This itinerary travels the country from end to end, hitting the heights and seeing the sights—all in a one-week to 10-day trip.
There is frequent train service between the major cities in this itinerary. Side trips into the countryside are possible by bus or train. Trains leave every half hour from the Westbahnhof in Vienna, arriving in Linz in about 90 minutes. From Linz it is 1 hour to the Salzburg Hauptbahnhof and another two hours to the Innsbruck terminal, then another 2½ hours to Bregenz.
For a more romantic kickoff, travel by a Blue Danube Schiffahrt/DDSG riverboat from Vienna to Linz (departs from Vienna three times a day between mid-April and September).
Austria's glorious past is evident everywhere, but especially where this tour begins, in Vienna. Get to know the city by trolley with a sightseeing tour of the Ringstrasse. Take in the Kunsthistoriches Museum (the incredible detail of the famous Brueghel paintings could keep you fascinated for hours), walk along Kärntnerstrasse to magnificent St. Stephen's Cathedral, and spend an afternoon in one of the city's cozy coffeehouses. Devote a half day to Schönbrunn Palace, and set aside an evening for a visit to a jovial Heurige wine tavern.
To zoom from Vienna to Linz by autobahn would be to miss out on one of Austria's most treasured sights, the blue Danube. To tour some quaint wine villages, follow the "Austrian Romantic Road" (Route 3), along the north bank of the river, instead of the speedier A1 autobahn. Cross to the south side of the Danube to the breathtaking baroque abbey at Melk, and along the way visit the 1,000-year-old town of Krems and picture-perfect Dürnstein, in the heart of the Wachau wine region.
Fast-forward into Austria's future with a stop in progressive Linz, the country's third-largest city. Linz is a busy port on the Danube and an important center for trade and business. Techno geeks will enjoy the Ars Electronica Museum; others can wander the beautifully restored medieval courtyards of the Altstadt (Old Town). For great views, ride the city's Pöstlingbergbahn, the world's steepest mountain railway, or opt for a Danube steamer cruise to Enns.
For Austria in all its Hollywood splendor, head to the idyllic Salzkammergut, better known as the Lake District, where The Sound of Music was filmed. The town of Bad Ischl—famous for its operetta festival and pastries—makes a good base. Travel south on Route 145 to Hallstatt, one of Austria's most photographed lakeside villages. Return to Bad Ischl, then head west to St. Wolfgang for swimming and sailing.
This is a city made for pedestrians, with an abundance of churches, palaces, mansions, and—as befits the birthplace of Mozart—music festivals. Stroll through the old city center with its wrought-iron shop signs, tour the medieval Fortress Hohensalzburg, and relax in the Mirabell Gardens (where the von Trapp children "Do-Re-Mi"-ed). Children of all ages will adore the famed Marionettentheater.
Tour Innsbruck's treasures—including the famous Golden Roof mansion and the Hofburg—but do as the Tiroleans do and spend time reveling in the high-mountain majesty. After all, Innsbruck is the only major city in the Alps. For a splendid panorama, take the cable railway to the Hafelekar, high above the Inn Valley. For a trip through the quaint villages around Innsbruck, ride the Stubaitalbahn, a charming old-time train, or head by bus to the Stubai Glacier for year-round skiing.
Taking the Arlberg Pass (or the much more scenic Silvretta High Alpine Road), head to the city of Bregenz, capital of Vorarlberg. Bregenz owes its character as much to neighboring Switzerland and Germany as to Austria, and is most appealing in summer, when sun-worshippers crowd the shores of Lake Constance to enjoy an opera festival set on the world's largest outdoor floating stage. Take a lake excursion and explore Bregenz's medieval streets.
This is a trip where Alpine glory is all around you: meadows and forests set against a backdrop of towering craggy peaks, and gentle wooded rambles that lead to clear mountain lakes and storybook castles. Let go of your worries and let the natural beauty of the countryside work its magic.
The villages and lakes of the Salzkammergut region extend south from Salzburg like a string of pearls. Base yourself in Bad Ischl, a first-class spa in the heart of the Lake District. From there, head west to St. Wolfgang, one of the most photo-friendly villages in Austria. For the most scenic surroundings, park in nearby Strobl and hop one of the lake ferries to the pedestrian-only village, where you can relax with a coffee on the terrace of the famous Weisses Rössl (White Horse Inn), marvel at the 16th-century Michael Pacher altarpiece in the parish church, and take the railway up the 5,800-foot Schaftberg peak for gasp-inducing vistas.
Set on fjordlike Hallstättersee, this jewel is an optical illusion perched between water and mountain—a tight grouping of terraced fishermen's cottages and churches offering, at first glance, no apparent reason why it doesn't tumble into the lake. On a sunny day the views of the lake and village, considered the oldest settlement in Austria, are spectacular, and on a misty morning they are even more so. Consider a canoe outing, or tour the Hallstatt salt mine, the oldest in the world.
Take in the birds-of-prey show at the formidable Burg Hohenwerfen, a castle built in the 11th century, tour the Eisriesenwelt ("World of the Ice Giants")—the largest collection of ice caves in Europe—and cap the day with dinner at Obauer, one of Austria's finest restaurants.
Southwest of Werfen, the charming lake resort of Zell am See is nestled under the 6,000-foot Schmittenhöhe mountain. Ride the cable car from the center of town for a bird's-eye view, then take the narrow-gauge Pinzgauer railroad through the Salzach river valley to famous Krimmler waterfalls.
Head skyward over the dizzying Grossglockner High Alpine Highway to one of Austria's loveliest villages, Heiligenblut, which fans out across the upper Möll Valley with fabulous views of the Grossglockner, at 12,470 feet the highest mountain in Austria.
Travel to the glamorous resort town of Kitzbühel for a bit of window-shopping and celebrity-spotting. On the road headed west, the sunny valley has plenty of snow in winter and golf in summer. End your trip in Innsbruck, 91 km (57 miles) west.
Although it is much simpler to travel this route by car, it can also be undertaken using public transportation (note that many trains do not run on Sunday). Trains link Salzburg, Bad Ischl, Hallstatt, and Kitzbühel; travel to St. Wolfgang by post bus. From Hallstatt, hop the train to Bad Aussee and on to Irdning, where you may have to change trains to Bischofshofen before reaching Zell am See. Travel to and from Heiligenblut by bus.