Austria (German: Österreich, literally "the Eastern Realm" or "Eastern Empire") is a land-locked alpine German speaking country in Central Europe bordering Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the west, Germany and Czech Republic to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east and Slovenia and Italy to the south. Austria, along with neighboring Switzerland, is the winter sports capital of Europe. However, it is just as popular for summer tourists who visit its historic cities and villages and hike in the magnificent scenery of the alps.
Today's Austria is what was once the German speaking core and center of power for the large multi-ethnic Austro-Hungarian Empire with its imperial capital in Vienna. This empire stretched eastwards from present-day Austria through much of east-central and south-central Europe. It included the entire territories of modern day Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and portions of Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Poland and Italy. While Prussia united the German states to the north by force into one "Germany" in the latter part of the 19th Century, Austria remained oriented eastwards towards its diverse empire. However, from the start of the 20th century, the political history of Austria has been closely linked to the misfortunes and disasters of modern German history, mainly the First and Second World Wars and their terrible aftermath.
The modern republic of Austria came into being in 1918 as a result of its defeat in World War I. In its wake, the empire was split into many components. They included Austria's current borders, an independent Hungary, lands given to Italy (South Tyrol, Trieste and Trentino), lands given to southern Poland (which also came about from lands taken from the Russian and German empires), and an independent Czechoslovakia and the northern and western half of Yugoslavia. Following an unresistant invasion and annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938, Austria more or less functioned as a part of Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Thus a large proportion of the population supported Hitler and Austria's incorporation into Germany. Austrian soldiers also fought in the Wehrmacht, cities were bombed heavily by the Allies and concentration camps also existed on Austrian soil (e.g. Mauthausen near Linz). It was not until the end of the war that the mood changed and Austria tried to distance itself from Germany. In 1945, Austria was divided into zones of occupation like Germany. However unlike Germany, Austria was not subject to any further territorial losses. A State Treaty signed in 1955 ended the Allied and Soviet occupation, recognized Austria's independence, and again forbade future unification with Germany. A constitutional law of that same year declared the country's "perpetual neutrality", which was a condition for Soviet military withdrawal, and thus saved Austria from Germany's fate of a divided nation with a divided capital. However, the South Tyrol Question took Austria and Italy to the UN in the post-war era and international brokered mitigation found a suitable solution for both countries by the late 1970's. This official neutrality, once ingrained as part of the Austrian cultural identity, has been called into question since the Soviet Union's collapse of 1991 and Austria's entry into the European Union in 1995. Reexamining its Nazi past is something that has become large scale and accepted as commonplace in the media only relatively recently. Before, Austria had sought to portray itself as "Hitler's first victim". A prosperous country, Austria entered the European Monetary Union in 1999, and the Euro currency replaced the Schilling in 2002. Austria is also part of "border-less Europe", resulting in many students from all over the European Union studying in Austrian universities and vice verse. Austria is one of the most popular summer and winter holiday destinations in Europe and has the tourist industry to match it!
Austria is a federation. Each of its nine federal states has a unique and distinct culture.
Austrians aren't easy to categorize. In fact, the main reason Austrians stand out from their European neighbors is that they don't stand out from the rest for anything in particular. Austrians are moderate in their outlook and behavior. Being at Europe's crossroads, their culture is influenced from several sides. The stereotype of the yodeling, thigh slapping, beer-swilling xenophobe may apply to a few individuals but it certainly doesn't apply to the majority of Austrians.
The average Austrian on the street is likely to be friendly yet somewhat reserved and formal, softly spoken and well mannered, law abiding, socially conservative, rooted, family oriented, conformist and somewhat nepotistic, a Catholic at heart, not particularly religious but a follower of tradition, well educated if not as cosmopolitan as his/her European cousins, cynical, and equipped with a dry, sarcastic sense of humor.
Austrians as a large like to define themselves merely by what they are not. Tourists often make the mistake of classifying Austrians as Germans, which despite a common language (well at least on paper), they are not. Arguably, Southern Germany and Bavaria in particular is a close cultural relative of Austria in many ways. Indeed the regions of Austria are all similar to their neighbors, often you will not notice you have crossed a border, whether it be into South Tyrol in Italy, north to Bavaria or east to Hungary. Austria and Germany are sister nations and enjoy warm relations but case in point, Mozart was Austrian, or a Salzburger for the record, not German! For most of its history, Austrians have a hard time defining their own nation, they face perhaps currently the most media influence from Germany but have a very different culture, especially from northern Germany, the historic minorities and individual cultures are valued, yet have to struggle to survive. Indeed the cultural conflicts and identity are as complicated and hard to understand for many Austrians as they are to visitors. The level of personal awareness and views on this vary greatly from person to person but is generally subject to a particularly Austrian avoidance of the subject all together. It is best to try and see the diversity and enjoy the variety, rather than jump to conclusions.
Hence many Austrians derive their identity from their region or Bundesland (state). For instance, the typical inhabitant of Carinthia would say he/she is Carinthian first and Austrian second and maybe European third. Asking where someone is from is normally the first question Austrian's ask when meeting for the first time.
The fact, that Austrians dislike demonstrations of national identity, can however also be explained partly by the historical experiences Austria had during the Third Reich, and especially due to the violent use national symbols in the growing Austro-fascist movement as well as by the far-right Freedom Party. But also because the the current state of Austria is a relatively young and loose federal republic of just 8 million people. However, University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center rates Austria as the 5th most patriotic country in the world. So Austrian's do very much love their country but aren't likely to be flag-wavers.
Most Austrians like to enjoy the good life. They spend a lot of time eating, drinking and having a good time with friends in a cozy environment, and are therefore very hospitable. Members of the older generation can be conservative in the sense that they frown upon extremes of any shape and form and, in general, are adverse to change. They enjoy one of the highest living standards in the world and want to keep it that way.
Austria doesn't have a well defined class system. The rural and regional difference tend to be greater than in neighboring countries. Generally the further to the West and the more rural you go, the more socially conservative people become.
