Austria is a small country in central Europe famous for its beautiful scenery on the one hand – lots of green views and snow-capped mountains which are a heaven for skiers – and its rich culture on the other hand: castles, churches, museums and lots of music. The variety of attractions in the country is so great that anyone will find something to love about it.
Austria is an ideal country for family holidays. It may not have any big famous amusement parks or an enormous water park, but it has fascinating and unique sites: ice caves, mines with slides and small underground trains, castles, palaces, alpine slides, beautiful lakes, cable cars, glaciers, waterfalls, and zoos.
There are also plenty of opportunities for active vacation including an adventure park, rafting, zorbing, and more. Thanks to Austria’s small size, you can travel all over the country between attractions without wasting too much time on the road and without having to stay in more than one place of lodging.
Full name of country: Republik Österreich (The Republic of Austria).
83,870 square kilometres
74% Catholic, 5% Protestant, 4% Muslim
System of government:
The official language of the country is German. Different parts of the country have various second languages: Slovenian, Croatian and Hungarian (each is an official secondary language in a different area).
International country code:
Vienna (the population of the greater Vienna area is 2,041,300).
Austria is a country in central Europe which does not border the sea. It borders eight countries: The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Slovenia and Lichtenstein.
The country is made up of nine provinces: Salzburg, Tyrol, Styria, Carinthia, Burgenland, Lower Austria, Upper Austria, Vorarlberg, and Vienna.
Most of Austria’s terrain is mountainous. The Alps make up 75% of the country. Austria has mountains capped with snow all year round, glaciers, and fields of snow. The country is full of lakes (natural and artificial) and rivers. The largest river in Austria is the Danube river, the second longest river in Europe. The Danube Valley is the most prosperous area of Austria.
46% of the country’s surface is covered in forests, making it one of the greenest countries in Europe.
1156 (from Bavaria)
Austrian cuisine is heavily influenced by those of south-east Europe, particularly Hungary, Serbia and Romania. The most popular foods are wienerschnitzel, tafelspitz (boiled beef in broth – considered the ‘national food’), and goulash. Austria is also known for its excellent sweet pastries, especially apple pie and chocolate cakes. Austrian coffee is also known far and wide to be excellent.
Economy: Austria has a strong, stable economy and its citizens have a high standard of living.
The unemployment rate is below 5% and the rate of inflation is on average 1% a year.
It is one of the leading countries at producing electricity using water. The country has many natural resources and a highly developed industry.
Austria joined the European Union in 1995, along with Sweden and Finland.
It is a popular tourist destination, especially thanks to its winter sports options.
As Austria is a Catholic majority country, it celebrates all the Christian holidays, such as New Year’s Day, Christmas and Easter.
Other holidays celebrated in the country are:
January 6th – Epiphany
May 1st – Labour Day
August 15th – Assumption of Mary
October 26th – Austrian National Day
November 1st – All Saints’ Day
December 8th – Feast of the Immaculate Conception
Austria is well-known for its many great yearly festivals, especially Salzburg and Vienna’s music festivals.
The most popular sports in Austria are winter sports, particularly skiing and snowboarding. Austria has over 800 ski sites with 22,000km of ski courses.
Austrians are also known for their love of walking, biking and swimming.
The weather in Austria changes significantly depending on the area and especially depending on altitude. The tall Alps are colder than the lake areas in Carinthia in the south of the country. Rainfall is heavier in the west of the country than it is in the east.
In the summer, the temperature is fairly comfortable, although the number of hot days (over 28 degrees Celsius) goes up every year. The heat and humidity in the summer is not helped by the fact that most places (shops, restaurants, public transport, etc) are not air-conditioned. Rain may fall at any time of the year. Winter is cold and snowy.
More information about weather can be found here.
When to visit:
Lovers of winter sports should of course visit in the snowy winter months, though a few ski sites are open even in summer.
The optimal time for a family holiday is between May and October, when all tourist sites are open and you can combine trips out to nature and active vacation.
Even at the height of tourist season in July and August, Austria is still an excellent destination for families, as you do not feel crowded and there are no long lines at the popular attractions.
How long to stay:
Austria is full of great family attractions in various provinces. Families should visit for at least a week. If you would like to visit several provinces, I recommend staying for ten days to two weeks.
Vienna airport (Wien-Schwechat, initials: VIE) is located 20km southeast of the city.
Salzburg airport (Maxglan, initials: SZG) is 4km west of the city.
Innsbruck airport (Kranebitten, initials: INN) is 5km west of the city.
Graz airport (initials: GRZ) is 10km away from the city.
There is also an airport in Linz and another one in Klagenfurt.
Austria has a great network of trains, both nationally and internationally. Austria itself has 5,700km of railroads. There are significant discounts for children (kids under 6 ride free, kids between 6 and 15 half price) and discount ticket packages. Information about train lines, train stops and prices can be found here.
With the exception of Vienna, where it is best to use public transport and travel without a car, the cheapest and easiest option for families is to travel in a rental car. Roads in Austria are excellent. Signs are in German only, but they are clear and it is easy find your way. Most of the freeways are toll roads. You will need to purchase a special sticker called a vignette (for 7.60 Euro per ten days) which is a form of road tax. You can purchase a vignette at gas stations, shops close to border passages, post offices, and branches of the OEAMTC. Anyone caught driving on the freeways without a vignette will be fined rather severely (220 Euro as of 2006). Mountain passages require another fairly hefty fee.
The speed limit on the freeways is 130kmph, 100kmph on intercity highways and 50kmph inside cities.
10 interesting facts about Austria:
♦ Eisriesenwelt Cave, whose name means ‘world of the ice giants’ in English, is the biggest ice cave in the world.
♦ The tallest peak in Austria is Grossglockner, at 3,797 metres. Its name means ‘big bell’.
♦ The famous musical The Sound of Music starring Julie Andrews was filmed in Austria. It is based on the true story of the Austrian Von Trapp family.
♦ Salzburg is the birthplace of the famous composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart’s house still stands in the old quarter of the city, close to the market.
♦ In the 16th century, the Austrian Empire included Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Holland, Spain, and parts of Italy and Yugoslavia.
♦ Innsbruck, the capital of Tyrol, serves as a European centre for winter sports. The Winter Olympics of 1964 and 1976 took place there.
♦ The zoo in Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna is the oldest zoo in the world. It was established in 1752.
♦ Roughly half of Austria is covered in forests.
♦ The Austrian flag is one of the oldest national flags in the world.
♦ Vienna’s Central Cemetery has over 2.5 million tombs (more than the city’s present population), including those of Beethoven, Brahms, Gluck, Schubert, Schoenberg and Strauss.