(CNN) — With its stunning Alpine peaks and placid crystal clear lakes, Austria is the epitome of idyllic.
Positioned right in the middle of Europe, the German-speaking country boasts some of the most beautiful train journeys around, while its capital, Vienna, has been ranked as the most livable city on the planet.
Elegance and decadence go hand in hand in the former center of one of a once-mighty European empire.
With its eclectic mix of architectural grandeur and cosmopolitanism, Vienna appeals to both history buffs and music lovers.
The Belvedere Palace, which consists of two Baroque palaces, showcases the brilliance of the past and is home to the world´s largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings, including “The Kiss.”
The Schönbrunn Palace, a former summer residence of the Habsburg rulers, is one of the top attractions in Austria thanks to its picturesque imperial gardens.
Meanwhile the symmetrical streets of Innere Stadt are another highlight due to obligatory sights like the grandiose St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the spectacular Hofburg Palace and the iconic Vienna State Opera building.
Ringstrasse, the famous circle encompassing Vienna’s Old Town, is best enjoyed on board the tram, preferably after a cup of Einspänner (Viennese coffee with whipped cream on top).
For an alternative experience, there’s the Hundertwasserhaus, a quirky expressionist apartment complex that defies rules and architectural common sense.
As it’s still a residential building, the interior is out of reach. But travelers can visit the Kunst Haus Wien, which is devoted to Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the artist behind it all.
One of Vienna’s lesser-known side trips, Kahlenberg, a surprising green hill overlooking the Austrian capital is also worth a visit.
Visitors can grab a glass of locally produced wine at Mayer am Nussberg, an open-air restaurant set literally among the vineyards that offers a magnificent bird’s eye view of the city.
Dubbed the “friendly alien,” the Kunsthaus Graz is one of this Austrian city’s most interesting sights.
Harry Schiffer/Graz Tourismus
Featuring red rooftops, castle hills and cozy promenades, Graz looks like a quintessential Central European city at first glance.
That’s until you notice a certain giant structure resembling a spaceship, dubbed the “friendly alien,” among the elegant Baroque houses.
The spectacular Kunsthaus Graz, a museum of contemporary art, was built when Graz became the European Capital of Culture in 2003 and remains one of the most intriguing sights in the city.
Murinsel, an artificial island in the form of a futuristic shell that divides the local Mur river, is another architectural marvel.
These are just two examples of the ways in which the capital of Austria’s Styria region effortlessly mixes its wonderful UNESCO-protected Old Town with contemporary explosions of creativity.
Nicknamed the “City of Design,” it’s also home to the UNESCO-protected Eggenberg Palace, a stunning Baroque beauty located on the outskirts of Graz with splendid halls full of gold and arts.
Travelers can also visit the house where bodybuilder-turned-actor-turned-governor-turned-popular-culture-icon Arnold Schwarzenegger lived until age 19.
Schwarzenegger was born in a small village of Thal just near Graz and his childhood home is now the Arnold Schwarzenegger Museum.
Frequented by the “Terminator” star himself, it features an informative and fun exhibition about his life, with lots of cool memorabilia.
Salzburg is most known for providing the setting for “The Sound of Music.”
Breitegger Günter/Tourismus Salzburg
Two types of people come to Salzburg, those who’ve seen “The Sound of Music” and those who haven’t.
The Oscar-winning musical starring Julie Andrews singing in Alpine meadows has cemented Salzburg’s status as one of the prettiest European towns.
With horse carriages roaming its colorful streets, numerous Baroque churches, an imposing castle and the shadow of Mozart on every corner — the composer was born here — it really is a fairytale destination.
Of the many locations from the 1965 film, the village of St. Gilgen is the most picturesque. Set next to the Lake Wolfgangsee with the mighty Alps towering above, it’s a pastoral feast for the eyes.
“The Sound of Music” fans may remember it from the film’s famous opening.
While it’s claimed that Mozart didn’t like Salzburg much, his name defines this destination.