Austria is a parliamentarian, federal republic consisting of nine federal states (see list above). The official head of the state is the federal president (Bundespräsident), who is elected directly by the people for a term of six years. His/her function is mainly representative, however, and the federal chancellor (Bundeskanzler), appointed by the president, runs most of the day-to-day politics.
The Austrian parliament consists of two chambers, the Nationalrat (National Council) with 183 members as the main chamber and the Bundesrat (Federal Council). Whereas the members of the National Council are elected every four years by popular vote, the 62 members of the Federal Council are elected by each of the legislatures of the states of Austria for 4- to 6-year terms. The composition of the Bundesrat changes after every election to a state's Landtag (State Parliament). The Austrian constitution provides the Bundesrat with the right to veto legislation passed by the National Council; in most cases this is only a suspensive veto, meaning the National Council can override it by passing the law again.
There are five major parties in Austria: The social democrats (SPÖ), the (conservative) Austrian people's party (ÖVP), the (right-wing) freedom party (FPÖ) which recently split into two parties (FPÖ and the alliance for the future of Austria BZÖ) and the (leftist) Green Party. The current government consists of a coalition of SPÖ and ÖVP.
Contrary to popular perceptions, Austria is not all about mountains. While the Alps do cover 3/4 of the country dominating the provinces of Vorarlberg, Tyrol, Salzburg, Styria, Upper Austria and Carinthia, the eastern provinces of Lower Austria, the Burgenland and the federal capital of Vienna are more similar to the geography of the neighboring Czech Republic and Hungary. This diverse mix of landscapes is packed into a relatively small area of size. Glaciers, meadows, alpine valleys, wooded foothills, gently rolling farmland, vineyards, river gorges, plains and even semi-arid steppes can be found in Austria.
One quarter of Austria's population lives in Greater Vienna, a European metropolis, located where the Danube meets the easternmost fringe of the Alps, not far from the border with Slovakia and its capital Bratislava.
Virtually all government, financial and cultural institutions, as well as national media and large corporations are based in Vienna, due largely to history and geography. Thus, the capital dominates Austria's cultural and political life and is clearly a world unto its own. It has little to do with the rest of mainly rural Austria and outside of Graz and Linz there really are no other large scale cities in the country. There is a playful joke told in Vorarlberg province regarding the dominance of Vienna regarding national affairs that reads, "the people of western Austria make the money and Vienna spends it."
Austria has a temperate continental climate. Summers last from early June to mid-September and can be hot in some years and rainy in others. Day-time temperatures in July and August are around 25° C (77° F), but can often reach 35° C (95° F). Winters are cold in the lowlands and very harsh in the Alpine region with temperatures often dropping below -10° C (14° F). Winters last from December to March (longer at higher altitudes). In the Alpine region large temperature fluctuations occur all year round and nights are chilly even in high summer. The northern Alps are generally a lot wetter than the rest of the country. The South East (Styria and Carinthia) is dry and sunny. The area around Vienna often experiences strong easterly winds.
Electricity is supplied at 220 to 230V 50Hz. Outlets are the European standard CEE-7/7 "Schukostecker" or "Schuko" or the compatible, but non-grounded, CEE-7/16 "Europlug" types. Generally speaking, U.S. and Canadian travelers should pack an adapter and a converter for these outlets if they plan to use North American electrical equipment in Austria.
Austria is a federal republic comprised of nine states:
Austria is a member of the Schengen Agreement.
There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented this treaty - the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. But be careful: not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty, and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union. This means that there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).
Please see the article Travel in the Schengen Zone for more information about how the scheme works and what entry requirements are.
There are 6 airports in Austria with scheduled flights. The most important international airport is Vienna which has connection to all major airports of the world. Other international airports include Graz, Innsbruck, Klagenfurt, Linz, and Salzburg which provide domestic flights as well as connections to some European countries. Those airports are particularly popular with cheap airlines such as Ryanair. For traveling to the western states it is recommended to use the very close Munich airport.
The most common airports to visit Vorarlberg are Altenrhein (Austrian), Friedrichshafen (Ryanair, Intersky) and Zurich (Swiss).
If visiting Austria for winter sports, choose airport considering cost and duration for the whole trip (plane+transfer), not always Vienna and even likely not in Austria.
Unlike many countries, getting in to Austria for skiing shouldn't imply flying to the capital city first. Vienna itself is a 4 hour drive away from the nearest medium-sized resort, and longer by public transport. See more in GetIn section of Winter sports in Austria.
Austrian Airlines: Baby strollers weighting over 10kg should be checked in as a luggage; strollers below 10kg are allowed up until the aircraft board, and taken by personnel right at the entrance to the aircraft. See also a dedicated page on flying by Austrian with children: .
Eurolines Austria  has bus schedules from Austria to all major European countries and back. If you make use of special offers and/or book in advance, traveling by plane or train is normally cheaper than by bus, however, the bus may be the cheapest option if you want to travel at short notice or if you have large amounts of luggage. Bus travel is especially interesting for those comming from the East as there are many buses into Vienna. Information about their assorted services and pricing is can be found in that section.
Austria and all its neighbouring countries, except Liechtenstein are Schengen members so in theory there are no border controls. For using the Autobahnen or Schnellstrassen, a vignette, or tax sticker, must be purchased. Costs are approx €70 for one year, €20 for 8 weeks, or about €7 for 10 days.
On some Saturdays in July and August expect traffic jams on the motorways between Germany, Austria and Italy when millions of German tourists head south at the beginning of school vacations. A delay of about 2 hours is not unusual. The motorway A10 between Salzburg and Villach is especially notorious. It's best to avoid those Saturdays.
Austria has plenty of connections with all its neighbors daily. Every neighboring country (even Lichtenstein) have trains at least hourly. Many (Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland) even more frequently. The ÖBB (Austrian Railways) operate high-speed ICE and RailJet trains from cities like Zurich, Munich,Frankfurt, Passau, and Budapest. Eurocity trains are the next fastest trains available as well as the trains connecting the bigger Austrian cities called Intercity. Neighboring railways also offer a good variety of trains like the Czech high-speed Pendolino coming from Prague. Regional trains called EURegio and simply Regionalzug are also avialible from all 8 of Austria's neighbors.
