Winter in Austria for Non-Skiers: 10 Top Things to Do

Try tobogganing and drinking to good health

Winter in Austria is synonymous with skiing. However, there are many other great things to do in Austria in winter. From Christmas markets and tobogganing to music concerts to relaxing in a thermal spa – read all about it here.

Hiking in Austria in winter.

1. City Sightseeing Without the Crowds

Vienna, Salzburg, and Innsbruck are the best cities in Austria to visit but they can get busy in summer.

It’s obviously colder during winter in Austria but temperatures rarely drop under zero during the day and there are plenty of sunny days. Besides, the insides of shops, restaurants, and museums are always warm.

Innsbruck and Salzburg are among the 10 most beautiful European winter destinations. Their historic centres are small enough to explore on foot.

Winter in Innsbruck
A winter’s take on Innsbruck’s row of colourful houses opposite the Inn River from the market square.

From Salzburg’s UNESCO World Heritage historic centre with Mozart’s birthplace and the Hohensalzburg Fortress to the Golden Roof with its mountain background in the heart of Innsbruck – there is more than enough to see.

Vienna should be part of any Europe winter itinerary. Think Viennese palaces and coffee houses or some of the best museums in the world in the Museum Quarter – there is more than enough to see and do in Vienna in winter.

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If sightseeing is the main reason for your winter holidays in Austria, consider a sightseeing pass. The Innsbruck and Salzburg city cards and the Vienna Pass are good value for money if you’re planning on visiting at least two museums and other attractions.

2. Tobogganing

Another way of coming down a mountain that requires much less effort is on top of a sled.

Tobogganing is fun for the whole family. You can opt for the easy way out by taking a cable car to the start or try the more traditional way of walking up the track and pulling the sled behind you. Toboggans can be rented at most ski resorts with their own sled runs.

The Austrian Tyrol alone boasts more than 750 km of toboggan runs, ranging from easy and intermediate to difficult. Not much skill is required to go “dashing through the snow” on the easy and intermediate runs. Just make sure you know how to turn and brake.

Sledding in Tyrol
Ready for some fun on a sled at Axamer Lizum near Innsbruck.

Many runs have a separate route for walking up, making it safer. You can even go sledding at night on one of the many floodlit tracks.

An important part of any sledding adventure is to pause at a quaint mountain hut, either at the start, in the middle, or at the end. The appropriate drinks to order are Glühwein or hot chocolate with cream. And why not try some Apfelstrüdel or Kaiserschmarrn (thick pancake strips with fruit compote) for an extra warm feeling inside?

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Our Recommendation

The toboggan runs at the Elfer Lift in Neustift in the Stubai Valley. There are two runs of 8 km long, with a traditional restaurant on the way. You can rent toboggans at the lift station. Also, check out the Berwang sled run near Reutte.

What to Wear Sledding

After a sledding accident due to an icy patch that took me tumbling down a mountain slope, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of wearing a helmet when sledding. For kids, it’s an absolute must.

Apart from the usual warm winter snow attire, I also highly recommend wearing snow boot gaiters. You’ll be doing a whole lot of breaking with your heels. Snow will go up under your pants (even ski pants with elastic at the bottom) and eventually into your shoes if you don’t wear them.

3. Attend a Music Concert

Austria is as famous for its music concerts as for its mountains. It doesn’t matter where you’re spending your winter holidays in Austria, there will be a concert near you.

While it’s pretty hard to get tickets for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra’s famous New Year’s Concert, there are many other quality classical music concerts in Vienna.

And where else to listen to a Mozart concerto than in Salzburg where the composer was born and spent the greater part of his childhood? I can personally recommend the Mozart dinner concert in the Baroque Hall of the Stiftskeller St Peter.

Mozart dinner concert in Salzburg.
Listening to a Mozart concert while dining.

Innsbruck has its own impressive provincial theatre company, while there are also different regional initiatives such as the Tyrol Winter Festival Erl.

You can also watch out for the Christmas concerts of the Wilten Boys Choir in the Court Church in Innsbruck.

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You don’t have to miss out on the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s Concert if you can’t get tickets. It’s broadcast live in Austria and more than 80 other countries.

4. Snowshoe Hiking in Austria in Winter

Snowshoe hiking or snowshoeing is the latest craze among nature lovers in Austria in winter. It requires only a moderate level of fitness and no special training or skills.

