Backpacking Austria is a wonderful experience full of old imperial glory, wine country, stunning Alpine mountains, classical music, delicious food, and world-class art and culture.
Whether you’re backpacking around the country or just traveling there on a short trip, Austria has a lot to offer travelers.
Vienna is the gateway to much of central Europe; Graz and Linz hold historic old towns and funky cafes; and Salzburg is picturesque Baroque city close to mountains and lakes.
Then there is that dramatic “Sound of Music” Alpine scenery where you can hike in the summer, ski in the winter (and sing as you run through fields if you want).
I love my travels around Austria.
There’s a lot of art, culture, and history in the cities here and you’ll be able to fill your time with an expansive list of diverse activities.
The country is full of life!
This travel Austria guide can give you the tips and tricks for visiting the country so you can plan the ultimate adventure.
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Austria
1. Visit Vienna
2. Check out Salzburg
3. Go Skiing in Arlberg
4. Go on a Wine Tour
5. Cycle the Danube
Other Things to See and Do in Austria
1. Visit the Museum of Fine Art
With works from ancient Egypt through the 18th century, this museum in Vienna is worth taking the time to explore (if museums are your thing, that is!). The primary collection belonged to the Hapsburgs, which includes tons of portraits and armor. The permanent collection includes artwork from Rubens, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and Raphael (to name a few). Its most famous art, however, is the collection of paintings from Pieter Bruegel the Elder — a Renaissance master. Hunters in the Snow, dated 1565, is one of his best known works that you can see here. Admission is €15 EUR ($18 USD) for adults, with discounts available for students and seniors.
2. Hit the slopes
The mountainous countryside offers up plenty of opportunities for skiing in the winter (I mean it is the Alps after all!). Ski and snowboard rentals start at around €50 EUR ($58 USD). Expect to pay more if you want better equipment or visit a more prestigious ski resort.
3. St. Stephen’s Cathedral
Stephansdom is a Gothic cathedral in Vienna, noted for its colorful mosaic roof made up of 230,000 tiles. The cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt over the years, with the most recent reconstruction taking place just after WWII. The inside artwork is equally as incredible as the exterior, with ornate columns that support a painted ceiling. Look for the face of Christ, whose beard is made from real human hair. Under the cathedral are chambers holding the remains of 10,000+ people, including important nobility and victims of the plague. You can take a tour of the cathedral, the catacombs, and one of the towers for around €11 EUR ($13 USD). It’s €5 EUR ($6 USD) for children under 15.
4. Walk the Ring Road
Spend an afternoon strolling along the 3-mile (5.3 kilometers) Ring Road in Vienna, taking in all the impressive architecture. It’s here where you’ll find the Parliament building, City Hall, both the Museum of Fine Art and the National History Museum, as well as the State Opera. You can walk it, or hop on the bright yellow Vienna Ring Tram for a 25-minute overview. The ride costs from €9 EUR ($10 USD) and you’ll get an audioguide with it.
5. Schloss Hellbrunn
This Baroque palace was built in the 17th century in Salzburg and is considered one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings north of the Alps. The palace is noted for the trick water fountains that are hidden in benches, tables, and around the grounds. These “secret” fountains spray visitors when they don’t expect it. It’s funny as long as you aren’t the one getting sprayed! The gardens are partially landscaped and make for a great place to relax in the sun, but it’s fun to visit even in the winter months when the courtyard is turned into a Christmas market. Admission is €12.50 EUR ($15 USD) for adults, with discounts available for children and students.
6. Visit the National History Museum
Home to a detailed anthropology exhibit as well as a planetarium and prehistoric exhibit, the National History Museum is worth the time if you’re a museum buff. There is a huge collection of meteorites, and the museum is also home to the 30,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf statue. It was found in Lower Austria in 1908, and is one of the most famous Early Stone Age archaeological discoveries in the world. Admission is €12 EUR ($15 USD) for adults and free for anyone under 19. Discounts are available for students and seniors, as well.
7. Hang out in Innsbruck
One of the most beautiful towns in the entire country, Innsbruck is set in the Alps and filled with cobblestone streets, a historic center, lots of cafes, and serves as a good launching pad into the nearby mountains for hiking and camping. Check out the Golden Roof, an impressive alcove balcony with 2,657 copper tiles covering its roof. The Court Church and the City Tower that has stood guard for nearly 450 years are two other attractions to visit.
8. Relax in Hallstatt
Hallstatt is a very tiny town with a swan-ruled lake, a waterfall, and nearby mountains that provide amble hiking. Come here to relax, eat, and commune with nature. It also serves as a good gateway to the Salzkammergut region, where you’ll find lakes, forested mountains, and ancient villages. If you happen to be around during the annual Corpus Christi procession, you’ll find it all takes place in small boats on the lake! Hallstatt makes a great day trip from Salzburg.
