Located in the center of Europe, Austria has played an important role in Europe’s history. For centuries the Austrian royal family was one of the most powerful in the World, Vienna became one of the most important cities in Europe – the home to many famous musicians, painters, and artist movements. Discover these and many other things Austria is famous for!
As a landlocked country, Austria doesn’t have a coast, and it borders 8 other countries, including Germany, Italy, and Switzerland. On the other hand, the Austrian territory is marked by the Alps and the Danube river. Come with us and discover more about Austria’s culture, history, food, and people in this article about what Austria is Famous for!
16 things austria is famous for
#1 The house of Habsburg
The Habsburgs (or Hapsburg) were the royal family of Austria and one of the most influential royal families in Europe. How influential? The house also produced kings of Bohemia, Hungary, Croatia, Portugal, Spain (and their respective colonies), as well a few principalities in the Netherlands and Italy and the emperors of Austria, Austria-Hungary, and Mexico.
The throne of the famous Holy Roman Empire was continuously occupied by the Habsburgs from 1440 until its dissolution in 1806 (with a small interruption between 1740 and 1765). The Habsburg house was named after Habsburg Castle, a fortress built in present-day Switzerland in the 1020s. In 1273 they moved the family’s power base to Austria, which they ruled till the end of WWI in 1918.
For nearly 5 centuries, the Habsburgs were a key player in European politics and one of the two oldest and most powerful dynasties (the other was the Capetian dynasty – France). With the end of WWI, the Habsburg had to abdicate and later became vehement opponents of both National Socialism and Communism, but they never returned to power.
#2 Austrian Alps
The Alps cover about 60% of the Austrian territory, creating a very mountainous country, perfect for hiking in the Summer and skiing in the Winter. In fact, only about 30% of the country is located at an altitude below 500 meters, and its highest point is at 3 797 meters (Grossglockner).
The Alps create the dramatic scenery that the cities of Innsbruck, Salzburg, and the whole province of Tirol are famous for. Even if you don’t like hiking, cycling, or skiing, it’s possible to enjoy the Alps by simply driving on some of the best mountain roads in the world!
#3 The Sound of Music
The Alps take us to “the sound of music”, the American film that makes people want to go to Austria since it was released in 1965. Directed by Robert Wise, and with Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, it tells the story of a woman who leaves an Austrian convent to become a governess to the children of a Naval officer widower.
The sound of Music won 5 Oscars, including Best Film and best director, but it’s more than that it’s easily one of the most popular movies of all time. The film and the settings are so striking that after more than 50 years that many people immediately associate Austria with the movie and vice versa.
#4 Classical music
During the 18th and 19th century Austria, and Vienna in particular, was the most important music center in Europe and it attracted to the city many of the now world-famous classical composers. The Hapsburgs were huge patrons of the arts and of classical music in particular. They created an excellent and welcoming environment for the creative minds to prosper.
Joseph Haydn, Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss (father and son), Anton Bruckner, and of course, the most famous of all, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart are all Austrian musicians who thrived in imperial Vienna. Even Beethoven left Germany to go to Vienna and for being tutored by Haydn. It’s easy to understand why Vienna became the world capital of classical music and even today it’s one of the city’s main attractions. The world-famous New Year’s concert by the Vienna Philharmonic is one of the most important music events of the year and people from all over the world go to Vienna to enjoy it.
The Waltz is a ballroom and folk dance, usually in triple time, and performed in a closed position. In the early days, the Waltz was considered scandalous, but it quickly became very popular and today is one of the symbols of Vienna. In 2017, UNESCO added the Viennese waltz to the list of the intangible cultural heritage of the world.
There are waltzes written by Chopin, Schubert, Brahms that aren’t danceable, only for piano or orchestra, but the danceable waltzes of the Strauss dynasty really changed everything. Dancing the Waltz became the Viennese way of partying, and best the place to experience it is the Viennese balls. The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss II is the best well-known waltz and a mandatory song in the Viennese balls and the New year’s concert.
#6 Sigmund Freud
Imperial Austria was a friendly environment not only for musicians but also for other artists and scientists. One of the most famous is Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist who founded psychoanalysis, the clinical method of treating psychopathologies through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst.
