When I say “winter in Austria” you automatically think of skiing or snowboarding, right? It’s true that there are tons of great slopes and ski resorts in Austria, but even if you don’t like going up and down a hill the entire day, there’s still plenty for you to do in the country of “The Sound of Music”.
When I was In Austria in January for 3 days with 14 other bloggers, we were divided into 3 groups every day and each group would go try out other winter activities. Here’s what I did and what you can do too on your vacation to Austria in the winter.
What to do in Austria in winter? These 11 things!
1. Play in the snow
We were super lucky because when we arrived, there was finally some proper snow in Austria. As in many European countries this year, winter came late in Austria, but now we fully got to enjoy the white powder. I swear, it turned all of us into little kids again. We were pushing each other and instead of taking the cleared paths, we’d take shortcuts through thick packs of snow. And then, of course, fall down and giggle.
So when does it snow in Austria? When is winter in Austria? It depends on where you go. In the valleys, it usually snows from late December until March, but once you go above about 5,905 ft or 1,800 m, there’s snow as early as November until May. Some years, the snow doesn’t even melt once you get above 8,202 ft or 2,500 m. If you want to make sure you’ll experience a real Austrian winter, January is probably the best month to go.
Just make sure you wear the right things so you don’t get cold or wet and you can properly enjoy the experience.
2. Visit a husky ranch
I’m not much of an animal person, but the Huskies we saw at Husky Ranch Angerberg simply stole my heart. They were so calm and peaceful… until they noticed they were going sledding. Then they became like little energy bombs! It was truly inspiring to hear how owner Martin Eigentler only left his huskies once a year, to travel to Canada and Alaska in search for new husky pups for his ranch.
3. Go hiking
In summer, lots of people travel to Austria to go hiking in the mountains. I’ve done it in regions like Vorarlberg and beyond. But why wouldn’t you do the same thing during your winter vacation in Austria?
Not all paths are cleared of snow, of course, but there are plenty of hiking opportunities in and around the small villages. We made a nice walk from Hotel Kraftquelle Schlossblick, where we had lunch after visiting the husky ranch, to the pilgrimage church of Mariastein.
4. Visit the pilgrimage church of Mariastein
When you’re hiking, you might as well do some sightseeing, right? This 14th-century church was declared a pilgrimage church in the 18th century after a “Maria miracle” had taken place there. People still climb the 150 steps to the chapel to go to mass but can rest in one of the several rooms along the way up, of which one is a small museum.
It’s one of the places to visit in Austria in January in this region, as the pilgrims usually visit when the weather’s warmer. January is low season for this little church and so it won’t be too crowded.
5. Go (off-track) cross-country skiing
I’d gone cross-country skiing once in Quebec, but I’d never gone off-track cross-country skiing before. At the Nordic Academy in Hochfilzen, I got to do both. But first our guide explained the difference between regular cross-country skies (they’re slicker) and off-track cross-country skis (not so slick) and he also showed us how cross-country ski sizing works. Basically, it’s all about how much you weigh and not about how tall you are.
Now, while cross-country skiing is one of those typical things to do during an Austria winter vacation, it’s actually much harder than it looks – especially when you’re trying to get up a hill! We all did pretty okay on the flat parts and also had no trouble sliding down that one hill, but climbing it with cross-country skis on, that was something else. Let’s just say there were a lot of giggles and not all of us managed to stay upright :-)
6. Taste the food of Austria
Traditional Austrian food is rich, buttery, meaty and filling food. It’s meant for people who are active outdoors all day long and burn a lot of calories. My favorite dish was probably the Austrian version of pancakes that I tried. Yes, a dessert. What did you expect? You can read more about the food of Austria in another post.
7. Try your hand (leg/arm) at biathlon
Biathlon is one of those other typical winter activities in Austria. I’d really looked forward to trying it and it didn’t disappoint.
