Austria

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Austria is a landlocked alpine German-speaking country in Central Europe bordering Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west, Germany and Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east and Slovenia and Italy to the south. Austria, along with neighboring Switzerland, is the winter sports center of Europe. However, it is just as popular for summer tourists who visit its historic cities and villages and hike in the magnificent scenery of the Alps.

Population: 8,221,646 people
Area: 83,871 km2
Highest point: 3,798 m
Coastline: 0 km
Life expectancy: 80.04 years
GDP per capita: $43,100
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About Austria

History

Today's Austria is what was once the German speaking core and centre of power for the large multiethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire with its imperial capital in Vienna. This empire stretched eastwards from present-day Austria through much of east-central and south-central Europe. It included the entire territories of modern day Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and portions of Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Poland and Italy. While Prussia united the German states to the north by force into one "Germany" in the latter part of the 19th Century, Austria remained oriented eastwards towards its diverse empire. However, from the start of the 20th century, the political history of Austria has been closely linked to the misfortunes and disasters of modern German history, mainly the First and Second World Wars and their terrible aftermath.

The modern republic of Austria came into being in 1918 as a result of its defeat in World War I. In its wake, the empire was split into many components. They included Austria's current borders, an independent Hungary, lands given to Italy (South Tyrol, Trieste and Trentino), lands given to southern Poland (which also came about from lands taken from the Russian and German Empires), and an independent Czechoslovakia and the northern and western half of Yugoslavia. Following an unresisted invasion and annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938, Austria more or less functioned as a part of Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Thus, a large proportion of the population supported Hitler and Austria's incorporation into Germany. Austrian soldiers also fought in the Wehrmacht. Cities were bombed heavily by the Allies and concentration camps also existed on Austrian soil (such as Mauthausen near Linz).

It was not until the end of the war that the mood changed and that Austria tried to distance itself from Germany. In 1945, Austria was divided into zones of occupation like Germany. However, unlike Germany, Austria was not subject to any further territorial losses. A treaty signed in 1955 ended the Allied and Soviet occupation, recognized Austria's independence, and forbade future unification with Germany. A constitutional law of that same year declared the country's "perpetual neutrality", a condition for Soviet military withdrawal, and thus saved Austria from Germany's fate of a divided nation with a divided capital. However, the South Tyrol Question took Austria and Italy to the UN in the post-war era and international brokered mitigation found a suitable solution for both countries by the late 1980s. This official neutrality, once ingrained as part of the Austrian cultural identity, has been called into question since the Soviet Union's collapse of 1991 and Austria's entry into the European Union in 1995.

Reexamining its Nazi past is something that has become large-scale and accepted as commonplace in the media only relatively recently. Before, Austria had sought to portray itself as "Hitler's first victim". A prosperous country, Austria entered the European Monetary Union in 1999, and the euro currency replaced the schilling in 2002. Austria is also part of "borderless Europe", resulting in many students from all over the European Union studying in Austrian universities and vice verse. Austria is one of the most popular summer and winter holiday destinations in Europe and has the tourist industry to match it.

Climate

Austria has a temperate continental climate. Summers last from early June to mid-September and can be hot in some years and rainy in others. Day-time temperatures in July and August are around 25°C (77°F), but can often reach 35°C (95°F). Winters are cold in the lowlands and very harsh in the Alpine region with temperatures often dropping below -10°C (14°F). Winters last from December to March (longer at higher altitudes). In the Alpine region large temperature fluctuations occur all year round and nights are chilly even in high summer. The northern Alps are generally a lot wetter than the rest of the country. The South East (Styria and Carinthia) is dry and sunny. The area around Vienna often experiences strong easterly winds.

Geography

Contrary to popular perceptions, Austria is not all about mountains. While the Alps do cover 3/4 of the country dominating the provinces of Vorarlberg, Tyrol, Salzburg, Styria, Upper Austria and Carinthia, the eastern provinces of Lower Austria, the Burgenland and the federal capital of Vienna are more similar to the geography of the neighboring Czech Republic and Hungary. This diverse mix of landscapes is packed into a relatively small area of size. Glaciers, meadows, alpine valleys, wooded foothills, gently rolling farmland, vineyards, river gorges, plains and even semi-arid steppes can be found in Austria.

