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Austria is such a paradise for travelers that I’m finding it incredibly difficult to write this post.
Backpacking across Europe tends to get a little romanticized. Travel bloggers (myself included) try to sell you on only the good parts—and honestly, it makes sense. It’s the good parts that we want to remember, and if everyone complained about how tired you are at the end of the day—or how much your feet hurt from walking and your shoulders hurt from carrying your pack, or how rude people can be—no one would ever travel. And that would be a crying shame, because travel is an amazing experience. I wouldn’t trade it for anything—blisters and backaches notwithstanding.
And yet, there’s something special about Austria. Before we arrived, I was bruised, broken (almost literally), and tired of Italian locals yelling at me every time I got something wrong.
But the moment our plane landed in Vienna, things got infinitely better. I was able to relax and enjoy myself again. This is why people backpack across Europe, I thought. It was heaven.
Things were so fantastically easy that Leslie and I can only think of one thing that would have been nice to know before our trip:
1. Bring plenty of cash
Most of the ATM’s we used in Europe accepted foreign debit cards just fine as long as they had a chip. That made it easy to get cash when we needed it for food or transportation, and the chip meant we could pull out local funds as if they were pounds (my card was from my bank in England), thereby avoiding any international fees.
Not so in Austria. First of all, ATM’s (bankomats) were hard to find, and when we did find some, they wouldn’t take our cards. While I don’t recommend carrying lots of cash around, many places in Austria don’t take cards, which meant having cash on hand was a must.
Strangely, while doing some research about this just now, most sites say that there shouldn’t be any problems using foreign debit cards at Austrian bankomats. Maybe we just had bad luck, but we definitely wished we had gotten some extra cash before we left Italy. I would highly recommend bringing some extra euros with you in case you run into the same problems we did.
And that’s it. That’s the only thing I can think of that would have made our trip to Austria a little easier. The rest was an absolute breeze. The end.
But wait, Jess! You promised us TEN tips!
Aww, you’re right. Here are nine more ways to maximize the WOW! factor for your trip to Austria:
2. Give yourself lots of time
They say that hindsight is 20/20, and this is never truer than when you’re remembering all the things you did on vacation and thinking about what you should have done differently. So if you get nothing else from this post, please remember this one takeaway: you will want to stay in Austria forever. It’s that beautiful. It’s that relaxing. It’s that perfect. We only planned for 3 days in the country, and personally, I wish we had spent more time here and less time in Italy. We also only got to see two cities (Vienna and Salzburg), and I would love to see Innsbruck, Hallstatt, or some small towns. I’d even be content to spend more time exploring Vienna, which is chock full of great museums and parks. If you’re including Austria on your European itinerary, make sure you give it plenty of time. You won’t be disappointed.
3. Bring meds if you’re allergic to horses
Because they are EVERYWHERE. I am a horse lover, so I was in heaven. Horse-drawn carriages line up by the dozens in front of the Schönbrunn Palace, the Hofburg Imperial Palace, and Dom zu Salzburg. Carriage horses trot down city streets next to cars and taxis. Every building has a statue of a horse out front (I jest, but only a little). And my absolute favorite part of our time in Austria was the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. Even if you’re not into horses, the riding school is worth a visit for the architecture and the history lesson alone.
But no matter what you do, get ready to see, hear, and smell a lot of horses.
4. Look out the dadgum window
Put down the smartphone and look outside as you take the train from one city to another. Not only are the small towns in the countryside really picturesque, but the Austrian Alps are IN. CRED. I. BLE. It can be tempting to use travel time to catch up on emails or the latest episode of your favorite show, but resist the urge. The emails will wait. The mountains will not. Look out the window.
5. Bring a camera
Along with #4, don’t forget to bring a camera. I know lots of people who don’t even own cameras, and I just can’t even. Austria is so photogenic, and you will want to remember what it looked like. You don’t have to own a fancy dSLR, but even most camera phones can take halfway decent photos these days. The number one regret I hear from other travelers is that they wish they had taken more pictures (or any pictures at all). Bring a camera—and if you do decide to get a nice one, be sure to take a little time learning how to use it before you leave on your trip.
