Austria: Suggested Itinerary

Day 1: Vienna - Vienna was the heart of a massive Empire for centuries, but the most shaping period for the city centre was the 19th century. Spend day one strolling in the historical "Erster Bezirk" (First District) and the Ringstraßeto to get a sense for the distances. Most attractions are in this area anyway. Visit the Hofburg Palace, go inside the treasury for an appetiser on Habsburg glory. Check out Heldenplatz Square, the Staatsoper (National Opera), Parliament and Stephansdom - Vienna’s cathedral in a typically gothic style. There are many of Vienna′s traditional cafes for a bite or two.

Day 2: Start the day by exploring the Schönbrunn Palace to make this day the ultimate baroque experience. You can also go to Tiergarten Schönbrunn Zoo around the corner and see the Palmenhaus (a historic greenhouse). Back to the city centre, try to visit one of Vienna′s art museums, there are plenty to choose from like Albertina or the relatively-new Museumquartiers. Turn day 2’s evening to a night at the opera, you simply can’t go to Vienna without one.

Day 3: This day should be dedicated to 1900 Vienna′s intellectual life. Start by seeing Otto Wagner′s "Kirche am Steinhof" church to get a taste of Austrian Jugendstil (Art Nouveau). Then head to the Prater area and experience the unique Naschmarkt food markets. The Zentralfriedhof cemetery is also worth a visit, with the graves of famous musicians like Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and Falco. Make sure you try some of the famous frankfurters, as they say, ‘When in Rome...’ In the evening, try out some of the local nightspots that you will find in this stunning capital city.

Day 4: Leave Vienna heading west and visit Krems in Lower Austria. Here you can dive into the beautiful Wachau area, following the Danube river. Schloss Dürnstein Castle is the scenic highlight of the day and a good spot to learn about Austria′s medieval history. You might want to stop by Schloss Schallaburg Castle too, just for good measure. Get back to Vienna and have an authentic Viennese supper.

Day 5: This is the day for a delve in Austria’s more-recent history. Go to Stift Melk monastery, one of the most impressive Baroque ones in Austria and in typical Catholic-Germanic tradition. Move on from the peaks to the lows and go to the former concentration camp of Mauthausen. If you are with children or anyone particularly sensitive, perhaps give it a miss but this is a real eye-opener. See the Abbey of St Florian near Linz. From there, go straight into Austria′s most scenic area, the Salzkammergut, a stunning way to end the day, you might well say.

Day 6: Spend a day exploring Hallstatt, which celebrates itself as a cradle of European civilization. This UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site is scenic, full of history and local culture. You might want to go hiking for half a day or just relax. If you do have time, see the unique ice caves in Dachstein, not too far away. Head back to Vienna for your last night and finish off anything you wanted to do again, probably an opera I’d have thought.

Day 7: The next day, move on to Salzburg. Spend your first day there strolling through the historic Altstadt (said to be the biggest UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site) and check out Mozart′s birthplace, the cathedral, the monasteries St. Peter and Nonnberg and the castle. If you’ve brought the kids you might want to go to the Hellbrunn Trick Fountains or the salt mines in Hallein, just south of the city. Don′t miss the Müllner Bräu beer halls.

Day 8: If you’re a particular fan of classic Hollywood, you might be pleased to learn you can do a "Sound of Music Tour" (most Austrians have not seen the movie). Head south and go along the Salzach valley to Hallein with its Salt Mines and enter the "real Alps" best experienced in the National Park Hohe Tauern. Go up the "Großglockner Hochalpenstraße" for some of Europe′s most stunning vistas and direct access to Austria′s highest mountain and glaciers.

Day 9: Spend the next day in Innsbruck. Head up the Hafelekar for more impressive views and explore the Renaissance castle, Schloss Ambras. The late medieval core of Innsbruck will put you back to Austria′s rise under Emperor Maximilian I. Move on to the Alemannic west of Austria, the province of Vorarlberg.

Day 10: Spend a day hiking in the Bregenzer Wald (Bregenz forest) in the village of Schwarzenberg and on the shores of Europe′s biggest lake, the Bodensee (Lake Constance). Truly eye-opening views and a natural experience.

Day 11: If you can rent a car for this day, just as well. Go back via Kufstein, where you might want to stop by at the castle, and move to Carinthia. Spend a day driving a lot, but stop by the lakes of Carinthia and Hochosterwitz Castle. Move on to Graz in Styria, stroll in the city centre and visit the Schlossberg mountain and castle. Drive into the Styrian hills (Oststeirisches Hügelland) around Leibnitz, Ehrenhausen and the "Road of the Castles" to learn about wine or stop by one of the many "Thermalbäder" (spas with hot springs). How many people can say they’ve been to an authentic hot spring?!

Day 12: You might want to spend this day, if you love a bit of plonk, visiting a local vineyard. You can actually do this free-of-charge but I’m sure you’ll want to pick up a bottle or two. If you prefer nature you can stop at the Nationalpark Donauauen for some more natural views before heading back to Vienna and home.