Well-developed motorways, clear signage and Right-hand driving all allow for easy travel within Austria. A road trip here is one of the best ways to get to know the country and experience all the stunning landscapes, magnificent mountain passes, spectacular lakes and beautiful towns that Austria has to offer.
One important thing to note: All Austrian motorways (autobahns) are subject to ‘toll.’ Toll in Austria refers to a motorway vignette that is displayed on the inside windshield of your vehicle. Failure to have this vignette can result in heavy, on-the-spot fines. The car rental agency provided us with our vignette, but it’s important to confirm when hiring your car. If it isn’t provided, you can easily purchase one at a gas station or post office. I think it’s something like €8.50 for 10 days.
I would also recommend taking a look at this site and learning some of the street signs before you embark on your adventure. We did not, and although it was fun to try to guess what the signs meant, we were often quite wrong.
We began our road trip in Vienna. My friend and I rented a car at the airport and drove into the city. It happened to be a public holiday (Whit Monday) so street parking was free, which was a nice bonus. After dropping our bags at the hotel, we hurried over to the opera house to catch the second half of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. After the opera, we headed out for some drinks at Loos and then Onyx at the Do & Co Hotel. We quickly learned that Monday nights are sleepy in Vienna. That night was stayed at the Vienna Hilton. It wasn’t the absolute best location, but we had hotel points to use and the subway system is really easy to navigate, so it all worked out.
The next morning, we awoke early and headed west to Obertraun, to the World Heritage Site known as Dachstein Salzkammergut. There, we took the cable car up to the first stop and visited the ice caves (Eishöhle). The guided tour was about an hour and took us through spectacular ice formations. The chill inside the caves felt amazing compared to the stifling heat outside. After the ice caves, we drove further about 6 minutes further west to Hallstatt. There we parked and wandered around the adorable lakeside town. We had lunch at a local pizza joint and then continued on to Salzburg. We checked into the Sheraton and then walked about 15 minutes into Old Town for some grub/drinks. Salzburg has an option to park outside the city, pay a reduced parking fee and then bus into the city. For convenience sake, we just paid to park at the hotel, but I thought it was worth mentioning that this option exists.
On day 3, we decided to get up early again and see all that Salzburg had to offer. We took the Mönchsberg lift to the top and then walked about 30 minutes to the Hohensalzberg Fortress, which overlooks the whole city. We then followed a walking tour from Rick Steves’ Salzburg book. After gallivanting around Salzburg most of the day, we took a quick excursion, north to Fucking, Austria so we could take some pictures with the town's sign. Back in Salzburg for the evening, we enjoyed a lovely night out. Dinner at Arthotel Blaue Gans was delicious, but also very expensive. We were surprised to find how dressed up people were in Salzburg, especially on a Tuesday evening.
Day 4 of the road trip lead us to Werfen, a quaint ski town. After an unusual breakfast, we kept driving until we reached Zell am See, where we rented a motorboat and toured the beautiful lake. If I had to do it over again, I would have stopped in Werfen for a few photos ops and then had breakfast in Zell am See, as there were more options there. After the boating excursion, we made our way to Krimml Waterfalls. There, we hiked uphill to the top of the falls, it started to rain, but we were already wet from the mist, so we weren’t too bothered. I would recommend carving out about 2 hours for the waterfall hike, if you want to make it to the top. Next, we headed south towards Bled, Slovenia, via Grossglockner High Alpine Road. This famous road is only about 30 miles in length and I’m not entirely sure that it was worth going out of our way, but the hairpin turns were fun. We eventually arrived into Bled and checked into House Klasika before heading out to dinner and to watch the World Cup opening match at a local pub.
The next morning had us up fairly early again. We arrived at the 3glav office for the Emerald River Adventure Tour at 8am. Luckily we were staying only about a 4 minute walk from the 3glav office, so getting there on time was no problem at all. It was a full day tour (12 hours) and was exhausting, but it was really great and the staff was so friendly and knowledgeable. The highlight was the whitewater rafting down the Soča River, with Alpin Active. It cost a bit more, but was worth every penny. At the end of the long day, we drove 40 minutes back into Austria, to Worthersee. We checked into the Barry Memle SeeHotel, which felt an awful lot like the adult camp in Dirty Dancing. Then, we headed out to catch some more World Cup action and ate a lovely, traditional Austrian dinner consisting of wienerschnitzel, potato salad and some dish with mushrooms, cream sauce and dumplings.
On day 6, we slept in and got a late start. All we had to do was make it to Bratislava, Slovakia via Graz. Graz is a very cool, upscale city and was worth stopping by. We had a delicious lunch at La Enoteca. After lunch, we headed to our final destination, obtaining our first traffic violation along the way. We were going 127 km/hr in a 100 km/hr zone. It wasn’t ideal, but we just had to pay €35 to the cop and then we were on our way. Finally, we arrived in Bratislava, just in time for the World Cup matches. It was there that we ran into a bachelor party. The bachelor was a Kiwi who just recently relocated from London to San Francisco. Small world. We ended up hanging out with them and having a really fun night out.
After our massive drinking session, our final morning was a bit rough. We had to get up at 6:50am in order to make it to Vienna airport, return the car and get to our flights on time. Luckily we made it, with minimal frustration. After 1,570 km (975 miles) of driving, we were happy to turn in the car in exchange for a flight where we could catch up on some sleep.
Known Before You Go:
Austria’s wine and drinking water is excellent, but the food is mediocre.
You’ll need to pay a toll to enter and exit Slovenia.
You’ll need a separate vignette for Solvenia. You can buy it at a gas station in either Austria or Slovenia. It was €15 for 7 days.
Slovenian people are SUPER friendly.
Be prepared to be surrounded by smokers, especially in Vienna.
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