All you need to do is spend an afternoon walking around one of Austria’s major cities to realize that it is a land steeped in history. Historical architecture greets the visitor on almost every corner. Little is known about the ancient people who called Austria home, but in 450 BC the Celts settled in the land in the fertile Danube River region. In 15 BC, the Romans crossed the formidable Alps and claimed the Danube River region for themselves. When Rome’s Western Empire collapsed in the 5th century, several tribes, including Germanic tribes and the Slavs, pushed into the region.
Austria became a buffer region for Charlemagne in the 700s, and in 800 Charlemagne was crowned Kaiser of the region by the pope. The land fell into Bavarian hands in 976, when Leopold von Babenberg took control. Eventually, what is now Austria was labeled a duchy, given a duke and offered Vienna as a capital city.
When the Habsburgs began to take control in Europe, a rivalry between the House of Habsburg and their Bohemian rival Ottokar II to control modern day Austria occurred. In 1278, Ottokar was killed, and the Habsburg family was able to gain control over Austria and the rest of the Holy Roman Empire.
For the next 500 years, things remained relatively unchanged in Austria. It was not until the rise of Napoleon that another change occurred, as he took temporary control. Napoleon was defeated in 1815, and the Hapsburgs continued their reign. In 1848, Austria finally started pushing for independence, demanding their own parliament. It was largely unsuccessful, and in 1867 the Habsburgs offered a dual monarchy to Austria and Hungary, creating the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In spite of their mutual leader, the two countries remained relatively isolated from one another, until the World Wars of the 1900s.
When the Austro-Hungarian Empire was defeated in World War I, the Austrians demanded their own republic. For the first time in 640 years, they were free of the rule of the Habsburgs. Economic problems plagued the infant republic, which found itself to be quite polarized. In 1933, this polarization led to political chaos, with parliament dissolving because of the actions of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss. Dollfuss’ actions as chancellor sparked an Austrian Civil War in 1934. However, this war erupted on the doorstep of World War II, and in 1938, Hitler invaded Austria, taking control of the country easily due to its lack of unity.
In 1945, Soviet troops liberated Vienna, which began a brief period of time that the Soviet Union, America, France and Britain all tried to rule portions of Austria simultaneously. By late that same year, the country was once again declared a republic, and free elections were held. However, in order to oust the Soviet Union, who remained in control, Austria had to declare its neutrality.
Austria was able to remain neutral until 1986, when accusations of Nazi war crimes were brought against presidential candidate Kurt Waldheim. Waldheim never fully addressed the accusations, and in spite of them, he was elected president and the neutrality of Austria was solidified as the country entered the 21st century.
- Austria has one of the lowest male unemployment rates in Europe.
- Austrian people are hard workers. The average workweek is 45 hours, which is the longest among Europeans.
- Close to 90 percent of the population speaks German, the official language.
- The primary religion in Austria is Roman Catholicism, with 90 percent of the people following this faith.
- Austrians enjoy sports as their primary pastime when they are not working. Of these, winter sports, such as skiing, ice skating and ice hockey, are particularly popular.
- In Austria, people earn the right to vote when they turn 16.
- Austria’s flag is one of the oldest in the world, having been created by Duke Leopold V during the Third Crusade in 1191.
- The summer palace of the Habsburgs, the Schonbrunn Palace, has at least 1,440 rooms.
- Austria boasts the oldest zoo in the world. Founded in 1752, the Tiergarten Schonbrunn is located in Vienna.
- Many classical musical composers of note were born in Austria, including Mahler, Bruckner, Schubert, Mozart and Haydn.
- The Alps cover 62 percent of Austria’s land.
- Europe’s tallest waterfalls, the Krimml Falls, fall from a height of 380 meters and are located in the state of Salzburg.
- Tiergarten Schonbrunn – A trip to Vienna requires a tour of the world’s oldest zoo.
- Krimml Falls – As Europe’s highest waterfall, Krimml Falls is worth a trip to High Tauren National Park in Salzburgerland. It is a tiered waterfall, so plan to spend some time hiking to see it all.
- Bragenzerwald – The idyllic villages of Bragenzerwald capture what traditional Austria is all about. Alpine dairies produce delicious cheeses, while cows roam the countryside with their iconic cowbells ringing through the town.
- Salzburg – As the birthplace of Mozart, Salzburg attracts many lovers of classical music.
- Innsbruck – This is the capital of the Austrian Alps. The Habsburg palaces are one of the premier attractions here, and lounge bars offer a thriving nightlife.
- Grossglockner Road – This road takes you through some of Austria’s most breathtaking countryside as you make the trip to the country’s tallest peak.
- Graz – To experience modern Austrian culture, visit Austria’s “Second City.”
- Villach – A great place to visit if you want to ski in the winter or enjoy one of Austria’s beautiful lakes in the summer.
- Vienna – A tour of Austria’s capital city is a chance to see its history first hand.
- Salzburg – See where the real Von Trapp family lived on a Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, or simply explore the historic city for yourself.
How to Get Cash
- To change your money to euros, visit a bank for the best rates. Rates can vary from one bank to the next, so be sure to shop around to ensure you are getting the best deal.
- Traveler’s checks are welcome in Austria, and they can be exchanged at most currency exchange locations as well as banks.
- ATMs are widespread throughout Austria, and you can even find them in rural villages. Austrian ATMs do not charge fees outside of what your own bank charges, so these can be a very affordable way to get cash.
- Credit cards are widely accepted, with Visa, MasterCard and EuroCard being the most popular. You can even use your credit card to get a cash advance at most banks.
- For emergency cash situations, you can have money wired to you for a large fee at Western Union or similar locations. These can be found in most major cities.