One quarter of Austria's population lives in Greater Vienna, a European metropolis, located where the Danube meets the easternmost fringe of the Alps, not far from the border with Slovakia and its capital Bratislava.

Virtually all government, financial and cultural institutions, as well as national media and large corporations are based in Vienna, due largely to history and geography. Thus, the capital dominates Austria's cultural and political life and is clearly a world unto its own. It has little to do with the rest of mainly rural Austria and outside of Graz and Linz there really are no other large scale cities in the country. There is a playful joke told in Vorarlberg province regarding the dominance of Vienna regarding national affairs that reads, "the people of western Austria make the money and Vienna spends it."

Activities

Skiing and Snowboarding

see Winter sports in Austria

Cycle Touring

Austria is well known for its scenic cycle routes along its largest rivers. Though Austria is a mountainous country, cycle routes along rivers are flat or gently downhill, and therefore suitable even for casual cyclists. The most famous route is the Danube cycle path from Passau to Vienna, one of the most popular cycle paths in Europe, drawing large crowds of cyclists from all over the world each summer. Other rivers with well-developed cycle routes are the Inn, Drau, Moell and Mur. Most routes follow a combination of dedicated cycle paths, country lanes, and traffic calmed roads, and are well suited for children.

Music

Many visitors come to experience Austria's musical heritage. Salzburg and Vienna offer world renowned opera, classical music and jazz at moderate prices, but performances of high standards are also widely available throughout the rest of the country. There are dozens of Summer festivals for all tastes, the most famous being the avant-garde Salzburg festival (Salzburger Festspiele) but because they're aimed at tourists prices can be high. Austria's strong musical tradition is not confined to classical music alone. Austrian folk music (Volksmusik) is an integral part of rural Austria, and is said to have influenced many of the nation's big composers. In the Alps almost every village has its own choir or brass band (Blasmusik), and you'll often see groups of friends sitting down to sing Lieder in rural pubs. Traditional Alpine instruments are the accordion and zither. In Vienna a type of melancholic violin music known as Schrammelmusik is often performed in Restaurants and Heurigen.

Movies

Austria has quite a special kind of cinematic culture, that is worth taking notice of as tourist. Many films star celebrities from cabaret, a kind of staged comedy popular in Austria. Most of these movies are characterized by their rather cynical and sometimes bizarre black humour, usually portraying members of Vienna's lower or middle class. Josef Hader, Roland Düringer, Reinhard Nowak or Alfred Dorfer are among the most outstanding actors here. Recommendations include Indien (1993), Muttertag (1993), Hinterholz 8 (1998), Komm, süßer Tod (2000) and Silentium (2004). Popular directors are Harald Sicheritz, Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl. Haneke received positive international praise for his films Die Klavierspielerin (2001), based on the novel by nobel-prize winning author Elfriede Jelinek and Caché (2005). Seidl received various awards for his drama Hundstage (2001). Also, the 1949 classic The Third Man was shot in Vienna, and is regularly shown in Vienna's Burg Kino.

Hiking

It is normally safe to hike without a guide in the Austrian Alps, as there is a dense network of marked trails and mountain shelters. However, a few lethal incidents do happen every year as a result of carelessness. Walkers are strongly advised not to stray off the trails and not to hike in bad weather or without suitable equipment. Before setting off, always check with the local tourist office whether the trail corresponds to your abilities.

Also, check the weather forecast. Sudden thunderstorms are frequent and are more likely to happen in the afternoon. A rule of thumb is that if you haven't reached the summit by noon, it's time to give up and return to shelter.

Though the scenery is by all accounts majestic, don't expect an empty wilderness. The Alps can be very crowded with mountaineers, especially in high season (there are even traffic jams of climbers on some popular mountains). Littering is a no-no in all of Austria, but especially in the mountains, and you will enrage fellow walkers if you're seen doing it. If you really want to show respect, pick up any litter you happen to see in your path and dispose of it at the end of your hike (it's a bit of an unwritten rule). Long distance trails are marked with the Austrian flag (red-white-red horizontal stripes) painted onto rocks and tree trunks.

