22 July 2020

Your Guide to Traveling Around Austria with a Rental Car

Aleksandrs Buraks
Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com

Why should you rent a car in Austria?

Located in the heart of Europe, Austria is one of the most picturesque destinations you'll ever come across. Whether your destination is imperial Vienna, the majestic Alps, or the bucolic Burgenland wineries, you're bound to return from your trip with countless impressions, not to mention awesome pictures. Many famous mountain and nature destinations are easiest to access with a rental car, and having your own ride is also the smoothest way to travel between Austrian cities or even take a quick jaunt over the border into Switzerland, Italy, or Germany.

Your Guide to Traveling Around Austria with a Rental Car

By Aleksandrs Buraks | Published July 22, 2020

Why should you rent a car in Austria?

Located in the heart of Europe, Austria is one of the most picturesque destinations you'll ever come across. Whether your destination is imperial Vienna, the majestic Alps, or the bucolic Burgenland wineries, you're bound to return from your trip with countless impressions, not to mention awesome pictures. Many famous mountain and nature destinations are easiest to access with a rental car, and having your own ride is also the smoothest way to travel between Austrian cities or even take a quick jaunt over the border into Switzerland, Italy, or Germany.

When should you go to Austria?

A landlocked country, Austria has warm summers, cold winters, and four distinct seasons. The country gets a lot of snow every year, especially in the mountains.

Most tourists visit Vienna and other Austrian cities during the summer months when the days are sunny and very warm. On the other hand, summer months — especially July and August — are also when it rains the most and when the country gets the biggest amount of visitors. Visiting in either May or September can be a good alternative to avoid the largest crowds, get better rates for things like rental cars and hotels, and still enjoy pleasant weather.

Of course, a big appeal of the Austrian cities like Vienna and Salzburg is their beautiful architecture. If that is your main draw and you don't mind the cold, visiting in winter can be amazing as the cities look very beautiful when covered in snow.

The high winter sports season in the Austrian Alps is during the coldest months of the year — January and February. Many winter resorts are fully booked during the Christmas season, so booking in advance is a good idea. It's also possible to visit in December, or later, like March, but the effects of climate change mean that the quality of snow is a bit harder to predict for these months.

Now that you've decided when to travel to Austria, check out our prices for the dates you have chosen!

Where should you pick up a car in Austria?

Most visitors to Austria choose to pick up and drop off a rental car at the airport. There are six international airports in Austria.

Vienna Airport is by far the largest — it handles about seven times more passengers than the rest of the airports put together. Serving the Austrian capital in the northeastern corner of the country, it provides flights to and from destinations not only in Europe but all around the world. Other important Austrian airports are Salzburg Airport, Innsbruck Airport, and Graz Airport. The Austrian air travel market is dominated by the national carrier, Austrian Airlines, but low-cost companies like Ryanair, Wizz Air, Lauda, Level, and easyJet also fly to and from Austria.

In addition to airports, it is also possible to pick up and drop off a rental car at other locations like car rental company offices, train stations, and large chain hotels.

Many car rental companies in Austria permit one-way rentals, and although this service usually costs more, it permits picking up the rental car at one Austrian location and dropping it off elsewhere at the end of your trip. International one-way rentals are also possible (although usually with a higher fee), and it's quite popular to travel by car between Vienna and Bratislava, Salzburg and Munich, Klagenfurt and Ljubljana, or Innsbruck and Zurich.

How easy is it to travel around Austria independently?

A modern country with some of the best roads, infrastructure, and quality of living in the world, Austria is a very easy country to explore on your own.

Austria is not a large country and distances between its main cities are relatively short. It takes about three hours to drive from Vienna to Salzburg, five hours from Vienna to Innsbruck, and six hours from Vienna to Bregenz in the far west of the country. A trip from Linz in the north to Klagenfurt in the south only takes about three hours by car.

The driving culture in Austria is similar to Austrians themselves — relaxed and polite. Do keep in mind that your vehicle needs a highway vignette to travel on Austrian roads which should already be on your car (though you may be charged a separate fee for it). If you enter Austria with a car rented in one of its neighboring countries, you will have to buy the vignette upon entering the country. See the official Austrian toll road website for more information.

