From Alpine peaks to breathtaking Baroque palaces, and fearsome rock castles to the luxuriant Viennese cafes, discover our collection of the most famous landmarks in Austria.
There is such a vast range of famous landmarks in Austria. Vienna is famous for its palaces, churches and coffeehouses, and Baroque second city Salzburg is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. And then there are the Austrian Alps.
It’s a country rich in dramatic Alpine scenery, with breathtaking lakes, forbidding rock castles, mountain railways and waterfalls. The Wachau is one of the most scenic stretches of the entire course of the River Danube. Then there is the country’s extraordinary cultural wealth, especially its classical music and Art Nouveau paintings.
So if you’re wondering where to visit in Austria, our Austrian landmarks guide will help give you a very good idea of the direction you want to head in.
Famous Landmarks In Austria – Vienna
Schloss Schönbrunn is the most famous of many palaces in Austria, and was for centuries the main summer residence of the Habsburg monarchs in Vienna. It’s located a few miles west of the city centre, surrounded by beautiful formal gardens and a large area of parkland which includes Vienna Zoo.
Most of the present Palace was built by Empress Maria Theresa in the mid-18th century, a remodelling of an earlier building known as Katterburg. It was built in extraordinarily luxurious style – mostly in contemporary Baroque and Rococo style – and the exterior was substantially altered by Franz I in the 19th century.
You could easily spend up to two days exploring Schönbrunn, whose extensive gardens also include the superb Gloriette viewpoint and the Neptune fountain pictured above. There are also mazes for the kids, and an excellent Children’s Museum, where you can have great fun dressing up as a Habsburg prince or princess.
The Schönbrunn Palace courtyard plays host to one of the best Vienna Christmas Markets every winter.
The Karlskirche is the most beautiful of all Baroque churches in Vienna, built by Holy Roman Emperor Charles VI in thanksgiving for deliverance from the last major plague outbreak, which was in 1712. Dedicated to St Charles Borromeo, an Archbishop of Milan known for healing plague sufferers, it was begun by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and taken over by his son Joseph Emanuel after his death.
One of its most striking features is the pair of columns, inspired by Trajan’s Column, one of the most famous monuments in Rome. The interior is richly decorated with pink marble and ceiling frescoes, most notably the dome painting by Johann Michael Rottmayr. You can admire this up close, thanks to the rather unsightly scaffolded staircase – you also get an interesting view of the rooftops of Vienna through a window at the top.
The square and park outside, the Karlsplatz, is home to one of the best Christmas markets in Vienna – there are around 20 in all, making Vienna one of the best Christmas cities in Europe.
The Hofburg – which translates as “Court Castle’ – is one of the largest palace complexes in the world, and one of the main Vienna landmarks. The most photographed part, the Neue Burg (New Castle), which faces Heldenplatz, was built in the 19th century, but the oldest part – the Imperial Chapel – dates from the 13th century.
It was the seat of the Habsburg Holy Roman Emperors, Kings and Emperors of Austria between 1438 and 1918, except for a gap between 1583 and 1612.
The Hofburg is now home to a multitude of Vienna museums, which would take days to visit. We particularly recommend the outstanding Baroque Austrian National Library and the Sisi Museum, devoted to the life of Empress Elizabeth, wife of Franz Josef I.
Other museums within the Hofburg complex include the Imperial Apartments, the Imperial Treasury, the Museum of Historical Musical Instruments and our next entry.
Spanish Riding School, Vienna
Some of the Spanish Riding School is within the Hofburg Palace complex – the one part that isn’t is the Stallburg, the luxury Renaissance-era stables complex of the famous Lipizzaner horses. Our image (above) of the Stallburg is from the first time it was opened up to host one of the Christmas markets in Vienna, and it makes an amazing setting for this.
Seeing a performance of the Lipizzaner stallions in the magnificent Riding Hall is one of the bucket list of things to do in Austria. A full performance includes a soundtrack of Viennese music. Otherwise, you can watch the horses being put through their paces at a training session, or take a behind the scenes tour which also takes you across the street to the Stallburg.
St Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna
Vienna Cathedral – the Stephansdom – is the most impressive of all Vienna churches, and the mother church of the whole country. Its 448-foot south tower dominates the Vienna cityscape and skyline, and it’s full of treasures inside and out.
The Stephansdom roof is particularly remarkable, made from 230,000 colourful glazed tiles. Be sure to do a full circuit of the Cathedral to see the entire roof – the north side features the coats of arms of both Vienna and Austria. You can also get a closer view from the south tower, albeit through a window.
The interior of the Cathedral can only be visited as part of a guided tour. I’d suggest taking one, as the ticket-free standing area at the west end of the nave doesn’t give so much as a glimpse of the many chapels and the High Altar, one of the finest in Central Europe. One of the best places to visit in Austria, without a doubt.
The Vienna Natural History Museum is one of two near-identical Vienna palaces facing each other across the grand Maria-Theresien-Platz. It – along with its counterpart, the Kunst Historisches Museum – was completed in 1889, and they only differ in the statuary adorning the front of each building.
The interior of the Natural History Museum is sumptuously decorated, with many neo-Renaissance elements. Look out for the vast ‘Cycle of Life’ ceiling painting by Hans Canon, and the superb dome and its supporting arches.
As for the exhibits, some of the collection dates back over 250 years, and there are rooms full of cabinets of stuffed specimens. It’s not something you see often nowadays – interactive screens and quizzes are deemed much more popular – but the three of us, especially my five-year-old son, were captivated by it.
Café Central Vienna
If you have a little difficulty finding Vienna’s famous Café Central, we can help you with a clue – spot the queue. We found it was the most popular of the historic Vienna coffeehouses, with the only way to avoid a wait being to reserve a table online.
Café Central is so popular because architecturally it’s the one of the most beautiful cafes in Vienna. Its façade wouldn’t look out of place on Piazza San Marco in Venice, and its interior – which once housed the Vienna Stock Exchange – is like a medieval church, with its stone pillars and intricate vaulted ceiling. But the cake counter is something of a giveaway.
As with the other old Viennese coffeehouses, you can opt for coffee and cake or indulge in a full meal, with traditional Vienna dishes such as Wiener schnitzel, goulash and boiled beef.
Johann Strauss Statue Vienna
The gilded bronze statue of composer Johann Strauss II is one of the most popular things to see in Vienna. It’s in the Stadtpark (City Park), close to the Kursalon venue where Strauss played numerous times.
Strauss is best known for his Viennese waltzes, most notably Blue Danube and the Emperor Waltz, and he also composed several operettas including Die Fledermaus.
The iconic figure of Strauss, based on a design by Edmund Hellmer, is playing the violin, but there is one notable omission. The gilded statue is shorn of the distinctive enormous sideburns that Strauss sported for much of his life.
The Hundertwasser House is an apartment complex in the Landstrasse area of the city which has become one of the best-known Vienna landmarks.
It was designed by artist, architect and environmentalist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, together with Josef Krawina, and completed in 1985. Visitors can only see the exterior of the building, which is brightly painted and decorated partly with mosaics. Hundertwasser was a complete one-off, and the only comparison I can think of is the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, who also had something of an aversion to straight lines.
Vienna State Opera
The Wiener Staatsoper is one of the most prestigious opera houses in Europe. It’s one of the best places in Austria to see a classical music concert or opera performance.
It was built on the Ringstrasse in the 1860s in Renaissance Revival style.
The Belvedere Palaces and Gardens are major landmarks in Austria, outstanding Baroque achievements in a city overflowing with architecture from this period.
Both palaces were built for Prince Eugene of Savoy, the Lower Belvedere preceding the Upper Belvedere at the opposite end of the park. The Upper Belvedere is the more impressive of the two, with some superb ceiling frescoes by Francesco Solimena and Carlo Carlone. It was later put to use as the Vienna residence as the Vienna residence of the last Imperial heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand (who also lived in Konopiště Castle, south of Prague.
Both Palaces are now used as art galleries. The permanent exhibition – housed in the Upper Belvedere – includes a particularly impressive collection of works by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt.
