Austria Travel Guide
The location of Austria contributed not only to multiculturalism of this country, but to its popularity among a large number of travelers. Located between the Lake Constance and Lake Neusiedl, Austria is even smaller than Texas. A variety of landscapes could be found here, as well as villages with picturesque nature, the glaciers of the Alps, and of course, historical monuments of vast cultural heritage.
Austria provides opportunity for those fond of hiking, bike riding on mountain trails… and, yep, sailing yacht, windsurfing, scuba diving, while skiing is available all year round. You don’t have to travel far to find what you need, as Austria is a small country with an excellent transportation system.
So if you ever wanted to visit Grossglockner Peak (which has its top at a height of 3798 meters above the Adriatic) the public transportation will get you as high as 2576 meters above sea level, but some buses might be cancelled during winter time, so it should be checked in advance.
The entire territory of Austria is made up of 9 federal states. They differ one from another by nature, cultural traditions, way of life and a number of sights. Vienna is a traditional residence of the emperors that began to acquire the exquisite beauty on the days of the early Habsburg Monarchy. The city is surrounded by the Vienna Woods and a huge recreation area.
The easternmost Austria province of Burgenland is famous for its fertile lands that stretch along Lake Neusiedl. This is the only steppe lake in Central Europe. A huge Neusiedler See Seewinkel national park can be found here with great amount of rare bird species.
Lower Austria, a third federal state, is a land of world-famous vineyards. These terraced vineyards are located on large hills and represent one of the natural attractions.
The northern part of Lower Austria is covered with ancient forests while many of local myths and legends are associated with these forests. Another place that is worth visiting here is Wachau valley that was formed by the Danube river. With two ancient abbeys of Melk and Gottweig, Schallaburg Castle, the remnants of Burgruine Aggstein castle and numerous old towns, the entire valley was inscribed as “Wachau Cultural Landscape” in the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites.
Styria, the fourth federal state, is famous for its lakes and mountains in the Salzkammergut region with its vast forested areas, for which it is also known as “the green heart of Austria”. Styria is a land of many mountain peaks, including The Dachstein, that covers an area of around 20×30 km with dozens of peaks above 2500 m, while the highest located in the southern and southwestern parts of the state.
A part of the Salzkammergut region situated in Upper Austria belongs to the fifth federal state. It attracts travelers by the amazing combination of nature and historical monuments. A town of Bad Ischl was a residence of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife, Empress Elisabeth of Austria. Moreover, it is famous for its mineral springs and spa. Northern part of Upper Austria is a forest region that provides opportunities for hiking and cycling, not to mention, admire picturesque views of Linz.
Carinthia, the sixth and southernmost federal state of Austria, is famous for its lakes: Worthersee, Ossiachersee and Millstätter See. Grossglockner, the highest peak in Austria could also be found here.
In case you want to combine enjoying Austrian nature with listening to classical music than Salzburg is the place you should definitely visit. High Tauern national park along with the eponymous city of Salzburg, the city where Mozart had spent his childhood, create an amazing mix of music festivals held annually and a range of guided tours and hiking tours lasting from half-day up to several days are offered regularly. In winter (from the middle of December to Easter) the national park is available with the rangers on snowshoe hikes.
Tyrol is a great place for outdoor enthusiasts. It has literally everything a curious traveler may need: lovely parks and nature reserves, historical sights and architecture, modern entertainment centers and museums. Tyrol is good at any time of the year. In winter, it accommodates numerous travelers at ski resorts, while summer provides opportunities for hiking and relaxing stay. If you have decided to start with Innsbruck, you should not miss Alpine zoo, Renaissance castle of Ambras and the medieval castle of Hofburg. Spanish Hall in Ambras castle is now known as a place where annual classical concerts take place. If you prefer exploring nature make sure to visit the lakes of Tyrol. Achensee, Pillersee and Schwarzsee, each of these lakes represent a great subject to discover. In my opinion, the most picturesque lake in Eastren Tyrol is Tristachersee, hidden among the trees it located just 4 km away from the city of Lienz. Tyrol has numerous castles and fortresses to discover as well.
The federal state of Vorarlberg in Austria, which borders with Germany and Switzerland, is one of the smallest in the country. However, it sees almost as much crowds on its peak season as Tyrol and Salzburg do. Vorarlberg is a land of old towns, ski resorts, mountains and incredible Lake Constance (Bodensee). During winter time this land is all about skiing, alpine slopes and fluffy snow, all kinds of entertainment that fits any budget. Despite its modest size, Vorarlberg offers a range of excursions and abundance of sights. Such cities as Bregenz and Bludenz should be on your bucket list if you visit Vorarlberg. Otherwise, if you go skiing, consider these ski resorts: Lech Zürs am Arlberg, Oberlech, Montafon, Bregenzerwald, St. Anton am Arlberg and St. Christoph am Arlberg. The last two are the iconic ski resorts known worldwide.