Freud developed techniques like the use of free association and discovered transference, establishing its central role in the analytic process. He also redefined sexuality to include its infantile forms which led him to formulate the Oedipus complex. Freud’s influence on Psychology is tremendous. He’s still the most famous and influential person in the field, even if some (most) of his theories has been proven wrong or inaccurate, he completely revolutionized it.
Freud lived and worked in Vienna for almost his whole life. The flat where he lived and wrote for 47 years is now a museum. He died in 1939 in London, after escaping Nazi persecution.
#7 Gustav Klimt
Gustav Klimt is possibly the most famous of the Austrian painters. Born in the second half of the 19th century, he is the founder and the most prominent member of the Vienna Secession, a movement that revolted against academic art in favor of a highly decorative style similar to Art Nouveau. Klimt is well-known for its artworks with the female body which usually were marked with erotism.
Klimt’s work includes not only paintings but also murals, sketches, and other objects of art. As we developed his personal style he became both more famous and controversial. His murals for the ceiling of the Great Hall of the University of Vienna were highly criticized, considered pornographic, and rejected.
His most famous paintings came later during his golden phase, many of which included gold leaf. In these paintings he treats the human figure without shadow and heightens the lush sensuality of skin by surrounding it with areas of flat, highly ornamental, brilliantly composed areas of decoration. The most famous of these is possibly “The kiss” which can be seen in the Belvedere Palace in Vienna.
“The Lady in gold” or “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” was once the most expensive painting ever bought, costing $135 million in 2005.
#8 Architecture and Famous Landmarks
As you can see on this list, there are a lot of things Austria is famous for, but what really impresses most tourists visiting Austria are the landmarks. The imperial architecture is simply spectacular, but the amount and variety of beautiful buildings, squares, and landmarks in Vienna (and other cities) are unforgettable. Everywhere you look there’s something amazing to contemplate, but there are a few famous landmarks in Austria no one should miss:
- The Schonbrunn
- The Spanish riding school
- Belvedere Palace
- St. Stephen’s Cathedral
- The Hofburg Palace
- St Charles’s Church
- Vienna’s Opera House
- Vienna’s City Hall
Have a look at our post about the famous landmarks in Austria
#9 Triggering WWI
Austria, Austria-Hungary if we want to be precise, had a crucial role at the beginning of the First World War. It was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand the heir to the Austrian Crown that ultimately trigger the Great War by
After the assassination, Austria-Hungary issued an ultimatum to Serbia, which partially rejected it. Austria then declared war on Serbia, triggering a war declaration between most European states. The Central Powers (which Austria-Hungary, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire) would eventually lose the war to the Allied Powers (UK, France, Russia, and the US).
The WWI would mobilize more than 70 M military personnel, making it one of the largest in history. It was also one of the deadliest conflicts in human history with 9M combat deaths.
#10 Adolf Hitler
Many people don’t know, but Adolf Hitler was born in Braunau am Inn, Austria in 1889. In fact, he lived Linz and then Vienna for many years, and only moved to Munich in 1913 at 24 years old. It is believed that most of his antisemitism and pan-Germanism ideas were formed during his time in Vienna.
He served the German army during WWI, but only revoked his Austrian citizenship in 1925 to avoid being extradited back to Austria. Only in 1932, we got German citizenship, long after being the leader of the Nazi party in Germany. In 1933, the Nazi Party won the general elections with 43.9% of the votes.
#11 Wiener Schnitzel
A Schnitzel is a dish made with a slice of meat, usually breaded and fried. The meat is usually thinned with a meat tenderizer, then breaded before frying. The Wiener Schnitzel uses a thin, breaded pan-fried veal cutlet. The meat should be very tender, with a crispy outside, and expand through the plate.
It may be the most famous dish of Austrian cuisine, however, it wasn’t invented in Austria. The origins of this delicious recipe are unknown, with speculations that it may have come from Italy or the Ottoman empire. Yet, the oldest tails indicate that in the Iberian Peninsula the Moors already coated meat with breadcrumbs.
Whatever the origin is, the wiener schnitzel is the national dish of Austria, and eating it is a truly Austrian experience!
The Sacher torte is another famous Austrian dish. This chocolate tart was invented by Franz Sacher in 1832 in Vienna. The torte is of dense chocolate cake with two layers of apricot jam between the outer layer of chocolate icing and the sponge base. Traditionally, it’s served with unsweetened whipped cream.
