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DISCOVER AUSTRIA

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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For members

TRAIN TRAVEL

EXPLAINED: How to not be ‘bumped’ from an overcrowded Austrian train

Austrian trains have been overly crowded recently, with some people who had valid tickets having to be removed for "safety reasons". Here's how to make sure you get to your destination.

EXPLAINED: How to not be 'bumped' from an overcrowded Austrian train

Train travel is a safe and relatively comfortable way to get around Austria, but there is still much to do to make these journeys better for travellers, especially for commuters.

In Austria, a combination of high fuel prices, the adoption of the subsidised Klimaticket, and Vienna’s new short-term parking system, combined with other factors including a green surge and nice weather, has led to an increase in the search for train travel.

The operator ÖBB expects an even higher surge in the next few days, as warm weather meets holidays in Austria. This has led to several journeys being overcrowded, with people travelling standing up or being removed from trains when they reach capacity and the number of people compromises safety.

READ ALSO: Half-price Europe train tickets on offer in Interrail flash sale

“Safety is the top priority. If the train is too full to be guided safely, passengers must be asked to get off. If they don’t do it voluntarily, we have no choice but to get the police. This happens very rarely,” Bernhard Rieder from ÖBB told broadcaster ORF during an Ö1 interview.

Why are trains overcrowded?

There are several reasons for the surge in train travel, but they boil down to two things: rising costs for other means of transportation and environmental worries.

With galloping inflation, Austrians have seen prices of fuel climbing, and as the war in Ukraine continues, there is no likelihood of lower petrol prices any time soon.

At the same time, since March, Vienna (the destination for many domestic tourists and commuters) has instituted a new short-term parking system, basically removing free parking in the streets of the capital.

Driving has become more expensive when everything else seems to be costly, and many Austrians turn to train travel. Particularly for those who are holders of the Klimaticket, a yearly subsidised card that allows for unlimited travel for just over €1,000 – early buyers could get a hold of the ticket for under €900.

READ ALSO: Nine German expressions that perfectly sum up spring in Austria

The ticket allows travellers to “hop on and hop off” as they wish, making occupancy more unpredictable. However, it is possible to reserve seats even if you have them, and there are low-budget bundles for commuters.

The Klimaticket was created in an effort with the Environmental Ministry, looking to increase the use of greener transport alternatives in Austria.

The environmental concern is also one of the reasons why train travel is on the rise globally – travelling by train is also more convenient in many cases, with comfortable seats, free wifi, a dining area and the fact that you can start and end your journey in central stations instead of far-away airports.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Trains are in fashion so why is rail travel across Europe still so difficult?

Why won’t ÖBB only sell as many tickets as there are train seats?

A reasonable question, but that is not possible with the way train journeys operate in Austria – and in most countries.

Some tickets are “open” and flexible, meaning that people can board any train from a specific time. These are particularly useful for commuters who might be late leaving work, for example.

Additionally, holders of the Klimaticket and other regional yearly offers don’t need to buy tickets. They only need to show their Klimaticket card with an ID once checked.

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

What is ÖBB doing to avoid overcrowding?

After the several incidents of overcrowding when people even had to leave their trains despite having valid tickets, ÖBB announced it would bring additional trains for the peak season around the holidays (May 26th, June 5th and 6th and June 16th), increasing the number of seats by “thousands”, according to a press statement.

What can I do to guarantee my journey?

Despite the increase in offer, the operator still warns that “on certain trains, demand can still exceed capacity”.

The best way to try and guarantee your journey, according to ÖBB, is by reserving a seat.

READ ALSO: One day in Vienna: How to spend 24 hours in the Austrian capital

“A seat reservation is the best way to use the most popular train connections. Starting at €3, you can reserve a seat in ÖBB trains in Austria”.

Reservations are available online at tickets.oebb.at the ÖBB app, at the ÖBB ticket counter, and at the ÖBB customer service at 05-1717.

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