9. Get classical
Austria has contributed its fair share of composers to the world, so it’s no surprise that you’ll find plenty of opportunities to indulge in the classics here. If you’ve never considered taking in an opera or listening to classical music, do it while in Austria. Prices will vary depending on the performance but expect to pay at least €50 EUR ($58 USD) for a show. One of the best places to take in some classical music is at State Opera in Vienna.
10. Go hiking
Hiking trails in Austria are well marked, and there are even mountain huts along each to provide shelter. With almost 30% of the country’s natural landscape marked as protected, it’s easy to see why hiking is such a foundational part of the culture. Pack a lunch, hit the trails, and enjoy all that the country has to offer! The Pinzgauer Spaziergang route in Zell am See-Kaprun is one of the best hikes you can do, covering 10.5 miles (17 kilometers) from Saalbach to Schmittenhöhe’s peak. If you’re looking for a more serious trek, take the 175-mile (280 kilometers) Eagle Walk from St. Johann to St. Anton am Arlberg.
11. Visit Graz’s Old Town
This UNESCO World Heritage site boasts over 1,000 buildings, some of which date back to the Gothic period. It’s a picturesque area worth exploring, especially if you love history and architecture. You’ll find street cafes, art galleries, and lots of shopping opportunities here as well. If you want a guided tour of the area, expect to pay around €10 EUR ($12 USD).
12. Mozarts Geburtshaus
Located in Salzburg, this is the house where Mozart was born, in 1756. The house has been transformed into a museum with lots of letters and memorabilia from the musician’s life. Some noteworthy pieces include several portraits of Mozart himself, as well as his own violin and clavichord. Admission is €11 EUR ($13 USD) for adults, with discounts available for students and seniors.
13. Visit the Belvedere
This is one of my favorite places in the city, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Belvedere is actually two palaces. The northern palace is home to an incredible art collection with works by Renoir, Monet, and Van Gogh and a large portrait collection (which is my favorite). The southern palace is a rotating exhibit hall with renowned Austrian and international art. The free grounds feature beautiful fountains, gravel walkways, ponds, statues, plants, and flowers and are prefect for stroll on a nice day. Tickets are from €8-22 EUR ($9-25 USD), depending on which part of the Belvedere you’re visiting.
14. Hohensalzburg Castle
Standing high over the city of Salzburg, the magnificent castle dominates the city. There’s a great hike up to the castle too (it takes about 30 minutes), or you can take the funicular. Here you’ll find ancient ruins, a cool historical tour, and panoramic views of the city. The fortress also has a collection of museums, including the Marionette Museum, and the Museum of the Rainer Regiment. Adults €11.90 EUR ($14 USD).
15. The Sigmund Freud Museum
Sigmund Freud, the famous founder of psychoanalysis, lived in this apartment-turned-museum from 1891 to 1938. The museum was opened in 1971 with the help of Anna Freud (his youngest daughter) and is home to the original furniture and Freud’s private collection of antiques as well as first editions of his works. There are also films from his private life. It’s small and only takes about an hour to visit. Pick up the audioguide, as it will come in handy. Entry is €9 EUR ($10 USD).
Be sure to visit our city travel guides for more detailed information about what to see and do in each place:
Austria Travel Costs
Accommodation – Hostel dorms will be your cheapest accommodation option in Austria, with prices starting around €13 EUR ($15 USD) per night for a 10-20 bed dorm. For a private room, expect to pay at least €45 EUR ($52 USD) per night.
Budget hotels will start around $50 ($58 USD) per night for a double or twin. Airbnb is another great budget option, with shared accommodation starting at €15 EUR ($18 USD) per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least €35 EUR ($41 USD) per night (though prices average almost double that).
For anyone traveling with a tent, camping is available around the country. There are a few hundred campgrounds scattered around, with prices costing around €20 EUR ($23 USD) per night for two people and a tent (closer to €25 EUR ($29 USD) during peak season).
Food – For an inexpensive meal at a local restaurant, expect to pay at least €10 EUR ($12 USD). Fast food will be closer to €7 EUR ($8.50 USD) while a nicer meal at a mid-range restaurant will cost around €25 EUR ($29 USD). Expect to pay between €3-€4 EUR ($4-$5 USD) for a beer. If you are planning to cook your own food, a week’s worth of groceries will cost between €30-€45 EUR ($35-$52 USD).
Activities – Austria is a mecca for outdoor adventures. For a standard city bike rental, prices start at around €4 EUR ($5 USD) per hour. While ticket prices will vary, you can expect to pay at least €50 EUR ($58 USD) for a ticket to the opera. If winter sports are your preference, expect to pay at least €50 EUR ($58 USD) per day for budget ski/snowboard rentals and a lift pass.
