We like mountain scenery, so we early on started exploring the Alps on our EU trips. The Alps stretch 750 miles from Mt Ventoux (France) to the edge of Great Hungarian Plane (Austria). We have driven it. There is great mountain scenery in France, Switzerland, and Austria, but Austria is certainly second to none in scenery.
Lakes (Gaseous, Hallstattersee, Danube Valley, Ausee, Salzkammergut, southern Austria); Danube River Valley.
Great cities-- Vienna, Graz, Innsbruck, Salzburg. A quaint village lies around every corner. And then there is the Baroque. Baroque architecture is the key to Austria's endless quint villages (there are some exceptions like Lofer), but the highlight of Baroque are the churches (the 1,000 ft long Melk Abby) and palaces (Schoenbrunn).
There is something schizophrenic in the Austrian national character. The country reeks of economic success so they are industrious but they also indulge in easy going pleasures. They seem to run the country by relaxing in cafes or drinking beer anywhere and everywhere. The Dutch love Americans for liberating Holland from Germany in WWII. The Austrians love Americans for liberating Austria from the Soviets after WWII. Actually, we didn't do anything to get the Soviets out of Austria. Stalin promised he would leave soon, and he did, but while the Soviets were in a large part of Austria, they really irritated the Austrians. So, as soon as they could, the Austrians tweaked the Red Bear's nose by making English a required course in school. Excluding immigrants, every Austrian speaks English, and generally very well.
Then they set up Radio Blue Danube. When we started traveling in Austria 45 years ago, the whole country was covered by the three state radio channels. One did classical music. One did folk music. Radio Blue Danube did English-- 24/7.
I know a repeat contestant on "The Cake Boss" cable TV show. I asked her if she knew the Austrian Spanish Wind Cake. "What's that?, said asked, and that tells us two things about Austrian food. First, a lot of it as strange to Americans and second, Americans have no idea of how to bake a cake. If it were not for my nagging wife, when in Austria I would eat cake for breakfast, cake for lunch, cake for an afternoon snack and cake for dinner.
Foodie historians debate long and loud as to wether the French or the Austrians invented French fries. I go with the Austrian claim.
A croissant is a popular breakfast with the natives. It is not the French croissant. Its a descendent of an Ottoman equivalent of a Maga Hat. Its shaped to celebrate the Moslem crescent symbol.
In addiction to cakes and pastries, the essential Austrian foods are Wiener schnitzel, Backhendl, Apricot Liquor, and dunkle bier. I ordered our meal in Steyr in German and ended with "zwei dunkle biers". The waiter said, in English, "Americans don't like dunkle beer." We do. You should.
Being our favorite country in the EU, about half our 57 EU vacations have been to Austria, entirely or in part. Most of our travel in Austria was by rental a car. I'm going to declare considerably experience in visiting Austria and from that experience, note that I have developed a way to organize the country for travel purposes, so I'm going to lay out my tourist map or Austria, the parts of which are:
1] The Alps, of which there are four parts: Traveling more or less from west to east, they are 1}the Western Tirol, 2} the Dachstein region, 3} east of the Dachstein, and sort of in the middle, 4} the Inn Valley.
The Dachstein is the scenic center of Austria, if not of all the Alps (the mountain reflected in the photo of the Gosausee is the Dachstein). Within 35 miles of the Dachstein are Salzburg, Hallstatt, Bad Ischl, Radstadt, Admont, the Gosausee, ice caves, summer skiing on glaciers, and the Salzkammergut lake district.
2] Danube Valley. The Pilgrimage Church Maria Taferl is on top of a cliff above the Danube. From the terrace in front of Maria Taferl, you can see the distant Alps on a clear weather day. What the Alps are to Nature in Austria, the Danube Valley is to the works of man-- the Abby churches of Melk and Wilhering, Mauthausen, Vienna, Krems, Gottwig Abby, vineyards, Steyr, the cluster of great Baroque buildings around Linz, Scharding
3] North of the Danube. This is the last place to visit in Austria.
4] West Tirol/Voralberg. Miles and miles of scenic mountains. The world's best Swiss Chalet houses are in West Tirol north of the expressway.
5] East of the Dachstein. Another collection of great mountain scenery, Krimmler Waterfalls, and a few attractive towns-- Zell am Zee, Bad Gastein,
6] Vienna, the glorious Imperial capital of the 800 year long Austrian Empire is arguably the greatest city in history because a seemingly unstoppable invasion of Europe by the Ottoman Turks was stopped at the gates of Vienna, and then Price Eugene of Savoy took over the Austrian Army and drove the Turks back over what is now the Turkish Bulgarian border. Without Prince Eugene and Vienna, everybody reading this would be a Muslim. Not to mention Freud, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Brahms, Schubert, the Strausses, Dr Semmelwise, and Wiener schnitzel
7] Southern Lake District. Lots of water, good weather, between mountain ranges, and lots of tourists. It was not for us.
8] the East, Graz and the relatively flat lands between the Alps and the Great Hungarian Plain. Graz can also be easily fit into a southern lake district trip.
9] The Inn Valley. Travelers must be prepared for bad weather in the Alps, and if you are going sight seeing in mountains, bad weather is really bad news. The Inn Valley provides the easiest solution to this problem. In bad weather, stay in the valley and see the towns, villages, religious establishments, and museums. In good weather, the mountains are right at the edge of the valley, and include some of the best scenery in the Alps.
Airfares often favor Munich as the gateway to Austria and the most attractive roads into Austria from Munich take the traveler into the Inn Valley The roads connecting Germany to Austria by way of Lermoos, Ehrwald, and Reutte are especially attractive, and they are in the vicinity of some of Germany's top sights-- Neuschwanstein, and the Zugspitz
Enjoy a private 3 hour tour (max 6 people) of the Vatican Museums including the Raphael Rooms and The Sistine Chapel ending with a privileged entrance to St.Peter's Basilica. Highlights include the Belvedere courtyard, Pine courtyard, Gallery of Maps ,Gallery of Tapestries, Pio Clemente museum and the Raphael Rooms.