Sofie’s article on how to spend a week in Austria in winter helped me plan my own trip there. – Reader Anubha
Austria is located in Central Europe and shares its borders with the Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Liechtenstein, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Switzerland. It is the 20th largest country in Europe and is a founding member of the OECD and a member of the European Union and the United Nations.
Austria is a very popular tourist destination for a multitude of reasons. For music and film lovers, it’s the home of Mozart, Schubert, and the iconic film The Sound of Music. Culture vultures can indulge in the decadent and exquisite architecture of the capital Vienna and the second city of Salzburg, but it’s when you get out of the cities that Austria really gets exciting.
In Summer, the rolling hills and alpine valleys not only offer beautiful views, but become playgrounds for paragliding, rafting, and a whole host of adventure sports. In the winter months, it’s one of Europe’s favorite snowboarding and skiing destinations. There are plenty of things to do in Austria for all kinds of travelers.
Check out this Austria Travel Guide to full of practical tips to plan your own Austria vacation.
- Austria travel guide: quick facts
- Austrian states
- How to travel to Austria
- How to travel around Austria
- Where to stay in Austria
- What to pack for Austria
- The best time to visit Austria
- 10 of the biggest events in Austria
- Public holidays in Austria
- What to eat and drink in Austria
- Cultural customs to be aware of in Austria
- Don’t forget travel insurance
- Basic phrases and their pronunciation
- Safety in Austria
- The use of cash and cards in Austria
- Calling abroad, WiFi and data use in Austria
- Tipping in Austria
- Books about Austria
- A brief history of Austria
- Posts about Austria
- Pin for later
Austria travel guide: quick facts
Size: 83,879 km² or 32,385.86 sq mi
People living there: more than 8,620,000
Capital city of Austria: Vienna
Governmental structure: federal republic with a parliamentary representative democracy comprising nine federated states
National day: October 26
Time zone: Central European Time / UTC+1 / GMT+1
Currency: euro (EUR)
Power voltage and socket type(s): 230V, plug types C and F. If these don’t match with your devices, make sure to bring a universal adapter.
Official religion(s)/Freedom of religion: Freedom of religion. 3/4 of the population is Roman Catholic, followed by non-religious citizens, Protestants, Muslims, and Orthodox Christians.
Official language(s) and general knowledge of English: German is the official language. Engish is widely spoken in the bigger cities and at hotels but in the countryside, there are people who’ll only speak German.
Drives on this side: right
International driver’s licence accepted? yes
Area code of Austria: +43
Can you drink the tap water? yes
Vaccinations needed? no
Austria is divided into nine different states or Bundesländer which all have their own government and capital.
The capital of Austria, Vienna, is also its own state. It’s the smallest Austrian state geographically speaking but it has the biggest population, with almost one-third of Austria’s citizens living in larger Vienna. That shouldn’t be surprising when you know that in 2018, Vienna ranked number one on the list of the world’s most livable cities.
Vienna is also one of the best places to visit in Austria if you like classical music. It’s known as the “City of Music” because of its big classical music scene as well as the former home of composers such as Johannes Brahms, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Joseph Haydn, and Ludwig van Beethoven.
It’s also known as the “City of Dreams” as it was where Sigmund Freud first developed psychoanalysis. You can read more about Freud and his contemporaries who developed modernism in Vienna in this post.
Its magnificent architecture makes Vienna a free outdoor museum while numerous actual museums focus on various branches of the arts. It’s a city where the past is still very much present, with over 450 19th-century balls taking place every year and plenty of Viennese cafes that have a history dating back well over a century.
2. Lower Austria
Lower Austria is the largest Austrian state geographically speaking. It’s home to more than 4,000 natural caves and its landscape is characterized by plains and valleys rather than mountain peaks. One of these valleys, the Wachau Valley, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the place to be for those who love good wine and medieval villages, castles, and abbeys.
The state capital Sankt Pölten is home to various museums about the region.
3. Upper Austria
Upper Austria is known as an outdoor holiday destination with plenty up hiking and cycling trails in the summer and skiing and cross-country opportunities in winter. Its capital Linz is the third largest city in Austria, located just 30 km from the border with the Czech Republic. Its known for the Linzer Torte, said to be the oldest cake in the world with a recipe dating back to 1653.
