Austria walking holidays

If you like your maps crammed with contour lines, and your meadows carpeted with wildflowers, then a hike in Austria’s alpine landscape is for you. Austria has ample Alps: Some three quarters of Austria is set in the mountains, and two thirds of the country is at least 500m above sea level. It’s safe to say that hill walking isn’t in short supply, but you don’t need legs of steel to enjoy Austria. Not only are there gondolas and chairlifts to assist you on the ascent, but if you’re not incline-inclined, you can always walk around its beautiful lake region in Salzerkammut, or along the beautiful blue Danube instead. In Austria, there’s a walking holiday for everyone.
In Austria, a ‘wandern’ is a hike, and disappearing off for the day up the nearest mountain is a perfectly normal Saturday activity. Be warned: reading our guide might give you serious wandern-lust.
Hiking in the Austrian Alps is a well-established pastime. Trails are maintained by the Austrian Alpine Club, and in the summer they can get surprisingly busy, so consider going in spring or autumn. The Alps have long been considered Europe’s playground, and for those who only know about their ski seasons, it can be a surprise to see them heavily peopled in summer. It’s not only neighbouring Germans and Italians that stream in to Austria for their August summer holiday, but Austrians themselves. Join them: walking is low-impact on the environment, but it might have a big impact on you. Dwarfed by mountains on all sides, on a hike you can really appreciate the scale and majesty of Austria’s Alps.

What do walking holidays in Austria entail?

River Danube

Choose your terrain – and the destination will follow. If you want to walk along the Danube, head to the picturesque Wachau valley. In this picturesque place, you’ll probably be doing a point-to-point route walking between eight and 10 miles a day, staying in hotels along the way and having your luggage transported for you. Danube walks are easy to navigate, and are often self-guided. The way back is even easier: simply hop on a boat.

Salzerkammut

Walking around the Salzerkammut region you can easily base yourself in one place, like the picturesque town of Bad Ischl, and use short transfers to get to the start of each walk. Nine days gives you a lovely overview of the area, and its many lakes, including Seefeld, St Gilgen and Mondsee. This area easy to get around, and works really well for a self-guided walk.

Alps

If you want to walk in the Alps, you could base yourself in a mountain hotel and take part in a small group trip, of between six and 20 hikers. You’ll find that there are hundreds of walks on your doorstep, and you won’t need to decamp every day to find your next adventure. Plus, some accommodation comes with hot tubs, so you won’t want to leave. In the Alps you can make big ascents every day of 1,000m each day – but you don’t have to. Tour operators often offer two or more ‘grades’ of walk each day, so you can go easy on your knees for a day.

Some of the most popular walks are in the High Tauern National Park, which straddles East Tyrol and Carinthia. Here, you’ll walk under the immense shadow of Austria’s highest mountain, the 3,798m-high Grossglockner.

Long distance routes

There are some more ambitious long-distance trails you can follow in the Alps – often these cross between borders. The E4 long distance trail runs from Gibraltar to Crete, passing into Austria on the way. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to do a self-guided trip in the High Tyrol, circumnavigate Zugspitze, Germany’s highest mountain (and Austria’s 15th highest) on a route that dips between Germany and Austria and back, or base yourself in Lake Königssee, Germany, and reach into Austria from here. Austrian hiking trails are relatively well mapped – look out for footpath signs marked with white and red stripes.

Lunch stops

Wherever you choose to go, you’ll find that the Austrian cuisine particularly well-suited to refuelling hungry hikers. Mountain cuisine seems like the food of champions at the end of a long day: what better excuse to tuck into Käsespätzle – cheesy noodles, or an enormous schnitzel than that 1,200m climb you made to reach the restaurant?

Our top Austria Holiday

Austrian Lakes cycling holiday, self guided

Austrian Lakes cycling holiday, self guided

Spectacular scenic views, gentle shoreline routes and swimming

From £1797 to £1909 11 days inc UK flights
Tailor made:
This holiday has departures every two days from May to September, please enquire for availability on all your tailormade trips.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Austria or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

When to go on a walking holiday in Austria?

Walking trips take place from spring to autumn. You can also do winter walking in the East Tyrol from December, January, February, to the end of March. Depending on the snow, you’ll use a combination of snow shoes and walking boots – with spikes attached if you like.

If you’re walking in the Danube area, walks start as early as March and April. Most walking holidays in the Alps run from May to September, but sometimes the highest routes aren’t snow-free until June. In spring, there will be flowers everywhere – though spring gets to the alpine meadows relatively late and you’ll see beautiful flowers all through summer.

High summer: July and August is really busy. Austria is so lovely, that everyone visits for the summer – especially Austrians. In the school holidays, popular resorts will be busy and bustling.

Autumn is cooler, but the beautiful birch forests of Kawendel national park turn the trails yellow with fallen leaves. It’s very unusual for early autumn to get any snow, but it does happen; the first snow of 2019 came in mid-September in the Hohe Taurn National Park. October and November are off season for walking.

How fit do I need to be?

Cable cars are your friend in the Alps. Since much of the walking takes place from mountain resorts, there are cable cars, chairlifts and gondolas to get you up into the hills. This isn’t to say that it will be flat at the top – but you won’t do unnecessary climbs – and you can enjoy good views from the get-go. Most tour companies ask that you have a good base level of fitness. Generally speaking, if you do at least an hour of exercise a week, you should be fit enough to walk. Some holidays offer a variety of grades each day, so you can follow a strenuous hiking day with a relaxed lakeside amble. You don’t need to flex ibex-grade mountaineering skills to enjoy walking here.

What to bring?

Even in the summer, the weather can be changeable in Austria, so take layers, and plenty of sun protection. Walking poles can really help you take the strain off your knees when you’re tackling a steep downhill slope. Pack a swimming costume for the Alps. You might not feel like a swim just yet, but wait until you see the colour of the water. In high summer, even the mountain lakes can be warm enough for an extended dip – and you’ll certainly feel warm enough if you’ve just hiked there from the valley.

Lottie Joynes from our specialist holiday company WearActive has these packing tips:
“We’re at 1,800m in the Alps, and the weather can change dramatically up here. We always send round a detailed packing list and tell guests to bring coats and good walking boots, but also sun protection and t-shirts and shorts. Don’t forget, you absolutely must bring walking boots. We have spikes which you can attach to your boots if there’s ice, and we also have snow shoes.”

Practicalities

Because of the nature of the hiking, you may not want to do Alpine walking if you suffer from vertigo – instead opt for a Danube walk. Not all paths are well marked up in the hills, but your walking company will provide detailed maps and directions. The weather changes fast in the mountains, so be flexible – if the summit is covered in cloud, there’s no loss doing a lovely lake walk instead. On long distance walks you may well cross into other countries. Austria has open borders, so you won’t even need your passport as you dip into Germany.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Mathias Erhart] [Intro: Hans] [River Danube: mandi67] [Alps: Naturpuur] [When to go : adege] [Practicalities: Richard Mortel]
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