Winter in Austria may be synonymous with skiing, but there are many other wonderful things to do during the colder months. From Christmas markets and tobogganing to music concerts and relaxing in a thermal spa – there are many great reasons to visit Austria in winter.
- 1. City Sightseeing in Winter in Austria
- 2. Visit a Christmas Market
- 3. Tobogganing in Winter in Austria
- 4. Attend a Music Concert
- 5. Snowshoe Hiking in Austria in Winter
- 6. Relax in an Austrian Spa Town
- 7. Stand on a Snow-Covered Mountain Peak
- 8. Embed Yourself in an Alpine Village
- 9. Eat and Drink Local Delicacies
- The Weather in Austria in Winter
- What to Pack for Winter in Austria
- FAQs About Winter in Austria
1. City Sightseeing in Winter in Austria
Vienna, Salzburg, and Innsbruck are three of the best cities in Austria to visit in winter when the summer crowds have thinned out. 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.
Other great cities to visit in Austria in winter, are Graz, Linz, Klagenfurt, and Bregenz.
- Vienna – The Austrian capital 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.
- Salzburg – The city´s UNESCO World Heritage historic centre with Mozart’s birthplace and the Hohensalzburg Fortress is transformed into a winter wonderland when it snows. Following in the footsteps of Maria von Trapp in The Sound of Music is another great way to explore Salzburg in winter.
- Innsbruck – If you want to combine city comforts with outdoor adventures, Innsbruck in Tyrol is perhaps the best city to visit in Austria in the winter. You can stand on a mountain peak, go on a snowshoe hike, or ride a toboggan within an hour after leaving the city centre.
- Graz – Another Austrian provincial capital, this time of Styria, with a UNESCO world heritage old town. Castle Hill is a great vantage point from where to take it all in during winter. Or go on a winter walk along the Mur River.
- Linz – The capital of Upper Austria is well-known for its lively arts and culture scene. And if you need some fresh air after spending time in a museum or theatre, you can go ice skating or hiking up the Pöstlingberg (and come down with a toboggan if there´s enough snow).
- Klagenfurt – Austria´s most southern city is also one of its sunniest in winter. After taking in the historical sights in the centre, you can explore some of the beautiful lakes, such as the Wörthersee, in close proximity to the city.
- Bregenz – On the banks of Lake Constance where Austria meets Germany and Switzerland in the West, Bregenz is a great base to explore this corner of Europe in winter. The Bregenzer Wald is a great winter hiking destination for those who don´t like crowded ski resorts.
2. 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.
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 where the carol was first sung in 1818.
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.
3. Tobogganing in Winter in Austria
Another way of coming down a mountain that requires less effort than skiing or hiking is on top of a sled. We aim to do this at least once every winter in Austria.
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 in Austria 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.
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?
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.
4. 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.
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.
5. Snowshoe Hiking in Austria in Winter
Snowshoe hiking or snowshoeing is the latest craze among nature lovers during winter in Austria. 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.
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.
6. 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.
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.
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.
7. Stand on a Snow-Covered Mountain Peak
Cable cars and gondolas in ski resorts aren’t for skiers only. 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.
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. Embed Yourself in an Alpine Village
Quaint Alpine villages have a special charm in Austria 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.
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.
9. Eat and Drink Local Delicacies
Eating and drinking local specialties are a given when traveling. In Austria, certain dishes and drinks were designed especially for the colder time of the year. For example, there’s nothing like a well-brewed schnapps to warm you from the inside.
Some of the best craft distillers in the world live in Tyrol, with 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
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.
As far as food goes, some dishes are especially popular during winter in Austria. Dumpling soup (Knödelsuppe), Käsespätzle, Kiachl, Kaskrapfen, and Kartoffelblattln are all foods to look out for on Christmas markets and in restaurants. And for dessert there´s apple strudel or Kaiserschmarren, the thick shredded pancake. You can even watch how to make delicious apple strudel at Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna.
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:
|Zell am See
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.
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
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