Styria promotes itself as the “Green Heart of Austria” and rightfully so. Its many mountains, lakes, alpine pastures and hills full of vines make Styria a great destination for hikers, bikers, golfers, and winter sports fans alike. For those who are feeling less active, there are wellness centers that combine natural treatments with the newest of applications.
The state capital of Graz is one of the cities to visit in Austria, being the second largest city in the country. Its historical old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tyrol is home to Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner. It lies on the order with Carinthia and is 3,797 meters tall. Tyrol’s capital Innsbruck is entirely surrounded by mountains, meaning it can’t expand anymore. This makes it the most expensive city in Austria to live in but boy, is it pretty.
Carinthia is confined by mountain ranges and known for its 200 lakes, of which Millstätter See and Lake Faakare two popular ones. Other popular destinations in Carinthia are the state capital Klagenfurt, the many monasteries, churches, and abbeys, as well as the Hohe Tauern National Park.
The hilltop fortress of Hochosterwitz is a popular sight and in summer, I recommend mingling with the locals at one of the many folk festivals held in the villages.
The Land of Salzburg or Salzburgerland is named after its state capital Salzburg, a wonderful weekend getaway destination thanks to its beautiful old town and hill paths surrounding the city. It’s also where you can visit various locations from the famous film “The Sound of Music” and where for more almost 100 years now, the Salzburg Festival takes place. This summer festival is one of the most important classical music festivals in the world.
Just like most of the rest of Austria, Salzburgerland offers plenty of outdoor activity options both in summer and in winter. It’s also home to the Eisriesenwelt, the largest ice cave in the world. In my opinion, it’s one of the best places to see in Austria as it’s located high up on a mountain with amazing views of the surroundings.
Vorarlberg is the smallest Austrian state geographically speaking and yet it plays an important role in the European architectural field thanks to the New Vorarlberg Building School which combines traditional building methods with a modern aesthetic. A perfect example of this, are the bus stops in the town of Krumbach in the Bregenzerwald. That’s also where you can find the state capital, Bregenz.
Also popular are the UNESCO biosphere reserve Grosses Walsertal, the state capital of Bregenz and the beautiful Lake Constance.
Burgenland is home to the lowest point in Austria, the town of Apetlon at 114 meters above sea level, as well as to Austria’s largest lake, the Neusiedler See. It’s also one of Austria’s best wine-producing regions and a popular destination among bird watchers. The state capital of Eisenstadt is mostly known for the Esterházy Palace.
How to travel to Austria
Citizens from the EU, Great Britain, Norway, and Switzerland do not require a visa to travel in Austria as it is part of the Schengen zone.
US travelers also do not need a visa for a stay up to 90 days, but it is necessary to have a passport with at least 6 months of validity remaining.
You can travel into Austria by bus from all its eight neighboring countries. However, because Liechtenstein is so small, there’s currently only one crossing per day. Eurolines, Busabout, and ÖBB Intercity buses are the biggest companies which offer international travel in and out of Austria. Flixbus is also a known name and probably the cheapest.
Austria’s main hub for international bus travel is the Vienna International bus terminal (VIB), and it’s open year-round.
Austria has excellent rail connections with all neighboring countries and passengers do not need to get off the train when crossing over. However, it’s essential that to ensure that you have all essential documentation for your onward destination.
Vienna Meidling is the most important national and international rail station in the country.
Although Austria is landlocked, it’s possible to enter by ferry on the Danube River. Twin City Liner and LOD offer travel between Vienna and Bratislava, whereas DDSG Blue Danube offer services between Budapest and Vienna. All of these services are seasonal and do not run in the winter months.
Fly to Austria
There are 6 international airports in Austria, with the largest being Vienna International Airport (Flughafen Wien). From Vienna, you can fly directly to other destinations in Europe, as well as North America, Asia, and Africa.
For European travelers visiting Vienna especially, it can be cheaper to fly into Bratislava airport (Letisko) in Slovakia and take a train 60km west to the capital.
