Getting there & away
Austria is well connected to the rest of the world. Vienna and four of the country’s regional capitals are served by no-frills airlines (plus regular airline services). Europe’s extensive bus and train networks crisscross the country and there are major highways from Germany and Italy. It’s also possible to enter Austria by boat from Hungary, Slovakia and Germany.
Except for the no-frills carriers, airlines themselves rarely offer the cheapest deals direct; it can pay, however, to explore their websites. A good travel agent can give you advice as well as a cheap deal, though internet purchases will often be better than these.
You can book online directly with airlines or web-based companies selling flights; the following are good places to start:
Expedia (www.expedia.com/www.expedia.co.uk) Online travel company listing major airlines; the earlier you book the better.
Last Minute (www.lastminute.com) One of the better sites for last-minute deals, including hotels.
STA Travel (www.statravel.com) Popular for international student travel, but you don’t necessarily have to be a student to take advantage of deals; website linked to worldwide STA sites.
The Danube (Donau) is a traffic-free access route for arrivals and departures from Austria. Since the early 1990s the Danube has been connected to the Rhine by the River Main tributary and the Main-Danube canal in southern Germany. The MS River Queen does 13-day cruises along this route, from Amsterdam to Vienna, between May and September from around £2000. It departs monthly in each direction.
In Britain bookings can be made through Noble Caledonia (020-7752 0000; www.noble-caledonia.co.uk); it also makes bookings for the MS Amadeus, which takes seven days to get from Passau to Budapest. In the USA, you can book through Uniworld (1-800-733-7820, 1-818-382-2700 outside the US; www.uniworld.com), which handles this and many other Danube tours.
Heading east, boats travel to Bratislava (hydrofoil one way/return €27/54, 1¼ hours) three times daily from April to late October, plus Friday and Saturday evening from May to October. These Twin City Liner ships dock at the DDSG quay between Marienbrücke and Schwedenbrücke in Vienna (tickets are also sold there in summer; note that a new quay on the Danube Canal is in planning). A hydrofoil to Budapest (one way/return €89/109, 5½ hours) runs daily from mid-April to late October from the Handelskai office of the company operating both services: DDSG Blue Danube (588 80; www.ddsg-blue-danube.at; Handelskai 265; 9am-5pm Mon-Fri, also 10am-4pm Sat & Sun Apr-Oct). Alternatively, bookings can be made through all Österreiches Verkehrsbüro offices.
Travelling by bus is a cheap but less comfortable way to cross Europe. It’s easiest to book with Eurolines (www.eurolines.com;798 29 00; www.eurolines.at; Erdbergstrasse 202; Graz 0316 67 11 55; Wiener Strassse 229), a consortium of coach companies with offices all over Europe.
Eurolines runs buses to/from London (Victoria coach station) and Vienna (one way/return €84/156, 23 hours, five or seven days per week); anyone under 26 or over 60 gets a 10% discount on most fares and passes. For other destinations see www.eurolines.com.
Blaguss/Eurolines has buses to Prague (one way/return €22/34, six hours, 8am and 5pm daily). Columbus Reisen (534 11-123; Dr Karl Lueger Ring 8; 9am-6pm Mon-Fri, 9am-noon Sat) handles advance bookings.
For quick trips around Europe, both Eurolines and Busabout (020-7950 1661; www.busabout.com), a London-based firm, have bus passes. The Eurolines Pass is priced according to season. A 15-day pass costs UK£135 to £225 for adults, or 30 days for UK£205 to £299 (less for those under 26). It covers 35 cities across Europe (including Vienna and Salzburg).
Busabout offers two passes for travel around 50 European cities. It splits them into three different ‘loops’ which you can combine. From May to September the Northern Loop starts from Paris and includes Vienna, Salzburg and St Johann in Tyrol, as well as Prague and several German cities (one/two/three loops UK£289/489/599). Its Flexipass (UK£239 six cities, UK£29 per extra city) is another option.
