A bit about Austria...
Austria has given the world some of the most accomplished composers, exquisite food, pioneers in psychoanalysis, shown us what a true coffee house is, and developed beautiful imperial Baroque architecture, all while being a nation about the size of the state of South Carolina.
Austrians live for “Gemütlichkeit,” which means comfort and coziness. Austrians experience life more slowly and comfortably, with huts scattered through the mountain towns that remain open for food, drink, and overnight stays. The wine regions welcome visitors of all ages and offer serene environments for drinking and relaxing. When you sit down in a restaurant or café, you will never be hurried or rushed to finish and leave. And throughout the country you can find Thermen that encourage you to pause, relax, and be re-inspired as you soak in the healing waters.
The speed of life in Austria is unhurried, and yet still so much is accomplished there, despite the contrast to the typical "workaholic" nature of many other countries (*cough cough* USA).
The country was used throughout history as a land of transit along the Danube river. Prior to WWI, Austria encompassed much of what is today Eastern Europe. As you wander the streets of Austrian cities, the grandeur of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire is still very present.
For more about the culture, history, and travel norms, check out the books below.
Due to its location in the Alps, Austria is a mountainous country and part of Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Hungary and Slovakia to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west.
The majority of the population speaks local Bavarian dialects of German as their native language, and, in its standard form, German is the country's official language. Other local languages are Hungarian, Burgenland Croatian, and Slovene.
How about the weather?
Austria has relatively mild weather, and many say anytime of year is good to go. However, that depends if you are a lover of winter sports or an avid summer hiker.
For the best of the warm weather, plan to go between April and October. If you are skiing or snowboarding, you can almost guarantee a good snow covering from November onwards to April. Away from the ski resorts, winter travel is not highly recommended as as the weather can get pretty wet and miserable.
Across the country, weather conditions vary only slightly, with the alpine regions understandable cooler and the lowland regions in the north and east enduring more continental conditions (colder winters, hotter summers), and the southeast of the country enjoying longer, warmer summers, similar to the Mediterranean.
Be aware that no matter what time of year you travel, you are at a higher altitude, so weather can change quickly and unexpectedly. Thunderstorms are a possibility at any given time of year.
What is the local currency?
Austria is on the Euro (€ or EUR), which is the currency of many countries in Europe. The most popular exchange rate is EUR to US Dollar. The currency code for Euro is EUR, and the currency symbol is €. You can find the most up-to-date currency exchange rates here.
Money exchanges can be made at the airport when you arrive or at local banks and currency exchange centers. Remember that Travellers Cheques are only accepted at dedicated foreign exchange shops or banks. There are plenty of ATMs around Austria, especially in the larger cities, so you can always get cash once you are in the country, just be aware of your own bank’s fees, ATM withdrawal fees and credit card foreign transaction fees.
The airports in Austria are:
- Vienna airport (VIE)
- Salzburg airport (SZG)
- Linz airport (LNZ)
- Graz airport (GRZ)
- Innsbruck airport (INN)
- Klagenfurt airport (KLU)
Austria has an excellent public transportation system, can definitely be taken advantage of. If you’re driving however, you’ll need to purchase a toll sticker (Vignette). Vignette allows you to drive on the autobahn, or highways. As of 2017, you can purchase a 10-day vignette (9 EUR), a 2 month vignette (26 EUR), or a 1 year vignette (87 EUR). If you’re renting a car in Austria, they’ll provide the vignette. But, if you rented a car in another country and are driving to Austria, make sure to purchase one as soon as you cross the border. The best place to buy these toll stickers are at gas stations. Once you purchase the vignette, affix it immediately to your dashboard. One really easy and cheap way to travel throughout Austria is via a Flixbus. You can also take a Flixbus to neighboring countries. These comfortable buses are punctual, clean, and provide wifi. It might take a bit longer than a train, but it will save you a lot of money. (source)
The OBB will take you just about anywhere long distance, and I know in the larger cities, like Vienna, there is an underground system called the Uban for short round-the-town travel.
Wiener Schnitzel – Thin, breaded and pan fried veal. Squeeze a slice of lemon on this quintessential Viennese dish before digging in. If you’re not into veal, you can usually order Schnitzel vom Schwein (pork), Schnitzel von der Pute (turkey), or Schnitzel vom Huhn (chicken). Schnitzel is typically served with a side of mixed or potato salad. Are you a vegetarian like me? Don't fret! You can find various restaurants throughout Austria that actually make great vegetarian and vegan schnitzel!