Famous Landmarks In Austria – Salzburg
The second most famous city in Austria has a pretty strong claim to be the country’s most beautiful. The Baroque skyline of the Altstadt – or Old Town – is astounding, especially from the Monchsberg vantage point, where you see the cluster of domes, towers and spires. The dominant presence of these is the Baroque jewel of Salzburger Dom – Salzburg Cathedral.
Salzburg’s original cathedral is believed to date from the 8th century, and the present building replaced a decaying Romanesque church in the 17th century. Just over a century later, a day-old baby with the surname Mozart was baptized in the Cathedral – the original font remains.
Mozart’s Birthplace, Salzburg
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart came into the world on 27th January 1756 in this fine townhouse in Getreidegasse, in Salzburg Old Town. The Mozarts lived in an apartment on the third floor, and the composer called this home until his family moved elsewhere in Salzburg in 1773.
Mozarts Geburtshaus is one of the most popular museums in Austria, and has plenty to sate any Mozart aficionado. Part of the museum is a recreation of a wealthy middle-class apartment, similar to the Mozarts’ home. And there is a rich collection of Mozart memorabilia and portraits to see as well.
This imposing castle in Salzburg looms high above the Baroque towers and spires of the Altstadt (Old Town). It is the fortress of the Archbishops of Salzburg, who held considerable political power and set about consolidating it as early as the 11th century, when the first castle was built on the site.
The Archbishops subsequently strengthened and expanded the Salzburg fortress (Festung), especially during the 15th and early 16th centuries. The most impressive rooms inside the fortress, including the richly decorated Golden Hall, date from this period.
The Hohensalzburg was only ever taken once – without a fight during the Napoleonic Wars – so it is one of the best-preserved castles in Austria and, indeed, Europe.
Mirabell Palace & Gardens, Salzburg
Schloss Mirabell is one of the most famous Austrian landmarks because of its role in one of the best-known films of all time. Sixty years after The Sound of Music was filmed in and around Salzburg, tours of the film locations remain hugely popular.
The Mirabell Palace is also part of any Mozart trail, as he played there during his youth. It was built in 1606 by Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich, and the stunning Marble Hall is regularly used as a wedding venue.
Its Gardens were added later, together with the Grand and Pegasus Fountains. The Gardens face towards the Altstadt, Cathedral and Hohensalzburg, making them one of the best Salzburg landmarks.
Famous Landmarks In Austria – The Alps – Around Salzburg
The Alps cover much of the west and south of Austria, and throughout them you’ll find some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe. Several of our other famous landmarks in Austria can be found within the Alps, so this section is a brief, overall introduction.
The highest peak, Grossglockner, can be found in the Hohe Tauern National Park, and other ranges include the Salzkammergut – around Salzburg and Hallstatt – and the incredible Tirol, around Innsbruck and the border with Italy in the south-west of the country.
Hallstatt is one of the most scenic places in Austria, and one of the most beautiful towns in Europe. Its idyllic lakeside location, in the shadow of the Dachstein mountain, long ago sent it viral on social media, and the tourist buses – now limited in number each day – have been pouring in ever since.
The area has been lived in for several thousand years, and the attraction was the abundant presence of salt in the mountains. Hallstatt Salt Mine is the oldest in the world, dating back to at least 1200 BC.
The town has given its name to ‘Hallstatt culture’, with Iron Age and early Celtic burials exceptionally well-preserved (as late as the 5th century BC) because of the presence of salt in the soil.
The Schafberg mountain in the Salzkammergut range is one of the most accessible Austrian mountains, thanks to the Schafbergbahn mountain railway to the summit.
It’s located around 20 miles (30 km) east of Salzburg, and has been carrying passengers to the top since 1893. The scenic summit – with a 3-star hotel – has astounding views over the lakes and Alpine peaks, and a viewpoint overlooks narrow a spectacular narrow spur of rock to a mountain hut on a pinnacle.
The mountain railway usually runs between late April and early October, with additional services over the pre-Christmas Advent season, when snow is likely.