Getting to Austria by road is simple as there are fast and well-maintained motorways through all surrounding countries. The first thing to do is turn on your headlights – day or night – or you will face a €15 fine.
There are numerous entry points into Austria by road from Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and Switzerland. Liechtenstein is so small that it has just one border crossing point, near Feldkirch in Austria. The presence of the Alps limits options for approaching Tyrol from the south (Switzerland and Italy). All main border-crossing points are open 24 hours; minor crossings are open from around 6am or 8am until 8pm or 10pm.
Proof of ownership of a private vehicle and a driver’s licence should always be carried while driving. EU licences are accepted in Austria while all other nationalities require a German translation or an International Driving Permit (IDP). Third-party insurance is a minimum requirement in Europe and you’ll need to carry proof of this in the form of a Green Card.
Carrying a warning triangle and first-aid kit in your vehicle is also compulsory in Austria. If you’re a member of an automobile association, ask about free reciprocal benefits offered by affiliated organisations in Europe.
Austria benefits from its central location within Europe by having excellent rail connections to all important destinations. The Thomas Cook European Timetable gives all train schedules, supplements and reservations information. It is updated monthly and is available from Thomas Cook outlets. In the USA, call 800-367 7984.
Express trains can be identified by the symbols EC (EuroCity, serving international routes) or IC (InterCity, serving national routes). The French Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) and the German InterCityExpress (ICE) trains are even faster. Extra charges can apply on fast trains and international trains, and it is a good idea (sometimes obligatory) to make seat reservations for peak times and on certain lines.
Overnight trips usually offer a choice between a Liegewagen (couchette) or a more expensive Schlafwagen (sleeping car). Long-distance trains have a dining car or snacks available.
Vienna is one of the main rail hubs in Central Europ. Elsewhere in Austria, Salzburg has express-train connections in the direction of Munich (€27, 1½ to two hours), Linz towards Prague (€41, five hours) and Regensburg (€45, two to 3½ hours), Graz towards Budapest (€43, 6½ to 7½ hours) and Ljubljana (€31, three to 3½ hours), Klagenfurt towards Ljubljana (€21, 2½ hours) and Venice (€35, four hours); and Innsbruck north to Munich (€44, two hours), south to Verona (€45, 3½ to 4½ hours) and west to Zürich (€47, 3¾ hours). Most of the services listed above depart at least every two to three hours daily (these prices may vary slightly depending on the type of train service).
In the UK, buy tickets through Rail Europe (08705-848 848; www.raileurope.co.uk). Travel by train from London involves taking the Eurostar to Paris (UK£59 to £309 return) and connecting to Vienna. All up, it takes about 16 hours.
A valid passport is required when entering Austria. The only exception to this rule occurs when entering from another Schengen country (all EU states minus Britain and Ireland); in this case, only a national identity card is required. Procedures at border crossings from other EU countries are relatively lax compared with procedures at airports, and provincial capital airports are stricter than those in Vienna.
Vienna is the main transport hub for Austria, but Graz, Linz, Klagenfurt, Salzburg and Innsbruck all receive international flights. Flights to these cities are often a cheaper option than those to the capital, as are flights to Airport Letisko (Bratislava Airport) which is only 60km east of Vienna in Slovakia. Bregenz has no airport; your best bet is to fly into Friedrichshafen in Germany or Altenrhein in Switzerland. With advance booking, no-frills airlines can be very cheap.
Seriously consider booking early over the Christmas and New Year period; prices tend to soar at this time.
Graz (GRZ; 0316-29 02-0; www.flughafen-graz.at, in German)
Innsbruck (INN; 0512-225 25-0; www.innsbruck-airport.com, in German)
Klagenfurt (KLU; 0463-41 500; www.klagenfurt-airport.com)
Linz (LNZ; 07221-600-0; www.flughafen-linz.at)
Salzburg (SZG; 0662-85800; www.salzburg-airport.com, in German)
Vienna (VIE; 01-7007 22233; www.viennaairport.com)
From this side of the globe, it’s worth investigating round-the-world (RTW) tickets, as these may not be much more expensive than a straightforward return ticket. Check the travel agencies’ advertisements in the Yellow Pages and the Saturday travel sections of the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age in Melbourne and the New Zealand Herald.
