Austria (German: Österreich, literally "the Eastern Realm" or "Eastern Empire") is a land-locked alpine country in Central Europe bordering with 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 is a federal republic comprised of nine federal-states:
Once the center of power for the large Austro-Hungarian Empire, Austria was reduced to a small republic after its defeat in World War I. Following annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938 and subsequent occupation by the victorious Allies in 1945, Austria's status remained unclear for a decade. A State Treaty signed in 1955 ended the occupation, recognized Austria's independence, and forbade unification with Germany. A constitutional law of that same year declared the country's "perpetual neutrality" as a condition for Soviet military withdrawal. This neutrality, once ingrained as part of the Austrian cultural identity, has been called into question since the Soviet collapse of 1991 and Austria's entry into the European Union in 1995. A prosperous country, Austria entered the European Monetary Union in 1999.
Austrians aren't easy to categorize. In fact, the only 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 behaviour. 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. Many Austrians derive their identity from their Bundesland, or Province. For instance, the typical inhabitant of Carinthia would say he/she is Carinthian first and Austrian second. Hence, patriotism concerning the nation as a whole is seldom shown and foreigners are often disturbed by the lack of enthusiasm that can be observed e.g. on national holiday. The fact, that Austrians dislike demonstrations of national identity, can however also be explained partly by the historical experiences Austria has made during the Third Reich, since due to the horrors of that time some bad taste will always adhere to any manifestation of national pride.
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 averse 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. However, cultural differences between the urban and rural populations can be huge. Culture also varies from region to region, but to a lesser extent. As a very general rule, the further to the West the location and the more rural the environment, the more socially conservative people become.
Due to the lack of overall patriotism and the commonness of regional identity, Austrians as a big entity like to define themselves merely by what they are not. It's important to stress that Austrians are not Germans, even though 99% of Austrians are ethnically Germans and German is the official and universal language. Arguably, Southern Germany and Bavaria in particular is a close cultural relative of Austria in many ways. You may not even notice any change at all in people's accent and appearance when crossing the border between the two countries. Likewise, South Tyrol in northern Italy, with its Austrian history is culturally very similar. But Northern and Eastern Germany (north of the Main River) are a different world altogether and in some aspects no more similar to Austria than, say, its southerly neighbor Italy! While the common language may appear the same on paper, in spoken word its not and the cultural divide between the northern german speaking world and the alpine region is large. It is perhaps this that makes Austrians think in a collective sense that they are very proud to hold on to regional tradtions and boast of what they are not, mainly German! Whatever the similarities and differences between Austria and Germany may be, comparisons will not be appreciated by Austrians, neither will the use of terms like "German", "Teutonic" or "Germanic" for things that are Austrian. Certainly, 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!
Austria is a parliamentarian, federal republic consisting of nine federal states (see list above). The official head of the state is the federal president, who is voted directly by the people every six years. However, his/her function is mainly representative, and the chancellor, appointed by the parlament, runs most of the day-to-day politics. The parliament is voted every four years and consists of two chambers : The Nationalrat (where laws are passed) and the Bundesrat (which basically can reject laws). There are five major parties in Austria: The social democrats (SPÖ), the Austrian people's party (ÖVP), the freedom party (FPÖ) which recently split into two parties (FPÖ and the alliance for the future of Austria BZÖ) and the 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 Austira and Carthinia, 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.
People from countries within the EU (incl. new EU states), Liechtenstein, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland do not require a Visa for entry into Austria. Nationals of the following countries may enter and remain in Austria without a Visa for up to 3 months - United States, Canada, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil. People from African/Arabian/South-American countries as well as people from the CIS states generally require a visa. Austria is a member of the Schengen Agreement so visas are valid for 24 other countries
There are 5 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. The most common airports to visit Vorarlberg are Altenrhein (Austrian), Friedrichshafen (Ryanair, Intersky) and Zurich (Swiss)
EUROLINES  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.
Austria and all it's neighbouring countries, except Switzerland and Liechtenstein are Schengen members so in theory there are no border controls. However for Euro 2008 these border controls will be reinstated and identity checks are still commonplace. For using highway toll has to be paid ("Vignette"). 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's connections with neighboring Germany are excellent, and all other neighbors are connected by at least two trains per day. Check out the so-called Eurocity trains, which are the fastest trains available as well as the trains connecting the bigger Austrian cities called Intercity.
Information for trainspotters
In Austria many railways run electrically. There are many interesting mountain railways of all types.
In Austria 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.
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.
Since August 2007, if you are traveling in a group of 2 to 5 persons and you don't mind taking local regional trains, you can buy an Einfach-Raus-Ticket (ERT), good for unlimited travel within a day, viz., after 9am on weekdays and all day weekends/holidays, on all regional trains of ÖBB within Austria. The cost is only 29 EUR for 2 to 5 persons. The ERT is patterned after the popular group Bavaria Ticket (Bayern-Ticket). Unlike the Bavaria Ticket, there is no ERT for a single. Note: If your German is not very good, you could remember ERT as the Easy Roam Ticket.
VorteilsCard[]. If you are under 26 and plan to spend more than 40 EUR on rail travel get a VorteilsCard (photo needed) for EUR 19,90 and have 45% discount on all trains in Austria and 25% abroad in Europe. If you have a Vorteilscard you can get a further 5% discount if you buy the tickets at the ticket machines, which sell national as well as regional tickets. The Vorteilscard is also available for those over 26 but costs 100 EUR.
Be aware that buying a train ticket at an Austrian Railways ticket machine does not tie you to a specific schedule. If you buy a ticket from Salzburg to Vienna, that ticket is valid for any train that takes you to Vienna.