Travelers can visit Mozart’s Birthplace, a Baroque townhouse featuring a museum, Mozarts Wohnhaus, the famous composer’s former home, Mozarteum Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the musician’s legacy and the Mozart Monument, which is situated in Mozartplatz Square.
Just don’t forget to prepare a special Mozart play list for the occasion.
Swarovski Crystal Worlds, one of Austria’s most visited attractions, is based near Innsbruck.
Werner Elmer/Swarovski Kristallwelten
Surrounded by snowy mountains, the proud capital of the Tyrol region makes a stunning first impression.
This city of Olympic glory serves as a skiing and winter sports hot spot, offering plenty of top class resorts.
Before hitting the slopes, visitors should be sure to explore the elaborate facades of its historic core.
In the heart of the picturesque Old Town, the 2,657 copper tiles that cover the Golden Roof, an iconic part of the Habsburg residence, are a highlight, while the medieval City Tower offers the best views of its surrounding landscapes.
The most convenient way to witness the breathtaking vistas of the Alps is on a cable car — and one of the main stations for the Nordkette Cable Car just happens to be close to the city center in the Hungerburg district of Innsbruck.
The sparkling Swarovski Crystal Worlds complex on the outskirts of Innsbruck is another top attraction, with crystals of all shapes and forms inhabiting its numerous interactive halls.
Its center piece is the Giant, an enormous head-shaped green hill waterfall screaming out to be photographed.
Everything is photogenic in this tiny Alpine village.
Based in the district of Gmunden, its mountains, tranquil waters and beautiful architecture make Hallstatt a postcard-perfect destination that lures millions of tourists yearly.
While it may look like a location from a Disney animation, Hallstatt is actually an ancient UNESCO-protected settlement born from the salt mining industry.
The Hallstatt Salt Mine, considered the world’s oldest, offers a guided tour through centuries of local mining, resulting in a Skywalk viewpoint featuring spectacular views over Lake Hallstatt.
However, it’s the Five Fingers viewing platform that showcases what may well be the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever see in your life.
The panorama of the glorious Salzkammergut region is guaranteed to take make anyone gasp in wonder.
As for imposing buildings, Schloss Ort is one of the best European examples of a lakeside castle.
With the Alps in the background, sun rays reflecting from the surface of Lake Traunsee and a narrow wooden pathway, this unique fortress is one of the most romantic sights in Austria.
Schloss Ort, Ort 1, 4810 Gmunden, Austria
While the mighty Danube is an essential part of the panorama of many European capitals, it’s at its most charming in the smaller towns.
Positioned in the Krems-Land district, Dürnstein is the ideal spot to witness this phenomenon.
With its beautiful vineyards, colorful Old Town and towering castle ruins, this UNESCO-protected small town is something of a hidden gem.
Whether you’re walking around its narrow pathways, drinking at one of the local wineries or admiring the flamboyant Baroque architecture of its former Augustinian monastery, there’s plenty to marvel at in Dürnstein.
Another highlight is the grandiose Melk Abbey, a UNESCO-protected complex that mesmerizes visitors with its countless decorated halls, spectacular old library and elaborate staircases.
Grossglockner High Alpine Road
Zig-zagging like a snake amid the gigantic mountains, Grossglockner High Alpine Road is a masterpiece of engineering.
Built in 1935, it’s one of the most visually stunning Alpine passes, attracting hundreds of thousands of people each year.
The road culminates in the spectacular Pasterze Glacier, which travelers can observe from the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe viewing platform.
Keep an eye for the marmots, as you might encounter one or two of these fluffy rodents while you’re there.
Located right at the foot of Grossglockner mountain, the highest in Austria, Heiligenblut am Grossglockner is a beautiful photo stop on the way to or from the Grossglockner High Alpine Road.
The gorgeous Krimml Waterfalls, the highest in Austria, are another of the region’s record-breaking natural sights, with scenic Alpine forest dotted all the way up to the top.
But the absolute highlight here is the magnificent Church of St. Vincent (Pfarrkirche Heiligenblut St. Vinzenz), ideally placed against the towering High Tauern mountains background.
