If you are planning a road trip to Austria as we did in the Summer, then here are some practical Austria travel tips and things to know before you go. Which will make your life easier and some of the things I wish we had known before visiting Austria with kids. If you have visited and think there should be other Austria travel tips included then please let me know in the comments below and I will get it added to this post. Will you visit Austria?
Practical Austria travel tips and things to know before you go
As mentioned we spent two weeks in this beautiful country with the boys. But rather than focus on the fact that it is unlikely people have heard about the Sound of Music. Which incidentally they have because you can book a tour for that! I have focused on the practical things which I wish I had known before we visited during high season. If you are after a list of must-see places and tourist attractions then I have written a lot about what we did during our visit to the Austrian alps.
When is the best time to visit to Austria?
We visited in July and August during peak season since both boys are at school. Austria is a popular destination in the Winter months because of the wide range of Winter sports on offer. However, there are so many outdoor activities available in the Austria Summer months. For me I think this is the best time to visit Austria. However, do bear in mind many of the best places and major cities will be a lot busier during the Summer months.
If you want to avoid the crowds then the shoulder seasons are a better option. Many of the Austria Summer activities will not start until May. And it will start to get cold again from October onwards since the country is located in central Europe. You may also want to consider visiting some of the Christmas markets. I would also suggest that you avoid some of the better-known festivals, such as the Salzburg festival. Since it makes accommodation more expensive and some of the historical buildings you will not be able to visit due to the classical music concerts.
Although we saw some UK holidaymakers, the tourist areas we visited of Salzburg, St JOhann and Zillertal seem relatively undiscovered by us Brits during our Austria Summer.
Sprichst du Deutsch
If you are planning a Austria trip then you will be pleased to hear that during our visit we met very few people who did not speak English to some extent. We were able to communicate with everyone in some way. The official language of Austria is German. I studied German at school although I only know the basics now. When we visit we try to learn some basics in the language of the country we are visiting, such as hello, thank you, please etc.
Supermarkets shut on a Sunday
I remember growing up supermarkets would shut on a Sunday. Now in the UK, you can even pop to an express version late into a Sunday evening. Something that has saved us a number of times when arriving back much later than anticipated and having lunch boxes to prepare the next day. However, in Austria and many other European countries, supermarkets shut on a Sunday.
You may be able to find a bakery that is open in the morning until lunchtime and many cafes will be open. But generally, supermarkets are not. So bear this in mind if you are planning to stay in self-catering accommodation. We often travel on a Saturday and perhaps staying overnight before reaching our final destination on the Sunday. Consequently, we tend to bring spaghetti and sauce, bottle water and a bottle of wine with us when going on a road trip in Europe. The essentials when visiting Austria with kids.
Thankfully we did find an exception to this when we were driving to Zillertal. As we entered the region we found a Hofer open. Hofer is the Austrian version of Aldi and has the same logo. So if you are stuck it maybe worth seeing if any are open. Although once we had visited we found the one down the road was shut. So it could be that not all are open.
Cash is king
One of our key Austria travel tips – yet again we have been surprised by just how much is paid for in cash in Austria. With several places we visited not taking debit or credit card or having minimum spend amounts. One restaurant we went to in Salzburg particularly struggled. Something we have got out of habit with in the UK paying by card for everything. I would suggest having some euros with you at all times when on a visit to Austria. And checking with restaurants when you sit down if they take cards.
Thankfully cash machines are readily available. Although many do charge to take money out so expect to pay up to 5€ per withdrawal.
If you are driving down like us then you can buy a Vignette when you cross over the border. Just look for the below sign and buy one in the petrol station or shop at the border. We missed the sign the first time we drove into Austria when staying on the Bodensee. So this time I brought ours in advance. It is really easy to do via the ASFINAG website. But you have to do it at least a month in advance as a consumer since they have a 30-day refund policy.
If you buy it online then you are given a digital ticket to keep with you during your visit. If you buy a physical vignette then it is a sticker which you attach to your windscreen which is punched on the day and month of issue.
We did not use public transportation other than when we stayed on the outskirts of Salzburg. When we used the bus to get into the city center. This seemed an easy way to get into the historic old town without needing to work about parking.
We visited Austria in the Summer. But depending on the time of year you visit Austria you may need to have snow tyres on your car. Snow tyres are depicted by a little snowflake symbol around the rim next to the tyre make and model. When we visited you needed snow tyres from the 1st of November.
Although requirements change I would suggest that you review the RAC website before setting off to ensure you are prepared. When we drove up The High Alpine Road we did actually find ourselves in the middle of a snow storm storm in the middle of the Summer season during our travels in Austria! Which was obviously quite unexpected since it caught a lot of cyclists by surprise as well.
Just like in the UK we found petrol prices to be much more expensive on the motorways. Although in some instances you can not help but fill up we did try and limit it where we could. The variance in price while driving is a lot more than you see in the South of England.
