There are many things to do in Austria! Here are some highlights from my trip.
Austria has long been on my list of places to visit. This past summer, I spent six nights in this captivating country. I traveled by train from Gstaad to meet up with Mike in Zurich where we stayed one night before driving into Austria. We spent two nights in Salzburg, two nights in Innsbruck, and a final two nights in an area of Vorarlberg known as the Bregenzerwald. I was blown away by the beauty of the landscape, the wonderfully fresh food, and the pride and friendliness of Austrians. I’m sharing some of my most memorable experiences as well as things to do in Austria.
After surviving the Autobahn and a lot of construction, Mike and I arrived in Salzburg just in time for a quick check-in at Hotel Imlauer, and then we headed out for a city tour. Before we began wandering around, our guide, Michaela, was kind enough to take us for some of the most delicious street food we’d ever eaten. (We were starving!) Sausage and sauerkraut, it was, just like the locals have it, with mustard and the roll on the side.
Now that our tummies were full, our brains were working again, and our feet were ready to move.
Salzburg is the birthplace of Mozart, and like Bern, Switzerland, it feels like a perfect size city – not too large and not too small. The few days I was there I imagined living in Salzburg because this town seemed incredibly easy to live in. The city is bustling and thriving and has a cosmopolitan feel, but it’s ringed by the Alps, so the views are magnificent from every angle. I love how the city is connected by several small pedestrian-friendly bridges. Here I am walking over the Mozart Footbridge.
The Old Town of Salzburg is fabulously preserved. Ornamental signs above the storefronts help unify the streetscape and designate this section of town as the old city. Like any metropolitan area, you’ll find chain stores, but you’ll also find countless local boutiques, taverns, and restaurants to choose from. I found Salzburg to be leisurely and laid-back. I welcomed the slower pace.
Besides roaming around town, one of the highlights of my time in Salzburg was the Museum of Modern Art Monchsberg and then descending the mountain when I left the museum. To get to this clifftop museum, take the lift, or if you’re feeling ambitious (I wasn’t that day!), you can walk up in about 15 minutes. We rode the elevator and toured the museum and then soaked up the spectacular views of Old City. After which, we walked down via one of the trails and some stairs.
Another favorite moment was eating lunch at Café Classic. Yes, it’s a coffeehouse and patisserie, but the other food offerings are tasty too. This charming café is located in Mozart’s house on Makart Platz. We had a delightful mid-day meal on the rear patio, which leads to a lush garden. I recommend the schnitzel, and of course, coffee and one of Café Classic’s yummy pastries for dessert.
Besides Mozart, Salzburg is widely known for the Mirabell Palace and Gardens, and it’s easy to understand why. Photos don’t capture the beauty of this wide open space, the statues, and lush, colorful plantings. While Mirabell Palace used to be a place for concerts, the grand structure now serves as a beautiful backdrop for weddings as well as a location for awards ceremonies. And here’s a fun fact: The “Do-Re-Mi” scene in The Sound of Music was shot here. I could’ve spent all day gazing at the plaza or sitting in it.
A trip to Salzburg is worth it for the Baroque architecture alone. The DomQuartier was once the center of power for the archbishops, but now the complex, which includes monastery, cathedral, and residence are open to the public.
Salzburg is a lovely, accessible city. I’d love to go back and explore more! But now, we’re off….
The photos of Innsbruck tell all, but if I’m honest, they don’t truly capture the beauty of this town.
You probably remember that Innsbruck was the location of the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976, as well as the Olympic Youth Games in 2012. It’s no secret that this area of Western Austria offers incredible skiing and other winter sports, but there’s so much more here – history, great food, local wine, art and culture, shops, and enchanting parks.
We dropped off our bags at Hotel Innsbruck before meeting our guide, Monika, who was amazing. She was unbelievably knowledgeable and passionate about Innsbruck – it was easy to tell how much she adores her hometown. She met us upon arrival in her authentic Austrian dress and immediately took us to Strudel Café Kroll, for you guessed it – strudel! I had never tasted savory strudel before, and though I had eaten sweet strudel, it was never as good as this. I don’t know that I’ll ever look at strudel in the US the same way again.
I found myself staring at the mountains nonstop – it was hard not to. I wondered, how do I get up there? It turns out, the top of the Nordkette Mountains is a short ride away by gondola. Ascend from historic Old Town Innsbruck and reach 6,500 feet in only 20 minutes. If you didn’t know it already, here’s where you’ll realize that you are indeed in Austria. Monika took us to the top, and the views were spectacular.
Monika escorted me all over town, and one of my favorite spots – the Hofgarten – is a stunning park in the middle of the city. This outdoor space is a fantastic place to relax, picnic, or play a game.
Monika also gave me a tour of the fascinating Grassmayr Bell Foundry and Museum (founded in 1599 and owned by her family), Markt Halle, a farmer’s market with fresh everything (don’t go hungry!), Ambras Castle, where the exterior was as impressive as the interior, and she showed Mike and me the ins and outs as well as the hotspots around Old Town.
