Austria is an amazing country that is sometimes hidden in the shadow of its more well-known neighbours Germany and Switzerland. Its days as a superpower may be over, but the green spaces, the gorgeous architecture, and the wine all make Austria special.
Austria travel resources
Austria is landlocked in central Europe, and shares borders with Switzerland, Germany, Liechtenstein, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Italy. The local language is German, and like in most of its neighboring countries the currency is the euro.
The Alps, in the west of Austria, dominate this area of the country, and much of the rest of Austria is hilly, with many valleys formed by the flow of rivers. The River Danube (Donau in German) runs through the country, and is particularly noticeable in Vienna, where it divides the city in half.
Austria’s cities are picturesque – from stately Vienna to charming Innsbruck, as well as Salzburg of the Sound of Music fame (most Austrians have never heard of this movie, but you can watch it every night at 8pm in the HI hostel there). Austria is made for hiking and skiing, and history buffs will find what they’re after in the excellent museums.
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City focus: Vienna
Vienna’s city centre is packed full of architectural gems, and the highlights, located in and around the Ringstrasse, can be seen in a couple of hours’ walk. Nearby Museumsquartier is the home of several amazing museums, choose one or many from what’s on offer.
Public transport is fast and efficient, utilizing an integrated network of metro, trams, light rail and buses. Getting to and from the airport is easy, but check your ticket – if you’re flying Ryanair to “Vienna” you won’t be arriving in Vienna at all, but in Bratislava airport across the border in Slovakia.
Vienna is home to a wide range of international cuisine as well as being the home of wiener schnitzel. Stop into one of the famous Viennese coffee bars, though be aware that the coffee might taste different to what you’re used to. Make sure you visit the Opera House, to attend the opera or not, and watch The Third Man in its city of origin – there’s a tour you can take that visits the principal locations in the movie.Read more about Vienna
Getting to and from Austria
Many people arrive in Austria by train, which is an efficient way to see the country. Train travel in Austria isn’t cheap though, so using a railpass is a good idea.
You can also arrive by intercity bus, but this is often more expensive than a train. Look for current specials or promotions before booking.
Getting around Austria
Long-distance bus travel isn’t as fast or comfortable as the train, but it is possible. In fact, the train network OEBB runs buses to places where trains don’t go.
Intercity coach companies also operate between Austria’s cities and larger towns.
Train is definitely the best way to see Austria. Tickets aren’t cheap but they are fairly priced, and you can get discounts if you travel in a group. You can also buy a card which gives you 45% discount on fares for a year, for about €100 for adults and €20 for people under 26. This can be worth its weight in gold. A Eurail Pass might also prove cost-effective in this region.
Car and camper rental
Austria has a good network of motorways and the roads are in good condition. If you want to use the autobahns, you’ll need to buy a tax sticker. Up to 25% off car rental when you pay online with Europcar!
Camper vans are relatively common in Austria, with a fair network of rest stops.
Cycling and hiking
There are some amazing multiday cycling and hiking paths in the mountainous west of Austria, but do pay attention to the seasons. Much is difficult or impassable in winter, and in spring as the snow melt causes rivers to be dangerous to cross.
Much of central and eastern Austria has gently sloping farmland which makes for excellent hiking and cycling trips, with some challenging climbs thrown in for good measure.
There are several major airports in Austria, and flying between them could save you time.
Make sure you factor in the amount of time you need to get to and from the airport though, and also consider using airports just on the other side of the border, such as Friedrichshafen, Munich, and Bratislava.
Passenger boats cruise the Donau (Danube) River and it’s possible to hire your own ship or canal boat, with the right licensing.
This is a great way to see the country from a different angle, though it certainly isn’t the cheapest option.
Top 10 things to do in Austria
- Discover Vienna. There’s always more to see in this tranquilly beautiful capital, from the architecture to the parks to the world-class museums in Museumsquartier. A Third Man tour is highly recommended.
- Ski or hike in Innsbruck. Flying into Innsbruck is as much a treat for you as it is a challenge for the pilot, as the city is positioned between two rows of mountains – which are great for skiing in winter and hiking in summer.
- Get around by train. The train network in Austria is excellent, and the carriages are clean, comfortable and usually equipped with power sockets. There are lots of discounts available on the rather pricy tickets, or use a Eurail pass.
- Eat at a heuriger. These farm restaurants can only sell locally produced food, usually a variety of cold-cut meats, cheeses and pickles. Accompany your meal with a glass of local wine, and you’ll be in heaven.
- Go wine-tasting. You can visit the wineries themselves, or head to a local vinothek (wine-tasting room and shop). Many towns (including some very very small ones) have a vinothek, where you can try local wines and wines from further afield for a small fee.
- Head to the countryside. Austria’s cities are incredible, but the small towns nestled in valleys and on hillsides have a charm of their own.
- Cruise on the Donau. You can call it the Danube if you like, but make sure you spend a little time on the water.
- Visit Melk. Made famous by Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, Melk’s sumptuous monastery sits high and impressive, overlooking the Donau and a small but interesting town below.
- Eat wiener schnitzel, preferably in Wien (otherwise known as Vienna). It’ll be served with fries or cold potato salad, and will quite likely be the size of a large plate. Make sure you’re hungry before you order one! Wash it down with beer or Almdudler: Austria’s local softdrink is hard to find outside of the country, and it’s really good.
- Go to a Christmas market and drink gluhwein. Christmas markets pop up all over Europe in late November, but Vienna’s are a bit different. For one thing, there’s not just one market, several are scattered throughout the city – and the setting is incredible. Warm yourself up with a glass of gluhwein (mulled wine) or a hot chocolate.