When you are driving you need to have your driving licence, insurance documents and also the V05 when travelling in Europe. It also make sense to have a copy of your breakdown cover and double check that they cover Europe before you go.
While we are on the subject of weather, when staying in the Austrian Valleys you should plan for all eventualities. We had beautifully sunny days at the top of the mountains where the boys swam in the glacial lakes. Sun lotion and hats were definitely needed. Other days we could only see about two foot in front of us because of the fog. We also had a day of getting drenched in a sleet like downpour. So do not forget the waterproofs especially if visiting Austria with kids.
Family attraction tickets
If you are visiting Austria with kids the then you will be pleased to know that may attractions offer family tickets. However, we found on our travels that if you are buying attraction tickets a family ticket tends to be for two adults and one child. Or one adult and two children. Normally requiring a top up ticket of some sort and making something that initially looks good value a bit more expensive.
Saying that we did generally find that attractions were generally better priced than an equivalent in the UK. Cable cars are by far the most expensive day out but you can buy tourist cards such as the Zillertal Activcard which can help save money. This available during the Austria Summer only. It is worth looking at options before you leave.
Generally we found booking online in advance in some instances saved money. Although most attractions do not allow refunds if you then subsequently can not go. Some do not even allow you to change the dates. So if you do book online in advance then I read the small print.
There is so much to do but….
Although the tourist boards have comprehensive websites I found that many attractions are not well advertised. Its fine if you know what you are looking for then coming by information online is easy. But if you don’t then it can be difficult. Learning for the need to do some comprehensive research before you go. I would suggest that you build a plan or an itinerary before going.
Although the same time have some alternatives if the weather is not as expected and be prepared to be flexible and move things around as needed. Our 2-week itinerary in Austria with kids may be a good starting point depending on which area(s) you are planning on visiting.
Visit early morning – Austria travel tip
It is best to visit the main tourist traps such as Liechtenstein Gorge first thing in the morning as soon as they open. Espeically when visiting Austria in the Summer. Queues can get very long and especially the UNESCO world heritage site such as Hallstatt get extremely busy. This can cause an issue for parking as many areas are not set up for huge numbers. We found that many Austrian and German tourists did not venture out until mid-morning giving you a chance to take all those pictures.
Check closing times
I noticed that when we visit Austria that things seem to close earlier than expected when compared to the UK. Not that we are night owls but it does mean that you need to eat earlier, go to the shops earlier and check the timings for the attractions you want to see. We stayed in two hotels on a bed-and-breakfast basis which seems popular and at both places you had to be down to dinner by 8 pm.
You need to pay to go to the toilet
It is quite common to pay to use public toilets when you visit Austria. We found that it varies between 50 cents and €1. Normally there is a children’s entrance so that do not have to pay. Good if you are visiting Austria with kids. Also with tourist attractions you normally get a voucher back for the same value to spend in the shop. In some of the bigger cities we visited, we found that the machines took cards. Although some of the small towns were cash-only. So worth having a bit of change available.
We found that generally kids’ menus seem to be harder to come by. If you are visiting Austria with kids, then be aware that some of the more traditional restaurants seemed not to offer anything. However everywhere we ate was accommodating for the fussiest member of the family. And some menus would offer smaller portions of all dishes so it could be that this is more the norm. Which suited our tween who now bulks at the idea of the kids menu.
We had a lot of good food during our visit including the well-known wiener schnitzel and apple strudel.
Bring water shoes
If you are travelling to Austria with kids, or planning to enjoy the lakes then make sure you bring water shoes with you. The boys have KEEN waterproof sandals which do the trick wonderfully. As they are not only good for the water but great for hiking as well. Many of the water play areas are pebble or gravel-based so they will be much more comfortable in shoes.
Check the mountain webcams
One of our best Austria travel tips! If you are planning on going up to the top of the mountains using the gondolas. Then you should be able to find a live webcam on the mountain’s website. Which will show you what the viability is like at the top. We used these during our visit to help decide what to wear and to check to make sure it was worth visiting.
Check times of the last cable car
If you are planning a day walking or enjoying all the play areas and kids’ activities they have at the top. Then make sure you check when the last cable cars leave. I was surprised to find that sometimes they are a lot earlier than you would imagine. For example Spieljoch Mountain it was 4.30 pm while the Rosenhalmbahn ran until 5.45 pm. We did not see one that ran into the evening so if you are planning on watching the sunset you will need to make alternative arrangements.
We had a great time when we visited this relatively small country. There is so much to see and do outside of the ski resorts. We are hoping to return to the Capital of Austria, Vienna for a couple of days in the future. Since we did not manage to visit the largest city.
I hope these Austria travel tips for a visit to Austria in the Summer have helped with planning your holiday. Please do let me know if you have any questions I have not covered in the comments below. These are the main areas we stayed in during our visit with individual posts on each attraction we visited.