Most trails and mountain huts are maintained by the Austrian Alpine Club. Some are run by other equivalent organizations, such as the German, Dutch and Italian Alpine Clubs. Mountain huts are meant to be shelters, not hotels. Though they are normally clean and well-equipped, standards of food and accommodation are basic. Don't expect a high level of customer service either. Blankets are provided, but bringing a thin sleeping bag is mandatory for hygienic reasons. During the high season (August), it's a good idea to book in advance. Mountain huts will not turn anyone down for the night, but if they're full, you'll have to sleep on the floor. Prices for the night are usually around 10-20€ (half for Alpine Club members), but meals and drinks are quite expensive, as everything has to be carried up from the valley, often by helicopters or on foot. For the same reason, there are no trash cans in or near huts. Electricity and gas are hard to bring there, too, so warm showers (if available at all) have to be paid for. Some huts don't even have running water, this means pit latrines. As mentioned above, mountain huts are very useful for hikers, they mostly have a heated common room and they are very romantic, but there is nothing more than necessary.

Detailed hiking maps showing the location of marked trails and shelters can be purchased online from the Austrian Alpine Society [8].

Lakes

Austria has a big number of lakes. Normally they are very clean,so you can swim in them. In winter you can use them for ice skating. In some times you have to pay a few to get on the lakeside. You can often find much information on the internet. Normally the place is very clean and often there is a camping place nearby. It's good to take your own towel with you. Near the grass fields you can often find a little shop, which sells different kinds of snacks, ice cream and drinks. At bigger lakes you can also find the Wasserrettung (safety in the water). They can help you in case of emergency or other problems. Lakes are a great way to spend your leisure time. Austrians normally spend the whole day at the place.

Food

Austrian food is distinctive and delicious, and is traditionally of the stodgy, hearty "meat and dumplings" variety. Wiener Schnitzel (a bread-crumbed and fried veal escalope) is something of a national dish, and Knödel are a kind of dumpling which can be made either sweet or savory according to taste. In Vienna the Tafelspitz (boiled beef with potatoes and horseradish) is traditionally served on Sundays, and is normally accompanied by clear broth with dumplings and herbs. Apart from these, Austria is renowned for its pastries and desserts, the most well-known of which is probably the Apfelstrudel.

Bread is taken seriously in Austria. Almost every village has its own bakery, offering a large choice of freshly baked sweet and savoury rolls daily from 6AM. Rye bread (Vollkornbrot, Bauernbrot) is the traditional staple food among peasants. If this is too heavy for you, try the common white bread roll (Semmel). Somewhat surprisingly, it is easier to find good bread outside of Vienna, where the baking industry hasn't yet come to be dominated by industrial scale chain shops.

Some Austrians have a habit of eating sweet flour-based dishes (Mehlspeise) for a main course once a week. Varieties include Kaiserschmarren, Marillenknoedel, and Germknoedel.

The best advice is to dive into the menu and give it a go - there are no nasty surprises!

Restaurants

If you want to try out traditional Austrian food go for a Gasthaus or Gasthof, which serve traditional food for reasonable prices. Usually they offer various options of set lunch including a soup and a main dish and in some cases a dessert too. They are typically priced at around €5-7 (except for very touristy areas). Menus are written in German, though some of the restaurants have English menus as well. Keep in mind that tipping is expected throughout all restaurants in Austria. Rounding up the price given on the bill is usually enough tip.

Paying

In Austrian restaurants you must ask to pay. Get the attention of your server and say: "zahlen, bitte" (to pay, please). They will then bring you the check, or tell you the amount of the bill verbally. Then, the proper way to pay in Austria is to give your cash and say the amount you wish to pay, including tip. To tip it is appropriate to round up, or to round up +50 cents or €1 of the cost for each person (should equal about 5-10% for a full meal). Servers are not dependent on tips, and it is not appropriate to tip a large amount. Saying "danke" (thank you) when paying means keep the change! Alternatively, you can say the amount of the bill plus your tip and will only get change above that amount (for instance, if you pay with a €20 bill, the amount is €16.50 and you say "Siebzehn Euro" (seventeen euro), the server will give you €3 change and keep the €0.50 as tip).

