Transport systems in Austria are highly developed and generally very efficient, and reliable information is usually available in English. Individual bus and train Fahrplan (timetables) are readily available, as are helpful annual timetables.
Austria’s main rail provider is the Österreiche Bundesbahn (ÖBB; Austrian Federal Railways; www.oebb.at), which has an extensive countrywide rail network. This is supplemented by a handful of private railways. Wherever trains don’t run, a Postbus (www.postbus.at) usually does. Timetables and prices for many train and bus connections can be found online at www.oebb.at.
Most provinces have an integrated transport system offering day passes covering regional zones for both bus and train travel.
The Danube serves as a thoroughfare between Vienna and Lower and Upper Austria. Services are generally slow, scenic excursions rather than functional means of transport. Some of the country’s larger lakes, such as Bodensee and Wörthersee, have boat services.
Hitching is never entirely safe anywhere in the world and we don’t recommend it. Travellers who decide to hitch should understand that they are taking a potentially serious risk. Those who choose to hitch will be safer if they travel in pairs and let someone know where they are planning to go. An alternative is to check notice boards at universities for people looking for passengers to share a trip.
The Postbus (Post Bus) network is best considered a backup to the rail service, more useful for reaching out-of-the-way places and local destinations than for long-distance travel. Rail routes are sometimes duplicated by bus services, but buses really come into their own in the more inaccessible mountainous regions. Buses are fairly reliable, and usually depart from outside train stations. For remote travel, plan a day or two ahead and go on a weekday; services are reduced on Saturday, often nonexistent on Sunday.
For nationwide bus information, call 01-711 01 between 7am and 8pm, or log on to the websites www.oebb.at or www.postbus.at. Local bus stations or tourist offices usually stock free timetables for specific bus routes.
Buses are the mainstay of local transport in Austria. Towns that require some form of public transport will at least have a local bus system; it will be well used, comprehensive and efficient.
Keep alert when you’re about to get off a bus: if you haven’t pressed the request button and there’s nobody waiting at the bus stop, the driver will go right past it.
Many of Austria’s larger cities, such as Graz, Linz and Vienna, supplement their bus systems with convenient and environmentally friendly trams. Most towns have an integrated transport system, meaning you can switch between bus and tram routes on the same ticket.
Driving in Austria is a pleasure; roads are well maintained, signs are everywhere and rules are usually adhered to. The use of Personenkraftwagen (PKW) or Auto (cars) is often discouraged in city centres though, and it is a good idea to ditch your trusty chariot and rely on public transport.
The fastest roads around the country are the autobahns, identified on maps by national ‘A’ numbers or pan-European ‘E’ numbers. These are subject to a general motorway tax. Their course is often shadowed by Bundesstrassen (alternative routes), which are as direct as the terrain will allow, sometimes using tunnels to maintain their straight lines. In the mountains, you can opt instead for smaller, slower roads that wind over mountain passes. These can add to your journey but the scenery often makes up for the extra time and kilometres. Some minor passes are blocked by snow from November to May. Carrying snow chains in winter is highly recommended and may be compulsory in some areas.
Cars can be transported by Autoreisezüge (motorail trains). Vienna is linked by a daily motorail service to Feldkirch (€95, 5½ hours), Innsbruck (€76, 4¾ hours), Lienz (€69, six hours), Salzburg (€40, 3½ hours) and Villach (€62, four hours), as is Graz to Feldkirch (€86, eight hours) and Villach to Feldkirch (€76, 7½ hours). Over 200 Austrian train stations offer Park and Ride facilities (free or cheap parking while you continue your journey by train). In rural areas, petrol stations may close on Sundays.
Motorcycling is a popular pastime in Austria, and many mountain passes play host to a multitude of riders over the summer months. Motorcyclists and their passengers must wear a helmet, and dipped lights must be used in daytime. As with cars, motorbikes should also carry a first-aid kit. The National Austrian Tourist Office can provide you with the Austrian Classic Tour brochure, which covers 3000km of the best roads for bikers in the country.
The minimum age for hiring a car is 19 for small cars and 25 for prestige models, and a valid licence, issued at least a year ago, is required. If you plan to take the car across the border, especially into Eastern Europe, let the rental company know beforehand and double-check for any add-on fees.