You can either head for the hills or the valleys on your own (staying on safe, well-marked paths) or join an organised snowshoe hike. The snowshoes allow you to easily walk in deep snow off the beaten path.

Snowshoehiking is a great thing to do in Austria in winter.
Snowshoe hiking in the Stubai Valley. ©TVB Stubai Tirol Andre Schoenherr

Many local tourism organisations offer guided hikes in their respective regions. You can also rent or borrow snowshoes from most of them.

Snowshoeing on the Schmitten mountain above Zell am See offers great views over Lake Zell and the surrounding mountains. Another area which is perfectly suited to snowshoe hiking is Seefeld in Tirol.

5. Relax in an Austrian Spa Town

There are various mineral-rich thermal spas in Austria where you can leave all your stress behind. Two spa towns that come to mind are Bad Waltersdorf in Styria and Bad Gastein in Salzburgerland.

Bad Waltersdorf’s newly renovated Quellenhotel Heiltherme Bad Waltersdorf features seven thermal pools, 12 saunas, and a range of traditional Styrian medicinal treatments.

In Bad Gastein, surrounded by the Hohe Tauern mountains in Austria’s Salzburgerland province, the water is said to be naturally rich in radon. Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) came here to be cured of ailments.

The Felsentherme, Alpentherme Gastein, and Gasteiner Heilstollen are all excellent spas in Bad Gastein. The latter even takes you underground into a medieval gold mine.

The biggest and most popular spa in the Austrian Tyrol is the AQUA DOME Hotel and Tirol Therme Längenfeld in the Ötz Valley (Ötztal), about a 30-minute drive from Innsbruck.

Relaxing in a thermal bath is one of the nicest things to do in Austria in winter.
The Aqua Dome thermal baths and spa in winter. © Aqua Dome

Covering more than 50,000 square metres, the AQUA DOME caters for everyone. A supervised children’s area with a free animation programme makes it a hit among families.

Lake Achen’s Atoll Achensee spa and indoor pool complex is one I’ve personally visited. The views over the lake and snow-capped mountain peaks are magnificent from the saunas and heated outdoor pools.

If you’re looking for a smaller and less busy spa in Austria in winter, the sulfurous mineral spring water of Bad Häring near Kufstein is a good choice.

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If you have privacy issues, don’t go into an Austrian sauna. Most of them are “textile free”, which means you can only enter in your birthday suit.

6. Visit a Christmas Market

If you’re in Austria in December, you can’t miss out on the Christmas markets.

Spending an afternoon or early evening with your hands wrapped around a steaming mug of glühwein (mulled wine), eating kiachl (deep-fried dough delicacies), and roasted chestnuts while listening to traditional Christmas music is one of the great pleasures of winter in Austria.

Golden Roof Christmas Market
The Christmas market in front of Innsbruck’s famous Golden Roof.

When the market is in a historic centre or has a mountain backdrop like the Innsbruck Christmas Markets the experience is even more magical. Most Christmas markets in the bigger cities and towns open daily from mid-November to the end of December.

The smaller village markets are mostly held over one or two weekends just before Christmas. We love the atmospheric Christmas markets in Rattenberg, Austria’s smallest historic old town, and Seefeld in Tirol.

From Salzburg, the Christmas markets in St Wolfgang, St Gilgen, and Strobl around Lake Wolfgang are only a short bus ride away.

Did you know one of the most beautiful Christmas Carols of all time was written and composed in Austria? You can find out all about it on a magical Silent Night tour to the village of Oberndorf bei Salzburg (near Salzburg) where the carol was first sung in 1818.

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Vienna has more than one Christmas market spread around the city. Some of them get pretty busy just before Christmas. If it’s your first time visiting, a guided tour of the Vienna Christmas Markets isn’t a bad thing to orientate yourself. Afterward, you can go back to the ones you loved at your own pace.

7. Stand on a Snow-Covered Mountain Peak

Cable cars and gondolas in ski resorts aren’t only for skiers. If you simply want to know what it feels like to stand on an Alpine peak and look out over snow-covered mountains as far as the eye can see, there are many cable cars in Austria to take you there with little effort.

The Hafelekarspitze above Innsbruck is a 15-minute walk from the top station of the Nordkettenbahnen, which leaves from the city centre. On a clear day, you can see as far as Italy in the South while the German border is somewhere in the rugged peaks to the north.

For a few months in winter, there’s also an igloo bar outside the Seegrube station of the Nordkettenbahnen.

