Driving in Austria – Austria at the wheel

Austria is a landlocked country in central Europe. Most of the country is covered by the spectacular Alps; in fact less than a 3rd of the country is below the altitude of 500 metres! All this makes Austria a very popular skiing destination. Of course not all of the country is mountainous and much of the eastern areas are very pleasant lowlands.

If you visit Austria and only stay in the cities then you’ll really be missing out, so why not hire a car and go exploring. Be careful though, if you’re heading into the mountainous regions, be sure to get a car fitted with winter tyres as it can be slippy on the mountain passes, especially in the winter.

The Euro 2008 football championship finals will be co-held by Austria and Switzerland during the month of June (7th – 29th June 2008). Games will be held in the cities of Vienna, Salzburg, Innsbruck and Klagenfurt.

Vienna, called Wien in German, is the largest city in Austria and is also the capital. When you visit you should explore the historic city centre which has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The main attractions of the city include the Imperial Palaces, such as the Hofburg; any of the 100 or so art museums including the Leopold Museum, the Technisches Museum Wien and the twin museums of Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Naturhistorisches Museum.

Most motorways in Austria start or end in Vienna, so this makes an excellent start to your journey. It’s not recommended to take a car into the city centre but it is a good idea to have a car for touring the rest of the country. Just remember to drive on the right hand side.

Heading up along the Danube on the Westautobahn (A1) you’ll eventually find yourself heading into Linz. Linz is the 3rd largest city in Austria and is both an industrial and student town. There’s the New Cathedral, which is the biggest church in the country, and Linz Castle is also located here. Though born elsewhere, Adolf Hitler grew up and went to school in Linz and he even considered it his home. In 2009 Linz will be the European Capital of Culture.

Austria Car Hire Tip – When you first pick up your car hire, make note that the speed limit is 130km/h on motorways, 100km/h on main roads, and 50km/h in built up areas, towns and cities.

Carrying on further along the Westautobahn (A1) you’ll finally get to Salzburg which is one of the most beautiful cities in the country, and indeed the world. The Altstadt (Old Town) of Salzburg is one of the best preserved examples of baroque architecture in the world and was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in the 90’s. The city was used as the setting for much of the musical movie The Sound of Music, and you can take a tour of the movie locations. The city was also the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Austria Car Hire Tip – If you’re planning on using any of the motorways or expressways it’s mandatory to purchase a motorway tax sticker called a Vignette. These are not too expensive, only about Eur7.60 for 10 Days or Eur21.80 for 2 months.

Moving on from Salzburg you can head to Innsbruck on the A8/A93 but you’ll pass through the extreme south-east of Germany on your way, though this shouldn’t be a problem with the Schengen Agreement. Take a look at our Driving Across Borders article for more information. The city’s location in the middle of the Alps makes it a very popular skiing destination and Innsbruck has hosted the Winter Olympics twice, in 1964 and 1976.

Austria Car Hire Tip – The drink driving laws are more strict than they are in the British Isles and Ireland so it might be best to err on the side of caution and simply not drink and drive.

Heading back east you’ll come to Graz which is the 2nd largest city in the country. It’s a lovely city and its Old Town is very well preserved and well worth checking out. It has a long history as a student city with its six universities, the oldest dating back to 1585. Arnold Schwarzenegger was born and raised in a village located just outside the city and it was the European Capital of Culture in 2003.

Austria Car Hire Tip – It’s the law that you have to drive with your dipped lights on at all times. Many cars will have them turned on automatically upon ignition but best be sure.

After all this, it’s just a short drive from Graz to Vienna, about 2 hours on the A2. All this is just a snippet of what there is to see and do in Austria. If you would like to book a car rental then you can do so on our car hire Austria page.

Remember to give us a shout via the comment box below if you have any questions or if you’ve any tips on hiring a car in Austria… enjoy your trip.