Welcome to Austria
Explore Our Best Destinations Austria
No country waltzes so effortlessly between the urban and the outdoors as Austria. One day you’re cresting alpine summits, the next you’re swanning around imperial Vienna. Over centuries, the Habsburgs channelled immense wealth into the fine arts and music, collecting palaces and castles the way others do stamps. You’ll still feel their cultural reverberations in Austria today – be it watching Lipizzaner stallions prance at the Spanish Riding School, or crossing the Hofburg to eyeball Rubens masterpieces in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, or Klimt and Schiele at the Museums Quartier.
The work of classical pop stars such as Mozart, Strauss, Mahler, Haydn and Schubert echo as loudly as ever at lavishly gilded concert halls, and music festivals like Salzburg Festival and Bregenzer Festspiele are staged against uplifting lakeside or mountain backdrops. The journey really is the destination in Austria. Perhaps yours will be a meandering one through deeply carved valleys, on railways that unzip the Alps to thread improbably along sheer mountain flanks, past glaciers and through flower-freckled meadows.
Chances are, however, that such lyrical landscapes will have you itching to leap onto a bicycle saddle or lace up hiking boots to reach those enticingly off-the-radar corners of the country. Austria might conjure visions of wedding-cake-like baroque churches, dripping with lavish detail, palatial Hapsburg headquarters like Schloss Schönnbrunn, and Gothic crowning glories like the Stephansdom.
But the country is more than the sum of its pomp and palaces. A fresh breath of architectural air and a feel of new-found cool is sweeping through the cities, bringing with it a happy marriage of the contemporary and historic.
Capital of Austria: Vienna
Official language: Austrian German is the official language of Austria, while Alemannic and Austro-Bavarian are the major unofficial languages
The currency: Euro
Climate: Austria is located in a temperate climatic zone with a Central European climate influenced by the Atlantic climate. The four seasons (Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter) each have typical temperature and climatic characters.
Population: 8,773,686 million (2016 census)
President: Heinz Fischer
Prime Minister: Christian Kern
Calling code: The international calling code is +43
LOCATION, SIZE, AND EXTENT
Austria, with an area of 83,858 sq km (32,378 sq mi), is a land-locked country in Central Europe, extending 573 km (356 mi) e–w and 294 km (183 mi) n–s. Comparatively, Austria is slightly smaller than the state of Maine. Bounded on the n by Germany and the Czech Republic, on the e by Hungary, on the s by Slovenia and Italy, and on the w by Liechtenstein and Switzerland, Austria has a total boundary length of 2,562 km (1,588 mi).
While not making any territorial claims, Austria oversees the treatment of German speakers in the South Tyrol (now part of the autonomous province of Trentino-Alto Adige), which was ceded to Italy under the Treaty of St.-Germainen-Laye in 1919.
Austria’s capital city, Vienna, is located in the northeastern part of the country.
Climatic conditions depend on location and altitude. Temperatures range from an average of about -7 to -1°c (20 to 30°f) in winter to about 18 to 24°c (65 to 75°f) in July. Rainfall ranges from more than 102 cm (50 in) annually in the western mountains to less than 66 cm (26 in) in the driest region, near Vienna.
The population of Austria in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 8,151,000, which placed it at number 92 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 15% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 16% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 96 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 2005–10 was expected to be 0.1%, a rate the government viewed as too low. The projected population for the year 2025 was 8,396,000. The population density was 97 per sq km (252 per sq mi).
The UN estimated that 54% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of just 0.08%. The capital city, Vienna (Wien), had a population of 2,179,000 in that year. Other large cities and their estimated populations include Graz, 237,810; Linz, 188,968; Salzburg, 145,000; and Innsbruck, 140,000.
The official national language is German and nearly 99% of the inhabitants speak it as their mother tongue. People in Vorarlberg Province speak German with an Alemannic accent, similar to that in Switzerland. Slovene is the official language in Carinthia and both Croatian and Hungarian are official languages in Burgenland. In other provinces, Austrians speak various Bavarian dialects. There are also small groups of Czech, Slovak, and Polish speakers in Vienna.
