Austria travel guide
Despite its small size, Austria has a long-established international reputation, which is why most visitors arrive with heads full of Habsburg, Mozart and Alpine visions. Some expectations are delightfully met – the mountain scenery is breathtakingly real, there are the omnipresent fingerprints of the old empire in Vienna, and home-grown musical icons Mozart, Schubert and Strauss are championed everywhere – but Austria also has a few surprises up its sleeve in the form of contemporary art, cutting-edge architecture and innovative cuisine.
Austria is frequently cited as one of the best places to live in Europe, and it is not difficult to see why. Remarkably safe and clean, it offers plenty of affordable culture, natural beauty and elegant Baroque and neoclassical architecture, as well as an efficient public transport system.
It’s also surprisingly varied. You can hurtle down a black run in the skiing paradises of Kitzbühel and St Anton, or cosy up with a hot drink in one of Vienna’s famous coffee houses. You can skate across icy lakes in winter or seek out wildflower meadows on summertime hikes. You can wonder at the intricate church interiors and the ostentatious opulence of the old Habsburg palaces, or indulge in a more low-key aspect of Mitteleuropa culture over a steaming goulash in a rustic country inn. Or you can ride a horse through pretty wooded tracts, get an eyeful of Rubens, Raphael and Rembrandt, and marvel at Hundertwasser House in Vienna – a fantastical housing complex characterised by its vivid patterns and mismatched colours.
Don’t try to squeeze it all in though. More than anything, Austria is a place to recline, relax and relish. Its natural beauty is the result of many millennia of natural activity and its grand art, architecture and culture was painstakingly created by many hands over many centuries. These aren’t sights to be hurriedly ticked off a list; allow yourself plenty of time to luxuriate.
83,871 sq km (32,382 sq miles).
8,580,012 (UN estimate 2016).
103 per sq km.
President Alexander van der Bellen since January 2017.
Chancellor Christian Kern since 2016.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. European plugs with two round pins are standard.
Last updated: 13 March 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
There is a low rate of crime, but petty crime does occur and you should take the usual precautions to avoid becoming a victim. Do not leave valuables unattended. Be especially vigilant around major public transport hubs and city centre parks after dark. Safeguard your valuables against pick-pockets, especially in the major cities when tourists can be targeted for passports and money. If you’re travelling on international trains to or from Austria you should be especially aware of your luggage.
If you are planning a skiing holiday, for advice on weather and safety conditions before you travel contact the Austrian Tourist Agency by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 00800 400 200 00. Off-piste skiing is highly dangerous. You should follow all safety instructions carefully given the danger of avalanches in some areas and in particular in times of heavy snow. Always check with the local tourist offices on current snow and weather conditions on arrival. Avalanche beepers (receivers) are the most common rescue devices and when properly used provide the fastest way of locating an avalanche victim. You can get information about the risk of an avalanche occurring by email: email@example.com or by visiting the websites of the Tirol Avalanche Warning Service or the European Avalanche Warning Service. Take extra care during the spring season, as this is when avalanches most commonly occur.
Read more about how to stay safe on the slopes.
When driving in Austria, you should always carry your full British licence, ownership documents and insurance details. You must be at least 18 years of age to drive in Austria unless you are learning under supervision and have met the relevant legal requirements.
In 2015 there were 475 road deaths in Austria (Source: Department for Transport. This equates to 5.5 road deaths per 100,000 of population and compares UK average of 2.8 road deaths per 100,000 of population in 2015.
The legal drink driving limit in Austria is 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The limit is 10 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood for coach/HGV drivers and those who have had a licence for less than two years. Penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol are severe.
You must carry a high visibility warning vest and wear it when exiting the vehicle on the hard shoulder or in the event of breakdown. You must also have a first aid kit and a warning triangle inside the car. Only ‘hands free’ mobile telephones can be used whilst driving.
It is no longer compulsory for cars to be driven with headlights switched on throughout the day all year round. If you are travelling in a right-hand drive car you will need headlamp converters in the form of stickers that can be put on your headlights when you are driving on the right.
Motorists in Austria must form an emergency corridor as soon as traffic ceases to progress and congestion is imminent on motorways or dual carriageways and highways, regardless of whether emergency vehicles are already in the vicinity or not.
If you use Austrian motorways (‘Autobahn’) and ‘S’ roads you must display a motorway vignette (sticker) on the inside of the windscreen of your vehicle as you enter Austria. Failure to have one will mean a heavy, on-the-spot fine. You can get a motorway vignette at all major border crossings into Austria and at larger petrol stations.
All vehicles above 3.5 tonnes maximum permitted laden weight using motorways and expressways must have a small device – called the ‘GO-BOX ‘ – attached to the windscreen. This includes larger private vehicles like motor caravans that are above the weight limit. If your vehicle is close to the weight limit you should carry proof of the maximum permitted laden weight. If your registration documents don’t clearly state this, you will need to produce alternative certification, eg from a weighbridge
The GO-BOX uses the high frequency range to communicate with toll points, making it possible to effect an automatic toll deduction without slowing down or stopping. They can be obtained for a one-off fee of Euro 5.00 at sales centres in Austria and neighbouring countries, or online.
If you are stopped by police on the motorway the police officer will identify him or herself. Unmarked vehicles will have a flashing electronic sign in the rear window, which reads ‘Stopp’, ‘Polizei’ and ’Folgen’. If you are in any doubt, contact the police on the emergency number 133. Drivers have the right to ask to speak to uniformed patrolmen.
There is a ban on all lorries over 7.5 tonnes laden weight (without a trailer) or over 3.5 tonnes (with a trailer) which applies throughout the year on all motorways on Saturdays between 15:00 and 24:00 and all day on Sundays and public holidays. Lorries over 7.5 tonnes laden weight are also prohibited from using motorways throughout the year between 22:00 and 05:00. There is a ban on lorries over 7.5 tonnes laden weight overtaking on several motorways. Look out for special signs.
The Transport Ministry and ASFINAG (the semi-privatised motorway operator) carry out stringent checks on HGVs. All vehicles must be roadworthy and correctly documented. Vehicles found to have defects are likely to be impounded until the completion of necessary repairs.
Road travel in winter (1 November to 15 April)
All vehicles must be adapted to winter road conditions between 1 November and 15 April. Snow chains on the driving wheels will only be allowed as an alternative where the road is fully covered by snow and/or ice and the road surface will not be damaged by the chains. Chains or summer tyres will not be allowed for slush conditions. Heavy fines or temporary loss of vehicle may be imposed on those who ignore this legislation.
If you use an individual paper ticket on a bus, tram or train, make sure you validate it in the machine on the vehicle or in the station. If you don’t validate your ticket, you may have to pay a high, on-the-spot fine.