Vienna can be reached via direct flights from several North American cities, including New York (JFK and Newark), Washington D.C., Miami, Chicago, and Toronto, though it is often practical to fly through Munich or Zurich—especially for a trip to Austria’s western provinces. Smaller airports in cities like Salzburg, Graz, Klagenfurt, and Innsbruck can be easily reached. High-speed trains connect Vienna and Salzburg with cities like Munich and Zurich. A hydrofoil travels between Bratislava and Vienna on the Danube. U.S. visitors can stay up to three months with just a passport, after which time a visa is required. If you are entering Austria using a rental car, make sure there is a Vignette (toll sticker) affixed to the windshield.
Cities in Austria are linked by a fast and efficient rail system, with Vienna to Salzburg taking as little as two-and-a-half hours. To explore large towns and cities, public transportation (bus and tram), biking, or walking is best. Driving on Austria’s highways requires a toll sticker—available in ten-day, two-month, and twelve-month increments—which can be purchased at gas stations, post offices, auto clubs, and even in neighboring countries. Renting a car is another great way to explore rural regions and high Alpine routes.
Some consider Vienna the cultural capital of Europe. The city has been synonymous with the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and Strauss, to name a few, as well as painters like Klimpt. Elegant balls, nights at the Vienna State Opera (one of the world’s best), and hours spent in coffeehouses are quintessential Vienna. The 640-year legacy of the Habsburg dynasty, which officially ended in 2011 with the death of Otto von Habsburg, can be found throughout the city. Oh, and let’s not forget the Boys Choir. Austria has nine inscriptions on the UNESCO World Heritage List: Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, the Historic Center of Vienna, Wachau Cultural Landscape, Prehistoric Pile Dwellings around the Alps, Historic Center of Salzburg, Hallstatt-Dachstein/Salzkammergut Cultural Landscape, Graz Historic Center and Eggenberg Palace, Fertö/Neusiedlersee Cultural Landscape, and the Semmering Railway.
The year waltzes in with Vienna’s Ball Season in January and February, during which time “Fasching,” Austrian Carnival, also begins. The world famous Salzburg Festival takes place July–August, culminating with a performance of Hugo von Hoffmannsthal’s Everyman. Summer sees a variety of music festivals, from classical to rock (Nova Festival) to avant-garde (Styrian Fall), as well as wine festivals extending into the fall. Austria’s Christmas markets round out the year. Vienna alone lights up with 20 official Christmas markets selling seasonal gifts, decorations, and sweets.
Zac Steger is a freelance writer and photographer who has traveled extensively through the German-speaking countries. His credits include AFAR, German Life, AAA Highroads, Upsala Nya Tidning, NUVO and The Globe and Mail. View more of his work at zacsteger.com and follow on Twitter @zacsteger.