As of 2001, about 74% of the people were Roman Catholic, but reports indicate that only about 17% of all Roman Catholics were active participants in formal religious service. About 4.7% of the population belonged to the Lutheran and Presbyterian churches (Evangelical Church, Augsburg and Helvetic Confessions). Muslims accounted for about 4.2% of the population. The Jewish community stood at about 0.1% of the population; and Eastern Orthodox (Russian, Greek, Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian) at 2.2%. Other Christian churches had accounted for about 0.9% of the population. These include the Armenian Apostolic Church, the New Apostolic Church, the Syrian Orthodox Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints, and the Methodist Church of Austria, among others. The Church of Scientology reportedly had somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 members and the Unification Church had about 700 members. Other small groups within the country, which are termed as “sects” by the government, include: Hare Krishna, the Divine Light Mission, Eckankar, the Osho movement, Sai Baba, Sahaja Yoga, Fiat Lux and the Center for Experimental Society Formation. About 12% of respondents claimed to be atheists and 2% indicated no religious affiliation at all.
The constitution provides for freedom of religion and this right is generally respected in practice. The government is secular, but many Roman Catholic holidays are celebrated as public holidays. Religious organizations are divided into three legal categories under the 1874 Law on Recognition of Churches and the 1998 Law on the Status of Religious Confessional Communities, and each division offers a different level of rights. Those divisions are: officially recognized religious societies, religious confessional communities, and associations. There were 13 officially recognized religious societies in 1998. The Ecumenical Council of Austrian Churches provides an interfaith forum for discussions on a variety of issues. Pro Oriente, an international organization of Catholic and Orthodox churches, also holds an active chapter in the country.
Austria has a dense transportation network. The Federal Railway Administration controls some 90% of Austria’s 6,021 km (3,745 mi) of railways in 2004, which is made up of standard and narrow gauge track. Of the 5,565 km (3,461 mi) of standard-gauge track, 3,859 km (2,400 mi) are electrified, while 146 km (91 mi) of the 456 km (284 mi) of narrow-gauge track are electrified.
In 2003, paved highways totaled 133,718 km (83,172 mi) and included 1,677 km (1,043 mi) of expressways. In 2003, there were 4,054,308 passenger cars, and 335,318 commercial vehicles in use.
Austria has 358 km (223 mi) of inland waterways, over 80% of which are navigable by engine-powered vessels. Most of Austria’s overseas trade passes through the Italian port of Trieste; the rest is shipped from German ports. In 2005, the oceangoing merchant fleet of Austria consisted of 8 ships of 1,000 GRT or over, with a capacity of 29,624 GRT.
In 2004, there were an estimated 55 airports in Austria. As of 2005, a total of 24 had paved runways, and there was also one heliport. Of the six major airports in Austria—Schwechat (near Vienna), Graz, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Linz, and Salzburg—Schwechat is by far the most important. In 2003, Austrian air carriers provided flights for 6.903 million passengers and carried 431,000 freight ton km.
Human settlements have existed in what is now Austria since pre-historic times. In 14 bc, the region, already overrun by various tribes, including the Celts, was conquered by the Romans, who divided it among the provinces of Noricum, Pannonia, and Illyria. The Romans founded several towns that survive today: Vindobona (Vienna), Juvavum (Salzburg), Valdidena (Innsbruck), and Brigantium (Bregenz). After the fall of the Roman Empire, Austria became (about ad 800) a border province of Charlemagne’s empire until the 10th century, when it was joined to the Holy Roman Empire as Österreich (“Kingdom of the East”)
From the late 13th to the early 20th century, the history of Austria is tied to that of the Habsburg family. In 1282, Rudolf von Habsburg (Rudolf I, newly elected German emperor) gave Austria (Upper and Lower Austria, Carinthia, Styria, and Carniola) to his sons, Albrecht and Rudolf, thus inaugurating the male Habsburg succession that would continue unbroken until 1740. The highest point of Habsburg rule came in the 1500s when Emperor Maximilian I (r.1493–1519) arranged a marriage between his son and the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Maximilian’s grandson became King Charles I of Spain in 1516 and, three years later, was elected Holy Roman emperor, as Charles V. Until Charles gave up his throne in 1556, he ruled over Austria, Spain, the Netherlands, and much of Italy, as well as over large possessions in the Americas. Charles gave Austria to his brother Ferdinand, who had already been elected king of Hungary and Bohemia in 1526; the Habsburgs maintained their reign over Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary until 1918.