Spätzle – Soft egg noodle. Spätzle dough typically consists of few ingredients, principally eggs, flour, and salt. It is often times prepared by simply tossing with browned butter and herbs, however, you can also find it with onions, cheese and other goodies tossed in. While potatoes are the common side served with schnitzel, spätzle is a sometimes served as a side as well.
Tafelspitz – Boiled Beef. This Viennese specialty was actually Emperor Franz Jospeh’s favorite dish. The tender beef is served in a pot of broth with bone marrow. The dish is accompanied by sides of fried potato rosti, vegetables (spinach, string beans), horseradish and apple sauces.
Salzburger Nockerl – A sweet soufflé served as a dessert, a culinary speciality in the Austrian city of Salzburg. This light and fluffy dessert remind some people of Salzburg’s snow capped-mountains. Legend has it that the famous Salzburg prince archbishop of Raitenau loved his mistress Salome mainly because of her exquisitely fluffy Salzburger Nockerl.
Kaiserschmarrn – Shredded Pancakes. It’s often made with raisins. If you don’t want the raisins say, “Bitte ohne Rosinen.” This is eaten as both a meal and a dessert. Traditionally, it’s served with a side of plum sauce.
Austrian Wine – If you want to order a glass of wine, you should say “ein Achterl” (an eighth of a liter), which is the common serving size.
Weisswein gespritzt – It’s very common to drink white wine with mineral water, especially earlier in the day. If you like sweeter drinks, order a Kaiserspritzer, which is white wine, mineral water, and Holunderblütersirup (elderflower syrup).
Sturm – this is an early, sweet wine that is only served in early Fall. Unlike all other alcoholic beverages, you don’t say Prost (Cheers) before drinking. Instead, you say Mahlzeit. If you make the mistake of saying Prost, there’s an unwritten rule that says you’re obliged to pay for this round of drinks.
Prost (Cheers) – In Austrian culture, it’s really important to make purposeful eye contact when you toast. Say “Prost” or “Zum Wohl," and tap glasses with everyone within reach. There’s only one exception to the rule. When you drink Sturm, an early wine, you say “Mahlzeit” not “Prost.”
Mahlzeit (Bon appetite) – You say Mahlzeit right before anyone at your table begins to eat. It means “enjoy your meal.”
Table Manners – Austrians eat with a fork in their left hand and a knife in their right hand. Both hands are visible throughout the meal. Unlike American etiquette, they don’t cut their food, and place one hand on their lap, before proceeding to eat what they’ve just cut. Also, Austrians don’t use their hands to eat foods like pizza and hamburgers. They will always use a fork and knife.
What to do once in Austria...
1. Explore the capital city, Vienna
The country’s capital city is not to be missed. Full of history, beautiful architecture, music, museums and traditional coffee houses, there’s something for everyone in Vienna. Vienna is where the famous Schönbrunn Palace is located, where the Spanish Riding School exhibiting talented Lipizzan horses and riders can be seen, and where the enchanting Vienna Boys Choir can be heard.
Vienna has a unique nightlife right underneath the subway! Be sure to explore Stadtbahnbogen (city train arches) or check out the pub crawl available below! Vienna is also conveniently located near other European attractions. You can even take a day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia from Vienna! Check out some tour options below!
2. Visit Schönbrunn Palace
Schönbrunn Palace is a must see, and it is one of Vienna's top attractions. It is a former imperial summer residence exhibiting the true unique style of Baroque architecture. The gardens were made for exploring, and there is even a zoo and a playground with water games and bouncy houses.
3. Go Skiing
Being almost entirely in the mountains, Austria is full of great ski and snowboard terrain.
As mentioned in a previous blog, Top 4 Events to Consider When Planning Your Next Company Retreat in Austria, “[y]our team can take a free bus from Innsbruck to nine different ski areas including Schlick 2000, Axamer Lizum, Stubai Glacier and these resorts are all easily accessible and on the same pass, the Olympiaworld Ski Pass!"
You can also fly into Salzburg which has a beautiful town and then travel up to Altenmarkt to ski and then back down to Linz.
The powder shredding opportunities are seemingly endless!
