Saturday, September 18, 2021

How To Travel Around Austria

EuropeAustriaHow To Travel Around Austria

By train and bus

Trains are the most efficient and most common form of mass-transportation in Austria. Comfortable and inexpensive trains connect bigger cities and numerous towns; buses connect less significant towns and lakes. The two forms of transport are integrated and designed to work together, and intercity buses do exist, but they do not provide the same level of intercity rail transport. The two and a half hour train journey from Vienna to Graz takes you along one of the oldest mountain railroads in the world. In order to cross the Alps, 14 tunnels and 16 viaducts were built. Trains between the major Austrian cities, Vienna and Graz, run hourly.

The Austrian trains are mostly operated by the state-owned company ÖBB [www]. The Raaberbahn (GySEV) [www] operates some trains across the Austrian-Hungarian border, and there are several short private railroads with tourist trains that complement rather than compete with ÖBB.

ÖBB’s only competitor is WestBahn on the Salzburg-Linz-Vienna route (the company shares the name of the route on which it operates). Railroad passes, ÖBB tickets and VORTEILScard are non-valid on the WestBahn; you can buy tickets online or on board. Free Wi-Fi.

ÖBB also operates buses (InterCityBus) on the route Graz-Klagenfurt-Venice, since the road between these towns is considerably shorter than the railroad.

Train types

  • S (S-Bahn/Schnellbahn) – commuter trains, which are available in several regions and suburbs
  • R (Regionalzug) – slow local trains, stops everywhere
  • REX (Regionalexpress) – fast regional trains, stop at major stations
  • IC (InterCity) – Long-distance trains that connect major cities and municipalities.
  • EC (EuroCity) – international long-distance trains
  • WB (WestBahn) – private competitor’s InterCity service, no through ticketing to other trains possible outside Upper Austria.
  • ICE (InterCityExpress) – German high-speed trains
  • RJ (Railjet) – Austria’s homemade high-speed trains – in contrast to the ICE they are locomotive-drawn and can transport bicycles

In both suburban and regional trains usually only second-class tickets are available. In ICE, IC and EC trains, you will find the second class, which has plenty of spacious soft seats, as well as the First class, that is more private and has even more comfortable leather seats. RailJet has three classes in economy class, which are similar to a second class and in which tickets are valid in second class. First class offers more comfortable leather seats and services including a welcome drink, while in the premium class you can enjoy even more services at your seat.


ÖBB is selling domestic train tickets at a price that is based purely on the travel distance, no matter when you buy the ticket and regardless of which train you take. While the basic price is quite expensive, the Austrian railroads do offer several significant discounts. If you purchase a single ticket from Salzburg to Vienna, this same ticket is applicable to any train that takes you to Vienna, even a foreign train that makes a stop in Austria. ( Except for all trains operated by WestBahn, you can identify these trains by their white livery with light green and blue stripes.)

You can order (and pay for) tickets online, including lines via connecting trains and privately managed narrow-gauge railroads ( as in the Zillertal). For a modest fee, you can also reserve seats. We strongly recommend this if you plan to travel with any luggage. Online ordered tickets have to be printed out and shown to the conductor on request. They have to be printed as they will be scanned and provided with barcodes.

There are automatic ticket machines at all the major train stations and on boards of some regional trains. If you are getting on regional trains, you will need to have bought a ticket before boarding. Whenever possible, you should buy a ticket from the railroad office or from the vending machine at the train station from which you depart. (That includes most of the stations. Such stations are marked with SB in all ÖBB timetables). Vending machines do not indicate or print travel routes, and many train stations only display basic timetables. It would be best to search for a travel route in the Travel Planner on the website of Austrian Railways. Many stations also provide brochures with more detailed timetables. However, they presuppose that you know exactly which line you need to take to reach your final destination and you can only purchase them during normal business hours.


  • SparSchiene offers cheap tickets between national and international cities. While these tickets are not based on distance, they are less expensive if they are booked online in advance and bound to a specific route and train time. These offers can be very tempting, particularly for people who do not have the VORTEILScard. However, be aware that they are not as flexible as normal tickets and are non-refundable or exchangeable and are frequently sold out at peak times. For instance, SparSchiene tickets from Salzburg to Klagenfurt can be purchased for 9 € for the second class, in comparison to 35 € for the normal price or 18 € with the VORTEILScard.
  • VORTEILScard offers you a discount of 45-55% on every national train ticket (depending on type of train and if you purchase it online, at a vending machine or at the counter) and a 25% discount on cross-border European trains ( also known as RailPlus discount). The VC also applies to all private railroads except rack and WestBahn. The tickets are valid for one year, initially via a temporary printed paper ticket ( which is printed and valid for the first two months). A plastic ticket is typically sent out in two weeks after the original purchase. The VC is also available at all ticket offices and counters of the ÖBB station. You will need your passport to fill up this form and purchase your VORTEILScard. A photo is not required anymore. For this reason, you should always get an identification card to verify your identity.