For the lowest rates, organise car rental before departure. Holiday Autos (www.holidayautos.com) often offers very low rates and has offices or representatives in over 20 countries. By booking early, prices can be about 60% of those charged by the international companies.
Shop around to get the best deal; prices between the large multinational companies can vary wildly and local companies often undercut their bigger competitors. Expect rates for an economy-class car rental with insurance and unlimited kilometres over a three-day weekday to cost about €80 to €100 per day. This includes collision-damage waiver limiting liability to nothing or about €450, and insurance against theft of the vehicle. Drivers under 25 are usually required to pay €5 to €6 on top (more with Avis). Cheaper deals can be found on weekends or as special offers. All the multinational rental companies are present in Austria, plus LaudaMotion, a newcomer offering unusual cars. You should be able to make advance reservations online, or arrange something after arriving in Austria through one of the following companies:
Avis (01-1 5876241; www.avis.at)
Denzeldrive (01-740 20-0; www.denzeldrive.at, in German)
Europcar (01-866 1633; www.europcar.at)
Hertz (01-795 32; www.hertz.at)
LaudaMotion (0900 240 120; www.laudamotion.com, in German)
Sixt (1-5036616; www.sixt.at, in German)
Third-party insurance is a minimum requirement in Austria. All companies offer Personal Accident Insurance (PAI) and Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) for an additional charge, although PAI may not be necessary if you or your passengers hold personal travel insurance.
A Vignitte (motorway tax) is imposed on all autobahn; charges for cars below 3.5 tonnes are €7.60 for 10 days, €21.80 for two months and €72.60 for one year. For motorbikes expect to pay €4.30 for 10 days, €10.90 for two months and €29 for one year. Vignitte can be purchased from motoring organisations, border crossings, petrol stations, post offices and Tabak shops.
Anything above 3.5 tonnes is charged per kilometre. The system uses a GO-Box, available from petrol stations along the autobahn for €5, which records the kilometres you travel via an electronic tolling system. A minimum of €45 must be loaded onto the box the first time, and €50 each time after that (maximum €500). Information on the system and prices can be found online at www.go-maut.at.
A toll is levied on some mountain roads and tunnels (not covered by the motorway tax).
Most town centres have a designated Kurzparkzone (short-term parking zone), where on-street parking is limited to a maximum of 1½ or three hours (depending upon the place) between certain specified times. Parkschein (parking vouchers) for such zones can be purchased from Tabak shops or pavement dispensers and then displayed on the windscreen. Outside the specified time, parking in the Kurzparkzone is free.
Like much of Europe, Austria’s train network is a dense web reaching the country’s far-flung corners. The system is fast, efficient, frequent and well used. ÖBB (24-hr information 05 17 17; www.oebb.at) is the main operator, and is supplemented with a handful of private lines.
The German for train station is Bahnhof (abbreviated as Bf); the main train station is the Hauptbahnhof (abbreviated as Hbf). Some small rural stations are unstaffed and tickets cannot be bought there; these stations are indicated on timetables by a rectangle with a diagonal line through the middle. All reasonably sized stations have facilities for exchanging foreign currency or travellers cheques and make some provision for luggage storage, either at a staffed counter or in 24-hour luggage lockers. Many stations have information centres where the staff speak English, and display information on special tickets and deals.
Bahnsteig (platforms) at train stations are divided into zones (A, B and sometimes C) and may be used for more than one train. Note that trains occasionally split en route so be sure to sit in the correct carriage. Diagram boards on the platforms show the carriage order (1st or 2nd class, dining car etc) of IC and EC trains. Separate yellow posters in stations list Ankunft (arrivals) and Abfahrt (departures).
The type and speed of a train can be identified by its prefix. EuroCity (EC), InterCity (IC) and InterCityExpress (ICE) are all express trains, stopping only at major stations; they usually include a dining car. EuroNight (EN) is an international night train, with Schlafwagen (sleeping cars) and Liegewagen (couchettes). D (Schnellzug) are fast trains while E (Eilzug) are medium-fast trains that stop at some smaller stations. Slow, local trains have no letter prefix and stop at all stations. On small local trains serving relatively isolated routes, there may be a button to press to request the train to stop (as on buses). Trains have smoking and nonsmoking compartments, though Vienna’s S-Bahn trains are nonsmoking only.
