A “blast from the past” is how one recent visitor described her journey through Austria. It remains, she explained, a place where children laugh at marionette shows in the parks, couples linger for hours over pastries at gilt-ceiling cafés, and Lipizzan stallions dance to Mozart minuets—in other words, Austria is a country that has not forgotten the elegance of a time gone by.
Flying time from New York to Vienna is eight hours; it’s nine hours from Washington, D.C., and two hours from London. Airline and Airport Links.com has links to many of the world’s airlines and airports. The Transportation Security Administration has answers for almost every security question that might come up.
Austria’s major air gateway is Vienna’s Schwechat Airport, about 12 miles southeast of the city. Salzburg Airport is Austria’s second-largest airport, about 2½ miles west of the center. Just south of Graz, in Thalerhof, is the Graz Airport. Two other airports you might consider, depending on where in Austria you intend to travel, are Bratislava’s M. R. Stefanik international airport in neighboring Slovakia, and Munich Airport International in Germany, not far from Salzburg. Bratislava is about 50 miles east of Vienna and is the hub for RyanAir, a budget carrier with low-cost connections to several European cities. Frequent buses can take you from Bratislava airport to central Vienna in about an hour. Consider Munich if your primary destination is western Austria, Salzburg, or Innsbruck.
The City Airport Train (CAT) provides service from Schwechat to downtown Vienna for €12 (one-way ticket, available at the CAT counter in the arrivals hall); the trip takes about 16 minutes. Travel into the city on the local S-Bahn takes about 25 minutes and costs €4.40 (ticket machines are on the platforms). City bus No. 2 runs every 10 minutes between both the city center and Salzburg’s main train station and the airport; transfers cost €2.30. A taxi ride from the airport will be about €18. Schwechat Airport’s website has information for all ground transfers.
Austria is easy to reach from the United States. Austrian Airlines, Austria’s flagship carrier, a Lufthansa subsidiary flies nonstop to Vienna from the United States, departing from New York’s JFK airport and Washington Dulles. From Canada, Austrian flies direct from Toronto. Its membership to the Star Alliance means that cities serviced by United Airlines have good connecting service to Austria. Austrian Airlines has an excellent network of domestic flights linking Vienna to regional cities like Salzburg and Graz. It’s also possible to travel from North America with major U.S. carriers—including American, Delta, and United—but you’ll be routed through a major European hub, such as London, Amsterdam, or Frankfurt, to Vienna. Leave plenty of time between connections (a minimum of three hours is ideal), as transfers at major airports inevitably take some time. Many international carriers also offer service to Vienna after stopovers at major European airports.
In addition to the major international carriers, European budget airlines, including RyanAir, Air Berlin, and its subsidiary, FlyNiki, offer low-cost flights from major cities around the Continent. These airlines are not normally recommended for connecting with transatlantic flights because of the occasional hassle of changing airports, but they provide a low-cost way of getting around. Although RyanAir has left some customers less than satisfied, Air Berlin and FlyNiki offer reliable service. They travel between Vienna, Graz, Linz, Klagenfurt, Salzburg, Innsbruck, and major hubs in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, the United States, and Canada. More recently, German charter carrier Condor also added flights between Vienna and Las Vegas to its schedule, as did Canadian charter airline Air Transat (www.airtransat.ca), with planes flying from Montreal and Toronto to Vienna.
Within Austria, Austrian Airlines and its subsidiary Austrian Arrows, operated by Tyrolean Airways, offer service from Vienna to Linz, Salzburg, Klagenfurt, and Innsbruck; they also provide routes to and from points outside Austria.
Austria has an extensive national network of buses run by the national postal and railroad services. Where Austrian trains don’t go, buses do, and you’ll find the railroad and post-office buses (bright yellow for easy recognition) in even remote regions carrying passengers as well as mail. You can get tickets on the bus, and in the off-season there is no problem getting a seat; on routes to favored ski areas, though, reservations are essential during holiday periods. Bookings can be handled at the ticket office (there’s one in most towns with bus service) or by travel agents. In most communities bus routes begin and end at or near the train station, making transfers easy. Increasingly, the coordination of bus service with railroads means that many of the discounts and special tickets available for trains apply to buses as well. There are private bus companies in Austria, too. Buses in Austria run like clockwork, typically departing and arriving on time, even, astonishingly, in mountainous regions and during bad weather. Most operators on the information lines speak English and, impressively, many of the drivers do, too.
