Austria is known for its picturesque cycle paths along its largest rivers. Although Austria is a mountainous country, the cycle paths along the rivers are flat or gently sloping and therefore suitable 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, which attracts large crowds of cyclists from all over the world every summer. Other rivers with well-developed cycle paths are the Inn, the Drava, the Möll and the Mur. Most routes follow a combination of dedicated cycle paths, dirt tracks and low-traffic roads and are well suited for children.
Many visitors come to discover Austria’s musical heritage. Salzburg and Vienna offer world-famous opera, classical music and jazz at moderate prices, but top performances are also widely available in the rest of the country. There are dozens of summer festivals to suit all tastes, the most famous being the Salzburg Festival (Salzburg’s avant-garde festival), but as they cater to tourists, prices can be high. Austria’s strong musical tradition is not limited to classical music. Austrian folk music is an integral part of rural Austria and is said to have influenced many of the country’s great composers. In the Alps, almost every village has its own choir or brass band, and you will often see groups of friends getting together in rural pubs and singing songs. Traditional instruments in the Alps are the accordion and the zither. In Vienna, a melancholic kind of violin music called schrammel music is often played in restaurants and Heurigen.
Austria has a very special film culture that deserves to be considered by tourists. Many films feature celebrities from the cabaret, a type of comedy popular in Austria. Most of these films are characterised by their rather cynical and sometimes bizarre black humour and usually feature members of Vienna’s lower or middle classes. Josef Hader, Roland Düringer, Reinhard Nowak or Alfred Dorfer are among the outstanding actors. These include Indien (1993), Muttertag (1993), Hinterholz 8 (1998), Komm, süßer Tod (2000) and Silentium (2004). The most popular directors are Harald Sicheritz, Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl. Haneke received international recognition for his films The Piano Player (2001), based on the novel by the writer Elfriede Jelinek, and Caché (2005), which won a Nobel Prize. Seidl received several awards for his drama Hundstage (2001). In addition, the classic The Third Man (1949) was filmed in Vienna and is regularly shown at the Burg Kino in Vienna.
Unguided hikes in the Austrian Alps are usually possible as there is a dense network of marked hiking trails and mountain huts. Nevertheless, a few fatal incidents occur every year due to recklessness. Hikers are strongly advised not to stray from the trails and not to hike in bad weather or without proper equipment. Always check with the local tourist office before setting out to see if the trail is suitable for your abilities.
Also check the weather forecast. Sudden thunderstorms are common and tend to occur in the afternoon. As a general rule, if you have not reached the summit by midday, it is time to give up and return to your accommodation.
Although the landscape is definitely majestic, you should not expect wild and empty nature. The Alps can be very busy for climbers, especially in high season (there are even traffic jams of climbers on some popular mountains). Littering is forbidden throughout Austria, but especially in the mountains, and you will be the envy of your fellow hikers if you are seen doing it. If you really want to show respect, pick up any litter you see on your way and throw it away at the end of your hike (it’s kind of an unwritten rule). Long-distance hiking trails are marked with the Austrian flag (horizontal red-white-red-white stripes) painted on rocks and tree trunks.
Most of the trails and mountain huts are maintained by the Austrian Alpine Club. Some are managed by other equivalent organisations, such as the German, Dutch and Italian Alpine Clubs. Mountain huts are designed as refuges and not as hotels. Although they are usually 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 a thin sleeping bag is mandatory for hygiene reasons. During the high season (August) it is advisable to book in advance. The mountain huts will not turn anyone away for the night, but if they are full you will have to sleep on the floor. Prices for overnight stays are usually around €10-20 (half for Alpine Club members), but food and drinks are quite expensive as everything has to be transported from the valley, often by helicopter or on foot. For the same reason, there are no rubbish bins in the huts or nearby. Electricity and gas are difficult to transport, and hot showers (if available) have to be paid for. Some huts do not even have running water, which means pit latrines. As already mentioned, mountain huts are very useful for hikers, they usually have a heated lounge and are very romantic, but there is nothing more than necessary.
Detailed hiking maps showing the location of the marked trails and huts can be purchased online from the Austrian Alpine Association [www].
Austria has a large number of lakes. Usually they are very clean, so you can swim in them. In winter you can use them for skating. Sometimes you have to pay a little to get to the lake. You can often find a lot of information on the internet. Usually the place is very clean and often there is a campsite nearby. It is good if you bring your own towel. Near the grassy areas you will often find a small shop selling various snacks, ice cream and drinks. At the large lakes you will also find water rescue services. They can help you in case of emergencies or other problems. The lakes are a great way to spend your free time. Austrians usually spend the whole day there. The most popular lakes are Wörthersee, Wolfgangsee, Attersee and Neusiedler See.