When the last Habsburg king of Spain died in 1700, France as well as Austria laid claim to the throne. The dispute between the continental powers erupted into the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14) and drew in other European countries in alliance with the respective claimants. At the end of the war, Austria was given control of the Spanish Netherlands (Belgium), Naples, Milan, and Sardinia. (It later lost Naples, together with Sicily, in the War of the Polish Succession, 1733–35.) In 1740, after the death of Charles VI, several German princes refused to acknowledge his daughter and only child, Maria Theresa, as the legitimate ruler of Austria, thus provoking the War of the Austrian Succession (1740–48). Maria Theresa lost Silesia to Prussia but held on to her throne, from which she proceeded to institute a series of major internal reforms as ruler of Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia. After 1765, she ruled jointly with her son, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II (r.1765–90). Following his mother’s death in 1780, Joseph, an enlightened despot, sought to abolish serfdom and introduce religious freedom, but he succeeded only in creating considerable unrest. Despite the political turmoil, Austria’s cultural life flourished during this period, which spanned the careers of the composers Haydn and Mozart.
During the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, Austria suffered a further diminution of territory. In 1797, it gave up Belgium and Milan to France, receiving Venice, however, in recompense. In 1805, Austria lost Venice, as well as the Tyrol and part of Dalmatia, to Napoleon. Some restitution was made by the Congress of Vienna (1814–15), convened after Napoleon’s defeat; it awarded Lombardy, Venetia, and Istria and restored all of Dalmatia to Austria, but it denied the Habsburgs the return of former possessions in Baden and the Netherlands.
From 1815 to 1848, Austria, under the ministry of Prince Klemens von Metternich, dominated European politics as the leading power of both the German Confederation and the Holy Alliance (Austria, Russia, and Prussia). Unchallenged abroad, the reactionary Metternich achieved peace at home through ruthless suppression of all liberal or nationalist movements among the people in the Habsburg Empire. In 1848, however, revolutions broke out in Hungary and Bohemia and in Vienna itself; Metternich resigned and fled to London. Although the revolutions were crushed, Emperor Ferdinand I abdicated in December. He was succeeded by his 18-year-old nephew, Franz Josef I, who was destined to occupy the Austrian throne for 68 years, until his death in 1916. During his reign, Austria attempted to set up a strong central government that would unify all the Habsburg possessions under its leadership. But nationalist tensions persisted, exacerbated by outside interference. In 1859, in a war over Habsburg-controlled Lombardy, French and Sardinian troops defeated the Austrians, ending Austrian preeminence in Italian politics; and in 1866, Prussia forced Austria out of the political affairs of Germany after the Seven Weeks’ War. In 1867, Hungarian nationalists, taking advantage of Austria’s weakened state, compelled Franz Josef to sign an agreement giving Hungary equal rights with Austria. In the ensuing Dual Monarchy, the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary were united under one ruler. Each country had its own national government, but both shared responsibility for foreign affairs, defense, and finance. Self-government for the empire’s Magyar (Hungarian) population was balanced by continued suppression of the Slavs.
On 28 June 1914, at Sarajevo, Serbian patriots, members of the Slavic movement, assassinated Archduke Francis Ferdinand, nephew of the emperor and heir to the Austrian throne. Their act set off World War I, in which Austria-Hungary was joined by Germany (an ally since 1879), Italy (a member, with the first two, of the Triple Alliance of 1882), and Turkey. They became known as the Central Powers. In 1915, Italy defected to the side of the Allies—France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and (from 1917) the United States. After the defeat of the Central Powers and the collapse of their empires in 1918, Austria, now reduced to its German-speaking sections, was proclaimed a republic. The Treaty of St.-Germainen-Laye (1919) fixed the borders of the new state and forbade it any kind of political or economic union with Germany without League of Nations approval.
During the next decade, Austria was plagued by inflation, food shortages, unemployment, financial scandals, and, as a consequence, growing political unrest. The country’s two major political groupings, the Christian Socialist Party and the Social Democratic Party, were almost equal in strength, with their own private paramilitary movements. A small Austrian Nazi party, advocating union with Germany, constituted a third group. In March 1933, Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss, leader of the Christian Socialists, dissolved the Austrian parliament, suspended the democratic constitution of 1920, and ruled by decree, hoping to control the unrest. In February 1934, civil strife erupted; government forces broke up the opposition Social Democratic Party, executing or imprisoning many persons. Dollfuss thereupon established an authoritarian corporate state along Fascist lines. On 25 July, the Nazis, emboldened by Adolf Hitler’s rise in Germany, assassinated Dollfuss in an abortive coup. Kurt von Schuschnigg, who had served under Dollfuss as minister of justice and education, then became chancellor. For the next four years, Schuschnigg struggled to keep Austria independent amid growing German pressure for annexation (Anschluss ). On 11 March 1938, however, German troops entered the country, and two days later Austria was proclaimed a part of the German Reich. In 1939, Austria, now known as Ostmark, entered World War II as part of the Axis alliance.
