Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Trip to Austria

Austria’s culture is built around classical music, cafes, and a rich, well-preserved history. There are plenty of things to do and see in Austria in each of those categories, as well as beautiful landscapes, delicious food, and exemplary public transport to get around and see it all with. In short, there’s nothing not to love about Austria!

Another reason to visit Austria is that there is no bad time to go. Summers are one of the most popular times to visit, because the mild temperatures are perfect for being out and about and the sunny weather just accentuates the scenery in the Austrian countryside that looks like it’s straight off of a screensaver. In the Spring and Fall, the various palace gardens are in full bloom and you avoid some of the tourist crowds. Winter is a second high season because Austria is the winter sports capital of Europe and hosts epic Christmas markets.

Finally, Austria is one of the safest places in the world to visit. While you should always be aware of your surroundings and use common sense to avoid dangerous situations, knowing that the crime rate in Austria is extremely low can provide travelers some peace of mind not available at all destinations.

How to Get to Austria

There are international airports in Vienna, Graz, Linz, Salzburg, Innsbruck, and Klagenfurt that visitors can fly into. However, flights to most of those airports are likely to be indirect from the United States. The only way to get a direct flight is to book a flight to Vienna from Chicago, Los Angeles, New York (JFK), Washington D.C., or Newark. If you are starting from a different location, you’ll probably still want to fly into Vienna to get the most flight options at the lowest cost. Flights to Austria are likely to be cheapest in January.

If you are trying to get to Austria from elsewhere in Europe, you can certainly book a flight, but you may want to check train options. It’s central location in Europe means that there are a large number of trains running to, and through, Austria throughout the day.

How to Get Around Austria

Once within Austria, the train system is by far the easiest way to get between cities. The extensive train network goes to cities both small and large throughout the country. You can buy tickets at the train station, or you can buy them in advance at raileurope.com.

The views from most Austrian train rides are nice enough, but there are a few in Austria that are known as being particularly scenic. The first of those is the Semmering Railroad which is a section of the trip from Vienna to Graz (specifically between Gloggnitz and Semmering) because it goes through some spectacular mountainous areas. A second scenic option is the Mariazell Railway which runs between St. Poelten and Mariazell. Again, it runs through the mountains on a narrow-gauge track.

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Where to Stay

Vienna is the capital, and largest city in Austria, with the most to do. Since it’s also usually the easiest and cheapest city to travel to, I recommend staying in Vienna and using it as the home base of your Austrian trip.

Here is a list of my favorite things to do in Vienna. My list only covers a fraction of what the city has to offer though. There are countless museums, the Naschmarkt (a huge market made up of vender stalls and restaurants that has been there since the 16th century), the Prater Amusement Park and Ferris wheel, the Spanish Riding School, palaces that house more museums and historic artifacts, and more. You’ll have to prioritize what’s important to you, because there’s no way to see it all unless you stay in Vienna for at least a week.

Try to stay close to the city center and near a metro station so that you can easily walk or catch the metro to whatever you are trying to do that day. Here are a few great options.

  • For luxury: Hotel Sacher Wien – this hotel is right in the middle of the action, across the street from the Vienna Opera House, and is home of the world famous sacher torte dessert. Make sure to try one during your stay!
  • Mid-range: Appartment-Hotel an der Riemergasse – this hotel is in a great location in the Innere Stadt (inner city) between St. Stephen’s Cathedral and Stadtpark but won’t break the bank!
  • Budget option: Hotel Daniel -  this one is not in the city center, but just a few steps away from Belvedere Palace instead. The short trip to the city center will be worth it for the savings of staying a little further out.

Austrian Day Trip Options (from Vienna)

There are a bunch of opportunities for day trips from Vienna, but these are some of the most popular.

  • Hallstatt is a little alpine village situated on a lake that is a real-life fairytale. In fact, it is said to be the inspiration for the village in Disney’s “Frozen”. The city has more to offer than its unbelievable scenery; the areas salt mines (some of the oldest in the world) which have earned it the designation of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the nearby ice cave, the city’s historic market square, and Hallstatt Lake itself offer plenty of different things for tourists to do during their visit.
  • Salzburg is most well-known for being the birthplace of classical composer Mozart and the filming location for the movie “The Sound of Music”. There are attractions around the city for both of those things. The history of the city’s Old Town also makes it a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A day is plenty of time to see most of what the city has to offer, making it a perfect day-trip candidate.
  • Graz is another beautiful city in Austria, about 2.5 hours from Vienna by train. It’s the second largest city in Austria and has plenty to see, but the highlights can be comprehended in a day. The city has the “best-preserved city center” in Central Europe, which makes it another UNESCO World Heritage site and makes visiting Graz an automatic step back in time.
  • Hungary is also next door to Austria, so you can easily get from Vienna to Budapest in a few hours. However, Budapest requires more than a day to explore, so day trips into Hungary would be better suited to smaller cities in the country such as Sopron or Gyor.
  • The capital of Slovakia, Bratislava, is just across the border from Vienna, making it an easy day trip. In fact, it’s so close that there are guided tours with private transportation available from Vienna if you prefer that over taking the train. The city is packed with historic sites such as the Old Town, Michael’s Gate (one of the gates that used to fortify the city), the Old Town Hall that includes the Bratislava City Museum, and others.

Putting It All Together

Obviously you can’t see everything discussed here unless you have a lot of time, but I’ve put together a sample itinerary for how to make the most of 4 days in Austria here. You can always just use this itinerary as a guide and swap in different day trip options or attractions that interest you the most.

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