Vienna

Vienna has never forgotten it was the capital of a large and influential empire. Its residents act as if it still were - the small doses of courtliness, the extremely polite forms of address long-forgotten in other Germanspeaking countries, the formal mode of dress. Vienna is a city both modern and extremely old-fashioned all at once. Like Munich, its residents are formal, but Viennese formality is an entirely different animal. Waiters address you with honorifics, a man who bumps into you on the street is half-likely to implore your pardon with a small bow, you are treated as if you were a longlost prince or princess returning home. If you can handle this kind of luxurious treatment, Vienna is for you.

The Viennese have a particular fascination with death, hence the popularity of the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) as a strolling location and of “Schrammelmusik” - highly sentimental music often performed in wine taverns with lyrics relating to death. Old-fashioned Sterbevereine (funeral insurance societies) provide members with the opportunity to save up for a decent sendoff over the course of their lives. This isn’t just to save theirchildren the bother and expense - it’s considered absolutely essential to provide for a decent funeral. Vienna even has a museum devoted to coffins and mortuary science (the Bestattungsmuseum)! The country’s odd obsession may be connected with the high suicide rate compared with the rest of Europe.

You’d have to visit the city yourself to decide if these stereotypes still apply for today’s Vienna. The traditional Vienna is just one of the many faces of this city. Vienna is also a dynamic young city famous for its (electronic) music scene with indie-labels, somewhat occult record stores and a lot of trendy clubs to go. And a bureaucratic nightmare with government that seems obsessed with complicated forms and documents if you live there. On the other hand, you will find people willing to go out of their way or bend the line a little bit if they feel they can do you a favour.

Not to forget about the coffee! Vienna is famous for its coffee-culture. Although Starbucks do and Italianstyle espresso bars did try taking over, there are still enough Kaffeehäuser left, the traditional place to drink your coffee, to read the newspaper, to meet friends or to fall in love. “Let’s have a coffee,” is a common phrase. If you want a date, to meet your best friend or somebody you haven’t seen for years - more often than not you’d say “Let’s have a coffee.”

The City has a very convenient layout for the traveller: The ‘old town’, or city center is the first district, encircled by the ‘Ring’ road, which is also the location of many famous old buildings. Districts 2-9 gatherwithin the ‘Gürtel’ (=’belt’) Road; there, you can find the Prater (amusement) park, the hip quartiers of the second district (close to Schwedenplatz), the shopping street of Mariahilferstraße, Hundertwasser House, the Hundertwasser Kunsthaus, and so on.

Outside the ‘belt’, there’s the the Donauturm Tower, and... Schönbrunn Castle, the most visited tourist attraction and deservedly so.

Weather Overview

Most of Austria has a moderate central European climate though the eastern part of the country is blessed with a Continental Pannonian climate, which sounds impressive but really only means that average temperatures in July are above 19ºC and annual rainfall is less than 80cm (31in). Be prepared for a range of temperatures dependent on altitude, but unless you’re on top of the Grossglockner you can probably count on temps between 20 and 25ºC; (68 and 77ºF) in summer, 1 and 4ºC (34 and 39ºF) in winter, and 8 and 15ºC (46 and 59ºF) in spring and autumn. Be aware that the sun is intense at high altitudes. The winter ski season runs from December to April.

Transport Overview

Most travellers arriving in Austria by air will find themselves touching down in Vienna, though there are five other international airports in the country. If you’re on a tight budget, consider crossing into Austria by bus. But if speed and comfort are your priorities, spend a few more euros on a train ticket or hiring a car. It’s possible to arrive in Austria by boat, but this is an expensive endeavour that’s usually difficult to justify.

Plane

Vienna is Austria’s main air transport hub, but there are international airports at Linz, Graz, Salzburg, Innsbruck and Klagenfurt. If you’re visiting Austria from outside Europe, it may be cheaper to fly to a European ‘gateway’ city and travel overland from there. Munich, for example, is only two hours by train from Salzburg. Technically there’s no departure tax when flying out of Austria, instead you cop a ‘passenger service charge’ of around 15

Bus

Buses are generally slower and less comfortable than trains, but they are cheaper and they go to all major European countries.

Train

Austria has excellent rail connections to all major European destinations. They are probably the most comfortable and environmentally responsible way to travel overland.

Boat

Fast hydrofoils skim along the Danube between Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest during spring and summer but they’re not exactly cheap. Steamers ply the Danube between Vienna and the German border town of Passau from May to late September. Generally speaking, boat services along the Danube are slow and expensive and geared to scenic excursions rather than functional transport.

Car

Getting to Austria by road is simple, and there are fast, well-maintained Autobahnen (motorways) to all surrounding countries. Major border crossing points are open 24 hours a day.

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