Allied troops entered Austria in April 1945, and the country was divided into US, British, French, and Soviet zones of occupation. Declaring the 1920 constitution in force, the occupying powers permitted Austrians to set up a provisional government but limited Austrian sovereignty under an agreement of 1946. Austria made effective use of foreign economic aid during the early postwar years. The United States and the United Kingdom supplied $379 million worth of goods between 1945 and 1948; another $110 million was provided by private organizations; and Marshall Plan aid amounted to $962 million. Inflation was checked by the early 1950s, and for most of the remainder of that decade the economy sustained one of the world’s highest growth rates.
On 15 May 1955, after more than eight years of negotiations, representatives of Austria and the four powers signed, at Vienna, the Austrian State Treaty, reestablishing an independent and democratic Austria, and in October all occupation forces withdrew from the country. Under the treaty, Austria agreed to become permanently neutral. As a neutral nation, Austria has remained outside the political and military alliances into which postwar Europe is divided. Economically, however, it has developed close links with Western Europe, joining EFTA in 1960 and concluding free-trade agreements with the EEC (now the EU) in 1972. Because of its location, Austria served as an entrepôt between the Western trade blocs and the CMEA, with which it also had trade relations. Austria was twice the site of US-USSR summit meetings. In June 1961, President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev conferred in Vienna, and in June 1979, presidents Jimmy Carter and Leonid I. Brezhnev signed a strategic arms limitation agreement in the Austrian capital. Austria joined the EU in 1995 and European economic and monetary union in 1999.
On 8 July 1986, following elections in May and June, former UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim was sworn in as president of Austria. During the presidential campaign, Waldheim was accused of having belonged to Nazi organizations during World War II and of having taken part in war crimes while stationed in Greece and Yugoslavia with the German army from 1942 to 1945; he denied the charges. After his inauguration, diplomats of many nations made a point of avoiding public contact with the new president, and on 27 April 1987, the US Justice Department barred him from entering the United States. To the dismay of many leaders, Pope John Paul II granted Waldheim an audience at the Vatican on 25 June.
Waldheim declined to run for a second term, and in July 1992, Thomas Klestil was elected federal president and he was reelected on 19 April 1998. Relations with Israel, which had been strained under Waldheim’s presidency, returned to normal.
The growing strength of Austria’s Freedom Party, headed by Jörg Haider, is evidence of a turn to the right in Austrian politics. Although the party did not capture the votes it wanted to in the 17 December 1995 legislative elections, in the elections for European Parliament on 14 October 1996 the aggressively nationalist, anti-immigrant, anti-European Freedom Party took 28% of the vote, 2% behind the Social Democrats. The People’s Party and Social Democrats remained together in a coalition throughout the 1990s and prepared Austria for entry into the European economic and monetary union. Cautious reforms took place, and the administration privatized state-owned enterprises, brought down inflation to less than 1% in 1998, and reduced the budget deficit to 2%. Average growth rates between 1997 and 2000 were over 2%. Unemployment fell to 4% in 2000. However, the global economic downturn that began in 2001 caused Austria’s economy to suffer; coupled with costs resulting from severe flooding in August 2002, Austria’s budget deficit increased sharply. In 2004–05 the economy rebounded: GDP growth was once again at 2%, allowing Austria to retain its position among the top European economies.