4. Hike Ötschergräben
Ötschergräben is a gorge in the Mostviertel within Lower Austria. The full length of the gorge can be accessed by an easy trail fed by many boardwalks and footbridges. Upon arrival, the cascading waterfalls and sparkling Ötscherbach river transport you to another world, full of magic and beauty.
You can do a day-hike here, or an overnight hike. In Ötscher base in Wienerbruck, there’s a parking lot and you can pay the park entrance fee (3 EUR/Adult).
There is a treehouse-esque Ötscherhias hut that is a great spot for a lunch break. If you are doing an overnight hike, the Schutzhaus Vorderötscher mountain hut is where you’ll head to. This wilderness retreat serves warm and tasty food and even has comfy beds. Their Kaspressknödelsuppe, Gulasch and Kaiserspritzer are said to be top notch.
If you don’t want to hike all the way out, you can end your hike by taking the chairlift down to Mitterbach from the middle-station (30 minutes down the hill from Gemeindealpe). There’s a special train, Mariazellerbahn, that connects this area. You can take that train back to your car in Wienerbruck.
5. Do a bicycle wine tour through the Austrian countryside
If you’re lucky enough, you can make a stop at a “heuriger”, a wine tavern in Eastern Austria, more specifically, one where a local winemaker serves his/her new wine under a special license during the growing season.
Heuriger is the abbreviation for “heuriger Wein”, “this year’s wine”, therefore a reference to the year’s young wine, which can be purchased by the glass or in bottles. In the fall, when grapes are being harvested, fresh grape juice (Traubensaft) as well as fermented grape juice (Sturm) are also served.
Note that in the traditional Heurigen, only cold snacks are offered, often something as simple as sliced bread with toppings, "belegtes Bro." Don’t be expecting a full meal on these stops. Especially around Vienna, it’s common to see a buffet, with cold meats, hard and soft cheeses, different spreads, olives and pickles, and various salads. In the more “modern” Heurigen, a small selection of warm foods (e.g. Spinatstrudel) are offered.
6. Go to the Sigmund Freud Museum
Since 1971, the Sigmund Freud Museum has been welcoming visitors in Sigmund Freud’s former office and apartment. Formerly a room of commemoration, the Sigmund Freud Museum has developed into a tourist attraction with more than 100,000 visitors per year and a place of debate and discussion with research and education projects, scientific events and Europe's largest library on Psychoanalysis.
OPENING HOURS, ADMISSION
Open daily, Monday – Sunday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Last admission: 30 minutes before closing time
Senior Citizens €11,00
Vienna Card / Club wien.at €8,50
Club Ö1 / KulturKontakt Austria €7,50
Students (18-27 years) €7,50
Pupils (12-18 years) €4,00
Audio guide available free of charge in six languages: English, Spanish, Russian, Italian, French, German
7. Spend a Day at the Therme
A Therme is a thermal spa complex that houses thermal pools, various saunas, and resting rooms. They typically offer massage, spa and wellness treatments. If your time and money budgets allow, plan to spend an entire day at the Therme, so that you can fully relax.
Thermen typically house at least one cafeteria and café, making it easy to grab a bite there and not worry about packing lunches or snacks. They are for all age groups, but the sauna section is designated for adults only. It is common to be in the sauna without a swimsuit on, so while your birthday suit is not required, be prepared for some nudity. Depending on the Therme, the saunas are either separated by gender, or integrated, so know what you are comfortable with and ask ahead of time.
Prices: Prices vary based on how long you decide to stay. Common allotted times include 2 hour, 3 hour, half-day and full-day rates. Full-day rates range between 26 and 40 Euro. You can also choose to opt only for the thermal pools, or purchase the thermal pools and access to the saunas.
A visit to the therme is rejuvnating at any time of year, but the best time to go is in winter, especially after spending the day skiing.
Be sure to bring a towel, bathrobe, soap, and sandals, and if you're not going to be napping, a nice book to read.
A popular therme is Tauern Spa in Kaprun which offers a breathtaking view of the mountains. This spa is very close to the ski destinations Kaprun Kitzsteinhorn (Glacier) and Zell am See.
8. Wander Danube’s Wachau River Valley
The Wachau is a pretty river valley in Lower Austria between the towns of Melk and Krems. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can explore both sides of the Danube river, by bike or by car. There are villages, castle ruins, Heurigen and Buschenschänke, monasteries and vineyards on both sides. The Wachau is a wine-growing region and an apricot-growing region. In the fall, you’ll see homemade apricot products (jam, nectar, schnaps) being sold on the sides of the road. You’ll also see winemakers and families harvesting the grapes.
