Austria

We’ve travelled to Austria thrice. Thrice. It’s never failed to impress. From the beautiful Alps to the ornate Schonbrunn Palace, Austria has the best of it all. 

Vienna might be the best city in Western Europe. It’s friendly, has a rich history, and isn’t short on sights. My dad and I first visited Vienna in the spring of 2016. We didn’t rent a car, and instead arrived by train from Berlin. The ride there featured sunflowers, and the dull but soothing Central European Plain. On the way, we stopped at Brno, Czechia, but we didn’t do much there. The rest of the day was spent finding our Airbnb, and getting accustomed to it, since it was comically small, the size of a garage. It had a single shower, and in the same room was a bed and a TV. There was a communal kitchen and toilet. 

Starting off strong, we began the day at the Schonbrunn Palace. On the outside, it looked dull for a building its size. Imagine fusing ten large apartments, then moving the position of a few. Then imagine replacing all the front yard with gravel. That was the exterior of the Schonbrunn Palace. We took pictures, then booked a tour of the inside of the palace. 

When I entered, I was stunned. Such riches I had never imagined before. The rooms were literally gilded with gold. I looked in awe as we moved room to room. And there were a lot of rooms. I heard about the history of Austria-Hungary, but I might’ve been a little too young to truly enjoy it. After finishing the tour, we visited the gardens of the palace. You’re really missing out if you don’t visit the gardens. They’re magnificent. 

We then visited Belvedere Museum/Palace. We didn’t visit the inside of Belvedere, as the beautiful white exterior, and magnificent sprawling gardens would more than suffice. We then took the metro to Stephansplatz, the most convenient method of travel in Vienna (though the tram system is outstanding). By the time we left Vienna, I had memorised a good portion of the metro system. Stephansplatz is quite in the middle of everywhere. Its main centerpiece is the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the ninth tallest cathedral in the world. At 448 feet, the cathedral towers over the square. We took a peek inside, then continued walking through Vienna. We saw the Plague Column, a huge tower which just looked like a hundred random sculptures stacked on top of each other, coated with golden icing. It was called the Plague Column because the emperor said he would erect a column when the plague epidemic of 1679 ended. The epidemic ended, so the emperor built the column.

One interesting story from my Vienna trip was the visit to the opera. The Vienna Opera House is perhaps the grandest opera in Europe, decorated more like a palace. We got a ticket, though we were in the standing seats, which unfortunately weren’t ideal. For me to even see the show at the time, I had to literally stand on my toes. Yikes. I ended up stepping on someone’s foot, which also detracted from the overall experience. 

Afterwards, we indulged in sachertorte, a wonderful chocolate cake. Usually, I don’t enjoy cake, but this was a very delectable exception.   

Walking both at day and night proved especially fruitful. Through walking, my dad and I came upon sights such as the Austrian Parliament building, and had a wonderful time walking through the lively city center, especially at night, when the views were even more amazing. That was our only day walking around Vienna, though, as we mainly used the city as a hub to visit other nations in central Europe. It was my favorite country during the trip, and I wanted to return. 

That opportunity arose the next year. This time, we would explore the west of Austria. The west of Austria is known for one thing: the Alps. Places such as Innsbruck are so renowned for their winter attractions that Innsbruck was selected as a site for the Winter Olympics. Twice. Both in 1964 and 1976, the Winter Olympics were located in the city. Our first stop in alpine Austria would be an Airbnb near Lake Plansee. One of the most beautiful lakes in the world, surrounded by mountains, and endowed with miles of natural beauty, Lake Plansee was an amazing place to visit. It was also surprisingly close to Bavaria, where we spent a lot of time. In fact, most days, we crossed the Austria-Germany border at least once. Bless the Schengen Zone. The drives weren’t half bad either, as we saw much of the Alps just by driving. 

One trip we took while headquartered in Plansee was a day trip in Innsbruck. The trip wouldn’t involve exploring the city itself. Instead, it encompassed sightseeing the mountains towering above the city itself. We booked a cable car up the mountain, which cost a whopping fifty dollars. As we slowly went up in altitude, we really saw why it was worth such a fortune. Hint: it was the view. 

