Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

Whenever someone asks me about my favorite country, I answer “Austria” wholeheartedly. This small but mighty place is a bottomless treasure chest and I feel honored to have grown up here and still call it home.

There are some things you should know before embarking on your Austria adventure. With these insider tips – covering everything from transportation to table manners – and a few astounding facts up your sleeve, you’ll have all the intel you need for a smooth and memorable trip.

1. Spend at least a week in Austria

While it might be tempting to hop over and explore Vienna on a weekend break or pass through on a whirlwind European tour, do yourself a favor and plan to stay at least an entire week in Austria. The country is so much more than its (admittedly incredible) capital. Make time to venture into the countryside and explore lesser-known places such as Steyr in Upper Austria, Leoben in Styria or Lake Millstatt in Carinthia.

2. Skip Vienna’s CAT and take the local train instead

The city airport train (CAT for short) is heavily advertised throughout Vienna airport, kind of implying that it’s the only option. But there are several other ways to get to the city center, including bus and express train, that are cheaper than CAT tickets. These usually won’t take longer than 25 minutes. The quickest way is to hop on ÖBB’s Railjet which will get you to the main station within 15 minutes.

3. Consider arriving by (night) train

Austria is well-connected train-wise. If you are planning a bigger Europe trip, or have the time and means, skip the plane and opt to arrive by train instead. There’s a plethora of options during the day and connections to more than 25 cities in seven countries with the ÖBB Nightjet.

Brenner Railway in the Austrian Alps
Austria is well connected by rail and if you plan to travel extensively, there are good deals to be had © Leonid Andronov / Getty Images

4. An ÖBB Vorteilscard will save you lots when planning a train-based trip

Austria’s railway network is pretty extensive and will get you to most places comfortably and on time. Keep an eye out for Sparschiene tickets. These are discounted tickets for certain days and times. If you like to be more flexible and plan to take multiple train journeys in Austria, sign up for a Vorteilscard online. It’s €66, valid for an entire year, and entitles you to a 50% discount on all train journeys operated by ÖBB (except for night trains).


Trains, ferries and bikes: our best tips for getting around in Austria.

5. Always buy a ticket for public transportation

In Austria, you can hop on any train or tram (and even most buses) without having to show a ticket, unlike other European cities such as London. Here it’s a trust-based system. Check out ÖBB’s “SimplyGo!” app, activating your journey online before you get on the train, bus or tram and then deactivating it when you arrive. You’ll be billed the next day and won’t be caught trying to cheat the system. Be aware that the app uses GPS to help you get the cheapest ticket, so could eat your international roaming data. However, many bigger train stations and trains offer free WiFi.

6. Head to a local bakery

Austrians love their Gebäck (pastries) in the morning and Jause (open sandwich) in the evening. Seek out a traditional local bakery and explore what’s on display. Each type of bread roll has a different name, and there are more pastries than you could ever imagine. And did you know that croissants are not French but an Austrian invention?

7. On Sundays, we rest

We take the weekend seriously. Most shops, including supermarkets, are closed on Sundays. There might be some farmers’ markets or flea markets taking place, but stores in general are closed. Some bakeries and smaller supermarkets in bigger train stations such as Vienna main station or Linz main station are open, but with a very limited selection.

Man standing on Schafberg Mountain, Austria, overlooking a lake.
This may come as a shock, but locals don’t need to hear your rendition of The Hills are Alive © Jonathon Stokes / Lonely Planet

8. Most Austrians have never seen or heard of The Sound of Music

When I travel abroad, especially in the Americas, people often mention The Sound of Music when they find out where I’m from. Funnily enough, most Austrians have never even heard of the musical film from 1965 with Julie Andrews that won five Academy Awards – so it’s probably not the best conversation starter.

9. Don’t mistake Austrians for Germans

Don’t ever compare Austrians to Germans and suggest they are the same. The two countries share a bit of friendly rivalry, similar to the USA and Canada, Chile and Argentina, and England and Scotland.

While we speak the same language (on paper), Austria’s dialects across the nine states vary greatly – and some of them aren’t even understood by fellow Austrians. We might have some cultural similarities with the Germans, but you’re not doing yourself a favor by saying that out loud. Stay away from that topic during the day – but if you’re going out with local friends in the evening, you could start a conversation to get their unique take on it.

10. Greetings have evolved

Before the pandemic, it was a firm handshake on business occasions and when meeting for the first time – or a kiss on each cheek for friends and family. The handshake has returned after a weird fist bump intermezzo during the pandemic. Friends and family still do the two kisses on the cheeks, but often combine them with a hug – or just hug and leave out the kisses.

If you are unsure how to greet someone, stick to the handshake and if the other person reaches out for friendly cheek kisses, then go with it – if that’s what you want.

11. When in Vienna…

Vienna has developed into a magical metropolis that offers it all – with a twist. Don’t take it personally when a waiter or waitress in the capital hardly looks at you, snaps, or doesn’t seem to be overjoyed to see you. That’s part of the Viennese spirit.

12. Never order Schnitzel with sauce, opt for lingonberry instead

Austrian cuisine is hearty and for those with a sweet tooth. In most restaurants, you’ll find Wiener Schnitzel on the menu. While in neighboring countries, schnitzel is served with sauce, never ever pour sauce on your Schnitzel in Austria. The breaded meat (traditionally veal, but most often served in a pork or turkey version) is crispy, and you don’t want to drown it. Traditionally, it is served with lingonberry jam instead – trust me on that, it is delicious.

Top tip: Whenever eating with other people, wait until everyone is served and then start your meal together.

Eat your way through Austria with our food and drink guide.

Visitors drinking in the sun at Stieglkeller's beer garden, Salzburg, Austria
Tipping isn’t a prerequisite in Austria, but it’s worth giving a euro or two if you’re happy with restaurant or bar service © Jonathon Stokes / Lonely Planet

13. Tipping isn’t mandatory, but it is appreciated

There are big cultural differences when it comes to tipping across the world. In Austria, there’s no set rule of tipping 5% or 20%. If you liked the service and the food, round up to the next euro(s). If you weren’t happy, don’t feel pressured to leave a tip.

14. There are hardly any scams, but look out on the train from the airport

Austria is one of the safest places you can travel to, whether you’re visiting with friends and family or traveling solo. But it’s wise not to keep your wallet in your back pocket or an open purse. One place I’d be particularly wary of my belongings is the train from the airport to Vienna main station. Don’t put your backpack or carry-on in the overhead compartments, and watch your luggage.

15. Enjoy the Trinkwasser

Austria’s tap water is ranked among the best in the European Union. Straight from the alps through the pipes into your glass. No need to buy bottled water during your stay in Austria. Bring your own reusable bottle and simply enjoy the tasty and refreshing tap water. Did you know that even most lakes are of such excellent quality that they qualify as potable water?


By Lala