The Freedom Party scored a triumph in the general election of October 1999, coming in second behind the Social Democrats with 27% of the vote. After the traditional coalition of Social Democrats and the conservative People’s Party failed to reach agreement on the next government in early 2000, the leader of the People’s Party, Wolfgang Schüssel, turned to Haider and the Freedom Party to form a new administration. President Klestil had no choice but to accept the new coalition agreement. Its installation on 3 February 2000 provoked widespread protests both within Austria and from other members of the European Union. The EU partners decided to boycott Austria in all official meetings, a decision that caused a severe crisis in the EU itself. Haider resigned as party chairman in April 2000 although he remained governor of Carinthia. His withdrawal from federal politics did not soften the views of the EU, which imposed diplomatic sanctions on Austria. (They were lifted in September 2000.) A power struggle within the Freedom Party between Haider and Austria’s Vice-Chancellor and Freedom Party chair Susanne Riess-Passer in September 2002 resulted in Riess-Passer’s resignation, along with that of two Freedom Party ministers. The People’s Party/Freedom Party coalition government collapsed, and new elections were called for 24 November 2002. In those elections, Schüssel’s People’s Party made wide gains; the Freedom Party suffered a major defeat. It dropped to 10% of the vote, down from its 2000 showing of 27%. Despite these results, and after failed negotiations with the Social Democrats and Greens, Schüssel formed a coalition government with the Freedom Party, which was sworn in on 1 April 2003. Schüssel subsequently moved closer to the right, notably on asylum and immigration issues (in October 2003, his government introduced a package of asylum legislation which are seen as the most restrictive in Europe). In April 2005, the Freedom Party split when Haider left to form the Alliance for Austria’s Future. Members of both groups remain in government.
After the new government took office in 2003, it launched a series of austerity measures designed to save the government €8 billion. Early retirement was to be cancelled, cuts were planned in public services and the health care system was to be reformed, and, most controversially, drastic cuts were proposed in the nation’s pension system. As a result, approximately 500,000 Austrians took part in nationwide strikes in May 2003, the largest in 50 years.
In January 2001, the Austrian government and several Austrian companies agreed to provide $360 million to a general settlement fund to compensate Jews who had their property and assets seized by the Nazis during World War II. Each victim of Nazi persecution was to receive $7,000. Austria also created a social fund to pay pensions to survivors no longer living in the country, in the amount of $100 million.
Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Austria passed a Security and Defense Doctrine, representing a shift in Austria’s longstanding policy of neutrality. Although Austria will not participate in military alliances requiring mutual defense commitments, the country is gradually moving towards closer integration with European security structures, which would allow for participation in the EU rapid reaction force and NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. Austria contributed peacekeeping forces to the former Yugoslavia, and supported NATO strikes on Serbia during the Kosovo conflict. Austria contributed 60 soldiers to the international military protection force in Afghanistan following the USled military campaign there.
In April 2004, Heinz Fischer was elected president. In May 2005, the Austrian parliament ratified the EU constitution. However, the rejection of that constitution by the French and Dutch in referenda held later in May and June 2005 doomed the plan for further European union indefinitely. Concerns about immigration, poor economies, EU expansion, and loss of national identity are some of the reasons French and Dutch voters gave for rejecting the constitution.
TOURISM, TRAVEL, AND RECREATION
Austria ranks high among European tourist countries. It has a yearround tourist season: in winter, tourists come to the famous skiing resorts and attend outstanding musical events in Vienna; in summer, visitors are attracted by scenery, sports, and cultural festivals, notably in Vienna and Salzburg. Of the 4,000 communities in Austria, nearly half are considered tourist centers.
Tourist attractions in the capital include 15 state theaters and the Vienna State Opera (which also houses the Vienna Philharmonic); the Vienna Boys’ Choir; St. Stephen’s Cathedral; the Schönbrunn and Belvedere palaces; and the Spanish Riding Academy, with its famous Lippizaner stallions. Just beyond the city boundary are the Vienna Woods, with their picturesque wine taverns.
About 40 or 50 towns and villages qualify as major resorts for Alpine skiing, and Innsbruck has been the site of two Winter Olympics, in 1964 and 1976. Mountaineering is another Austrian specialty, with Austrian climbers having scaled high peaks all over the world. Austrians have frequently taken titles in world canoeing championships. Football (soccer) is a very popular sport. Austria also puts on a number of prominent annual events for cyclists. Probably the most challenging tour on the amateurs’ program is the “Tour d’Autriche,” which has been held every year since 1949. This race through Austria’s mountains covers a total distance of almost 1,500 kilometers. Motor racing, motorcycle racing and speedway racing are also extremely popular sports in Austria.
Foreign tourist traffic is the leading single source of foreign exchange, and tourism is a major contributor to the Austrian economy. An estimated 13,748,371 foreign visitors arrived in Austria in 2003. Receipts from tourism amounted to $16 billion. That year there were 282,614 rooms in hotels, inns, and pensions with 631,085 beds and a 36% occupancy rate. The average length of stay was four nights.
Visitors entering Austria for a short stay need only a valid passport if from the United States or the European Union countries, but an Austrian visa is required for visits exceeding three months.