Check Skyscanner for a good overview of your flight options and the best prices. Skyscanner lets you set flight alerts for your destination and shows you which month the prices are lowest. Very handy!
How to travel around Austria
Independent travel around Austria
Austria is not only a very easy country to travel around in, but it’s also considered one of the safest in the world for solo travel. It has an excellent rail network and riving in Austria, for tourists, isn’t dangerous or hard at all either. When you plan on visiting just the cities, taking the train is the way to go but if you want full flexibility when heading into the mountains, a rental car is recommended although most places also have an excellent bus network.
If you’re thinking of getting a rental car in Austria, Rentalcars.com is a good site to check. It compares hundreds of rental car companies to make sure you get the best deal based on your search criteria.
Where to stay in Austria
You find a range of accommodation options all over Austria, from budget hotels to family-run mountain hotels and luxury resorts.
Check Booking.com for a wide selection of hotels at the best prices.
If you rather stay at an airbnb and don’t have an account yet, you can get a discount off your first booking when you sign up through my link.
What to pack for Austria
Austria is found in a temperate climactic zone, and there are slight variations between the North and South of the country. The Alpine climate is the most unpredictable, and if you’re traveling at altitude there’s no time of the year that you shouldn’t be prepared with cold weather gear.
What to pack for Austria in summer
Summer in Austria is warm during the day, but cool at night. The temperature is on average around 25 degrees Celsius but can occasionally reach as high as 35.
There can be thunderstorms all over the country, but these are more common in mountainous areas. It’s still better to be prepared though, so bring rain protection to keep you dry.
- a light raincoat
- walking boots/shoes
- light cotton clothing
- swimming gear
- a reusable water bottle
Also check out my detailed guide for what to wear in Austria in summer.
What to pack for Austria in winter
No matter where you are in Austria during winter, you’re going to be cold. January is the coldest month, and temperatures can often be below 0 degrees Celsius. In higher-altitude destinations, it’s even colder and absolutely essential to pack multiple layers of warm clothing.
There have been times when the temperature has dropped as low as -20 degrees Celsius, but this is extremely rare.
- a warm water- and windproof coat
- a merino woolen baselayer
- merino woolen socks
- a fleece top layer
- waterproof snow boots
- merino woolen leggings to wear underneath your ski or regular pants
- a hat
- a buff
- a reusable water bottle
Check out my guide on what to wear in Austria in winter for more detailed information.
What to pack for Austria in fall
Fall is cool in Austria, but sometimes an Indian summer means that temperatures can exceed 30 degrees Celsius in September. As the year progresses into October, temperatures can drop below freezing at night and mist and fog becomes frequent.
- a rainproof jacket
- layered clothing
- comfortable shoes
- thin merino woolen socks
- a reusable water bottle
What to pack for Austria in spring
Like fall, spring is usually quite cool in Austria, and sometimes April can be especially cold. At night, temperatures sometimes drop below freezing and snowfall is not unheard of. Temperatures in May are usually pleasant and around this time there is an increase in tourists. Depending on which month you’re visiting, there will be parts of both your summer and winter suitcases that are necessary.
Essentials: same as for fall.
The best time to visit Austria
The best time to travel to Austria completely depends on what you have planned for your trip there. For skiers, obviously the best time is in winter – Austria’s main ski season lasts from December to March, although you can ski year-round on the Hintertux glacier. And even if you’re not a skier, there’s plenty to do in Austria in winter.
For city sightseeing and outdoor activities such as hiking, biking etc. the best time to visit is between May to September. Austria’s summer peak is in July and August. At this time, the weather is sunny and warm, but it’s also the most crowded. May, June, and September offer lower airfares and fewer crowds.
Austria also has a lot of cultural events worth coming for which aren’t always in the tourism high season. Take a look at the 10 of the biggest events in Austria below, and think about planning your trip around any which pique your interest.
10 of the biggest events in Austria
- Winterfest Salzburg
- Glatt & Verkehrt Festival in Krems
- Snowbombing, Mayrhofen
- Hahnenkamm World Cup Ski Race in Kitzbühel
- Salzburg Festival
- Donauinselfest in Vienna
- Linzer Klangwolke in Linz
- Vienna Jazz Festival
- World Bodypainting Festival in Klagenfurt
- Mozart Week in Salzburg
Also very popular are the many balls still held in Vienna to this day. You might not be able to attend one but you can always learn to Waltz dance in Vienna, like I did.