For leisurely travel between Vienna and Linz, or eastward across the border into Slovakia or Hungary, consider taking a Danube boat. DDSG Blue Danube Schifffahrt offers a diverse selection of pleasant cruises, including trips to Melk Abbey and Dürnstein in the Wachau, a grand tour of Vienna’s architectural sights from the river, and a dinner cruise, with Johann Strauss waltzes as background music. Brandner Schifffart offers the same kind of cruises between Krems and Melk, in the heart of the Danube Valley.
Most of the immaculate white-painted craft carry about 1,000 passengers each on their three decks. As soon as you get on board, give the steward a good tip for a deck chair and ask him or her to place it where you will get the best views. Be sure to book cabins in advance. Day trips are also possible on the Danube. You can use boats to move from one riverside community to the next. Along some sections, notably the Wachau, the only way to cross the river is to use the little shuttles (in the Wachau, these are special motorless boats that use the current to cross).
For the cruises up and down the Danube, the DDSG Blue Danube Steamship Company departs and arrives at Reichsbrücke near Vienna’s Mexikoplatz. To reach the Reichsbrücke stop, you walk two blocks from the Vorgartenstrasse stop on the U1 subway toward the river. The DDSG stop is on the right side of the Reichsbrücke bridge. There is no pier number, but you board at Handelskai 265. Boat trips from Vienna to the Wachau run daily from May to September. The price is €23.70 one way and €28 round-trip. There are other daily cruises within the Wachau, such as from Melk to Krems. Other cruises, to Budapest, for instance, operate from April to early November. The website has dozens of options and timetables in English. For cruises from Krems to Melk, contact Brandner Schifffahrt.
Carefully weigh the pros and cons of car travel before choosing to rent. If your plans are to see Vienna and one or two other urban destinations, you’re better off taking the train, avoiding hassles, and saving money. Bear in mind that in addition to the not inconsiderable cost of renting, you’ll have to pay for gasoline (which costs more than twice what it does in the United States) and frequent tolls. In addition, you might find yourself dealing with heavy traffic on the main roads. Added to that is the constant headache of finding a place to park. Central Vienna is completely restricted and the situation is not much better in the smaller cities.
On the other hand, if you have the time and your plan is a more leisurely tour of the country, including back roads and off-the-beaten-track destinations, then car rental is certainly an option. You’ll have more freedom—and roads are mostly very well maintained, even in rural districts and mountainous regions. Bear in mind that if you’re traveling in winter, your car should be fitted with winter tires and you should also carry snow chains. Even in summer, you can come across sudden winterlike conditions on the high mountain passes.
Vienna is 187 miles east of Salzburg and 125 miles north of Graz. The main routes leading into the city are the A1 Westautobahn from Germany, Salzburg, and Linz and the A2 Südautobahn from Graz and points south.
Gasoline and diesel are readily available, but on Sunday stations in the more out-of-the-way areas may be closed. Stations carry only unleaded (bleifrei) gas, both regular and premium (super), and diesel. If you’re in the mountains in winter with a diesel, and there is a cold snap (with temperatures threatening to drop below -4°F, add a few liters of gasoline to your diesel, about 1:4 parts, to prevent it from freezing. Gasoline prices are the same throughout the country, slightly lower at a discount and self-service stations. Expect to pay about €1.38 per liter for regular gasoline and slightly less for diesel. If you are driving to Italy, fill up before crossing the border, because gas in Italy is even more expensive. Oil in Austria is expensive, retailing at €14 or more per liter. If need be, purchase oil, windshield wipers, and other paraphernalia at big hardware stores. The German word for “receipt” is Quittung or Rechnung.
Renting a Car
Rates in Vienna begin at about €80 per day and €100 per weekend for an economy car with manual transmission. This includes a 21% tax on car rentals. Rates are more expensive in winter months, when a surcharge for winter tires may be added. Renting a car is cheaper in Germany, but make sure the rental agency knows you are driving into Austria and ask for the car to be equipped with the Autobahnvignette, an autobahn sticker for Austria. The answer will usually be that you have to buy your own vignette, which you can get from service stations near the border. Get your sticker, also known as a Pickerl, before driving to Austria. When renting an RV be sure to compare prices and reserve early. It’s cheaper to arrange your rental car from the United States, but be sure to get a confirmation in writing of your quoted rate. Extremely big savings can often be made by renting from a company that has partnered with your chosen airline—airline websites will have the link—or use Arguscarhire.com, which has connections with a range of car rental companies and often comes up with the best prices.