[box title=”Pro Tip” border_width=”2″ border_color=”#dd3333″ border_style=”solid” icon=”star” icon_style=”border” icon_shape=”circle” align=”center”]Leave the selfie stick at home. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a picture or two of yourself and your travel companions to prove that you actually visited this cool place and didn’t just steal pictures off the internet. Leslie and I took a couple of selfies, and I love those pictures. But nothing makes me scratch my head more than travelers who spend more time making duck lips than making memories. When you’re looking back through your photos 10 years from now, are you going to want to see pictures of the things you saw, or pictures of yourself? You didn’t travel thousands of miles to remind yourself what you look like. [/box]
6. Eat the pretzel bread
Our hostel in Vienna, Hostel & Guesthouse Kaiser 23, had these delicious little pretzel rolls at breakfast. We enjoyed them so much that we found them at a grocery store and had them for lunch, too.
7. Eat the Sachertorte
Sachertorte is a delightfully rich and creamy chocolate cake made famous by the luxurious Sacher hotel in Vienna. It’s a bit expensive, and it’ll give you about 37 cavities with every bite, but it is so worth it.
8. Enjoy the orderly queues
One of the things I struggled with in southern Europe was the free-for-all atmosphere in most restaurants, grocery stores, and metros. Call me stuffy and boring, but I like my lines, thank you very much. I like knowing when it’s my turn, I like getting the food I ordered without having to elbow people in the face, and I like not having to take my own life into my hands when I try to get on a subway. And Austria—bless them—has this line thing down pat. They wait in orderly lines, they let people get off the metro before trying to board, and they don’t push to the front of the line (unless they’re little old ladies, in which case, it’s a national tradition to let them pass). It. Is. Glorious.
9. Enjoy the peace and quiet
Unnecessary loud noises are frowned upon in Austria, so things are very quiet and peaceful. There are lots of parks and green spaces where people would just sit and enjoy the sunshine while they read a book or engage in quiet conversation with their friends. Even the busy streets of downtown Vienna seemed somehow less noisy than other large cities. Shops also close pretty early (usually 6pm) and the crowds (which really weren’t very crowded) die down pretty quickly after that. And because most shops are closed on Sunday, too, Leslie and I hardly saw another soul when we went for a leisurely stroll through Salzburg on Sunday afternoon. After the hustle and bustle of Rome, the quiet of Austria was a welcome relief.
10. Enjoy the conversation
In the US, wait staff usually bring your bill to your table before you’ve even finished your last bite, gently pushing you out the door to make room for the next customer. But in Austria, it’s customary for restaurant patrons to sit and talk for a while after their meal, so you’ll have to ask for the bill when you’re ready to leave. But if you really want to make the most of your time in Austria, don’t rush back out the door. Sit a while. Talk to your friends. Enjoy the view. People watch. Slow down. You’ll be back in the rat race soon enough, so for now, enjoy yourself, and enjoy the conversation.
Accommodations – We booked all of our lodging through Booking.com and Hostelworld.
Train Travel – We used Rail Europe to find and book a our train trips. Austria.info also has some very useful information about Austrian train travel deals.
Flights – EasyJet and Expedia are great sources for cheap European flights.
Planning Your Itinerary – As usual, TripAdvisor was very useful for planning our trip to Austria.
[box title=”Looking For Inspiration?” border_width=”2″ border_color=”#dd3333″ border_style=”solid” icon=”film” icon_style=”border” icon_shape=”circle” align=”center”]Here are my favorite films set (at least partly) in Austria:
Have you been to Austria? What are your travel tips?
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Jess is a Canadian-American who’s always ready for the next adventure. She loves all things living, always has a million creative projects in progress, and polishes her nerd badge daily. She is passionate about helping families make and preserve treasured memories that strengthen bonds across generations. You can read more posts by Jess here.