How To Spend A Day In Villach, Austria | Travel Guide
Villach is an Austrian city in the heart of the Central Eastern Alps, and you wouldn't be alone if you said you'd never heard of it. I hadn't either, until I ended up there, and now I'm here to tell you why you should go too.
I visited Villach with a couple of friends in 2016. It was a complete accident and was initially going to be a quick layover between trains from Venice, Italy to Zagreb, Croatia. Hot tip: if you go interrailing, be aware that trains in and out of Venice are minimal unless you want to pay extra. The only train allowing us to leave Venice for free was at 6am, and it took us out into the Austrian Alps where we had to then change over and travel onwards to Croatia. If I remember correctly, the initial layover was meant to be around 2 hours: just enough time to get some breakfast and have a wander before moving on. The view coming into the station had been staggeringly beautiful, and we had a little google to see if there was anything we could do for an hour that was within walking distance to the station. There wasn't much. There was however, another train going to Zagreb later that afternoon, and we were in no real rush. We decided to lock our backpacks up in the station and go for a wander, and boy am I glad that we did. I think this was the one place on our trip that truly sold me on interrailing. We never would have been there unless we'd been travelling via train, and on a flexible ticket. That's the magic of interrail. If you want to read more about why you should try interrailing, you can read a whole post about it here.
Now I wouldn't necessarily suggest planning an entire trip to the city unless you want quite a relaxed weekend with a few good hikes involved. It's more of a day trip or one-night-stay kind of place, in my opinion. The station in Villach is a hub for transfers between trains from all the surrounding countries, making it very easily accessible if you're on any kind of European train adventure. The city is the perfect introduction to the Alpine region and one of the most gorgeous places I've ever seen. It looks like somewhere that should only exist in a post card. Here's how you should spend your day here.
The third largest lake in Carinthia and the real reason you're in Villach. Located just 10km away from the centre, this huge stretch of water is famous for it's natural beauty and mountainous backdrop. The walk to get there will take you around 2 hours and the winding roads will take you past colourful chalets and grandiose mountain views. You may also notice the impressive number of locals that travel exclusively by motorbike. If you follow the route on maps, you will go past a Lidl on your way out of the city (yes Lidl, how amazing). I highly recommend you nip in and get some basic food bits for a picnic by the lake, the area is perfect for it.
When you get to the lake you'll see people out on the water enjoying activities like swimming, paddleboarding and windsurfing, with paragliders falling gracefully from the mountains in the background. The lake is surrounded by hiking and biking trails, or you can sit in the flower fields by the water with your picnic and just take in the beauty. Tip: wear bug spray!
If you have time, you can walk over to the village of Ossiach. The 11th century village is just as beautiful as the lake itself, and even hosts a 2 week long Carinthian Music festival in August. If you'd like to stay here for longer head to Bodensdorf, opposite Ossiach. Bodensdorf a family-run resort that you can use as a base for exploring the surrounding areas. They have parks suitable for children and host a whole range of events water sports.
Old Town Centre & Hauptplatz
After your hike, head to the old town centre to explore for the afternoon. Start at the main square (Hauptplatz) which is lined with boutique shops and independent galleries, or head over and grab a patio seat at one of the cafes that line the river Drau. The various churches and courtyards are a must-see on your stay. Pictured below is the Friary, and you can also find the beautiful, bright pink Holy Cross church in the city centre too. You'll find the floating umbrellas on Hauptplatz in Summer, which are then replaced by the Christmas market stalls throughout winter. Villach also houses a large selection of stores from international brands, if you fancy doing some clothes shopping.
If you get time, or stay a couple of days, make sure you head up to Landskron Castle. You will have seen it sat on top of a huge hill during your hike to the lake. This 14th Century Castle has had a rough past. in 1542 it burnt down and was rebuilt, only to suffer the same fate again in 1812 after being struck by lightening. The ruins are now open to visit for free and offer the most breath-taking view out over Villach and the surrounding mountains. They are also now home to the Burg Landskron restaurant, the Adler Arena sanctuary for birds and Affenberg "Monkey Mountain" animal park. The area is definitely worth a visit and is just a short walk or drive from the centre.
In conclusion: if you want to experience a traditional Austrian city or breathe in that fresh Alpine air, you need to head to Villach. I completely fell in love with the place and it still stands out as a highlight from our trip all those years ago.
What do you think, is it the kind of place you'd like to visit? Have you been surprised by any towns or cities that you ended up in by accident? Let me know!
Until next time, Meg x