The age requirement for renting a car in Austria is generally 19 (the minimum age for driving a car in Austria is 18), and you must have had a valid driver’s license for one year. There is no extra charge to drive over the border into Italy, Switzerland, or Germany, but there may be some restrictions for taking a rental into Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, or Poland. If you’re planning on traveling east, it’s best to let the agency know beforehand.
In Austria your own driver’s license is acceptable. An International Driver’s Permit (IDP; $15), while not strictly necessary, is a good idea; these international permits are universally recognized, and having one in your wallet may save you a problem with the local authorities.
Roads in Austria are excellent and well maintained—perhaps a bit too well maintained, judging by the frequently encountered construction zones on the autobahns. Secondary roads may be narrow and winding. Remember that in winter you will need snow tires and sometimes chains, even on well-traveled roads. It’s wise to check with the automobile clubs for weather conditions because mountain roads are often blocked, and ice and fog are hazards.
If you break down along the autobahn, a small arrow on the guardrail will direct you to the nearest emergency (orange-color) phones that exist along all highways. Austria also has two automobile clubs, ÖAMTC and ARBÖ, both of which operate motorist service patrols. Both clubs charge nonmembers for emergency service.
Rules of the Road
Tourists from EU countries may bring their own cars into Austria with no documentation other than the normal registration papers and their regular driver’s license. A Green Card, the international certificate of insurance, is recommended for EU drivers and compulsory for others. All cars must carry a first-aid kit (including rubber gloves), a red warning triangle, and a yellow neon jacket to use in case of accident or breakdown. These are available at gas stations along the road, or at any automotive supply store or large hardware store.
The minimum driving age in Austria is 18, and children under 12 must ride in the back seat; smaller children require a car seat. Note that all passengers must use seat belts.
Drive on the right side of the road in Austria. Unmarked crossings, particularly in residential areas, are common, so exercise caution at intersections. Trams always have the right of way. No turns are allowed on red.
When it comes to drinking and driving, the maximum blood-alcohol content allowed is 0.5 parts per thousand, which in real terms means very little to drink. Remember when driving in Europe that the police can stop you anywhere at any time for no particular reason.
Unless otherwise marked, the speed limit on autobahns is 130 kph (80 mph), although this is not always strictly enforced. If you’re pulled over for speeding, though, fines are payable on the spot, and can be heavy. On other highways and roads the limit is 100 kph (62 mph), 80 kph (49 mph) for RVs or cars pulling a trailer weighing more than 750 kilos (about 1,650 pounds). In built-up areas a 50-kph (31-mph) limit applies and is likely to be taken seriously. In some towns special 30-kph (20-mph) limits apply. More and more towns have radar cameras to catch speeders. Remember that insurance does not necessarily pay if it can be proven you were going above the limit when involved in an accident.
If you’re going to travel Austria’s highways, make absolutely sure your car is equipped with the Autobahnvignette, a little sticker with a highway icon and the Austrian eagle, or with a calendar marked with an M or a W. This sticker, sometimes also called a Pickerl, allows use of the autobahn. It costs €82.70 (valid for one year) and is available at gas stations, tobacconists, and automobile-club outlets in neighboring countries or near the border. Some rental cars may already have them, but you need to check. You can also purchase a two-month vignette for €24.80, or a 10-day one for €8.50. Prices are for vehicles up to 3.5 tons and RVs. For motorcycles it’s €32.90 for one year, €12.40 for two months, and €4.90 for 10 days. If you’re caught without a sticker you may be subjected to extremely high fines. Get your Pickerl before driving to Austria from another country. Besides the Pickerl, if you are planning to drive around a lot, budget in a great deal of toll money: for example, the tunnels on the A10 autobahn cost €11, the Grossglockner Pass road will cost about €34 per car (you can buy a ticket for €10 for a second ride over the pass in the same calendar year and in the same car if you show the cashier the original ticket). Driving up some especially beautiful valleys, such as the Kaunertal in Tyrol, or up to the Tauplitzalm in Styria, also costs money—around €23 per car for the Kaunertal.