The Top of Tyrol viewing platform on the Stubai glacier is another popular lookout point for non-skiers in winter. From here you have a 360° view over the Stubai Alps. Those who’ve counted them, say you can see no less than 109 summits of over 3,000 m from here.

Top of Tyrol Stubai Glacier

They’re not mountain peaks, but the UNESCO World Heritage views from the Hallstatt Skywalk and the 5 Fingers viewing platform over Lake Hallstatt in winter are definitely something to see. Hallstatt is an easy day trip from Salzburg.

8. Cuddle With a Husky in Söll

  • Credit for this contribution goes to Karin Robertson

“In a concerted effort to reduce the amount of stuff in our lives we are weaning ourselves off gift giving in the traditional sense. Wrapping paper and plastic used once and hiffed* (well, relocated to the Recyclinghof) just seems crazy the more you think about it.  Let alone the problem of where to place the sometimes odd offerings we get from well-meaning others…

So, this Christmas we went to the dogs! I got my other half a Huskdays experience in Söll. I went along too…to keep him company of course.

Over winter on Tuesday and Friday afternoons you can spend around 3 hours learning about and giving huskies cuddles.  And they will let you know loudly that you are not to stop with the attention-giving.

Huskies in Austria in winter.
Getting to know the Huskies in Söll, Austria.

For 25 Euros, if you have the local guest card, or 30 Euros without, you are entertained by the mushers and their dogs.  Everyone gets to do a lap in the sled either with the musher (Erwin) or, if you are feeling adventurous, by yourself.  Meanwhile, the friendly information centre guide who brings you over to where the dogs are set up gets busy making a fire and heating up some punch.

It is a really good afternoon out. I can’t give too much detail away because a big part of the experience is hearing the story of the group – personalities, where the dogs come from, traits and how the folks got into this activity, etc.

You definitely need to book.  I booked online and paid at the Söll Information Centre on the day. This is where you are asked to gather before Georg the guide takes you on a short walk over to the huskies.  You will hear them before you can see them :lol:.

  • Söll is about 72 km or a one-hour drive from Innsbruck
  • * to hiff — highly technical term from Down Under meaning to heave something or to dispose of something.

9. Embed Yourself in an Alpine Village

Quaint Alpine villages have a special charm in winter. Strolling through the cobbled streets, spending a quiet moment in a centuries-old church, gazing at the traditional window and door dressings, stopping to have a coffee or glühwein in a gemutliche” café or stube (pub) – this is what makes a winter holiday in Austria unique and unforgettable.

Neder in Stubaital
Staying in the village of Neder in the Stubai Valley means you’re close to the Pinnistal sled run.

You can even do a day trip by train, stopping at different villages. Tyrolean towns with train stations near the centre, include Kufstein, Kitzbühel, and Seefeld in Tirol. Kufstein has an impressive fortress to visit, Kitzbühel is great for regional shopping, and Seefeld is surrounded by snow-capped mountains.

If you choose wisely, you don’t even have to leave your hotel. There are so many lovely hotels in Austrian mountain resorts where you can snuggle up with a book next to a Kachelofen (traditional oven-like fireplace) while enjoying the mountain scenery outside. Most hotels offer very reasonable half-board options and have their own spa area.

10. Take a Schnapps Tour

If it’s cold outside in Austria in winter, there’s nothing like a well-brewed schnapps to warm you from the inside.

Fortunately, you will find some of the best craft distillers in the world in Tyrol. There are no less than 4,000 local distilleries in the Alpine province. Each year, they turn 5 million kilograms of fruit into schnapps, spirits, and liqueurs.

Austrian schnapps tasting is one of the great things to do in Austria in winter. ©Tirol Werbung / Kranebitter Klaus
Schnapps from a local distiller at the Kufstein farmers’ market. ©Tirol Werbung / Kranebitter Klaus

Around 40 of the finest distillers have opened their doors to the public to create a Tyrol schnapps route.  When visiting one or more of these local distilleries you will learn all about the fine art of making quality schnapps while doing some “quality assurance taste tests”.

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Schnapps Tasting Alternative

Austria is also home to some excellent beer breweries. A brewery tour is a great idea for an indoor outing on a cold day. Good options are the Braukunsthaus of Zillertal Beer and the Stiegl Brauwelt in Salzburg.  

Planning for a Trip to Austria in Winter

The Weather in Austria in Winter

As a central European country, with the Alps taking up a large part, winter in Austria is cold everywhere. Temperatures can easily drop to between minus 10 degrees Celsius at night and even lower.