Backpacking Austria Suggested Budgets
If you are backpacking Austria, my suggested budget is €48 EUR ($55 USD). This is assuming you’re staying in a hostel dorm, eating cheap meals, cooking some food, visiting a few attractions, and using local transportation.
On a mid-range budget of about €135 EUR ($155 USD), you can stay in a nicer hostel or budget hotel, eat out a lot more, drink a lot more, take some guided tours, and visit more attractions
If you want only private rooms in decent hotels, upgraded transportation options (like rental cars), and higher-end tours (including private tours and day tours), nicer transportation or eat out every meal, you can expect to pay around €305 EUR ($350 USD) per day.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style.
Austria Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Austria can add up quickly with all it’s expensive accommodation, restuarants, and outdoor activities. Here are my tips on saving money when yuou visit:
- Travel during the off-season – Vienna offers a handful of free walking tours which are great ways to get familiar with the city and the culture. (Just be sure to tip!) Original Vienna Tours is a good one. Other cities, like Graz, offers paid tours while some cities just offer self-guided walking tours.
- Ride the Flixbus – Flixbus is budget-friendly way to get around the country. They have (semi-reliable) WiFi, electrical outlets, and decent enough sites for overnight and long-haul bus journeys.
- Cook your own meals – Many hostels here don’t include kitchen facilities, so if you want to save money make sure you book accommodation that does! Buying your own groceries may not be as glamorous as going out to eat, but it will definitely save you money!
- Stay with a local – Staying with a local via Couchsurfing (or similar sharing economy sites) is a great way to not only save money but its a great way to meet a knowledgeable local who can help you better understand the city and its people.
- Skip the City Airport Train in Vienna – Unless you are in a rush to get downtown, skip the City Airport Train. It’s €11 EUR ($13 USD), compared to the regular train that is only around €4 EUR ($5 USD). The time difference is negligible, and that extra €7 EUR will be better spent on cold beer!
- Walk everywhere – All of the major cities in Austria are quite walkable, so skip the public transportation if you want to save a few extra euros.
- Enjoy the free spaces – There are plenty of free parks as well as many free hiking trails around the country. Save your budget and enjoy the outdoors!
- Have an ISIC Card – To save 20-50% on the cost of admission to museums and other tourist attractions, be sure to present a valid student card. The ISIC is typically accepted in places where a foreign student ID is not.
Where To Stay in Austria
Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Austria:
How to Get Around Austria
Public Transportation – Public transportation prices will vary by city, but expect to pay around €2.30 EUR ($2.70 USD) for a standard adult ticket. Most cities offer a multi-day pass, such as Vienna’s 24-hour pass for €7.60 EUR ($9 USD) or the 72-hour pass for €16.50 EUR ($19 USD).
If you need to take a taxi, prices start around €3.80 EUR ($4.50 USD) and cost around €2.50 EUR ($2.90 USD) for every 2km.
Trains – Bus and train tickets to nearby cities outside of Austria, such as Bratislava, Prague, and Budapest, are quite affordable. Expect to pay between €10-€30 EUR ($12-$35 USD) for a one-way ticket.
Bus – To get around the country, Flixbus is one of the most budget-friendly options. The Flixbus from Vienna to Graz offers tickets for as low as €9 EUR ($11 USD), while the train ride costs closer to €30 EUR ($35 USD). The 5-hour train ride from Vienna to Innsbruck costs around €55 EUR ($64 USD).
Budget Airlines – If you’re pressed for time and are looking to jump from one city to the next, a budget airline might be the way to go. There are several low-cost budget airlines that service Vienna including low-cost long-haul Level, easyJet, Eurowings, and Ryanair.
You can often find tickets where the fare is just €5 EUR ($6 USD) round-trip! EasyJet and Ryanair are two big budget airlines in the area, but book in advance to keep costs down. For example, a flight from Rome to Milan costs as high as €115 EUR ($130 USD). Keep an eye out for deals.
However, keep in mind that you’ll have to pay to check your baggage on these cheap flights. It costs about €25-€40 EUR ($30-$45 USD) for one checked bag. If you wait to pay for your luggage at the gate you’ll end up paying almost double.
Ridesharing – You can also try the ride-sharing app, BlaBlaCar. You can usually find rides for popular routes here, though there is a nominal fee.
Car Rental – If you’re driving, make sure to buy an International Driving Permit (IDP) – you’ll need one for any car rental! It costs about €18 EUR ($20 USD) and is valid for one year after the date of issue (plus it’s valid in 150 countries). Car rentals can sometimes be as low as €30 EUR ($35 USD) per day, but this certainly isn’t the most economical way to get around.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in Europe is very safe, but it’s not for everyone. HitchWiki is the best website for hitchhiking info.