Church of St. Vincent, Hof 6, 9844 Heiligenblut, Austria; +43 48242 70020
Semmering railway runs over 41 km of high mountains from Gloggnitz to Mürzzuschlag.
Michael Liebert/Semmering Tourismus
Featuring 14 tunnels, 16 major viaducts, 118 arched stone bridges and 11 iron bridges, the Semmering railway is considered one of the most scenic train journeys in Europe.
It was the engineering jewel of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when it was completed in 1854 — and this UNESCO-protected railway has been enchanting generations of train travelers ever since.
With its irresistible Old Europe charm, the scenic journey is best enjoyed through the panoramic windows of the on board restaurant, accompanied by a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.
But while the Semmering railway is a stand out, Austria is home to a selection of scenic railway routes.
The Arlberg Railway between Innsbruck and Bludenz and the Brenner Railway connecting Innsbruck and Italy’s Verona are the two most worthy of mention.
Both offer mind blowing Alpine views, plenty of tunnels and numerous arched bridges.
Positioned in western Austria, Alpbach is ideal for those looking for the bucolic feeling of a typical Alpine village
One of the major mountain tourism centers in Austria, it regularly tops “most beautiful village in Austria” contests thanks to its kaleidoscope of chalet houses scattered around the gorgeous Tyrolean valley.
Despite being an important economic and political hub — the town annually hosts the Alpbach European Forum — it’s managed to retain its rustic charm.
Whether engaging in winter sports, hiking the mountain trails or just relaxing among the greenery, this destination is an excellent place to recharge.
For the best local culinary experience combined with fantastic mountain views, Jausenstation Zottahof is great spot for an informal dining experience.
The menu here includes Tyrol cuisine stand outs like Gröstl, a mash-up of bacon, onion and potato topped with a fried egg.
There’s also Geselchtes, a smoked meat variety, and the extremely tasty Kaiserschmarrn, a sweet shredded pancake.
A trip to Alpbach wouldn’t be complete without a visit to nearby Rattenberg, officially the smallest town in Austria.
With rows of colorful houses, a rich glass making history and beautiful views of the river Inn, it’s a lovely destination to while away the hours.
Jausenstation Zottahof, Alpbach 115, 6236 Alpbach, Austria; +43 65027 27023
Bregenz is on the eastern shores of Lake Constance, which borders Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Situated at the shores of the expansive Lake Constance, Bregenz has an undeniable Swiss allure to it.
This lakeside city and capital of Vorarlberg, one of the smallest yet most prosperous regions in Austria, is among the classiest European destinations.
One of the country’s cultural hotspots, it boasts a wide selection of museums, galleries, festivals and theaters.
Lake Constance serves as an integral architectural part of local venues like the enormous Festspielhaus, a modern, eco friendly center located directly on the water.
Meanwhile, performing arts festival Bregenzer Festspiele, held every July and August, features a “floating” stage on the lake.
Bregenz’s historic core is filled with sights like St. Martin’s Tower, which has the largest onion-shaped dome in Central Europe.
To observe the city and the lake from above, take the Pfänderbahn gondola from the center of Bregenz for a one-of-kind experience with fantastic views.
Built entirely for relaxation and pleasure, there’s a certain romance to spa towns, and Bad Gastein is one of the best in Austria.
Picturesquely nestled in a narrow Alpine valley south of Salzburg, this little town charms with its numerous Belle Epoque hotels, sparkling thermal water sources and rocky waterfalls.
Ideal for both luxury breaks and active holidays, Bad Gastein is also a great base for exploring the splendid High Tauern mountain range.
Its countless hiking trails make it a paradise for nature lovers, while the four ski areas situated here offer plenty of opportunities for winter sports fun.
As for accommodation options, “Alpenblick” means Alpine view and that’s exactly what this high end hotel above Bad Gastein offers.
With bright rooms overlooking mountain panoramas, Hotel Alpenblick is a go to place for those who want to switch on the relax mode among the Austrian Alps.
Simple and welcoming, the family run Bäckerwirtsgut is the perfect place to try Austrian specialties like Apfelstrudel.