Mike and I felt like we’d known Monika for years after spending just two afternoons with her. Since the trip, we’ve been in touch by email, and I hope that we’ll remain friends and connect in the future. Here’s Monika at work, talking about her family’s bell foundry. 🙂
I’d love to go back to Innsbruck in the wintertime because I bet this town is magical in the snow. But for my summer visit, a highlight was attending one of the 23rd Promenade Concerts that entertain locals every evening in July. Mike and I watched and listened while having dinner at the famed Café Sacher in the courtyard of the Hofburg Imperial Palace. Talk about an evening to remember.
I started by sipping an Aperol Spritz (a trendy drink in Austria!) and then spared no calories as I savored traditional Austrian food paired with local wine, all the while listening to the concert. It was a picture-perfect night (the rain held off), and one of my most romantic outings during my travels. For obvious reasons, classical music is a huge deal in Austria, and I felt blessed to experience both Café Sacher and live music simultaneously. Tons of locals wandered into the concert as the evening progressed. Watching them and the glee on their faces was almost as invigorating as the music itself. And the bonus: all promenade concerts are free.
We couldn’t resist a slice of the Famed Viennese Sachertorte. In case you’re wondering, this chocolate cake that’s been feeding Austrians and visitors from around the world since 1832, and it’s well worth every calorie.
I fell in love with Innsbruck, can’t you tell? But it’s time to get on the move again….
The Bregenzerwald (Bregenz Forest) in Vorarlberg
I knew little about the Bregenzerwald before I arrived. I’d read that the area was a collection of villages not far from the Swiss border. I knew it would be quiet and the polar opposite of Salzburg and Innsbruck, and I was correct. I didn’t realize how picturesque this region of Austria would be. Also, I didn’t know what to expect regarding food or culture, but I was in for a pleasant surprise.
After hours of driving our compact Audi through a series of twists and turns and peaks and valleys, at last, we made it to Bizau, one of the tiny villages and also where the quaint Biohotel Schwanen is located. We’d stay here for two nights and eat our morning and evening meals at the inn. More on The Biohotel in a bit.
The day we arrived, we met up with our guide, Samuel, who drove us to “The Ship” at the RomantikHotel das Schiff in Hittasau. We relaxed on the patio and indulged in a multi-course lunch at a shop-meets-restaurant called “s’Ernele.” Soon after we sat down, the sky began to open up so we shifted our seats until we were entirely covered by umbrellas. Eventually, the rain gave up as we continued eating our meat-focused meal of veal sausage, beefsteak, and lamb. Our lunch rivaled some of the most exquisite meals I’ve had anywhere including New York.
The farm-to-table movement stands front and center here, and it’s why every bite we tasted was incredibly fresh and delicious. The food in the Bregenzerwald is local, like from the backyard local. Chances are the herbs and vegetables are grown in an on-site garden, and the meat and dairy come from livestock that’s raised down the road or up in the mountains. At s’Ernele, for example, all ingredients originate within a 60-mile radius.
From the moment of that first lunch, I knew that I was going to love the Bregenzerwald. After our meal, I had the pleasure of meeting Chef Felix Gross and then getting a tour of the restaurant and the amazing cheese cellar. And all this was within the first few hours of arrival.
Vorarlberg, which is very close to Switzerland (it’s about 45 minutes from the Bregenzerwald to the border and a two-hour drive from Zurich airport), requires a car to get around and explore. Adventurous travelers also get around by bike. Our guide Samuel drove us from village to village, painting a crystal clear picture of the culture and lifestyle of the Bregenzerwald.
We rode the Bezau cable car and hiked until we could see Lake Constance and Niedere. We watched cows and goats graze among miles of breathtaking Alpine scenery. We stopped and had a snack at a rustic spot way up on the mountain before catching the gondola back to the villages.
We ate an excellent lunch at Jagdsgasthaus Egender in Schönenbach – including a local and sinful noodle dish with tons of cheese known as “Kasknopfle” – where we shared a table with a couple who had hiked from Germany that day.
We browsed cute shops, then stopped at the renowned Hotel Post for coffee and the best Linz tart I’ll probably ever eat.
The Biohotel Schwanen, where we stayed, is family owned and operated, and it turns out that owner and sommelier Emanuel Moosbrugger lived and worked in New York City. His mom Antonia runs the all-women kitchen, putting out plate after plate of Instagram-worthy delights. Our final night at the inn, we had the “Wild Women” 7-course tasting menu with wine pairings, and what an extraordinary meal that was. Two of my favorite courses were a trio of soup paired with an Icelandic Ale and a salad with a deep-fried soft egg. (I know what you’re thinking – two days, and all this food?) Yes, it was a trip of food and drink.
The Bregenzerwald isn’t only for foodies, though, it’s also for the creative set. Art, architecture, and craftsmanship are an essential aspect of the way of life here. Buildings are thoughtfully constructed of local materials from the forest, and even the bus stops strike a design chord. Architects from seven different countries partnered with seven local architects to design seven unique bus stops in the village of Krumbach. The juxtaposition of the modern structures against the vivid Alpine landscape practically felt surreal. I’d expect designs like these in a major city, but not in a rural area like the Bregenz Forest.
This slice of Western Austrian is indeed a hidden gem. Every turn revealed more allure, more nature, and more reason to return to the Bregenzerwald…..Until we meet again!
My trip to Austria was six short nights and gave me only a taste of what this country offers. Many thanks to Austria Tourism, Salzburg Tourism, Innsbruck Tourism, and Vorarlberg Tourism for sponsoring parts of this amazing journey.