By Train And Bus
Trains are the best and most common from of public transport in Austria. Comfortable and moderately priced trains connect major cities and many towns; buses serve less significant 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 (http://www.oebb.at). The Raaberbahn GySEV (http://www.gysev.hu) 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 (http://www.westbahn.at) 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 on Railjets and in the main train stations.
The ÖBB also operate buses on the Graz–Klagenfurt–Venice line because the road between these cities is much shorter that railway.
SS-Bahn/Schnellbahn – commuter trains offered in several regions and suburban areas
RSBRegio S-Bahn – an express version of the S-Bahn making limited stops
RRegionalzug – slow local trains, stops everywhere
REXRegionalexpress – fast regional trains, stop at more significant stations
DSchnellzug - "rapid" train, normally with poorer service quality than IC/EC.
ICInterCity – long-distance trains connecting major towns and cities.
ECEuroCity – international long-distance trains
ENEuroNacht - overnight intercity domestic or international train with sleeping accomidations.
WBWestBahn - private competitor's InterCity service, through ticketing to/from other trains possible within regional transporation districts.
ICEInterCityExpress – German high-speed trains
RJRailjet – Austria's home-grown high-speed trains
On suburban and regional trains there is normally only second class. On ICE, IC and EC trains is second class, which has sufficiently 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 travelled, 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. Exception 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 conductor on board upon request. They should be printed since they will barcode-scanned and stamped. Be very careful about buying train tickets when purchasing online. The process is that you can purchase a refundable ticket for standard full price fare. These tickets are confirmed to your email address. The resulting webpage after your purchase and the emailed confirmation request encourage you to print your ticket. When you follow this link, the confirmation is converted to a ticket in .pdf format that can be printed and taken with you. You must show this printout to the conductor along with the card used for purchase. However, by creating the pdf, you are disallowed from getting a refund for that ticket. The customer service department will not forgive a tourist's mistake. Caveat emptor.
There are ticket machines at all sizable train stations and on board 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 transportation 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 parallel to the railways' own systems and has the advantage of sometimes being cheaper and/or including connecting local public transport, but railway discounts don't apply. Machines and agents will automatically select these tariffs for you if they are cheaper than the railway tariff. This means that for instance 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.
SparSchiene are cheap tickets offered between major cities both domestically and internationally. These tickets aren't based on distance, rather they're cheapest when booking well in advance online and are tied to a specific train run and time. Though this offer can be very tempting, especially for those without the VORTEILScard, do consider that they provide less flexibility than regular tickets and are not refundable or changeable and are often sold-out at popular times. For instance SparSchiene tickets from Salzburg to Klagenfurt can be had for €9 in second class, compared to €35 regular price, or €18 with VORTEILScard.
VORTEILScardgets you 45-55% reduction on any domestic rail ticket depending on the train and whether you buy it online, at a ticket machine or at a counter and 25% off on cross-border trains in Europe RailPlus discount. The VC is also valid on private railways except the rack and WestBahn railways. Cards are valid for one year and are first issued as a temporary paper ticket printed on the spot and valid for the first two months. A plastic ID card is then sent out by mail, normally within two weeks. The VC is available at all ÖBB station ticket offices and counters. You will need both your passport to fill out the form and purchase your VORTEILScard. For one year:VORTEILScard regular costs €99.90 if you aren't eligible for the following.VORTEILScard <26 costs €19.90 for those under 26 years.VORTEILScard Senior costs €26.90 for men and women over 60 years. All seniors by this criteria are waived seat reservation fees, regardless of VorteilsCard.Persons with limited physical mobility or the handicapped the visually impaired, for example are eligible for certain other versions of the VORTEILScard at extremely nominal prices, although getting these with foreign documents can be a challenge. Regardless, though, you are eligible to have the seat reservation fee waived.)
Einfach-Raus-Ticket(http://www.oebb.at/pv/en/...) can be used by groups of up to 5 people for unlimited train travel during one day on all Austrian regional trains categories S, RSB, R and REX and trains run by the operator Raaberbahn. It's valid from 09:00 on weekdays from midnight on weekends until 03:00 the following day and costs €32 online, at vending machines, at stations or wherever ÖBB tickets are sold.
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 very law-abiding, 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 denoted 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 3500kg 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 3500kg 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 VignetteDo 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 substitute 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 130km/h on Autobahnen and 100km/h on Schnellstraßen and Bundesstraßen. Expect limits otherwise of 50-80km/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 60km/h vehicles unable to travel 60km/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 neighbouring countries but is still more expensive than in the USA.
Although you'll miss 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:
Graz Thalerhof, servicing eastern Styria and southern Burgenland
Innsbruck Kranebitten, servicing Tyrol
Klagenfurt Wörthersee-Airport, servicing Carinthia
Linz Hörsching, servicing Upper Austria
Salzburg Wals, servicing Salzburg and Berchtesgaden Bavaria
Vienna Schwechat, servicing Vienna and Lower Austria
Here are international airports serving western Austria:
Altenrhein Airport Switzerland, servicing Vorarlberg, Liechtenstein, Northeastern Switzerland, and Lake Constance area
Friedrichshafen Germany, servicing Vorarlberg, Baden-Württemberg and Lake Constance area
Memmingen servicing Kleinwalsertal and Vorarlberg