Vienna is a the largest railroad hub but day and night trains from most Central European countries travel to many stops across Austria. Day trains are normally much quicker than night trains. Tickets can be purchased from certain locations to Austria via the ÖBB website. Always compare fares from the departure or even transit countries' railways as there may be price difference even for the same train. ÖBB offers discount 'SparSchiene' tickets to and from destinations like Croatia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Serbia, and Switzerland for a flat-rate (i.e. €29 for a one-way seater, €39 for a couchette, or €59 for a sleeper). There are a limited number of tickets at this price. At peak times you need to book in advance. Additional offers are avaible to all countries in Central Europe, although many cannot be booked online.
Information for trainspotters
In Austria most railways run electrically. Most electric trains get their power from a single-phase AC network. This network uses its own power lines run with 110 kV. In contrast to normal power lines, these employ a number of conductors that is not divisible by 3 - most power lines for the single phase AC grid of the traction power grid have four conductors. There are many interesting mountain railways of all types and trains from around central Europe.
By train and bus
Trains are the best way to get around if you're visiting cities. Comfortable and moderately priced trains connect major cities and many towns; buses other towns and lakes. The two forms of transport are integrated and designed to complement each other, and intercity coaches (long distance buses) are hard to find in most of Austria.
The ÖBB  sells tickets domestically using a price based only upon distance traveled, regardless of when you buy the ticket and which train you take. There are no discounts, except in combination with special events and their discount card. If you buy a ticket from Salzburg to Vienna that ticket is valid for any train that takes you to Vienna (even for a foreign train stopping inside Austria).
Tickets can be ordered (and paid for) on the web, including itineraries with connected trains and involving narrow-gauge railways (like in the Zillertal valley). Optionally, you can also reserve seats for a small fee--definitely recommended if you travel with luggage. Tickets ordered online should be printed, to be presented, barcode-scanned and stamped when asked for by a ticket inspector onboard.
There are ticket machines at all sizable train stations and onboard some regional trains. For some suburban railways you are required to have a ticket before boarding (these are noted with SB). Ticket machines do not display or print itineraries and many train stations only display basic timetables. It is best to find an itinerary on the Austrian Railways website trip planner. Stations also provide pamphlets with detailed timetables, but this assumes you know which line to board to get to your destination, and can only be obtained during office-hours.
On suburban and regional trains there is normally only 2nd class. On ICE, IC and EC trains is 2nd class which has sufficently roomy plush seats, and also first class which is more private and with even roomier leather seats. The RailJet offers three classes Economy which is akin to 2nd class and where 2nd class tickets are valid, First Class features roomier leather seats and services like a welcome drink, Premium Class is yet fancier with more at your seat services.
VorteilsCard . Gets you 45%-55% (depending on the train and if you buy it electronically--machines and internet tickets getting best discount) off any domestic rail ticket and 25% off of cross-border trains in Europe (through RailPlus). It is valid for one year. If you are under 26 and plan to spend at least €40 on rail travel get a VorteilsCard (passport-type photo needed) for €19.90, you get a paper card for the short term and a plastic one with-in two weeks by mail. The Vorteilscard is also available for those over 26 for €99.90. Additionally there are periodically exclusive sales on international trains for cardholders.
Seniors and the handicap are eligible for free seat reservations and their own versions of the VorteilsCard, although may need certain Austrian documents to obtain the VorteilsCard.
The only regular exception to the national railway tarif is the Einfach-Raus-Ticket which costs €28 total for a group of 2-5 people who don't mind slower regional trains. Its valid from 9AM on weekdays, from midnight on weekends. Its valid on all regional trains (except a very few private railways) within Austria. Train numbers starting with R, REX, S, RSB are all regional trains and there is a special option on the ÖBB website trip-planner for the ticket. The ticket is only avialible for groups of 2 to 5 people.
If you are under 26 and visiting Austria in the summer months July and August don't miss the Sommerticket Special. This ticket allows you unlimited travelling with all trains in Austria anytime all the sommer long and does only costs 39€ (20€ for the Vorteilscard 26< and 19€ for the ticket ask for both at the ticket counter)
Special event tickets are offered in conjunction with entrance or event tickets.
Return tickets combine with heritage railways or ships are also offered.
Rural or sparsely populated regions in Austria are easier to explore by car as bus services can be infrequent. Many popular spots in the mountains are only accessible by car or on foot/ski. Renting a car for a couple of days is a good way to go off the beaten track. Driving in Austria is normally quite pleasant as the country is small and the roads are in good condition, not congested and offer fantastic scenery. Beware of dangerous drivers, however: Austrians are generally a very law-abiding bunch, but when behind a wheel they seem to make an exception to their considerate attitude. Comprehensive maps of Austria, specific regions within Austria (including city maps), as well as maps from neighbouring countries can be bought at any petrol station. (expect to pay around €7 for one map)
As in many European cities, parking in cities is subject to fee on work days. Usually those parking zones are marked by blue lines on the street. Some cities (e.g. Vienna) have area-wide zones which are not denotated by blue lines). Fees vary from town to town as do the fines, which are charged if you have no valid ticket. (generally between €20 and €30) Tickets can be usually bought from kiosks, some cities (e.g. Graz) have ticket machines on the street. A cheap alternative is to park your car a bit outside of the town in parking garages called Park and Ride which can be found in any bigger city.
Travelling on Austrian motorways (Autobahnen) or Schnellstraßen means you are liable to pay tolls. If your vehicle is under 3500 kg in weight, you have to buy a Vignette toll pass, in advance, which can be purchased at any petrol station or at the border. Vignetten can be bought for 10 days (€7,70/€4,40 for motorcycles), 2 months (€22,20/€11,10 for motorcycles) or one year (€73,80/€29,50 for motorcycles; technically valid until January of the following year, so a 2008 vignette expires on 31 January 2009).
