIN: Farmland, vineyards
BEST EVENT: International Haydn Days, mid-September
BEST OLD THING: Esterházy Palace
BEST NEW THING: Franz Liszt Center and adjacent Concert Hall, Raiding
BEST UNUSUAL MUSEUM: Bread Baking Museum, Bad Tatzmannsdorf
BEST OUTDOOR ACTIVITY: Birdwatching in Lake Neusiedl/Seewinkel National Park
WHAT TO DO: Bike around Lake Neusiedl, wine-tavern break optional
WHAT NOT TO MISS: The "Road of Castles" (Schlösserstrasse)
WHAT TO TASTE: Blaufränkisch red wine
FUN FACT: A Heurigen is called a Buschenschank in some parts of Burgenland.
UPPER AUSTRIA is marked by rolling hills, rising from the plains of Lower Austria to the mountainous regions farther west. The capital, Linz, is a bit of an upstart that has experimented more freely than, say, Vienna or Salzburg, with technology and modern design a mere stone's throw from such historic treasures as the Abbey of St. Florian. Upper Austria is known for medieval towns like cobblestoned Steyr, the thermal baths and orchards of Bad Hall, the impressive limestone formations of Kalkalpen National Park, and the Bohemian melancholy of the Mühlviertel.
TERRAIN: Hills, mountains
BEST EVENT: Ars Electronica Festival
BEST OLD THING: Abbey of St. Florian
BEST NEW THING: Lentos Art Museum
BEST UNUSUAL MUSEUM: Bee Museum, Grieskirchen
BEST OUTDOOR ACTIVITY: Bike the Danube Bicycle Path (Donauradweg)
WHAT TO DO: Visit Enns, the oldest town in Austria
WHAT NOT TO MISS: The beauty of Lake Hallstatt
WHAT TO TASTE: Linzer Torte; savory dumplings
FUN FACT: Kalkalpen National Park is home to 1,600 varieties of butterfly.
STYRIA is the great “green” heart of Austria with an Italian feel—particularly in the south where vineyards and rolling hills have earned it the moniker "Styrian Tuscany" (even though Styria actually borders Hungary and Slovenia). The north and west of the province run rugged with churning rivers and the Dachstein mountain’s impressive glaciers; to the east are thermal spas and all the castles you could ask for. Once a major Catholic pilgrimage center, Mariazell is now prized for its excellent bike trails. The charming university town of Graz is typically Austrian and boasts a thriving arts and culinary culture.
TERRAIN: Rolling hills, mountains
BEST EVENT: Styrian Autumn, late September
BEST OLD THING: Graz city center
BEST NEW THING: Kunsthaus Graz—"The Friendly Alien"
BEST UNUSUAL MUSEUM: Open-Air Museum in Stuebing
BEST OUTDOOR ACTIVITY: Bike tour through Styrian wine country
WHAT TO DO: Visit the stud farm in Piber, where Lippizaner horses are raised
WHAT NOT TO MISS: Riegersburg Castle
WHAT TO TASTE: Kürbiskernöl (pumpkin seed oil)
FUN FACT: Arnold Schwarzenegger hails from Thal, a small town near Graz.
Picture Maria singing in an alpine pasture in The Sound of Music, and SALZBURGERLAND is all at once familiar. As the name suggests, rich salt mines are central to Salzburg's identity; they allowed it to remain an independent state for quite a long time. Salzburg, the capital, is the place for arts and cultural happenings, with a medieval center ideal for strolling. Head to the countryside for the bucolic charm of natural beauties like the lake resort Zell am See or the breathtaking gorge and waterfall at Liechtensteinklamm.
