town reflected in water

The 7 Best UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Austria

Welcome to Austria! It’s well known for its grand architecture and its scenic landscapes. Some of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites in Austria.

Visit Austria and it’s just as you would imagine – with its alpine valleys, snow-capped mountains, sparkling lakes, and vibrant city life. And, all the must-see places just so happen to be designated UNESCO Austria Sites.  

Best UNESCO Sites in Austria

There are 11 UNESCO World Heritage Sites Austria – nine cultural and one natural. Part of this country’s can’t-miss places is designated UNESCO World Heritage sites. Places are recognized for their natural, historic, and cultural significance. These sites are selected by representatives of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a way to preserve and protect future generations. (Updated in 2023)

Here are 7 of the best Austria UNESCO sites with the help of some travel bloggers.

#1 Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps

snow covered alps with curved road considered one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Austria
Contributed by: Anjali of Travel Melodies

One of the highest and most beautiful alpine roads in Austria (and all of Europe) is the Grossglockner. It connects Salzburg in the north to Carinthia in the south. The road made the Grossglockner, Austria’s highest mountain, and the Pasterze, Austria’s biggest glacier, easily accessible.

With 36 hairpin bends, the high alpine road weaves its way through the oldest national park in Austria, Hohe Tauern. The Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe lookout point offers breathtaking views over the Pasterze glacier.

The road remains closed through the winter. The best time to drive this beauty is during the spring, summer, or autumn when the sun shines bright. That’s when you can witness the fascinating Alpine wildlife!

Built upon ancient Celtic and Roman trails – this engineering masterpiece took five years and about 4,000 labourers to complete. Commissioned in 1935, Grossglockner found a place on the UNESCO Sites Austria list in 2016 for its cultural and historical significance.

The 48-km long alpine road displays the architectural and technical evolution of high mountain construction and the good governance of tourism attractions in the early 20th century.

#2 Historic City Centre of Graz

river with bridge and trees
Contributed by Lori of Travlinmad

The city of Graz is Austria’s second-largest city and is a must-see destination. Its blend of architectural influences in the historical city centre from the German-speaking world, the Balkans and the Mediterranean.

This city proudly displays styles ranging from Gothic and Baroque to contemporary. Graz’s historic city centre was granted status as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1999 and in 2010 extended to include Schloss Eggenberg at the edge of the city, a highlight of original Baroque architecture that’s been beautifully maintained through the years. Since 2003, Graz has been a Cultural Capital of Europe and also a UNESCO City of Design since 2011. 

Graz is well known for several unique reasons. Its most notable citizen is native son Arnold Schwarzenegger and fans can visit a museum dedicated to his life and achievements.

The WWII history is impressive and visitors can go inside the tunnels carved into the mountainside which protected local residents from bombings during the war. 

Today, Graz is also known for its impressive food scene, with renowned local chefs and culinary events dominating the world stage. Get to know the Austrian heritage by exploring the markets and restaurants in Graz, getting to know the local flavours through a food tour, or visiting in the fall for the Graz Food Festival and Long Table, one of the most important culinary events of the year.

#3 Historic City Centre of Salzburg

view of cathedral a unesco sites austria
Contributed by: Derek and Mike of Robe Trotting

Salzburg is one of Europe’s most historic and beautiful cities. So, it’s no wonder that the busy Altstadt, or old town, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. It centers on a narrow, pedestrian street called Getreidegasse full of local boutique and antique shops. Many visitors stay in Salzburg Airbnb properties in this famous neighbourhood to visit Mozart’s birthplace and enjoy exhibits from the composer’s childhood.

In the picturesque Domquartier, you’ll find the domed Salzburg Cathedral, a 17th century gem. It’s also home to the Baroque Residence, a palace formerly occupied by the prince-archbishops of Salzburg. The walls are filled with priceless art including works by Rembrandt.

Overlooking the incredible Altstadt is Hohensalzburg Fortress. You can reach the castle by trekking uphill on a steep path or taking the funicular. Once there guided tours are available and there are several opportunities to take in the sweeping views of the city.

Another must-see attraction in the Altstadt is Mirabell Palace. The gardens surrounding the ornate structure were featured prominently in a scene of the 1965 musical, The Sound of Music. With so much to see and do in this incredible city, it’s easy to see why it became a UNESCO site.

#4 Historic City Centre of Vienna

city square with buildings in austria
Contributed by Kami & the Rest of the World

The historic center of Vienna made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001 and it’s there for a reason. Even if the area of central Vienna is rather small, it is packed with attractions of big cultural and historical value. You can find amazing remnants of the past, especially the three main periods, which makes it clear why Vienna UNESCO sites is on the list.

