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Seven things that might surprise you when travelling in Austria

Austria is known for being beautiful and green, but there is more to the alpine country than Sound of Music cliches.

Seven things that might surprise you when travelling in Austria
There are some surprises in store when travelling in Austria. Photo credit: Nikolay Shulga via Pexels.

Everyone has preconceptions before visiting a country for the first time, but there are often a few surprises in store along the way.

Here are seven things that you might not expect when travelling in Austria.

Most people speak dialect

Austria is officially classed as a German-speaking country, but the reality is most Austrians speak a dialect. In fact, every region has its own dialect and, in some places, it can even vary from district to district.

The most common dialect in Austria is Austro-Bavarian, which is spoken by seven million people. However, the dialect is then broken down even further with variations in Upper Austria and Vienna. 

READ MORE: Seven aspects of Austrian culture foreigners should embrace

In the west of the country, the predominant dialect is Alemannic, which originates from Switzerland.

The inhabitants of Vorarlberg and the west of Tyrol typically speak a form of Alemannic dialect, although there are also variations between districts.

This can cause confusion for newcomers hoping to practice their German skills but it can also be an opportunity to learn a few dialect words and phrases while exploring the country.

And if you have trouble communicating, many people in Austria speak English – especially in the larger cities and in tourist areas.

READ MORE: These eight words show just how different German and Austrian Deutsch can be

World-class drinking water

Austria has excellent tap water and is considered among the best in the world for purity and taste. This means it’s easy to refill water bottles from the tap and there is little need to buy bottled water.

But what makes Austrian water so good?

About half of Austria’s water supply is collected from alpine springs, while the other half is pumped up from natural aquifers, according to the Federal Environmental Agency

FOR MEMBERS: Everything you need to know about Austria’s world-class drinking water

Alpine springs are filled by rain and snow that trickle down through the alpine soil. The water is filtered and cleaned along the way, as particles or bacteria get trapped, and the soil adds minerals like calcium, magnesium and potassium.

In the case of Vienna, almost all of the drinking water comes from springs in the Lower-Austrian Styrian Alps.

The water reaches the capital without the use of pumps, and flows from the mountain range southwest of Vienna along the natural drop in altitude into the city’s reservoirs.

Austria’s drinking water is clean and pure. Photo by ALEXANDER KLEIN / AFP.

Austria is not cheap

The cost of living in Austria is quite high, which means the price of food, petrol, public transport and accommodation should be factored into a budget when travelling around Austria.

For example, the average cost for buying essential groceries in Austria is $38.96 (approximately €35), according to NetCredit. Essential groceries are defined as items like breakfast cereal, milk, eggs, chicken breast, cheese and some fruit and vegetables.

READ MORE: How to save money on fuel costs in Austria

At the time of writing, the price of petrol and diesel in Austria (and across Europe) was reaching record levels. But there are ways to save on fuel costs if travelling around by car, such as buying petrol earlier in the day to avoid price rises after 12pm and avoiding motorway petrol stations.

When it comes to accommodation, the average overnight accommodation cost in Vienna in January 2022 was €121, according to Statista. However, these costs fluctuate throughout the year depending on the season. In December 2021, the average price was €149.

It’s not all about the winter season

When most people think of Austria, they imagine snow covered alpine mountains or historic Vienna in the wintertime. But summer in Austria should not be overlooked.

During the summer months, and even into early autumn, cities around Austria are transformed as people enjoy sipping drinks on cafe terraces to soak up the sunshine and warm weather.

Plus, there are outdoor events to attend, mountains to hike up, lakes for swimming and wineries to explore.

Summer can also be a cheaper time to travel around Austria, especially in the Alps, where winter is considered as the main season.

Expect clean streets – even in the cities

It is rare to come across litter in Austrian towns and cities and most streets are regularly maintained and cleaned, which means wandering around them is a pleasant experience.

READ MORE: The best commuter towns if you work in Vienna

Even the capital city of Vienna has a reputation for being clean and green due to its extensive street washing and rubbish collection services – all funded by the City of Vienna.

This is in stark contrast to other European capital cities like London in the UK or Paris in France, that are renowned for being dirty.

Austrian streets are very clean – even in Vienna. Photo by Dimitry Anikin on Unsplash.

Excellent public transport

Austria has an excellent public transport system with modern trains, buses and trams in operation in towns and cities across the country.

ÖBB, the national railway operator, has a vast network of trains connecting Austrian cities and offers a range of tickets and passes, depending on the duration of your stay and travel itinerary.

Then there is the Klimaticket – a nationwide public transport pass that is available to buy for €1,095. It is valid for one year but it does not include all operators, like the Wiener Linien (Vienna’s public transport operator).

However, public transport in Vienna is very affordable and travelling around the city is easy with the Wiener Linien app, which can be used to purchase tickets for all of the capital’s public transport services.

