Top Five of Austria
Next up in my Top Five series… Austria! We spent about a month in Austria this past December, and though we visited only two cities, we still felt like there was something new to see every day. Nat and I both loved the tantalizing collection of chocolate and pastries available in every cafe and bakery, Austria’s transportation is amazing (although expensive), and their wiener schnitzel is delicious! So I hope you guys enjoy a quick list of five of my favourite places in Austria.
Salzburg is a city most famous for (according to advertising) being the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the setting for scenes in the film The Sound of Music. We LOVED Salzburg. It’s quaint, beautiful, and small enough to be walk-able. The streets were lively, lit up with lights and excitement, and it was full of interesting stuff to see and do. Make sure you go to Fortress Hohensalzburg and then to the Panorama Museum to see the incredible panorama painting of Salzburg between 1826 and 1829 to compare to the modern city. When you’re ready for a break from touring, the Salzburger Mozartkugel is a famous Salzburg treat that you’ll see available just about everywhere. It’s a delicious chocolate, pistachio-marzipan, and nougat creation, but make sure you go for the original, silver-and-blue-wrapped ones. They’re much tastier than the more common, gold-and-red-wrapped Mirabell ones. Another favourite memory of Salzburg, we went into this one bakery for snacks and the lady that owned it was so nice she gave us some Austrian treats to try for free since it was our first time visiting! Austria, you had me at free pastries.
Fortress Hohensalzburg, Salzburg
Fortress Hohensalzburg is an exceptional landmark overlooking the cityscape. One of the largest 11th century citadels still standing today, this fortress is a great spot to check out and, as I alluded to above, has panorama views of the city and surrounding countryside. It was only under siege once, in 1525, when rioting protestant peasants forced Prince-Archbishop-Cardinal Matthäus Lang to flee into the fortress. Unfortunately, the home-made armour and wooden cannons were no match for the superior firepower of Hohensalzburg’s artillery, and the rioters failed–though they did reach an agreement with the Prince Archbishop. Other than that incident, the fortress has had a relatively low-key history and so remains in amazing condition today. There’s a lovely, little chapel, a weapons museum, a hilarious marionette theatre, and, while we were visiting, a Christmas market of its own. I think the marionette theatre was one of my favourites– be sure to check out the obligatory Sound of Music themed marionette display!
Christmas markets are everywhere in Austria! I swear, it’s crazy. We saw at least five or six in both Salzburg and Vienna, each one was accompanied by the sweet scent of hot wine, cinnamon, candied nuts, and cookies wafting through the air, mmm!!! While I would say that more-or-less the same stuff is sold at all the markets, I’m a browser at heart and still loved looking around. Just check out the collections of tree ornaments (above)! SO fun. Advent is a little different in Austria than it is back home though. We arrived in Salzburg just in time for the terrifying and spectacular Krampuslauf, or Krampus run! Read more about our battle with the Krampus here; it’s celebrated in early December, when the Krampus comes to terrorize children into being good, and is an interesting blend of our Halloween and Christmas. The Krampuslauf is followed by St. Nicholas, who arrives on the scene to rescue the kiddies and give them goodies.
Schönbrunn Palace, Vienna
Vienna is a city full of beautiful buildings and princely palaces, but this one was my favourite. Schönbrunn Palace is a baroque masterpiece containing 1441 rooms, ornate fountains, a zoo, and an extensive maze of gardens. There was (another) Christmas market out front when we were visiting, and it was probably one of the nicest we had seen yet. Even though it was winter and nothing was in bloom, I still thought the gardens were beautiful and had so much fun wandering around. I can only imagine what it would be like in the summertime, sigh! At the top of the hill, sitting like a crown, is the Gloriette. You can get a great view of the palace grounds, and the rest of the city, while sipping a coffee, what more could you ask for?
A fellow couch-surfer recommended we check out the Augustiner brewery, and it was such a fun experience! Unlike our experience at the Carlsberg brewery, this was more like visiting a cafeteria for beer. There is a tour you can do of the place where they actually brew the beer, or, like us, you can opt to go straight to where they sell it. You go down and pick out a stein for yourself and they fill it up with the brew of your choice (from a barrel keg no less!). The place is huge! There are plenty of rooms to choose from, all reasonably spacious and set up with a combination of small and long tables depending on how many friends you feel like making that night. Stalls out front sell overpriced food to go with your beer, but if you’re savvy and think ahead you can bring treats of your own and save your money for beer. We saw at least one guy take it to the next level by not only wearing lederhosen, but also holding full steins in both hands. Like a champ. We had a lot of fun and it was an experience we haven’t had yet, definitely a top five!