It was a clear day. We could literally see the whole city perched from the mountain, as well as the huge mountains of the Austrian Alps in the not-so-far distance. It was more magical than the pictures could comprehend. It was a once-in-a-lifetime sight. Truly. If you ever take a cable car ride, take the one in Innsbruck. It’s worth the price and more. 

We also hiked on the mountain, but not for long, as we got hungry. Curiously, the top of the cable line was a complex that contained a restaurant. Also on the top of the mountain was a playground. It wasn’t every day you got to swing thousands of feet from the ground. Another activity in Innsbruck was paragliding. Yes, paragliding. We saw a man literally jump from the mountain with a parachute. He looked like a bird soaring in the sky. The man ended up in the middle of the city. My question was “How did he know where to go?”. Imagine being a resident of the city, and having someone land on top of your head. 

Another beautiful place to visit is Hallstatt Lake. Similarly to Lake Plansee, Hallstatt is a stunning Alpine lake. Hallstatt has a village that juts into the view of the lake, and it was similarly amazing. We spent a whole day just taking in the view. Austria is too rich with natural beauty. 

Then we visited Salzburg. Our reason for visiting was because it was the birthplace of Mozart, my favorite composer. Our first stop was Hohensalzburg fortress. Situated atop a hill near the city, Hohensalzburg fortress has many features akin to Bratislava Castle. Both are situated in high points in the city, though Bratislava Castle is more central in position. What Bratislava Castle lacks is the mountain view that Hohensalzburg possesses. The Austrian Alps are in clear display from the fortress, which also holds an impressive view over the whole city. In many ways, the view was similar to the Innsbruck cable ride, though maybe a little less breathtaking. We also walked around the fortress itself, which presented the might of the Austro-Hungarian empire at its full might. 

After that, we visited Mozart’s birthplace, which was now a museum in central Salzburg. We got to see some aspects of his life. We also saw how the beautiful city might’ve inspired some of his most soothing compositions. We also ate Mozartkugel, or Mozart balls, a chocolate with Mozart’s face on the wrapping. We ate some, and they were surprisingly good. In Salzburg, we also shopped at the market, but didn’t do much else. Our next stop on the trip was Switzerland, so our time in Austria ended. 

One year later, we were back in Vienna, since my mother and sister hadn’t seen the city. Not much had changed. Other than the St. Stephen’s cathedral being renovated, things had stayed the same. We walked around the city that day, and we even stopped at the opera again. We didn’t make the same mistake again, making sure to reserve a sitting seat. I couldn’t understand the opera itself, though, because my sister had some trouble staying still. 

We also visited Heldenplatz. Heldenplatz is another of Vienna’s beautiful squares. It does have a dark secret. It was the place where Hitler announced the Anschluss, which was the unification of Nazi Germany and Austria. Heldenplatz itself was a nice place. It had two statues of a horse, and the Hofburg Palace, though we didn’t visit the palace. 

We also visited Schonbrunn Palace for a second time. My time-altered memories of Schonbrunn were of a place so extravagant, so over-the-top, that it defied logic. The palace was amazing. It just wasn’t as much as I expected. My image of the gardens, which felt pretty underwhelming before, was now enhanced, and they felt perhaps more majestic than before. My expectations definitely played into my experience. 

We also visited Skybur. A restaurant in the modern center of the city, you could gaze down below to see the great city of Vienna. It’s an underrated attraction, a can’t miss site in Vienna.

Since then, we haven’t ventured near Austria again. But we probably will soon. Austria is one of my favorite countries because of its balance between countryside, nature, and city. Our experiences there radically differed, from climbing peaks to touring fortresses. 

Tips: 

  • Skybur: Visit it – a bird’s eye view of a city is always helpful. Whether it’s finding your next stop, or just enjoying the view, or even looking at the urban design of the city, Skybur could come to use. 
  • Sound of Music: Though we didn’t take the Sound of Music tour, we went and saw the filming sites. Any fans of the movie should definitely take a stop in Salzburg, where many scenes in the movie were shot. If you’re short on time, make sure to take the tour. 
  • Try to split your visit to Austria in two. Vienna has lots to offer, and is best experienced through public transport, whereas mountainous Tyrol can better be accessed by a car. 

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