When to Go to Austria
There’s no wrong time to visit Austria! During the summer months (June – August) you will find the best weather and this is considered peak season for tourist visiting the country. Expect crowds and prices to increase during the peak season, especially in the cities of Vienna and Salzburg, and around the lake side areas. If you are planning to attend the Salzburg Festival in July be sure to book well in advance.
However, I think the best time to visit Austria is shoulder season in the spring and fall (April to June and September to October, respectively). It’s still warm during this time but there aren’t as many crowds. This time of year is especially good for outdoor activities.
Winter is from December to March. It gets cold, with temperatures dropping as low as -15 °C (5 °F). On the other hand, November to December are considered to be the most magical months in the cities of Vienna and Salzburg because of the Christmas markets, and for skiing in the Alps.
How to Stay Safe in Austria
In Austria, scams and pick-pocketing are common danger you’ll face in the cities, especially around high traffic areas in Vienna and Salzburg. If someone strikes up a conversation with you trying to sell something affordable for a good price, they’ll likely try to get you to pay a couple hundred euros for gas. Similarly, if young children approach you, be on alert – a friend may be reaching for your wallet while you’re distracted.
You can read about the 14 travel scams to avoid right here.
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it in Austria!
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Austria Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Europe. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. (If you’re new to Airbnb, get $35 off your first stay!)
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all bookers.
- Rail Europe – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts when you click the link!
- STA Travel – A good company for those under 30 or for students, STA Travel offers discounted airfare as well as travel passes that help you save on attractions.
- Vayable – I enjoy this site because it allows you to experience niche, offbeat, and interesting tours that bigger tour companies might not run (like a street art tour in Berlin). Plus, the groups tend to be very small, making for a more intimate experience.
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- FlixBus – German based Flixbus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low €5 EUR ($6 USD)! Their buses include WiFi, electrical outlets, and up to three 3 free bags.
- Bla Bla Car – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way travel than by bus or train!
- Context Tours – One of my favorite walking tour companies, Context offers in-depth history, food, and cultural tours through cities in the world, with a speciality in Europe. This company gets experts to lead tours (i.e. a chef to lead a food tour).
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
Austria Gear and Packing Guide
In this section, I’ll give you my suggestion for the best travel backpack and tips on what to pack for your trip to Austria.
The Best Backpack for Austria
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something smaller or different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for more tips and tricks on how to pick a backpack – as well as more pack suggestions!
What to Pack for Austria
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 6 T-shirts
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 8 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (a water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Austria Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
To Die in Vienna, by Kevin Wignall
To Die in Vienna is a classic spy thriller soon to become a motion picture starring Jake Gyllenhaal. Set in Vienna Freddie Makin is a surveillance operative who has been following Chinese math professor Jiang Cheng for a year when he suddenly finds his life is in danger. The watcher becomes the watched. On the run Freddy is forced into hiding in Vienna while he tried to uncover who is hunting him and why. Although it is set in Vienna unfortunately the author doesn’t do much to really bring the city to life in this book. It’s still a great read though if you like spy novels and you are looking for a book to pass some time in Vienna.
Freud: In His Time and Ours, by Élisabeth Roudinesco
Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, is quite possible the most famous Viennese export. His work emphasized the importance of the unconscious mind and is generally recognized as one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century. In this book Elisabeth Roudinesco offers a modern reinterpretation of the work of Freud in this biography for the twenty-first century. Tracing his life from his upbringing in Vienna, to his final days as a refugee in London. If you are planning to make a visit to the Freud museum while in Vienna this is a great read to shed new light on Freud. If you think you know Freud, think again.
The Age of Insight, by Eric Kandel
At the turn of the 19th century Vienna was the undisputed cultural capital of Europe. A hot bed for revolution, where artists and scientists met and their freely exchanged ideas resulted in breakthroughs in psychology, brain science, literature, and art. Kandel tells the story of how Freud, Schnitzler, Klimt, Kokoschka, and Schiele—inspired by the Vienna School of Medicine, influenced our modern day understanding on the mind. This is a must read for anyone interested in learning more about Vienna’s fascinating history.
Kangaroos in Austria, by Diane DeArmond
If you are looking for an easy read with a dash of humor Diane DeArmond delivers in her memoir. The book tracks the aftermath of her divorce and her quest for adventure. After listening to stories of her daughters recent trip to Austria Diane decides to pack up her life in Newport Beach and move to Graz in Austria.
My Must Have Guides for Traveling to Austria
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Kristin Addis writes our solo female travel column and her detailed guide gives specific advice and tips for women travelers.
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Austria Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Austria and continue planning your trip: