Austria is known to many as the land of crystalline Alpine lakes, rugged mountains and beautiful landscapes. However, when living in a major city in any country it can often feel like the natural world is hard to reach. Vienna is an extremely green city that justifiably prides itself on its high number of parks, gorgeous woods and open spaces and being one of the few capitol cities with vineyards within the city limits.
Despite that, when living in Vienna it is often tempting to spread one’s wings and travel slightly farther afield to sample the stunning scenery that Austria has to offer. Fortunately, thanks to a close proximity to the voralpen (or the pre-Alps) and a fantastic public transport service, a journey into the great outdoors is an easy day-trip from downtown Vienna or the Hauptbahnhof.
South of Vienna
One of the easiest trips outside of Vienna to get lost in the natural world is the mountain peaks and ranges of Schneeberg and Rax, easily accessible from the train station Reichenau- Payerbach or Puchberg. For hikers looking to gain a bird’s-eye view of the land south of Vienna, and who are not afraid of a little huffing and puffing, this area has many trails ranging from two hours to six hours. They afford great views and extensive networks of paths connecting various peaks and valleys.
One of the major benefits of this area are the large number of hütten or mountain huts (picture a rural bar/restaurant at the top of a mountain), so that hikers can stop for a lunch of kaspressknödelsuppe and a beer to refresh themselves before heading downwards.
The local towns and villages are quiet and quaint, and offer many jumping off points to ascend some of the most beautiful ranges in close proximity to Vienna. For many trails and tours in this area, I use the Outdooractive.com website. For travellers who would rather ride than walk to the top, there is also a railway to carry you up to the heavenly heights in comfort from downtown Puchberg am Schneeberg.
If you have time to go a little farther than this area, continuing on the train in the same direction will bring you to the ski slopes of Semmering. One of the closest ski areas to the city, Semmering also has a lot to offer in the other seasons. Looping through the rolling hills of the region is the old Semmeringbahn, an unused steam railway line that skirts the edges of the city and is studded with picturesque bridges and old stations along the way.
There are many hiking trails beginning from the Semmering train station, most of which are fairly flat and relaxed for those not looking to scale any higher peaks. My personal recommendation would be to choose a trail that follows the old railway to another village or town, from which you can jump on a local train back to Vienna. Many simple hiking trails can be found at Semmering.com.
West of Vienna
Heading west from Vienna on the train line to Linz, one of the most popular day-trips from Vienna is through the Wachau valley. As the Danube River winds and curves its way through the hills and vineyards of this region, it creates a range of incredibly picturesque scenes that are punctuated by magnificent Baroque monasteries (such as the Melk Abbey) and ruins of medieval castles (such as the castle that held Richard the Lionheart hostage in Dürnstein).
There are many hiking trails heading both up into the surrounding hills (especially lovely are those outside of Aggstein and Spitz) and also along the river itself. Well-known for its vineyards and orchards, the Wachau Valley also hosts an extensive mix of small local shops and bar selling local wine and schnapps for the thirsty hiker. The valley can be reached from many points, but the train stations in Krems an der Donau on the east side of the valley and Melk on the west are the most accessible.
The Wachau World Heritage trail is a slightly longer option to walk through the breadth of this delightful area, and there are tourist information offices in both downtown Krems and Melk.
For a slightly quicker trip for those wanting to leave the city just for a few hours, there are also some gorgeous bike paths and hiking trails through the woods in the area around Mödling, Gumpoldskirchen and Baden bei Wien. With vine-yards laced along the sloping hills that rise to deciduous and coniferous forests, the area also hosts a large
selection of heurigers, locales that produce and sell their own wine and light food.
The area can be easily accessed by Vienna’s local trains within 45 minutes, and there is also a tram, the Badnerbahn, for a more leisurely and charming route through the region.
For all of the locations listed above, I often use and recommend bergfex for finding specific trails or tours. While Vienna itself is a city with many opportunities to spend time outside, it is always nice to explore some of the alluring areas slightly further afield and shake off the bustle and buzz of the city. Thanks to the easy access to transport and wide array of hiking opportunities, I am always thankful for a day out of the city to stretch my legs, get a breath of fresh air and enjoy the natural beauty of Austria. Happy hiking!
About the author:
Thom Harding was born and raised in the UK and USA, sharing his time between Bath and Boston. Upon completing his studies in Art History and Painting in Florence, Thom travelled around Mexico and India before moving to New Mexico to start his career as a Primary school teacher.
After completing his MA in Education, he now lives and works in Vienna, Austria and enjoys spending his free time hiking, reading, travelling and exploring around Europe.