Long-distance express trains always provide the choice of travelling in 1st or 2nd class, while overnight trains have the option of a Schlafwagen or Liegewagen. Most local services have 2nd-class carriages only.
Austrian train fares are priced according to distance: €1.90 for 10km, €8.30 for 50km, €16.20 for 100km. These fares are for 2nd class; the equivalent rate in 1st class is €6.70, €16.80 and €27.80. Fares for children aged six to 15 are half-price; younger kids travel free if they don’t take up a seat. Small pets (in suitable containers) travel free; larger pets travel at half-price.
Tickets can be purchased on most trains but they cost €3 extra (unless you board at an unstaffed station or the ticket machine is out of order). Credit cards, Eurocheque cards and Eurocheques are accepted at all stations and in ticket machines.
One-way tickets for journeys of 100km or under are valid for only one day and the journey can’t be broken. For trips of 101km or more, the ticket is valid for one month and you can alight en route, but you should tell the conductor so your ticket can be suitably endorsed if necessary. This is worth doing, as longer trips cost less per kilometre. Return tickets of up to 100km each way are also valid for one day; tickets for longer journeys are valid for one month, though the initial outward journey must still be completed within three days. A return fare is usually the equivalent price of two one-way tickets.
Reduced rail fares on both national and international routes are sometimes available for those aged under 26; show your passport and ask.
It’s possible to buy tickets in advance on some routes, but on others you can only buy tickets from the drivers. More often than not, though, there is no need to make reservations as most Austrians and tourists use the railway system.
Reserving seats in 2nd class within Austria costs €3 for most express services; in 1st class, it’s free. If you haven’t done so, check (before you sit) whether your intended seat has already been reserved by someone else. Reservations are recommended for travel on weekends.
Austria’s local transport infrastructure is excellent, inexpensive and safe. It runs from about 5am or 6am to midnight, though in smaller towns evening services may be patchy or finish for the night much earlier.
Tickets will generally cover all forms of public transport in a town or city. Passes and multi-trip tickets are available in advance from Tabak shops, pavement dispensers, and occasionally tourist offices. They usually need to be validated upon first use in the machine on buses or trams. In some towns drivers will sell single tickets, but rarely passes. Single tickets may be valid for one hour, 30 minutes, or a single journey, depending on the place, and cost about €1.70. If you’re a senior, attending school in Austria, or travelling as a family, you may be eligible for reduced-price tickets in some towns.
You can usually buy excellent value one-day or 24-hour tickets which often only cost double the price of a single ticket. Weekly or three-day passes may be available too, as well as multi-trip tickets, which will work out cheaper than buying individual tickets for each journey.
Fines for travelling without a valid ticket easily outweigh the price it would have cost to buy one. Depending on the inspector, you could have real problems if you aren’t carrying enough cash to pay the fine at the time you’re caught.
Vienna is the only city with a metro.
Flying in a country the size of Austria is not really necessary. Those who for special reasons do need to fly, though, will find a couple of airlines serving longer routes.
Austrian Airlines, and its subsidiaries Tyrolean Airways and Austrian Arrow offer several flights daily between Vienna and Graz, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Linz and Salzburg, and also flights between Graz and Linz, and Linz and Salzburg.
Cycling is a popular activity in Austria, and most regional tourist boards have brochures on cycling facilities and routes within their region. Separate bike tracks are common, not only in cities, but also in the country. The Danube cycling trail is something of a Holy Grail for cyclists, though there are many other excellent bike routes in the country. Most are close to lakes or rivers, where there are fewer hills to contend with.
It’s possible to take bicycles on any train with a bicycle symbol at the top of its timetable; these trains are either regional or Eilzüge (medium-fast trains). A transferable bicycle ticket valid on trains costs €2.90 per day, €7.50 per week and €22.50 per month. Sending a bike by courier as a Bahnkurierpaket costs €29 within Austria, arranged directly at the counter in the station. On some EC and IC trains you can accompany your bike (€6.80 for a day ticket). An international ticket for a bike costs €12 per day.
All large cities have at least one bike shop that doubles as a rental centre. In places where cycling is a popular pastime, such as the Wachau in Lower Austria and the Neusiedler See in Burgenland, almost all small towns have a rental shop and train stations have rental facilities. Rates vary from town to town, but expect to pay around €10 per day.