Things to Do in Austrian Alps
Notable for its blob-like architecture, the Kunsthaus Graz Art Museum (or just Kunsthaus Graz) was built as part of the city’s 2003 celebrations as the European Capital of Culture. The museum was constructed as part of the 19th century Iron House building, one of the first cast iron buildings in Europe. The famous exterior is comprised of nearly 1300 iridescent blue acrylic panels with almost a thousand 40-watt lightbulbs, creating a massive screen in the middle of the city. Known to some locals as the Friendly Alien, the museum covers 27,000 square feet and specializes in contemporary art, design, new media, film and photography. It regularly hosts events and exhibitions that highlight worldwide trends in art.
The state-of-the-art Hungerburg Railway (Hungerburgbahn) is a hybrid funicular connecting Innsbruck to the mountain suburb of Hungerburg. More than just a transport link, it’s also an architectural landmark—the Zaha Hadid–designed stations are space-age masterpieces that draw as many visitors as the railway itself.
Just an hour’s drive outside of Salzburg lies the alpine town of Berchtesgaden and the historic Eagle’s Nest (Kehlsteinhaus), Adolf Hitler’s mountaintop chalet and the former southern headquarters of the Nazi party. Perched atop Mt. Kehlstein, Eagle’s Nest offers a dark history and panoramic views of Germany’s Bavarian Alps.
The Styrian Armory in Graz is the world’s largest historic army, holding 32,000 pieces of weaponry, tools and suits of armor. Built between 1642 and 1645, the armory stood on the front lines for Austria’s battles with the Ottoman Empire and Hungarian rebels for the next few centuries. One of the most visited of the dozen museums that comprise the Universalmuseum Joanneum, the Armory features exhibitions on four floors, arranged in a way reminiscent of a 17th century arsenal. On the first floor, visitors will find cannons, mortars and muskets from the 16th to 18th centuries, while the second floor focuses on helmets, suits of armor and pistols. The third floor shows off more armor, including German-made armor and equestrian armor for nobles. Finally, the fourth floor is home to staff weapons such as morning stars, halberds and pikes used by foot soldiers, as well as swords and sabres once used by horsemen.
Built in 1077, Austria’s Hohensalzburg Fortress (Festung Hohensalzburg) is one of the largest fully-preserved castles in Central Europe. Here you can enjoy incredible countryside views and guided tours of the baroque state rooms, lookout towers, and museum collections.
Part of Salzburg’s UNESCO World Heritage–listed historic center, Mirabell Palace (Schloss Mirabell) enjoys a rich royal history, as well as a place in movie legend: it was one of the filming sites forThe Sound of Music. Built by Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich in 1606, the palace is most famous for its magnificent baroque gardens.
Built in the early 17th century, Hellbrunn Palace (Schloss Hellbrunn) served as a summer retreat for the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Its baroque exterior conceals an exuberant interior made for entertaining, though the real draws are the whimsical trick fountains (Wasserspiele) in the gardens, which spew water from unexpected places.
Amid the brightly painted buildings and historic monuments of Innsbruck’s Old Town, one landmark shines brighter than all the others. Standing proud over Herzog-Friedrich-Strasse, the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl) is the dramatic focal point of the 15th-century New Court (Neuhof) building and glitters with 2,657 gilded copper tiles.
Themed around one of Austria’s best-known exports, Swarovski Crystal Worlds (Swarovski Kristallwelten) is a dazzling attraction devoted to sparkling crystals. Twinkling exhibitions created by contemporary artists and designers, together with a playground, play tower, and hand-shaped hedge maze, make for a family-friendly day out.
Salzburg’s Cathedral (Dom zu Salzburg) is a restrained exercise in classic Italian Baroque, topped with green bronze domes. Mozart was baptized here, and the building was completed in 1628.
Cathedral highlights include the light-filled atrium and dome, the crypt with its Romanesque foundations and tombs, and the statues of angels surrounding the altar.
The Cathedral Museum tells the history of the Dom’s construction and artworks.
More Things to Do in Austrian Alps
Salzburg’s Old Town (Salzburger Altstadt or Altstadt Salzburg) is the historical and navigational heart of the city, a maze of medieval streets stretching along the banks of the Salzach River. The birthplace of Austrian composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Salzburg’s atmospheric Altstadt is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site and overlooked by the hilltop Hohensalzburg Fortress.
The Graz Schlossberg is a public park on a hill in the center of the city of Graz that has been home to fortifications as far back as the 10th century. A fortress stood on the hill from the middle of the 16th century to the 19th century, with only the clock tower and bell tower spared by an invading Napoleon. The remains of the castle became a public park in 1839 including the two towers, a cistern and a couple bastions from the destroyed castle.
A great walking tour of the Schlossberg starts at the bottom of the hill at Schlossbergplatz, from where visitors can take the 19th century Schlossbergbahn funicular or the newer Schlossberg lift to reach the top of the hill. Once at the top, check out the bell tower, climb to the top of the clock tower for scenic views of the Old Town and relax at one of the several cafes. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to catch a concert in what was once the cellar of one of the old bastions. Head back down to the Schlossbergplatz via one of several footpaths or staircases and then check out the extensive system of tunnels underneath the Schlossberg that was created during World War II.
The largest outdoor adventure park in Austria and one of the biggest in all of Europe, Area 47 offers visitors extreme adventure and adrenaline-fueled activities in a safe environment. You can journey through gorges, into deep caves, and through wild white-water rapids, and even transform yourself into a human cannonball.
