Austria today is a small, landlocked country that’s only a fraction of what it once was but it’s still a country of great diversity. I can’t help but feel that Austria waltzes between the urban world and the great outdoors so effortlessly that the only thing separating the stunning architecture of Vienna is from the highest alpine summits is a 3-hour drive. Austria is, indeed, an all-year-round destination. However, most people that visit stick to the tourist trail: Vienna-Graz-Hallstatt-Salzburg-Tyrol-Innsbruck without even thinking of visiting the places I will write about today. After visiting these places, I’m sure you will share my opinion and that is these hidden gems in Austria are just as beautiful as the main tourist attractions.
Grosses Walsertal is one of the world’s 529 biosphere parks that exercise real sustainability. If you like getting lost in the forests, walking across heavenly meadows where quick mountain streams flow down the Alps, this park is definitely a must visit. Trekking deep in these forests, you will discover the amazing flora of Austria, and some of the most beautiful mountain villages in the country shyly peeking from behind the trees…
Located in western Austria, Bregenzerwald is one of the least visited regions in the country even by Austrians. The whole region has only 30,000 inhabitants and the same number of cows. There are 22 villages that make up the region but one of them made a particularly lasting impression on me. That village was Mellau.
This small village changed its ownership back and forth between Bavaria and Austria, and even France after WWII. That’s why this small village looks like a mini-Europe. It’s really hard not to fall in love with the beautiful wooden structures and blooming flowers that snuggle underneath the windows of the charming village houses.
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Krumbach is another amazing village in Bregenzerwald. This is one of the most sustainable and cosmopolitan villages in Europe, no matter how contradicting that might sound. Not only is Krumbach nestled between some scenic forests and serves as a great stop for exploring the great Bregenzerwald forests but the village is also constantly involved in projects that increase its sustainability and preserve the intact, fascinating, and diverse natural and cultural landscape.
On a first sight, this small village of 1,000 residents looks pretty dull but it’s a great base for exploring the mountains and witness some of the most mesmerizing views in Austria. I was really surprised to see that such a small village has such amazing facilities for visitors, including hiking, mountain biking, and even skiing. It’s an even bigger surprise that Schoppernau is so unfrequented as it offers everything one can expect from the Austrian great outdoors. But next
3. Hohe Tauern National Park
Okay, this one is a kind of cheating since Hohe Tauren is the largest nature reserve in the Alps but it covers three Austrian provinces and is the ultimate off the beaten track place. The park has 266 mountains over 10,000 feet, 551 lakes, and more than 200 glaciers.
If you want to explore without a guided tour and discover the beauties of Hohe Tauren by yourself, one of the park rangers can help you discover places you would never find yourself and reveal the deepest secrets of the park.
One great example of the secrets hidden in Hohe Tauern National Park is the village Krimml and the Krimml waterfalls. Tucked away in the tiny, country roads, hide the tallest waterfalls in Central Europe.
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Remember those alpine villages hidden high in the mountains that we see in movies and read about in books? Alpbach is a perfect example of it. This small traditional alpine village is home to only 2,600 people and literally all of them leave in what appears to be identical, classic wooden Alpine homes with beautiful fresh flowers peeking from the balconies.
I guess this is where Alpbach got its name from. Translated to English, Alpbach means “a flowering village”. Alpbach was recently voted as one of the most picturesque villages in Europe and it’s safe to assume that the number of visitors will increase in the next few years.
5. St Wolfgangsee
Every country has that one hidden gem that’s located close to a tourist hub but isn’t visited by a lot of people. In Austria’s case, that would be Located at the tip of Wolfgangsee Lake, 30 kilometers east of Salzburg, St. Wolfgangsee is one of the most charming market towns in Austria. The city is famous for the iconic views of the lake, gothic churches, musical comedy, and amazing spa centers.