Austrian train service is excellent: it’s fast and, for Western Europe, relatively inexpensive, particularly if you take advantage of discount fares. Trains on the mountainous routes are slow but no slower than driving, and the scenery is gorgeous. Many of the remote rail routes will give you a look at traditional Austria, complete with Alpine cabins tacked onto mountainsides and a backdrop of snowcapped peaks.
Austrian Federal Railways trains are identifiable by the letters that precede the train number on the timetables and posters. The IC (InterCity) or EC (EuroCity) trains are the fastest. EN trains have sleeping facilities. The EC trains usually have a dining car with fairly good food. The trains originating in Budapest have good Hungarian cooking. Otherwise, there is usually a fellow with a cart serving snacks and hot and cold drinks. Most trains are equipped with a card telephone in or near the restaurant car.
The difference between erste Klasse (first class), and zweite Klasse (second class) on Austrian trains is mainly a matter of space. First- and second-class sleepers and couchettes (six to a compartment) are available on international runs, as well as on long trips within Austria. Women traveling alone may book special compartments on night trains or long-distance rides (ask for a Damenabteil). If you have a car but would rather watch the scenery than the traffic, you can put your car on a train in Vienna and accompany it to Salzburg, Innsbruck, Feldkirch, or Villach: you relax in a compartment or sleeper for the trip, and the car is unloaded when you arrive.
Allow yourself plenty of time to purchase your ticket before boarding the train. IC and EC tickets are also valid on D (express), E (Eilzug; semi-fast), and local trains. For information, unless you speak German fairly well, it’s a good idea to have your hotel call for you. You may also ask for an operator who speaks English. You can reserve a seat for €3.50 (€3 online) up until four hours before departure. Be sure to do this on the main-line trains (Vienna–Innsbruck, Salzburg–Klagenfurt, Vienna–Graz, for example) at peak holiday times.
For train schedules from the Austrian rail service, the ÖBB, ask at your hotel, stop in at the train station and look for large posters labeled “Abfahrt” (departures) and “Ankunft” (arrivals), or log on to the website. In the Abfahrt listing you’ll find the departure time in the main left-hand block of the listing and, under the train name, details of where it stops en route and the time of each arrival. There is also information about connecting trains and buses, with departure details. Working days are symbolized by two crossed hammers, which means that the same schedule might not apply on weekends or holidays. A little rocking horse sign means that a special playpen has been set up on the train for children.
There’s a wide choice of rail routes to Austria, but check services first; long-distance passenger service across the continent is undergoing considerable reduction. There is regular service from London’s St. Pancras station to Vienna via Brussels and Frankfurt; the fastest journey time is 13 hours, 55 minutes. An alternative is to travel via Paris, where you can change to an overnight train to Salzburg and Vienna. Be sure to leave plenty of time between connections to change stations. First- and second-class sleepers and second-class couchettes are available as far as Innsbruck. Although rail fares from London to these destinations tend to be much more expensive than airfares, the advantages are that you’ll see a lot more of the countryside en route and you’ll travel from the city center to city center.
Most hotels in Austria have worked hard to upgrade their Internet offerings, and the majority will offer some form of Internet access for your laptop, sometimes still via a LAN line, but often with Wi-Fi. Occasionally these services are offered free of charge; sometimes you have to pay. Hotels that don’t offer Internet access in the rooms will usually have a computer somewhere in their business center or lobby available for guests to check email. Outside of hotels, there are some, but not many, Internet cafés (ask at your hotel). A good number of cafés offer Wi-Fi to customers.
The good news is that you can now make a direct-dial telephone call from virtually any point on earth. The bad news? You can’t always do so cheaply. Calling from a hotel is almost always the most expensive option; hotels usually add huge surcharges to all calls, particularly international ones. In some countries, you can phone from call centers or even the post office. Calling cards usually keep costs to a minimum, but only if you purchase them locally. Cell phone calls are nearly always a much cheaper option than calling from your hotel.
When calling Austria, the country code is 43. When dialing an Austrian number from abroad, drop the initial 0 from the local Austrian area code. For instance, the full number to dial for the Hotel Sacher in Vienna from America is 011 (international dial code) –43 (Austria’s country code) –1 (Vienna’s full city code is 01, but drop the 0) and –514–560 (the hotel number). All numbers given include the city or town area code.
Calling Within Austria
As the number of cell phones has risen in Austria, the number of coin-operated pay telephones has dwindled. If you find one, a local call costs from €0.14 to €0.60, depending on whether you call a landline or a cell phone. Most payphones have instructions in English.