If you intend to transit Austria via the A14 from the German border to the Swiss Border at Hohenems/Diepoldsau, you can instead purchase a Korridor-Vignette. This is valid for a single trip along this road and can be purchased for €2,00 (or €4,00 for a round-trip) at the border.
Vehicles heavier than 3500 kg must instead purchase a GO-Box, a transponder which deducts tolls as the vehicles travel along the Autobahn or Schnellstraße. The cost the GO-Box is €5 and tolls can either be prepaid (€75 initially, followed by increments of €50 to recharge) or paid through an invoice at a later date. Rates vary from €0,16 to €0,33 per kilometer based on number of axles, with extra charges paid based on time of day and for certain Autobahnen.
Driving a car on a motorway without a vignette is punished with either payment of a substitute toll of €120 (€65 for motorcycles) (that allows one to travel on the motorways for that day and the day immediately following) or a fine of upwards of €300, and if the fine is not paid on the spot, valuables may be seized from your vehicle and person to ensure that the fine is paid. You must affix the vignette to the front windscreen of your vehicle, preferably in the top-center or on one of the driver's side corners, otherwise it is not valid, which is a common mistake made by foreigners in Austria. The motorway police regularly check for vignetten. Driving without a valid GO-Box, if required, costs €220, and setting an incorrect toll class carries a €110 substitute toll.
The speed limits are 130 km/h on Autobahnen and 100 km/h on Schnellstraßen and Bundesstraßen. Expect limits otherwise of 50-80 km/h.
Rules on Autobahnen are very similar to the rules in Germany. For example, you may not pass on the right, and the minimum speed limit is 60 km/h (vehicles unable to travel 60 km/h are not admitted onto the Autobahn).
Take special care when driving in winter, especially in the mountains (and keep in mind that winter lasts from September to May in the higher parts of the alps and snowfall is in general possible at any time of the year). Icy roads kill dozens of inexperienced drivers every year. Avoid speeding and driving at night and make sure the car is in a good condition. Motorway bridges are particularly prone to ice. Slow down to 80 km/h when going over them.
Winter tires are strongly recommended by Austrian motoring clubs. When there is snowfall, winter tires or snow chains are required by law on some mountain passes, and occasionally also on motorways. This is indicated by a round traffic sign depicting a white tire or chain on a blue background. It is always a good idea to take a pair of snow chains and a warm blanket in the boot. Drivers often get stuck in their car for several hours and sometimes suffer from hypothermia.
Contrary to popular belief there is no need to rent an off-road vehicle in winter (though a 4x4 is helpful). In fact, small, lightweight cars are better at tackling narrow mountain roads than sluggish off-road vehicles. Virtually all roads in Austria open to the public are either covered in tarmac or at the least even surfaced. The problems normally encountered are ice and steepness, not unevenness. When driving downhill the only remedy against sliding are snow chains no matter what vehicle you are in.
Petrol is cheaper in Austria than in some neighboring countries, but still expensive compared to American standards.
Although you'll miss out most of the stunning Austrian Landscape, it is possible to travel by plane within Austria. Domestic flights normally cost in the region of €300-500 return, Austrian Airlines offers limited tickets for 99 € (Redtickets) but they have to be booked usually 2-3 months in advance. Since the country is small, the total journey time is unlikely to be shorter than by rail or car. In other words, don't bother flying unless you are on a business trip.
Following domestic Airports are serviced by airlines like Austrian Arrows, Intersky, Niki, Welcome Air:
Non-domestic airport servicing western Austria:
The national official language of Austria is German which, in its national standard variety, known as Austrian (Standard) German (Österreichisches (Hoch)Deutsch) is generally identical to the German used in Germany, with some significant vocabulary differences (many of which concern kitchen language or the home), and a soft, relaxed, but otherwise not very distinct accent. Most Austriacisms are loanwords from Austro-Bavarian, but some of them from languages of the neighbouring countries. Official minority languages include Slovene (in Carinthia), Burgenland Croatian (in Burgenland) and Hungarian (in Burgenland).
Some examples for different vocabulary in Austrian German:
The first language of almost all Austrians, however, is not German, but instead local dialects of Austro-Bavarian (Boarisch) (also the local language in most of South Tyrol, Italy, and largely in Bavaria, Germany), in Vorarlberg replaced by Alemannic (Alemannisch) (also the local language of German-speaking Switzerland and Liechtenstein, largely in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, and partly in Alsace, France). Both these languages belong to the Upper German family, but are only partially mutually intelligeble to each other and German, and especially in the larger cities almost everyone will be able to communicate in German as well, if only when speaking to foreigners (including Northern Germans). Most Austrians can understand another region's dialect but have the hardest time in Vorarlberg due to the fact that it's Alemannic-speaking.
English is widely spoken, and the only area most tourists have linguistic problems with is in translating menus. Even competent German or even Austro-Bavarian speakers may find that they are replied to in English, and it is not uncommon to hear Austrians addressing each other in English! In rural places, however, people older than 50 often don't speak English, so it can help to learn a few basic German or Austro-Bavarian phrases if travelling to such places.
Italian is widespread in the parts of Austria bordering Italy (i.e. the Tyrol and western Carinthia), even though the majority language on the Italian side (i.e. most of South Tyrol) is still German (Austro-Bavarian in practice).
In general, when speaking German Austrians tend to pronounce the vowels longer and use a pronunciation which is regional, yet genuine, elegant and melodic; it is agruably the most beautiful form of German. Also, the "ch", "h" and "r" are not as harshly pronounced as in Germany, making the accent much more mild in nature. Most of this comes from Austro-Bavarian.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Austria is well known for its scenic cycle routes along its largest rivers. Though Austria is a mountainous country, cycle routes along rivers are flat or gently downhill, and therefore suitable even for casual cyclists. The most famous route is the Danube cycle path from Passau to Vienna, one of the most popular cycle paths in Europe, drawing large crowds of cyclists from all over the world each summer. Other rivers with well-developed cycle routes are the Inn, Drau, Moell and Mur. Most routes follow a combination of dedicated cycle paths, country lanes, and traffic calmed roads, and are well suited for children.