Unlike in neighboring Germany, there are no highways in Austria without a speed limit. Speed limits are strictly enforced and speed cameras are in use in Austria; the fines for speeding are rather high and your rental car provider might also include an additional fee for administering the fine.

How safe is it to travel around Austria in a rental car?

It's fair to say that Austria is one of the safest countries in the world. Its crime rates are low, its police are trustworthy and its overall atmosphere is very relaxed.

Although violent crime is extremely rare in Austria, petty crime like pickpocketing and tourist scams do happen, especially near popular tourist attractions and in Vienna's metro. Always keep your belongings close and do not hesitate to ask for help if you need it! The overall emergency number in Austria, like elsewhere in the European Union, is 112.

Austria is home to some of the best roads in Europe — but also to some of the highest peaks on the continent. Driving in the mountains can take some time getting used to, especially on secondary roads, after dark, or during the winter months. Winters typically come with a lot of snow and your vehicle might need snow chains — ask your rental car provider about their availability if you plan to visit during the colder months of the year.

What languages are spoken in Austria?

The overall level of knowledge of English is quite high in Austria. The percentage of English speakers is probably higher in Austria than in neighboring Germany, but lower than in countries like Sweden and the Netherlands. You shouldn't expect absolutely everyone to speak English, but most people will, especially the younger generations and people working in the tourism and services industries.

The main language of Austria is German of Austro-Bavarian variety (sometimes also called simply Bavarian). While speakers of all German dialects will be able to make themselves understood, the differences can also be quite noticeable. The standardized German of Austria is different from Standard German of Germany. If you have studied German at some point in your life, chances are it was the Standard German of Germany and Austrian German can take some time getting used to. Even if you don't speak any German at all, learning a couple of phrases can be very useful.

About 10% of Austrians also speak either French or Italian, and both languages can be handy when visiting the country, especially near the borders with Italy and Switzerland. Slovenian is spoken in the south of Carinthia and Croatian in pockets of Burgenland.
Three underrated travel destinations in Austria that you can reach by car:
Carinthia. Located in the southeastern part of the country, the state of Carinthia doesn't get the same amount of attention as Vienna or Salzburg — but for some visitors, that is a part of its charm. The region is home to a wealth of lakes (the smaller, more rural ones are often even more scenic than the larger, more famous ones) and some of the best skiing slopes in the country which, while usually not as high as in Western Austria, are just as picturesque — and much less crowded. During the summer months, the region is a prime hiking destination. Carinthia is also home to the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, arguably one of the most picturesque mountain drives in Europe. Finally, regardless of which season you visit in, you simply must try the famous local noodles!


Hohenems. The westernmost Austrian state of Vorarlberg is known for the affluence of its inhabitants (even by Austrian standards), many similarities with neighboring Switzerland, and the beautiful city of Bregenz which is located on Lake Constance. Getting less spotlight, but just as interesting to visit, is the picturesque town of Hohenems. Located about halfway between Bregenz and Feldkirch, it is home to attractions like its beautiful town hall, the Jewish Museum, and the Saw Mill Museum. A charming historic town that seems to be stuck in time, it can also serve as the gateway to the neighboring Principality of Liechtenstein, one of the smallest countries in Europe.


Neusiedler See-Seewinkel. Although its name might be hard for foreigners to pronounce, this national park is one of the most relaxing places in Austria. Located on the border with Hungary, it is often considered the westernmost point of the Great Eurasian Steppe which stretches for thousands of kilometers from here almost to the Pacific Ocean. The national park is made up of Lake Neusiedl, as well as sand steppes, wetlands, and meadows that are home to the Hungarian grey cattle, purple heron, and white-tailed eagle. Fertő-Hanság National Park, located right on the other side of the border, in Hungary is also very much worth a visit. Lake Neusiedl is just an hour's drive south of Vienna.

Aleksandrs Buraks

Head of Growth at DiscoverCars.com
Aleksandrs has over 10 years of experience in marketing with a focus on creating stellar content that provides topical insights using data. Having taken five road trips across Europe and one in the U.S., he is passionate about traveling by car. His favorite countries to visit are Denmark and Thailand. You can find him on Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter.

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