When placing a long-distance call to a destination within Austria, dial the local area codes with the initial zero (for instance, 0662 for Salzburg). Note that calls within Austria are one-third cheaper between 6 pm and 8 am on weekdays and from 1 pm on Saturday to 8 am on Monday.
For information about phone numbers inside and outside of Austria, dial 118–877. Most operators speak some English; if yours doesn’t, you’ll most likely be passed along to one who does.
Calling Outside Austria
It costs more to telephone from Austria than it does to telephone to Austria. Although nearly everyone now uses their cell phone for all calls, international or otherwise, it is still possible to make inexpensive calls from some post offices, and you can get helpful assistance in placing a long-distance call; in large cities, these centers at main post offices (Hauptpostamt) are open around the clock. To use a post office phone you first go to the counter to be directed to a certain telephone cabin; after your call, you return to the counter and pay your bill. Faxes can be sent from post offices and received as well, but neither service is very cheap.
To make a collect call—you can’t do this from payphones—dial the operator and ask for an R-Gespräch (pronounced air-ga-shprayk). Most operators speak English; if yours doesn’t, you’ll be passed to one who does.
If you plan to make calls from payphones, a Telecom Austria calling card is a convenience. You can buy calling cards with a credit of €10 or €15 at any post office or Telecom Austria shop, and they can be used at any public phone booth. Insert the card, punch in your access code, and dial the number; the cost of the call is automatically deducted from the card—note that the “credits” displayed is not usually the amount of money left on the card, but a different sort of counter. A few public phones in the cities also take American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard, and Visa credit cards.
In Austria, a cell phone is called a Handy.
If you have a GSM cell phone, you can probably use your phone abroad. Roaming fees are generally being dramatically reduced by most phone companies. As soon as you switch your phone on after arriving you are likely to get a message from your provider telling you exactly how much it will be to call home or to receive calls. It’s almost always cheaper to send a text message than to make a call because text messages have a very low set fee.
If you just want to make local calls, consider buying a new SIM card (note that your provider may have to unlock your phone for you to use a different SIM card) and a prepaid service plan in the destination. You’ll then have a local number and can make local calls at local rates. If your trip is extensive, you could also simply buy a new cell phone in your destination, as the initial cost will be offset over time.
If you travel internationally frequently, save one of your old cell phones or buy a cheap one on the Internet; ask your cell phone company to unlock it for you, and take it with you as a travel phone, buying a new SIM card with pay-as-you-go service in each destination.
If you want to use your own cell phone in Austria, first find out if it’s compatible with the European 1800 GSM standard. Once in Austria, stop by a cell phone store, usually identifiable by the word “Handy” in the name, and purchase a prepaid SIM card (make sure your existing SIM card is unlocked). Prepaid cards start at around €15. Local calls are then billed at about €0.15 to €0.20 a minute. If you don’t have a phone but want to use one here, look into buying a used phone. Rates are reasonable. Buy the prepaid card in the same way you would as if you were bringing in your own phone.
When dialing an Austrian “Handy” from abroad (generally 0676, 0699, or 0664), dial 00–43, then the number without the 0.
When dining out, you’ll get the best value at simpler restaurants. Most post menus with prices outside. If you begin with the Würstelstand (sausage vendor) on the street, the next category would be the Imbiss-Stube, for simple, quick snacks. Many meat stores serve soups and a daily special at noon; a blackboard menu will be posted outside. Many cafés also offer lunch. Gasthäuser are simple restaurants or country inns. Austrian hotels have some of the best restaurants in the country, often with outstanding chefs. In the past few years the restaurants along the autobahns, especially the chain Rosenberger, have developed into very good places to eat (besides being, in many cases, architecturally interesting). Some Austrian chain restaurants offer excellent value for the money, such as the schnitzel chains Wienerwald and Schnitzelhaus and the excellent seafood chain Nordsee. You can also grab a quick sandwich made from a wide variety of scrumptious whole-wheat breads at bakery chains such as Anker, Felber, and Mann. With immigration from Turkey and Northern Africa on the rise, thousands of small kebab restaurants have set up shop all over Austria, offering both Middle Eastern fare and sometimes pizza at a reasonable rate. The latest fad is the Asian noodle lunchbox, available at many sausage vendors.