Many visitors come to experience Austria's musical heritage. Salzburg and Vienna offer world renowned opera, classical music and jazz at moderate prices, but performances of high standards are also widely available throughout the rest of the country. There are dozens of Summer festivals for all tastes, the most famous being the avant-garde Salzburg festival (Salzburger Festspiele) but because they're aimed at tourists prices can be high. Austria's strong musical tradition is not confined to classical music alone. Austrian folk music (Volksmusik) is an integral part of rural Austria, and is said to have influenced many of the nation's big composers. In the Alps almost every village has its own choir or brass band (Blasmusik), and you'll often see groups of friends sitting down to sing Lieder in rural pubs. Traditional Alpine instruments are the accordion and zither. In Vienna a type of melancholic violin music known as Schrammelmusik is often performed in Restaurants and Heurigen.
Austria has quite a special kind of cinematic culture, that is worth taking notice of as tourist. Many films star celebrities from cabaret, a kind of staged comedy popular in Austria. Most of these movies are characterized by their rather cynical and sometimes bizarre black humour, usually portraying members of Vienna's lower or middle class. Josef Hader, Roland Düringer, Reinhard Nowak or Alfred Dorfer are among the most outstanding actors here. Recommendations include Indien (1993), Muttertag (1993), Hinterholz 8 (1998), Komm, süßer Tod (2000) and Silentium (2004). Popular directors are Harald Sicheritz, Michael Haneke and Ulrich Seidl. Haneke received positive international praise for his films Die Klavierspielerin (2001), based on the novel by nobel-prize winning author Elfriede Jelinek and Caché (2005). Seidl received various awards for his drama Hundstage (2001). Also, the 1949 classic The Third Man was shot in Vienna, and is regularly shown in Vienna's Burg Kino.
It is normally safe to hike without a guide in the Austrian Alps, as there is a dense network of marked trails and mountain shelters. However, a few lethal incidents do happen every year as a result of carelessness. Walkers are strongly advised not to stray off the trails and not to hike in bad weather or without suitable equipment. Before setting off, always check with the local tourist office whether the trail corresponds to your abilities. Also check the weather forecast. Sudden thunderstorms are frequent and are more likely to happen in the afternoon. A rule of thumb is that if you haven't reached the summit by noon it's time to give up and return to shelter.
Though the scenery is by all accounts majestic, don't expect an empty wilderness. The Alps can be very crowded with mountaineers, especially in high season (there are even traffic jams of climbers on some popular mountains). Littering is a no-no in all of Austria, but especially in the mountains, and you will enrage fellow walkers if you're seen doing it. If you really want to show respect pick up any litter you happen to see in your path and dispose of it at the end of your hike (it's a bit of an unwritten rule). Long distance trails are marked with the Austrian flag (red-white-red horizontal stripes) painted onto rocks and tree trunks.
Most trails and mountain huts are maintained by the Austrian Alpine Club. Some are run by other equivalent organizations, such as the German, Dutch and Italian Alpine Clubs. Mountain huts are meant to be shelters, not hotels. Though they are normally clean and well-equipped, standards of food and accommodation are basic. Don't expect a high level of customer service either. Blankets are provided, but bringing a thin sleeping bag is mandatory for hygienic reasons. During the high season (August) it's a good idea to book in advance. Mountain huts will not turn anyone down for the night, but if they're full you'll have to sleep on the floor. Prices for the night are usually around 10-20€ (half for Alpine Club members), but meals and drinks are quite expensive, as everything has to be carried up from the valley, often by helicopters or on foot. For the same reason, there are no trash cans in or near huts. Electricity and gas are hard to bring there, too, so warm showers (if available at all) have to be paid for. Some huts don't even have running water, this means pit latrines. As mentioned above, mountain huts are very useful for hikers, they mostly have a heated common room and they are very romantic, but there is nothing more than necessary.
Detailed hiking maps showing the location of marked trails and shelters can be purchased online from the Austrian Alpine Society .
Austria is a member of the European Union and the Eurozone. Consequently, the national currency is the Euro. The best rates for changing money are offered by banks.
The legacy currency, the Schilling, can still be exchanged for Euro indefinitely, but not all banks may offer this service.
The prices are comparable with Western European countries, and a bit higher than the USA. The general sales taxs of 20 % is included in prices but lower sales taxes applies to certain services and mainly food. A can of Coke will cost you about 40 cents, a good meal €15. Prices in tourist areas (Tyrol, Vienna, Salzburg, Zell am See) are a lot higher than the averages. B&B accommodation and restaurants in towns and rural areas are quite cheap.
Shops are generally open from 8AM to 7PM on weekdays and Saturday from 8AM to 6PM and closed on Sundays except for gas station shops (expensive), shops at railway stations and restaurants. Be aware that paying by credit card is not as common as in the rest of Europe or as in the United States but all major credit cards (Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Diners Club) are accepted at almost every gas station and at bigger shops, especially in shopping malls. In smaller towns and villages you normally find one or two small shops or bakeries, which carry nearly everything, called "Greißler", although they are under threat from bigger shopping centers.
ATMs in Austria are called Bankomat. They are wide-spread and you will find them even in smaller, rural villages. Many shops (and some restaurants too) offer the service to pay directly with an ATM card. The majority of ATMs accept cards from abroad. All Bankomats in Austria can easily identified by a sign showing a green stripe above a blue stripe. It doesn't matter which Bankomat you use; the transaction fee is always zero (excluding any fees charged by your own bank).
Bargaining is not common throughout Austria except at flea markets. It may be okay to ask for a discount, but accept No as an answer.