Climate in Austria
Austria is country of moderate continental climate that is influenced by the Atlantic sea. Temperature and precipitation depend on how high the region is, as well as its location. That is why it is so important to stay informed about the weather forecast, snow depth and the risk of avalanches, it is also crucial not to neglect the warnings of the local rescue team. Winter in Austria is the most favorable time for outdoor sports, but the weather in the Alps might be unpredictable. Even during summer highland tours you should definitely have proper clothes in case of sudden cold or strong wind. The ski season in Austria starts in December and lasts until early May or early June (in the highlands).
Food culture in Austria
Austrian cuisine is very traditional and, at the same time, differs from one state to another. Local cuisine is considered one of the most diverse in Europe, since it absorbed the Celtic, Italian, German, Hungarian, Slavic and Mediterranean recipes. Usually Austrian cuisine is known as Viennese cuisine emphasizing the dominant role of the capital, where food traditions melted together as if in the pot. Despite the outward similarity, food traditions in Austria differ one from another. People from the Danube valley prefer greenery and snacks while in mountains, they eat hearty meals. In Lower Austria fruits and vegetables are in favor, in Burgenland – fish and pepper (a clear Hungarian influence).
Coffee is an integral part of the local cuisine. It is believed that this drink came to Europe from Austria, and it was in Austria when it first became not just a tonic, but the national drink, turning a process of drinking into a ritual. Visiting coffeehouse is a part of the Austrian way of life, a spot to handle meetings and share news, an excellent eatery for a light breakfast or lunch, with alcohol, who knows. It is common to find in local coffee shops, that have its own design and charm, at least 30-50 varieties of coffee, each is prepared strictly according to standards.
Most restaurants serve lunch from 12:00 to 14:00. A fixed percentage service charge of 10-15% is usually added to bills. If you satisfied with the service you may round up your bill.
No visa required for EU citizens or US citizens.
The national currency is the euro. The national currency is the euro. All foreign convertible currencies, traveler’s checks could be exchanged for euros in all banks and post offices at the commercial rate.
Most exchange offices near railway stations and airports may set an extra fee for exchange operations. Austrian banks are open on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8.00 to 15.00 and on Thursday from 8.30 to 17.30. In most hotels, restaurants and shops in Austria you can use a credit card.
Getting around Austria on Public Transport
There are many discounts for getting around by railways, subway (U-Bahn) and buses when you buy multipass cards or travel with a group. Cards like Vienna pass will allow you to get to Schönbrunn Palace, Schönbrunn Zoo or Leopold Museum for free. Children up to six years may travel free of charge. Kids from 6 to 15 years old buy tickets up to 50% cheaper. If you travel more than 101 km and have your ticket properly validated, you can interrupt the trip and continue it later.
Austria has one of the most developed rail networks in the European Union. Traveling by train might be cheaper when you have discount and usually more convenient. The total length of the railway network is more than 6000 km. that covers all major cities. High-speed, long-distance trains are EC (OEC), IC (OIC), D, ICE. S-Bahn (suburban trains) network of trains that operates within most big cities in Austria.
The fare depends on the distance, travel class, number of people and the ticket type. One-way trip in Austria is cheaper than in Germany, but there is not many discounts available. If you intend to make several trips in Austria, the best option would be to get a ticket, which will cover all these rides. As in any other European country, you should keep in mind the class of the carriage you got: class is marked outside and inside the car, on the train’s doors. Railroad car could be divided into the first and second class. The first class is not much different from the second class – it usually has a secluded space, less seats, it may have a table, and the more important it not that crowded. All trains are equipped with comfortable seats and a toilet. Some trains may allow smoking on board.
Two major airlines in Austria are Tyrolean Airways (Austrian Arrows) and Rheintalflug.
Taxis are relatively inexpensive in small towns, but may cost a lot in major ones. Usually all taxis are metered and their drivers are courteous. Taxis charge extra fee for luggage. I still think that the best option for exploring old Austrian cities would be by public transport as many sights could be reached by bus or tram, which are inexpensive, fast and you don’t have to pay extra money for parking.
All major lakes and rivers, like the Danube, are navigable. River cruises along the Danube starts on Easter day and lasts until the end of October providing a chance to visit the nearby countries. Most cruises along lakes last from May to September.
Shopping in Austria
Shops generally open Monday to Friday from 8.00 till 18.30, while some of them may close for lunch break. In major cities with many tourists, shops usually work Monday to Friday until 21.00. Shops at railway stations and airports are operating until the end of peak hour, usually until 23.00. Cigarettes could be purchased in tobacco shops (Tabak Trafik) and in vending machines. Hotel, restaurants and coffee houses sell tobacco at a higher price.
Health Insurance in Austria
There are no free medical services and hospitals in Austria, so to avoid troubles, travelers should get travel insurance before they go. The cost of insurance depends on trip duration.
Traveling with Pets
In case you travel with your pet you should get rabies vaccination certificate and German certified translation. Pets should be vaccinated not less than 30 days prior to entry and no more than one year prior to departure. All dogs using public transport must be muzzled.