Notable landmarks in the Wachau include the Melk Abbey, Schönbühel Castle, Aggstein, and the Dürnstein Castle Ruins, where Richard the Lionhearted was imprisoned in 1193.
9. Visit Innsbruck
So much to do for a relatively small city! Alps, rivers, palaces, gardens, cafes, Alpenzoo, folk museums, churches, mountainside funiculars and cable cars, the Swarovski Crystal World, the Golden Roof, covered walkways...the possibilities are endless! Hot chocolate, tea, and desserts galore. Many say Innsbruck has hands down the best dairy products around. The Innsbruck Card is a great investment while there.
A very exciting spot to check out in Innsbruck is the Bergisel Ski Jump Arena.
Doug's mountain getaway in Austria is a great hostel option for accommodations. They have a lot of equipment you can rent and day trips all over the place. It is nestled in Fulpmes, only a 30 minute bus from Innsbruck!
10. Venture to Hallstatt
Hallstatt is beautiful! You can take tiny boats out on the lake. It is a truly picturesque place, straight off of a postcard. There's a salt mine you can visit too, but note that the salt mines aren't open during the winter.
If you don't want to spend the night in Hallstatt, a solid 4 hours there is usually plenty to enjoy this beautiful place. Making it a day trip from Salzburg is common.
Check out the ice caves on Dachstein Mountain and the five finger lookout.
Also, check out the Bone Church. This is an exhibit truly unique to Austria.
11. Play at Prater Amusement Park
If you're wanting to bring out your inner child, Prater is the place for you! It's an amusement park but it also has beer gardens and all sort of fun things.
12. Check out Obertraun
Obertraun is incredibly peaceful and you can rent a bike and ride to Hallstatt everyday! The Obertrauner Hof ("Home Style") in Obertraun is highly recommended. It's a cute place and the couple who own it are very hospitable. They even provide free breakfast.
There is a bigger resort nearby that is nice as well-- that's where you can rent bikes from. You can rent a bike and ride across the lake to Hallstatt. You can stay in Obertraun in the summer and it’s pretty empty, but there can be a lot of tourists in Hallstatt.
13. Explore Salzburg
From Mozart to the Sound of Music, Salzburg is a stop in Austria with a lot to explore. Start by getting your Salzburg Card to save money as you check out the city sites. With a choice between a 24, 48 or 72 hour pass, you'll enjoy free admission to over 30 attractions and museums in the ‘City of Mozart', free use of the public transport network and discounts at numerous other sights.
Wander the streets in the Old Town, check out the various Mozart houses and the Mozart Museum, and you absolutely must get Mozart kugels at Furst, home of the original blue Mozart kugel. Be sure and eat Sacher Torte at the Sacher Hotel too (Note: you can also do this in Vienna). The Fortess and Mirabell Gardens are also nice places to spend sometime, as well as Hellbrunn castle. If you take a Sound of Music tour, do either a minibus or bike tour. You can even stay in a castle and enjoy views of the lake and a private ‘Sound of Music’ tour!
The Leichtenstenklamm Gorge is another beautiful attraction for nature lovers that want to get some more hiking in.
If you're visiting in winter, try a Christmas Horse Drawn Sleigh Ride and experience some magic!
14. Go Shopping
If you want to shop, there are two great pedestrian-zone shopping areas in Vienna - downtown/center, and the Mariahilferstraße, which is a ginormous shopping street. There are also malls like Donauzentrum around, and even an outlet called 'Parndorf,' which is like a shopping village with all the major brands. There are really nice villages just outside the city to explore the markets in the countryside without going too far. There is a little 5 minute ferry that goes between two sides of the Danube, slightly off the beaten path and somewhat unknown. This is a great spot to go after shopping to reconnect with nature without going too far. There's a small forest with some nice trails to walk around there, and a tiny beach if you want to splash your feet in the Danube a little without having to go to the hot-spots that are crowded.
I hope you've enjoyed reading some of my recommendations for traveling through Austria! If you check them out yourself, leave your favorites in the comments! If I didn't mention a place or experience that you think needs to be included, let me know at Rachel@RebelandConnect.co. Start booking your travels below!
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