What gifts to take home
Austrian food is distinctive and delicious, and is traditionally of the stodgy, hearty "meat and dumplings" variety. Wiener Schnitzel (a bread-crumbed and fried veal escalope) is something of a national dish, and Knödel are a kind of dumpling which can be made either sweet or savory according to taste. In Vienna the Tafelspitz (boiled beef with potatoes and horseradish) is traditionally served on Sundays, and is normally accompanied by clear broth with dumplings and herbs. Apart from these, Austria is renowned for its pastries and desserts, the most well-known of which is probably the Apfelstrudel.
Bread is taken seriously in Austria. Almost every village has its own bakery, offering a large choice of freshly baked sweet and savoury rolls daily from 6AM. Rye bread (Vollkornbrot, Bauernbrot) is the traditional staple food among peasants. If this is too heavy for you, try the common white bread roll (Semmel). Somewhat surprisingly, it is easier to find good bread outside of Vienna, where the baking industry hasn't yet come to be dominated by industrial scale chain shops.
Some Austrians have a habit of eating sweet flour-based dishes (Mehlspeise) for a main course once a week. Varieties include Kaiserschmarren, Marillenknoedel, and Germknoedel.
The best advice is to dive into the menu and give it a go - there are no nasty surprises!
If you want to try out traditional Austrian food go for a Gasthaus or Gasthof, which serve traditional food for reasonable prices. Usually they offer various options of set lunch including a soup and a main dish and in some cases a dessert too. They are typically priced at around €5-7 (except for very touristy areas). Menus are written in German, though some of the restaurants have English menus as well. Keep in mind that tipping is expected throughout all restaurants in Austria. Rounding up the price given on the bill is usually enough tip.
In Austrian restaurants you must ask to pay. Get the attention of your server and say: "zahlen, bitte" (to pay, please). They will then bring you the check, or tell you the amount of the bill verbally. Then, the proper way to pay in Austria is to give your cash and say the amount you wish to pay, including tip. To tip it is appropriate to round up, or to round up +50 cents or 1 euro of the cost for each person (should equal about 5-10% for a full meal). Servers are not dependent on tips, and it is not appropriate to tip a large amount. Saying "danke" (thank you) when paying means keep the change! Alternatively, you can say the amount of the bill plus your tip and will only get change above that amount (for instance, if you pay with a €20 bill, the amount is €16.50 and you say "Siebzehn Euro" (seventeen euro), the server will give you €3 change and keep the €0.50 as tip).
Vegetarianism is slowly improving, especially in bigger cities. Most restaurants don't cater for vegetarians specifically, but you're likely to find at least 3 meals on the menu containing no meat. Also ask the waiter to get a menu on the card without meat, in most cases they respect you and bring you a meat-free menu. As an alternative, there is normally at least one vegetarian restaurant in every bigger city. You get vegetarian and vegan products (e.g. tofu, soya, healthy-food or lactose-free products) in nearly all supermarkets across the country (in rual areas as well) and in many health-food shops.
In more traditional or rural restaurants, you will be viewed as highly eccentric if you say you are vegetarian, and it's likely that not a single meal on the menu is meat free. This is especially true for traditional Austrian cuisine which relies heavily on meat -- even apparent vegetable dishes such as potato salad or vegetable soup often contain meat products. Sometimes, also food clearly labeled as "vegetarian" contains fish or pork, as some people consider the word "vegetarian" to only exclude a few types of meat. Some traditional meals that are guaranteed to be vegetarian are Kaiserschmarren (sweet pieces of fluffy pancake with fruit compote), Germknoedel (Dumpling with sour prune jam), and Kasnudel (similar to ravioli).
Vienna is famous for its café culture, and there are coffee houses all over the city, many of which have outdoor terraces that are popular in the summer. Visit them for coffee (of course), hot chocolate and pastries. Most famous is Sacher-Torte.
Austria has also some first class wines, mostly whites, slightly on the acid side. Wine can be drunk pure or mixed with mineral water, called "G'spritzter" or "Spritzer". The best place to do so is at the "Heurigen" in the suburban areas of Vienna. Originally the "Heurigen" was open only in summer, but more recently you can have your "Spritzer" throughout the year with a little self-served snack.
Soft drinks: Austria has also a national soft drink called Almdudler. It is lemonade with herbs. Other typical Austrian soft drinks are Holler or Hollundersaft. It's a soft drink made of elderberry blossoms.
Like in most of central Europe, a large number of high quality lager beers are brewed in Austria. Every region and bigger city has its own brand of beer. Stiegl is easy to find and is usually considered to be excellent, especially on American palates. Other popular brands are Gösser and Ottakringer, and there are many regional brews the locals will take pride in.
Schnaps is a type of fruit brandy served in many parts of Austria, usually after a meal. The most popular flavours are pear, apricot, and raspberry, though dozens of other flavours are available. There are three quality tiers of Schnaps: distilled, infused, and flavoured. The distilled variety is the highest quality; several brands of Austrian fruit Schnaps rank among the best in the world, but are accordingly expensive: a half-Liter bottle can cost up to €100. "Real" Schnaps is made from real fruit (either distilled or infused). Beware of the cheap stuff sold in large bottles in supermarkets; this is often of the "flavoured" type - nothing more than pure ethanol mixed with artificial flavouring. If you want the real thing, go to a deli or upscale bar (if you're in a bigger city) or a Buschenschank (Farmhouse) (if you're in the countryside). However, be careful with Schnaps especially if you are not used to alcoholic drinks!
Eiswein is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. Eiswein is generally quite expensive due to the labour-intense and risky production process. Your best bet is to buy eiswein at Naschmarkt for €10..15 for 375 ml or 500 ml; more chances to find it there on weekends. Just to give an idea of prices elsewhere, ice wine sells at Wein & Co near Naschmarkt at €24-30 for a 375ml bottle, and Vienna duty free shop sells it for €23.50 as well.
Although hotels can usually even be found in smaller cities they are quite expensive (even more so in bigger cities) cheaper possibilities in big cities are youth hostels and in smaller towns you can often find families renting flats in bed and breakfast style (look for Pension or Zimmer Frei signs) for €15-25. In the countryside many farmers will rent out rooms for a couple of nights, both officially and unofficially. To find a place to stay, simply knock on the door of a farmhouse and ask - if they don't have a room they'll probably know someone nearby who does.