The Middle Ages as seen in the Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Baroque palaces such as Hofburg, and the splendid 19th-century buildings located mostly along Ringstrasse surrounding the center.

Wandering around the historic center of Vienna often feels like travelling back in time to the great period of the Habsburg Empire, with its grand cafes or cultural legacy (both important parts of the Viennese identity).

The central part of Vienna is a perfect example of urban planning over centuries, where everything was built in a harmony. Unfortunately, in 2017 the historic center of Vienna became an endangered UNESCO site due to the project to build two modern skyscrapers that would detract from the look and feel of the area.

#5 Palace and Gardens of Schönbrunn

castle with gardens
Contributed by Debbie Fettback of WorldAdventurists

Schönbrunn (meaning “beautiful spring”) Palace is one of Austria’s most visited tourist attractions and is among the best things to do in Vienna. The 1,441-room palace served as the summer home of the Habsburgs and still maintains the style of the Habsburg monarchs.

Schönbrunn Palace is one of the most important cultural monuments in Austria. With a history spanning over 300 years, and its unique layout and impressive furnishings, Schönbrunn Palace has declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1996. Today, the palace and gardens remain a strong example of Baroque architecture. Tour the Palace and explore the lives of the Habsburg royals through the elaborate staterooms and guest apartments and other luxuries of the imperial age.

While you have to buy tickets to tour the Palace, Schönbrunn Palace park is open to visitors free of charge. Wander the impressive fountains, statues, flowers, and views of Austria from the Gloriette. The Imperial Carriage Museum, Crown Prince Garden, Orangery Garden, Maze & Labyrinth, Zoo, Palm House, and Desert Experience House are also part of the palace park and can be visited for an admission fee. Photography is not permitted inside the palace. However, you are able to take photos in the front grounds and gardens.

#6 Salzkammergut Cultural Landscape

town reflected in water
Contributed by Chelsea at The Portable Wife

Pristine lakes, snow-capped peaks, charming chalets…it’s no wonder that tourists and locals alike flock to the Salzkammergut! And you can soak up stunning views of this area during a day trip to Hallstatt.

The alpine valleys of Hallstatt-Dachstein– part of the Salzkammergut Cultural Landscape–have been inhabited for over 3,000 years. The area’s ancient salt mines preserved historic buildings, and its natural beauty earned it a UNESCO designation in 1997

Visitors can take in remarkable panoramic views of the area at the Hallstatt Skywalk. This observation deck stands nearly 458 metres (or 1,500 feet) over the fairytale village below and can be reached on foot or by funicular. If you’re keen to explore the region’s famous salt mines, you can purchase a guided tour of the nearby Salzbergwerk (tickets are sold separately or packaged together with the funicular ride).

Aside from the stunning UNESCO views, Hallstatt also boasts several medieval-era churches, rentable paddle boats, and a storybook town center with pastel-hued facades and a small waterfall.

#7 Wachau Cultural Landscape

river with town
Contributed by Rhonda Krause of Travel? Yes Please!

Austria’s Wachau Valley frames a scenic stretch of the Danube River, between the towns of Melk and Krems, and was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

The Wachau Valley was recognized by UNESCO both for its landscape and cultural history. Not only is the valley very attractive, but it has also preserved evidence of the area’s cultural evolution.

Whether you’re exploring the valley by bike or boat, you’ll be able to see how the land has been used for agriculture. Vineyards cover the terraced hillsides and grape growers’ farmsteads dating back to the late Middle Ages still exist.

The valley’s architectural beauty is just as impressive as its natural landscape. Castle ruins overlook the river valley slopes, several small villages with 18th-century buildings line the Danube, and artistic monasteries dominate the townscapes. The most prominent tourist attraction in Wachau is Melk Abbey, a sprawling Baroque construction that looms above the town of Melk and overlooks the Danube River.

Other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Europe

Surprisingly, a city that does not get to claim the World Heritage Austria title is the beautiful city of Innsbruck. But don’t let that stop you from visiting this alpine town. In fact, if you are undecided as to which city to visit – Salzburg or Innsbruck – check out which is worth visiting based on your travel preferences.

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If you found this interesting and would like to continue reading more of these designated sites by country, here are the other destinations.

As a holidaymaker

Visiting a UNESCO World Heritage site brings travellers to a country’s top attractions. It instantly gains international attention and recognition for its significance to culture, nature and history. Yes, it does mean they are popular places to visit. But for good reason. These are the 7 best sites in Austria, all worthy of a visit.  

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