Touring Austria's Treasures:
UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites
For a long time, Austria had no UNESCO seal on any of its attractions, no proof that they are of genuine natural beauty and cultural significance. It′s not like anybody doubted that, but eventually Austria started to apply and by 1996, the desired evidence was provided.
Today, Austria is almost striving with currently eight sites considered to be part of the World′s Cultural Heritage. I think that they make a good thread to follow as an itinerary of "ultimate sightseeing highlights" in Austria. Beyond that, if you are near any of them, you should definitely go there. As usual, I will move from West to the East of Austria.
Historic Centre of the City of Salzburg (1996)
Yes, here we go: My very hometown is not only among Austria′s oldest World Cultural Heritage Sites, no, it is also the biggest worldwide (no guarantee for accuracy - sounds much like a rumour to me). The historic city centre of Salzburg was the capital of a wealthy principality ruled by Prince Archbishops until 1806. Their prosperity was derived from salt trade, gold and transportation through the Salzach Valley.
Much of this was invested into the construction of numerous palaces, churches, monasteries and parks in the early 17th century. The medieval Salzburg was transformed into a Baroque gem and was often called "The German Rome". This is also the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and a must-see destination for every respectable visitor of Austria. (www.whc.unesco.org/en/list/784)
Hallstatt-Dachstein Salzkammergut Cultural Landscape
A region of exceptional fame, the Salzkammergut is the region of the Dachstein Mountain and nearby hills and lakes. I dedicate a section in "sightseeing" to the Salzkammergut, so I′ll list only the basics here: Salt mining was done here since the Bronze Age and led to wealth every since.
It is famous for its dramatic scenery with hills, lakes and towns in characteristic architecture. The UNESCO Heritage Site includes the towns of Hallstatt, Gosau, Obertraun and Bad Goisern. The Salzkammergut is among Austria′s premier tourist attractions and towns might be somewhat crowded in the summer months. (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/806)
City of Graz - Historic Centre (1999)
The city centre of Graz is covered in more detail in the "sightseeing" section. The main attractions and reasons for assigning World Cultural Hertiage status to it was the high number of medieval and early modern buildings that are supplemented with several exceptional buildings from a range of styles and periods (including renaissance, baroque and Jugendstil).
The most prominent feature of Graz′ city is the "Uhrturm" clocktower on the Schlossberg Mountain from the early 18th century. The famous "Zeughaus" (armoury or arsenal) holds of Europe′s finest collections of Medieval and early Modern weapons and supplements the collection stored in Vienna's Hofburg for those with a serious interest in Medieval armour. (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/931)
Semmering Railway (1998)
Considered to be the most scenic route of Austria, the Semmering Railway takes you not only to some of Lower Austria′s prettiest spots, but also on an exciting journey into Austria′s imperial past. In 1841, the Empire pushed the development of the railway network between Vienna and Trieste. Between 1848 and 1856, the Semmering Railway was built to overcome a 1,000 metre high mountain pass.
Back in 1856, this was the highest altitude a railway had come to. A crucial objective of the endeavour was to integrate the railway into the surrounding landscape. As a consequence, the Semmering area became a popular "fin de siecle" holiday destination for Vienna′s aristocracy and the spirit of this time remains until today. Ferdinand von Saar (picture) wrote a famous novel on the construction of the Semmering Railway in the 19th century. (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/785)
Wachau Cultural Landscape (2000)
The Wachau was the second World Cultural Heritage for in Lower Austria and is covered in detail in an own section of "sightseeing". In brief, the Wachau is the region running along the Danube over a length of some 30 kilometres. Despite of its relatively small size, the Wachau area contains some of Austria′s premier attractions; it was the centre for medieval culture during the days of the Babenberg reign and played a key role in mission work and counter-reformation.
This importance is reflected in the mighty baroque monasteries of Melk Abbey and Göttweig Abbey and the church and castle of Dürnstein. Another important aspect of the Wachau is the wine culture, which made the towns and villages prosperous. (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/970)
Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn (1996)
The Palace and Gardens of Austria′s imperial court Schloss Schönbrunn were among the country′s first World Cultural Heritage Sites. Schönbrunn is also Austria′s most visited tourist attraction and is covered in detail in the "sightseeing" section for Vienna. The palace served as a summer residence for the Habsburg family and was modelled after the French palace of Versailles in Paris.
It includes a baroque zoo (the oldest continuously run zoo in the World), elaborate state apartments, a smaller palace called "Gloriette" with a garden terrace and a somewhat younger greenhouse ("Palmenhaus"). An absolute must-go destination for every visitor of Austria. (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/786)
Historic Centre of Vienna (2001)
The old city centre of Vienna, once embraced by might city walls, contains many of the city′s main attractions. It provides an excellent opportunity to explore Austria′s three most influential periods of style and architecture, medieval Gothic, early modern Baroque and 19th century neo-Classic style.
Within or by the Ringstraße, you can find a fair part of the over-all sights of Vienna, which makes the city a very tourist-friendly, walk-able place. Details for Vienna are in an own section of "sightseeing". (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1033)
Neusiedler See Cultural Landscape (2001)
The landscape around the steppe lake Neusiedler See in the Burgenland was made a World Cultural Heritage Site due to its centuries old wine tradition, ancient quarries (some are dating back to pre-Roman days) and characteristic market towns, such as Rust and Mörbisch. Note that this region partly overlaps with the National Park Neusiedler See. For details on sightseeing opportunities there, read my artilce on the Seewinkel area. (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/772)
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