Austria sits in Central Europe with 60% of its land being mountainous and forming part of the European Alps. Austria's capital is Vienna the western civilization epicenter in classical music. Austria shares borders with Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, and Italy. Around a 70% of Austria is covered by the central and west Alpine Region. A part of Austria's Alps extend on into Switzerland.
Austria can be divided into five geographic sections with respective area shares:
The position of Austria has given the location with a transit character of cultures throughout the history. Major trade routes pass through Austria connecting the most important European economic centers and cultural hubs. The most densely populated areas are in the foothills of the Alps and the Carpathians, the Vienna Basin and the Austrian part of the Pannonian Plain in the east. Mostly accessible areas are suitable for running the trade and cultivate the land. The region quickly grew in importance over the centuries and in modern times facilitated the concentration of power to control the significant pathways with the establishment of the Austro-Hungarian Empire or Monarchy.
Such critical pathways were and still are, the rivers. The Danube (Donau) is the biggest river in Austria and is the second longest river in Europe. The Danube has shaped a large valley on the north that runs across from West to East. The Danube gets the flows from the mountainous area here. Smaller rivers are the Tyrolian Inn, the Salzach in Salzburg, and the Enns in Upper Austria. North of the Danube River, there are forested hills and lower mountains up to the Austrian border with the Czech Republic.
Leaving the mountains, the River Drau flows to Serbia, again feeding here the Danube. The Danube was the natural pathway to trade and cultural exchange in all the countries it crossed, but political reasons blocked for almost a century the cultural and economic relations due to the communist regimes in Eastern Europe. From the decline of the communism, the Danube could again act as a connection to the Rhine-Main in Bavaria, allowing direct traffic from the North Sea to the Black Sea. Additional rivers are the Enns, Inn, Mur, Raab and Traun. There are dozens of lakes in between the mountain ranges, especially in the south and to the immediate east of Salzburg. The largest lake in Austria is Neusiedler.
Other mountainous pathways are the Alpine passes, and these were vital for the population in the high areas. The passes were used since prehistoric times and between the famous ones are the Semmering Pass connecting the region of Vienna to the South with the valleys of Mürz and Mur. Then it is the Python Pass that connects Upper Austria to Styria, the Tauern Pass in Salzburg, and the Brenner Pass in Tyrol giving access through the Alps (this is the pass that the immigrants from Italy followed in 2016 to enter Austria and now closed as guarded).
The terrain morphology, with the Alps taking around 70% of Austria's territory, can explain the low population density and the North-East settlements on the foothills of the mountains or along valleys i.e. Vorarlberg, Tyrol and Salzburg). More to that, about 10 percent of the population are settled on an extreme alpine terrain. Some are even settled beyond the tree line and therefore, having no land suitable for agriculture. The agriculture focus is on the lowlands of the east and southeast with some smaller cultivated sections near the Lake Constance close to Austria's borders with Switzerland.
Only a quarter of Austria is not high areas, and only 32% of the country is below 500 meters. With almost 40% of Austria covered with forests, the lower regions are densely wooded. From the 1,200 m and above the main type of vegetation are mostly larch and stone-pine; the Alpine foothills consist predominantly of arable land and grassland (above 610m/2,000ft); scrub and heathland characterize the Pannonian region. WWF divides Austria into four ecoregions: the mixed forest in Central Europe and Pannonia, the conifer/mixed Alps, and the Western European broadleaf forests.
The six highest mountains in Austria are:
Best time to visit Austria: June to September when there are the sunshine and little rainfall, November to March for winter sports.
Suitable clothing: As in most European countries depending on the season, and alpine clothing for mountain resorts and sports.
The climate in Austria is a transient, predominantly Central European climate, with often moist westerly winds in the west and north, and a dry, Pannonic continental climate with hotter summers and colder winters in the north-east and east of the country. Overall it is a moderate continental climate with warm summers and pleasantly cool nights. During the winter the percentage of snow offers opportunities for winter sports. Ski season is from December to March.
Precipitation is predominantly affecting the Austrian Southern Alps due to low-pressure areas developing over the Mediterranean. The annual rainfall is above 2,000 l/m2 across the whole alpine zone, while the Bregenz Forest shows as much as 3,000 l/m2. On the contrary, not elevated locations i.e. the Viennese Basin, the northern Burgenland, receive less than 600 l/m2 annual precipitation.
Temperature: Austria is relatively cold in the winter (−10 – 0 °C), but summer temperatures can be relatively high, with average temperatures in the mid-20s.
Sunshine: During the summer months, Austria receives lots of sun and occasionally cumulus formation and showers mostly affected areas along the Alps.
Snow: Depending on the altitude and location the snowfall below 1,200 m occurs mostly in January. At higher altitudes, the heaviest snowfalls come in March and April, due to the humid air masses. Regarding the quantity of the snow, this is shown mostly in May through to the beginning of June. The permanent snow line depends on the location and ranges from 2,700 m to 3,100 m.