From Australia, Austrian Airlines/Lauda Air offers flights via Bangkok to Vienna (five times weekly from Melbourne and Sydney). As with flights coming from North America, there are plenty of connections via London and Frankfurt.
For the location of STA Travel branches call 1300 733 035 or visit www.statravel.com.au. Flight Centre (133 133; www.flightcentre.com.au) has offices throughout Australia. For online bookings, try www.travel.com.au. In New Zealand, both Flight Centre (0800 243 544; www.flightcentre.co.nz) and STA Travel (0508 782 872; www.statravel.co.nz) have branches throughout the country. The site www.travel.co.nz is recommended for online bookings.
Like spokes on a wheel, flights go from Vienna to all parts of Europe. Routes to the east are as well covered as those to the west, with Austrian Airlines flying regularly to Bucharest, Kiev, Moscow, St Petersburg, Vilnius, Warsaw and Yekaterinburg (among other destinations).
Recommended agencies include:
France Anyway (0892 893 892; www.anyway.fr); Lastminute (0892 705 000; www.lastminute.fr); Nouvelles Frontières (0825 000 747; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr); OTU Voyages (www.otu.fr; specialises in student travel); Voyageurs du Monde (01 40 15 11 15; www.vdm.com)
Germany Expedia (www.expedia.de); Just Travel (089 747 3330; www.justtravel.de); Lastminute (01805 284 366; www.lastminute.de); STA Travel (01805 456 422; www.statravel.de; for travellers under the age of 26)
Italy CTS Viaggi (06 462 0431; www.cts.it, in Italian)
The Netherlands Airfair (020 620 5121; www.airfair.nl, in Dutch)
Discount air travel is big business in London. In addition to the travel sections of the major Sunday papers, check the travel classifieds in London’s weekly Time Out, the Evening Standard and in the free online magazine TNT (www.tntmagazine.com).
Flybe connects Salzburg with Exeter and Southampton. Ryanair flies from London-Stansted to Klagenfurt and Salzburg. Austrian Airlines flies via London from Dublin to Vienna; Aer Lingus flies there direct, and British Airways flies Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg to London, as well as Salzburg to Manchester.
Some of the more reliable agents in London include:
Flight Centre (0870 890 8099; www.flightcentre.co.uk)
Flightbookers (0870 814 4001; www.ebookers.com)
North-South Travel (01245 608 291; www.northsouthtravel.co.uk) North-South Travel donates part of their profits to projects in the developing world.
Quest Travel (0870 442 3542; www.questtravel.com)
STA Travel (0870 160 0599; www.statravel.co.uk) For travellers under the age of 26.
Trailfinders (020-7938 3939; www.trailfinders.co.uk)
Travelbag (0870 890 1456; www.travelbag.co.uk)
The North Atlantic is the world’s busiest long-haul air corridor, and various newspapers contain ads placed by consolidators (discount travel agencies). San Francisco is the ticket-consolidator capital of the US, although some good deals can be found in Los Angeles, New York and other big cities.
All direct flights from the USA arrive in Vienna. Austrian Airlines has one daily scheduled flight from Washington DC and New York, and most days from Chicago. Passengers from other destinations in the USA fly with United Airlines or US Airways flights from gateway cities.
The following agencies are recommended for online bookings:
American Express travel site www.itn.net
Cheap Tickets www.cheaptickets.com
Lowest Fare www.lowestfare.com
STA Travel www.sta.com (for travellers under the age of 26)
In Canada, Austrian Airlines flies direct from Toronto daily; flights to or from elsewhere in Canada are with Air Canada. Austrian Airlines uses Lufthansa via Frankfurt am Main (Germany) for its daily Montreal connection. One recommended travel agent is Travel CUTS (800-667-2887; www.travelcuts.com), Canada’s national student-travel agency.