Landlocked in the heart of Europe, Austria runs from the Alps in the west down to Vienna and the Danube in the east. For six centuries it was the heart of the mighty Hapsburg Empire, which at its peak included what is now Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic along with much of Romania, Bulgaria and the Balkans. The country's imperial inheritance is particularly striking in the grand buildings and cultural institutions of the Baroque-flavoured capital, Vienna, resplendent with palaces and captivating churches, cosy coffeehouses and inns, and grand ballrooms where Strauss waltzes still draw dancers onto the floor.
Another of the great classical composers spawned by Austria was Mozart, born in Salzburg, a beautiful historic city where stunning Baroque churches rise up against the backdrop of the Austrian Alps. The Alps stretch west to Switzerland and in winter skiers come from all continents to carve the slopes and experience the charm of the alpine villages and their welcoming inhabitants.
The charm of Austria may lie in its preservation of a romantic classical past, but this does not mean modern Austria has stood back from development. Behind the stunning scenery and antique architecture a vibrant industrial and commercial society goes about its business in the cities and towns. Austrians work hard, but they also know how to play hard. Austrian hospitality and cuisine are legendary. From a cruise on the magnificent Danube River to a cycle tour through the Alpine meadows or a breath-taking day's sightseeing in busy Vienna, visitors to Austria find it impossible to fit in a dull moment.
The unit of currency is the Euro (EUR), which is divided into
100 cents. Currency can be exchanged at banks and bureaux de change
available in all towns, but it may be easier to use the ATMs. Banks
are closed on Saturdays and Sundays, but exchange offices at
airports and major city rail terminals are open seven days a week.
Major credit and debit cards are widely accepted though some small
hotels and restaurants may only accept cash. Travellers cheques are
|EUR 1 =||US$ 1.27||Â£ 0.83||C$ 1.29||A$ 1.23||R 10.70||EUR 1.00||NZ$ 1.60|
Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.
No vaccinations are necessary for business visits or general tourism in Austria. There is, however, a risk of tick-borne encephalitis for long-term visitors who expect to be visiting rural or forested areas in spring or summer. These travellers should consider vaccination and ensure they take precautions against tick infestation. Water and food are safe. Medical facilities are excellent. Medical insurance is advised unless from the UK - citizens of EU countries can get free emergency medical treatment at public hospitals in Austria on production of a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Bird flu was found in dead swans in the southern province of Styria in February 2006 and stringent measures were taken to contain the outbreak. The risk is very low for travellers, but all close contact with wild, domestic and caged birds should be avoided, and all poultry and egg dishes well cooked as a precaution.
The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. Valid passports are required.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
Austrian National Tourist Office, Vienna: +43 (0)1 588 660 or www.austria.info
Foreign Embassies in Austria
It is difficult not to be moved to hum a Brahms lullaby or a Strauss waltz as you explore the sights of Austria's beautiful Baroque capital, Vienna, which for centuries was the centre of the splendid Hapsburg Empire. The city remains infused with the grand imperial spirit in the form of magnificent palaces and grand mansions peppering the Innerestadt. The city's cultural heritage is mainly musical, the great composers like Strauss, Brahms, Beethoven, Schubert, Haydn and Mozart all having lived and performed here. Today the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the State Opera House help keep alive the city's tradition by offering more classical music performances a year than any other city in the world.
Vienna is a city of music, but it is also synonymous with gourmet fare, cream cakes, superb coffee, the angelic strains of the Vienna Boys' Choir and the proud prancing of the Lippizaner stallions at the world-famous Spanish Riding School.
Vienna started out as a Celtic settlement on the banks of the Danube and became one of the Roman's most important central European bases. Its central location on the strategic river contributed to the city becoming a mighty empire, reaching its peak during the tumultuous reign of the dazzling Hapsburg dynasty. At the end of the 19th century the golden age of empire began to decline as Vienna's coffee houses filled with radical intellectuals like Freud, Klimt and Mahler. The Second World War Nazi occupation left scars, but Vienna survived it all to remain a captivating capital that blends Italian romanticism with a Germanic orderliness.
Most of the city's tourist attractions are within the largely pedestrianised inner city area, which was once enclosed by the city walls. The walls have been replaced with the Ringstrasse, a wide ring road. Further out in the suburbs is the thrilling Prater amusement park with its massive ferris wheel, and the opulent Schonbrunn summer palace. Visitors also should not miss a trip to the Vienna Woods, peppered with ancient 'heuringen' (wine taverns).
Until 1816 Salzburg was a city-state, independent of the Hapsburgs and ruled by powerful prince-archbishops. It is situated on the northern border of Austria, 70 miles (113km) southeast of Munich, in a picturesque setting surrounded by mountains. Mozart was born here and the city's fascination with its most famous son is best demonstrated during the Salzburg Festival, which presents world-class performances of opera, drama and concerts each summer. Even the non-musically minded will find it difficult to avoid Mozart's impression on the town - his image is on every postcard and chocolate box and both his birthplace and family house are now museums offering detailed insight into his life and work.
The city is also the home town of Baroque and the south side of the river is a Baroque masterpiece of charming churches, squares, houses and fountains. The original buildings were cleared in the late 1500s by Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau in order to create a 'German Rome'. All sights are within walking distance from the spacious old city (Altstadt), which is now largely pedestrianised. A few miles to the south of the city are the historic towns of Hallein and Werfen and to the west are the lakes of Salzberger, which are especially worth visiting during the spring and summer when the wild flowers are out.
The vast majority of tourists visiting Austria head straight for one of its cosy alpine villages in the Tirol region. Among the wooded mountains is some of the world's best skiing. Unlike many French and Swiss resorts, most resorts in Austria are real, friendly villages on the valley floor and despite expanding enormously over the last 20 years the development has generally been in good taste, with traditional-looking chalets perched among the ancient, domed churches. Austrian resorts are also more fun and welcoming than many in the Alps; the Austrians know how to enjoy themselves and don't find it demeaning to speak their guest's language. However many Austrian resorts lie fairly low and experience unreliable snowfall. To ensure guaranteed good skiing it is best to head for the western edges of the Tirol, to St Anton, Lech or ZÃ¼rs, which all have extensive skiing and more reliable snowfall. The ski season runs from December to April but the villages remain bustling in the summer, when the valleys are filled with climbers and walkers who come to enjoy some of the breathtaking scenery.
Though less well-known than Vienna and Salzburg, Innsbruck is one of Austria's largest and most interesting cities, home to more than 100,000 people. Despite its size though, the Alpine city oozes small-town charm and makes a great base for exploring the many popular mountain and ski resorts in the Alps. Visitors to Innsbruck will be struck by its picturesque location, affording spectacular views of the region, and by the dazzling displays of sparkling stones at Swarovski Crystal World, one of its most popular attractions.
Established in the Stone Age, Innsbruck has at various times been the property of Rome, Bavaria, Germany and finally Austria. The capital of the Tirol province, the city's beautiful buildings are reminders of its history with Renaissance-style castles, Baroque cathedrals and Gothic monuments, including the Imperial Palace, Ambras Castle, and the Cathedral St Jacob.
There is much to see and do in Innsbruck. The city boasts a number of museums dedicated to art, history and science; many parks and zoos; and plenty of shopping malls and markets. Innsbruck is the cultural heart of the Austrian Alps, and hosts a world-class opera along with a wide range of restaurants, live music venues, bars and clubs. The two universities and numerous colleges in town ensure a lively nightlife.
For many tourists, however, Innsbruck is simply a port of call on the road to the powdery slopes of the Alps. Its location near Alpine ski resorts like Kaunertal, Stubaier and St Anton. Innsbruck has hosted the Winter Olympics twice, and sponsors many winter sports events each year.
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