Summer and winter alike, Austria is always a popular holiday destination. Whether you like swimming in a mountain lake, hiking in flowery meadows, relaxing in thermal springs or frolic in pristine snow, Austria will give you every chance to do it. The country will also enchant you with its small romantic towns and villages. You can admire the rural and Baroque churches and cozy wooden houses adorned with balconies laden with geraniums, painted walls and elaborate wood carvings. Sleep in hostels and taste Austrian specialties, share stories and glasses of famous Austrian wines with locals who are ready to socialize with foreigners, even more in small towns.
We will introduce you to the most romantic small towns in Austria that will make you visit more than once.
Hallstatt is a small town in the Salzkammergut mountains about an hour and a half drive from Salzburg, on the edge of a crystal clear lake of the same name. Salz, salt in English, is the main theme of this picturesque town which owes its wealth to the extraction of salt in the nearby Salzwelten mine. Hallstatt is only accessible on foot, adding to the romance of its bright red, pink and yellow 16th-century houses, steeple churches and cobbled streets. All the buildings are full of ivy and geraniums which adds even more color. You can hire boats to see the exquisite panorama of Hallstatt from the water (motorboats are not allowed), take the cable car to visit the old salt mine, or just stroll around to look at the local shops. All the shops sell nice souvenirs, like wood carvings and small sachets of salt.
One of the most interesting sights in Hallstatt is the Charnel House. When the funeral space became scarce and the tombs had to be reused, the skulls of the deceased were exhumed, cleaned and beautifully painted to be reburied in the “house of bones”, located in the 12th century chapel of Saint-Michel. . Painting of skulls is a local art form, used until the 20th century.
Pro tip: The best time to visit is October when there are far fewer tourists and the weather is still mild and sunny.
Alpbach is located on a sunny plateau in the Tyrolean district of Kufstein. What sets this charming little village apart is the continuity of the architecture. Local laws prohibit building houses that do not adhere to the traditional timber and half-timbered style. Gardens and flowers everywhere, as well as views of the majestic surrounding mountains, make Alpbach a romantic summer destination. But the village is also popular in winter, due to its good ski slopes and well-groomed slopes.
Alpbach is nicknamed the “Village of Thinkers”, due to the European Alpbach Forum, a think tank that has resulted in many innovations over the years. In the 15th century, copper and silver mining brought wealth to the community, much of which was administered by the Fugger merchant family from Augsburg, Germany. Alpbach’s main hotel, Boglerhof, dates back in time with many original features still preserved. Tradition is at the forefront in Alpbach, and another nod to the past is a museum of mountain agriculture.
The medieval town of Dürnstein is located on the Danube in the Wachau Valley in Lower Austria and is just an hour’s drive from Vienna. You can also travel here by boat on the river. You will be greeted by a breathtaking view: a bright blue tower with white trim. Its baroque design dates from 1710 and is part of the Stift Durnstein monastery. Above the city are the ruins of a castle, famous for having been the prison of King Richard the Lionheart.
The Wachau region in Austria is well known for its wines and vineyards, especially Riesling and Green Veltliner. Many opportunities for wine tasting await you as you stroll through the medieval streets where time seems to have stood still. Also try the local schnapps, an apricot liqueur. The german word is Marillenschnaps, so you know what to ask.
Pro tip: For stunning views over the city and the river, hike up to the castle, but make sure you choose the easier path with lots of written signposts, as the more direct is very steep and reserved to super athletes. In any case, good hiking boots are essential.
4. Bad Gastein
Do not be mistaken ! The word “Bad” affixed to a town’s name does not mean ugly or mean, but it is the German word for a spa town with hot springs and healing waters. Bad Gastein is located in a valley, surrounded by the peaks of the Hohe Tauern, just south of Salzburg. The city became a fashionable spa resort in the 19th century due to its thermal springs, frequented by royalty, among them the health fan Empress Elisabeth of Austria. You can spend a few hours relaxing in these healing waters of Felsentherme. The city has earned its nickname “Monte Carlo of the Alps”, due to the many hotels and Belle Époque houses that can be found on the surrounding steep and wooded slopes as well as in the city center.
Bad Gastein is ideal for walking and hiking in summer and skiing in winter. You can even get sprayed at the roaring Gasteiner Waterfall. If you are interested in the history of this spa, visit the Gasteiner Museum.
5. Zell am See
Located in a valley in the Kitzbuhel Alps near Salzburg, Zell sits on the edge of a lake of the same name. Surrounded by glaciers and high mountains, Zell’s attractions are hiking in summer, skiing in winter or looking out over the picturesque village while indulging in all the water activities imaginable on the peanut shaped lake. A truly romantic experience can be found in the Magic Lake Show. Every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday evening, a light show is organized, illuminating the lake in blue. Best of all, the show is free.
The town is full of traditional cafes and restaurants, which you should try kaesespaetzle, a delicious caloric dish of cheese noodles with sauce and onions. Regardless, you’ll be doing enough walking and hiking to burn it all down! Stop at the Saint-Hippolyte Romanesque Church to admire the 118-foot-high tower. The old town of Zell is located on the western shore of the lake, but you can take a boat trip to see the rest.
St. Gilgen is located on the shore of one of Austria’s best known and most idyllic lakes, the Wolfgangsee. Surrounded by the Salzkammergut mountains, the small village offers a wide variety of summer activities. First, a walk along the lake or swimming or boating. In fact, the many boats that cross the lake, touching St. Wolfgang, Ried and other villages made St. Gilgen popular in the first place. There are numerous hiking trails through the meadows while an original cogwheel train and the Zwolferhorn cable car ascend the mountain. The red cabins can be seen from all over St. Gilgen, adding even more color to the pretty Alpine wooden houses and their abundance of geraniums on the balconies and in the hanging baskets. The patron saint of Saint-Gilgen is Saint Aegidius and the parish church is dedicated to him. His statue greets you as you stroll through the city.
St.Gilgen has been nicknamed the “Mozart Village” by the tourist office although the great composer himself never visited. But her grandfather worked here and her mother was born in St. Gilgen. His paternal residence is now a museum open to visitors. You can even get married there.
Pro tip: You have to try the famous vanilla and cream apfelstrudel. Sadly, Café Dallman is now permanently closed, but there are plenty of other cafes to sample this Austrian treat. Another tip: the lakeside is very steep, there is only one footpath from St. Gilgen to St. Wolfgang but the views are spectacular. Walk with caution.
Millstatt is a shopping town and spa resort, located on a peninsula on the northern shore of Lake Millstatt at the foot of the Gurktal Alps in southern Austria. The lake is the center of activity as well as relaxation. The south shore is densely wooded and invites long walks to taste the fresh air. From 1870, Millstatt became a fashionable spa resort for the nobility of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The remains of the 11th century Benedictine abbey house a museum. Both are Millstatt landmarks.
Pro tip: Find a local fisherman and try to persuade him to take you on a fishing trip across the lake to pull in his nets. A different activity and the opportunity to meet the locals.
Many small Austrian towns and villages are located in the Alpine mountains and around dazzling lakes: