Austria

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Introduction to Austria

Austria has few peers as a year-round holiday destination, with plenty of winter sports in the Alps, some of the most impressive and overblown architecture in Europe and an unrivalled musical tradition that even The Sound of Music couldn't sully.

The cities have plenty to engage visitors. Vienna is the capital, hub of the country's musical life and littered with beautiful buildings. Music, art and architecture reach baroque perfection in Salzburg, Mozart's birthplace. Innsbruck's snow-capped peaks frame its fascinating historic buildings.

Throughout Austria, you'll find the rhythm of daily life has a musical beat; music festivals fill its calender. There's also a wonderful range of outdoor activities, from lounging on lakeside beaches to paragliding from mountains. The skiing is some of the best in the world.

Full country name: Republic of Austria

Area: 83,858 sq km

Population: 8.02 million

Capital City: Vienna

People: 97% Germanic origin, 2% Slovene & Croat and 1% Turkish

Language: German, Turkish, Slovenian, Croatian, English

Religion: 88% Roman Catholic, 6% Protestant

Government: federal republic

Head of State: President Heinz Fischer

Head of Government: Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel

GDP: US$227.7 billion

GDP per capita: US$27,900

Annual Growth: 2.9%

Inflation: 1.7%

Major Industries: Machinery, textiles, iron & steel, timber and tourism

Major Trading Partners: EU (esp. Germany, Italy & Hungary), US & Switzerland

Member of EU: Yes

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Traveler Facts

Visas: EU, US, Canadian, EEA, Israeli, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Singaporean, Australian and New Zealand citizens do not require visas for stays of up to three months. Nationals of African and Arabic countries generally require a visa, also valid for up to three months.

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1 (Central European Time)

Dialling Code: 43

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

The cycle of music festivals is unceasing. In January, New Year concerts consist of lavish balls in Vienna. February brings Fasching (Shrovetide carnival) which celebrates the return of spring with masked processions and dances. Corpus Christi (the second Thursday after Whitsun) is heralded with more carnivals, some held on lakes in the Salzkammergut. The Vienna International Festival (from mid-May to mid-June) has a wide-ranging programme of arts and is considered the highlight of the year. Midsummer Night's celebrations on 21 June light up the sky with magnificent bonfires. The Salzburg International Festival takes place in late July and August and includes plenty of music by the city's favourite son, Mozart. National Day on 26 October involves lots of patriotic flag-waving. St Nicholas Day, on 5 to 6 December, marks the beginning of the Christmas season.

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Best time to Visit

Summer sightseeing and winter sports make Austria a year-round destination. In the summer high season (July to August) crowds are bigger and prices higher. Winter sports are in full swing from mid-December to late March. Spring in the Alps is in June, when the Alpine flowers start coating the mountains with colour.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Euro

Meals

Budget: €4-8

Mid-range: €8-20

High: €20-30

Deluxe: €30+

Lodging

Budget: €10-40

Mid-range: €40-80

High: €80-200

Deluxe: €200+

In tourist areas, budget travellers can get by on about EUR25 per day if camping, staying in hostels, travelling on a rail pass, sticking to student cafés, cheap lunch specials or self-catering, and only having the occasional drink. Staying in a cheap pension and dispensing with self-catering will require about EUR50 a day - add EUR10 for a room with private bathroom. To stay in a mid-range hotel, have a cheap lunch, a decent dinner, some money to spend on evening entertainment and not be too concerned about how expensive a cup of coffee is, a daily allowance of at least EUR10 would be needed. Off the beaten track, the main saving will be from lower accommodation prices.

Hotel and restaurant bills include a service charge, but hotel porters and cleaning staff usually expect something for their services. It is also customary to tip in restaurants and cafes. Round up smaller bills and add an extra 5% to 10% to larger ones: simply say the total amount you want them to take when handing over the money (it's not usual to leave the tip on the table). Taxi drivers will expect around 10% extra. Tour guides, cloakroom attendants and hairdressers are also usually tipped. Bargaining is not common except in flea markets, but you can try for a discount if paying for major purchases in cash and it never hurts to haggle for a better hotel rate in the low season if you're staying for more than a few days.

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Attractions

Vienna

Grandiose Vienna was the showpiece of the all-conquering Habsburg dynasty. Monumental edifices line the city centre, world-class museums burst with treasures, white stallions strut their way down mirrored halls and renowned orchestras and angelic choirboys perform in lavish concert halls.

Most of Vienna's main sights are crammed into the Innere Stadt (inner city). The district is adorned with the outstanding Gothic heights of Stephansdom, the massive Hofburg (Imperial Palace), the cultured history of the Jewish quarter (Judenplatz) and a scattering of historic streets and squares.

Eisriesenwelt Caves

Set at an elevation of 1640m (5380ft), these caves are the largest accessible ice caves in the world with more than 40km (25mi) of explored passageways. Entry to the caves is regulated and a 75-minute tour takes in several immense caverns containing elaborate ice formations and frozen waterfalls.

The caves were first entered in 1879, but it was one Alexander von Mork who pioneered the most extensive exploration: when he signed off, his ashes were placed in an urn in the 'cathedral' cave. Be sure to wear warm clothes when you visit because the passageways are as close as you'll ever come to feeling you've been trapped in your Westinghouse icebox. The caves are open between May and early October and are located near Werfen. You can get there by train from Salzburg (50 minutes) or via Hwy 10. Allow 3-4 hours for the whole visit, which includes getting to the caves from Werfen.

Grossglockner Road

For a fantastic 50km (30mi) mountain tour, load up the car and head for the Grossglockner Road, Austria's premier panorama drama. Most of the juicy bits are in the Hohe Tauern National Park where there are dramatic views of numerous unpronounceable peaks, including the mighty Grossglockner.

The road was built between 1930 and 1935, but the course it follows has been an important trading route between Germany and Italy since the Middle Ages. The Grossglockner looms across the vast tongue of the Pasterze Glacier and looks every centimetre of its 3797m (12454ft).

Salzburg

Salzburg's Altstadt (old town), on the south bank of the river, is a Baroque fiesta of churches, plazas, courtyards and fountains, oozing the waves of charm that you would expect from this Mozart Mecca. Museums, houses, squares, chocolate bars and liqueurs are all part of one giant homage to Wolfgang.

Salzburg is picturesquely sheltered by surrounding mountains and straddles the Salzach River near the border with Germany. From its quaint old town nestled below the medieval Hohensalzburg Fortress to its baroque palace and manicured gardens, the city presents one perfect view after another.

St Anton

The Arlberg region comprises several linked resorts and offers some of the best skiing in Austria. St Anton is the largest and least elitist of these resorts, but even here budget travellers can kiss their savings goodbye amid the easy-going atmosphere and vigorous nightlife.

St Anton has good, medium-to-advanced runs as well as nursery slopes on Gampen and Kapall. The resort went down in skiing history as the place where Hannes Schneider pioneered the 'Arlberg method' (basically just having your legs glued together) in the early 20th century.


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Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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