Austria: a winter wonderland

Austria: a winter wonderland

by Mary Del Rosario
Stripes Europe

Austria is undeniably a beautiful country to visit no matter the time of year. However, once snow falls on the Alps, Christmas markets adorn enchanting cities and warm drinks enter your stomach, winter in Austria will be one of your favorite things.

CITIES

Whimsical towns, friendly locals and delicious “sachertorte,” chocolate cake native to Austria, are what make this country worth visiting, especially during this magical season.  

Vienna

Rendering itself as a cultural mecca, snow-covered Vienna is a sight to behold with its twinkling Christmas lights and Christmas spirit. To make the experience complete, be sure to warm your cold hands with a cappuccino as Vienna’s coffee culture is not to be missed. Though you can’t go wrong with any of the coffee houses, Café Mozart is a fan-favorite place to refuel after a day exploring the city’s highlights to include Schönbrunn Palace, The Hofburg, St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the Belvedere Palace. For those who want to feel like royalty, don a white ball gown and a tux and head to the Viennese balls, which takes place from December until February. With over 450 balls to choose from, you’re sure to leave Vienna cultured and a Viennese Waltz expert.


The Karlsplatz Christmas in Vienna is a market that can't be missed!

Salzburg

Peppered in Baroque architecture and being the birthplace of Mozart and the beloved Von Trapp family, Salzburg is a city you need to cross off your Austria bucket list. Much like Vienna, Salzburg has a vast cafe culture and offers an abundance of cafes to get cozy in, so be sure to warm yourself up after a day of seeing the Hohensalzburg Fortress and the Hellbrunn Palace and Trick Fountains. Popular winter activities include attending the Christmas markets, seeing a winter concert comprised of Mozart’s famous pieces held at the Mirabell Palace and visiting the origin of the popular Christmas carol, “Silent Night,” which is just outside of Salzburg.  


The garden in Mirabell Palace where Mozart's pieces can be heard. | Photo by Natthapon Ngamnithiporn.

Innsbruck

With the sound of skiers coming down the Alps and snow silently falling, Innsbruck truly comes alive during the winter. Being the host of three Winter Olympic events, Innsbruck is a snow lover's dream with its ideal mountains perfect for skiing, snowboarding and snow tubing. The jaw-dropping views of the Alps are one you won’t forget! Taking the cable car and a funicular from the city center to the Nordkete Seegube ski area is also a popular activity as panorama views of the city demand your attention. Be sure to head to Cloud 9, the Alp’s highest igloo bar, to indulge in drinks and stunning snapshots of the Alps. Before delving into all the snow activities, pay a visit to the Alstadt (old town center), the Imperial Palace, the Zaha Hadid Bergisel ski jump tower and of course, the Swarovski Crystal World.  


The beautiful Alps dominate the Innsbruck skyline. 

Hallstatt

Unfortunately, Hallstatt was recently hit by a blazing fire that damaged four buildings. Nevertheless, this village situated on Lake Hallstatt is still the epitome of Austrian village charm. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site, one glance can lead your eyes to the beautiful Lake Hallstatt surrounded by quaint shops, or the Dachstein Mountains blanketed in untouched snow. Though taking a ferry ride across the lake and visiting the ice cave won’t be an option for the winter, activities such as walking the Skywalk Viewing Platform, roaming the Christmas markets, visiting the Charnel House – a small catacomb – are not to be missed. If you’re a fan of skiing and have a valid guest card, be sure to take advantage of the free ski bus that runs from Hallstatt Dachstein Salzkammergut to nearby ski centers such as Gosau and Obertraun.


Hallstatt before the fire. Luckily, most of the village wasn't damaged. 

EXPERIENCES

Austria doesn’t just provide striking mountain villages and upscale cafes but also lures visitors to indulge themselves in all the activities this beautiful country has to offer. Whether you’re after an adrenaline rush or looking for a relaxing retreat, there are no shortages of experiences to be had in Austria.

SKIING/SNOWBOARDING

Native to Austria, its ski resorts are aptly known for its “Gemütlichkeit,” coziness. Other than the snow-covered Alps, sitting beside a fireplace with a hot drink in hand in a rustic skiing hut is the ultimate experience to be had when in this winter wonderland. If you’re a winter-sports enthusiast, bust out your ski and snowboard gear as Austria is heaven on earth for all things snow-related. Endless amounts of perfect, powdery snow, high altitudes and many north-facing slopes make for ideal conditions for skiing, snowboarding and snowtubing. However, if you’re new to the winter-sports scene and don’t have the confidence to try by yourself, Austria provides the best ski schools with having at least one English-speaking skiing instructor. The Arlberg ski region, which includes St. Anton, St. Christoph, Lech and Zürs are the more popular slopes to hit. However, Kitzbühel, Mayrhofen, Ischgl, Galtür, St. Johann and Sölden are also resort areas that can’t be missed! To reward yourself after a long day, be sure to take part in Après-ski, which are after skiing social activities to include dancing, food and merriment.


Shredding some snow in the Alps.

CHRISTMAS MARKETS

Every year from the middle of November until a few days after Christmas, Austria’s Christmas spirit comes alive with lights twinkling above the beloved holiday stands, pine trees adorned with red and gold ornaments and glühwein warming your cold hands. The Christmas markets are the tell-tale sign that the holiday season is here. Though you can’t go wrong when it comes to Christmas markets, the ones to put on your radar include The Viennese Dream Christmas Market and Christmas Village Belvedere Palace in Vienna, the Old Town Christmas Market and the Family Christmas Market at Marktplatz in Innsbruck, Salzburg’s Christmas Market and the Christmas Market on the Main Square in Linz. From lebkuchen to handmade crafts, Austria’s Christmas markets have got it all to put you in the holly-jolly mood.


Vienna's Christmas market is a must! 

THERMAL SPAS

Alongside its coffee culture, Austria’s spa culture is unbeatable and should be an experience to partake in. Feel like a new, rejuvenated person in the spas of Therme Wien near Vienna, Alpentherme Gastein in Salzburg, Aqua Dome in Tyrol, Therme Laa in Laa an der Thaya and Heiltherme & Quellenhotel Bad Waltersdorf in Styria. These thermal spas are among the top five spas to immerse yourself in. From an array of saunas to the soothing thermal waters, Austria’s health facilities make for a revitalizing getaway. Pair your winter-sports adventure with a day at these thermal spas for the ultimate mix of fun and relaxation!


Relax in Austria's rejuvenating spas. 

 SALT MINES

The salt mines in Austria are a sight to behold. Known as “white gold,” this mineral we use today to enhance the flavor in our food helped ensure towns such as Hallein and Hallstatt to become powerful trading communities thousands of years ago. In the salt mines of Hallstatt and Hallein, visitors will gain first-hand experience on how salt was mined by sliding down and discovering these mystical tunnels as well as salt lakes. It’s also an informative place to learn about the life of salt miners. Be sure to dress warm as the temperatures in these mines are at a constant 54 degrees Fahrenheit.


An orange salt crystal that can be found in one of Austria's salt mines. 

 

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