A remarkable wilderness area on the outskirts of the Austrian capital, the Vienna Alps has become a poster child for health, wellness and adventure.
For centuries, Austria’s Vienna Alps have attracted royalty, wealthy aristocrats, notable artists and intellectuals. Those seeking a natural endorphin high amid bucolic countryside are amazed to find it just an hour from the capital. This is a place that takes your breath away in more ways than one. Picture lofty mountains easing into pretty valleys, where swoon-worthy towns and holiday resorts sit. Or imagine yourself exploring famous destinations like Bucklige Welt, Wechsel, Semmering, Rax, Schneeberg, the Gutenstein Alps and Hohe Wand.
Famous faces of the Alps
The Alps near Vienna were frequented by the likes of Sigmund Freud. Back in the day, Freud vacationed at mountain inn Ottohaus at the Rax. Famously, this is where he performed his first psychoanalysis – on the innkeeper’s daughter.
Additionally, the Vienna Alps inspired other great minds, like neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. The founder of logotherapy and existential analysis climbed the rocky 1,500-metre-high Rax. Using various routes to scale up the mountain, he proclaimed it taught him about life.
Meanwhile, influential European architect Adolf Loos, of Viennese Modernism fame, also fell in love with the area. Later he built The Looshaus, which he designed as a country house on Kreuzberg mountain in 1928.
The Austrian Alps legendary rail journeys
The Alps near Vienna also inspired engineering pioneers, like the team that masterminded the Semmering Railway in the mid-1800s. This entered record books as the first standard-gauge mountain railway in Europe. UNESCO World Heritage status was given more than a century later. The 41-kilometre trip from Gloggnitz to Mürzzuschlag climbs 459 metres and crosses 16 viaducts. There are also 14 tunnels and 118 arched railway bridges to gaze at. It’s a photographer’s dream, the train’s red carriages like a beacon gliding through Austria mountain landscapes.
Some 50 years after Semmering, the Vienna Alps welcomed yet another now-legendary rail route: the Schneeberg Railway. This was the first cog railway steam train that chugged up the Schneeberg, the highest mountain in Lower Austria. Today, it takes just 40 minutes on a modern Salamander train. The route whisks passengers to Hochschneeberg station at an elevation of 1,800 metres. In summer, you can add a dose of nostalgia and catch a vintage steam train on Sundays and holidays.
Be sure to alight at Baumgartner station, where you can order Schneeberg buchteln – addictive sweet rolls filled with jam. When you reach the summit, prepare for dizzying heights along the Panorama Paradise trail. Up here, the views across the Vienna Alps quite literally stop you in your tracks.
Vienna Alps hiking: First Water Pipeline Trail
If you’re looking for a more energetic way to see the Alps near Vienna, you’re in luck. The region is home to some spectacular walking and hiking trails, all within easy reach of the city centre.
Lace-up your hiking shoes and explore the Vienna Water Pipe Trail. This beautiful route commemorates the construction of the First Vienna Mountain Spring pipeline in 1873. The pipeline sends valuable drinking water from the Kaiserbrunn springs in the Rax-Schneeberg area to Vienna. The feat takes some 36 hours, without the use of pumps and under strict regulations.
The Water Main Hiking Path along the course of the First Spring Water Main is comprised of two routes. Both are easy day trips from Vienna, making them perfect for a quick visit. But for those who want to linger on, make for any of a number of nearby charming towns.
Most beautiful towns in the Vienna Alps
Of these picture-perfect alpine towns, the most well-known is Wiener Neustadt. It’s home to an imposing castle of the same name, built using funds from the ransom of Richard the Lionheart. The castle features the oldest military academy in the world, created in 1751. Additionally, it’s the final resting place of Emperor Maximilian I.
Meanwhile, Neunkirchen is one of the oldest villages in the Vienna Alps, dating back 1094. Coffee houses, sweets shops and busy market stalls line the town’s atmospheric streets. Elsewhere, the mountain town of Gloggnitz dazzles with its medieval Catholic monastery. There’s also a grand chapel, palace and multiple mansions and manor houses to explore.
But perhaps the prettiest of them all is the lakeside town of Puchberg am Schneeberg. Snow-capped peaks, with hiking trails leading to castles and waterfalls, act as a backdrop to this health and spa resort. In the summer, visitors can catch outdoor shows by the waterside, where blooming flowers reflect in crystal-clear water. The tagline here is ‘close to heaven’. After a visit, it’s easy to see why.
A delicious taste of Alps Country
What do you crave after a day of fresh air and exercise? If it’s carbs, you’ve come to the right place. A must-try speciality of the Vienna Alps is panhans cake. This sweet treat has thin, individually baked hazelnut-lemon dough layers coated with apricot jam and vanilla pudding cream. Meanwhile, Reichenau biscuit rusks have been served at the Alber pastry shop since 1882 and make an excellent hiking snack. Finally, celebrate the end of a busy outdoors day with a chilled stinging nettle beer Nessi or a Himmelblau blonde ale.
Best places to stay in the Vienna Alps
Storied hotel or health resort? Mountain hut or modern abode? There are plenty of options when it comes to bedding down in the Vienna Alps.
The historic Südbahnhotel has been running since 1882. Given its dramatic façade, visitors will be unsurprised to hear it was once a palace. Meanwhile, Grand Hotel Panhans on the Semmering comes with a sprawling spa, ideal for mountain-weary limbs. In addition, Hotel Knappenhof at Reichenau an der Rax offers up even more pampering. Check-in here for a little slice of Austrian tradition at the foot of Rax.
Another option is the Looshaus hotel and restaurant on Kreuzberg, reflecting the uncluttered simplicity of Adolf Loos’ architecture. Finally, the pretty Schneeberghof in Puchberg offers sleek rooms inside a picturesque chalet. The kind that alpine dreams are made of.
Find out more about the Vienna Alps by visiting Austria Info.