Days 1 & 2: Vienna: Gateway to Austria
Most motor trips of Austria begin in Vienna, unless you're driving in from the west -- say, after a visit to Switzerland. If so, you can use Innsbruck as your gateway and take this highlight tour in reverse.
Most visitors take a flight into Austria that puts them in Vienna on Day 1. Check into your hotel and enjoy an old-fashioned Austrian breakfast, including some of the fabled Viennese pastries. You might get a good enough "tuck in" that you'll skip lunch.
It would take a few weeks to see all of Vienna's major sights, but you can skim the highlights in just 2 days by concentrating on St. Stephan's Cathedral in the heart of the Inner City (Old Town). Climb its south tower for the most panoramic view. Later that morning, visit the once imperial Schönbrunn Palace, summer seat of the Hapsburgs. In the afternoon call on the Hofburg, visiting its major attractions such as the Kunsthistorisches. In the evening take your choice: an opera or a night spent in a raucous Viennese wine tavern.
On Day 2, take in the glories of the MuseumsQuartier Complex, paying particular attention to the Leopold Museum and the Kunsthalle Wien. Attend a performance of the Vienna Boys' Choir. Try for an afternoon visit to the Belvedere Palace and its fine art galleries. For a typically Viennese experience, spend your final night at one of the wine taverns on the outskirts of the city. They are called heurigen, and some of the best of these taverns are found in the suburb of Grinzing.
Day 3: The Danube River
On Day 3, head to Salzburg in the car you rented in Vienna. If you only have a day or two, you can hop to Salzburg on the Autobahn, but you'd miss out on so much. We suggest a 2-day leisurely journey with stops in the Danube Valley and in the lake district of Salzkammergut.
Instead of the Autobahn, take Route 3, called the "Austrian Romantic Road," west from Vienna. On the north of the river you can follow this lovely old road into Krems, the most rewarding stopover in the Danube Valley, with its old churches, ancient houses, and cobblestone streets. The location is 80km (50 miles) west of Vienna. You can use Krems as a base and set out on two side trips; first to the old wine town of Dürnstein, 8km (5 miles) west of Krems. The town still preserves part of its once fortified walls. From Dürnstein, follow Route 33 along the south bank of the Danube to Melk Abbey, the greatest baroque abbey of Austria. The distance is 31km (19 miles). You can double back along the road leading northeast into Krems for the night, or you can also select Dürnstein for an overnight stay, as it has even better and more romantic hotels than Krems.
Day 4: Salzkammergut: Salzburg's Lake District
On the morning of Day 4, leave Krems and drive south to the Autobahn (E60) that runs west to Salzburg. At the junction with Route 145, head south into Bad Ischl, your best base for touring the Salzkammergut. The driving distance between Krems and Bad Ischl is 224km (139 miles).
Check into a hotel in the fashionable spa of Bad Ischl and stroll its Esplanade, where former guests such as the Emperor Franz Josef used to walk. You can see the Kaiser Villa where the emperor lived for 60 summers. If time remains, you can also check out Villa Léhar where Franz Léhar lived in 1912.
After lunch, drive down to Hallstatt, 19km (12 miles) south of Bad Ischl, where you'll discover one of the most beautiful villages in Austria. It stands on a narrow lake, the Hallstättersee, and requires about 2 hours to see. Northwest of Hallstatt you can visit the Salzwelten/Hallstatt Salt Mines, one of the most distinctive geological formations in the district. Return to Bad Ischl for the night.
Day 5 & 6 Salzburg: Birthplace of Mozart
On the morning of Day 5, leave Bad Ischl following Route 158 west into Salzburg, a distance of 56km (35 miles) and our base for the next two nights. After checking into a hotel, set about exploring the second-most fascinating city (after Vienna) in Austria.
Sit at a cafe on the Mozartplatz for a coffee and a pastry before taking the funicular to the Hohensalzburg Fortress for a tour. After lunch, you can see Mozart's birthplace on Getreidegasse. Allow time in the afternoon for a visit to the Residenzgalerie, the opulent palace and former seat of the ruling Salzburg prince-archbishops. If the Salzburg Festival is taking place at the time of your visit, plan to attend some cultural offerings -- certainly Mozart's music -- in the evening.
On Day 6, set out to see the sights you missed the day before, including the Dom or cathedral and Stiftskirche St. Peter, as well as Petersfriedhof, the cemetery of St. Peter's. Wander through the Mirabell Gardens, and spend at least 2 or 3 hours in the Altstadt, the Old Town, where you can shop till you drop and take in the antique buildings.
Day 7: Innsbruck: Capital of Tyrol
On the morning of Day 7, leave Salzburg and drive 190km (118 miles) southwest to the "third tourist city" of Austria, Innsbruck, arriving in time for lunch. Check into a hotel for your final night. Set out on foot to explore the Altstadt (Old Town) for at least 2 hours, and stroll Maria-Theresien-Strasse, the main street. You can also see the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl), the city's major attraction.
In the afternoon, visit Hofkirche. If time remains, take in the exhibits of the Tiroler Volkskunst Museum.
After Innsbruck, the glories of the Tyrol, the richest province of Austria for scenery, await you. When time's up, head back to Vienna (if that's your transportation hub), or head west into Switzerland for yet another adventure.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.