The original recipe of the Sacher-Torte is kept secret by the Hotel Sacher, the owner of the recipe. The Original Sacher Torte can only be ought at Hotel Sacher and Cafe Sacher locations or online. In fact, they send it to many locations worldwide, so even if can visit Austria anytime soon, you can order a Sacher torte just for yourself!
The Apfelstrudel of the apple strudel is the most popular dessert in Austria, but it’s also very popular in other countries that belonged to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It consists of an oblong pastry jacket with an apple filling inside. The filling is made with grated cooking apples, sugar, cinnamon, and bread crumbs. Many times the filling also includes raisins and nuts. The dough is unleavened, thin, and elastic, similar to phyllo.
We can trace back this typical Austrian desert to the 17th century, with the first written recipe known dating back to 1696. It’s archived in the library of Vienna’s city hall. Many people believe that the strudel is related to the baklava, which came to Austria through the influence of the Ottoman cuisine in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
If you want to see how this delicious dessert is made, there a Strudel show on the grounds of the Schonbrunn Palace, at Cafe-Restaurant Residenz. Be aware that it may be very crowded. On the other hand, if you want to try it, it’s very easy as it’s available in most of Vienna’s Cafe and they are typically very good.
Redbull is easily the most famous Austrian brand. It’s considered the most popular energy drink in the world, with over 7 billion cans sold per year. Red Bull is a recent company, it was only founded in 1987 after the Austrian entrepreneur Dietrich Mateschitz was inspired by an existing energy drink named Krating Daeng. The original drink was modified to suit westerners and the company was launched as a partnership between the Thai and Austrian Owners.
Sold in a tall and slim blue-silver can, Red Bull became extremely popular due to its very aggressive marketing campaigns. Under the slogan “Red Bull gives you wings”, Red Bull invests a huge portion of its revenue on marketing which includes some very memory tv ads, ownership of F1 teams, football teams, celebrity endorsements, and music. It also sponsors many extreme sports events like Cliff diving, air races, or stunts like the “Stratos space diving project”.
Red Bull became one of the most recognizable brands in the world, and thus, one of the most famous things in Austria.
Swarovski is another extremely popular and well-known Austrian brand. Swarovski is a glass producer founded in 1895 by Daniel Swarovski, in the city of Wattens. In 1892 Swarovski patented an electric cutting machine that allowed to cut crystals more accurately, consistently, and cheaper than ever before. Prior to this, crystals would have to be cut by hand. His vision was to make “diamonds” available for everyone.
Today Swarovski has multiple areas of business, from grinding, sawing, drilling, and dressing tools to telescopes and binoculars, but the famous one is the Swarovski Crystal Business that produces Crystal glass, jewelry, and accessories.
Swarovski’s crystals have been constantly present in pop culture – from Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday” dress to the Oscar stage in 2018 or the million-dollar bra from Victoria’s Secret.
#16 Viennese coffee house culture
The coffee houses in Vienna have a characteristic philosophy. First of all, the coffee houses are stunning, with marble tabletops, Thonet chairs, newspaper tables, and overall very stylish. In addition, the coffee house imprints a relaxing atmosphere, a place where you can enjoy a coffee, and read your newspaper – you are welcome to spend hours in the coffee house. In the past, writers and artists used to gather in the coffee house to write and debate ideas. The coffee houses were an important cultural experience.
The importance of coffee house culture in Vienna dates back to the 17th century, Vienna’s first coffee house was opened in 1685. Other cities of the Austro-Hungarian empire like Prague, Budapest, Krakow followed the trend of the Vienna Coffee houses and opened several throughout the city. For all these reasons the “Viennese Coffee House Culture” is listed by UNESCO as “Intangible Cultural Heritage” since 2011. It is said that in the Viennese Coffee houses “time and space are consumed, but only the coffee is found on the bill.”
Besides the Coffee houses, the Viennese coffee or Einspänner is also very famous. It is a coffee served in a tall glass, with whipped cream dusted with icing sugar and cocoa powder. You can find this iconic coffee in every Vienna coffee house.
Looking for more information about Austria? Have a look at these posts:
- 20 Famous landmarks in Austria;
- Vienna or Budapest?
- Best Day Trips from Vienna;
- How to visit the Schonbrunn Palace?
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