There's nothing like hitting the highway in Austria.

Hitting the open road in your own vehicle gives the flexibility to reach the remote corners and great heights of this small country, and the freedom to stop, hike, bike, bathe, and boat to soak in all the surrounding scenery and nature. 

Driving in dreamscape Austria is easy with well-maintained roads, readily available petrol stations and charging points for electric vehicles, and a stack of rest stops and roadside facilities. Enjoy the seamless and scenic transition through the windshield from classical city and historical town to boundless prairies and vineyards, majestic mountain ranges, and the crystal-clear waters of Austria's shimmeringly spectacular lakes. 

From cross-country autobahns to winding mountain passes, here’s our pick of the best road trips in Austria.

1. Grossglockner High Alpine Road

Best road trip for high mountain pass scenery
Fusch an der Glocknerstrasse, Salzburgerland to Heiligenblut, Carinthia, 48km (30 miles)

Only the brave traversed this dangerous path on foot before the construction of Austria’s highest mountain pass in 1935. Now, two- and four-wheel enthusiasts can carve through the Hohe Tauern National Park on the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, whose scenery smacking 36 hairpin turns coil 2500m (8202ft) above sea level before descending across-state into Carinthia.

Half the country's animal species are here, including ibex and golden eagles and the upstaging alpine marmots; a carousel of museums and exhibits along the route highlights conservation efforts. Make a beeline to the emperor-approved Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe observation deck at 2369m (7772ft) for the unbeatable views of the snowcapped 3798m (12,460ft) summit of the Grossglockner peak and the mighty 8km-long (5-mile) Pasterze glacier at its foot. Hikers can pick up the panoramic trailheads here, including the Gamsgrubenweg tunnel-cut track to an alternative glacial lookout. The Edelweissspitze is the highest accessible point at 2571m (8435ft), with a mountain inn serving a traditional menu from schnitzel to strudel.

Planning tip: The Grossglocker High Alpine Road is only open between May and November (day ticket for cars, €43), but always check the weather conditions and what viewpoints are accessible before heading out.

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A spa town tucked into the folds of hillsides
Drive the Austrian Romantic Road from Vienna to Salzburg, with a stop in the spa town of Bad Ischl © saiko3p / Getty Images

2. The Austrian Romantic Road

Best trip for heritage sites and famed lakes
Vienna to Salzburg, 450km (280 miles)

Named for its conveyor belt of sumptuous sights, the Austrian Romantic Road starts by following the meandering curves of the Danube River on a trail of history-stacked highlights and UNESCO World Heritage sites between Vienna and Salzburg.

Weave through the winemaking region from the monastery-topped Klosterneuburg to the Wachau Valley's gateway town of Krems and the medieval streets of Benedictine monastery-bound Melk. Linger in the quintessential Danube hamlet of Grein and continue to monumental Steyr and Scharnstein – the valley-set teasers before you hit the lake main event of the Salzkammergut, through a route from historic imperial spa haven Bad Ischl and mountainous Dachstein to the bounty trio of beautiful basins, Hallstatt, St Wolfgang and Mondsee.

Planning tip: Don’t cram this all into a pit stop of sites. Spend one week comfortably road-tripping this nature-wrapped heritage hop.

Rolling vineyards over hills at sunset
Linger a while for a glass of wine in the vineyards and estates along the South Styrian Wine Route © Przemek Iciak / Shutterstock

3. South Styrian Wine Road (Südsteirische Weinstraße)

Best trip for cuisine and wine
Ehrenhausen to Leutschach, Styria, 25km (16 miles)

This drive takes you along Austria’s famed South Styrian Wine Road (Südsteirische Weinstraße) through the state’s largest wine-growing region. On a stretch between Ehrenhausen to Leutschach, village hop through a string of soft sloping vineyards on the green quilted meadows bordering Slovenia.

