Go back to basics in Austria

Leave behind the computer screens and closed doors of the pandemic – and step out into the real world. Breathe in fresh air. Soak in the light. Fill your senses with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures of Austria’s wild places; its mountains, forests and rivers.

Find your space

After the constraints and stresses of lockdown, many of us are bursting to venture out again into wide-open spaces. In Austria’s six national parks, you’ll find true wilderness – protected landscapes barely touched by man. Get away from the crowds, clear your mind and reconnect with nature...

1. Donau-Auen National Park, Lower Austria

On Vienna’s doorstep, the backwaters of the River Danube are teeming with wildlife. You can explore the 9,600 hectares of the park either by hiking the forests or floating along the river. Birders will be impressed by huge creatures such as osprey and white-tailed eagles but should also keep their eyes peeled for smaller aves such as bee-eaters and kingfishers. Keep an eye out for beavers and otters when exploring the water and spy  deer, mink and wild boar in the forest.

Don’t miss: a ranger-guided tour by boat.

2. Gesäuse National Park, Styria

Soaring rock faces, thrashing mountain rivers, towering gorges – Gesäuse National Park is a place is untamed and majestic wilderness. A leisurely walk is the best place to explore this part of Styria. Take it slow so you don't miss the vast array of fauna and flora on display, including spring carnation, lady slipper orchid as well as golden eagles, sandpiper and even the elusive lynx, if you're lucky.

Don’t miss: a night in one of the park’s remote mountain huts.

3. Hohe Tauern National Park, Tirol, Salzburgerland and Carinthia

Austria’s first national park boasts some of the most rugged mountain scenery in the Alps, more than half of it made up of glaciers, scree and inhospitable rocky peaks. Find peace and solitude in its 1,856 square kilometres of space.

Don’t miss: Weisssee Glacier World

4. Kalkalpen National Park, Upper Austria

The Kalkalpen – the limestone Alps – are covered in swathes of forest. Slow down and feel the core strength of the park’s soaring trees, and reenergise.

Don’t miss: The beech forests of the Kalkalpen National Park, one of the the last old beech forests in Europe and part of Austria’s first ever World Natural Heritage Site. 

5. Neusiedler See-Seewinkel National Park, Burgenland

The park’s unforested steppe, found on the western fringes of the Pannonian lowlands, is largely made up of marshes, ponds and lakes. This backwater invites you to stay still and observe its astonishing diversity of wildlife.

Don’t miss: the thousands of migratory birds that stop over.

6. Thayatal National Park, Lower Austria

Bordering its sister NP in Czechia, Austria’s smallest park still manages to claim half the country’s plant species.

Don’t miss: The river wildlife of the Thayatal

Image copyrights: Oesterreich Werbung, Georg Popp / Oesterreich Werbung, Andreas Tischler / Oesterreich Werbung, Reinhold Leitner / Oesterreich Werbung, Julius Silver / Oesterreich Werbung, Georg Popp

Ditch the car

Leave behind the traffic jams, the fumes and sterile world of the car, where everything passes in a blur. Instead, discover the beauty of travelling sedately by boat, bike or on foot, leaving no carbon footprint behind you.  Travel in the open air and engage all your senses. Pause to watch a butterfly, listen to birdsong, trail your hand through water, smell a wildflower or taste wild raspberries. Reconnect with the outdoors, slow down and relax. Austria is the perfect destination to hike, bike or boat in pristine nature.


There’s something for everyone on Austria’s hiking trails, from riverside rambles to high-level treks. The beauty of Austria is its diversity of landscapes: vineyards, steppe, hay meadows, wide river valleys, glaciers, gorges and forests, all criss-crossed with trails. There are short themed trails for small children, family day hikes in mountain valleys and long-distance trails over high passes that take several days. Most are well sign-posted. Nearly all of them are well served with restaurants, cafes and guest-houses. Even in the highest reaches you’ll find rustic mountain hut accommodation.

On top of that, almost a third of Austria’s landscapes are protected in some way. Apart from its six national parks, there are over 350 Natura 2000 sites, three biosphere reserves and a host of local nature reserves to explore. Get away from the hurly-burly of life and lose yourself in the beauty of quiet nature.


Bike riding in Austria is a dream with its excellent cycling infrastructure and thousands of kilometres of off-road trails. You can cross the Upper Austria, Lower Austria and Vienna on cycle paths along the Danube from the German border at Passau to the Slovenian border at Bratislava. Other enchanting waterside cycles include the Inn and Salzach rivers as well as Lake Constance.

Grab an e-bike and take the pain out of cycling Austria’s hills.  Starting and finishing at Salzburg, tour the Salzkammergut Cycle Path – 314 glorious kilometres that take in 13 lakes and some of Austria’s most beautiful waterside resorts: St Gilgen, St Wolfgang, Bad Ischl and Hallstatt. Feel the slap of grass against your ankles and the wind in your face. Lose yourself in the rhythmic rotation of your pedals. Find a grassy bank to rest up on before carrying on along paths lined with wildflowers and herbs.