For one year:

    • VORTEILScard ( standard ) will cost 99 € if you are not entitled to the following. VORTEILScard Youth costs € 19 for children under 26 years.
    • VORTEILScard Senior costs € 29 for men and women from 61 years of age.
    • People with reduced physical mobility or disability (e.g. people with visual impairments) can benefit from other versions of the VORTEILScard at extremely nominal prices, although it is a challenge to obtain them with foreign papers or worse outside the EU. (However, you can waive the seat reservation fee).

A single ticket from Vienna to Salzburg (one way) normally costs 50 Euro and with the VORTEILScard 25 Euro. Therefore, if you are under 26, the card is an excellent value for a one-way ticket!

  • Group discount for 2 or more persons will receive a discount of 5 to 30%. Kids, teenagers up to 18 years and young people with VORTEILScard <26 will pay half of the reduced rate.
  • Einfach-Raus-Ticket ticket may be used by groups of 2 to 5 persons (not suitable for single passengers). For unlimited one-day train travel on all Austrian regional trains (categories S, R and REX) and on trains operated by the Raaberbahn. It is available from 9:00 am. Monday to Friday (midnight on weekends) up to 3:00 am the following day. The total cost of tickets is 35 €, online [www], or at vending machines, at stations or elsewhere ÖBB tickets are sold.
  • Einfach-Raus-Bicycle ticket – Cost: 39 €

By car

The rural or sparsely settled regions of Austria are more easily accessible by car, since the bus connections can be limited. Many of the most famous places in the mountains are only accessible by car or by foot / ski. Renting a vehicle for a couple of days is a good approach to get off the beaten track. To drive in Austria is actually very pleasant as the roads are in good condition, not overloaded and offer a fantastic landscape. Be aware of dangerous drivers: Austrians are in general a very law-abiding crowd, however behind the steering-wheel they seem to make an exception from their caring attitude. You can buy complete maps of Austria, specific regions of Austria (including city maps) and maps as well of neighboring countries at every gas station. You can expect to pay about 7 € for a map.

Like many European cities, city parking on weekdays is expensive. Normally those parking spaces are highlighted with blue coloured lines on the street. In some cities (such as Vienna) there are zones at area levels which are not marked with blue lines. The rates vary from one city to another, as well as the fines that are charged if you do not have a valid ticket, which are usually ranging from 20 to 30 €. You can usually buy tickets at kiosks. Several cities (like Graz) provide tickets from vending machines on the city streets. A cheaper alternative is to park your car just outside the city in one of the Park and Ride parking lots and use public transportation from there. These structures can be found in every major city.

If you drive on highways or expressways, you will have to pay tolls. If your vehicle weighs less than 3,500 kg, you must purchase a toll sticker in advance, which you can buy at any gas station or at the border. Vignettes can be purchased for 10 days (€8.30), 2 months (€24.20) or 1 year (€80.60; technically valid until January of the following year) (2012). The fact that there is no sticker for one day or two weeks is not a mistake, it is a feature that most Germans who pass by on the way to and from Italy are spending two weeks there. The vignette is intended to guarantee a maximum income for the transit travelers.

If you want to cross Austria via the A14 from the German border to the Swiss border at Hohenems / Diepoldsau, you can buy a corridor vignette instead. This is valid for a single trip on this road and can be purchased at the border for €2.00 (or €4.00 return).

Vehicles weighing more than 3,500 kg must buy a GO-Box, a transponder that deducts the toll when vehicles are driving on the freeway or expressway. The GO-Box costs €5 and tolls can be paid in advance (€75 initially, followed by €50 per top-up) or can be paid by invoice afterwards. Prices vary between 0.15 € and 0.39 € / km depending on the number of axles. The surcharges depend on the time of day and for some highways.