Burg Kaprun is another fine Austrian castle, located at the foot of the Kitzsteinhorn glacier in the southern part of the Salzburger Land in the Austrian Alps.
This austere fortress dates back to the late 12th or early 13th century, and it was taken over by the powerful Archbishop of Salzburg towards the end of the latter. It was sacked and destroyed during a peasant revolt in 1526, after which it was rebuilt. Like Riegersburg Castle (see below) it also came into the possession of the wealthy Liechtenstein family later in its history.
Zeller See – Zell Lake
Zell-am-See is one of the most popular places to stay in Austria, a pretty tourist town south of Salzburg on the shore of a crystal-clear lake fed by Alpine streams, surrounded by mountains.
It’s a relatively small lake, but its gorgeous location makes the town a year-round destination. After the summer holidaymakers have left, another seasonal crowd descends, with Kaprun, the Kitzsteinhorn glacier and several other ski resorts close by.
Eisriesenwelt Ice Cave
Eisriesenwelt – the World of the Ice Giants – is the largest ice cave in the world, and is located 40 km (25 miles) south of Salzburg in the Hochkogel mountain.
The caves were first explored in 1879, although they were known to locals long before – they believed the cave was an entrance to Hell.
The entrance is reached by an uphill climb, and inside the mountain, the temperature is below freezing. You are accompanied by a guide, and each carry a lantern, exploring around a kilometre of the labyrinth, on a series of wooden walkways, seeing some of the remarkable ice formations in the complex.
Famous Landmarks In Austria – The Alps – Hohe Tauern and Around
St Vincent Church, Heiligenblut
It’s one of the most iconic churches in Austria, its tall slender spire reaching skywards, with the dramatic backdrop of the Grossglockner mountain range behind.
The village’s name means ‘holy blood’, and is derived from a vial of blood that, according to legend, is that of Jesus Christ. The story is that it was brought from Constantinople by a Danish knight, Briccius, who came to an unfortunate end due to an avalanche. The vial of blood was then discovered on him after his death.
Pilgrims still visit the fine 15th century church, and other visitors come to enjoy the scene before embarking on the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, which begins in the village.
Grossglockner Alpine Road
One of the most scenic roads in Europe, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road (Hochalpenstrasse) is, weather permitting, one of the most stupendous journeys you’ll ever make. It runs 48 km (30 miles) from Heiligenblut (see directly above) through the peaks of the Hohe Tauern National Park to Fusch an der Glocknerstrasse – or vice versa.
Access to the road is ticketed – you can book online at the link above or at the entrance booths at either end – with prices beginning at 38 euros for a day ticket, with a second day costing an additional 13.50. If you’re planning g to be in the area for a while, it’s well worth investing in the 3-week ticket at 63 euros.
This series of three waterfalls – sometimes called the Krimml Falls or Krimmler Waterfalls – together make up the highest waterfall in Austria, with a combined height of 380 metres (1,247 feet). They are one of the most famous natural landmarks in Austria.
They are located near the hamlet of Krimml, and are one of the most beautiful places in Austria, within the Hohe Tauern National Park. The Krimmler Ache river eventually flows into the Salzach river, which in turn joins the River Inn , a tributary of the Danube.
The hike from the car park to the lowest waterfall is along flat ground, while reaching the highest the requires a 75-90 minute climb.
Famous Landmarks In Austria – Along The Danube
The Danube river (Donau in German) is the second longest river in Europe, flowing through ten countries on its way to the Black Sea.
It enters Austria just after the German border city of Passau, continuing through Linz and passing several of our famous landmarks in Austria, most notably along the Wachau Valley (see below), eventually reaching the capital, Vienna, and flowing eastwards to Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia.
Ars Electronica, Linz
Ars Electronica, on the bank of the Danube, is one of the best museums in Austria, housed in one of its most striking buildings. The Ars Electronica institute was founded in 1979, the first museum followed in 1996 and the current six-storey remodelled building was completed in 2009.
Its exterior is like a glass shell, and it looks particularly striking at night when it’s lit in a changing kaleidoscope of colours. The Museum’s website describes it as a Museum of The Future, and it’s devoted to how new technology can be used, from a gardening robot to artificial intelligence, and the effects of climate change. One of the best science museums in Europe.
Mauthausen Concentration Camp
The Mauthausen concentration camp is the most sombre of Austrian landmarks, where around 90,000 prisoners were worked to death in the most brutal and feared conditions in the Nazi labour camp system.
Mauthausen is located near the city of Linz, and was part of a network of camps including nearby Gusen. Conditions were particularly appalling in Mauthausen, with starved prisoners forced to haul heavy rocks from the quarry up the 185-step flight of the ‘Stairs of Death’.
The Wachau is the most picturesque section of the Danube’s course through Austria. It is around 35 km (22 miles) long, and is between Melk and Krems an der Donau. Its scenery, together with the presence of several of the best-known Austria landmarks, led to its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage list as the Wachau Cultural Landscape.
Much of the Wachau is hilly, with the slopes typically being used as vineyards, though apricot trees are also grown. The area includes Melk and Gottweig Abbeys, as well as the beautiful towns of Dürnstein and Krems.
Melk Abbey – Stift Melk – is one of the most famous landmarks in Austria, and is part of the Wachau Cultural Landscape World Heritage Site. It overlooks the Danube from a forested spur high above the river.
It was founded during the 11th century, and during the Middle Ages required a formidable reputation for its academic achievements and production of manuscripts. However the medieval complex was damaged by fire, so it was decided to rebuild it in the early 18th century.
It was designed by Jakob Prandlauer, and built in the Baroque style between 1702 and 1736.
Johann Michael Rottmayr, who was responsible for the dome fresco in the Vienna Karlskirche, painted much of the Melk Abbey church interior.
Dürnstein Abbey and Castle
The small Wachau town of Dürnstein is one of the best places to visit in Austria, with two famous landmarks overlooking the Danube.
Dürnstein Abbey is famous for its gorgeous Baroque blue tower, which dominates the riverfront. It was founded in 1410 by priests from South Bohemia, and rebuilt in 1710 in the Baroque style.
Dürnstein Castle – its name means ‘dry stone’ – towers high above the town. It’s a classic central European rock castle, whose main claim to fame is that it the English king Richard I (the Lionheart) was imprisoned there by Leopold V, Duke of Austria. Much of the castle was destroyed by Swedish forces in 1645.
Famous Landmarks In Austria – Graz and Styria
Graz is one of the best Austrian cities to visit, 200 km (130 miles) south of Vienna and the capital of the Styria region. It was the European City of Culture in 2003, and to celebrate this, Kunsthaus Graz – surely the most unusual of our famous landmarks in Austria – was built.
The building, as its name suggests, is an art museum, with an emphasis on modern and contemporary works. Yet, like the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, the building is as well-known as any of the works therein.
It’s very difficult to describe. You need to see it from street level and above to fully appreciate it. It has been described as a ‘Friendly Alien’. From some angles it resembles a black blob. From above, to me, it looks like a salamander crossed with a spaceship with portholes, or a section diagram of a heart.
One of the sides of the building doubles as a screen, which is used for multimedia displays. An amazing building.
Eggenberg Palace, on the western outskirts of Graz, is one of the most famous buildings in Austria. Partly inspired by the palace at El Escorial , especially its corner spires (see our Spanish Landmarks article for more information), it retains elements from the 16th century, but most of the Palace was completed in the 17th century in the Baroque style.
The highlight of the interior is the piano nobile, a series of 24 state rooms decorated with hundreds of ceiling paintings. The most impressive of these rooms is the Planetary Hall, with its series of paintings by Hans Adam Weissenkircher.
Eggenberg was added to the City of Graz World Heritage Site in 2010.
Graz Clock Tower
The unique Uhrturm stands high above Graz on the Schlossberg, the hill on which the city’s Castle once stood. It was demolished in 1809 by Napoleonic troops, who would have done the same to the Uhrturm but for the citizens paying a ransom for them to spare it.
