Galleries, grandeur and fairy-tale villages: Austria’s cultural, historical and luxury hotspots | Discover winter in Austria

Austria’s alpine playground is legendary – its superb skiing, impeccable hospitality and some of the most sublime mountain scenery on the planet. But look beyond the meticulously groomed slopes and fabulous après-ski bars, and you’ll find a whole world of other reasons to visit the Austrian Alps; from rich cultural traditions to splendid palaces and castles, UNESCO-listed historic towns and sites, spas of phenomenal quality, and museums brimming with world-class art to justify multiple trips in themselves. And as fortune would have it for a winter visit to Austria, it’s all usually just a hop from a ski slope.

Innsbruck’s architectural highlights include Helbling House. Photography: Wirestock, Inc./Alamy

Get off at Innsbruck
Nowhere in Austria matches Innsbruck for its juxtaposition of city and trails. The Hungerburg Funicular departs from the town centre, taking skiers and freeriders from the cafes and cobbled streets of the historic old town to the cable car station, which then takes them to the black slopes of Nordkette – including the infamous Karrinne corridor, where the gradient reaches 70% adrenaline. Total journey time, barely 20 minutes.

Innsbruck’s famous Golden Roof is a late Gothic marvel, a covered balcony built for Emperor Maximilian I and covered in over 2,500 gilded copper tiles. Still in the old town, don’t miss the Imperial Palace; built for Maximilian I and remodeled in the 18th century by Maria Theresa, the Court Church (which includes the imposing Ebert organ) and the beautiful Helbling House, with its flamboyant Baroque facade.

Step into popular history
There are several annual carnivals celebrated in towns and villages near Innsbruck, such as Fasnacht in Nassereith, where Tyrolean traditions of Mardi Gras and Alpine folklore are still very much alive; think intricately carved wooden masks, colorful costumes and an elaborate cast of characters whose task it is to chase away the winter blues and usher in a new spring. And just over 50 km west of Innsbruck, on the road to Ischgl, Kappl and the Paznaun Valley, you’ll find Imst, home to one of Europe’s biggest carnivals, the ‘Imst Schemenlaufen, which only takes place every four years (the next one is scheduled for 2024) and was the first tradition in Austria to be included in the Unesco list of intangible cultural heritage.

city ​​of symphonies
Salzburg, the city of Mozart and the gateway to the winter resorts of Salzburgerland, is home to some of the best preserved Baroque architecture in the world. a true fairy tale setting, with atmosphere in spades. Don’t miss Mozart’s birthplace – a fascinating museum, beautifully curated and presented exhibits – the charming Mirabell Palace and Gardens, the DomQuartier Museum and the iconic hilltop castle. Along with Innsbruck’s Christmas market, Salzburg’s is as good as any in Austria; a place to have fun lebkuchen (Christmas cookies) and one or two warming glasses glühwein (mulled wine), browsing the stalls of craftsmen and listening to the choirs sing in front of the cathedral.

Small town, old world grandeur
Only 48 km from Salzburg, the picturesque little town of Bad Ischl lies on the Traun river and is the ideal starting point for the alpine lakes and mountains of the Salzkammergut region. But it is of course a destination worthy of the name. Filled with remnants of imperial splendour, the city’s historic center, along with its Habsburg villas, mansions and concert halls, wouldn’t seem at all out of place in Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel – so it shouldn’t come as a surprise. to be European Capital of Culture in 2023.

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The Leopold Museum in Vienna houses an exceptional collection. Photography: Lisa Rastl/Leopold Museum

cultural capital
And then there’s Vienna, with its myriad of museums and galleries, palaces, and other exceptionally beautiful architecture (and still just an hour from several ski slopes). The Leopold Museum houses an astonishing collection of artwork by Egon Schiele (the world’s largest collection of his work, in fact), Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka, as well as its permanent exhibition, Vienna 1900: The Birth of Modernism , which gives a fantastic overview of the dynamic and innovative art of this period.

Vienna is also home to the fabulous Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien (Art History Museum), with its huge collection of works by Raphael, Titian, Rembrandt and Dürer, not to mention the world’s largest collection of paintings by Bruegel, and the lavish Kunstkammer Vienna, with over 2,000 treasures collected from across the Habsburg Empire and beyond by a succession of emperors. The Belvedere Palace and Museum is home to a wonderful selection of works by Klimt and others, and it’s here that you’ll find Klimt’s most famous painting, The Kiss. During your stay at the mumok (Museum of Modern Art), you will find works by Picasso, Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg among the important modern and contemporary collections.

There are many, many more museums and galleries to visit, from the MAK (Museum of Applied Arts) to the newly refurbished Sigmund Freud Museum – but be sure to leave time for the city itself, which really is a big one. and sprawling succession of architectural gems, from iconic Viennese secession buildings to dazzling modern design, and everything in between. Besides spending time in its historic cafes, simply strolling through the narrow streets and hidden courtyards of the Old Town must count as one of the great pleasures of visiting the Austrian capital.

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The luxurious Aqua Dome Tyrol Therme Längenfeld spa offers warm pools in a winter wonderland

Take a luxury cure
If you need some pampering, Austria has more than covered, with a wealth of superb spas and wellness centers all over the country. After all, hot springs have been attracting visitors here since Roman times. Head to the Tauern Spa in Zell am See-Kaprun, with its Kitzsteinhorn views from the rooftop pool, or the award-winning and dazzlingly modern Aqua Dome Tyrol Therme Längenfeld in the Ötztal region , where you can relax in futuristic outdoor pools. – which look like inverted flying saucers – surrounded by 3,000 meter peaks. What better way to relax, unwind and disconnect from the business of modern life than with a panoramic view of Austria’s incomparable winter playground?

From magical Christmas markets to world-class skiing, epic New Year’s Eve celebrations to spectacular spas, fall in love with all that winter has to offer, with an unforgettable trip to Austria. Plan your perfect trip at austria.info/en/winter

Elisha A. Tilghman