Those looking to indulge in the fruits of the scenery and sample the season’s harvest – from Sauvignon Blanc and Morillon whites to the Schilcher and Blauer Zweigelt red grape varieties – can book into wine estates with accommodation. Hire a bike and make your own full-day tasting tour through the undulating roads to the terraced hill topper Buschenschänken (local wine taverns), serving cold snacks paired with the regional pumpkin seed oil speciality.

Detour: Consider a circular route starting and ending in Graz so you can spend time in Austria's culinary capital.

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A mountain range in the clouds with a small chapel on the bank of a river
Soak in the views over the Julian Alps near Villach © Ewa Olek / Getty Images

4. Villach Alpine Road

Best road trip for southern alpine views
Villach-Möltschach to Rosstratte, 16.5km (10 miles)

Carinthia is known for its warm water ground lakes, but twist up the 11 tight mountain bends of the Villach Alpine Road on the Dobratsch mountain range and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best viewpoints in southern Austria. On the journey to the highest point – Rosstratte point at 1732m (5682ft) – you’ll have a pick from 11 lookout stations, from birdseye views over Roman-rooted Villach city to the towering Julian Alps summits spread across Slovenia and Italy.

Enjoy the alpine air at the Aichingerhütte mountain hut at 1650m (5413ft) or await the Carinthian cuisine at the apex Rosstratte mountain hut while the children adventure at altitude in the playground. From here you can take two trails into the Dobratsch nature park (the oldest nature reserve in Carinthia), including a geology path and an Alpine Garden packed with 1000 plant species.

Planning tip: Bookend the trip (one-way ticket for cars, €22) with a road tour of Carinthia’s largest lakes, starting at Wörthersee and ending at Millstätter See.

Cars on a road with tight bends winding through a mountainous region in the sunshine
There are 34 hairpin bends along Silvretta High Alpine Road © aaddyy / Shutterstock

5. Silvretta High Alpine Road

Best trip to reach westernmost Austria
Galtür, Tirol to Partenen, Vorarlberg, 22km (12 miles)

Ascending through a swath of peaks, the Silvretta High Alpine Road (€19.50 per vehicle) connects Tyrol's ski-renowned Paznaun Valley to Austria's often-overlooked westernmost state, Vorarlberg, and its majestic Montafon region.

Climbing to a backdrop of the spiking Silvretta mountain ranges, the track leads to the lakeside Silvretta-Bielerhöhe apex at 2032m (6666ft), the showstopping platform to Vorarlberg’s towering 3312m-high (10,866ft) summit of Piz Buin. Park here and venture into the recreational playground with a pick for tackling the 320m-long (1050ft) dam wall via ferrata, to try alpine fishing, to follow the nature-blending sculpture scattered hiking trail or to venture into a dazzling light art installation tunnel. Break with a lakeside feast at one of the four restaurants before embarking on the winding descent of 34 hairpin curves leading down into Vorarlberg.

Local tip: Vintage car enthusiasts can stylishly go full throttle during the annual Silvretta Classic Rally Montafon in July.

Tips for driving in Austria

There are charges for toll roads and mountain passes 

For motorway tolls, you must display a physical Vignette toll sticker or buy a digital sticker online (10 days, €4.60, two months, €11.5, one year, €38.50) or face some hefty fines. Mountain passes have an extra charge for entry.

Know the road rules

Drive on the right and overtake on the left. Speed restrictions are 130km/h on motorways (Autobahn), 100km/h (62mph) on expressways and open roads (Bundesstrasse) and 50km/h (31mph) in residential areas. Take note of regulations and emergency numbers.

Research winter road closure dates

Austrian roads are excellent in the warmer months, but winter rain and snow can render them treacherous (winter tires/snow chains are mandatory). Note that many high mountain passes are closed during winter.

Pack a picnic for long drives

From autobahn rest stops to mountain lookout points or hiking trails, you’ll always find seating areas and places to stop if you don’t want to spend money on mountain huts and restaurants.

This article was first published Oct 18, 2021 and updated May 19, 2024.

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