READ MORE: Austria’s nationwide public transport ‘climate ticket’ now available

Cash is king in Austria

Unlike Scandinavia, the Benelux countries, Italy, Greece, Ireland or the UK, German-speaking Europe remains keen on cash, including Austria. There are a number of reasons for this, but mostly it comes down to freedom, anonymity and control.

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the scales have started to tip in the favour of digital payments, but many people in Austria still prefer to pay with cash.

For people visiting Austria, this means it is always a good idea to carry some cash as it might not always be possible to pay with a card.

READ MORE: Why is cash so important to Austrians?

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The six most spectacular train trips in Austria

With its mountain peaks and crystal-clear lakes, Austria has more than its fair share of stunning scenery to fall in love with. And travelling by train can give you the chance to take the views in properly without any distractions. Here are Austria's most scenic train routes.

The six most spectacular train trips in Austria

Semmering rail line in winter

You’ll get epic views whether you travel in summer or winter, but the snow adds to the romanticism. Photo by Miroslav Volek on flickr.

Semmering Railway
Built between 1848 and 1854, the 41-kilometre-long Semmerling line was made a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1998 and it’s easy to see why: it runs through some jaw-droppingly beautiful scenery between the mountain towns of Semmering and Gloggnitz. It was a huge technical achievement for its time, not least because of the hefty gradient of the line. It was also the first European mountain railway to have a standard gauge track.

You’ll see glorious mountains, obviously, plus huge viaducts – 16 of them, if you’re counting – and 15 tunnels, including one whopping 1,430-metre-long one, and over 100 bridges, as well as plenty of lush forests and deep valleys.

semmeringbahn.at

Mariazeller Bahn

Clear skies are made for scenic train rides. Photo by flightlog on Flickr

Mariazell Railway
Remember we mentioned gauges above? Well, the Mariazell Railway is a narrow-gauge route – built like that because it was a difficult terrain for trains to cross. Running from St Pölten in Lower Austria to Mariazell in Styria, at 84km-long, it’s Austria’s longest narrow-gauge line.

The mountain section (Bergstrecke) of the line is the most picturesque. Get on at Laubenbachmühle where this starts and enjoy the train’s climb to its peak of 892m above sea level in Gösing where you’ll have gorgeous panoramic views and a glimpse of the 1,893-metre-high Ötscher mountain. Stay on board to see viaducts, reservoirs and deep gorges, in particular glimpses of the wild Erlauf gorge.

Want to really make the most of those views? Book a panorama carriage, which gives you super-comfy seats and unobstructed views of the scenery unfolding as the train trundles along. 

mariazellerbahn.at

Perfect peaks and lush valleys await. Photo by Schnitzel_bank on Flickr

Arlberg Railway

The Arlberg raiway is one of Europe’s highest – it climbs to 1,310 metres above sea level at its highest point. It goes up at a fair tilt, too and is one of the steepest passenger lines out there.

Connecting Innsbruck and Bludenz (on the Swiss border), it’s the only east-west mountain line in Austria. Visual delights include the Tyrolean Trisanna Bridge near the hilltop castle Wiesberg, snow-peaked mountains, the 6.6-mile-long Arlberg tunnel, and verdant valleys and forests at the Arlsberg pass  – go at sunset/sunrise and look to your right for the best views.

arlbergbahn.at

Schafberg Railway

There are – unsurprisingly – a lot of steep railways in Austria and this one is no exception. This is the steepest steam cog-railway in the country and has been running between St Wolfgang in Salzkammergut up to the 1,783-metre Schafberg mountain since 1893.  

It’s a gorgeous journey up the mountain with the views getting better and better the higher you go. At the top, you’ll have (weather-permitting) clear views over Salzkammergut’s glittering lakes, as well as the soaring peaks of neighbouring mountain ranges, such as the Höllengebirge.

schafbergbahn.at/

Tauern Railway
If you’re heading to Venice by train, then this is the most scenic route to take and it’s worth the trip in its own right, too. You’ll pass stunning valleys and gorges as the line winds its way up the High Tauern mountain range of the Central Eastern Alps.

The best views are on the right-hand side of the train when you’re heading in this direction, so try to get a window seat if you can.

oebb.at

Are you even in Austria if your train doesn’t pass a field of cows? Photo by Schnitzel_bank on Flickr.

Zillertal Railway
There’s always something rather romantic about travelling by steam train and the traditional Zillertal locomotive with its wooden carriages is no exception. It putters gently by the side of the Ziller river along the 32-kilometre stretch between the towns of Jenbach and Mayrhofen, giving you ample opportunity to take in the views as you pass picture-perfect villages and gorgeous valleys surrounded by mountains. 

If you’ve got your heart set on the romanticism of steam trains, make sure you check which train you’re getting as the steam-powered engine doesn’t run as frequently as the faster diesel one. If you haven’t pre-booked, get there early to make sure you get a seat as it can get very busy.
zillerbahn.at

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