Rail travel is superb in Austria, with fast, clean trains taking you through scenic regions. Trains will take you nearly every place in Austria except to remote hamlets tucked away in almost-inaccessible mountain districts. Many other services tie in with railroad travel, among them car or bicycle rental at many stations, bus transportation links, and package tours, including boat trips and cable-car rides. Inter-City Express trains connect Vienna with all major cities in the country, including Salzburg, Klagenfurt, Graz, and Linz. A train trip from Salzburg to Vienna takes about 3 hours.
Rail Passes -- Adults can purchase first- or second-class passes. In first class the charge is $229 for 3 days in 1 month; $265 for 4 days in 1 month; $295 for 5 days in 1 month; $329 for 6 days in 1 month; $359 for 7 days in 1 month, and $395 for 8 days in 1 month. In second class charges are $159 for 3 days in 1 month; $179 for 4 days in 1 month; $205 for 5 days in 1 month; $229 for 6 days in 1 month; $255 for 7 days in 1 month; and $279 for 8 days in 1 month.
The Eurail Austria Youth Pass is available for second-class travel, and can be sold to travelers who are 25 years old or younger on their first day of travel. Charges are $105 for 3 days in 1 month; $119 for 4 days in 1 month; $135 for 5 days in 1 month; $149 for 6 days in 1 month; $165 for 7 days in 1 month; and $179 for 8 days in 1 month.
Other Railway Data -- For information on short-distance round-trip tickets, cross-country passes, and passes for all lines in the individual provinces, as well as piggyback transportation for your car through the Tauern Tunnel, check with the Austrian Federal Railways (tel. 01/930-000; www.oebb.at).
Driving, of course, is the best way to crisscross Austria, going up and down its scenic mountain valleys and along its vast mountain passes. It's one of the greatest countries in the world for scenery. That applies only to the summer months. Driving conditions in Austria can be difficult in winter.
Renting a car is not the most economical way to see the country; by train or bus is cheaper.
Some mountain roads require a toll. The good news is that there is almost no delay at border crossings. Motorists zip about casually -- say, between Germany and Austria -- but in the wake of worldwide terrorism, conditions could often change at a moment's notice for reasons you will not be aware of.
All main roads in Austria are hard-surfaced. There's a four-lane Autobahn between Salzburg and Vienna; and between Vienna and Edlitz the Autobahn has six lanes. Part of the highway system includes mountain roads; and in the alpine region drivers face gradients of 6% to 16%, or even steeper in some places. When driving in Austria, always plot your course carefully. If you have had no experience in mountain driving -- much less alpine mountain driving -- you might want to take a train or a bus to get to some of the loftier mountain alpine retreats.
In summer, driving conditions are good, but in winter, December through March, motorists must reckon with snow on the roads and passes at higher altitudes. Roads at altitudes of up to 1,700m (5,577 ft.) are kept open in winter, although they can be temporarily closed because of heavy snowfall or avalanche danger. If you're planning to drive in Austria in winter, you'll need snow tires or chains.
Don't take chances. Ask about road conditions before you start on a trip. This information is available in English 7 days a week from 6am to 8pm from the Österreichischer Automobil-, Motorrad- und Touringclub (ÖAMTC), Schubertring 1-3, A-1010 Vienna (tel. 0810/120-120; www.oeamtc.at).
Rentals -- Drivers in Austria must have been in possession of a valid driver's license for at least 1 year before renting a vehicle. They must also present a valid passport when they sign the rental agreement. Drivers not in possession of a major credit card must pay in advance a minimum deposit, plus the estimated rental cost and the estimated tax. Cars rented from most rental companies can be dropped off in major cities of Germany for no additional charge. Drop-offs in Switzerland or Italy require an extra charge, which can be quite high.
Be aware that car rentals in Austria are taxed at a whopping rate of 21.2%. This is in addition to a 15% municipal airport tax added to the cost of any car rented at an airport. Clarify in advance whether the rates you're quoted include the taxes. Tip: You might consider taking a taxi to your hotel upon arrival and then renting your vehicle from an inner-city location to avoid the 15% airport surcharge.
When you reserve a car, be sure to ask if the price includes insurance. The rental outfits offer an optional insurance policy known as a loss-damage waiver (LDW). If you accept it, you'll be charged from 25€ ($40) per day. It allows you to waive all financial responsibility for any damage to your car, even if it's eventually determined that you were the driver at fault. In some instances, certain credit card companies offer free insurance if you use their card to pay for the rental. Check directly with your credit card issuer to see if you are covered.
Budget (tel. 800/472-3325; www.budget.com) is among the least expensive options in Austria. It maintains more than a dozen locations throughout the country, including branches at all the major airports and at downtown locations in most of the provincial capitals.
Hertz (tel. 800/654-3001; www.hertz.com) maintains offices in about 18 cities throughout Austria. During limited periods, it sometimes publicizes price promotions worth inquiring about, depending on the season, as well as discounts to employees of some large North American corporations.
Avis (tel. 800/331-1084; www.avis.com) operates offices in 19 Austrian cities, at airports and downtown, as well as at some of the country's larger ski resorts. Avis usually offers 10% discounts for members of such organizations as AAA and AARP. Like Budget and Hertz, it offers seasonal price promotions.
