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Austria


 

 

 
Mini guide to Austria

Landlocked and largely Alpine, Austria was once the centre of a vast European empire, stretching as far as Spain. It left behind an incredible legacy of Baroque architecture, music, and art. Nowadays, it attracts skiers and opera lovers.

For centuries, Vienna was the centre of Europe, and the mighty Hapsburg empire left behind a city of grandeur, with a pedestrianised centre, grand buildings and elegant opera houses. The enormous Hofburg (Imperial Palace) is the result of six centuries of Hapsburg rule, including the 13th-century Schweizerhof (Swiss courtyard) from which the earliest keep dates. Its interiors are palatial, including several well-stocked museums. The Stephansdom is recognized by its multicoloured chevron tiles and latticework spire – affording visitors a good city view and the massive Kunsthistorisches Museum is exhausting but thorough.

Near the city, the grandiose Schloss Schönbrunn is another palatial palace with a massive garden, perfectly manicured and sculpture together with its own zoo (the world’s oldest).

Salzburg is “Mozart territory”, and gets busy in the summer. Straddling the Salzach river and squeezed between hills its stunning location is accentuated by baroque churches, plazas and fountains, medieval spires, and Mozart opportunists. This quaint town is disproportionate to its importance as a centre of Baroque art and music, but it packs in a lot and can easily be explored on foot. The impressive 11th-century Hohensalzburg Castle offers excellent views, perched on one of the hills, and is historically interesting. Nightly there are classical concerts to supplement the Mozart museum, birthplace, former house and many other “Wolfie” legends. Just south of Salzburg's old town is the 17th-century Hellbrunn Palace, with its cheeky secret fountains that are sure to give you an unwanted soak.

Most visitors head for these two jewels, but if you wish to escape the crowds you might find respite in Linz and Gras. Hardly on the tourist map, they are, nonetheless, historic and busy Austrian cities quietly going about their business.

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