You can also find a lot of camping grounds (some of them are open the whole year round) but while they are exceptionally clean and often provide additional services, they are also a bit more expensive than in other countries in Central Europe.
Austrian law requires anyone to register at their resident address, even if it's only for one night and even if it's a campsite. Hotels will therefore ask you to hand over your passport or driving license and may refuse to give you accommodation if you don't have any ID on you. Don't worry too much about handing over your passport. In many countries such a practice would raise concern but in Austria it's a standard procedure. Your passport will be returned. If you stay in private accommodation for longer than about two weeks, you should obtain a document of registration (Meldezettel) from the local registration authority (Bezirksamt or Meldeamt), usually located in the town hall. This document needs to be signed by the owner or tenant of your accommodation. Failure to present this document upon departure could cause difficulties if you have stayed in the country for more than two or three months.
Austria has a diverse school and university system which can be quite confusing especially when you come from abroad. There is a four-year compulsory elementary school for everyone. In general, compulsory school attendance is 9 years. After elementary school you can decide between attending secondary school for four years or grammar school for eight years. However, after four years in secondary school or four years in grammar school, you can switch to a vocational school which typically focuses on technical or economic professions. Vocational schools are usually attended for five years (giving you a general qualification for university entrance diploma) or three years (providing you with a master craftsman's diploma for a certain profession).
A university entrance diploma grants access to all subjects which are offered at university. There are no further restrictions (e.g. like a grade point average in certain subjects at school), however, some studies have a test at the beginning (for instance Medicine).
As in many European countries, Austria's traditional system of academic degrees is two-tiered, with a Diplom/Magister stage (after 4--6 years of study) followed by the doctorate. However, most of Austria's universities have been moving to a three-tiered degree system in the past few years, with a bachelor's degree (3 years) followed by a master's degree (an additional 2 years) and finally the doctorate.
Studying in Austria is subject to fees (about €726 per year or €363 per semester for EU nationals, twice as much for others, although citizens of some developing countries are exempt). Due to recent changes in laws (mid 2008) this fees are expected to be abolished for citizens of the European Union, and halved for other foreigners.
Austria has many great universities, the majority of which are located in Vienna, Graz, and Innsbruck. A relatively recent development in tertiary education are the Fachhochschulen (Universities of Applied Sciences), vocational colleges that typically focus on engineering and business education with less emphasis on research than traditional universities, but a stronger view toward practice.
Good work is difficult to find for non-fluent German speakers. If you speak no German at all the best option is probably looking for jobs advertised outside Austria. Another possibility is giving private tuition in foreign languages, though you are unlikely to earn a full time income this way and it takes several months to build up a base of clients.
There is plenty of unskilled work available in the tourism industry. As long as you have a work permit, finding a job can often be as easy as simply turning up at a hotel and asking. Seasonal work in large ski resorts is the most promising option.
Austria is one of the safest countries in the world. According to the OECD Factbook of 2006, levels of robbery, assault, and car crime are among the lowest in the developed world, and a study by Mercer ranks Vienna as the 6th safest city in the world out of 215 cities. Violent crimes are extremely rare and should not concern the average tourist. Small towns and uninhabited areas such as forests are very safe at any time of the day.
Beware of pickpockets in crowded places. Like everywhere in Europe they are becoming increasingly professional. Bicycle theft is rampant in bigger cities, but virtually absent in smaller towns. Always lock your bike to an immobile object.
Racism can also be a problem and make your stay an unpleasant experience. Just like anywhere else in Central Europe, there might be instances of glaring, hostile looks, even questioning by the police in big cities like Graz or Vienna is not uncommon. This might make the non-Caucasian audience unwelcome. However, Racism is almost never seen in a violent form. In more remote parts of Austria people of non-white origin are a rare sight. If you see senior locals giving you strange looks here don't feel threatened. They are probably just showing curiosity or a distrust of foreigners and have no intention of doing any physical harm. A short conversation can often be enough to break the ice.
Do not walk on the bike lanes (especially in Vienna) and cross them like you would cross any other road. Some bike lanes are hard to recognize (e.g. on the "Ring" in Vienna) and some cyclists drive rather fast. Walking on bike lines is not only considered to be impolite, but it may also happen that you are hit by a cyclist.
Public toilets must normally be paid for. Prices range between €0.20 and €1, which must either be handed to a toilet assistant or inserted into a slot. Public toilets can always be found in city centers (normally on the main square), in train stations, and near major tourist attractions. In Vienna it's probably a good idea to simply walk into the next McDonald's and use the washrooms there for free.
Households without washing machines are almost unheard of in Austria. As a result, laundrettes are few and far between, and may be completely absent from smaller cities. However, most hotels, youth hostels, campsites and even B&Bs normally offer laundry facilities for a small charge.
Austria has an excellent healthcare system by Western standards. Hospitals are modern, clean, and well-equipped. Healthcare in Austria is funded by the Krankenkassen (Sickness-funds), compulsory public insurance schemes that cover 99% of the population. Most hospitals are owned and operated by government bodies or the Krankenkassen. Private hospitals exist, but mainly for non-life-threatening conditions. Doctor's surgeries on the other hand are mostly private, but most accept patients from the Krankenkassen. Many Austrians choose to buy supplemental private health insurance. This allows them to see doctors that don't accept Krankenkassen and to stay in special hospital wards with fewer beds (which often receive preferential treatment).
If you are a traveller from the EU, you can get any form of urgent treatment for free (or a small token fee) that is covered by the Krankenkassen. Non-urgent treatment is not covered. Simply show your European Health Insurance Card and passport to the doctor or hospital. When going to a GP, watch out if the street sign says "Alle Kassen" (all Krankenkassen accepted), or "Keine Kassen" (no Krankenkassen accepted), in which case your EHIC is not valid. Supplemental travel insurance is recommended if you want to be able to see any doctor or go to the special ward.