Local specialties

  • If you have the chance to try Kletzennudeln you should definitely do it. They are an exceptional Carinthian specialty you can very rarely get anywhere: sweet noodles filled with dried pears and soft cheese. The best Kletzennudeln are hand made with minced dried pears, rather than the lower quality versions which use pear powder.
  • Some salads are made with Kernöl (green pumpkin seed oil), a Styrian specialty. Even though it looks frightening (dark green or dark red, depending on lighting conditions) it has an interesting nutty taste. A bottle of good, pure Styrian Kernöl is very expensive (around €10-20), but maybe one of the most Austrian things to take home. (Beware of cheap Kernöl, sometimes sold as "Salatöl". Be sure to seal the bottle appropriately, the oil expands when slightly heated and leaves non removable stains. Just in case, sun light occasionally removes them, though.) Kernöl or pumpkin seed oil is also available in some online shops.

Desserts

  • Strudel
  • Sachertorte is chocolate torte with chocolate icing and filled with apricot jam. It should be served fresh with freshly beaten, lightly sweetened cream, which the Austrians call "Schlagobers". The original is available in Vienna in the Cafe Sacher [9], but similar cakes are very common in many other Viennese Cafes. Note also that Cafe Sacher has several tourist-trap behaviours (such as a non-optional €2 coat check) and their cakes are not always the freshest.
  • Eszterházy Austrian torte.
  • Malakhoff: delicate cake
  • Manner Schnitten are a very Viennese sweet specialty, but just the square form factor and pink packaging are really unique. You can buy them everywhere. (Maybe you've already seen these as a product placement in some Hollywood movies or for example in "Friends" and wondered what they are.)
  • Milchrahmstrudel: milk and curd cheese struedel, served warm
  • Powidl is a type of savoury prune jam with alcohol, another speciality from Vienna. It makes a good present as it tastes exotic and is hard to find anywhere else in the world.

Vegetarians

Vegetarianism is slowly gaining ground in Austria, especially in bigger cities. Austrians aren't as carnivorous as the rest of their Central European neighbors; 47% of the country reports having a diverse diet with only limited amounts of meat. Most restaurants don't cater for vegetarians specifically, but you're almost certain to find meals on the menu containing no meat. As an alternative, there are vegetarian restaurants in every major city, as well as harder to find vegan or vegan-friendly places. You can get vegetarian and vegan products (e.g. tofu, soy milk, lactose-free products) in nearly all supermarkets across the country (in rural areas as well) and in many health-food shops.

In more traditional or very rural restaurants, you may be viewed as eccentric if you say you are vegetarian, and it's possible that not a single meal on the menu is meat-free. This is especially true for restaurants serving traditional Austrian cuisine which relies heavily on meat—even apparent vegetable dishes such as potato salad or vegetable soup often contain meat products. Sometimes, also food clearly labeled as "vegetarian" contains fish, as vegetarianism is often equated with pescetarianism. If unsure, ask the waiting staff if there are any animal products in the dish you're about to order. Some traditional meals that are guaranteed to be vegetarian are Kaiserschmarren (sweet pieces of fluffy pancake with fruit compote), Germknödel (sweet dumpling with sour prune jam), and Kasnudel (similar to ravioli).

Austria's Vegan Society maintains an updated list of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly eating places: original and translated version

Drinks

Vienna is famous for its café culture, and there are coffee houses all over the city, many of which have outdoor terraces that are popular in the summer. Visit them for coffee (of course), hot chocolate and pastries. Most famous is Sacher-Torte.

Austria has also some first class wines, mostly whites, slightly on the acid side. Wine can be drunk pure or mixed with mineral water, called "G'spritzter" or "Spritzer". The best place to do so is at the "Heurigen" in the suburban areas of Vienna. Originally the "Heurigen" was open only in summer, but more recently you can have your "Spritzer" throughout the year with a little self-served snack.

Soft drinks: Austria has also a national soft drink called Almdudler. It is lemonade with herbs. Other typical Austrian soft drinks are Holler or Hollundersaft. It's a soft drink made of elderberry blossoms.