Biathlon is a sport that combines cross-country skiing and shooting, but biathlon targets aren’t like the regular round targets you may have in mind. The ones we practiced on, consisted out of a box with six holes and if you hit one of the holes, a little “flap” would close it so you could tell you’d hit it. We practiced on children’s targets which are only about 10 meters away. The pros shoot 50 meters far. This was probably one of my favorite things to do in Austria in winter.
8. Wander through the mountain villages
Sankt Johann in Tirol, the village we stayed during this trip, was a rather “large” mountain village with plenty of shops and a couple of bars. You could easily spend an afternoon walking around here and even go for a walk in between the white fields. Especially if you’re in the mood for a more relaxing day, hanging around town is a good option.
9. Take a horse carriage ride in Sankt Johann
Even more relaxing than simply going for a walk, is catching a ride. A horse carriage ride, that is! We all cuddled up under blankets in the carriage to admire the white landscape around us. As this was my first winter activity in Austria, it was a fun way to get to know the others on the trip.
Just one thing to know if you plan on doing a carriage ride in Austria in winter: if you get out to take photos, you’ll be so much colder afterward!
10. Attend a schnapps tasting
Indulging in food and drinks is a big part of Austrian winter tourism. Just think of all the après-skiing done by people who, well, go skiing. A typical drink to try, is Schnapps.
I very rarely drink alcohol, and when I do it’s usually something that tastes like orange juice or lemonade: the sweeter, the better. Schnapps isn’t anything like that, but when you’re in Austria, there’s no escaping it. Schnapps is like the national 40% alcohol drink. But Edelbrandsommelier Leo Trixl made sure everybody enjoyed the tasting. He first let us guess all kinds of different scents before we started the actual Schnapps tasting (and smelling).
11. Do a toboggan run in Kirchberg
Remember my fear of heights? On our last night in Austria, we went to the Gaisberg in Kirchberg to do a sled or toboggan run down. I wasn’t that worried about the toboggan run, but I was about taking the ski lift all the way up the mountain. Weirdly enough, I was much less afraid than I usually am at such heights.
Was it because I was dark? I don’t know.
For the sled ride, I partnered up with the wonderful Lisa from TVB Hohe Salve and we giggled our way smoothly down the mountain. I do have to admit I was happy I could sled down with her. The combination of heights and speed will never be for me.
On another note, if you’re looking for great snowy views, the Gaisberg is one of the best places to visit in Austria in winter because it has a restaurant and hotel, the Gasthof Obergaisberg, right alongside the toboggan track. That means you can toboggan down for a bit, then take a break at the restaurant and then sled further down. It’s even a good place to visit in summer when you can mountain bike and hike on the Gaisberg.
Make sure to reserve a table by the window for amazing views of the mountain!
12. Snuggle up with a book in your hotel room
If the cold does get to you at one point, just snuggle up with a book in your hotel room or at the bar, with a nice cup of tea and – let’s go crazy – some cake. There are so many lovely hotels in Austria to choose from, from small bed and breakfasts to luxury half or even full-board places.
And if you want to keep in theme while reading, these books about Austria will both entertain you and teach you something new.
And that’s not all you can do in Austria in winter. Other people went snowshoeing, fat biking or did a Segway ride through the snow. And if you’re visiting a city, you can get your culture on. Learning the Viennese Waltz or visiting museums in Vienna, for example, is something you can do all-year-long.
Needless to say I’m hoping to go back to see what Austria has to offer in summer!
2018 add-on: I’ve visited Austria in summer quite a few times now!
How to get to Austria
Depending on where in Austria you’re going, to the easiest way to get there will be by plane, train or car. If you’re traveling to a big city like Vienna or Salzburg, you can fly there directly or take a train from a nearby city, but if you’re traveling to the mountains, you’ll need to take a shuttle or rent a car.
Check Skyscanner for a good overview of flight options and prices.
If you’re traveling by train, you can find timetables and prices here.
For a rental car, check RentalCars.com as they compare more than 900 rental car companies and have a best-price-guarantee.
(You can also watch this video directly on YouTube)
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I was invited on the #inAustria trip by iambassador in partnership with the Austrian National Tourist Office. As always, anything I write about this trip will be my opinion only.