If you are a traveller from outside the EU, and have no travel insurance, you will need to pay the full cost of treatment up-front (with the exception of the emergency room). Medical bills can be very expensive, though still reasonable when compared to the USA.
Austria has a dense network of helicopter ambulances that can reach any point in the country within 15 minutes. Beware: Mountain rescue by helicopter is not covered by your EHIC, or indeed most travel insurances. If you have a medical emergency while you are in the mountains (eg. break a leg while skiing), the helicopter will be called on you regardless of whether you ask for it or not, and you will be billed upwards of €1,000. Mountain sports insurace is therefore highly recommended; you can obtain this from your health insurer or by becoming a member of the Austrian Alpine Club. (€ 48,50 for one year of membership, automatic insurance for mountain search-and-rescue costs up to € 22.000)
Certain regions in Austria (Carinthia, Styria, Lower Austria) are affected by tick borne encephalitis. For those who plan doing outdoor activities in spring or summer a vaccine is strongly recommended. Also be aware that there is a small, endangered population of sand vipers in the south.
Tap water is of exceptional quality and safe to drink in Austria (except in some parts of lower Austria, where it is recommended to ask about the water quality first!). The quality of water in Vienna is supposedly comparable to that of Evian.
In public many people can be impolite and pushy however. Many tourists perceive Austrians as unfriendly on the street and in shops, but in many cases this is directness and formality mistaken for unfriendliness. You may find for example that a shop assistant tells you off only to be extremely helpful a minute later. In Vienna a cafe isn't considered a real cafe without bad-tempered and arrogant waiters.
Perhaps surprisingly for a rather conservative nation, Austria's attitude towards nudity is one of the most relaxed in Europe. The display of full nudity in the mainstream media and advertising can be a shock for many visitors, especially those from outside Europe. It is not uncommon for women to bathe topless in beaches and recreational areas in summer. Though swimming costumes must normally be worn in public pools and beaches, when bathing "wild" in rivers and lakes it is normally OK to take one's clothes off. Nudity is compulsory in Austria's many nude beaches (FKK Strand), health spas and hotel saunas.
Some basic etiquette (Of course most of this doesn't really matter when you are in a younger crowd)
International code is +43.
When calling Austria from abroad, if the number starts with the city code 0222, it's in Vienna. Drop all four of those digits and replace it with a 1, then dial the remaining digits of the phone number. 0222 was the former dialing prefix for Vienna. It should be replaced by 1 also for domestic calls to Vienna.
If the number doesn't start with 0222, simply drop the initial zero from the city code and dial the remaining digits.
Public phones are available in postal offices. Phone boxes are getting rare (and exchanged by boxes with internet access) since the use of cell phones got very popular over the last years. Phone boxes usually operate with prepaid cards which can be obtained from postal offices and kiosks (German:Trafik).
Phone numbers have an area code followed by the phone number itself. Mobile phone numbers use the prefix 0650, 0660, 0664, 0676, 0699, 0680, 0681 or 0688. Toll-free numbers are denoted by 0800, service lines priced like local calls are setting off with 0810 whereas numbers starting with 0900, 0901, 0930 or 0931 are expensive service lines charging up to 3,63€ per minute.
To enjoy cheap international calls from Austria you can use low-cost dial-around services such as pennyphone , austriaphone  or fuchstarife . Dial-around services are directly available from any landline in Austria. No contract, no registration is required. Most dial-around services offer USA, Canada, Western Europe and many other countries at the price of a local call so you can save on your phone expenses easily. They also work from public payphones.
Austria has a perfect GSM and 3G (UMTS) network coverage of nearly 100%. If you bring your own cell phone with you assure yourself that it operates on 900MHz / 1800MHz (GSM) or 2100Mhz (3G WCDMA). There are cell phones that operate at 1900MHz (e.g. networks in the United States) which are not supported in Austria. If you plan a longer visit in Austria it might be useful to buy a new mobile with a prepaid card from a local cell phone network provider. Be aware that some remote areas (especially mountainous areas) do not have network coverage yet, though this rather the exception than the rule. Even the Vienna underground lines do have perfect coverage.
Despite being a rather small country, Austria has a large number of cell network providers including A1, T-Mobile, Orange (former called One) , Drei (3G), Telering, Tele2, Bob and Yesss.
The probably cheapest prepaid mobile providers right now are Bob  and Yesss . A prepaid card costs €13 including 60 minutes talking time. Then you pay 6.8 cent per minute to all Austrian networks (as of June 2008) and 70 cents to the most important other countries. The Yesss SIM card is only available at the discounter Hofer . Yesss also sells cheap UMTS data cards (that are different from the normal SIM cards). The starter kit includes 1GB traffic and is available for 20 Euro. In order to prevent the SIM card from expiring, you need to recharge it once per year.
If you have an Austrian bank account, you can purchase a registered (non-prepaid) Bob SIM card. Calls then only cost 4 cent per minute to all other Austrian networks. There is no basic fee and no minimum charge.
The new provider eety  has a prepaid SIM card with very cheap international rates (13 cents to Germany, 9 Cent for Short Messages (SMS) worldwide). Online available at www.eety.eu and also sold in a few stores in major towns.
You may often purchase a prepaid SIM card for Austria before you depart from an online vendor  which can be convenient as you get instructions in English and your cell phone number before you depart.
Internet cafes are common in bigger cities. Hotels in cities do normally have internet terminals, more expensive hotels provide internet access in the rooms itself. There are many free WLAN/WiFi Hotspots, every McDonald's has free WLAN (unlimited Time and Traffic) and for example on the Mariahilferstrasse in Vienna
Mobile broadband providers in Austria are some of the cheapest and fastest in Europe. If you have a laptop and plan to hang around for longer it might be worth buying a pay-as-you-go mobile internet USB modem. For example, Bob  offers a USB modem for €55 which includes 1GB of data transfer and can be topped up if required. These USB modems are sold freely in Austria and no contract, registration or proof of residency is required for the pay-as-you-go product.