Beer in Austria is largely ubiquitous with Märzen Lager. The quality is generally very good but varies greatly between breweries, as in many other Central European countries. The best options are from a modest number of remaining regional breweries not yet bought up by Heiniken. Visitors accustomed to the selection common in most larger towns in the US or UK may be underwehlemed by beer lists, even in upscale bars. There are a small number of micro-breweries around the country, offering more exotic brews such as stouts. Beer culture in Austria is not widespread, many Austrians have strong brand loyalty but don't know the difference between pilsner and lager, so don't be surprised if a bar tender or server struggles to answer your questions.

  • Lagers: decent classic "Märzen" lagers commonly available include Stiegl, Egger and Zwettler. The quality of many others including Gösser, Puntigamer, Schwechater, Wieselburger and Zipfer all now under the Heinicken umbrella has debatebly dropped.
  • Pilsners: are normally noted with Pils or Spezial, most common is Hirter Pils.
  • Dunkles: is a rich dark brew offered by most breweries.
  • Weiße: is wheat beer. There are several breweries and many imports from neighboring Bavaria, though its rarely found on tap.
  • Zwickl: is unfiltered lager and the pride of several breweries.

Schnaps is a type of fruit brandy served in many parts of Austria, usually after a meal. The most popular flavours are pear, apricot, and raspberry, though dozens of other flavours are available. There are three quality tiers of Schnaps: distilled, infused, and flavoured. The distilled variety is the highest quality; several brands of Austrian fruit Schnaps rank among the best in the world, but are accordingly expensive: a half-Liter bottle can cost up to €100. "Real" Schnaps is made from real fruit (either distilled or infused). Beware of the cheap stuff sold in large bottles in supermarkets; this is often of the "flavoured" type - nothing more than pure ethanol mixed with artificial flavouring. If you want the real thing, go to a deli or upscale bar (if you're in a bigger city) or a Buschenschank (Farmhouse) (if you're in the countryside). However, be careful with Schnaps especially if you are not used to alcoholic drinks!

Eiswein is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. Eiswein is generally quite expensive due to the labour-intense and risky production process. Your best bet is to buy eiswein at Naschmarkt for €10..15 for 375 ml or 500 ml; more chances to find it there on weekends. Just to give an idea of prices elsewhere, ice wine sells at Wein & Co near Naschmarkt at €24-30 for a 375ml bottle, and Vienna duty free shop sells it for €23.50 as well.

Shopping

Currency

Austria uses the euro (€, EUR) as its money. It is one of 24 European countries that use this common European currency: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (which are all eurozone countries of the European Union or EU) together with the six non-EU members Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican that also solely use euros but have no say in eurozone affairs. These 24 countries together have a population of more than 330 million.

One euro is divided into 100 cents. Except for Kosovo and Montenegro, all issue their own coins with a distinctive, national face. However, all the coins' obverse looks the same, as do all bills or banknotes and all are legal tender in all 24 countries.

The best rates for changing money are offered by banks.

The legacy currency, the Schilling, can still be exchanged for euros indefinitely, but not all banks may offer this service.

Prices

The prices are comparable with Western European countries, and a bit higher than the USA. The general sales taxs of 20% is included in prices but lower sales taxes applies to certain services and mainly food. A can of Coke will cost you about 55 cents, a good meal €15. Prices in tourist areas (Tyrol, Vienna, Salzburg, Zell am See) are a lot higher than the averages. B&B accommodation and restaurants in towns and rural areas are quite cheap.

Shops

Shops are generally open from 8AM to 7PM on weekdays and Saturday from 8AM to 6PM and closed on Sundays except for gas station shops (expensive), shops at railway stations and restaurants. Be aware that paying by credit card is not as common as in the rest of Europe or as in the United States but all major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Diners Club) are accepted at almost every gas station and at bigger shops, especially in shopping malls. In smaller towns and villages you normally find one or two small shops or bakeries, which carry nearly everything, called "Greißler", although they are under threat from bigger shopping centers.