Kemwel Drive Europe (tel. 877/820-0668; www.kemwel.com) has offices in about 10 cities throughout Asia.
AutoEurope (tel. 888/223-5555; www.autoeurope.com) operates 12 offices in Austrian cities as well as airports.
Gasoline -- Regular-grade unleaded (blei-frei) motor fuel is generally available in Austria. Skyrocketing gasoline prices vary from place to place but are somewhat lower at discounted or self-service gasoline stations. Austrian service stations don't accept U.S. oil company or general-purpose credit or charge cards.
Driving Rules -- Traffic regulations are similar to those in other European countries where you drive on the right. Driving under the influence of alcohol is severely punished. The permissible blood-alcohol level is very low -- two beers or 8 ounces of wine can put you over the mark. The minimum fine is 350€ ($560) and possible loss of a driver's license.
Use of seat belts is compulsory, and children under 12 may not sit in the front passenger seat unless a child's seat belt or a special seat has been installed. The use of hand-held cellphones is prohibited while driving, and a right turn at a red light is not permitted. Effective in late 2005, headlights must be on at all times day or night.
Automobile Clubs -- The leading auto club of Austria is the ÖAMTC (Österreichischer Automobil-, Motorred- und Touringclub), Schubertring 1-3, A-1010 Vienna (tel. 0810/120-120; www.oeamtc.at), which works in association with AAA. ARBÖ (tel. 050/123-123; www.arboe.at) is another.
Breakdowns/Assistance -- If your car breaks down, foreign motorists can call the two auto clubs mentioned above. Call ARBÖ (tel. 123) or ÖAMTC (tel. 120) anywhere in Austria. You don't need to use an area code for either number. However, if you're not a member of either of these clubs, you'll pay for emergency road service.
Motorcycles -- The same requirements for operating cars in Austria hold for operating motorcycles. Both drivers and passengers of motorcycles must wear crash helmets. Lights must be kept on when the vehicle is being driven.
In large Austrian cities, taxis are equipped with officially sealed taximeters that show the cost of your trip in euros. If a rate change has recently been instituted, a surcharge might be added to the amount shown on the meter, pending adjustment of the taximeter. Surcharges are posted in the cab. A supplement is charged for luggage carried in the vehicle's trunk. Zone charges or set charges for standard trips are the rule in most resort areas. Tip the driver 10% of the fare.
Austrian Airlines (tel. 800/843-0002 in the U.S. and Canada; www.austrianair.com) offers flights that link Vienna to the country's leading cities. Outgoing flights from Vienna are carefully timed to coincide with the arrivals of most of the company's transatlantic flights.
Tyrolean Airways (same telephone number and website as Austrian Airlines), an airline partially owned by Austrian Airlines, offers a very useful airborne network whose home base is the Tyrolean capital of Innsbruck. Its regular flight network consists of up to four flights per day between Vienna and Innsbruck, and four flights each between Innsbruck and both Frankfurt and Zurich. The airline also offers about five flights a week between Innsbruck and the Styrian capital of Graz. Reservations on Tyrolean Airways can be made through Austrian Airlines. Its fleet consists almost entirely of turbo-prop planes containing no more than 49 seats. The airline specializes in domestic flights and commuter runs to destinations close to the border, including Munich and Budapest.
It's easiest to get around Austria on the country's excellent rail network, but many Austrian villages are not near rail lines. Reaching some of these areas can be best accomplished by car or bus. To facilitate travel, the Austrian government maintains two different bus networks: those maintained by the Austrian Postal Service (whose vehicles, in most cases, are painted a reddish-orange) and those maintained by the Austrian Federal Railways (which, in some, but not all, cases are painted blue and white). In recent years, efforts have been made to merge both of these systems into one overall administration identified as the Bundesbus System, but many Austrians continue to make a distinction between the two networks. There are also a limited number of privately owned bus companies that specialize in long-haul transits to major cities outside Austria.
Buses (some of which also carry mail) cover a network of almost 30,500km (18,952 miles) of often very remote secondary roads. One of their primary functions involves retrieving passengers at railway stations for the continuation of journeys. Bus departures are usually timed to coincide with the arrival of trains from other parts of Austria. Buses are particularly helpful at the bottom of alpine valleys, where transit is needed to carry passengers from the local railway station up toward ski resorts and hamlets at higher altitudes. Children under 6 travel free on many of these buses, and children under 15 usually receive a 50% discount.
Information about bus schedules and routings is available at most post offices, at the reception desks of most hotels whose business relies on clients arriving by bus, and at travel agencies. Specifics about routes and schedules are in the Kursbuch (Austrian Motor Coach Schedule), a timetable that is usually updated annually and that forms part of the basic library maintained by virtually every tourist office in Austria. Bus information is usually also merged into the thousands of railway timetables that are posted at train stations throughout the country. An especially convenient way to find out about bus schedules, if you're heading to a hotel in a remote area, is to call the hotel and ask.
From April to the beginning of November, you can rent a bicycle at some 120 rail stations across Austria. Charges vary but are nominal, with a 50% discount if you present a rail ticket for the day that you're renting a bike. Photo ID must be presented at the time of rental. You can reserve a bicycle in advance, but you can almost always get a bike without making reservations. The vehicle can be returned to where it was rented or to any other Austrian railroad station during business hours.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.