TERRAIN: Mountains, Alpine pastures
BEST EVENT: Salzburg Festival in August
BEST OLD THING: Hohensalzburg Castle, Salzburg city
BEST NEW THING: Red Bull’s Hangar-7, Salzburg city
BEST UNUSUAL MUSEUM: Hunting Museum, Hof
BEST OUTDOOR ACTIVITY: Hike up the Krimml Waterfalls, the highest in Europe
WHAT TO DO: Learn how to make Mozartkuglen (famous chocolates), St. Gilgen
WHAT NOT TO MISS: World of the Ice Giants (Eisriesenwelt), Werfen
WHAT TO TASTE: Salzburger Nockerl (Sweet meringue dessert)
FUN FACT: The famous Christmas carol "Silent Night" was written in Oberndorf.
The rugged beauty of CARINTHIA is shaped by hundreds of splendid lakes in a landscape of deep valleys and high peaks—most notably the Grossglockner, Austria's largest mountain. The nearby Pasterze Glacier can be reached by funicular railway. A wonderful summer destination, Carinthia’s charming villages host festivals complete with folk music and performers from nearby Italy and Slovenia. The walled villages of Friesach and Gmund are a treat, as is the impressive hilltop fortress in Hochosterwitz.
TERRAIN: Lakes, mountains
BEST EVENT: Spectaculum Medieval Festival, Friesach
BEST OLD THING: Hochosterwitz Castle, near St. Veit an der Glan
BEST NEW THING: Museum Liaunig
BEST UNUSUAL MUSEUM: Porsche Museum, Gmund
BEST OUTDOOR ACTIVITY: Horseback riding, Nockberge National Park
WHAT TO DO: Visit the Heinrich Harrer Museum about Tibet in Hüttenberg
WHAT NOT TO MISS: The Grossglockner High Alpine Road
WHAT TO TASTE: Carinthian cheese noodles
FUN FACT: At Minimundus, travel the world in a day as you stroll past 150 miniature models of the world’s most famous buildings.
TIROL exudes charm in its familiar chalets and such revered Alpine traditions as thigh-slapping, an honored form of dance here. Innsbruck and Kufstein are gems, where mountainside castles and medieval backstreets compete with the jaw-dropping Alps for attention. One of the great skiing centers of the world, Tirol boasts legendary ski resorts in Kitzbühel, Mayrhofen, and St. Anton.
BEST EVENT: Festival of Early Music, late July
BEST OLD THING: Innsbruck's Golden Roof
BEST NEW THING: Zaha Hadid’s funicular stations in Innsbruck
BEST UNUSUAL MUSEUM: Skiing Museum, St. Anton
BEST OUTDOOR ACTIVITY: Skiing, of course!
WHAT TO DO: Ride the old-fashioned Zillerthalbahn locomotive
WHAT NOT TO MISS: A stop at the Aquadome, a futuristic thermal spa in Langenlois
WHAT TO TASTE: Tiroler Gröstl mit Spiegelei (Roasted Potatoes with minced meat and fried egg)
FUN FACT: The 5,300-year-old "Iceman" Ötzi is named after the Ötztal in Tirol.
Independent-minded VORARLBERG conjures a scene of castles amid tranquil lakes and thundering rivers, densely wooded hills and wintry crags. Throughout the Bregenzerwald are villages studded with granite church spires and dairies. This region is famous for its cheese. And, increasingly, architecture. Nudging up against bucolic farmhouses are the Bauhaus offspring: modernist houses with pale wood, glass walls, and clean lines. Bregenz and its legendary stage on Lake Constance reflect a glorious blend of the old and the new.
TERRAIN: Mountains, lakes
BEST EVENT: Bregenz Festival
BEST OLD THING: St. Martin's Tower, Bregenz
BEST NEW THING: Kunsthaus Bregenz
BEST UNUSUAL MUSEUM: Embroidery Museum, Lustenau
BEST OUTDOOR ACTIVITY: Bike along the shores of Lake Constance from Bregenz to the island of Lindau in Germany.
WHAT TO DO: Take in the beautiful landscape along the Bregenzerwald Cheese Road
WHAT NOT TO MISS: A performance on the floating stage of the Bregenz Festival
WHAT TO TASTE: Käsknöpfle (Spaetzle)
FUN FACT: Vorarlberg has the largest Rolls-Royce museum in the world, in Dornbirn.