At the top of Austria, near the border with the Czech Republic and Germany, lies a unique region which is still lesser-known, yet so diverse and beautiful: Oberösterreich - Upper Austria's hidden gem.
I had the pleasure to travel here by night train half September and explored much of what this affordable and charming region has to offer by car in 5 days.
The unique blend of picturesque landscapes, historic towns, and rich cultural heritage really sets Oberösterreich apart from other Austrian regions, and this is how to get there:
How to travel to Oberösterreich?
Traveling to Upper Austria is quite easy from the Netherlands, through several options.
Fly to Salzburg Airport, which is a bit farther but has direct flights with Transavia or Easyjet. Or fly to Linz via Frankfurt and travel on to Oberösterreich by train or by rental car.
You can also take the high-speed train (ICE) to Frankfurt and transfer there to Linz or Salzburg. Or take the high-speed train (Railjet) which goes directly to Germany, Linz and Vienna without transfers, like we did with the night train of the Österreichische Bundesbahnen (ÖBB).
The Nightjet departs from the Netherlands in the early evening and arrives in Austria in the morning. This takes about 12 hours, which feels less long as you will be sleeping most of the time. For ultimate comfort we booked a sleeper compartment for 2 including private shower and toilet, which looks like this:
Do note that this is more expensive than sharing a compartment with 4-6 persons and you will need to book longer in advance. Check all details on: Nightjet.com
You can also drive directly to Oberösterreich, although it's a longer journey and takes around 10-12 hours. However, you will also pass by several charming German cities like Nuremberg, perfect as a stopover for a few nights. Read why in this Nuremberg blog.
In this blog I'll take you on a journey through the captivating beauty of Oberösterreich, highlighting what made it so special to me and different from the rest of Austria.
What makes Upper Austria unique?
Oberösterreich has a big diversity of landscapes, lakes and the iconic Dachstein Alps which truly distinguishes Oberösterreich.
The Upper Austria region is the perfect playground for outdoor lovers, with its extensive hiking and biking trails. And it proudly preserves its cultural heritage, setting it apart from other Austrian regions.
Oberösterreich’s folk traditions and local cuisine are celebrated throughout the year at local festivals and events. Austrian dishes like schnitzel, strudel, and the renowned Linzer Torte are typical for this region and very tasty.
What also differentiates Upper Austria is its enchanting historic towns, like Unesco World Heritage Site Hallstatt, with its lake, renowned as one of the most beautiful in the world.
And the region’s capital city, Linz, offers a unique blend of historic and modern architecture, creating a dynamic urban center. I, however, also loved exploring the smaller towns Gmunden and Bad Ischl, which are very charming, diverse and lesser-known.
Exploring Oberösterreich - Upper Austria's hidden gem road trip itinerary
After arriving in Linz by night train we rented a car and drove on to explore some of the nicest spots of this region. Find the exact locations and our route in this Google map with all trip details. Complemented through many of my own pictures further on in this blog.
We started our trip in the Donau region. With the mighty Danube River, also locally known as the Donau, flowing through the heart of Oberösterreich. This scenic valley offers a unique perspective on the region’s natural beauty.
What to see & do in the Danube valley
Taking a cruise on the Danube river is perfect to easily experience the charming villages, vineyards, and ancient castles lining its banks. You can even follow the Danube River all the way through Central and Eastern Europe.
Also not to miss is the Sauwald Panorama-Runde, a picturesque cycling trail running through forests, wide landscapes with corn fields and meadows filled with flowers.
As the name suggests, the Sauwald Panorama-Circuit offers several panoramic viewpoints along the trail, such as the Vier-Viertel-Blick, offering a wide view over the four quarters of Upper Austria. As well as other spots with stunning views over the Sauwald and Danube Valley.
We followed the R1.05 route by e-bike, which is well-marked through sign posts. There are several charming villages, towns and castles along the way, that showcase the rich cultural heritage of the region so well. The route offers various options, with shorter easy loops or longer routes for more extensive adventures.
Find all of them in the Danube Valley: Donau region cycling routes.
The Ikuna Nature resort, located in the heart of the Danube region, is perfect for families, with many attractions and kids playgrounds spread out over 200,000 m². The adventure park can be visited separately or you can stay overnight at the main hotel or in one of the 4* tipi suites and starry sky chalets. See all here: Ikuna Naturresort.
The Baumkronen Weg, or Tree Top Walkway, is also a must. It's the longest treetop path in the world stretching out over 2 kms in the Sauwald forest. Here you can stroll through the forest canopy on wooden walkways 15 meters above the ground. With a total of 30 adventure stations and interactive exhibits it offers insight into the forest's ecosystem. As well as a 500 m2 playground and a 40-meter high lookout tower that should not be missed!
