Rich western culture, sophisticated architecture, and jaw-dropping scenery are just some of the things that Austria and Norway have in common. Austria is home to stately imperial cities packed with high culture, fine art, classical music, and gorgeous architecture. Jump north and over a few countries and you’re in Norway, the Land of the Midnight Sun, famous for its natural beauty and home to glimmering lakes, epic fjords, and fascinating folklore.
If you’re traveling through western and northern Europe you may find yourself considering a visit to either of these stunning countries. But what happens if you only have time to visit one?
It’s hard to choose between two countries that both have so many attractions to offer travelers. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to choose between the two, don’t worry – this guide is a comprehensive look into both European nations, and how they compare to each other as tourist destinations.
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Austria or Norway: Ease of Travel
For those who aren’t a fan of long-distance, cross-country travel, Norway might change their minds. This Scandinavian nation is a terrific place for eco-friendly, sustainable, and incredibly scenic slow travel. There are extensive networks of bus routes throughout every part of the country, as well as railway lines that connect all major cities. Express coaches are the cheapest way to travel, but due to the scenic possibilities, train travel is very popular amongst travelers.
If you’re still not tempted and you’re looking to get around Norway as quickly as possible, you’ll be pleased to know that there are over 50 airports in the country, with at least one in every major city and town. Cars are also easy to hire in any city and many towns. Within cities, public transport is by bus, train, and ferry. Despite being more expensive than most countries in Europe, Norwegian public transport is generally clean, comfortable, and punctual.
Similar to Norway, many will agree that the most efficient way to get from A to B in Austria is by taking a train via Austrian Federal Railways, the national train operator. Not only is the OBB Railjet one of the most advanced rail systems in Europe, but it connects every major Austrian city and takes you to various neighboring countries.
You can easily fly between major cities, but Austria is a small country, and traveling between neighboring cities by train will usually only take between 2-6 hours. If you are planning to travel to remote towns and villages, public buses will get you there. Austria also has safe, reliable, and punctual public transport throughout the major cities.
Austria or Norway: Prices
Norway has a reputation for being very expensive. Food is particularly so – street food will cost anywhere between $5-10usd, but meals in “affordable” restaurants will easily set you back $20-25. Accommodation ranges from hostel rooms ($25), a private Airbnb room ($60), mid-range hotels ($120), and higher.
On a mid-range travel budget for a single person in a private hostel room or Airbnb, expect to pay at least $170 per day for accommodation, food, and transport.
Scandinavian countries in general are some of the most expensive in the world. While you’ll definitely be forking out more cash here than you would in Eastern Europe or South America, it is still possible to do a vacation in Norway on a budget if you stay in hostels and cook your own food.
Austria, on the other hand, is a little more affordable. Food is more affordable, with cheap fast food options between $7-10 and affordable restaurant meals ($10-15). For accommodation, you have the option of hostels ($15-20), a private Airbnb room, or an affordable hotel room ($70-90). A mid-range travel experience to Austria should set you back at around $130 per day.
While Austria is noticeably more affordable than Norway, the cost of travel in either country can be significantly reduced by staying at hostels, restricting how often you eat out and doing less costly tourist activities. Keep in mind these are all approximate costs – they can vary depending on the type of accommodation and the cities/towns you are staying in both countries.
Austria or Norway: Attractions and Sightseeing
History and architecture are at the top of your list if you’re visiting Austria – you’ll find many of the top attractions in this country are largely centered around its major cities. Here you’ll find some of the finest cultural artifacts in Europe, including impressive museums and art galleries, and beautiful baroque architecture. The country’s best attractions include:
- Musical History in Salzburg: Best known for being the birthplace of Mozart and the location for “The Sound of Music”, as well as its sophisticated baroque architecture, Salzburg is a great attraction for music and history lovers.
- Culture and Heritage in Vienna: The Austrian capital attracts millions of visitors per year due to its extraordinarily rich cultural and historical landmarks. View the incredible art collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, visit one of its atmospheric coffee houses, and take a tram ride around the Ringstrasse.
- Castles and Palaces: Austria is home to some of the most breathtaking and well-preserved modern structures in Europe, including the epic Hohensalzburg Fortress, the royal Schönbrunn Palace, the clifftop Riegersburg Castle and more.
- The Austrian Alps: These sensational mountain rangers are a must-visit for skiers, hikers, and travelers who just want a good view. The best way to access the Alps is via Innsbruck, and you can get to the slopes from the city via cable car.
In terms of sightseeing and attractions, Norway offers similar sites to Austria, though of course with its own unique twist. Similar to countries like Iceland and New Zealand, Norway is renowned for its rugged natural beauty, frequently topping lists of “the world’s most beautiful countries” due to its stunning glaciers, fjords, and mountains. There is no shortage of outdoor activities to partake in here, though you’ll easily find yourself enchanted by the country’s epic history and heritage as well as its sophisticated architecture and modern sensibility.
Here are some of the absolute must-do activities for any itinerary while visiting this gorgeous country:
- The Fjords: Fjords are one of the great symbols of Norway’s traditional beauty, and there are 1000s throughout the country. The Nærøyfjord, the Sognefjord, the Lysefjord, and the Geirangerfjord are some of the most iconic.
- Historic Bergen: Spend a few days in this exquisitely beautiful historic city and visit the wooden houses of Vågen bay, different artistic and cultural museums, wander down charming cobblestone streets, and get the best view of the city from the summit of Mt Fløyen.