Pertisau is another charming mountain village in the Eastern Alps. It’s one of the oldest, cross-border protected areas in Europe and is also the center for the Achensee shipping business. Most ships that distribute goods around the villages surrounding the Achensee lake start their journey at Pertisau. The town also has two winter ski areas, the Planberg Wiesenlifte, and the Karwendel Bergbahn.
7. Kaisertal: the valley without cars
Dotted within the remote Alpine inns, Kaisertal is one of Austria’s best-kept secrets. Kaisertal has only 39 permanent residents and if you plan to visit, you must leave your vehicle in the nearby town of Kufstein. Why? There are no roads that lead through Kaisertal Valley. This place was voted as the most beautiful place in Austria by Austrians in 2017 but it’s still unfrequented because there aren’t any roads going in and out of the valley.
8. The Green Ring Trail
Passing through Lech-Zürs am Arlberg this enchanting trail is known as the Green Ring because of its circular shape and the lush forests surrounding it. Along the way, you will encounter some of the best examples of the great Austrian wilderness, hidden castles, sculptures, and the mystical Sagenwald forest, known for the local folk tales about witches and wizards. For a complete medieval experience, don’t miss out on staying in one of the wooden bivouacs scattered across the trail.
Discovered around 150 years ago, Eisreisenwelt is the largest ice-cave system on our planet. Due to the unique conditions in the cave, the spring water freezes into fascinating ice sculptures and formations locally known as the Ice Giants. Words can do little justice to this natural phenomenon and the best way to experience it is by visiting it.
10. The Seegrotte
Located beneath a disused mine in Hinterbrühl, the Seegrotte is a stunning series of underground canals that create the largest subterranean lake in Europe. This lake was created by a severe flood that caused the collapse of the mine in 1912. Roughly 60 meters below ground, the so-called Big Lake spreads across a surface of 6,200 square meters.
11. The Dachstein Glacier
Peeking from Styria’s highest mountain, covered in blue frost, the Dachstein Glacier is one of the most photogenic places in Austria. Not only is the glacier amazing but the complete hike is one of the most scenic ones in Austria. Making your way from the lush green forests through the misty clouds to the sheer cliffs is a great adventure. Once you get to the top, you can ride on the glacier roof in a gondola surrounded by a secure balcony or climb the so-called Staircase to nowhere and enjoy the stunning view from the edge of the Dachstein ridge.
12. The hidden villages of the Zillertal Valley
The Zillertal Valley is a well-known destination among travelers visiting Austria. However, this valley spreads across 379 km2 and there are many places that still fall off the beaten path. Some examples are Gerlos, a charming ski resort in the central part of the valley, Fügen, a charming unfrequented holiday resort, and towns like Mayrhofen and Hintertux that hide amazing glaciers which can definitely be called wonders of nature.
13. Green Lake
The Green Lake is one of the most fascinating hidden gems in Austria. During the fall and winter, it’s a mild-mannered lake. During the spring, however, when the winter snows melt into the lake, das Grüner See raises its water levels from two to ten meters, covering the whole park with pristine, deep-blue, glacier water. It’s definitely beautiful to visit even in the winter with all the beautiful nature and hiking trails that surround the lake but the view in the spring is absolutely magical.
14. East Tirol
East Tirol is a lot less famous among travelers than its big brother. Thousands of people take the famous Eagle Walk Trail in Tirol every year, that’s true. Unfortunately, only a few end up visiting East Tirol. I guess a lot of that has to do with the fact that East Tirol is separated from North Tirol by the common border of Salzburg and the Italian South Tyrol. Skiing in Tirol in February can be a real nightmare with long lift queues, hundreds of schoolchildren, and crowded slopes. However, if you head to East Tirol same time of the year, you will find perfect, intact snow under your feet, (almost) empty six-person lifts and deserted trails.
There you go, my ultimate list of hidden gems in Austria you (probably) didn’t know existed. Have you ever visited any of these places or maybe think I forgot to mention some? Let me know in the comments.