Stay overnight at Baumhotel Kopfing
We stayed overnight at the Baumhotel Kopfing with several wooden treehouses placed amidst the Baumkronen Weg. This unique treehouse hotel offers different room types, apartments and lofts that are placed a few meters above the ground, connected through wooden walkways.
Each treehouse has its own character and size, making it perfect for couples or families. Here you will wake up to stunning forest views through large windows, that create a serene atmosphere.
Our Waldloft was very spacious and comfortable, with a bathtub, a wide balcony amidst the forest canopy. Also a delicious breakfast and a 4-course dinner at the hotel's restaurant was included, serving both regional and international dishes.
Get an impression through this gallery:
A private sauna, educational programs and workshops about forest ecology and environmental conservation are available at the Baumhotel as well. Do note that WIFI is not available in the rooms here.
Find out more on Baumhotel Kopfing.
From The Donau region we drove in little over 1 hour back east to the:
The region of Upper Austria also provides the perfect setting and environment for hiking and cycling.
Known for its unspoiled natural beauty, rich history, and charming rural landscapes. Located between the Danube River to the south and the Czech border to the north.
Mühlviertel offers a unique combination of tranquility and cultural heritage, with landscapes characterized by high hills up to 1,000 meter, dense forests, and serene meadows.
What to see & do in Mühlviertel
This region is dotted with picturesque villages and historic towns, a rural area where you can experience authentic Austrian village life, with cozy guesthouses, family-run farms and local artisans.
But also intriguing castles, like Prandegg Burgruine, located on a hilltop. It's actually the second largest and best preserved ruin in Oberösterreich, 150 meters long and dating back to the 12th century.
The region also has some very special natural attractions, like the ‘Teufelschüsseln’. Unique geological formations formed by volcanic activity, surrounded by lush forests.
We also found a similar granite rock tower in TannerMoor, a nature reserve renowned for its unique wetland ecosystem. This protected area encompasses 120 hectares of forest land, ponds, meadows, moors and reed beds, making it a haven for biodiversity.
TannerMoor offers 2 easy hiking trails, with accessible paths and special boardwalks leading you over the moors. We took the red Tannertrail, about a 3 hour hike, incl. photo stops. With a local guide you can learn all about the value of the moors and get a deeper appreciation for the importance of preserving wetland ecosystems in the heart of Europe.
Stay overnight at Königswieser Hof
We had dinner and slept at this stylish newly-opened boutique hotel, in the center of the small town Königswiesen.
This charming accommodation combined modern luxury with natural details and materials of the Mühlviertel region in the interior and design of the 26 rooms and 7 suites.
It also has 2 spacious restaurants serving delicious food, prepared with locally sourced ingredients. As well as an extensive relaxing area, gym and Spa, all with panoramic views.
Get a taste in this gallery and check the availability on: Königswieser Hof Hotel.
From here we drove on to the Salzkammergut region to one of my favourite stops:
Gmunden, Schloss Ort & Traunsee
Gmunden is a picturesque town, located on the shores of the Traunsee, with the Traunstein mountain as stunning backdrop. The Traunsee is one of the most pristine lakes and actually the deepest of Austria.
What to see & do in Gmunden
Although the lake is quite cold, it’s ideal for swimming, sailing, and fishing.
As a castle lover my favourite site in Gmunden is the Seeschloss Ort. A round castle placed on a tiny island in the Traunsee, also said to be one of Austria's most romantic locations. It can be reached by a long walkway from Landschloss Ort, located on the mainland, opposite to the Seeschloss.
Gmunden itself is also a delight to explore, with its charming old town with extensive lakeside promenade, historic architecture, cobbled streets, and inviting cafes. The historic buildings, cute streets and square with the pastel-colored Rathaus make it very scenic. Get an impression in this gallery:
Going up the Grünberg mountain by cable car is also a must and takes less than 10 minutes. This mountain offers a true nature escape with stunning views over Gmunden, the Traunsee, the Salzkammergut region, and the Dachstein Alps.
When you arrive up the Grünberg there’s much to see and do. There’s a summer rodelbahn at the beginning, a restaurant, Tree Top Walkway and hiking trails, leading you ever higher up the mountains.
Our highlight was the Baumwipfelpfad, a walkway amidst the forest canopy. Elevated platforms and wooden suspension bridges lead you through the forest, also accessible for wheelchairs and prams. Ending up at a 39-meter high winding observation tower, providing a 360° view over this unique nature area. Find out everything you need to know: Tree Top-walk Salzkammergut.
We stayed overnight on the main square of Gmunden at a historic hotel with restaurant by the water. From here a stroll around the photogenic town and boulevard is so atmospheric, especially at night.
Find out more about our hotel in Gmunden: Seehotel Schwan.
What to see & do in Dachstein Salzkammergut & Bad Goisern
Bad Goisern was our next stop, just 40 minutes driving away, in the Dachstein Salzkammergut region. This quaint town forms a true gateway to outdoor adventures.