In all restaurants be aware that the basket of bread put on your table isn’t free. Most of the older-style Viennese restaurants charge €0.70–€1.25 for each roll that is eaten, but more and more establishments are beginning to charge a per-person cover charge—anywhere from €1.50 to €5—which includes all the bread you want, plus usually an herb spread and butter. Tap water (Leitungswasser) in Austria comes straight from the Alps and is some of the purest in the world. Be aware, however, that a few restaurants in touristy areas are beginning to charge for tap water.
Austrians are manic about food quality and using agricultural techniques that are in harmony with the environment. The country has the largest number of organic farms in Europe, as well as some of the most stringent food-quality standards. An increasing number of restaurants use food and produce from local farmers, ensuring the freshest ingredients for their guests.
Meals and Mealtimes
Besides the normal three meals—Frühstück (breakfast), Mittagessen (lunch), and Abendessen (dinner)—Austrians sometimes throw in a few snacks in between or forego one meal for a snack. The day begins with an early continental breakfast of rolls and coffee. Gabelfrühstück, normally served a little later in the morning, is a slightly more substantial breakfast with eggs or cold meat. Lunch is usually served between noon and 2, although in some country districts where work, particularly agricultural, might start very early in the morning, you will see people eating lunch from 11 am. An afternoon Jause (coffee with cake) is taken at teatime. A light supper would traditionally be eaten between 6 and 9, but tending toward the later hour, and dinner in the evening, as the main meal of the day, is increasingly the norm. Many restaurant kitchens close in the afternoon, but some post a notice saying durchgehend warme Küche, meaning that hot food is available even between regular mealtimes. In Vienna, some restaurants go on serving until 1 and 2 am, a tiny number also through the night. The rest of Austria is more conservative.
Unless otherwise noted, the restaurants listed are open daily for lunch and dinner.
Regardless of where you are, it’s a good idea to make a reservation if you can. In some places, it’s expected. For popular restaurants, book as far ahead as you can (often 30 days), and reconfirm as soon as you arrive. (Large parties should always call ahead to check the reservations policy.)
Wines, Beer, and Spirits
Austrian wines range from unpretentious Heurigen whites to world-class varietals. Look for the light, fruity white Grüner Veltliner, intensely fragrant golden Traminer, full-bodied red Blaufränkischer, and the lighter red Zweigelt. Sparkling wine is called Sekt, some of the best coming from the Kamptal region northwest of Vienna. Some of the best sweet dessert wines in the world (Spätlesen) come from Burgenland. Austrian beer rivals that of Germany for quality. Each area has its own brewery and local beer, to which people are loyal. A specialty unique to Austria is the dark, sweet Dunkles beer. Look for Kaiser Doppelmalz in Vienna. Schnapps is an after-dinner tradition in Austria; many restaurants offer several varieties, and it is not uncommon for the management to offer a complimentary Schnapps at the end of a meal. One of the most popular is that made from the William pear, and given the nickname, a “little Willy.”
The electrical current in Austria is 220 volts, 50 cycles alternating current (AC); wall outlets take Continental-type plugs, with two round prongs.
Consider making a small investment in a universal adapter, which has several types of plugs in one lightweight, compact unit. Most laptops and cell phone chargers are dual voltage (i.e., they operate equally well on 110 and 220 volts), so require only an adapter. These days the same is true of small appliances such as hair dryers. Always check labels and manufacturer instructions to be sure. Don’t use 110-volt outlets marked “for shavers only” for high-wattage appliances such as hair dryers.
On the street, some German phrases that may be needed in an emergency are: Hilfe! (Help!), Notfall (emergency), Rettungswagen (ambulance), Feuerwehr (fire department), Polizei (police), Arzt (doctor), and Krankenhaus (hospital).
General Emergency Contacts
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Travel in Austria poses no specific or unusual health risks. The tap water is generally safe to drink—in fact, Austrians are obsessed about water quality and it is some of the purest in the world. If in doubt, buy bottled water—available everywhere. The only potential risk worth mentioning is tick-bite encephalitis, which is only a danger if you’re planning to do extensive cycling or hiking in the backcountry.
You must buy over-the-counter remedies in an Apotheke, and most personnel speak enough English to understand what you need. Try using the generic name for a drug, rather than its brand name. You may find over-the-counter remedies for headaches and colds less effective than those sold in the United States. Austrians are firm believers in natural remedies, such as homeopathic medicines and herbal teas.
