Traveler's Tongue Austria - An alpine land of fairy tale castles, Mozart, and Wiener schnitzel...

Austria

Travel to the magical land of Austria

An alpine land of fairy tale castles, Mozart, and Wiener schnitzel, Austria is a must see. The Austrians are friendly and benevolent hosts to a wide array of landscapes from mountains, glaciers, forested valleys and hills to lakes, plains, and vineyards. Summers are moderate, typically in the mid 70’s. Winters can get bitterly cold but Austria features numerous attractions for winter sports. Come enjoy the good life with a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and hearty food when you visit Austria.

About the country

Austrians object to comparison with Germans, even if, on the surface level, they seem similar. They speak, for the most part, the same language, and Austria was, from the earliest stirrings of World War II until the war’s end, an active part of Germany’s Third Reich. Perhaps that is why Austrians distance themselves from their shared heritage with Germany, particularly Bavaria. In fact the mad king of Bavaria, Ludwig II, actually lived right on the border between Bavaria and Austria at the castle Neuschwanstein near the Austrian town of Pinswang. Austrians have not fared so well whenever they’ve hitched their wagon to Germany’s star through two world wars.

Before that Austria was the crown jewel of the wealthy Austro-Hungarian Empire, with its capital Vienna a crossroads for numerous cultures throughout Europe. Indeed even today, a glance at the bordering countries of land locked Austria gives a good indication of the diversity of cultures: proceeding north clockwise, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland.

Austria is divided into nine states, which is first how the locals identify themselves, with each state offering a slightly different culture. While Vienna is a large metropolitan area, most of Austria is rural countryside and farm lands.

Getting in, out, and about

Austria is a member of the Schengen Agreement, which allows free travel with only a passport to and from all of its other member countries for residents in the Schengen Area. US travelers only need a passport, which is good for 90 days within a six month period inside the Schengen area. Your passport should be good for at least 90 days past your intended stay in case of an emergency.

Unlike many other European countries, including other Schengen states, Austria does allow you to change your passport status while you are in the country, however the processing usually takes more than 90 days to complete, so it’s not advisable to try to get some other kind of visa while you are there or in the Schengen area at all.

There are no required vaccinations, nor is there a minimum restriction on how much money you can bring in. If you are carrying more than the equivalent of €10,000 in cash, you will need to declare it. You should make sure you are up to date on the more common vaccinations and consult with your doctor about your vacation plans in case you need any other additional vaccinations.

If you carry prescription medicine for health concerns, you should check with an Austrian consul or embassy before you go about restrictions on the medications you can carry. Austria has recently passed strict laws regarding transfer of legal drugs across its borders.

Vienna has a big airport with many international flights coming in, but it’s not always the ideal place to fly into, depending on your vacation plans. If you’re going for winter sports such as skiing, you should probably fly into another nearby European city, Zurich, for instance, instead. Vienna is actually far away from most of the resorts, at least a four hour drive.

Money matters in Austria

Austria is not as expensive a place to travel to as some other European spots such as Switzerland. It is a bit more expensive than other Eastern European countries and comparable to travel in Germany. Vienna is the most expensive part of Austria, and it gets less expensive as you move into the more rural western Austria. Like other members of the European Union, Austria uses the euro as its main form of currency.

For a vacation consisting of stays in midrange hotels, a couple of daily meals, and moderate money spent on sight-seeing, expect to spend about $150-200 USD a day. You can mitigate these costs and travel on a more modest budget when you stay in hostels or campsites, purchase bus and train passes in advance for your transportation needs, and buy groceries instead of eating out at restaurants. By making shrewd choices, a backpacker can enjoy Austria for less than $100 USD a day, although your vacation will be of the rougher variety.

Most places accept credit cards, with Master Card and Visa being the most commonly accepted forms, but some places only accept cash. Commission charges on changing your money can be expensive, so it’s best to change large sums of money at once. You can do this at banks or designated money changers, or ATMs, which typically operate until midnight.

In Austria, it’s appropriate to tip 5-10% for excellent service. Service industry workers do not rely on tips for their wages as they do in the US, so larger tips are unnecessary. Tipping tour guides, hotel porters, and housecleaning staff is also common.

All nonperishable goods purchased in Austria get a 20% tax added on. If you are not a resident of the Schengen area and spend more than €75 on a single purchase that you plan on carrying out of the country, you can get a refund on this tax. Be sure and ask the sale’s clerk and get your receipt stamped. You can later claim the refund at the airport customs before you leave.

The traveler’s tongue

The national language of Austria is German, and it’s mostly the same as it is spoken in Germany, but with some vocabulary and pronunciation differences. In addition, each state has its own dialect as well, but almost everyone speaks and understands German.

English speakers proliferate throughout Austria, even in some of the more rural areas. Nevertheless it’s a good idea to learn at least a little bit of German. Your hosts will appreciate attempts to speak their language, even if they frequently switch to English to answer you.

Highlights

You will find numerous sights to see and things to do on your vacation to Austria. Here are some of the highlights.

  • Vienna. Once the lively imperial capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna features numerous architectural marvels including Schönbrunn Palace and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. The orchestras are world renowned, particularly the Austrian Boys’ Choir. Numerous museums allow you to explore Austria’s illustrious past and great works of art as well.
  • Salzburg. The birthplace of Mozart is also the musical center of Austria, and you can catch concerts daily.
  • The castles of Hohenschwengau, Linderhof, and Neuschwanstein. In the state of Tyrol near the border of Bavaria Germany you can step back into the past with these awe inspiring castles. There are also numerous mountaineering activities, including hiking and, in the winter, skiing in this region of Austria.
  • Along the Danube. West of Vienna flows one of the great rivers of Europe. It’s perfect for hiking or romantic picnics along its banks.
  • The Grossglockner High Alpine Road. Rent a car or bicycle along this high road, which will provide numerous vistas for your camera.
  • Burg Riegersberg. This castle is the seat of the ruling family in Liechtenstein, but entry is inexpensive and well worth it.

In addition to these highlights, you will find numerous opportunities to hike, bicycle, ski, or snowboard. The hiking trails in Austria are well mapped and well maintained, featuring huts that you can stay in overnight up in the mountains.

Start your vacation planning today

Winter and summer are the high tourist seasons, and Austria is a popular place for travelers to visit throughout Europe, so plan your vacation accordingly and enjoy your trip to this fairy tale land.

About the Author

C.W. Garay is an alumnus from the University of North Texas, where he received both his BA in psychology and an MA in English, specializing in creative writing, fiction. When not traveling he resides in Denton, TX, rated as the number one small town in which to live in the US according to Business Insider’s 2013 survey. In addition to writing articles on traveling, he also writes fiction under a pseudonym. He can be reached via email at cwgaray@gmail.com.