Ticketing machines at train stations (unlike the ones in Germany) do not print itineraries and many train stations only display basic timetables. It is best to find an itinerary on the Austrian Railways website by setting up a ticket reservation (without actually reserving the ticket, just print the itinerary). Stations also provide pamphlets with detailed timetables, but this assumes you know which line to board to get to your destination.
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.
Traveling on Austrian motorways (autobahnen) or Schnellstraßen means you are liable to pay tolls. 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 (€7,60), 2 months (€21,80) or one year (€72,00). Driving a car on a motorway without a vignette is punished with either payment of a substitute toll of €110 (that allows one to travel on the motorways for that day and the day immediately following) or a fine of upwards of €400, 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 top-center or on one of the driver's side corners of the windscreen of your car, otherwise it is not valid, which is a common mistake made by foreigners in Austria. The motorway police regularly check for vignetten. The maximum speed allowed on motorways is 130km/h.
Additional tolls are payable on certain roads, especially mountain passes.
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 there possible 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, and 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, Sky Europe, Welcome Air:
Non-domestic airport servicing western Austria:
The national language of Austria is German which, in its standard variety, differs from the German used in Germany only in a few words and phrases. In addition, a few additional languages locally have some official status (e.g., Slovenian in Carinthia, Croatian and Hungarian in Burgenland).
In everyday life, most Austrians do not speak standard language, but some local dialect. Most Austrian dialects are related to the Bavarian dialect, but quite distinct from the German of the rest of Germany. In the Bundesland of Vorarlberg the dialect is related to the alemanic dialect of Switzerland.
English, however, is widely spoken, and the only area most tourists have linguistic problems with is translating food. In parts of Vienna, with many foreign visitors, such languages as Italian and French will often be understood as well. Italian is also widespread in those Austrian regions bordering Italy.
In rural places many people don't speak English well, especially those older than 40, so a learning a few basic German phrases can be helpful. Local accents can be very strong in many alpine valleys where even native German-speaking tourists have trouble understanding the locals. Also in Austria saying "Good day" is not "Guten Tag" as it is in most of Germany, but rather "Grüß Gott" (ü being a letter somewhere in between u and e; ß being a sharp s) is used (as well as Bavaria in Germany).
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-price winning author Elfriede Jelinek and Caché (2005). Seidl received various awards for his drama Hundstage (2001). Also, the 1949 classic The Third Man was shoot in Vienna, and is shown in Vienna's Burg Kino regularly.
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 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. A sleeping bag is not required as blankets are provided. 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.
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 prices are comparable with Western European countries, and a bit higher than the USA because of 20 % sales tax (which is included in the prices). A can of coke will cost you about 40 cents, a good meal 15 Euros. 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 09.30 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. on weekdays and Saturday from 9am to 4pm 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. In smaller towns and villages you normally find one or two small shops or bakeries, which carry nearly everything, called "Greißler", albeit they are more and more killed off by 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.
Bargaining is not common throughout Austria except at flea markets.
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 menus (at lunch time) including a soup and a main dish and in some cases a dessert too. Prices are typically around €5 to €7 for this menu (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. Paying the dutch way (this means splitting up the bill, if you are in a group) is common except in very expensive restaurants.
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!
Vegetarianism is not as widespread in Austria as it is in English speaking countries, though awareness is slowly improving, especially in bigger cities. Most restaurants don't cater for vegetarians specifically, but you're likely to find at least one meal on the menu containing no meat. But unfourtunately, your choice as a vegetarian is limited and you'll soon get bored of being forced to eat the same "healthy option" everywhere you go. As an alternative, there is normally at least one vegetarian restaurant in every bigger city. 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. 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. Most likely you will find the "top" coffee houses at the Ring, the Kärnter Strasse, Graben, and some other (maybe difficult to find) places in the first district (Innere Stadt). There are also very nice old coffee houses a little outside of the Ring at the districts within the Gürtel. Please do never just order "coffee" as you find dozens of different sorts from Kleiner Schwarzer (small black coffee) and Großer Brauner (big coffee with cream), Melange (coffee with milk) to specialties like Kapuziner (small black coffee and a drip of cream) and Kaisermelange (coffee, milk, egg yolk and cognac) on the menu and the Viennese Ober (the "senior" waiter) takes pride in this variety.
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.
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 of 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).
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 EUR. 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), though this is changing at the moment.
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 €700 per year for EU nationals, twice as much for others, although citizens of some developing countries are exempt).
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, 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. Violent crimes are extremely rare and normally confined to Vienna. 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. Always lock your bike to an immobile object.
Racism can also be a problem and make your stay an unpleasant experience. However, levels of racism are comparable to other Western nations and it 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 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.
Public toilets must normally be paid for. Prices range between €0.20 and €1.00, 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.
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 100% of Austria.
Austrians (especially those over 40) take formalities and etiquette seriously. Even if you are the most uncharismatic person in the world, old-fashioned good manners (Gutes Benehmen) can take you a long way in a social situation. On the flip side, there are endless possibilities to put your foot in it and attract frowns for breaking an obscure rule.
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, when invited to a private beach or pool 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. From the UK Austria can be called at local rate by dialing 0845 2442442 followed by the phone number.
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 or 1800MHz. 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.
Despite being a rather small country, Austria has a large number of cell network providers including A1, T-Mobile, One, Drei (3G), Telering, Tele2, Bob and Yesss.
The probably cheapest mobile provider right now is Yesss. A prepaid card costs 13 Euro including 60 minutes talking time. Then you pay 7 cent per minute to all Austrian networks (as of june 2007) and 70 cents to the most important other countries. The SIM card is only available at the discounter Hofer.
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. Wireless hotspots in restaurants and cafes are becoming more and more popular as well.