And for a real countryside experience, you can go to an Almbatrieb, the event where every start of the fall, farmers walk their beautifully decorated cows down from the mountains into the valley for winter.
Public holidays in Austria
On the following holidays, most Austrian government offices and businesses are closed.
- New Year’s Day
- Easter Monday
- Labor Day (May 1)
- Ascension Day
- Pentecost Monday
- Corpus Christi
- Assumption of the Virgin Mary
- National Day (October 26)
- All Saints
- Immaculate Conception (but retail stores are allowed to open)
- Christmas Day
- Second Christmas Day
What to eat and drink in Austria
People tend to think you can only get heavy meals in Austria but that is definitely not the case. The country has many high-standing restaurants and chefs who are famous for their refined cuisine. Sometimes, they even make their way up to the mountain huts.
Wiener Schnitzel – Probably Austria’s most popular culinary export, wiener schnitzel is a cutlet of veal covered in breadcrumbs before being fried in butter or oil. It’s easy to find in restaurants all over the country.
Kaiserschmarrn – Austria’s take on pancakes, these are often very rich and eggy. Expect them to be served with preserved or fresh fruits. Find a recipe here.
Schlutzkrapferl Tris – A delicious take on ravioli, this is a fine dish, but it can be heavy and rich.
Kaspressknödel – Austria’s take on the dumpling. Pan fried and sometimes put in the oven, they’re usually filled with cheese. Enjoy them served in a soup or with a salad.
Tiroler Gröstel – Traditionally, this is a hearty meal made up of leftovers. Served in a pan, it’s a mixture of potatoes, onions, bacon, and paprika or chilli powder, with a fried egg served over the top.
Erdäpfelsalat (Austrian-style potato salad) – This potato salad doesn’t use mayonnaise, and instead relies on a dressing of vinegar, mustard, chives, red onion, salt, and pepper. Vegetarians and vegans should always check if this dish is suitable, as it sometimes includes chicken or meat stock.
Apfelstrudel (Apple Strudel) – Not only loved in Austria, apple strudel is a more delicate take on an apple pie, made with light and crispy pastry dough that melts in the mouth.
Sachertorte – this delicious chocolate sponge cake is a symbol of Austria, the capital city in particular. Inside are thin layers of apricot jam, before it’s topped with chocolate icing.
Viennese Coffee – Vienna is one of the coffee capitals of Europe, with many versions that you can only find here. Try a melange, which is similar to a cappuccino.
Schnapps – Austria’s national alcohol, schnapps comes in many different flavors. Schnapps tastings are great fun, but it’s very strong!
If you want to know which of these I’ve already tried myself (and have written about), check my post on Austrian foods.
Cultural customs to be aware of in Austria
In German, there is an informal you (du) and formal you (sie). When learning phrases before traveling, learn the formal you so as not to appear rude.
Don’t forget travel insurance
Austria is generally a safe country to travel to but there’s always the risk of cancellations, getting ill or breaking your electronic gear while you’re traveling there. When those things happen, travel insurance has got you covered. I’ve had ongoing travel insurance ever since I started traveling to make sure I’m covered for every trip I go on. You can get a free quote here:
Basic phrases and their pronunciation
How are you?
It’s nice to meet you
I don’t understand
I don’t speak German
Do you speak English?
How much does that cost?
Do you have a vegetarian dish?
The check, please!
Can you help me?
Where is the bathroom?
Wie geht es ihnen?
Es ist schon, Sie kennen zu
Entschuldigung Sie bitte
Ich verstehe Sie nicht
Es tut mir leid
Ich weiss nicht Deutsch sprechen
Sprechen Sie Englisch?
Wie viel kostet das?
Haben sie ein vegetarishches gericht?
Konnen Sie mir helfen?
Wo ist die toilette?