Back in the Middle Ages, the city of Graz was a center of commerce and trade in Central Europe and its main square – the Hauptplaz – was home to dozens of traders, hosting weekly markets. The size of the trapezoidal shaped square was cut in half by the addition of the town hall in the 16th century. Today, the town hall dominates the southern part of the square while other notable buildings include the 17th century Luegg House with an impressive stucco façade, the five-story White House with a sandstone relief of the Virgin Mary, the 16th century Eagle Pharmacy and the 14th century Palais Sturgkh. A fountain and statue of Archduke Johann was added in 1878 and today the stalls surrounding the fountain are a throwback to the square’s medieval origins. In 2002, the square was redesigned to add a large open area in front of the town hall that is used for events throughout the year.
Nonnberg Abbey (Stift Nonnberg) is a Benedictine nunnery with a landmark spire in the center of Salzburg and is perhaps best known throughout the world as the home of the troublesome novice nun Maria in The Sound of Music, the magical movie that celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015. Nonnberg Convent sits tucked under the Hohensalzburg Fortress and was founded somewhere around 715 AD; the nunnery is the oldest constantly inhabited convent in Europe and its complex of buildings consists of the abbey, convent, chapels, church, cloisters and refectory, all built in a charming jumble of Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architectural styles.
Nonnberg Abbey’s main church of Maria Himmelfahrt is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is Gothic in style, adorned with gleaming stained-glass windows and a series of biblically themed paintings. Largely rebuilt after a fire in 1423, the church nevertheless retains fragments of its original Byzantine and Romanesque frescoes in the choir.
Framing the northern horizon of Innsbruck, the jagged peaks of the North Chain (Nordkette) range are a natural playground for hikers, climbers, and adventurers. The central Hafelekar Mountain (Hafelekarspitze), accessible by cable car, is the gateway to the mountains, with views that expand over the Innsbruck valley and the surrounding Austrian Alps.
The house where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756, Mozart’s Birthplace (Mozart’s Geburtshaus) stands on Getreidegasse, the main shopping street in Salzburg’s Old Town (Altstadt). One of Austria’s most beloved museums, this ocher-painted town house is a must for first-time visitors to the city.
On the sunny slopes of the Hungerburg plateau, surrounded by snow-capped Alpine peaks, the Alpine Zoo Innsbruck (Alpenzoo Innsbruck) is a unique wildlife reserve with a spectacular setting. Devoted to protecting native Tyrolean wildlife, the zoo is home to more than 2,000 animals, with over 150 different Alpine species represented.
An architectural landmark, legendary sporting venue, and tourist attraction all rolled into one, the Bergisel Ski Jump is one of Innsbruck’s most visited sites. As well as hosting international winter sports events, the ski-jump tower affords a spectacular panoramic view of Innsbruck and the surrounding Tyrolean mountains.
In the heart of Salzburg’s Old Town, St. Peter’s Abbey (or Stift Sankt Peter) is known for its cemetery and ancient lineage, dating back to the 800s. The Benedictine monastery’s abbey church has a Romanesque structure and lavish rococo interior.
The abbey library is a treasure trove of musical manuscripts, and the abbey also houses a prized collection of artworks, musical instruments and treasures. In the abbey cemetery lie the tombs of Mozart’s beloved sister and the brother of Haydn.
While you’re here, visit the Stiftskeller St. Peter restaurant, in the abbey cellars. Mentioned in a document from the year 803, it is thought to be one of the oldest hostelries in Europe and is an atmospheric choice for a night out in Salzburg.
Eggenberg Palace (Schloss Eggenberg) is one of the most important Baroque palaces in Austria and a must-see for visitors to Graz. Once home to the most powerful dynasty in the Austrian state of Styria, the palace dates back to at least the 15th century. Renovations in the 18th century added Rococo style ornamentation, as well as three East Asian cabinets, while the 19th century saw the formal Baroque garden transformed into a romantic English style garden. The palace features 365 exterior windows, representing the number of days in a year, with 24 windows on the second floor, representing the number of hours in a day. Inside, more than 600 paintings in the state rooms depict the history of the world with scenes from Roman and Greek mythology, the Old Testament and various European legends. Paintings in the Planetary Room depict the elements, planets and signs of the zodiac.
In addition to the state rooms, visitors can explore the Alte Galerie, a collection of European art from the medieval to early modern periods, the Coin Cabinet and the Archaeology Museum.
Perched above Austria’s forested Inntal Valley, 16th-century Tratzberg Castle is one of the Tirol’s most impressive Renaissance and Gothic castles. Guided tours of this one-time defensive outpost take you on a journey through its history, and the lives of the Habsburg emperors and medieval merchants who once lived here.
Dating back to the 15th century, the Imperial Palace (Hofburg) was among the lavish imperial residences of the Hapsburg dynasty. Redesigned by Empress Maria Theresa in the 18th century, it’s a feast of baroque and rococo style, adorned with gleaming marble, glittering gold, and elaborate frescoes.
Built by Ferdinand I in 1553 and part of the grand Hofburg Imperial Palace, the magnificent Court Church (Hofkirche) is among the highlights of Innsbruck Old Town. The star attraction of the church, an impressive example of Gothic architecture, is the elaborate cenotaph of Maximilian I, which dominates the main aisle.
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