Driving a car on the freeway without a vignette is sanctioned with the payment of a replacement toll of 120 € (65 € for motorcycles) (which allows you to drive on the freeway on this and the following day) or a fine of up to € 300, and if the fine is not paid on the spot, valuables from the vehicle and the person can be confiscated to ensure that the fine is paid. You must attach the sticker to the windshield of your vehicle, preferably in the upper center or in one of the corners on the driver’s side, otherwise it is not valid, a common mistake by foreigners in Austria. The highway police regularly checks vignettes. Driving without a valid GO-Box costs 220 € if necessary, and setting the wrong toll class results in a replacement toll of 110 €.

What not to do with a Vignette
Under no circumstances you should not share a vignette with another vehicle, as in this way the vignette is invalid (and the label should indicate whether it has been invalidated in this way). The penalty will double the replacement fee or cause a fine of up to €3,000. Payment can be secured by confiscation of valuables from your car.

On certain roads, especially on mountain passes, there are additional tolls which you must pay in banknotes (not coins) or by credit card. One example is the Brenner Pass, just before the A13 motorway enters Italy, where a toll of at least €7.95 per journey is charged.

The speed limits are 130 km / h on freeways and 100 km / h on highways and federal roads. Otherwise, expect speed limits of 50-80 km / h.

The headlights should always be switched on.

The rules on freeways are very similar to the rules in Germany. For example, you are not allowed to drive past on the right and the minimum speed is 60 km / h (vehicles that cannot drive 60 km / h are not allowed on the Autobahn). The only big and obvious difference is that there is a general speed limit of 130 km / h (as in all neighboring countries except Germany), which is enforced like any other speed limit.

Be especially careful when driving in winter, especially in the mountains (and note that winter in the higher parts of the Alps lasts from September to May and snowfall is generally possible at any time of the year). Freezy roads kill dozens of unexperienced drivers each year. Avoid accelerating and driving at night and make sure your car is in good condition. Freeway bridges are particularly vulnerable to ice. Slow down to 80 km / h when driving over them.

Winter tires are mandatory between November 1 and April 15. During the winter season most rental cars are equipped with winter tires. An additional fee may be charged. (Some rental companies use all-season tires. In this case you may be able to deduct this fee). The use of winter tires is also strongly recommended by Austrian automobile clubs. In case of snowfall, on some mountain passes and occasionally on freeways, winter tires or snow chains are required by law. This is indicated by a round traffic sign which shows a white tire or a white chain on a blue background. It is always a good idea to take a pair of snow chains and a warm blanket in the trunk. Drivers sometimes get trapped in their cars for a few hours and sometimes they suffer from hypothermia.

Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to rent an off-road vehicle in winter (although an off-road vehicle is helpful). In fact, small, light cars can handle narrow mountain roads better than sluggish off-road vehicles.

Nearly all public roads in Austria are either paved or at least asphalted. The problems usually encountered are ice and steepness, not bumps. If you are driving downhill, snow chains are the only means against slipping, no matter what vehicle you are in.

Gasoline is cheaper in Austria than in some neighboring countries, but still more expensive than in America.

By plane

Although most of Austria’s breathtaking landscapes will be missing, it is possible to travel within Austria by plane.

Domestic flights usually cost between 300 and 500 euros for a return flight. Although Austrian Airlines offers limited tickets for 99 Euro (Redtickets), they must usually be booked 2 or 3 months in advance. Since the country is small, it is unlikely that the total travel time is shorter than by train or car. In other words, fly only when you are on a business trip.

These domestic airports are served by airlines such as Austrian Arrows, Niki and Welcome Air:

– Graz (Thalerhof) for eastern Styria and southern Burgenland

– Innsbruck (Kranebitten), Tyrolean Service

– Klagenfurt (Airport Wörthersee) with connection to Carinthia

– Linz (Hörsching), Upper Austrian Service

– Salzburg (Wals) for Salzburg and Berchtesgaden (Bavaria)

– Vienna (Schwechat) with connections to Vienna and Lower Austria

These are the international airports serving western Austria:

– Altenrhein Airport (Switzerland), which serves Vorarlberg, Liechtenstein, Eastern Switzerland and Lake Constance

– Friedrichshafen (Germany) for Vorarlberg, Baden-Württemberg and Lake Constance

Minimum validity of travel documents
– EU, EEA and Swiss citizens as well as visa-free non-EU citizens (e.g. New Zealand and Australia) need only present a passport valid for the entire duration of their stay in Austria.
– However, other citizens who require a visa (e.g. South Africans) must present a passport with a validity of at least 3 months, which extends beyond the duration of their stay in Austria.
– Further information on the minimum validity of travel documents can be found on the website of the Austrian Foreign Ministry’s website.