Safety in Austria
Austria is one of the safest countries for both living and traveling as it has one of the lowest serious crime rates in the world. However, pickpocketing and bag snatching is high in areas where there are lots of tourists, such as busy squares and train stations. It’s important to take precautions and be alert when you’re out and about.
Also, for skiers and snowboarders, it’s important to have the correct clothing and equipment. There’s a low risk of avalanches, but they do happen.
The use of cash and cards in Austria
It’s always a good idea to be carrying cash with you in Austria. Although most shops, hotels, and restaurants accept card, smaller stores, cafés, and grocery stores won’t always. ATMs are widely accessible and rarely charge on-site withdrawal fees, unlike other European countries.
When using your card, whether it’s to withdraw cash or buy something, don’t be fooled by DCC (Dynamic Currency Conversion). It will offer you the chance to convert the amount into your home currency, but this often comes with hidden charges, sometimes up to 4% more than without the conversion.
Although you can change your money in airports, banks, hotels, or shops, these can leave you short-changed. If you’re wondering where to go in Austria for the fairest rates, Change Group, Interchange Austria, and Western Union International Bank are your best bets.
Calling abroad, WiFi and data use in Austria
Those with a SIM card from an EU country don’t have to pay roaming charges when calling, texting, or using data in Austria. The same goes for some global phone plans.
If you want to know what you’re paying at all times and be sure of a connection, check out Skyroam.
Skyroam offers both day passes and monthly subscriptions providing you with 4G on your trips. I’ve been using their daily passes not just when I travel outside the EU (no roaming charges for me in the EU) but also as a backup for when I think I’ll go over my phone’s data plan.
Tipping in Austria
While tipping in Austria is quite common, it’s not obligatory and the tips tend to be a bit less high than in, for example, the US as most services include a service fee. Read more about who to tip what and when here.
Books about Austria
Want to know even more about Austria? Check out my selection of five books about Austria. They’re quite diverse and give insights into various aspects of Austria’s history and culture.
A brief history of Austria
4thcentury BC – Celtic people lived in what is now Austria.
1stcentury BC – 45AD – Romans conquer the region and introduce roads. They built Vindobona, which later went on to become Vienna.
768 – 814 – Charlemagne conquered Austria and it became part of his empire before it was split into three parts after Charlemagne’s death.
955 – The Magyars (from Hungary) were defeated by King Otto I of Germany, who re-took control of the region.
1156 – The Holy Roman emperor appointed a Duke and Austria became a Duchy.
1273 – Rudolf von Habsburg became the Holy Roman Emperor. The Habsburgs went on to rule Austria for the centuries and acquired a huge empire within Europe.
1438 – Albert the 2nd, who was the Duke of Austria as well as being the King of Hungary and Bohemia, became the Holy Roman Emperor, meaning that Austria became the dominant European power.
16thcentury – Although the majority of the nation were peasants, the Empire was prospering as trade and commerce were booming.
1618 – 1648 – The Thirty Years’ War destroyed much of the Habsburg Empire.
1701 – 1714 – The war of Spanish succession ended with Austria claiming Sardinia and parts of Italy for their empire.
1806 – Austria gave up the title of Holy Roman Emperor, as Napoleon had dissolved the Holy Roman Empire.
19th century – Many people were unsatisfied with Austrian rule – especially Czechs and Hungarians. This led to increasing nationalism in the Austrian Empire.
1866 – Austria lost a war to Prussia after losing to France in 1859. It lost its position as the most dominant force in Europe to Prussia.
1867 – The Austro-Hungarian Empire was split into two parts – Austria and Hungary. They were both ruled by the same emperor.
1914 – Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne was assassinated in Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina), leading to the outbreak of the 1stWorld War.
1918 – The Austro-Hungarian Empire broke up and the Republic of Austria was declared after the Emperor abdicated.
1938 – 1945 – Austria was occupied by Nazi soldiers and suffered terribly during the Second World War. The country was bombed by the Allied Nations and invaded by Russia.
1955 – Austria became a fully independent nation and joined the United Nations.
1995 – Austria joined the EU.
And that’s it! I hope this Austria Travel Guide will help you plan your own Austria trip.
Posts about Austria
Click here for all the posts I’ve written about Austria.
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