Here are the average maximum temperatures in degrees Celsius for some of the popular winter destinations in Austria:

City/TownDecJanFeb
Vienna
Salzburg
Innsbruck
Graz
Hallstatt
Zell am See
Klagenfurt

Snowfall is common, especially in mountainous areas. These areas are also the sunniest, while snow and sun are equally scarce in Vienna.

What to Pack for Winter in Austria

Despite what looks like freezing temperatures, you don’t have to feel the cold if you come armed with the appropriate attire. In fact, we are often much colder in South Africa in winter than in Austria.

The best advice is to always wear one warm jacket with layers underneath. It’s sometimes so hot inside restaurants and shops that you can easily strip down to a t-shirt.

Austrian winter attire.
See why I love gloves with flip fingers when visiting an Austrian Christmas market?

Here is a list of essential things to keep you warm and comfortable when outside:

  • Warm down jacket, preferably knee-length.
  • Pair of fur or wool-lined waterproof boots.
  • Set of thermal underwear for outdoor activities.
  • Warm hat that covers the ears.
  • Pair of lined gloves with finger flaps (to make holding a mug of Glühwein or taking pictures easier).
  • Pair of snow gloves if you’re planning on playing with the white stuff.
  • Warm woollen scarf.

FAQs About Winter in Austria

What months are winter in Austria?

Winter in Austria is generally from December to February, although there may be some cold spells with snow in November and March too. The coldest month is usually January, when temperatures often don’t go above 0°C during the day.

Where in Austria does it snow?

Some snow falls just about everywhere in Austria each winter although mountainous states like Tyrol, Vorarlberg, Carinthia, and Land Salzburg get considerably more snow than others. The Hoher Sonnblick mountain on the border of Carinthia and Salzburg Land officially gets the most snow. Other places with lots of snow days are Zell am See, Bad Gastein, Schladming, Krippenstein, and Bad Aussee.

What is there to do in Austria in winter?

Austria is known for skiing and other snow sports like tobogganing and snowshoe hiking in winter. There are many world-class resorts across the country’s Alpine regions. Winter is also a perfect time for sightseeing in Austria when the cities are less crowded. Visiting Christmas markets from mid-November to the end of December is another popular winter activity in Austria.

*Disclosure*

Having fun in Austria, and then writing about it is hard work 😆 . That’s why some links in this article are affiliate links. I may earn a small commission, at no additional cost to you, if you use any of them to make a purchase. It’s totally cool if you don’t. I love to help anyway. If you do, it will help us discover another part of Austria to write about.

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About Linda de Beer 90 Articles
Name: Linda de Beer Profession: Travel blogger and freelance writer
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eoin

I am not a fan of winter but I much prefer the cold than the rain we get in Ireland. Maybe Austria will be on my list for next year 🙂

Steph & Zach

Perfect post for us because we don’t like skiing. Those thermal baths look pretty appealing though! great ideas!

Victoria

I would love to visit Austria in winter to see the Christmas markets! We actually went to a lot of easter ones when we were there last year! So fun

Lucy

I didn’t realise how many other options there would be! I would be checking out the thermal baths, the Christmas markets, stopping for a drink in the igloo bar and tasting the schnapps!

Carrie

I’ve always wanted to visit a Christmas market in Europe! The roasted chestnuts and mulled wine sound amazing. I’ve mainly heard of the ones in Germany, didn’t realize Austria was a good place to visit them too.

Claire

Ooh the thermal bath & schnapps tasting sounds much more like my cup of tea, I’m scared of skiing but this sounds lovely!

Tom

We were lately in the mountains in Zermatt and some friends made fun of us that we didn’t went skiing or snowboarding. I love how you show how many cool other things one can do in winter! I would absolutely enjoy a 8km long toboggan run followed by some rest and recreation in the AQUA DOME! Maybe even finishing the day with a schnapps or two or three 😀

carla

Perfect for me! Im not skier at all! Will remember this great tips. Thanks!

Suruchi

These are the wonderful options apart from Skiing. Tobogganing sounds like super fun and I think one doesn’t need to do much effort in it. Visiting Christmas markets and watching the snow covered mountains are some more things I would love to do.

Holly

I would love to take a stroll through the Alpine village. It looks pretty and I don’t even like cold or snow much lol.

Mila Wong

I’ll be in Vienna Austria in late December and
this is my first time, I’m hoping for some snow
and magical light of Christmas 🎄