Shots and Medications
No special shots are required before visiting Austria, but if you will be cycling or hiking through the eastern or southeastern parts of the country, get inoculated against encephalitis; it can be carried by ticks.
Austrians are remarkably honest in their everyday dealings, and Vienna, given its size, is a refreshingly safe and secure city. That said, be sure to watch your purses and wallets in crowded spaces like subways and trams, and to take the standard precautions when walking at night along empty streets. The number of pickpocketing incidents has increased over the years. Be particularly careful if you’re traveling with a bicycle. Here, as everywhere else, bikes routinely go missing. Always lock your bike firmly.
Distribute your cash, credit cards, IDs, and other valuables between a deep front pocket, an inside jacket or vest pocket, and a hidden money pouch. Don’t reach for the money pouch once you’re in public.
HOURS OF OPERATION
In most cities, banks are open weekdays 8–3, Thursday until 5:30 pm. Lunch hour is from 12:30 to 1:30 pm. All banks are closed on Saturday, but you can change money at various locations, such as American Express (which has an office in Vienna open on Saturday from 9 to noon) and major train stations, open around the clock; changing machines are also found here and there in the larger cities.
Gas stations on the major autobahns are open 24 hours a day, but in smaller towns and villages you can expect them to close early in the evening and on Sunday. You can usually count on at least one station to stay open on Sundays and holidays in most medium-size towns, and buying gas in larger cities is usually not a problem.
Pharmacies (called Apotheken in German) are usually open from 9 to 6, with a midday break between noon and 2 pm. In each area of the city, one pharmacy stays open 24 hours; if a pharmacy is closed, a sign on the door will tell you the address of the nearest one that’s open. Call 01/1550 for names and addresses (in German) of the pharmacies open that night.
In many villages and small towns shops still keep the custom of half-day closing one day a week, usually Tuesday or Wednesday, so don’t be surprised to find an apparent ghost town on those days. Shops usually close at 12:30 pm and place the sign Ruhetag (rest day) in the window or door. Hotels sometimes follow suit—they will be open, but the front desk will not be manned and, typically, a welcome note will be left with your key. It is also common in country areas for shops to close from midday on Saturday until Monday morning.
All banks and shops are closed on national holidays: New Year’s Day; Jan. 6, Epiphany; Easter Sunday and Monday; May 1, May Day; Ascension Day (6th Thursday after Easter); Pentecost Sunday and Monday; Corpus Christi; Aug. 15, Assumption; Oct. 26, National Holiday; Nov. 1, All Saints’ Day; Dec. 8, Immaculate Conception; Dec. 25–26, Christmas. Museums are open on most holidays but are closed on Good Friday, Dec. 24 and 25, and New Year’s Day. Banks and offices are closed on Dec. 8, but most shops are open.
ATMs and Banks
Your own bank will probably charge a fee for using ATMs abroad; the foreign bank you use may also charge a fee. Nevertheless, you’ll usually get a better rate of exchange at an ATM than you will at a currency-exchange office or even when changing money in a bank. And extracting funds as you need them is a safer option than carrying around a large amount of cash.
PIN numbers with more than four digits are not recognized at ATMs in many countries. If yours has five or more, remember to change it before you leave.
Called Bankomats and fairly common throughout Austria, ATMs are one of the easiest ways to get euros. Cirrus and Plus locations are easily found throughout large city centers and even in small towns. Look for branches of one of the larger banks, including Bank Austria, Raiffeisen, BAWAG, or Erste Bank. These are all likely to have a bank machine attached somewhere nearby. If you have trouble finding one, ask your hotel concierge. Note, too, that you may have better luck with ATMs if you’re using a credit card or debit card that’s also a Visa or MasterCard rather than just your bank card.
It’s a good idea to inform your credit-card company before you travel, especially if you’re going abroad and don’t travel internationally very often. Otherwise, the credit-card company might put a hold on your card owing to unusual activity—not a good thing halfway through your trip. Record all your credit-card numbers—as well as the phone numbers to call if your cards are lost or stolen—in a safe place, so you’re prepared should something go wrong. Both MasterCard and Visa have general numbers you can call (collect if you’re abroad) if your card is lost, but you’re better off calling the number of your issuing bank since MasterCard and Visa usually just transfer you to your bank; your bank’s number is usually printed on your card.
