The best places to visit in the Austrian Alps

From world-famous ski resorts and iconic film locations to tranquil lakes and alpine dairies, this is where to go in the Austrian Alps

Sweeping across much of Austria from west to east, this impressive section of Europe’s mighty mountains stops just short of Vienna. There are ranges with rugged granite outcrops, spectacular glaciers and summits over 3000m (9,843 feet), as well as those with lush valleys and gentler terrain. In the colder months, snowy slopes make Austria a hub for winter sports, while summer appeals to hikers and bikers – or those who just want to twirl in a meadow à la Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. Each to their own. Here are the best places to visit in the Austrian Alps, according to destination expert Kate Mann.

Vorarlberg, Austria

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Kate Mann is a travel writer who has travelled extensively in Austria. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines and check out our latest travel guides written by local experts.

Where to go in the Austrian Alps

Innsbruck

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1. Innsbruck

Surrounded by mountains, the capital of Tyrol makes a great base for exploring some of the most dramatic scenery in the Austrian Alps. Start by taking the cable car up to the Nordkette range which sails over the pastel-coloured buildings below. Back in the city, don’t miss the old town with its winding alleys and traditional restaurants serving classic Tyrolean cuisine. Try the kaspressknödel, comforting cheese dumplings or the gröstl, a mix of onion, bacon and potatoes, topped with a fried egg.

Sölden

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2. Sölden

Set-jetters, this one’s for you. Sölden, a town in the Ötztal valley, was chosen by director Sam Mendes in 2015 as a shooting location for key scenes in the James Bond movie Spectre. If you’ve seen it, you’ll recall scenes of Land Rovers thundering across the snow and Daniel Craig in a pair of glacier sunglasses. Central to the location choice was a futuristic glass-walled building, sitting high at 3,048m. Normally an upscale restaurant called ice Q, it became a fictional medical centre during filming. Easy to reach using the Gaislachkoglbahn (mountain lift), it now has an installation of the shattered plane from Spectre next door. The area is also perfect for a wide range of outdoor sports, including early-season skiing.

Gesäuse National Park

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3. Gesäuse National Park

Deep gorges, limestone formations and white-water rapids define this part of the state of Styria. The park’s name aptly stems from the word for ‘roaring’: the land here centres around the fast-moving torrents of the Enns river and the channels that dart off in different directions. To the south, you’ll find Johnsbach, part of the Bergsteigerdörfer (Mountaineering Villages) initiative. Managed by the Austrian Alpine Association, the project aims to promote sustainable development and offer alternatives to mass tourism in the Alps.

St Anton

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4. St Anton

Commonly referred to as the cradle of alpine skiing, this once-quiet settlement was first put on the map by a number of local pioneers. This included ski enthusiast Hannes Schneider who opened the region’s first ski school and developed a technique that continues to influence teaching. Today St Anton is part of the largest connected skiing area in Austria and is known around the world. Reliable snowfall, diverse free-riding options and lively après-ski bars keep people coming back year after year.

Werfen

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5. Werfen

You won’t be judged if you have the urge to start singing ‘The Hills Are Alive’ in Austria – especially in Werfen! After ticking off a number of Sound of Music filming locations in Salzburg, this nearby town is home to the spot where the von Trapp children first learned to Do-Re-Mi with the Hohenwerfen Fortress in the distance. You can get there via a well-marked path. Werfen is also home to a huge natural ice cave, Eisriesenwelt, where stalactite-filled passages lead deep into the mountain.

Grossglockner High Alpine Road

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6. Grossglockner High Alpine Road

Completed in 1935, this epic pass road winds its way through the Hohe Tauern National Park, the largest nature reserve in the Alps. Open from May to November, depending on the conditions, it connects the state of SalzburgerLand in the north to Carinthia in the south. On a clear day, you can see Austria’s highest peak Grossglockner as well as the Pasterze Glacier. Bring your camera, but also your wallet to pass through the toll gates. Alternatively, you can pay online.

Vorarlberg

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7. Vorarlberg

Austria’s smallest and westernmost state is a haven for cheese fans. Visit a selection of dairies for specialties such as Vorarlberger Alpkäse, a hard mountain cheese, or Montafon Sura Kees, a rare fermented option that has seen a revival in recent decades. For more local craftsmanship, head to the region of Bregenzerwald. Here internationally renowned architects have long been using natural materials, such as indigenous timber, to create simple yet striking contemporary structures that work with the landscape. This includes a set of unusual bus stops.

Lake Wörthersee

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8. Lake Wörthersee

Situated close to the Slovenian border and surrounded by forested foothills, Wörthersee is one of Austria’s largest lakes. Thanks to its notable green-blue colour and warm waters in summer, it’s a popular holiday and swimming destination. While some of the banks are occupied by private villas, there are a number of public beaches where you can spend the day. Climb to the top of the Pyramidenkogel, a 100m-high viewing platform, for the best views of the lake and beyond.

Saalbach-Hinterglemm

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9. Saalbach-Hinterglemm

First and foremost a ski destination, this large resort has turned its attention to additional seasons in recent years. Now one of country’s main centres for mountain biking, cyclists flock here during the warmer months to tear down the extensive network of trails, many reachable by cable car. There are also a number of gravel biking routes that start in Saalbach and wind on through to neighbouring valleys. All calories burned can be replaced with large servings of apple strudel from one of the wooden hillside huts.

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