Our highlight here surely was the Ewige Wand, reachable via an easily accessible hiking trail from the Rathlucken hut in Bad Goisern. Find the exact location on my custom-Google map. If you follow the signs Höhen- und Sagenweg from there you will reach the Ewige Wand in about 30 minutes.
The trail runs through forests and 2 tunnels blasted into the rock, leading to a spectacular viewpoint over the Goisern Valley, the Dachstein Alps and Hallstätter See in the distance.
We had lunch at the Rathlucken hut, which is highly recommended for the food and setting:
We stayed overnight at the Lesehotel, located above Bad Goisern on the Predigstuhl, surrounded by forests and meadows. Thie perfect hotel if you’re looking for a peaceful place to relax after hiking in the surrounding nature.
The hotel offers a library with 12,000 books and rooms with a wide balcony with stunning views. Breakfast and a 3-course dinner were also included in our stay and were absolutely delicious!
Book your own stay at: LeseHotel.
Admiring Unesco Site Hallstatt
Just a 30 minutes' drive from our hotel, we visited Hallstatt, so picturesque that it’s been said to be the 'most beautiful lakeside village in the world’ with its quaint setting along the Hallstätter See, surrounded by the Dachstein Alps.
Hallstatt’s historic colorful buildings and unique architecture reflecting in the mirror-like waters, create a picture-perfect scene, making it well-known online.
Hallstatt has also been featured in Asian films and television shows, which made it even more popular and unfortunately also quite crowded.
The village's history dates back over 7,000 years, making it one of the world's oldest continuously inhabited places, with also the oldest salt mine in the world.
Here you can stroll by the water, visit the mine, the ossuary, hike up to the waterfall or take a boat ride on the lake. Get a small taste in this picture gallery:
Besides being very photogenic, Hallstatt offers cultural richness with its museums, historic churches, and charming marketplace, attracting honeymooners, artists and many tourists like us.
What to see & do in Bad Ischl
I however preferred Bad Ischl, one of my favourite stops in the Salzkammergut region and of our Upper Austria trip.
A bit less crowded, regal and very authentic with its Imperial villa, stunning architecture, esplanade by the river and many unique local shops and cafés.
Since 1849 Emperor Franz Joseph spent 82 summers in Bad Ischl as the Austrian imperial family highly valued this town for its thermal waters and therapies with salt and brine. Their frequent Bad Ischl Spa visits made it the famous Spa town it currently is.
The must do’s in Bad Ischl are:
Unwind and relax in the thermal Spas Bad Ischl is famous for. We really enjoyed our morning at Euro Thermen. A big Spa center, offering several swimming pools, thermal baths and different mineral therapies for stress reduction and natural healing. There’s an in-and outdoor section, including bathing suits, and a section without: Eurothermen Bad Ischl.
Experience the Imperial heritage at the Kaiservilla, the former summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth (Sisi). The villa is now a museum offering insights into their lives, however part of it is still inhabited by the royal family.
For a small fee you can also solely walk around the Kaiser Park, which is stunning. Don’t forget to walk all the way up to visit Sisi's marble cottage.
Go shopping and enjoy the historic cafes, classy buildings and quaint boutique shops throughout town, in and around the Pfargasse. Don’t forget to buy some lebenskuchen at Franz Tausch to gift to your loved ones.
But first stop for lunch at Cafe Ramsauer, visited by many celebrities before you.
And some typical chocolates at the historic Zauner konditorei, where you can also have coffee and taste the famous Zaunerstollen cake.
Lunch, coffee, drinks or dinner or at the classy Restauration Elisabeth is also recommended.
From there walk on to the esplanade for lovely views by the river, relax on the benches or have drinks at the 2nd location of Zauner kaffee by the river. Get an impression here:
There’s also much to do in the surrounding mountains and on the lakes just outside Bad Ischl. You can take the Katrin Seilbahn up to 1,400 meters above sea level in just 15 minutes, offering plenty of hiking trails and other activities on the Katrin Alp. Or you can take a scenic boat trip on the nearby Wolfgangsee or Hallstättersee.
And for lunch or dinner with a view you can hike from town up to Gasthaus Siriuskogl, permitted that the weather is good. Do note that the path up is very steep which takes some effort, but the setting, food and sunset views from the terrace are so worth it!
Video of 5 day Upper Austria trip - Oberösterreich
Oberösterreich stole my heart with its unique combination of nature reserves, mountains, historic sites, quaint towns, and cultural heritage, most still undiscovered by the masses.
This, and the fact that most restaurants and entrance fees are also quite affordable makes this region worth uncovering! Find the perfect hotel for your stay in this region: Oberösterreich accommodations and more Austrian inspiration in these Austria blogs.
The big variation in natural beauty combined with its authenticity and relaxed vibe make Oberösterreich certainly worth exploring and rightfully (Upper) Austria's hidden gem!