Trains are the best and most common from of mass transportation in Austria. Comfortable and moderately priced trains connect major cities and many towns; buses serve less signifigant towns and lakes. The two forms of transport are integrated and designed to complement each other, and intercity coaches exist but don't provide anywhere near the level of intercity rail service.
Austrian trains are operated mostly by state-owned company ÖBB. The Raaberbahn (GySEV) provides some trains over Austrian-Hungarian border and there are some short private railways with tourist trains, these railways supplement rather than compete with the ÖBB.
The only competitor to the ÖBB is WestBahn on the Salzburg-Linz-Vienna line (the company shares the name of the strech it runs on). Rail passes, ÖBB tickets and VORTEILScard are not valid on WestBahn, buy tickets on-line or onboard. Free wifi.
The ÖBB also operate buses (InterCityBus) on the Graz–Klagenfurt–Venice line because the road between these cities is much shorter that railway.
On suburban and regional trains there is normally only second class. On ICE, IC and EC trains is second class, which has sufficently roomy plush seats, and first class which is more private and with roomier leather seats. The RailJet offers three classes Economy which is akin to second class (second class tickets are valid), First Class featuring leather seats and services like a welcome drink, while an upgrade from first to Premium Class gives you even more space and at your seat services.
The ÖBB sell domestic tickets using a price based only upon distance traveled, regardless of when you buy the ticket and which train you take. Base fare is rather expensive, but Austrian Railways offer some interesting discounts. If you buy a ticket from Salzburg to Vienna, that ticket is valid for any train that takes you to Vienna, even for a foreign train stopping inside Austria. (Eception being any train operated by WestBahn, you'll recognize these trains by thier white livery with bright green and blue stripes.)
Tickets can be ordered (and paid for) on the web, including itineraries coving connecting trains and involving narrow-gauge, privately-operated, railways (like in the Zillertal valley). You can also reserve seats for a small fee: that is definitely recommended if you plan to travel with luggage. Tickets ordered online should be printed and presented to the condoctor onbaord upon request. They should be printed since they will barcode-scanned and stamped.
There are ticket machines at all sizable train stations and onboard some regional trains. When boarding regional trains you are required to have purchased a ticket before boarding, if it is possible to buy a ticket via railway office or vending machine at the station you are departing from. (This includes most stations. These stations are marked with SB in all ÖBB timetables). Ticket machines do not display or print itineraries, and many train stations only display basic timetables. It is best to find an itinerary on the Austrian Railways website trip planner. Stations also provide pamphlets with detailed timetables, but they assume that you know which line to board to get to your destination and can only be obtained during office hours.
The behind the scenes of ticketing is a bit more complicated: tickets from local public transportaiton authorities (like OÖVV, VVNB, SVV and VOR) are valid in both ÖBB and WestBahn trains and buses, as well as many other railways, in the zones they cover. This fare system is parellel to the railways' own systems and has the advantage of sometimes being cheaper and/or including connceting local public transporation, but railway discounts don't apply. Machines and agents will automatically select these tarifs for you if they are cheaper than the railway tarif. This means that for istance you might be asked if you have a valid public transportation pass for Vienna, because your railway ticket can then start at the city limits instead of at the station you depart at saving you a couple euros.
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 accessible only 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 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 (such as Vienna) have area-wide zones 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 (such as 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.
Travelling on Austrian motorways (Autobahnen) or Schnellstraßen means you are liable to pay tolls. If your vehicle is under 3500 kg in weight, 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 (€ 8.00), 2 months (€ 23.40) or 1 year (€ 77.80; technically valid until January of the following year) (2012).
If you intend to transit Austria via the A14 from the German border to the Swiss border at Hohenems/Diepoldsau, you can instead purchase a Korridor-Vignette. This is valid for a single trip along this road and can be purchased for €2.00 (or €4.00 for a round-trip) at the border.
Vehicles heavier than 3500 kg must instead purchase a GO-Box, a transponder which deducts tolls as the vehicles travel along the Autobahn or Schnellstraße. The cost the GO-Box is €5 and tolls can either be prepaid (€75 initially, followed by increments of €50 to recharge) or paid through an invoice at a later date. Rates vary from €0,16 to €0,33/km based on number of axles, with extra charges paid based on time of day and for certain Autobahnen.
Driving a car on a motorway without a vignette is punished with either payment of a substitute toll of €120 (€65 for motorcycles) (that allows one to travel on the motorways for that day and the day immediately following) or a fine of upwards of €300, 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 front windscreen of your vehicle, preferably in the top centre or on one of the driver's side corners, otherwise it is not valid, a common mistake made by foreigners in Austria. The motorway police regularly check for vignetten. Driving without a valid GO-Box, if required, costs €220, and setting an incorrect toll class carries a €110 substitute toll.
What not to do with a Vignette
Do not, under any circumstances, share a vignette with another vehicle, as doing so renders the vignette invalid (and the sticker is designed to show if it has been invalidated in this manner). The penalty for doing so doubles the subsitute toll fee or incurs a fine of up to €3000, and payment may be guaranteed with the seizure of valuables from your car.
Additional tolls are payable on certain roads, especially mountain passes, which you need to pay in bank notes (not coins). An example is at Brenner Pass, right before the A13 enters Italy, where a toll of at least €7,95 is collected each way.
The speed limits are 130 km/h on Autobahnen and 100 km/h on Schnellstraßen and Bundesstraßen. Expect limits otherwise of 50-80 km/h.
Rules on Autobahnen are very similar to the rules in Germany. For example, you may not pass on the right, and the minimum speed limit is 60 km/h (vehicles unable to travel 60 km/h are not admitted onto the Autobahn).
The law requires all passengers to wear seat belts at all times. Children under 14 years of age have to use a child safety seat until they are at least 150 cm (approx. 59 inches) tall.
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 possible at 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 inside.
Petrol is cheaper in Austria than in some neighboring countries but is still more expensive than in America.
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, Austrian Airlines offers limited tickets for 99€ (Redtickets) but they have to be booked usually 2-3 months in advance. Since the country is small, the total journey time is unlikely to be shorter than by rail or car. In other words, fly only if you are on a business trip.
These domestic airports are served by airlines like Austrian Arrows, Intersky, Niki, Welcome Air:
Here are international airports serving western Austria:
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