With its many lakes and extensive river systems, Austria is perfect for boating, and travel on the water comes in every form imaginable. Take a cruise on the Danube or the lakes of the Salzkammergut – with zero effort required. Hire a rowing boat, sit-on-top kayak or canoe from one of the waterside hotels or sports centres for gentle exercise. Jump off your boat for a swim. Listen to the soothing sound of your oars on the water and feel your body relax in the rhythmic act of paddling. Haul your boat up on the river bank or a lakeside beach and enjoy a picnic. Let your boat drift downstream, pull in the paddles, close your eyes in the sun and daydream.

Feel rooted in rural life

Beyond the much-loved lakeside and mountain resorts, there are quieter – but equally charming – settlements. In these tucked away villages and small towns, you can escape the bustle of everyday life and connect with time-honoured customs that have been carried down through centuries. In these places, life is slower; its peoples still rooted to the land.

1. Alpbach, Tirol– the perfect alpine village

Wooden chalets spilling geraniums in summertime, logs neatly stacked against gables ready for autumn, snow piling roofs in winter – this is Alpbach, the quintessential mountain village. Surrounded by hay meadows, forested slopes and jagged peaks, the alpine resort is a hiker’s and skier’s paradise. At a height of 1,000 metres, the settlement lies deep in snow through much of winter. Snow-shoe or cross-country ski through frosted landscapes, or trek through flower meadows high into the mountains in summer.

When to visit: Winter is enchanting in Alpbach. Follow the forest and hillside trails, hearing nothing but the crunch of snow beneath your feet and the sound of your breathing. Experience the magic of a torch-lit hike, the frozen landscape bright in the moonlight. Summer is perfect for hiking too, along with biking and paragliding which you can try in tandem with a guide.

2. Heiligenblut, Carinthia – where myth meets mountain grandeur

Beneath the towering Grossglockner – Austria's highest mountain – the village of Heiligenblut sits nestled into the High Tauern mountains, the soaring steeple of St Vincent’s echoing the precipitous peak. Inside the iconic church, a glass vial is said to contain the holy blood of Christ – the ‘Heiligenblut’ that gives the village its name. The settlement is surrounded by raw nature. In this wilderness of the High Tauern mountains and Pasterze Glacier, you’ll find mountain solitude, pure pine-scented air and soul-restoring stillness.

When to visit: In September the Glockner Lamb Festival celebrates the regional speciality; succulent lamb dishes. Join in with the festivities of music, singing and dancing. In early January locals join for songs to celebrate the three wise men, adding to the festive ambience of the snow-bound alpine village. This cultural heritage, dating back to the 16th century, is UNESCO listed.

3. Heiligenbrunn, Burgenland – a unique settlement of thatched cellar houses

Tucked into the south-east corner of Austria, you’ll find Heilligenbrunn, one of Austria’s quaintest and most unusual villages. Wander through the convservation area of kellerviertel – ‘the cellar quarter’ – with its white-washed thatched cottages and narrow basement houses surrounded by woodland and vineyards. Around 140 of the wine cellar houses survive, many of them with thatched roofs, which have been used since the 18th century and continued to be built by local farmers and vintners until the 19th century to make and store wine in. Today, all of the houses are privately owned and have been restored. Some are now holiday lets and a few serve as wine shops, selling the distinctive Uhudler wine. A couple house museums celebrating the region’s wine-making.

When to visit: Join the Wine Festival in September and sample the deliciously fruity Uhudler, or come outside of summer to enjoy the near-empty streets and soak in this truly atmospheric village.

4. Mauterndorf, Salzburgerland – a medieval market town

The medieval Mauterndorf Castle dominates the historic town of Mauterndorf. Wander through the narrow streets of traditional wooden and white-rendered medieval buildings, their corner stones and window frames painted in bright colours. Pause on the bridge spanning the tumbling Taurach. Drop into the onion-domed steepled church of St. Bartholomäus. Climb the hill to the castle with its towers and battlements, and visit the museum. For a nostalgic train ride, jump on the Taurachbahn Museum Railway. To find peace and healing in nature, hike up into the mountains surrounding the town.

When to visit: Arrange a summer visit to coincide with the Samson Procession. Unique to the Lungau region of Salzburgerland, the cultural heritage is listed by UNESCO. Along with the bands, riflemen, marching guards and townspeople dressed in traditional costumes, the giant Samson is paraded through town – over six metres tall and weighing 100 kilos, contrasting the accompanying dwarf figures.

5. Schwarzenberg, Vorarlberg – where culture meets nature

Surrounded by alpine meadows, Schwarzenberg is known for its heritage-protected wood-shingled houses. The Angelika Kauffman Museum is housed in Kleberhaus . The artist is renowned for her neoclassical portraitures of 18th century British high-society and was a founding member and first female member of the Royal Academy of Arts. Apart from her oil paintings, porcelains, souvenirs and family letters, the Kauffman gallery shares a space with the Heimatmuseum, documenting the region’s domestic and farming culture and history. Join Bregenzerwald Walking Tours to admire the romantic heritage houses, then hike out into the surrounding countryside of the Bregenz Forest, a place of serene beauty.

When to visit: For music lovers, the Schubertiade Schwarzenberg, a world-famous song and chamber music festival, takes place in summer. In September on Schwarzenberger Alptag, locals cheer the festively decorated cows as they are brought back down from the high pastures. This is followed by the Schwarzenberger Markt, a 400-year-old tradition of an annual market that celebrates local food and culture.

Image copyrights: Shutterstock; Oesterreich Werbung, Lisa Eiersebner / Vorarlberg Tourismus, Franz Oberhauser

Admire the raw beauty of nature

Take advantage of local knowledge and discover Austria’s most beautiful places. Every year Austrians are invited to participate in the televised 9 Places, 9 Treasures vote. Here are some of their recent choices, a fine collection of Austria's most powerful and touching landscapes.

1. Grüner See, Styria – the aqua-green lake

Voted most beautiful place: 2014

The lake is aptly named, its vivid aqua-green waters shimmering with incredible clarity. In winter the water drains away, only to be replenished by the meltwaters of the Hochschwab Mountains in spring. It’s an enchanting place.

Highlight: the benches and bridges that can be seen beneath the crystal-clear water.

2. Kaisertal, Tirol – a remote mountain valley

Voted most beautiful place: 2016

Without a road link until 2008, this remote valley still exudes quiet serenity. Hike for four hours between the Zahmer and Wilder Kaiser mountains, where only a handful of farms interrupt this place of unadulterated nature and stunning landscapes.

Highlight: the picturesque St Anthony’s Chapel reached by 285 steps.

3. Körbersee, Vorarlberg – lakeside beauty

Voted most beautiful place: 2017

The best places can only be reached on foot as with Körbersee. Not only does it offer peace and solitude but immeasurable beauty. Hike through meadow and forest to reach the lake, enjoy its cooling breezes and feast on the wild beauty of the surrounding mountains.

Highlight: the isolated Berghotel Körbersee, a chic spa hotel

4. Schiederweiher, Upper Austria – an idyllic pond

Voted most beautiful place: 2018

It may be a manmade weir but the fishing pond looks like it’s always belonged to the forests and snow-capped mountains that surround it.

Highlight: A snow-shoe trek around the pond in winter

5. Strutz-Mühle, Styria – a fairy-tale mill

Voted most beautiful place: 2020

The 150-year-old wooden mill feels timeless, its walls covered in strange and wonderful tools and equipment. After exploring the working mill, spend the day fishing and hiking in the Natura 2000 nature reserve or simply relax by the gurgling creek.

Highlight: experiencing traditional flour-making

Photo copyrights: Oesterreich Werbung, Andreas Tischler / TVB Kufsteinerland / Lech Zürs Tourismus GmbH, Bernadette Otter; Shutterstock

Sleep under the stars

There is something magical about sleeping close to nature – by a lake or mountain river, in woodland or surrounded by mountains. Here are some of the best sleeps in nature across Austria.

1. Bivouac Radura al Lago, Carinthia

As with all bivouacs, you can watch the stars – but from the comfort of a soft bed in a warm hut with a frontage of glass overlooking Millstättersee. On one wall the words of the poet Rilke say: ‘Forget, forget and let’s just live this now; how the stars, when it clears, pierce the night sky; how the moon climbs full up over the garden.’ It sums up the experience of this magical place with its woodland meadow, waterside balcony, private beach and rowing boat.

2. Camping Au an der Donau, Upper Austria

On the banks of the Danube east of Linz, the campsite of Au offers waterside tranquillity and campsite fun. Rent a waterside chalet, sleep in a barrel or a tent made of wood (or bring your own canvas). Hire a bike and pedal alongside the river, go hiking, fish on the Danube, swim or chill out by the campsite pond.

3. Hotel Forsthofgut, Salzburgerland

Surrounded by forest and mountains, the family-run spa hotel combines nature with comfort. The rooms reflect the natural world outside, the food wholesome and the flavours local. Enjoy the wildflower garden, organic swimming pond with its waterside day beds and the array of outdoor activities on offer.

Take some time to escape every day life and immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of Austria by watching our live cam, nestled among nature at Forsthofgut Naturhotel.

4. Naturhotel Outside, Tirol

On the Isel Trail in East Tirol, the Naturhotel offers a wide range of spa treatments, flower and herb gardens with a natural swimming pool and lounging ‘nests’, saunas, steam room, mountain crystal salt grotto and a foot-massaging Kneipp path. Rent out an e-bike, hiking poles, or snow-shoes in winter, and explore the beautiful mountain landscapes on the hotel’s doorstep.

5. Ramenai Treehouses, Upper Austria

You can’t get much closer to nature than sleeping in a forest hut or in a treehouse with an adjoining suspended tent with views of the night-sky. Smell the pine, watch the stars and listen to the nightlife. Awake to the sound of woodland birds, feel the sun on your face and haul in your breakfast on a cable. It’s a bohemian experience in the Bohemian Forest of Upper Austria.

Photo copyright: Naturhotel Forsthofgut

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