- The Lofoten Islands: This cluster of islands offers gorgeous sightseeing opportunities and a variety of wholesome outdoor activities including hiking trails, sea kayaking, fishing, and beach-hopping.
- Northern Lights: Many travelers come to Norway between September and March to experience the jaw-dropping natural phenomenon that can be seen soaring across the sky.
- Svalbard: Visit the world’s northernmost settlement for a truly unique tourist experience living amongst epic mountain ranges and observing the local wildlife. If you like ice and snow, an expedition through Svalbard is a great option for you.
Austria or Norway: Cuisine
One of the best ways to experience a new country or culture is with your stomach! If you’re exploring either of these countries, sampling local dishes and delicacies is a must. Let’s compare the best of both Austrian and Norwegian cuisine.
Let’s start with Austria. It may not be known for its food culture, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t an array of fantastic specialties to try. Like many cultures, Austrian food is a blend of influences both within and without the country, particularly German, Italian, and Hungarian cuisine. If you’re looking for light meals and healthy salads, Austria may not be the country for you – it’s no secret that traditional Austrian fare is rich in meat, dairy, and saturated fats, but they sure are delicious.
Here are some of the most beloved traditional dishes you must try during your visit:
- Viennese Apfelstrudel: This sweet, spicy and absolutely delicious Apfelstrudel is a specialty of Vienna, and one of Austria’s national dishes.
- Wiener Schnitzel: Unlike the German version which uses pork, the more traditional Austrian Wiener Schnitzel uses veal.
- Knödel: These bite-sized, flavor-filled dumplings are the perfect snack, side dish, or stew addition.
- Erdäpfelgulasch: Rich, creamy potato goulash is the perfect dish for vegans traveling in Austria.
- Käsespätzle: Austrian answer to mac and cheese, this pasta dish might just be the perfect comfort food.
- Sacher Torte: Dessert lovers can’t miss this deliciously dense and decadent legendary cake.
Norway has a long and fascinating food history, due to its Viking heritage and its short seasonal produce which necessitate plenty of preserved food. Though there are all kinds of beautiful traditional dishes on offer here, they are often heavy on fish and fermented food, which may not float everyone’s boat.
Check out these fantastic dishes for a true taste of Norwegian culture:
- Fårikål: a hearty fall and winter stew made with cabbage, mutton, and boiled potatoes.
- Lutefisk: pressed, salted whitefish that is prized throughout Nordic countries.
- Kjøttkaker: simple, hearty meatballs or “meat cakes” often served with gravy and mashed potatoes.
- Lefse: delicious griddle cakes that can be served either sweet or savory.
- Smalahove: If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try salted sheepshead – a rustic delicacy throughout Norway.
Winner: Austria. Norwegian cuisine has a deep and rich heritage but it can be polarizing for those with a more western palate. Many people will find the rich cuisine of Austria more accessible.
Austria or Norway: Nightlife
If you like to party, checking out the nightlife in Austria and Norway is a must. While neither countries are particularly famous for their club scene, both have their fair share of popular clubs and bars that are worth visiting while you’re in their urban centers.
Unsurprisingly, much of the best nightlife opportunities in Norway can be found in its two biggest cities – Oslo and Bergen. Going out after 10 pm on weekends is the best time to see what either of the cities has to offer. Oslo is the best spot for the traditional clubbing and bar scene, and also the premium choice for music venues. Internationally recognized clubs like Stratos and Kulturhuset are a must, and Summit and Champagneria. For music, Blå is the best jazz club in Oslo, and also frequently hosts international acts and popular Norwegian groups, and Mono is a great spot for those who enjoy more artsy indie acts.
To the west, beautiful Bergen also offers its own varied and vibrant nightlife, including an eclectic bar scene and great local music. Its best venues include the record store-turned bar Apollon, LGBTQ club Fincken, and the eccentric ice art gallery Magic Ice Bar.
While Austria may not have the same history of rave culture and elite electronic music as its neighbor Germany, you’ll still find a great range of night-time attractions here, most notable in the beloved capital. Vienna nightlife moves between high art and tradition, and hypermodernity – from wine taverns, opera houses, and jazz clubs, to nightclubs, dive bars, and trendy cocktail lounges. Some of the best Viennese establishments include the retro cabaret club Cabaret Fledermaus, Grelle Forelle, a hub for electronic music fans, Das LOFT Bar with some of the best rooftop views in the city, and Strandbar Herrmann, a tropical oasis on the Danube Canal.
Cities like Salzburg, Innsbruck, and Linz also have their own clusters of laidback night venues, including some select bars and clubs that will keep you entertained if you’re passing through these cities – just don’t expect to party til sunrise.
Austria or Norway: Final Verdict
So, how do these two countries compare to one another as tourist destinations? Both Austria and Norway have plenty of natural beauty, interesting history, and their own rich heritage and culture. Both are well worth a visit if you’re traveling through the north and west of Europe, and it’s hard to say if one offers an inherently better experience than the other – they are both unique and lovely destinations.
However, if you’re stuck between the two, we would be inclined to choose Norway as the first option. It may be expensive, and the national dishes may not be to the taste of every visitor, but one thing that can’t be denied is that its natural beauty is hard to compete with – and much of the scenery and natural phenomena in this country has to be seen to be believed. Pure, untouched natural beauty is something that almost any traveler feels drawn to, and you have that in spades in Norway.
While Austria has its own beautiful natural scenery, it isn’t quite on the same scale as Norway’s gasp-inducing fjords and mountain ranges. And while there are many amazing cultural and historic sites, they can be hit-and-miss for travelers who don’t have a keen interest in the history of Western Europe.