Geography in Austria
As a landlocked country in Central Europe, Austria lies in the northern and eastern Alps and the adjacent Pannonian Plain. The neighboring countries are Germany and the Czech Republic in the north, Slovenia and Italy in the south, Slovakia and Hungary in the east, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein in the west.
The state area of almost 84,000 km² is spread over five major landscapes in the Eastern Alps, the Alpine and Carpathian foothills, the foothills in the east, the low mountain range of the Bohemian Massif and the Vienna Basin. More than 70% of the national territory is mountainous and mostly has a share in the Northern and Eastern Alps, which can be further subdivided into the mountain ranges of the Tyrolean Central Alps, the High and Low Tauern, the Northern and Southern Limestone Alps and the Vienna Woods.
The highest mountains in Austria are in the Eastern Alps, where the Grossglockner in the Hohe Tauern with 3798 m above sea level. NN stands out as the highest peak in Austria. Almost 1,000 mountain peaks in Austria reach or exceed the three-thousand-meter mark. North of the Danube in Upper and Lower Austria lies the granite and gneiss plateau of the Bohemian Massif, the foothills of which extend to the Czech Republic and Bavaria. Beyond the eastern border, the Little Carpathians connect.
The large plains lie in the east along the Danube, especially in the Alpine foothills and in the Vienna basin with the Marchfeld, as well as in southern Styria, which is similar to the Italian Tuscany. The Burgenland east of the Alpine-Carpathian Arc runs out into the Pannonian Plain and already shows a strong similarity in both landscape and climatic terms to its eastern neighbor, Hungary, to which it belonged until 1921.
A large part of Austria is drained directly via the Danube or its tributaries to the Black Sea. Small areas in the west carry their precipitation over the Rhine and in the north over the Elbe to the North Sea.
The largest lake in Austria is the Neusiedler See in Burgenland, followed by the Attersee and the Traunsee in Upper Austria. A small part of Lake Constance is also on Austrian territory. Well-known Carinthian lakes include the Wörthersee, Millstätter See, Ossiacher See and Weißensee. Other lakes of major tourist interest are Mondsee and Wolfgangsee on the border between Salzburg and Upper Austria.
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Flora and fauna in Austria
The diverse topography of Austria results in a large number of species in both flora and fauna. 748 species of plants and animals are endemic to Austria.
In Austria, the alpine flora differs considerably from the plants that grow in the lowlands.
Within the Alps, the different vegetation zones are tied to different altitudes. About half of Austria is covered with forest, with the tree line between 1400 and 2000 meters above sea level. Oaks, red beeches, spruces, pines and larches grow below the tree lines, and holm oaks and chestnuts on the southern edge of the Alps.
At the tree line, the trees at higher altitudes gradually turn into shrubs. The mountain pines and green alders that are still growing here are already significantly reduced. Above this zone, which is characterized by shrub plants, there are only grasses such as crooked sedges and bristle grass. Flowers like the alpine bell can also be found here. The edelweiss, the bell gentian and auricula are national symbols of the country. The gentian is also a typical alpine flower.
Above 3000 meters, only lichens and some flowering plants such as the saxifrage remain. The Austrian mullein, on the other hand, grows in the flat plains in eastern Austria.
In the Austrian Alps live the animals typical of this mountain world such as chamois, marmots and ibex. Snow mice, mountain hares and ptarmigan change their color in winter. The strictly protected alpine salamander is also part of Austria’s mountains. The lynxes, brown bears and bald ibises, which are already extinct in Austria, have now been reintroduced into the wild.
Alpine choughs, golden eagles and pine jays are among the typical birds of Austria, many of which migrate to the warm south in winter. Countless water birds such as herons, spoonbills, avocets and wild geese nest in the reed belt of the shallow Lake Neusiedl.
National parks and nature conservation in Austria
In order to protect the unique mountain world, nature and the landscape of Austria, six national parks and several nature parks of different categories have been established in the last decades, which are combined in the umbrella organization National Parks Austria. Several of these areas, totaling almost 2400 km², already have UNESCO World Heritage status. Three national parks protect mountain regions (Hohe Tauern, Gesäuse and Kalkalpen) and three other national parks are located in endangered water zones (Neusiedler See – Seewinkel, Thayatal and Donauauen). The Hohe Tauern National Park is the oldest and largest national park in Austria and at around 1836 km² it is also the largest national park in Central Europe. The Thayatal and Neusiedler See – Seewinkel national parks are cross-border protected areas.