Walking in Austria
Austria is a classic walking holiday destination in Europe. Famous for its high mountains and mountain walking, most walkers know Austria from the Alps and other mountain ranges. But Austria is a diverse country and also has some magnificent lower countryside which is excellent for more gentle walking.
In this walking guide you can read more about Austria in general and about walking in Austria in particular.
Are you considering a walking holiday in Austria? Have a look at the selection of walking holidays in Austria on our website.
You can roughly divide Austria into three geographical areas. The largest part of the country consists of the Austrian Alps. The Alps are a relatively young mountain range separated by the Danube valley from an older and lower mountain range, the Bohemian Forest.
The Bohemian Forest is, as its name suggests, a heavily forested mountain range. It forms a natural border between Austria, the Czech Republic and Germany. The Bohemian Forest is a popular walking holiday destination with over 500 kilometres of marked walking trails. These mountains are the drainage divide between the North Sea in Western Europe and the Black Sea in Eastern Europe.
The Danube has always been a very important trade route and is the only major European river that flows eastwards. In Austria it flows through some very scenic landscapes and offers excellent walking opportunities. To the east, the Danube flows into the Pannonia plain, a flat area where Austria’s capital Vienna is located.
In Austria the Danube flows through some very scenic landscapes and offers excellent walking opportunities. Image by R. Taylor.
The Austrian Alps
The Alps are one of the great walking destinations of Europe, and a large part of this magnificent mountain range is located in Austria. Geologically, the Alps are a young mountain chain formed roughly 30 million years ago. This was roundabout the same time the world’s highest mountains, the Himalayas, were formed in Asia.
The Alpine landscape that you see in Austria today is only some 2 million years old! It was formed by the ice ages, when enormous glaciers flowing from the mountain valleys covered the area and shaped Austria’s countryside. The last ice age ended only 10,000 years ago and in places the ice sheet grew to one kilometre thick. The name of the Alps is thought to stem back from the word “albus”, for white, of course referring to the snow-covered peaks.
Walking near Lake Hallstatt in the Salzkammergut region. This part of the Austrian Alps has many lakes and is very good walking country. Image by R. Taylor
The Alps are divided into three major ranges, the Northern Limestone Alps, the Central Eastern Alps, and the Southern Limestone Alps. The highest mountains are in the Central Eastern Alps, and the Grossglockner, with an impressive 3,797 metres, is the highest mountain in Austria. But for walking the Alps are still very good, because many mountains in and around the Austrian Alps have mild slopes with good walking trails.
The Alps divide Austria into three major weather systems. The Atlantic, maritime climate influences the weather at the Northern slopes of the Alps and in the Danube valley. The East of Austria, where the landscape is flat, has a continental climate with rain in the summer and cold dry air in the winter. The south slopes of the Alps are under the influence of the Mediterranean, with few clouds and warm air. They are the most temperate region of Austria.
The Alps divide Austria into three climatic regions. This small group is walking in Austria during early spring. Image by R. Unden.
Austria is a year-round walking holiday destination. Generally speaking, the best time of year for a walking holiday in Austria is May to October, but there are of course regional differences. The small scale holiday providers listed on Walkingholidayinfo.com have a wealth of local knowledge. They’ll be happy to give you advice on the best timing for your walking holiday in Austria.
Austria’s National Parks
Austria has six National Parks, of which the most famous is the Hohe Taurern National Park (Austrian for “High Towers” National Park). This huge nature reserve of almost 2000 square kilometres has two faces. On one hand it’s one of Austria’s wildest and most natural high mountains. But on the other hand you’ll find some of Austria’s friendliest and most inviting mountain pastures here.
The Hohe Taurern National Park covers part of the provinces of Carinthia, Salzburg and Tyrol and is a classic walking holiday destination. Here you can see Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner, as well as Austria’s biggest glacier. There are also many waterfalls and alpine meadows full of wildflowers here to enjoy during your walks. Favourite “alpine wildlife” to see include the Ibex and Alpine Marmot.
The Kalkalpen National Park is Austria’s largest protected forest area. If you go walking in this part of Austria you may want to explore some of its many interesting caves and karst landscapes. Species like Brown Bear and Lynx still occur in this part of Austria, together with a wide variety butterflies and plants.
The Gesaeuse National Park lies in central Austria is the country’s youngest National Park. It’s very good walking country with a varied relief. Rock, woodland, water and alpine pastures dominate the landscape in this part of Austria.
The other National Parks in Austria, such as National Park Neusiedler See, National Park Donau-Auen, and National Park Thayatal lie in the lower, flatter parts of the country. If you enjoy walking through gentle countryside, these parts of Austria are good areas to visit. Next to a variety of walking trails, you’ll find a wide variety of wetland and plain habitats and species here.
All the national parks in Austria have an extensive and well marked network of walking paths and trails, making them fantastic walking holiday destinations.
Plenty of walking opportunities around a settlement in the Austrian Alps
Walking in Austria
Austria is one of the oldest and most classic walking holiday destinations in Europe. As such a well-established walking destination, Austria of course has a well marked and extensive network of walking paths and trails. Whether you go on a guided or a self-guided walking holiday, Austria’s walking network will take you the most interesting and beautiful places.
Some of the more popular Austrian walking regions include the area around Innsbrück. This town is also known as the capital of Tyrol and has many beautiful medieval buildings. Through cable cars you can reach a wide range of high level walks.
In the Lake Constance region you’ll find picturesque walks along the lake and a wide variety of mountain walks. Again, most of these walks are accessible through cable cars.
The Lunersee, a large glacial lake in the Austrian Alps
The landscape of Salzburger land was the setting of the film “the Sound of Music”. In this part of Austria you’ll find beautiful lakes and high towering mountains which form the perfect backdrop for a walking holiday.
Halstatt has over 4,500 years of history, and is listed as world heritage. If you go walking in this part of Austria you can explore the Dachstein Mountains, ice caves and salt mines.
In Austria’s Alpbach valley you’ll find many classic timbered houses, historic inns and flowery balconies. The villages here are some of the most beautiful in Europe. Walks over mountain trails lead along streams and through alpine meadows with grazing cattle.
And finally, the high plateau of Seefeld has stunning panoramas all around with many walking trails heading out in all directions.
Area: 32,377 sq. miles, about a third of the area of the UK
Population: 8.4 million
Walking in Austria
Most people know Austria from the Alps and its other high mountain ranges. But did you know that Austria has many different landscapes, including some beautiful lower countryside?
So whether you are looking for challenging mountain hikes or more gentle countryside walking, Austria certainly has something for you.
One of Europe's classic walking destinations, Austria has something for everyone.
For more general information on Austria, see Austria on WikiPedia