If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you’ll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it’s usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there’s a problem), note that some credit card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they’re in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won’t be any surprises when you get the bill.
Before you charge something, ask the merchant whether or not he or she plans to do a dynamic currency conversion (DCC). In such a transaction the credit-card processor (shop, restaurant, or hotel, not Visa or MasterCard) converts the currency and charges you in dollars. In most cases, you’ll pay the merchant a 3% fee for this service in addition to any credit-card company and issuing-bank foreign-transaction surcharges.
Dynamic currency conversion programs are becoming increasingly widespread. Merchants who participate in them are supposed to ask whether you want to be charged in dollars or the local currency, but they don’t always do so. And even if they do offer you a choice, they may well avoid mentioning the surcharges. The good news is that you do have a choice. And if this practice really gets your goat, you can avoid it entirely thanks to American Express; with its cards, DCC simply isn’t an option. However, many establishments in Europe prefer MasterCard or Visa to American Express because of the high commission that the latter charges.
Currency and Exchange
Austria is a member of the European Union (EU) and its currency is the euro. Under the euro system, there are eight coins: 1 and 2 euros, plus 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, and 50 euro cents. All coins have one side that has the value of the euro on it and the other side with a country’s own national symbol. There are seven banknotes: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 euros. Banknotes are the same for all EU countries.
Austrians, particularly the Viennese, are dapper dressers. Packing “musts” include at least one nice shirt and a sport coat for men and a casual but stylish dress or shirt and skirt combination for women. These will see you through nearly any occasion, from a decent dinner out on the town to a night at the opera. Note that Austrians dress nicely for the opera and the theater. Men should bring a nice pair of dress shoes because this is a wardrobe staple to which the locals pay particular attention. As a general rule of thumb, the more expensive the shoes, the more respect you’re likely to get. High on the list, too, would be comfortable walking or hiking shoes. Austria is a walking country, in cities and mountains alike. And because an evening outside at a Heurige (wine garden) may be on your agenda, be sure to take a sweater or light wrap; evenings tend to get cool even in the summer. Music lovers might consider toting those rarely used opera glasses; the cheaper seats, understandably, are usually far from the action (and standby tickets will have you craning your neck at the back). However, opera glasses are usually available for a modest fee.
If you are heading into the mountains, bring sunscreen, even in winter. Sunglasses are a must as well—make sure that they block lateral rays. Boots that rise above the ankle and have sturdy soles are best for hiking. Consider packing a small folding umbrella for the odd deluge, or a waterproof windbreaker. Mosquitoes can become quite a bother in summer around the lakes and along the rivers, especially the Danube. Bring or buy some good insect repellent.
PASSPORTS AND VISAS
U.S. citizens need only a valid passport to enter Austria for stays of up to three months.
Before your trip, make two copies of your passport’s data page (one for someone at home and another for you to carry separately). Or scan the page and email it to someone at home and/or yourself.
Vienna has a scattering of public toilets that are suitably clean and cost about €0.50 to use. Metro stations invariably have decent public facilities. Public toilets are less common outside the big cities, but you can usually use the facilities of hotels and restaurants without too much fuss. It’s courteous to purchase something in a bar or restaurant beforehand, but this is rarely a problem, and nothing that can’t usually be resolved with a smile and a Danke. Gas stations along highways usually have restrooms attached, and these are generally open to the public whether you purchase gas or not. Cleanliness standards vary but are usually on the acceptable side.
Although virtually all hotels and restaurants include service charges in their rates, tipping is still customary, but at a level lower than in the United States. In very small country inns such tips are not expected but are appreciated. In family-run establishments, tips are generally not given to immediate family members, only to employees. Tip the hotel concierge only for special services or in response to special requests. Maids normally get no tip unless your stay is a week or more or service has been special. Big tips are not usual in Austrian restaurants, since 10% has already been included in the prices.
Comprehensive trip insurance is recommended for all vacations purchased through Vacays4U. Comprehensive policies typically cover trip cancellation and interruption, letting you cancel or cut your trip short because of illness, or, in some cases, acts of terrorism. Ask about insurance policies that cover evacuation and medical care. Some also cover you for trip delays because of bad weather or mechanical problems as well as for lost or delayed luggage.
Always read the fine print of your policy to make sure you’re covered for the risks that most concern you. Compare several policies to be sure you’re getting the best price and range of coverage available.