ATMs

ATMs in Austria are called Bankomat. They are widespread and you will find them even in smaller, rural villages. Many shops (and some restaurants too) offer the service to pay directly with an ATM card. The majority of ATMs accept cards from abroad. All Bankomats in Austria can easily identified by a sign showing a green stripe above a blue stripe. It doesn't matter which Bankomat you use; the transaction fee is always zero (excluding any fees charged by your own bank).

Bargaining

Bargaining is not common throughout Austria except at flea markets. It may be okay to ask for a discount, but accept No as an answer.

What gifts to take home

  • Eiswein (ice wine)—see Drink section
  • Marillenmarmelade (Apricot Jam)
  • Pumpkin Seed Oil a speciality from the southern region Styria

For children

  • Haba wooden toys

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Austria on Wikivoyage.

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Innere Stadt is the most inner district of Vienna. It's historic centre dates back to roman ages.

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Graz is the capital of Styria (Steiermark) and the 2nd largest city of Austria.

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Linz is the third largest city in Austria with 191,100 inhabitants, is the capital of the federal province of Upper Austria (Oberösterreich) and forms the heart of Austria´s second strongest economic region. Linz is by the Danube (Donau) river. The tourist slogan of the city is "In Linz beginnt's" ("It starts ... (read more)

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Bad Gastein is a small city located in the eastern part of the alps, in the Salzburg region in Austria.

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Vienna International Airport is the busiest and biggest airport in Austria, located just outside the city limits of Vienna on the far side of the City of Schwechat. The airport is the home base of Austrian Airlines and Niki.

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Points of Interest in Austria

Summer and winter, large flocks of tourists are drawn to Austria's mighty mountainous scenery. With no less than 62% of the country at an altitude of 500m or more, it's hard to miss the stunning snow-covered peaks and green valleys. Depending on the season, you'll find green mountain meadows or white landscapes as far as you can see, but either way, you won't be disappointed by the grand views. Highlights include for example the High Mountain National Park in the Zimmertal Alps, with peaks up to 3476m, narrow gorges and steep cliffs. National Park Thayatal combines beautiful valley landscapes with a variety of castles and ruined fortresses. The country's highest peak is called Grossglockner and is located on the border between Carinthia and the East Tyrol. To get a good view, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, with its gorgeous panorama's comes highly recommended. At the feet of mountain peaks you'll find luscious valleys, including the lovely Villgratental. The river Danube created some beautiful valley landscapes, where you'll now find famous vineyards. Wachau and Dunkelsteinerwald in Lower Austra are fine (and protected) examples. To make the image complete, the valley landscapes and hillsides are dotted with countless picturesque villages.

Beside all that rustic, tranquil nature and countryside, Austria has a whole other side too. As one of Europe's former great powers, Austria boosts a wealth of majestic architecture and historic structures. As it was long a centre of power in the Holy Roman Empire, you'll find not only palaces and magnificent city architecture but also grand cathedrals, monasteries and churches. Vienna, the country's capital and most popular destination, is packed with Medieval and Baroque structures. Schönbrunn Palace with its 1441 rooms is the absolute highlight, and every little girls' princess dream. Its zoo, Tiergarten Schönbrunn, is the oldest in the world. The 12th century St. Stephen's Cathedral is the most prominent religious building. Salzburg, birthplace of Mozart, combines delightful Alpine surroundings with a beautifully preserved historic centre. The same goes for Innsbruck, at the heart of Tyrol. The Mariazell Basilica in Mariazell is one of the country's most visited attractions and an important pilgrimage destination.

People\'s Garden - Vienna

St. Francis Church - Salzburg

Graz Town Hall - Graz

Linz Main Square - Linz

Imperial Palace - Innsbruck

Lamberg Castle - Steyr

Melk Abbey - Durnstein

Vorarlberg Museum - Bregenz

Albertina - Vienna

Imperial Crypt in Vienna - Vienna

Capuchin Church - Vienna

Stephansplatz - Vienna

St. Stephen\'s Cathedral - Vienna

Rotenturm Street - Vienna

Michaelerplatz - Vienna

Hofburg Imperial Palace - Vienna

Sissi Museum - Vienna

St. Ruprecht\'s Church - Vienna

Austrian National Library - Vienna

Museum of Natural History - Vienna

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