The Clock Tower, which was built in the 13th century, is one of the most famous landmarks in Austria and a much-loved symbol of the city. It’s known for its hands serving the opposite purpose of those on conventional clocks, with the small hand signifying the minutes (as opposed to hours) and the large hand signifying the hours (as opposed to the minutes).
Burg Riegersburg in Styria – 30 km east of regional capital Graz – deserves a mention among the most famous landmarks of Austria as it’s one of the most formidable Austrian castles. It sits atop an outcrop of rock from a long-extinct volcano, towering high above the surrounding countryside.
It was built some time around 1138, and the first occupant was Rudiger von Hohenberg, a local knight. Much of what we see today was added in the 17th century by Elisabeth Katharina Wechsler, known in the area as ‘Gallerin’.
The Castle remained impregnable despite the presence of Hungarian and Ottoman Turkish forces in the region for many years. It has been in the hands of the Liechtenstein family (see also our article on Lednice Castle in the Czech Republic) since 1822. The only time it was ever captured was in May 1945 when Soviet troops took it. It was then rebuilt after the War.
Basilica of Mariazell
The Mariazell Basilica, close to the border of Styria and Lower Austria, is the most important Catholic pilgrimage church in Austria. It attracts pilgrims coming to venerate a wooden statuette of the Virgin Mary, known as Magna Mater Austria (Great Mother of Austria). As with similarly venerated statues, like the Infant Jesus of Prague, the figure is usually wearing an elaborate dress.
The figure is believed to date from the late 12th or early 13th century, towards the end of the Romanesque period. A large Gothic church was built on the site, but most of it (except for the spire) was destroyed by fire in 1474. A Baroque church, designed by Domenico Sciassia, was built during the 17th century to replace it, and accommodate the growing number of pilgrims. Over a million people visit Mariazell each year.
Famous Landmarks In Austria – Tirol
Golden Roof of Innsbruck
Innsbruck’s Golden Roof – Goldenes Dachl – is one of the most famous Austrian landmarks, an elaborate viewing balcony built by Maximilian I – King of the Romans and later Holy Roman Emperor – in 1500.
The building to which the Golden Roof was added was his residence, and it was built on the occasion of his marriage to Bianca Maria Sforza, of the powerful Milanese dynasty. The roof is made from over 2,600 copper tiles which were then fire-gilded.
The balcony was an excellent viewpoint, used for observing festivals, events and processions along the main street below.
Ambras Castle, Innsbruck
One of the most fascinating and famous castles in Austria, the medieval fortress of Schloss Ambras was turned into a Renaissance residence by Archduke Ferdinand II, who lived there with his wife Philippine.
This included the Spanish Hall, one of the finest Renaissance rooms in Europe, with its ornate wooden ceiling and series of portraits of Tyrolean princes. The Lower Castle was built specifically to house Ferdinand’s collection of armour and art – so along with the Capitoline and Vatican Museums it’s one of the oldest museums in Europe.
Highline 179 Bridge
The Tibetan-style Highline 179 bridge is a 114-metre high, 406-metre long footbridge across the valley through which the B179 road runs. It’s very close to the town of Reutte, the German border and Bavarian Alps, in the northern Tirol.
It has become one of the most famous places in Austria, partly because it connects the ruins of the Roman Fort Claudia with the fine rock castle of Burg Ehrenberg. The scenery is incredible, the castle dwarfed by the Alpine peaks behind.
The bridge was completed in 2014, the brainchild of architect Armin Wachl. It costs 8 euros to cross the bridge, and tickets can only be bought in cash from the booths at either end.
Famous Landmarks In Austria – Carinthia
Burg Hochosterwitz is one of the most intimidating Austrian castles, 20 km from the regional capital Klagenfurt and 30 km from the border with Slovenia.
It’s sited on the summit of a 172-metre (563 foot) outcrop of steep rock, and is only accessible via a pathway with a series of fortified gates along the way.
The Castle remained in the hands of the Osterwitz family for around 400 years, until it was given over to Emperor Friedrich III as payment of a debt.
The series of gates were added by a subsequent owner, Georg von Khevenhuller, and according to local lore it has never been captured since, even by invading Turkish forces.
Discover more landmarks in Europe in our series of articles here: